Resources for Ward Choirs

This week, the American Choral Directors Association is meeting in Salt Lake City, so choral music is on my mind.  While my career isn’t in music, it’s an art form that plays an important role in my life.  I have some training in piano, choral performance, and organ while my wife was trained in vocal performance.  We’ve spent most of our married life in music-related callings as a result.  It’s not a stretch to say that leading a ward choir is, perhaps, the most rewarding and most difficult of the music callings we’ve been involved in.  Few people want to put in the extra time at Church or (especially if young children are involved) feel like they can do so, which means that ward choirs are often small.  Budgets are limited, so finding music that is usable in sacrament meetings can be difficult.  Luckily, however, there is an ever-growing corpus of free or inexpensive choir music available for Latter-day Saint ward choirs online, and my goal here is to gather a good list of those resources into one place here.[1]

One of the newest sites to join this list is Ronald Staheli’s sheet music site.  Staheli is an internationally known and respected choral conductor who retired a few years ago from leading choirs at Brigham Young University.  Apparently, he’s spent a fair amount of time during retirement focusing on writing music for ward choirs.  Launched just a few months ago, his site includes music designed for ward choirs with limited numbers and skill (often 2-part choral music with piano accompaniment).

Two of the major players in providing free ward choir music are Sally DeFord Music and Linda Pratt’s Free Ward Choir Music.  DeFord was one of the early internet LDS music distributors and provides a good range of high-quality music. She has choir pieces, ranging from 1-part to 7-parts, and offers vocal and instrumental solo music too.  Her site offers recordings for most of the pieces she has posted, which is helpful in deciding what music to select.  Linda Pratt’s site is dedicated to “providing simple arrangements that can be learned quickly by non-professionals at no cost.”  My wife used her music a lot when she led ward choir, and it is pretty good stuff.  Most pieces are designed for 4-parts or less, and she does offer mp3 files with each piece.  Pratt’s site also has a good collection of Spanish-language versions of her music and offers some vocal and instrumental solos too.

There are also some sites that act as collecting points for music written by many individuals.  For example, the Church’s website has a section devoted to providing free sheet music that can be used in sacrament meetings, mostly drawn from the annual music contest.  The other major collection is Free LDS Sheet Music, which has thousands of entries.  Both sites have a mix of choral music and instrumental music and are good places to become acquainted with a range of Latter-day Saint artists.  There are also big collections of public domain sheet music, such as ChoralWiki and the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library.  Many of the pieces available at those sites are classical music and are more difficult than most ward choirs can handle, but if you’re willing to dig into the site content, you can find a few pieces that work well.

A couple other notable free LDS sheet music sites include Tuiofu & Thomas Music, HolySheetMusic, and SacredSongs.  I am not personally familiar with these sites, but I hear good things about them.  SpireMusic is not free, but receives honorable mention because it is a favorite of mine (largely because Rob Gardner publishes his music on that site) and provides generous re-copying rights for the music that you purchase there.

 

With those highlights being shared, here is a list of sites to browse when looking for free choral music for use in a ward choir.  Let me know if there are any missing from the list and I will look into adding them.

 

Collections:

Other sites:

 

Footnotes:

[1] Note that another good list is the BYU Library Guide to LDS Ward Choir Music, to which I am indebted for pointing out many of the sites mentioned in my list.

17 comments for “Resources for Ward Choirs

  1. My mother spent decades as ward choir director despite living in at least six different cities in her adult life. She had file cabinets full of music. Someday, it would be fun to put together a post analyzing trends in ward choir selections. Many fairly popular choir selections from the 1980s (“Oh That I Were an Angel”; “Whom Shall I Serve”) are virtually unknown today. Even earlier selections (“The Holy City,” or “Holy Art Thou” from the maroon covered Sing Unto God book) have similarly disappeared. Does anyone besides me know “Let the Mountains Shout For Joy” (Evan Stephens?)

    It seems there was a concerted movement a few years back to discourage the performance of anything other than hymns from the hymnbook in meeting. It has been to our detriment, I think. Alas.

    Our ward has a number of talented singers, but not a single pianist, so we have no choir at all, and borrow an organist from the adjoining ward once a month.

  2. It’s fun to hear about some of those pieces again. I haven’t thought about them for a bit.

    I do agree that it’s a shame to restrict choir/music numbers down to just hymns. So much richness is lost. I even had one bishop tell us we had to minimize arrangements of hymn numbers-just do stuff directly from the hymn book as much as possible. It was frustrating, but the next bishop in that ward was much more supportive of a choir. He trusted us to make appropriate choices for the choir and even allowed choir rehearsal to function as a Sunday school option in order to increase attendance.

  3. Other Clark – you almost persuade me to move to your town so I could be your ward organist and choir pianist.

    This is a great post with resources I will try to use for prelude, as I have been known to do a little melange of Faith of Our Fathers and Softly and Tenderly. Darn the torpedoes, I’m working up the courage to play riffs from some Beatles songs in the middle of God Be With You till we Meet Again.

  4. Hey, Chet, I’m working on combining riffs from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” with hymn 49 “Adam-ondi-Ahman” — at a former bishop’s request, of course. Some time ago, the ward enjoyed the “Hogwarts Hymn” postlude and a prelude on the Shire theme from Lord of the Rings. (The latter works well with “This is My Father’s World” from which the first 7 notes are quoted.) It seemed no one recognized the theme of my improvisation on “Three Blind Mice.”

  5. Other Clark, The hymns only movement seemed to have been an outgrowth of (a) Boyd K. Packer’s preference, (b) the 1985 encouragement to use hymns from the then new hymnbook as a means of teaching the new hymns (But that encouragement was never meant to be exclusive. See https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1985/11/news-of-the-church/policies-and-announcements?lang=eng and https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/callings/music/introduction-to-music/frequently-asked-questions?lang=eng) and (c) local leaders either over-shooting the mark or defaulting to hymns-only in order to avoid actually dealing with their responsibility for choosing appropriate music and not trusting a delegatee to do so. It got to the point that the First Presidency sent a reminder letter to General Authorities; Area Authority Seventies; Stake, Mission. and District Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents, dated November 7, 2002, stating: “…in addition to the hymns, other appropriate selections may be used for prelude and postlude music, choir music, and special musical selections.”

    I think the function of that letter in practice was to make it possible for some concerned members to show some bishops and stake presidents that they are not required to limit church music to hymns. It is still useful on occasion. I have a copy but do not choose to use it with some local leaders and usually don’t need to with others.

  6. Valuable compendium, thank you! I love choral music, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a ward that had a functioning choir. I would love to sing under your wife’s baton!

  7. Oo. Thank you for sharing that JR. I may need to have that letter up my sleeve in the future. Chet and Bored Organist, I’d love to attend a ward that used those selections for prelude or postlude.

  8. Chad, The 2002 letter is not easy to find. Send me your email address privately and I’ll send you a pdf. (I’d prefer to keep mine private between T&S admin and you.)

  9. JR, I would also love to have a copy of that letter. Very useful for some bishoprics. And since I seem to eventually end up as the ward choir director wherever I live, it could come in handy. Can’t see how to message you privately, so here’s my email: nancy.hymas@gmail.com Chad, great and useful post–thanks for a wonderful list of resources. I’m always looking for music.

  10. Miranda, thanks for bringing up the Western Hymn writers. I’m a big fan of their work (though I seem to have a hard time ever making it to their meetings to get to know them). I will add their link to the post.

  11. A couple years ago in my ward we actually had a brother who was working as a musician and composer. He played piano and his wife was called as choir director, so we actually sang several of his arrangements for choir. We even sang an arrangement of “In Christ Alone” which was actually a popular Christian rock piece 12ish years ago. I miss them.

  12. No need for that letter. Section 19.4.2 of the handbook says the same thing. It was also in the old version of the handbook, and expands on the 1985 hymnal’s preface which designated the hymns as a “basic resource” for musical selections, not the only resource. Besides, it’s not like we only hear hymns straight from the book at general conference.

  13. That’s right, Eric. But my experience has been with local leaders who will look at a one page letter handed to them but will not read the handbook and will not read the 1985 hymnal preface. The result is that for some, there remains a need for the letter, though there shouldn’t be. Obviously, the FP agreed in 2002 that it was needed or it wouldn’t exist.

  14. I guess it’s good I put this post together-I was just called as ward choir director last night.

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