I like two-fers. What is a two-fer? Have you ever spent hours learning a difficult passage in a piece of music and then realized the difficult section repeated? That's a two-fer. My live as a high school choral director and a composer is a two-fer. I get to teach my students wonderful music that other composers have written and, in the process, develop my craft as a composer through teaching and studying musical scores. Conversely, as a composer, I write choral music for my students because it reinforces my connection with them, and I can tailor pieces to fit their needs.
I work with a very ethnically diverse student population. This diversity has inspired me to seek out multicultural music, texts, and rhythms. I especially love setting Japanese poetry because it is beautiful and contains no diphthongs. My beginning women's choir enjoyed singing my 2-part "Uji River" using Japanese fans. (We even added bamboo sticks to their hair.) I am also fascinated by the harmonies and rhythms of African folk songs. My top choir sang my SATB a cappella arrangement of "Two South African Folk Songs" last spring. The students had fun creating hand motions to simulate the motion of a train in "Shosholoza." This past fall my three choirs sang my new arrangement of a Zulu folk song, "Aya Ngena," as the grand finale of our parent preview night, complete with African drum and student accompanist.
I enjoy finding meaningful texts to set to music. I have set poems by authors such as Rossetti, Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Tennyson. My setting of Christina Rossetti's sorrowful yet hopeful "Remember Me" was my first Alfred publication. Two years ago, I wrote a full-length pirate musical, which we performed at my school. I integrated my Alfred publications, "Ballad of the Tempest," "Break, Break, Break" (an instrumental/dance version), and wrote, "Oh, No!" for the show.
Speaking of two-fers, my piece "The Spinning Wheel" has recently become a "four-fer." After my women's choir sang this three-part round three years in a row, I decided enough was enough. I wouldn't program it this year. However, after much pleading my the girls, I finally relented. As a new twist, this year we added sign language that helps visually define the round for the audience.
During my seven years of teaching music at Rosemead High School in California, my choirs have developed several traditions. One of our traditions is that we all sing "We Wish You" (a piece I composed and Andy Beck arranged) every year as the closer for our winter concert. The song is easy to learn because the returning singers help the new students learn their parts. When the RHS choir alumni join us in singing this final song, it is always the high point of the evening. Now that's a two-fer worth repeating.
Click here for a complete listing of Alfred chorals by Ruth Morris Gray.