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(for High School Choral Directors)

 Suzanne E. Dickinger

Music educators (choral and instrumental directors) may choose to create themes or focus subjects for their concert or for a year's set of performances. They may even use these themes in selecting a musical or presenting a children's concert. Please realize that providing many other musical experiences in addition to the theme selections is essential in maintaining student and audience interest. The following are examples which have worked (or been contemplated) in my high school.
(Note: Collaboration between the choral and instrumental sides of the Music Department yields excellent results!)

Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or
perhaps of subconsciousness—I wouldn't know. But I am
sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.

                                           —Aaron Copland

Latin American Music
(This theme was selected due to a planned Music Department trip to the Bahamas)

Latin American choral music selected (in addition to other pieces from varied time periods and cultures):
  • Down at Poco Loco's -  Kirby Shaw
  • Shut de Do - Randy Stonehill
  • Grumble Too Much - Rosephanye Powell
  • Me Island Medley  - arr. Larry Farrow
  • Too Hot to Samba - Kirby Shaw
  • America from "West Side Story" - Leonard Bernstein
  • Jamaican Market Place - Larry Farrow

(In addition, our school musical that year was "Guys and Dolls,"  which featured a scene in Havana, Cuba. Our children's concert, for students in our elementary and middle schools, was a 45-minute Latin American music presentation by choral groups, jazz ensemble, and the marching band in the auditorium aisles ).
Sounds of Nature

(This theme was selected in conjunction with a Music Department fundraising event - a musical garden tour)

(Nature choral music selected (in addition to other pieces from varied time periods and cultures):
  • A Red, Red Rose - James Mulholland
  • The Sally Gardens  - arr. Michael Larkin
  • Deep River  -  Linda Spevacek
  • Wind - Carolyn Jennings
  • Mr. Froggie Went a-Courtin'  -  arr. Frank Clark
  • Little Dove - Elizabeth Raum
  • Under the Sea - Howard Ashman, arr. Shaw
  • Muddy Water - Roger Miller, arr. Leavitt
  • Golden Harvest (from "In Nature") - Antonin Dvorak
  • Flower of Beauty - John Clements
  • Walking on the Green Grass - Michael Hennagin
  • Shenandoah  - arr. Donald P. Moore
  • Ngana  - Stephen Leek
  • Blue Skies -Irving Berlin, arr.Zegree
  • Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind  - John Rutter
  • Erev Shel Shoshanim -Josef Hadar, arr. Klebanow
  • America the Beautiful (as a combined finale)

    (In addition, our school musical that year was "The Secret Garden," and our school orchestra performed Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons"  and "Everything's Coming Up Roses," as well as other nature-themed selections).

Randall Thompson

Amy Beach 2

Aaron Copland 3
American Composers
(This theme was selected to coincide with a 300th anniversary of one of the townships whose students attend our high school)

American choral music selected (in addition to other pieces from varied time periods and cultures):
  • Alleluia - Randall Thompson
  • Camptown Races  - Stephen Foster, arr. Mabry
  • Song of Democracy  - Howard Hanson
  • Now I Walk in Beauty - trad. Native American Round
  • This We Know  - Ron Jeffers
  • Psalm 100 - Rene Clausen
  • The Boatmen's Dance  - Aaron Copland, arr. Fine
  • Evening Hymn (or another available piece) - Amy Beach 
  • Poor Man Lazrus - Jester Hairston
  • Father William - Irving Fine
  •  I Wonder as I Wander - John Jacob Niles
  • Hallelujah - Vincent Youmans, arr. Zegree
  • The Pasture from "Frostiana" - Randall Thompson
  • Old Grandma - arr. Alice Parker
  • Bile Them Cabbage Down - arr. Mack Wilberg
  • The Cloths of Heaven - Adolphus Hailstork
  • The Battle of Jericho - Moses Hogan
  • David's Lamentation - William Billings
  • I Love a Piano - Irving Berlin, arr. Kern
  • Gershwin for Girls - George Gershwin, arr. Chinn
  • Stepping Westward  - Libby Larsen
  • The Star Spangled Banner  (as a combined finale)

(Any American musical will work Our students will be performing in a township anniversary celebration concert using some of these pieces).

Other Possible Themes
(Select according to events or activites which are occurring within your district, in the news, or, perhaps, in your imagination)!
  • A salute to Leonard Bernstein (or another composer), mirroring programs of your local professional symphony
  • Opera (present "Amahl and the Night Visitors" by Menotti in the fall and an operatic musical like "Once on this Island" by Ahrens and Flaherty in the spring)
  • A concentration of a particular style of music: Baroque, 20th century, jazz, etc.
  • A celebration of  France (or another particular country), using "Les Miserables" as your musical
  • A multi-cultural performance involving music from a particular continent (Africa and Asia work really well).
  • A concert with visuals - our instrumental director programmed a concert (and children's concert) with Danse Macabre (using dancers), Peter and the Wolf (using puppetry), and Rhapsody in Blue (with blue lights).
  • A celebration of a particular holiday - Valentine's Day works well with numerous songs about love

Although this kind of planning takes some extra time, research, and collaboration, the results are terrific. Themes also give you a focus, which can really save time when searching though the myriad of potential music selections.

Latin American Instrument Pictures -
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Picture 2 -
Picture 3 -