Searching for Christmas music for your flute choir’s festive concert? We’ve hand-picked six great seasonal books that every flute choir should own.
1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Ricky Lombardo’s arrangement of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas gives the solo to the alto flute, with three accompanying flutes providing a sumptuous backing. This is a masterstroke of arranging and really works, giving a lucky player a fantastic chance to shine and sending the audience home happy!
2. Frederick Delius’s Sleigh Ride
Nancy Nourse’s transcription of Frederick Delius’s Sleigh Ride for piccolo, 4 flutes, alto, bass and sleigh bells is a chance to play less familiar music. This is an early Delius work which delivers the crisp clarity of a snowy day together with the pulse of a horse-drawn sleigh. The bells add a lovely touch!
3. The Nutcracker (in 5 Minutes)
No review of Christmas flute choir music would be complete without a mention of The Nutcracker (in 5 minutes). Judy Nishimura has crammed your favourite dances from the ballet into a very short space of time – and it’s not easy! Your flute choir needs a piccolo, four flutes, alto, bass and contrabass for a successful performance (but she has also produced a version for flute and piano so no-one need lose out!).
4. White Christmas
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas in the Wonderful Winds catalogue is written for four C flutes. This clever arrangement perfectly fills a short slot in your concert and your audience will enjoy spotting the hidden traditional carols. Includes three easy parts, with a trickier jazzy fourth part.
5. A Christmas Collection
Robert Rainford’s two-volume Christmas Collection (Vol 1, Vol 2) will provide you with 14 best-loved traditional carols, including Once in Royal David’s City, Away in a Manger and The Holly and the Ivy. Although scored for flutre choir with every kind of flute from piccolo to contrabass, this collection works well on four C flutes too. Teachers will be able to use this book in so many different situations – a life saver!
6. Simon Desorgher: Jingle Bling
If you’re looking for something a little different why not try Simon Desorgher’s Jingle Bling. Fun to play, it’s written for instruments in C only (piccolo, 6 flutes and bass) it’s basically in C major and it features a popular Christmas tune (can you guess which one?!). There is a complexity between the parts due to the canonic nature of the writing, so although none of the parts is overly difficult, it will take some putting together. The ending is a little unorthodox, but this is a great piece to spice up your Christmas concert. Jingle Bells will never be the same again!
We’ve chosen these six best-selling books from our Christmas Music section, but there is much more good music available for the festive period, and something to please everyone. Merry Christmas!
Tetractys Publishing is the brainchild of Carla Rees, home to her own compositions and arrangements as well as the many pieces that have been written for her. The range of material on offer here is vast. Obviously the catalogue is heavily weighted towards contemporary music for low flutes as this is Carla’s main area of expertise, but there’s much else to tempt you as well.
Her adaptations in two volumes of the JS Bach Cello Suites [volume 1] [volume 2] for alto flute are a wonderful way of developing skills whilst using great music. Breathing and stamina are often a problem on low instruments, but if you can manage these it will really help. Aside from suggested articulations, the music is left for you to edit as you wish and you will be able to return to them many times, always finding something new. There are versions [volume 1] [volume 2] adapted specifically for bass flute too.
One of the most interesting pieces of contemporary music for solo alto is Adam Melvin’s Hyperlodic Interpretations written in 2003. Influenced by the jazz musician Eric Dolphy, the format is slow introduction (poco rubato – aggressive) followed by a rhythmic main section which is always driving forward. A much slower jazz melody follows before the momentum increases to the end. The fluctuating time signatures allow for flexibility in the interpretation and the basic multiphonic and portamento techniques are very approachable. If you are feeling adventurous, give this a try.
Another winner is Moss Garden by Michael Oliva for bass flute and electronics. This wonderful piece is all about texture (‘an exercise in simplicity’) with the slow moving flute writing merging into the accompaniment to create the magical world of a Japanese garden. The electronic part is supplied as a download and you will need some basic equipment for performance. It’s so worth the effort though as this unusual piece would enhance any flute recital programme.
If you fancy something a little more mainstream whilst staying with living composers, Attitudes by Jon Jeffrey Grier for 2 alto or C flutes might fit the bill. This is a very striking duet which aims to ‘capture the states of teenage people’. In three movements, the writing is quirky, and at times virtuosic. Although there are no advanced techniques to master and the rhythmic footprint is mainly straightforward, the challenge is in the dovetailing of the parts to blend as one. ‘Flirty’ is rather fragmentary with short rhythmic figures dancing around each other, whilst ‘Pouty’ uses tremolando and trills to provide the colour. ‘Ansty’ is an exciting whirl of notes which will bring the piece to a rousing conclusion.
Quatraine II for 3 piccolos and alto flute is one of Carla’s original compositions. Her aim was to pit ‘the chattering piccolos’ which are given angular leaps and short phrases against ‘the sonorous tone of the alto’ with its mainly melodic line The result is a perfect fusion of sounds that perfectly conveys the differing characters of the instruments. Whilst seeming ultra-modern, Quatraine is very approachable to play, giving you the best of all worlds!
Recent publications have included a large range of mainstream works that Carla has transcribed for ensemble. Again, the emphasis is on low flutes, so the result is completely different to that of more conventional arrangements. Crucifixus in 8 Parts by Antonio Lotti is scored for 6 altos and 2 bass flutes with contrabass if available, but three alternative C flute parts are also included. Tuning, balance and stamina are the issues here, but this simple work can sound really effective if played well.
More conventionally, the Quantz Concerto in G for two flutes is scored for 2 solo flutes, 2 flutes, 3 altos, bass and optional contrabass. The concerto grosso feel of this has been captured skilfully. The beautiful slow movement in particular contrasts unison tutti passages with intricate solos accompanied by a simple bass line.
Another winner is the arrangement of the Donizetti Flute Sonata for solo flute, 2 flutes, 2 altos and bass. Again Carla has transcribed sensitively, spacing the parts to allow the solo flute to carry over the main group. The solo part is original, and all the intricacies of the piano writing are seamless integrated into the other flute parts. This is an incredibly good way to showcase a lovely but rather neglected work.
If you would prefer to play an original work, Rainbow Measures by Rob Keeley, (2 piccolos, 4 flutes, and 2 altos) is another effective work that will challenge your ensemble skills. Lasting 9 minutes and ‘imagining each player as the colour of a rainbow’, the swirl of notes, rhythms and textures coupled with varying tempos and extreme dynamic changes results in a very colourful piece that will be a joy to accomplish.
The Tetractys catalogue also includes many of the works written for Carla’s flexible group Rarescale. One of the most compelling of these is Andrew McBirnie’s Mechanical for alto flute, cor anglais and bass clarinet, a short 2 minute piece in which continuous semiquavers passed around the group are punctuated isolated notes and rhythmic cells. The exactness of the writing really conveys the predictability of the machine and is utterly mesmerising.
Tetractys is so much more than just ‘niche music’. Delve further and you’ll uncover gems galore and there’s something for everyone.
Wil Offermans is one of the most interesting player-composers active in the flute world today. His music uses sounds and textures to explore different worlds and is flexible enough to be played in many different ways. Ethnic influences, particularly from Japan are very evident and his imaginative writing is very appealing for both performer and listener alike.
Perhaps the best place to start your journey of Offermans’ ensemble music is Voices of Nagasaki for solo flute, flute, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute or cello (optional), glockenspiel and random voices. This piece is conventionally notated and does not require any extended techniques. The glockenspiel can be replaced by any small drum and the voices do not have to be trained – it works very well by giving instructions to the audience! Even without this, the piece is extremely effective. Based on a simple jazz-like rhythmic figure, the haunting melody builds and becomes more intense to the end. The Japanese influence is unmistakable and the percussion adds an extra dimension to the scoring. You really need a conductor if you are using audience participation but it does work well without. This is a really beautiful and unusual piece, so do try it.
If you would like a freer approach then perhaps you could look at Kotekan for 8 C flutes which takes its inspiration from the music of Bali.Extended techniques are used here: wind tones, harmonics and bamboo-like sounds all contribute to the gamelan feel. Offermans calls the writing style ‘collectivism’ which is where “each player performs a relatively simple pattern which by itself seems without much musical value. However, once performed in the ensemble it becomes part of some sensational and enigmatic music” Many of the small sections of music are repeated four times and creates an almost trance-like state. Individually each part seems fairly straightforward but it’s the coming together of all the various strands that is the real challenge here. Worth it though!
Offermans is also into movement, so if you like to dance whilst you’re playing, try Dance with Me. There is only one part here but it comes complete with all the movements and a backing CD. The use of breath tone, harmonics and pitch bends are specified but the again the piece is effective without. The compositional technique is similar to Kotekan, but the style is completely different. This is a really funky piece and if you can learn the dance as well as memorise the simple notes it is fantastic fun!
The solo flute music is really interesting too. Tsuru-no-Sugomori (Nesting of Cranes) is a challenging transcription of a traditional Shakuhachi melody and comes complete with instructions and exercises to help with the extended techniques involved in the performance. The piece takes us through the cycle of the life of a crane (highly revered in Japanese culture) from building a nest through to death. Offermans recreates the Shakuhachi timbre by extensive use of lip glissandi, pitch-bending, portamento as well as a great variety of types of vibrato. This results music rich in colour and texture which is both exciting to play and to listen to.
Made in Japan is perhaps more approachable and comes with a computer-manipulated CD accompaniment. Some of the six songs here are shorter and the notation is rather more conventional, but there is still a wealth of sound worlds be discovered. Synchronisation with the CD is managed by time, which all adds to the fun. These songs refer to the ‘super-sweet sentiment’ of daily life in Japan, and one of the possible ways to perform them is to walk amongst the audience creating almost a ‘virtual reality’ of life. This is a great book for anyone interested in contemporary techniques.
Offermans is also passionate about teaching and is very active, giving master-classes throughout Europe. He is keen to harness the imagination of the less experienced too and For the Younger Flutist does just that. Partly an activity book, the ten pieces use either graphic notation or game playing to introduce the concept of music without strict notation. Each one is very clearly set out and there are notes for teachers too. This is really worth a look, especially if you work with groups. ‘Not at all because the material in this book is supposed to be easy, but young flutists are masters in dealing with imagination, creativity and enjoyment’. As such it can be enjoyed by anyone! Another great idea is the Improvisation Calendar which has 52 graphic scores (one for each week) designed for use in any style at all – the possibilities are obviously endless. This would be ideal for hanging in the teaching room for use in an ad hoc situation.
No review of Wil Offermans would be complete without Thumpy which is a simple ‘thumb flute’ of his own invention. The wooden tube is open at both ends, the blowing hole is in the middle and the 5 notes are made by opening and closing the ends with the thumbs. It’s obviously great for children and also for the more advanced as a way of increasing embouchure flexibility. In any case this is another way of using your imagination and having fun!
If you are not familiar with his music, take a look: you will find inspirational writing which tingles the senses.
Edition Svitzer is a relative newcomer to the world of flute publishing. Set up in 2001, the flute catalogue is under the experienced eye of Henrik Svitzer, one of the two brothers running this family firm together with their father. All three have worked professionally as musicians, and Henrik studied with Marcel Moyse in the US before holding the position of principal flute in the Royal Danish Orchestra for 21 years. He is now professor at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music, and his experience in the flute world has proven to be a fantastic basis on which to produce a beautifully produced, intelligently sourced flute catalogue.
As this is a Danish company, the music of Nielsen is well represented in the Svitzer catalogue. The famous Flute Concerto is edited by András Adorján, and is probably the best version on the market at the moment. Its unique selling point is that it includes two copies of the solo flute part: the first version has all the important orchestral writing cued on a separate stave, whilst the second version has the orchestral writing arranged for a second flute. This has the obvious advantage of being able to get to know the score completely before standing in front of the orchestra. Care has been taken to highlight the important orchestral lines in both harmony parts and in the piano reduction, which has been made a little less exacting. Altogether this is a very impressive edition and well worth investigating.
Hot off the press are two brand new volumes of Orchestral Excerpts arranged for 4 flutes. All the major flute solos are here, and although some of the extracts are short, in most cases they cover exactly the bars that might be set for a first flute audition. Flutes 2, 3 and 4 are arranged to cover the accompaniments and to put the solo into an orchestral context. For example, ‘Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben’ from Bach’s St Matthew Passion from Volume 1 has simply the opening phrase accompanied by an arrangement of the oboe da caccia accompaniment. This graphically illustrates just how this beautiful solo works, and will transform a student’s view of it much more effectively than just looking at the score. This aria also appears in Volume 2 in a longer form, where the first flute takes the vocal line leaving the solo to the second flute – another way of all players really getting inside the music. Arias from Mozart’s Magic Flute are also treated in this way, while the enigmatic extract from Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is brought to life by both playing the complex string writing underneath the solo and hearing how that affects performance. These books are an exciting and fresh way to bring these taxing solos to life and if the quartet is good, everyone can have a go!
Another interesting aspect of the Svitzer catalogue is the music for flute groups. An adaptation of Kuhlau’s Piano Sonatina in G major for 10 flutes (piccolo, 7 C flutes and 2 alto flutes) is already proving popular. There is a particular challenge in ensemble playing with such large numbers, and success is often down to the quality of the arrangement. Here it is outstanding. The detail of the piano writing is conveyed by the first 7 parts, with the remaining flute and alto flutes providing a strong bass line. This means that the texture is intricate but there is always something strong to hang on to, especially if you are playing one of the inner parts. The result is quite delightful and will be enjoyed by audiences and performers alike.
This is also true of Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’ which has been transcribed here by Erik Norby for the so-called ‘Kuhlau Quartet’ of 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), alto flute and bass flute. Norby was a great orchestrator and he has managed to convey nearly all of the vibrancy and colour of Ravel’s score – quite an achievement! You will need four good players for this as all the parts represent a challenge, especially for the alto and bass. This piece really works though and it’s great for flute players to have access to such a high quality arrangement.
The unusual repertoire for flute and piano listed is also intriguing. Composers such as Poznansky, Stankovych, Graesvold and Weyse are featured together with the slightly more familiar works of Morlacchi and Schneider. Svitzer’s own book of Flute Exercises is also worth a look. Aimed at the professional player with very little time to practice, he has gathered together all the essential material that he has found useful over the course of his illustrious career and set it out in a logical order with advice on how to manage it all. His preface states the ‘the exercises are also made for the love of flute playing’ – a sentiment that could be described to this entire catalogue!
There is now so much choice of Christmas music available for flute choirs that it’s difficult to know where to start. In this post I’ve selected some of my favourites which I can really recommend.
Carol settings abound and the choice can be alarming. The best policy is to pick your carol, and then stick to those arrangers that are proven or whose pieces you have previously enjoyed. My personal favourites are Amy Rice Young, Ann Cameron Pearce and Ricky Lombardo, and all of them have contributed music to which you can return year after year.
For example, the Pearce version of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ atmospherically shares the tune, accompaniment and descant evenly between the parts and uses the lower instruments to great effect. This is also true of her arrangement of the ‘Wexford’ carol.
Lombardo’s ‘Trilogy of Carols’ utilises the versatile expandable format. It only takes four players to perform this, but there are actually 8 parts, including alto and bass flute options plus parts for string bass and percussion.
You could take the humorous option. Merging Christmas songs with traditional carols is a favoured route with surprisingly good results! ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ (Rice-Young again!), punctuates the main theme with carol snippets. Great fun could be had here with some audience participation. Darlene Dugan’s ‘A Patchwork Christmas’ stitches together various carols to give us ‘Noel in a Manger’, O Song of Joy (Jesu, Joy and O Tannebaum) and ‘Joy on Deck’. On a slightly different tack, Lombardo’s ‘Santa’s Symphony’ (again in the expandable format) combines carols with popular classics. Watch out for Eine Kleine, 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker and even some Brahms! This is such fun and perfect for most Christmas occasions – a real winner. Jingle Bell Prism, another gem from Ann Cameron Pearce, is a classic. Here she gives this song the real treatment – 7 different styles from a 16th century Venetian Madrigal to Boogie-Woogie and Beach Rock. It works perfectly well with C flutes only but will take a bit of practice. Oh so worth it though!
And finally – what about a Christmas piece that is completely original? Kathleen Mayne’s ‘Christmas Overture’ tells the story of the Nativity. The beautiful opening melody in F minor sets the scene of the ‘Cold, Still Bethlehem Night’ before the music becomes more rhythmic for ‘The Visit from the Magi’. Playful music depicts ‘The Curious Stable Animals’ before the lilting ‘Mother Mary’s Lullaby’ builds to an eventual grandioso conclusion. Lasting 6 minutes this is a substantial piece that will reward the work needed to perform it well and enhance any Christmas concert.
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