You’ve probably heard of Choral Public Domain Library, but maybe you’ve never considered browsing for repertoire there. CPDL is a fantastic resource. Most choral directors use CPDL to find a free edition of a piece they are considering programming, but the “multi-category search” option also allows for browsing! You can select voicing, language, sacred/secular, time period, and find pieces to best suit your group.
CPDL is home to lots of great music for women’s choruses. Here’s just a few I’ve found to be successful. Best of all, they’re 100% FREE!
“Kyrie” from Missa Op. 127, Josef Rheinberger
I love this piece because it can be vocally and harmonically sophisticated, but it never divides beyond three parts. This is a great way to teach singers about line, Romantic harmony, tension and release. Rheinberger was heavily influened by the Cecilian movement–in a time when Romantics like Wagner were experimenting with vastly new harmonic colors, Rheinberger and the Cecilians looked back to the works of Palestrina and Bach for inspiration. This piece combines Rheinberger’s masterful use of counterpoint with the aesthetic of Romantic harmony. It worked beautifully for my advanced women’s chorus.
“Lift Thine Eyes,” from Elijah, Felix Mendelssohn
You are probably familiar with this tune, but maybe you didn’t know it was available for free! In fact, it looks like there is a complete edition of Elijah available on CPDL. I’m not sure I’d use it for a professional performance, but if you’re looking to do a chorus or two from this phenomenal work, it is worth checking out this edition.
“Cor Meum,” Orlando di Lasso
I love early music, especially from the Renaissance, and it is difficult to find music from this time period for women’s voices, for obvious reasons. I’m thankful some editors have taken the time to edit these pieces to fit the vocal ranges of women and post them to CPDL for use for free! There are a few editions of this piece up with slightly different ranges, so you don’t necessarily need to have altos that can sing a low F to perform this piece. What a wonderful piece for introducing your women’s chorus to Renaissance polyphony.
As always, there are drawbacks to getting something completely for free. Since anyone can post an edition to CPDL, you may find some with mistakes. It’s always a good idea to double-check with a reputable published edition, if possible, for errors or inconsistencies. You should always check ranges, as well. Many early works were not written with women’s voices in mind, and editors may not do much to change this. Take some time to explore your options on the site–there are many!
Sara Cowan is in her fourth year as a choral director at Omaha Central High School, where she directs the Junior Chorus Men, Junior Chorus Women, Bel Canto Singers, and extra-curricular Freshmen Chamber Ensemble, and teaches AP Music Theory. Prior to teaching at Central, she taught for two years at Laura Jeffrey Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota and directed the Twin Cities Jewish Chorale. Sara holds a M.M. in Choral Conducting from the University of Minnesota, where she served as teaching assistant for the U of M Women's Chorus, and a B.A. in Music from Grinnell College. In addition to her work at Central, Sara directs a chorus for inmates in Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility.