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The brave new world – discovering the American Connection

Updated: Feb 13

Here are some well-known composer names for your pot: Morten Lauridsen; Samuel Barber and Eric Whitacre. Here are some lesser known: Craig Courtney; Randall Thompson and Randall Stroope.

These American choral composers all come from the period 1899 to the present day and, whilst Whitacre and Lauridsen are well-known to choirs worldwide, and Samuel Barber is known especially for the 'Adagio for Strings' (a re-working of the original string quartet which produces a much less rich version that the normal string orchestra version we hear nowadays), the others are less well-known (excepting possibly Randall Thompson’s 'Alleluia') but come from a very rich vein of music that would also include Jake Runestad, Dan Forrest and many more.

Pictured from left to right: Randall Thompson, Morten Lauridsen, Samuel Barber and Eric Whitacre

Perhaps it's our inherent desire to stick with music we know and that will put bums on seats, or maybe the fear of the unknown that stops this music from having a bigger exposure in the UK. After all, the music of Canadian born Eleanor Daley, which is really rather beautiful and a joy to sing and listen to, has only just started making a real impression on English choirs.

Whatever the reason, we are going to challenge this conception a little with a sing day especially looking at this music, from the gorgeous ‘Sanctus’ by Craig Courtney to the sublime ‘Omnia sol’ by Randall Stroope (recording below), to selections from 'Frostiana' by Randall Thompson and onto the ‘Seal lullaby’ by Eric Whitacre. There is so much for singers to enjoy here, and (as we know from performances of these pieces by my own choirs), also many an audience pleaser.

New music is the life blood of the choral world - every piece of music that is now well-known and loved was new once and the choral music industry includes music setters, publishers, distributors and of course composers, choirs and audiences. The constant flow of new music keeps the genre fresh and, of course, can be mixed well with old favourites. It’s not too hard to forge a link between Mendelssohn and Courtney in melodic inventiveness, nor from Rutter to Randall Stroope in craftsmanship.

Have a listen to some of the other pieces mentioned here and enjoy music from what Dvorak called ‘The New World’ and, if you want to enjoy a day of discovery, come along to our sing day event next March – 'Choral Classics 3 - The American Connection' and sing these wonderfully evocative pieces for yourself.


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