The Choral Collegiate: Repertoire for Ensembles of Non-Music MajorsThe Choral Collegiate:

It was wonderful to connect with so many of you in Cincinnati at ACDA National! A highlight for me personally was connecting with composers,  and learning/finding new repertoire at concerts and from music publishers! In particular, thinking of my own collegiate ensembles,  finding repertoire that engages with ensembles that predominantly are non-music major students. 

In this month’s Collegiate R&R post, Minnesota-based conductor, Shekela Wanyama, shares her top picks of “Repertoire for Ensembles of Non-Music Majors”. 

If you have repertoire or topic you would like to share, please contact me:

Happy singing! 

Katherine Chan 

ACDA East Region Collegiate R&R Chair

Repertoire for Ensembles of Non-Music Majors

By Shekela Wanyama
Conductor, Campus Singers, University of Minnesota
Associate Conductor, Vocal Point 
Repertoire and Resources Chair, ACDA-MN

Working with collegiate choirs of non-music majors, especially when non-auditioned, can present challenges for programming. We consider singers’ vocal ranges; singing and music experiences; comfort with reading western classical notation; expectations and motivations for joining, among numerous other variables even before the first meeting. The joy of working with these ensembles is knowing the singers have joined completely out of appreciation and love for the experience of singing with others. This can allow for flexibility, collaboration, and creativity in ways that may not be as readily available in major ensembles. There are many ways our non-music major singers can teach us that will elevate our work with music majors and vice versa. I’ve had the fortune of working with non-major ensembles for four years, and have enjoyed every minute. Here is some of the repertoire that has been most successful – and would be successful with major ensembles as well.

Treble Voices

JAM! (SSAA) and Wau Bulan (SA)

Tracy Wong

These two pieces by Malaysian-Canadian composer Tracy Wong are easily among some of my singers’ favorites. They are also available in a variety of voicings! Dr. Wong’s newly-composed pieces and arrangements of Malaysian folksongs are accessible and engaging for ensembles at all levels. The inclusion of movement and body percussion make these two pieces exciting for singers and audiences.

Lied aus Ruy Blas (SS, but works well for SA)

Felix Mendelssohn 

While my singers initially expressed doubt in their ability to sing a piece with so much German, this piece grew on them and in time became a source of pride. The full choir learned verse one and soloists learned the second verse. We leaned into the imagery and emotion of the text, and the singers delivered a heartfelt performance.

I Started Out Singing

Jocelyn Hagen

This piece is everything I look for in a piece for more experienced high school and college treble singers: power and strength, high-energy, evocative text, and interesting harmony are just a few attributes of this piece. As with many of Jocelyn Hagen’s pieces, the piano part is stunning – your collaborative pianist and singers will enjoy the opportunity to shine!

Mixed Voices

Cantos de Primavera

Diana Saez

This unaccompanied song gives singers the opportunity to imitate natural sounds that are evocative of morning in different places of the world. If you have a singer versed in bird calls, this is a time to show them off! Repeated rhythmic patterns are a great practice in learning to settle into the music’s pulse. The text is in Spanish, from a poem written by the indigenous Mexican warrior, ruler, scholar, and poet Nezahualcóyotl, and adapted by the composer.

Dios itlaçonantzine

Hernando don Franco

This piece is only one of two extant polyphonic works in Nahuatl, a language indigenous to Mexico. It is a wonderful example of Renaissance-era vocal writing, with the inclusion of chant, points of imitation, and elements of rhythm that reflect the word stress of the language. It is a pleasant ear-worm as well!

Lao Rahal Soti

Samih Choukeir, arr. Shireen Abu-Khader

Shireen Abu-Khader’s Dozan World provides a wealth of resources and repertoire from the Mediterranean region. This piece, a popular song of protest arranged for SATB or SSAA choir, provides rich opportunities for learning about this region as well as about singing in Arabic. My singers loved the expressive melody, beautiful harmony, and heartfelt message.

Shekela Wanyama is a conductor, music educator, and singer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is dedicated to creating engaging and inclusive choral experiences that illuminate connections between identities, communities, and ideas. Shekela has conducted elementary, middle, and high school honor choirs; and has sung with Border CrosSing, the Minnesota Chorale, and The Singers. Drawing on her decade teaching 6-12th grade choir and more recent experiences with university choirs, Shekela presents at choral and education conferences on repertoire for developing voices, building community, and equity in the choral ensemble. Her writing has appeared in Choral Journal and the International Choral Bulletin. Currently, Shekela directors Campus Singers at University of Minnesota and also serves as Associate Conductor of Vocal Point.