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A schools guide to Christmas choral music

Written by Tom Wild27/10/23

Christmas is almost always a hectic time of year in school music departments. Exciting, yes, but busy and stressful too. To try and alleviate some of these tribulations, below is a handy guide with a few of our top picks for Christmas books to buy for your school choir. Also, we’ve given a few suggestions for pieces you could choose from each book depending on your choir’s abilities and objectives, with a few helpful tips along the way.

Novello Easy Chorals

A fantastic resource for beginner choirs, this book is not just for Christmas; it’s an essential for teachers of beginner choirs all year round. It contains Christmas and non-seasonal pop songs and is fully flexible for unison, 2 part, or SSA choirs.

Easy Chorals Christmas collection is strong, featuring classics such as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Winter Wonderland, which are sure to inspire some enthusiastic singing!

100 Carols for Choirs

This well-known and loved book offers a comprehensive selection of the 100 most popular carols and hymns for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter. It is ideal for sacred occasions and carol concerts, and includes accompanied and unaccompanied material.

It incorporates many standard congregational carols like Once in royal David’s city, O little town of Bethlehem, O come, O come Emmanuel and O come, all ye faithful. These are all brilliant for beginner choirs, as the students can be introduced to singing in harmony gradually, underneath tunes that many of them will know well. With this in mind, ‘100 Carols for Choirs’ really is a seasonal essential for many looking to celebrate Christmas in musical fashion.

The book also features a number of more advanced carols, such as:

  • A crown of roses (Tchaikovsky) – Originally written for solo voice and piano, A crown of roses has become a SATB Christmas classic, ideally suited to a higher-level school choir. With few accidentals and a clear, verse-based structure, its beauty lies partly in restraint. Don’t be fooled by this apparent simplicity though, as this carol is at its best when the choir works together. All eyes must be on the conductor!
  • In the bleak mid-winter (Harold Darke) – There are several established settings of the ‘In the bleak mid-winter’ text, but this elegant version by Darke is just right for an intermediate school choir. Soprano and Tenor solos provide a platform for individual excellence, while all the parts contribute real moments of interest. Again, instilling good ensemble-work will be key to a successful rendition.
  • Past three o clock (Charles Wood) – This energetic unaccompanied piece is an easier offering for intermediate SATB choirs. It features a simple short verse-chorus form, so there are not too many notes to learn, and the time you save on that can be invested into coming up with some dynamic contrasts and exciting articulation to really lift the performance.

Carols for Choirs 6

As the latest addition to the popular ‘Carols for Choirs’ series, this book presents fifty new pieces from a variety of well-established composers and newcomers. It’s perfect for those looking to add something new amongst the classics at their Christmas service.

  • Adam lay ybounden (David Hill) – Hill’s new unaccompanied arrangement of this well-known text features tricky time signature changes, some lovely sweeping soprano lines, and a dramatic climax full of intriguing dissonance!
  • All the stars looked down (John Rutter) – Rutter is a prolific British composer of Christmas carols, and this new offering features some beautiful moments without being too challenging. However, you will need an organist for this one!
  • On this Silent Night (Sarah Quartel) – The final ‘storm blows on’ section will require careful rehearsal, but the individual parts are very singable and, combined with the flowing piano accompaniment, create a powerful overall effect.
  • It came upon the midnight clear (arr. Valerie Capers) – a pleasant and straightforward sing featuring a tenor solo, this carol is a good introduction to SATB harmony. It would work well for younger, larger choirs.
In summary, these are some of the books you might want to buy depending on your choral situation:
  1. For SATB choirs, 100 Carols for Choirs, as well as editions 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the series.
  2. If you run an SSA choir, Carols for Choirs 4 is ideal.
  3. Don’t forget that Novello Easy Chorals can be adapted for SSA, as well as 2-part and unison choirs. Contact our sheet music specialist Holly Baker at sales@chamberlainmusic.com for more information.
  4. TTBB voicings, although somewhat rarer, can find plenty of Christmas material in Rutter Choral Works for TTBB Choirs.

This only provides a snapshot of what you can expect from the books mentioned and, of course, there are many more excellent pieces to choose from across all of them. And, whatever you ultimately choose to sing, we wish you the best of luck!