Canon as a way of teaching polyphonic singing
  • Here is a list of canons at CPDL

    Has anyone employed singing in canon as a training in polyphonic singing for parish choirs? I would love to know which canons you have used, or ones that you would recommend. The one that stands out in my mind is the "Non nobis Domine", and things like Tallis' Canon, but I would love to hear of what others have used with success.
  • I once accompanied a children's choir which used canons with great success -they were among their favorite pieces to sing, including:

    Alleluia - William Boyce
    "Long is Our Winter" - can be found in the Summit Choirbook and elsewhere
    "Per Crucem et Passionem Tuam" - by Preatorius, but can be found in some Taize books
    other Taize canons (Magnificat, Jubilate Deo, Salvator Mundi, etc)
    other "old favorites" - e.g. When Jesus Wept (Billings)
    like Tallis' Canon certain hymns work as canons, at least in two parts (PUER NOBIS, LAND OF REST, MORNING SONG, etc)
  • The Boyce is a very good intro as it's three canons are fairly long, which bolsters both part indepndence and artistic interpretation.
    Don't forget Byrd's "Non nobis Domine." And speaking of children's music, a contemporary (four decades old!) piece by Natalie Sleeth, "Canon of Praise" works nicely.
  • AngelaR
    Posts: 259

    This is the way I've decided to work with my kids at the school! I use a number of the Taize ones.

    Here are some of our other favorites:

    Alleluia by Mozart (based on Exultate Jubilate)
    Ave Maria by Mozart
    When Jesus Wept by Billing
    Dona Nobis Pacem

    Very simple ones include:
    Jesus, Jesus, Can I Tell You How I Feel?
    Father, I Adore You

    There is a wonderful little book called "Rounds and Canons" put out by Schmitt, Hall and McCreary Company, arranged and edited by Harry Rober Wilson. It starts with songs as basic as the alphabet song and "Three Blind Mice" and works all the way up to concert-quality canons and other related arrangements.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,147
    The other thing that has worked for me is having the boys learn the alto line of a hymn. Any self-motivated group will do, but in my current setup it worked best having the boys taking the lead with the harmony.
  • Heath
    Posts: 847
    A couple that I composed this past summer attached . . .

    Update: Files removed. My collection of Eight Liturgical Rounds can now be purchased through this link:
  • AngelaR
    Posts: 259
    Cool, Heath! Thanks for sharing.

    BTW, the book I mentioned above does have its share of religious canons as well.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    I used rounds and catches with a group of virtually untrained singers because of its promotion in Imogene Holst's book, "Conducting a Choir." No one has to stand around while you run a part (very good with distractable adults). You can mix people up and move them all over the room (good for breaking up cliques in the sopranos and tenors). When it falls apart the first time, everyone laughs (good for lymphatic system and general well-being).

    They also make great warm-ups and cool-downs for an ensemble.

    Only secret - the director must absolutely know the round/canon/catch by heart.

    I love them and used to dream of founding an ensemble that sang nothing but (including those "gentlemen's" rounds).
  • G
    Posts: 1,388
    I had great success with them for both children and adults.

    There is a Cherubini canon for 2 or 3 published with the words "Like as a Father...", (don't know where the tune originated,) that I set different words to which even my most resistant-to-anything-but-Be-Not-Afraid choristers were crazy about, asking to sing it every week. The words I used were a paraphrase of one of the ad lib communios, "Christ is the True Vine,We Are the Branches," so that was almost feasible.
    (It requires accompaniment, but that actually made it more acceptable to the anti-solemnity faction in the adult choir.)

    Can't add other examples to those already mentioned, but IIRC, Worship TWO has a list in the back of hymn tunes that can be used as canons.

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World
  • Worship 3rd edition also has a list of hymns that can be used as canons (#1212).
  • WOW - I have an old copy of Worship II and I never would have thought to look that up. Thank you!

    Some of the ones on the list seem kind of hard for kids to sing as canons, though - I tried them a couple of different ways and kept having to play seconds, which I think would be tough for them to sing. But "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" seems like it will be pretty easy to learn and sound very nice.

    Here's the list from Worship II:

    All praise to thee, my God, this night (Tallis' canon)
    Amazing Grace
    As with gladness men of old
    Christ is made the sure foundation
    Come and let us drink of that new river
    Come, Lord, and tarry not...

    You know, this list is going to be long. I'm going to type it up as a Word document and upload it. Please hold...

    Okay, it's uploaded.

    Does anyone have suggestions for how to teach a group to sing in canon? Should I play both parts? Not play at all?
  • I have always taught canons by having the entire choir learn (from rote if possible) the melody, then sing it in two parts, then more if the music allows it. I never play the realized canon for them on the piano, but have them sing it for themselves; in fact, try to make the whole experience a capella. If necessary have them sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Are Your Sleeping" first to give them the concept, then sing simpler two part canons before going on to longer and multi-part ones.

    About hymns - you've probably noticed that many, if not most of the hymns work only as a two-part canons - - three or more parts and you run into problems. Also, the hymns seem like a good idea, but since many of them were not written as canons (but just happen to harmonize) they do not have the rhythmic and harmonic interest of a "true" canon. (I'm thinking of Amazing Grace and As With Gladness Men of Old.)
  • AngelaR
    Posts: 259
    I've been teaching my kids canons the last couple years. I don't give them the finished product; they discover it as we're putting it together, and the process of discovery is very rewarding to them. I do the process in small increments, over several classes.

    I start by singing it for them several times. I ask them to identify the highest note, the lowest note, all the words having to do with Jesus, the dotted half notes, etc. For each of these directions, they have to stand when that particular part happens in the song. I can also divide them into smaller groups and invite only those with December birthdays, for instance, to stand for something I ask for in the music. Once I've done this a few times, they know the sound of the song by rote, and have enjoyed the process of getting there. (I learned this technique from Jean Ashworth Bartle, director of the Toronto Children's Chorus.)

    Next, they start to sing it in unison, and we work on starting the piece over again in strict time. If it is anything more complicated than "Father, I Adore You" I might drill them to find the beat in their laps, or listen to it as I tap it. It is essential that they know where the beat is before dividing into parts.

    After that, I sing the second line quietly as they sing the first, so that it doesn't throw them off too much, and focus on getting them to start over again independent of my line. I gradually sing the second line louder and louder, as they become more comfortable with it. Finally, I divide them into two groups. Sometimes I have to take it phrase by phrase in two sections. Also, I've found that it sometimes helps to have the two groups face each other when singing, as it reinforces their need to listen to the other part.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,147
    Would Slane work in canon?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,332
    Sort of.
    I tried it at half measure, 1 measure, 1.5 measure, and two measures.
    They're all alright, and none are stunning.

    Results at:
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,147
    Thank you!!!!
  • There is a helpful list of canonable hymns in the back of The Hymnal 1982.
    There are also numerous octavo collections of canon worthy material.
    I can think of no clearer way of teaching what polyphony is than to introduce this elementary form of polyphonic singing.
    The Lutherans, it may be noted, engage whole congregations of hundreds of people in canon with men vs women, people vs choir,
    gospel side vs epistle side, etc., and often have four or more canonical parts going at once. It is a wonder to hear and to experience, and God is surely glorified!
    There are numerous hymns from Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, 'General Repertory', plainchant, etc., that can be sung to the wonderful 'Tallis' Canon'.
    The Lutherans even sing some tunes in canon which no one else would think would work - but they do work - and they do sound very confessionally limited or bound.
    It occurs to me that certain canonical hymns could be particularly appropriate during communions, when they might lend a mysterious air of wonder and mystery.
  • As a new member, I want to thank you all for the resources I'm discovering in these discussions!
  • This entire site is...amazing...

    Interactive! Click on exposition!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,547

    I simply love (and agree with this paragraph on that site) that touches on why Bach never composed an opera.

    Why Not Opera?

    But why church music, why not opera? His compatriots, Telemann and Handel--both famous, both rich--wrote eighty operas between them, but Bach wrote not a one. It is a nagging question why Bach, born a month after Handel (and fifty miles away) did not follow the same career path for which he was amply endowed and surely would have succeeded. After all is said and done one cannot escape the conclusion that, though Johann Sebastian certainly cared about his career, careerism was not what moved him. Music moved him, especially when it was offered in thanksgiving to God--which Bach would have granted to any music that was well crafted. Bach's pupils were fond of recalling that their teacher often quoted Gerhardt Niedt: "The sole purpose of harmony is the Glory of God; all other use is but idle jingling of Satan."
  • Ave Maria Round

    Thanks to Francis who taught me how to do movies of scores!
  • Wrong thread!