I have truly had an amazing experience working on this book. This is a list of songs that have really grabbed me right from the beginning for a number of reasons: They are beautiful, they are interesting, I think they are going to sound amazing in a group of singers. Yes, I feel that way about all the songs in the Shenandoah Harmony but these have struck me as early frontrunners!
I want to share just a little information about me as a singer (for those of you who haven’t sung with me personally) so you can decide if my list is something you’d be interested in. I often sing alto. That is where my heart is, though I do enjoy singing tenor and, on occasion, even a little treble. I think one of the most important things for me as a singer is to share this undefinable experience we all love with a group. When I lead songs I often make it a priority to call songs that I think will go well in the group at that moment. Sometimes the ‘when’ is more important to me than the ‘what.’ A great song, led at just the right time, is a really beautiful experience.
So here are my picks, with a few comments about why I think you should pay attention to them.
- 65t Salem – The words in this are so beautiful and this simple, 3-part tune is a lovely setting of them. There is so much “right” about this song – the straightforward beauty, the great setting of the words, the harmony – that I don’t even miss having a fourth part. That is a mark of a perfect 3-part song right?
- 322 Parrish – This is one of my favorite new compositions in the book. Becky captures so much of what I like in a song. It has energy. It is going to go well. It feels like a part of the canon and yet it is not derivative. And that chord at the beginning of the third system gives me chills every time I sing it.
- 184 Sinai – This song is one of the most gorgeous songs we selected for our book. And the tragic story of Merit Woodruff is just heartbreaking. If he could write a song like this before his death at age 19, what else could he have written if he’d had the opportunity? At the risk of being apocryphal before our book is even published, I have a theory that Merit might have actually been an alto. After all, he was a young man. He gave himself a super-fantastic line to sing! What an alto part!
- 288t Savannah – So over in the alto section we sometimes joke about the one-note alto part – but this one actually is only one note! And it is fun to sing it. This short little Billings song has some interesting, oddly beautiful, archaic words too.
- 87 Babylonian Captivity – Such a classic “Kentucky Harmony” song. I have really come to appreciate these minor, dark tunes that seem so characteristic of a time and place. This sound has really come to reflect the region for me. And a lot of them were sort of lost with the changing tastes for more major, happy songs in later tunebooks. This one is an especially great example, in my opinion.
- 243 Balm in Gilead – I first heard this song at a Harp of Ages Singing in Massachusetts and I loved it. It was quite a labor of love on the part of the committee (esp. Rachel!) to track the copyright down and get permission to print it. Give it a try “in 4!”
- 385 Soda – I have a soft spot for a great Southern Harmony tune and this one is really pretty!
- 260t Conflict – This is another song that I find to be very interesting. I’ve sung a couple different of versions of this “theme” and this one seems to be especially successful. The conflict of the key and the really nice text pairing makes this one to pay attention to. But really, pay attention it can be kind of tricky!
- 453 Crucifixion – A big wow on this anthem. It is not easy by any means, but it is worth the work. It is another Baranabas McKyes gem and if you’ve got the alto’s the end of this is gonna be amazing. Think of that note in Idumea that makes people turn and look at the alto section!
Oh and just so you all know…we sang 296 Unitia at my wedding this summer! The recording is from the NSV All-Day, but you can imagine…