It goes without saying that Holy Week is one of the busiest times of the church year for choirs and their directors. But along with the high demands of singing for multiple services within the span of six or seven days (let alone the “eighth day” of Easter!) come the great rewards of proclaiming the Gospel through a wide variety of music in the most dramatic liturgies of the church year.
What follows is a listing of some of my favorite choral music for the liturgies of Holy Week, focusing on some of the choral elements unique to those liturgies. In other words, you’ll have to look elsewhere to find recommendations for more typical anthems, psalms, gospel acclamations, and hymns settings. For many of my recommendations, I’m relying on my go-to general choral collections:
- The Augsburg Choirbook: Sacred Choral Music of the Twentieth Century (AF 978080065678) [ACB]
- Chantry Choirbook: Sacred Music for All Seasons (AF 9780800657772) [CCB]
- A First Motet Book (CPH 97-4845) [FMB]
- The New Church Anthem Book (OUP 0-19-353109-7) [NCAB]
Sunday of the Passion
The most common task of the choir unique to the Sunday of the Passion is the singing of a processional anthem—a festive way to conclude the procession with palms—based on some version of the text “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The popularity of this function of the choir is evidenced by the abundance of such anthems. The following are some of my favorites:
- “Sing Hosanna to the Son of David,” Bartholomew Gesius (CCB, FMB)
- “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Orlando Gibbons (SSAATB or SSATTB) (cpdl.org)
- “Hosanna to the Son of David,” David Morgan (NCAB)
- “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Ronald Nelson (SAB) (AFP 11-1258, out of print)
- “Hosanna! Blessed Is He,” Knut Nystedt (SAB or 2-part) (ACB)
- “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Tomas Luis de Victoria (GIA G-4575)
There are two elements unique to the Maundy Thursday liturgy in which the choir can participate. The first is the foot washing. The text most commonly associated with this action is some version of “Where Charity and Love” (or the original Latin, Ubi caritas et amor). Even if the foot washing is not practiced in your church, this text is still worth singing. I’m limiting myself to settings of the text in English since the Latin settings (including the most famous, by Maurice Durufle) tend to be more difficult.
- “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” Richard Erickson (SAB or 2-pt.) (Kjos 6306)
- “Where Charity and Love,” Robert Griglak (SAB) (AF 11-10120, out of print)
- “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” Kenneth Kosche (MorningStar Music 50-3057)
- “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” Hugh S. Livingston, Jr. (Sacred Music Press/Lorenz 10/1071)
- “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” Carl Schalk (2-pt.) (CPH 98-2701; out of print)
The second element unique to Maundy Thursday is the stripping of the altar. Various psalms have been appointed for this action, perhaps the most common being Psalm 22. Almost any setting of this or any other appointed psalm would be appropriate. There are too many available for it to be worth winnowing, except to draw your attention to those in the resources mentioned above, not to mention the simple but effective practice of using a psalm tone—Gregorian, Anglican, hymnal, or other. But there is one setting of Psalm 22 that I think is particularly appropriate for this action, a responsorial setting with stunning text-painting:
- “My God, My God,” David Clark Isele, from Psalms for the Church Year (GIA G-2262).
If your church follows a Tenebrae service, you may be interested in some settings of either the Passion according to John or the Solemn Reproaches (two elements unique to the Good Friday liturgy). The following may be of some help:
Passion according to John. In these settings the choir takes the role of the turba (or crowd) and cantors takes the roles of the evangelist, Jesus, and other characters:
Vigil of Easter
Most of the music for the Vigil of Easter is readily handled by cantor or cantors, which is a relief to members of your choir who may need to be back at church early the next morning. The music that can be taken by the choir includes the responses to the readings of the Vigil—traditionally, psalms and canticles from the Old Testament. For these, please check the season-specific collections above or other lists of recommendations like the one found on sundaysandseasons.com. The pieces on these lists tend to be taken from the general choral repertoire instead of pieces based on the actual appointed psalmodic texts, but there are a number of choral pieces that are:
- “All You Works of the Lord, Bless the Lord,” David Cherwien (CPH 98-3330)
- “Like As the Hart,” Herbert Howells (OUP 9780193501638)
- “Song of the Vineyard,” Thomas Keesecker (2-pt., opt. handbells) (AFP 11-10215, out of print)
- “All You Works of the Lord, Bless the Lord,” Kenneth Jennings (ACB)
- “Sicut cervus,” Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina (cpdl.org)
- “Canticle of Daniel: All You Works of the Lord,” Carl Schalk (Unison) (GIA G-2369)
I hope you will find something of use in these suggestions, whether it is for this fast-approaching Holy Week or for the many to come in your service to the risen Christ and his Church.