As both a choral director and choral singer, folk songs frequently end up being my favorite pieces on a concert program; singing them is like experiencing a little piece of the culture from which they come. Because so many folk songs have been passed through generations by rote, they often have simple, singable melodies and a timelessness that resonates with both the performers and the audience. The three American folk songs we selected to share with you all have those traits, and we feel that they would work well in both concert and contest settings.
Bright Morning Stars Are Rising arr. Audrey Snyder
This sweet melody is showcased here with straightforward, quality three part treble writing, and the opening and closing of the piece provide opportunities to showcase a set of soloists or a small soli group if you choose. The long notes and ties over the bar provide great opportunities to teach phrasing and vowel matching, and although the harmonic writing is quality, there are also unison moments to both latch onto and teach unison tuning. The accompaniment options are flexible (and each of the options works well), so you have the options of performing the piece a cappella, with piano accompaniment, or with guitar accompaniment. If you have a student who plays guitar, this could be a great way to showcase his or her skill.
Nine Hundred Miles arr. Roger Emerson
This is one of my favorite folk melodies. In this arrangement, I like that every voice part gets the melody at some point throughout the piece, and, like Bright Morning Stars, the accompaniment works well for both piano and guitar, allowing you flexibility in your programming. The majority of the piece dances around a minor tonality (which students often gravitate toward and enjoy singing), and the pitches are diatonic, making solfege and number work with this piece accessible. The optional cello part adds some extra character and color, and would be a nice way to showcase a student cellist.
Red River Valley arr. Roger Emerson
The minor setting of this folk song reflects the sadness in the text that depicts a friendship that is destined to be apart. The three part writing is straightforward and well-written, and, from a teaching perspective, this piece provides an excellent introduction to cut time and accessible, diatonic pitches for sight-reading exercises. My favorite part of the piece, though, is the a cappella section in the center; it’s accessible but powerful, and I think students will feel powerful singing it.
About the Authors:
Alissa Ruth began working at Stanton’s in the summer of 2016. She is a former middle and high school choir director and holds a Bachelor of Music in Education degree from Capital University. She is an active choral singer in the Columbus area, and spends her free time running, doing yoga, cooking, and watching Netflix.
Jen Sper has been with Stanton’s since 2006. A former middle school and high school choral director, she holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Baldwin Wallace College Conservatory of Music. An active choral singer and accompanist throughout the Central Ohio area, she also enjoys good food, running (to counteract the good food…) and the Muppets.