A collection of rounds and canons, ideal for warm-ups and introductory songs for choirs. Easy Level.
Belle Mama (round) - warm up
Belle Mama (‘Call mother’) is a traditional song from the Torres Straits, near Australia. The comfortable register makes this a great piece to start a rehearsal. It can also be sung in many ways—loud, soft, with varying articulations and in up to 8 parts.
Sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was one of music histories great contrapuntalists, a type of writing that includes the round or ‘canon’. ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’, means ‘Grant Us Peace’ and is sung at the end of the ‘Agnus Dei’ in the Christian mass.
Hey Ho, Nobody Home (round in two, three or six parts)
An English carol dating from the 16h century. With the words ‘Meat nor drink nor money have I none’ singers would solicit payment in exchange for their carolling. Given that there is no specific mention of the Christmas season, however, it makes a good piece at any time of the year.
A lovely three-part round of German origin. It should be sung at a gentle walking pace and as lyrically as possible. Once the English text is mastered, try the German—a great way to start singing in new languages (and if you are German, do that in reverse!).
Like ‘Hey Ho Nobody Home,’ this carol was likely sung on doorsteps specifically to encourage payment i.e. to ’Please put a penny in the old man’s hat’. The familiar text makes it easy to teach, whilst the shape of the melody, up and down over an octave, makes it a great way to practise all the degrees of the scale.
Shalom Chaverim is a Hebrew greeting song that also works as a round. As well as a great concert piece, its wider range makes it good for gently warming-up the higher choral registers. The word ‘chaverim’ begins with the sound ‘kh’ a little like the ‘ch’ sound in the Scottish word ‘loch.’ It may be replaced with ‘hah’ if it proves tricky for the singers.
Hayes - By the Waters of Babylon (round for three voices)
Originally written by Philip Hayes in the 18th century, this round was made famous by Don McLean on his album ‘America Pie.’ It stands out for its harmonies, which are more imaginative than those of the average round. It should be sung with great expressivity, especially on the words ‘wept.’
anon - Alleluia, Gracia Deo (Round for 3 voices)
An anonymous round, probably originating from the sixteenth century or earlier. The words ‘Alleluia, Gracia Deo’ translate simply as ‘Alleluia, by the grace of God.’ The longer phrases and slow tempo make it good for practising breath control. Sung gently it is also good for getting choir members to listen to one another, encouranging good ensemble and intonation.
A traditional English folksong written by John Hilton in the seventeenth century. The ‘Greenwood’ in the lyrics is likely a reference to the Greenwood in Shakespeare’s ‘As you Like It.’ It’s slow scale downwards, followed by faster movement upwards and then a final range extension make this a great one for opening up the vocal chords at the beginning of a rehearsal.
Though Henry Purcell wrote more risqué rounds than this, this one is nevertheless pretty cheeky: ‘I kissed her once, I kissed her twice/And we were right merry.’ Naughtiness aside, it is a very fine piece, with lovely harmonies and a striking, albeit tricky to sing, main tune.
A traditional English hunting song that can be sung as a round. It’s a good one for practising those triple rhythms—especially be sure to keep those ‘tantara’s nice and crisp for maximum boisterous effect. Tally-ho!
'Oh How Lovely' originates from Germany, where the text is ‘O wir wohl ist mir am Abend’. It is a gorgeously expressive three-part round, with hypnotic long notes on the words ‘ding, dong.’ These should be sung with a little accent to mimc the striking of a bell.
Tallis - All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night
Tallis’s exquisite canon was used at the end of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Noye’s Fludde’ on the words ‘The spacious firmament on high,’ not to mention as a Christian hymn. It is very simple to sing and can be built into a mightily impressive 8-part round.
‘Hine Ma Tov’ is a Hebrew folk song, the words meaning ‘How Good and Joyous’. The melody is easy, leaving those unfamiliar with Hebrew the chance to concentrate on the trickier words. As a round it is relatively unusual, being in just two parts.
Lasso - Celebrons Sans Cesse (Round for four voices)
‘Célébrons sans cesse’ (‘Let us celebrate without end’) is by celebrated Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus (1532–1594). It definitely has a trickier melody, with a wide range and awkward tied rhythms. As a round, however, it is truly lovely, building into a satisfying four bar chord sequence, the tied rhythms becoming achingly lovely suspensions.
Purcell - Fie, Nay, Prithee John (round for three voices)
'Fie, Nay, Prithee' John finds Henry Purcell, yet again, in the public house. It has tricky angular melodies and a wide range, making it harder to learn. It’s bawdiness, however, makes it irresistible. One for concerts, yes, but also perhaps to accompany a cup of ale afterwards.