Hey, Voice Teach: Four Off-the-Beaten-Path Rep Picks

PEDAGOGUE DAY! More like Pedagogue YAY! Sorrynotsorry.

Nothing fires me up like repertoire. It’s like damn, I can’t wait to get my hands on that First Book of Mezzo Solos – Parts 1, 2, and 3complete in ONE VOLUME for $30 (did you know they combined them? I peed my pants a little, too). That is a fine-looking set.

However, I feel like every voice teacher owns the same books. There’s about 25 titles that exist in every vocal library worth its salt, when in actuality there’s a WHOLE WORLD of literature that exists outside the “First Book Of” and “Singer’s Musical Theater” series. If I had an extra $500, I would buy everything on my Amazon wish list right now, and probably only be set for a short while because I’m a lizard with ADD.

The truth is, I’m only in my sixth year of private teaching and I’m already worn for the classics. I just don’t want to teach the same songs over and over again, which is selfish, yet necessary for my sanity. I tend to re-live my research glory days vicariously through my ongoing quest for fresh repertoire.

So last year, I crowdsourced my voice teacher friends for some alternatives. I’ve found myself recently putting the proverbial studio mileage on some very unexpected volumes, some of which have some truly questionable covers (don’t judge – you know already are). But the content really can’t be beat. Here they are:

Big Book of Children’s Movie Songs
Hal Leonard

glorious faces...
glorious faces…

Thanks for the kick-ass cover art, Hal Leonard. How did you manage to find photos of my 9th birthday party? If you’re poking fun like I am, you shouldn’t. Children are the future. The kids on the cover are probably Tommy Hilfiger models now. Or astro-physicists.

My friend Audra recommended this, and I’ve used it so much that I don’t have to force the spine backwards anymore to get it to sit open. The defining moment for any music teacher. There’s 66 songs in here; a good mix of Disney, classic musical theater picks, and a few gems that are hard to find in print, but really great teaching pieces, like “Candle on the Water” from Pete’s Dragon. Don’t laugh. It’s good for solfege practice and lies in a money range for 13-year-olds.

I’ve put this one to use with a lot of my youngish voices, but have found it particularly great for my developing male singers (If I have to teach Ragtime Cowboy Joe one more time). I’ve assigned “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King, “Seize the Day” from Newsies, and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story (which has a weird range for girls, but is great for those pubescent voice-crackers, down the octave…thanks, Randy Newman, for your otherworldly vocal timbre). For less than $20, this really can’t be beat.

Ivor Novello Songbook
Alfred Publishing

I vant to suck your blood...
I vant to suck your blood…

Do not let the freakish cover portrait fool you. He’s not actually a vampire.

Have you ever seen the movie Gosford Park? The character of Ivor Novello is literally written into the movie. Novello (1893-1951) was an actual songwriter and actor whose pieces are kind of pre-Cole Porter, semi-reminiscent of operetta (The Merry Widow comes to mind), with a whiff of jazz thrown in there for good measure. All of his songs sound alike, but are glorious, schmaltzy testaments to love (read: waltzes and rubato. Lots of it). His pieces demand a certain technique and agility, which is why I assigned “Waltz of My Heart” to one of my older sopranos. You’ll need some moderately-advanced piano chops to accompany, though. For some godforsaken reason, the commercial chord symbols are underneath the left hand, and not above the melody, so there’s a learning curve, but the sonorities are worth it. I don’t use this a ton, mainly because I just don’t have the voices for it, but every time I whip it out, I can’t help but sightread my way through the entire book and then promptly arrange a dream recital: Novello In Song. Don’t mind if I do.

The Big Book of Nostalgia
Hal Leonard

caution: objects may appear larger in real life. and with mangled spider carcasses.
caution: objects may appear larger in real life. mangled spider carcasses not included.

I use this book to kill spiders. It’s the only one I trust to get the job done, and rivals the Norton Anthology of Western Music in thickness and weight. There’s over 160 songs in here, which averages out to be ~6-7 cents a song. Most garage-sale items cost more than that, unless you’re some sort of haggle-wizard that employs glamour techniques, a la True Blood. Or you’re an actual thief, in which case, you’re going to hell. See you there.

Aside from its +7 arachnid-destroying abilities, there’s truly some fine specimens in here. Lots of patriotic stuff and selections from American movies and musicals, 1910-1950, plus a handful of songs everyone should know, like “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” “Bicycle Built for Two,” and “Sidewalks of New York.” This is truly great for the younger kids, but I’ve been using the songs a lot lately as exercises for sight-reading, solfege, and warmups. Worth every penny (or, as the case may be, all 7 of them).

True story: I assigned the song “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag (and Smile, Smile, Smile)” (the magic begins at 0:45) without really reading through all the words. Upon perusal, I discovered the word “fag,” was, in fact, employed…as in, the old-fashioned term for cigarette. I may have been in one of those late-at-night states of being, the kind where my day’s caffeine supply was long-since depleted and I couldn’t see past the time and key signatures, which suited my needs at the time. Whoops. I had to put that piece to rest. Even if I explained the archaic reference to my 12-year-old male student, there is no way I can make that work. “Gay?” Usually manageable, depending on the context. “Fag?” Infinitely less feasible.

These times we’re in, though…le sigh.

Oxford Solo Songs (High or Low)
Oxford University Press

Look! A tear. For all the times I didn't use this book.
Look! A tear. For all the times I didn’t use this book.

God bless the Brits! I bought this less than 6 months ago and have since assigned no less than five of its sixteen pieces to my singers. It’s a newer publication (2010), and has arrangements by some of our favorite neighborhood contemporary composers like Bob Chilcott, Mack Wilberg (Mormon, but not British), and John Rutter. Some of the songs, interestingly, are adapted into solos from choral arrangements. This made me harumph with skepticism for a bit, but I was not disappointed. My favorite pieces, by far, are Chilcott’s arrangements of “Be Thou My Vision” and “Irish Blessing.” This book should be a staple for choir directors and/or any regular involved party in the wedding and funeral music industry. I, for one, frequent funerals. Take that as you may.

So that’s what I’m teaching with these days. What are you using, Ye Olde Vocal Grandmasters?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *