Basso Continuo: Rep Suggestions

Greetings, ACDA Eastern Region! 

I hope that your February is off to a great start and that your semester is rolling along wonderfully! 

This post is a bit more like what you might expect from a “Repertoire and Resources Chair.” As the R&R Chairperson for TTBB ensembles, I wanted to provide a few pieces that I have had success with or found intriguing. Many of us are wrapping up our winter concert programs and will begin preparing for our spring/end-of-the-year concerts, and I hope that this might be useful in your programming and preparation. 

If I am being honest, I have often struggled reading this type of post – especially early in my teaching. I remember having an entry-level TTBB choir (and an entry level SSAA choir) and furiously looking for repertoire suggestions. Unfortunately, what I most often found was wonderful repertoire that was far beyond the performance level of my group. So, with that in mind, I am committed to providing the ACDA Eastern Region with a variety of repertoire selections throughout the year. It is my desire that you will find SOMETHING that is doable, regardless of your ensemble’s experience level and, perhaps more desirable, that you find a new composer or resource to help you in future repertoire hunting. Finally, I have also included a couple “tried-and-true” standards that many of us will have performed as students but may have forgotten about. I am committed to supporting new music and I do premieres and commissions as often as I am able. However, I also know that there are some older works that are great for teaching specific musical fundamentals and are particularly impactful. There is also the reality that not all of us, myself included, have the budget necessary to commission new works as often as we might like to. 

For this list, I have divided the repertoire into three primary categories: Sacred, Secular, and Theater (all listed alphabetically). Obviously, the Theater repertoire could be placed into the Secular category, but I know many people look for that specifically while others look to avoid it – based on the needs of your program. Additionally, I have identified when selections are available in other voicings for those readers who may not have a TTBB choir. Perhaps you will find one or more of the pieces below particularly moving or useful in your own particular setting.


Elaine Hagenberg: You Do Not Walk Alone

–        You Do Not Walk Alone is a reflective and uplifting setting of a traditional Irish blessing. The work begins with all singers on the melody line in unison, expands to two-part, and then ends with beautiful four-part harmonies. The voices are supported throughout by the keyboard accompaniment. It is available for SATB, SSAA, and TTBB ensembles.

Randall Thompson: The Last Words of David

–        This piece used to be a standard that seemed to be performed at every conference and high school / college / university festival. It is a bit on the vocally challenging side for younger singers due to some tessitura concerns and the tendency to over-sing (which is made worse by the fact that this piece is fun to sing). It works well in a traditional sacred concert, but also as a call to action with the first line “He that ruleth over men must be just!” This is available in a variety of voicings. 

Christopher Tin: Baba Yetu 

–        Tin’s Baba Yetu is most well-known for its inclusion in the popular video game, Civilization IV. The text is the setting of “The Lord’s Prayer,” from the Christian Bible, in Swahili. It works well as an up-beat addition to a traditional concert, or as a selection in a pops concert. The most challenging part of this work is the text in the solo melody line. The choral parts are highly repetitive, making it easier to teach than it sounds. This work can be done with piano, band, or unaccompanied,and is available for SATB, SSAA, TTBB, and SAB ensembles. 

Reginald Unterseher: Sweet Rivers

–        Sweet Rivers is an arrangement of a Southern Harmony hymn that speaks to the pain of life and our longing for freedom from that pain. It is a relatively short work and I have had great success with younger TTBB ensembles performing it. It has a large amount of unison singing which, combined with Unterseher’s compositional work, allows for the teaching of phrasing, line, breath support, dynamics, and just about every other foundational element of our craft. The second half of the work does split into two and occasionally three parts. This work is harmonically and melodically lovely, quite simple to teach, and always a crowd-pleaser. It is also available for SATB ensemble. 


Melissa Dunphy: Waves of Gallipoli

–        Waves of Gallipoli is the most challenging of the pieces on this list. It is on my list of pieces that I would like to do but I have not had the opportunity to do so yet. Harmonically, this work has significant amounts of divisi and is quite dense in some places including moments of individual and paired imitation and cluster-chord dissonances. This work is thoughtfully composed and these moments of musical challenge certainly appropriate as the subject matter deals with death, loss, and grief. It is unaccompanied and is available for SATB and TTBB ensembles. 

Roger Emerson: Wellerman

–        Every time I have pulled this piece out, regardless of the TTBB ensemble I am working with, the singers have exploded with excitement. This sea-shanty arrangement was a social media sensation (and still is), which has led all of my students to be thrilled at the prospect of singing it. It is full of repetition and teaches VERY quickly, while still allowing your singers to enjoy four-part, unaccompanied singing alternating with solo sections. I have used this piece as a discussion of story-telling traditions through song to great effect. I have added a hand drum when I have performed it and the students really enjoyed it. This is available for SATB, SAB, SSAA, TTBB, and two-part ensemble. 

Susan Labarr: The River

–        This work is about growth and development as a person. It uses the imagery of a river and explores the mysteries of life that the river contains. The musical material is relatively straight forward, but does include unison singing, two-part writing, and a section of four-part imitation. The accompaniment includes guitar, piano, and percussion and the work is only available for TTBB choir. 

Jonathan Quick: Loch Lomond 

–        Quick’s arrangement of this folk song is, in my humble opinion, a great success. It combines the beauty of the traditional melody and harmonies but adds an up-beat twist to the work roughly half-way through. I have found that this piece in particular is a great “cross-over” work. I have done it with pop groups and traditional groups, both large and small. It has all the nostalgia for those of us who grew up singing and/or listening to Loch Lomond, while adding new harmonic and rhythmic elements to the ending. From community choirs to university chamber choirs, I have never had anyone complain about this piece. From a teaching perspective, the melody is well-known and simple,making it a great addition to your teaching sequencing. This work is also available in a variety of voicings. 

Kirby Shaw: That Lonesome Road

–        Shaw’s arrangement of this James Taylor hit is one that many have done, and it works well in a pops concert or in a traditional concert. With themes of love, hope, and personal reflection, it is a piece to which most everyone can relate. For what it is worth, I have done it a couple of times and for whatever reason, one group knocked it out of the park and another group of similar size and experience really struggled with it. I encourage you to take a look at it while not being deceived by the seemingly simple harmonies. The tessitura for TTBB ensembles can be a little on the high side for some younger groups. This is available for SATB, SAB, SSAA, and TTBB ensembles. 


Roger Emerson: Seize the Day

–        Unlike the other two works in this Theater section, this work actually originated for a vocal ensemble in Newsies. With that in mind, it fits ensemble singing well, and is a certain crowd-pleaser. I have found that, by giving the ensemble this piece, they instantly grab onto it and take ownership (helped by the first line of text: “Now is the time to seize the day”) which allows them to bond together and take ownership of the rest of their repertoire. I would encourage you to try this piece early in your semester and see if you have the same good-fortune I did in using it to build community. It is available for SATB, SSAA, TTBB, SAB, and two-part ensembles, and can be done with accompaniment cd/track or piano. 

Greg Gilpin: Fight the Dragons 

–        This piece (from Big Fish) is a combination of relatively simple melodic unison, and three-part repetitive chorus sections. When I have done it, it was one of the ensemble’s and audience’s favorite selections on the program. It is a letter from a father to his son about the father’s short-comings, the realities of life’s hardships, and the father’s resolve to do right by his son. It can be done with accompaniment tracks, instrumental ensemble, or piano alone, and is only available for TBB ensemble. 

Kirby Shaw: Make Them Hear You

–        This setting of Make Them Hear You (from Ragtime) is an impactful setting of a powerful piece. In a world so full of violence, anger, injustice, and unacceptable aggression, this piece calls people to stand up for what is right. Shaw uses the original melody line and creates a lush harmonic setting of this work. It is not as difficult as it might look, but it does have some moments of challenge for your singers as it is unaccompanied and four-part throughout. It is available for SATB, SSAA, and TTBB ensembles. 

I have not published any arrangements, but I would encourage you to try arranging yourself! You know the needs and abilities of your ensemble better than anyone. I have found great joy in taking folk songs, sea shanties, or traditional solos, and adding one other part for my entry-level TTBB ensemble. I would suggest this for you as an option to perform, as a way to encourage your students to become composers and arrangers, or simply as an exercise to allow you to reflect intentionally on what your ensemble does well and where you might be able to help them grow. 

I hope that there is something in here that you find helpful for your current and future programming. As always, if there is anything that I can do to help, please reach out. I am happy to talk with you or your students (in person, video chat, on the phone, or over email) about my experiences with this and other repertoire and support you and your program(s) in any way I can! It is always a treat to hear from members of the ACDA Eastern Region! 

Dr. Kevin Dibble is returning to the Greatbatch School of Music, Houghton University in the fall of 2022. At Houghton he will be serving as the Director of Choral Activities and Visiting Assistant Professor of Music.