Greetings West Music Friends! Roger Sams here. I’ve been asked to write an article to introduce you to The Crooked River Choral Project and it delights me to do so. Many of you know me as an Orff Schulwerk teacher and clinician. For two decades it has been my joy to connect with many of you in the general music community, sharing Orff arrangements and clear, practical pedagogy. What you may not know about me is that I also have written a great deal of developmentally appropriate choral music. For many years my colleague, Laura Webster, has asked me to write choral music for her to use as culminating pieces in her music programs. Often she has made specific curricular request that I’ve been able to accommodate. For quite some time she has been encouraging me to publish these pieces, telling me time and again that she finds few composers who write with such a solid sense of developmental pedagogy and that other music teachers need to have access to this music.
Heather Klossner, a public school music educator who also works with the San Antonio Children’s Chorus, agrees saying, “Beautiful lyrics, creatively set to melodies that are very singable for the developing chorister. This is wonderful choral music delivered in a 21st century format. Roger has created pedagogically sound choral pieces that are at the same time artistic concert works. Last week we started our new music in Prelude Choir. The kids were so excited that we are doing “Marching Song.” Said one child, “Yea, another song by Mr. Sams!”
Laura has also introduced me to James Carr, who writes extraordinarily beautiful choral music that fits with the vision of The Crooked River Choral Project. I know that you’re going to enjoy getting to know his music as well.
MIE Publications has given me to charge to create a new line of choral music that integrates with our music curricula. We anticipate that the way teachers purchase music is going to change in the coming years. We believe that we’re ahead of the curve with The Crooked River Choral Project. Rather than purchasing individual octavos for your choir, each of our pieces is available in a self-contained package that gives you everything you need for an artful learning and performance experience with your students. We begin by setting very high artistic standards. Dr. Julie Scott, from Southern Methodist University, and I are co-editing this series and we are committed to bringing you only pieces of the highest quality. This is something that you can count on from us!
You purchase what looks like a CD. When you open the jewel case you’ll find two discs. The first disc is a CD rom. This disc contains all of the scores that you’ll need. You get a full score, a vocal score, a piano score and a score for any additional instrumental parts. Some of our pieces come with multiple arrangements. For example, “Hazrat Bibi Maryam” comes in two different versions, a three-part version (either SSA or SAT) and an SATB version. You get all three variations on the CD rom. You choose the arrangement that best meets your needs. The original purchaser has unlimited duplication rights. Print up as many copies as you need for your choir. My vision is that many of you will bypass using paper scores with your students. You may choose to shine the vocal score on your whiteboard and eliminate the need for each student to be holding paper. While our primary focus is elementary and middle school choirs, some of our pieces are so compelling that they have a wide range of appeal and applicability. Cynthia Caporella Ph.D., Director of Liturgical Music and Musical Arts at John Carroll University, who recently performed “Hazrat Bibi Maryam” with her university choir, writes, “I was impressed by the quality and accessibility of the arrangements and the thoroughness of the package contents, including a performance cd as an example of clean, clear diction and a possible interpretation of the piece and a recording of the accompaniment for rehearsal. All of the above comes at one low price, with permission to copy! It was a delight to experience this new offering and I look forward to more.”
The second disc is a CD that contains all of the recordings that you will need to teach the piece. We’ve chosen to include two kinds of recordings, children’s voices and an adult female vocal model. Again, you choose which you prefer to use. You’ll be given full recordings of each piece, recordings of each individual part with piano accompaniment, and an accompaniment only recording. Use the full recording to inspire your students. Send them home with the rehearsal recording of their part only. Use the accompaniment only track to rehearse at school if you don’t have the luxury of a full-time accompanist.
I’m proud to introduce you to the first four titles in The Crooked River Choral Project:
Volume 1: “Where Go the Boats” is the first installment in the Robert Louis Stevenson Song Cycle, by Roger Sams. This elegant, unison pentatonic melody will charm and delight your singers while cultivating beautiful, lyrical singing. Opportunities for literacy work abound, with particularly clear opportunities to practice Low Sol and Low La (below the Do tonal center).
Stephanie Asiala-Gross from Petosky, MI says, “I am currently using this piece with my 70+ member choir made up of 3th, 4th, and 5th grade students. This beautiful poem set to an elemental melody has many great teaching moments. Solfege, diction, and phrasing are easy enough for students to produce an ear pleasing, organic singing voice. The range is very appropriate for this age group. I can't wait to share the calm experience this brings to the group when our children live in such a fast-paced world. My son, a fourth grader, says, "Singing this song makes me feel mystical."
Volume 2: “Marching Song” is the second installment in the Robert Louis Stevenson Song Cycle, by Roger Sams. This lively three-part treble arrangement is both fun to sing and loaded with clear teaching opportunities. The melody for the verses is pentatonic, with an emphasis on Low Sol and Low La (below the Do tonal center). The chorus offers three mock instrument parts, each with their own melodic identities. Put them all together and you’ve got young singers singing in three-part harmony with joy and ease. Stephanie Huss, who commissioned this piece for her students, writes, “Marching Song" was a huge success with my young singers, not only because they had such fun singing it but also because the different voice parts layered in seamlessly, making 3-part harmony very accessible. The lively text from Robert Louis Stevenson also offered an opportunity for movement and dramatic staging. I would highly recommend this delightful piece for early elementary singers in your next program.”
Volume 3: “Star” is based on the poem, A Christmas Tree by William Burford. James Carr brings a modern sensitivity to this beautiful, seasonal piece. Solo and duet opportunities present themselves in the beginning of the piece. As it develops, the canonic relationship between the soprano and alto lines lends itself to movement. Long tones and exquisitely crafted phrases support the cultivation of beautiful, lyrical singing. Frequent rests on beat one, make this piece a challenging and stimulating study in rhythm and meter. We’ve included a unison score for choirs that want to sing this beautiful piece, but may not yet have skills to perform the two-part version. Regarding Carr’s fine work, Beth Melin Nelson of St. Paul, Minnesota says, “I appreciate the sacredness of your music that is so accessible to my children of many faith traditions.”
Volume 4: “Hazrat Bibi Maryam: A Song for Peace" by Zuleikha is a simple song. Using Arabic text, it praises Mary, Mother of Jesus, as a doorway for remembering all the mothers on the earth, those who came before and those who will come after. The refrain means “Peace be with you.” This song came as an inspiration for greater love and harmony in the world. We’ve included an alternative text that fuses English and Arabic for those who might not be able to use the text honoring Mary. This English/Arabic text honors all mothers and eliminates any discomfort that may come with performing sacred texts in public schools. “Hazrat Bibi Maryam” comes in a three-part (SSA or SAT) version and a SATB version. There is also a beautiful circle dance that can be performed with this piece.