Saturday, November 9, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Wexford Carol"

Wexford Carol is an Irish carol that originated in County Wexford in Ireland. The carol is originally written in Mixolydian mode, but many arrangements go back and forth from the original mode to a more major sound, particularly at cadences. The meter is 3/2, and this arrangement is intended to be an introduction to a different meter where the half note is the pulse. A good resource for all students, with exercises in meter variation is From Concepts to Concerts: Building Competence in the Choral Classroom, published by Carl Fischer. To become more familiar with this carol please listen to recordings of this carol by Alison Krauss and Celtic Woman. These performances are captivating and provide many performance possibilities.

When I began researching this carol, I was thinking about how I might introduce this carol into younger choral programs at the middle school and elementary levels. With that focus, I decided to alternate between the modal and the major sounds, but for brief periods of time. Of course, the objective is to get young singers to the point that the use of different modes in a piece of music are performed fluidly in performance, while successfully performing altered pitches of all modal qualities.

Many schools these days cannot sing holiday songs that are religious in nature. This carol is specifically about "the nativity," and it will likely not be appropriate for many school choirs who cannot sing religious words. However, I have provided "peace and good will" words that are appropriate for sacred and secular holiday concerts. In this octavo, sacred words are italicized.

Oftentimes, this carol is performed for Madrigal dinners during the holiday season. Because of that fact, I have also chosen the optional instruments of flute (or other "C" reed instrument), finger cymbals, and hand drum to be used with the keyboard. All of these instruments together provide a medieval atmosphere, and make it possible to use Wexford Carol in madrigal celebrations.

In Wexford Carol, we begin with an introduction that uses the instruments listed above. Take a look at the 3-Part Mixed voicing, and I'll break it down for you.

3-Part Mixed Voicing:

-Because of the range of the melody, I could not easily use all of the voices in singing the first presentation of the melody in Measures 8-16, so I used Parts I and II.

-Part III fit nicely when I got to the contrasting phrase in Measure 17, and I created a countermelody. Part II eventually joined Part III for homophonic harmony in Measure 19, with Part I continuing as the melody.

-In Measure 21, we move toward the major tonality, and continue in major until the end of the verse in Measure 24. At the end of the first verse, the instruments create the interlude again, unifying the arrangement.

-Measure 29: Parts I and III are in duet, while Part II has the melody.

-Part I regains the melody in measure 37, while Parts II and III are in duet below. They stay in duet until the end of that verse (Measure 44).

-In Measure 42, in Part I, there are some optional notes. These notes give us a "fuller" chord, and give your students a tiny bit of practice (one measure) in divisi. If you do not have enough students to divide, please ignore the optional pitches.

-The piece ends by having the voices repeat the very last phrase, and the flute ascends (a unifying motive).

The mood of this carol is unique. As you can hear in the performances by Alison Krauss and many others, it is an ethereal mood that takes us to the manger scene and brings us into touch with the mystery and the miracle of that night. I have attempted to do so as well with this Irish carol.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "The First Noel"

What does a choral music writer do to write a fresh, interesting arrangement of a well-known carol? For any traditional carol, whatever could be done has generally been done, so writers must work to find some unique element that can be transformed into musical interest. Writers must then develop it in such a way that the arrangement is unified. It is important to retain the familiar melody of the "source" in some way, while making it interesting in other ways. 

That leads us to the familiar carol, The First Noel. What could I do to make this piece come alive with a unique flair? There are at least a million things I could do, but I concentrated on two basic things: 1) downward stepwise movement of the bass vocal line to create interesting harmonies, and 2) countermelodies with longer note durations and "cascading" step-wise movement down, followed by step-wise movement going up. 

The harmonies created by step-wise ascending and descending motion are provided by different vocal parts in several different voicings: 3-Part MixedSSAASSA2-Part, and Unison.

So....regarding the 3-Part Mixed voicing (other voicings will have similar techniques):

There are a few basic elements of music that are woven together to make this arrangement a bit unique: the familiar melody, consistent use of harmonic change at the end of major sections (the G-Sharp), countermelodies with step-wise motion, countermelodies with longer durations, countermelodies in harmony with each other, homophonic textures, step-wise motion appearing in other voice parts, and optional bass notes for changing voices or older choirs.

A unique musical style can be developed with special treatment of some elements within the piece. The result will be a director's unique style, as we try to make the familiar come alive with energy, passion, and joy for the season of light and peace.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Swingin' and Jinglin'"

This jazzy holiday tune is written for SSA and SSAA voices, and it appropriately emulates the "Andrews Sisters" (popular during World War II) style. It's fun...and it drives to the end. Opportunities for choreography are everywhere in the style and the vocal lines.

Wanetta Hill penned the lyrics for this swinging, joyful celebration of a Christmas dance with Santa and the Elves. The Key is E-flat, with a rather low tessitura at the beginning. By the time we get to the refrain in measure 22, three parts are solid in homophonic texture, with syncopation for the "jazz" effect. Rests (measure 30) are important to the style of the piece. Be sure that there is absolute silence in the rests.

In the SSA (you can apply all of this to the SSAA): Measure 39 begins with the little "doo-wop" phrase that will be heard as connecting material throughout. The altos take over the melody in measure 41, with SI and SII singing "doo-wop" phrases in the background, with an occasional "bah buh doo wah"....and don't forget the "fall off" on the last syllable. Then...everyone is in unison in measure 45.

Make the quarter note triplets in measure 48 really pronounced! Take your time and enjoy. Soprano I provides the percussive effect in measures 49-50. Really accent the syncopated passages. It creates the creates the fun! 

In measure 58, the refrain comes back, with the SI and SII in a independent melody of their own. There are also glissandi in measures 59, 61, and 63. Have fun with these.

Watch for the "subito piano" in measure 63....going on to page 8. Then...a very quick crescendo to "forte" in all parts. This is a great tune for using accents and dynamics to create amazing moments!

There's another "subito piano" in measure 72....and the dynamics and intensity builds and builds and builds until the very end. Quarter note triplets appear in measure 82 (time for drama)....enjoy them!!

You can be creative in the last measure (m. 83). You can perform it as written, with the fall-off at the end of Beat can let the singers "wail" on the last note, and hold it as long as you want (fermata).....then have the accompanist dramatically glissando up-down-or-up and down the keyboard, with a huge dance pose at the end.....maybe shaking jazz hands, etc.

You get the idea: have not stand still.....make this fun piece come alive with joy and delight. Santa would be very pleased with you, and your audience would just have the time of their lives, seeing students enjoy themselves. Yes....they can clap right along with your performance.

Listen to the recording of The Lodge singers in Indianapolis as they sing this holiday SSA voicing of "Swingin' and Jinglin'"!!!! Feel free to slow to your choosing. If you need me to send you a slower accompaniment file, no problem! I'm happy to do so. 

Enjoy! Enjoy!

New Choral Octavos since August



People often ask me how many hours a day I write music. The answer varies from day to day, but on the whole, I write about 6-8 hours a day, depending on all the extraneous "things" that occur from time to time...things like the beloved "fire alarm testing" in my building of residence. Eeck! For a person who has hearing that is a tad sensitive, those days are excruciating. Those protective ear muffs are worth their weight in gold, but I could still hear the alarm. makes me feel safe, but scares the dickens out of me still. Those days are a challenge.

Since August, I have composed, arranged, or re-voiced all the octavos seen in the photographs above (see my website for a closer look), and I am still so excited to get back to my office every morning. Of course, since this is my job, then you understand that the entire process is a discipline. Do I have anything on the horizon? Of course, I do! I have lots of "horizon" things! Why? Because this is what I do. This is the way my life, passion, and entire being is organized. The most important thing? Writing music makes me very, very happy. It gives me great joy! I love joy. I love to spread joy. I love to feel joy. I love it that joy is here in my studio every day when I come back to write music. I couldn't imagine a better job in the world. This "job" has been the therapy I needed to make it through some very difficult days. The content level reaches the very depths of me, and I am so happy to have texts, melodies, harmonies, and styles "speak" to me every day of my life.

When I get a creative idea, I just sing it into my phone, and use it later. Most of the pieces above have been on my phone for a year or so. I have many others awaiting, and I continually add recordings to my phone. Why do I tell you this? Because....almost all the people who inquire about my process say, "Do you get up in the middle of the night and write down things that you hear?" No....I don't. I never have done so, and I have likely lost a few melodies along the way, but once cell phones came into the world, I never needed to even think about it. I just roll over, sing it into my phone....then go back to sleep. Yes...I've done that.

So...take a look at all the new octavos above, and visit the website to see all the pieces available to you for your choral ensemble. Prices are increasing on January 1, 2020. I have not increased prices since my business began in 2011. I must take care of all who are a part of this effort. 

Next composition? A setting of "Flanders Fields." I am so moved by that text, and I think I have a good melody. Hopefully, it will move you emotionally as well. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Journey of the Wise Men"

The poetry of Sara Teasdale (1884-1993) "Christmas Carol" is the basis for this setting that celebrates the journey of the wise men to the manger. There are several voicings of this octavo (SATBTTBBTBB, and TB) on my website.

I selected the key of d minor for the setting. There are also some optional notes to be sung as you choose. My theory: do whatever is comfortable for your ensemble. We are all artists and know our ensembles. My goal for you: a wonderful musical experience for you and your choir.

I concentrated on the men's voices because, of course, the wise men were male. Sara Teasdale had the kings, shepherds, and wise men coming from directions that were inconsistent with scripture. That was new to me. She differentiated between wise men and kings. I searched the scriptures to see if I could find a bit of information. No luck. I thought maybe one of the gospels had a different "take" on the whole scenario, and I had just not run across it. I "adjusted" the text a bit to reflect the traditional series of events, with the Christmas "personnel" having traditional roles.

Because of the length of the octavo and the need to return to some type of "A Section" for compositional unity, I omitted the last two verses, and ended with the angels singing "Glory to God in the highest."

In the TTBB Voicing, both bass parts are in unison at the beginning, and it is important that the strong style of the entire setting be established in the first presentation. The tenors are "the shepherds." However, all voice parts are brought together in measures 15-20. Countermelodies begin in the tenors in measure 23. In measure 27 the tenors begin a bit of imitation as we head toward a glorious song by the angels in measures 43-50 (Glory to God in the highest). In measure 55, we return to the A Section, with imitation again in the tenor voices. A legato section in measures 63-73 is designed to reflect the gentle sight that was in the manger...the child sleeping...the Child of Light. We end with a dramatic ending, "Glory to the newborn King!"

In the SATB Voicing, we begin with all voices in unison, and we break into parts in measure 13. The male voices take over in measures 24-31, and the basses sing the melody. Then....women sing the "angel" passage, and we head toward "Glory to God in the highest." In measure 54, the sopranos have the melody, and the repeated motive (Glory to God) is in the tenor and bass. Then we move toward the gentleness of the Child in the manger....The Child of Light. We gradually create more intensity in our celebration, and head toward "Glory to the newborn King!"

In the TBB Voicing, we begin with both bass parts in unison. When the shepherds are introduced, the melody gets a bit low for the tenor, so the Bass I singers get the melody, with a countermelody in the tenor. Then both bass parts sing the melody in unison (m. 17-20), with simple harmonization in the tenor. The two bass parts again become a unit in measures 24-31, and the tenor provides a countermelody and higher harmony. In measures 33-36, the Tenor I and Bass II form a duet, while the Bass I has the melody as we head into the song of the angels.Then...much like the TTBB voicing, in measure 55, we begin with the basses having the melodic material while the tenor provides an ostinato-like figure (Glory to God). Then we head into the legato "manger scene" and gradually get into the angels singing in jubilant song until the end.

In the TB Voicing, we begin with the bass singing the melody while the tenor is in simple harmony. The tenors then take the melody at the shepherds' entrance in measure 13, with the basses in simple harmony below. Then basses become the melody and tenor provides upper harmony. At measure 24, the basses have the melody and tenors are above. Note: In measure 28, for the tenors, the Perfect Fourth for "The star" has been modified to avoid a clash with the melody. As we move on in the composition, the tenors are singing higher than ever to give more contrast (m. 34-50). As with the other voicings gentle, legato visit to the manger is next, with a final "Glory to the newborn King!" at the very end.

I hope you enjoy having your men sing with gusto and power. There are many unisons in the opportunity to have all of your men sing with absolute blend. I think you will find this piece a valuable resource for teaching many choral/vocal techniques. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Go Tell It On the Mountain"

This African-American spiritual has always fascinated me. I always wanted to love this spiritual, but when I sang it or heard it in concert, it seemed as if it were terribly "less than exciting." Maybe it was all of the fermati. Sometimes it is tough to "get back on the bus" after we must hold that fermata for... "who-knows-how-long?" For many songs in my choral music writing career, the same idea exists. I look at many tunes that I do not find particularly interesting, and I study them and work with them until I understand the tunes better and I can find a way to arrange them that draws me to the original music itself. This paragraph is a huge confession. Please do not misunderstand; it does not mean that the tunes are less than quality (No way!), lest they would not have lasted for hundreds of years. It is just that however I was introduced to this particular music in my life, the effect of the music on me was "less than what it needed to be in order to 'stay'." is sometimes the case, I try to find ways to enhance my own response to the music and bring out whatever positive aspects have been "tucked away" within the original melody that only score study can bring out. Sometimes I modify traditional harmonies to make them more interesting, and sometimes accompanying melodic lines and rhythms are examined for possibilities in creating a unique arrangement.

Dr. Judy Bowers (University of Louisiana at Monroe) had a general discussion with me years ago about how you write for middle school boys, and I learned how to modify my approach in arranging for TB and TTB Voices.

She indicated that since middle school boys' voices are changing like crazy and the boys are already having a tough time with this new "thing" in their lives, it would be best to give the boys their own independent line. That way they can sing their own song and do their own thing, just because having so many adjustments in their musical being can be difficult and stressful. Give them something that can be fun and successful! What great advice!

As I was thinking about writing these TTB and TB (ER08902) arrangements, I needed independent lines that would eventually sound as if a challenging music task was being performed, yet, the boys would be heartily singing the "songs within the song, "

There were also a couple of other things I remembered: 1) boys in middle school have a limited range, 2) the various independent lines must be contrasting, despite the limited range, 3) it is healthy to have separate sections sing together as a unit at times. Giving them sectional focus allows the section to strengthen and develop leadership, and 4) simple homophonic textures are beneficial, as long as all are singing the same rhythm.

Should I become a purist in the criteria above? No (in my opinion). You, the teacher, are aware of the abilities of your group, but being sensitive to capabilities is the difference between enjoyment and frustration.

With both voicings of this spiritual, I found that the limited ranges of young male voices required that I divide up the melody among the sections. That's okay. Everyone gets a "moment."

My former mentor, Brian Busch, used to constantly ask me how my arrangement of so-and-so was going to be different from all other arrangements of "it" out there. Well, one unique aspect of the harmony of this arrangement concerns the use of the raised 5th. Take a look at the TTB preview. Take a look at measures 9 (T1), 20 (TII/Accompaniment), 38 (TII/Accompaniment), 46 (TI...though in a melodic context, instead of harmonic), 58 (TI/Accompaniment)...after the key change to G, 64-67 (Establishes a motive to prepare the very end....TI). The use of the raised 5th is generally consistent, so the choir should be okay the "expectation of the ear." No surprises are hidden.

The homophony I mentioned earlier is in Measures 9-12, 20-23, etc. Hopefully, it is just enough to teach vocal strength and choral balance.

Look at the Bass part in measure 24. For the most part, we just go straight down the scale....until the B-natural in measure 30....leading tone to the "C" in measure 31 where we'll hang for a while.

In measure 34, the independent lines enter in full-force. Tenor II has the melody in swing-style. Tenor I has a new motive introduced in 33 that stays through measure 36. The Bass has a cool independent line in measure 33, and though modified in measure 38 and following, it continues to be "familiar."

On page 8, measures 42-48, the accompaniment is optional. I think it is important to have students sing a cappella at times. However, if the intonation is questionable ( has happened to me ....can you tell?), you might prefer to use the accompaniment. Please do if there is an issue. We always want students to be proud of themselves and successful in all their efforts. So important. In addition, the 8th notes are even for the a cappella section. When speaking of shepherds trembling and such, I hardly thought it was appropriate to "swing" through the trembling and fear. Yes...there is also a tempo change. measure 49, the accompaniment comes swinging back into the arrangement, and we are happy again after the angels announce the birth of the Christ Child.

Page 9....I brought back the motive from measure 33. I used that motive as a vehicle to move toward a key change, but I wanted the motive repeated over and over to create the urgency of spreading good news. Then....the Basses return with the independent line used earlier in measure 16, Tenor II has the melody. It is smack in their range. Tenor I has the "urgency motive" (functions as an ostinato for a few measures) that we had earlier. Then we end with a homophonic section that uses the "urgency motive" for all parts as we move toward the end.

For the ending, we celebrate the birth of Christ, and we end with a "mission statement".....Go tell it! get the idea as to how I was thinking in this TTB voicing. Of course, if you choose to sing the TB, it is the same idea. You just have fewer options of including all the independent lines. We must keep the melody going! However, the lines are clearer with just two of them. All good!

I love this little arrangement for all ages of men's choral singing. It is accessible for young boys' choirs in middle school through adult choirs. It is is easy. I think you will love it. I loved writing it.

Thanks, Judy Bowers, for introducing me to the value of independent melodies in male voicings. It's fun to think of these lines, and you're right....once each section has their own melody, it's just "Sing your song, guys! Sing your song!" Go tell it on the mountain!

Happy Holidays!!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Christmas Memories"

I love the words of Pamela Stewart. The spirit of her poetry always brings me into a realm of soulful reflection, and I find myself immersed in phrases and images that take me to a place of original thought and comfort. Fortunately, I have a few things on my website by Pamela Stewart, and one of my favorites is Christmas Memories.

When she first sent me the lyrics, I thought they were really nice, but I had no idea how they would affect me a decade later. For both Pamela and me, our lives have really changed since those words were composed.
Pamela Stewart

I can only speak for me when I think of transformations of holiday seasons. I have become acquainted with loss and change in recent years. Nothing is the same and nothing will ever be the way it was again. Change is inevitable in life, and the ability to deal with change is often seen as a primary component in emotional health. How can the memories serve us positively in the days ahead when we long to be "taken back" in many ways?

Pamela creates so many images of fun, laughter, joy, and love in her lyrics. Specifically...this year, I just want the holidays to be filled with good memories and good feelings about the journey of life itself. I am in a totally different place geographically and emotionally as compared with last year. As I look at her lyrics, some were possible in my life last year, but will not be present in the coming  holiday season. Yet, somehow the memories still serve to comfort. If for no other reason, just knowing that I have made it through some major changes in relocating and establishing myself professionally in another state.

So...what are Pamela's phrases that bring me so much comfort in "Christmas Memories?".....

1) "Frozen rain on window panes, the whist'ling winter winds." - I am in a totally different climate, and I'm thrilled. It was cold in my previous location. Really, it makes it a tad nice and fun to experience the cold when you are in the holiday season...or if you are young and enjoy making "snow-persons" for display. Later? Not so much...especially if one has experience in the risks of ice and snow management!

2) "Snowy scenes of evergreens, gifts beneath the tree" - Well....because of a move to south Texas, there will likely be no snowy scenes in my holiday. As for gifts, maybe. But...when family dynamics have been "re-arranged," there might be no tree, and because of the loss of so much family...probably not too many gifts. I do have photos of beautiful holidays past. The memories bring me so much joy.

3) "Glad noels and ringing bells, the singing of a choir" - Good news! With all the changes in my life in the past few years, the one constant is music! I am looking forward to music as a remaining source of joy and one of the most beautiful gifts of the holiday season for me. I am now singing in a choir. I am also directing a women's choir...both new elements of a new time and place. Love it!

4) "Twinkl'ing lights and snowball fights" - I will definitely have a 50% success rate on that phrase. This Texas community has one of the most impressive light displays I've ever seen! We might perspire through the holidays, but we will be aglow in a most dramatic fashion. All good. We leave the snowball fights to those in Kentucky.

5) "Hot choc'late by the fire" - Am I the only person who hasn't had a cup of cocoa for decades? At this point, we're concerned about calories, glucose, and "weight-bearing numbers." Darn! That is a really good, distant memory. Pamela, help me!!

6) "Frozen ponds to skate upon" - Okay...that's a "never" experience for me. No ice-skating unless I choose to pay the broken bones Actually, I have never lived anywhere that would make skating on a pond anything but a totally dangerous choice. It sounds fun, however. Enjoy!!

7) "Icicles on the eaves" - That's definitely a Kentucky memory.

8) "Christmas memories...keep us close together 'till it's Christmas time again." - It's good to have the memories - it's good to have the seasons - it's good to have the music - always.

9) "The sounds of friends and family" - Have you ever noticed the joy in holiday chatter? I'll probably miss that this year. Family is just too far away...but I loved it when I had it. I always thought of Hallmark movies when everyone started arriving. This year, I have a wonderful church family with whom I can spend time, and I'm grateful.

10) "Love to welcome me" - Finally, a most important aspect of who we all can aspire to be for others during the holiday season. Welcome! Happy Holidays!

Christmas memories are so wonderful. Seasons are wonderful. Snow is beautiful. The holiday season is always a time for memories...and this year, I begin to make new memories for myself that are unique to this wonderful place where I now live...Texas. Life has totally changed, but music remains, and love remains.

Christmas Memories is written in ballad style in SSA voicing. As always, EROP will gladly create additional voicings at no additional cost. Just write me at "," and we will make arrangements for payment and delivery. I can generally get the additional voicing completed in 24 hours. I will also send all the individual files (individual voice parts, Rehearsal Preparation Sheets) for the newly created voicing. When you purchase music from Earlene Rentz Online Publications, keep all of the files on your computer. You are welcome to make all the copies you choose for your choir, for as long as you own them. You can send individual part mp3s to your singers so they will learn their parts. You can send all of your singers the accompaniment mp3. You can make unlimited copies of the Rehearsal Preparation Sheets. You will have the file, so when singers lose them, just make another copy without worrying. I must continue repeating the EROP process to new and well-seasoned choral directors. Yes...this business process was my creation.  It worked for me a decade ago, and it works now. I am constantly questioned about the process. I delight in clarifying my business for all of you. I love it!

There is a recording of Christmas Memories on the website by a former student's choral ensemble, but I would probably sing this octavo at a little slower tempo than my student chose. That's just my mood at the present when I think about coming into the holiday season from such harried, chaotic national and international year of events. I just want calm...I want beauty...I want music to speak to my soul. Let it speak to your soul as well.

Christmas memories....