Most church choir members love to sing in parts—the challenge of learning one’s notes is a truly enjoyable experience. Many choir directors choose repertoire because of good part-writing that leads to a rich choral sound. And, all choral composers love to explore the endless creative potential inherent in SATB texture. The vast repertoire of SATB choral music is, undeniably, one of the church’s greatest treasures. Used occasionally, though, unison choral singing offers several benefits to a church choir:
- Practical. Unison pieces may be performed by any number of singers—from few to many. This can be enormously helpful for those low-attendance Sundays!
- Pedagogical. Rehearsing a unison piece allows the director to focus on vowel formation (which leads to good blend) without having to spend time teaching parts.
- Ensemble Unity. Unison singing is not easy—one singer’s slightest variations from the group are clearly perceptible. Unison anthems require singers to be keenly attentive.
- Musical. Most unison pieces bring basses and altos into their higher registers, which produces a strong sound. In addition, unison pieces often feature finely crafted accompaniments.
- Aesthetic. Unison anthems provide a textural contrast to part singing, which helps listeners to take notice of them.
- Historical. Western music is rooted in unison singing, so unison choral music connects today’s worship with that of the distant past.
- Theological. Singing together in unison both underscores and illustrates the fact that we are individual members of one united body.
Programming unison choral music is a wonderful way to enhance your choral program. But, where can you find good unison pieces? The first place to look is in the hymnal. Alternating women and men, having a soloist sing one stanza, adding an obbligato instrument, and using an alternate harmonization are ways to create an improvised anthem from the hymnal. Here are several excellent choices:
DETROIT – This may be performed effectively by singing unaccompanied!
- Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive (ELW 605)
- We Know That Christ Is Raised (ELW 449)
- To Be Your Presence (ELW 546)
- When in Our Music God Is Glorified (ELW 851)
- My Song Is Love Unknown (ELW 343)
- We Sing to You, O God (ELW 791)
- Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (ELW 490)
- Let Streams of Living Justice (ELW 710)
- O God beyond All Praising (ELW 880)
While unison anthems are not plentiful (aside from those for children’s choir), here are some well-written selections to consider adding to your library:
“All My Hope on God Is Founded,” Herbert Howells/arr. John Rutter. COLLEGIUM, CCS-201. Liturgical use: Year C – 4th Sunday in Lent, Lectionary 21.
This hymn-like anthem features an accompaniment (stanzas 4-5) and outstanding descant written by John Rutter. Have only men sing stanza 2, to create contrast. The descant is difficult, but using only one or two sopranos will be sufficient.
*“Bow Down Your Ear,” Aaron David Miller. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800677954. Liturgical use: Year A – Lectionary 11 and 15.
Quoting selected verses from Psalm 86, this anthem is simple yet creative. Have full choir sing the outer ‘A’ sections. In the middle ‘B’ section, have AB sing the first statement of “Teach me your way, O Lord…,” and add ST on its repetition.
“God Be Merciful unto Us,” Daniel Pinkham. E.C. Schirmer, 5394. Liturgical use: Year A – Lectionary 14 / Year C – 6th Sunday of Easter / Thanksgiving.
If you do not perform much modern music in your church, this setting of Psalm 67 by American composer Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) will be a good introduction. The tune is strong, and the accompaniment is harmonically rich.
*“Jubilate Deo,” Dale Wood. Augsburg Fortress, 9780800645816. Liturgical use: Year A – Christ the King Sunday / Thanksgiving.
A lively setting of Psalm 100, accompanied by organ and percussion (optional), this piece includes an optional second vocal part.
*“Peace Came to Earth,” arr. Nancy Raabe. MorningStar Music, 60-1007. Liturgical use: Christmas.
The slightly disjunct melody provides an opportunity to work on legato singing. If you do not have an oboe player, substitute flute or violin on the obbligato.
*“Psalm 121,” Timothy Shaw. Choristers Guild, CGA-1209. Liturgical use: Year A – 2nd Sunday in Lent / Year C – Lectionary 29.
This children’s choir anthem works well with youth and adult choirs alike. Create contrast by having only men sing measures 17-27, only sopranos sing measures 19-41, and only sopranos sing Part II in measures 45-58.
* available for download through Prelude Music Planner