Flexible Choirs


More than 10 years ago I started to discuss with colleagues at Oxford University Press the concept of a book for those smaller church choirs who didn’t always have enough singers to cover all four voice parts, and we explored a number of possibilities, such as a book for upper voices only, or a book for upper voices and a unison men’s part.

But the real area of need, we felt, was for a book that covered the variable vocal scoring eventualities that might arise from Sunday to Sunday in the smaller choir. A choir that might be happily SATB one week may become SAB when one tenor goes on holiday and the other falls ill: similarly, there may be days when the only safe option is to sing in two parts, or in unison. The choir in which I sing is such a one, and it was from this experience that the concept of ‘Flexible Anthems’ was born.

Each book follows the same basic formula, containing about 65 flexibly-scored pieces, ranging from well-known and less-well-known music of the past to brand new works by leading choral composers. All of these can be performed by a mixed choir, but the flexible arrangements enable them to be performed by a wide variety of other groups such as upper-voice choirs, choirs with few men, and unison choirs. Some are unaccompanied, but the majority have accompaniments, which are suitable for either piano or organ (with or without pedals). The Oxford Book of Flexible Anthems came out in 2007, followed by The Oxford Book of Flexible Carols in 2009. And now, published this month, is The Oxford Book of Easy Flexible Anthems.

Many choirs have used ‘Flexible Anthems’ and ‘Flexible Carols’ over the years – they are a staple diet for our choir – and so I’m really pleased to announce this new collection, The Oxford Book of Easy Flexible Anthems – over 65 anthems covering the whole of the church year and the various festivals and themes, except for Christmas.

The ‘easy’ aspect is not only in the music itself, it’s also associated with ease of learning within limited rehearsal time, with accessible keyboard accompaniments, and with a clear ‘performance note’ on the first page of each anthem highlighting the different scoring options available and saving time in assigning the voice parts to your particular group of singers. With such a wide range of composers and styles, inevitably some will be found ‘easier’ than others, but the emphasis is always on ease of performance and accessibility, without compromising on musical integrity or quality.

Almost all the anthems in the book can be sung by unison voices or as a solo, and all of them can be sung in two parts. Some add an optional third voice to this two-part texture, and many are in a traditional SATB scoring, though can, of course, be sung effectively by fewer voice parts. The week-by-week choice of anthems is also facilitated by a comprehensive index which lists the anthems by liturgical year and themes.

Compiling and editing this book was really exciting, and took up a substantial part of the last fifteen months – and I couldn’t have done it without the expert help of a number of OUP colleagues and free-lance advisers. From a very wide range of possible material, I think we have achieved a great balance – works by well-known composers such as Byrd, Tallis, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Boyce, Dyson, and Stainer rub shoulders with less-well known figures from the past such as Casciolini, Clemens, Marcello, Goss, Maunder, Simper, and de Arriaga. And of course there are many anthems and arrangements by some of the best contemporary church composers from the UK and the USA (and Norway and Canada) – too many to mention them all, but they include Malcolm Archer, Bob Chilcott, Thomas Hewitt-Jones, Edmund Jolliffe, Cecilia MacDowall, Philip Moore, Sarah Quartel, John Rutter, Will Todd, and Mack Wilberg, and also some who are relatively new to the OUP choral catalogue such as Ian Assersohn, Michael Bedford, James Davy, David Fawcett, Richard Hubbard, Russell Pascoe, Oliver Tarney, and Rebecca Groom te Velde. There’s also a fair sprinkling of anthems and arrangements of mine, and overall I think there really is something for every church choir.

You can hear a good cross-section of the contents on the still-developing companion website or on the free promotional CD that OUP have just produced. The website also includes sample pages from many of the anthems.

Although they are not all completely finalised yet, I am planning to do several workshops in which the collection will be introduced and sung: please email me for details of the person to contact if you are interested:
8 April 2017 – Taunton, Somerset (RSCM)
20 May 2017 – Wells, Somerset (MMA)
30 September 2017 – Hornchurch, Essex (RSCM)
And I shall also be attending the American Choral Directors Association conference in Minneapolis, USA (March 8-11 2017) where the book will be on display and introduced.

I can’t wait to try the book out!!

8 thoughts on “Flexible Choirs”

    1. They should be available in a few weeks – as long as it takes to ship them – they only arrived from the UK printers very recently. OUP’s US distributor is Edition Peters, and I’m sure that big dealers like JW Pepper will stock them soon.

  1. We have just purchased copies of Easy Flexible Anthems from
    RSCM for my Church Choir.
    They are fantastic and just what we wanted,
    Our Choir is depleted at the moment but we can manage most of the
    Anthems which sometimes will be sung in unison.
    We are singing an Harvest Anthem from the book this coming Sunday.
    I would recommend this excellent book to anybody.
    Thank you !
    Peter Hooper
    Director of Music.
    St. George’s Church
    Oakdale,Poole, Dorset

  2. Thank you for editing & composing this highly resourceful colletions!
    It gave a tremendous help to my Church Choir!

    But I never knew that there was a promotional CD for the ‘Flexible Anthems’ since I only have the CD for ‘Easy Flexible Anthems’.

    mp3 file seems not enough for me. Is there any way to buy or get the promotional CD for ‘Flexible Anthems’, or at least download a wav file? I already asked OUP for it but they didn’t have any stock left.

    1. Thank you Bleu,
      I am very glad that you are finding the collections useful! I’m sorry there are no CDs of the original Flexible Anthems left, but it was ten years ago. You could convert the mp3 files into wav files, perhaps. I may have a spare CD though it might be complicated and expensive to get it to you. But please email me (address on front page of website) and I’ll see what I can do.
      Very best wishes,

  3. Dear Alan,
    I’ve just come across a listing for your new book, the Oxford Book of Flexible Choral Songs, due for release soon. This looks to be potentially a really good set of pieces for one of my community choirs, however I am unable to find anywhere a list of the songs, nor any sample pages, so I cannot assess whether they will suit my groups. Can you oblige please?
    Thank you – Margot

    1. Dear Margot, Many thanks for your interest. The book has just gone to press and will be available mid-August. I might be able to email you a full contents list, but for the time being I will email you a link which will take you to a recording of 20 or so songs (there are 51 in the book).
      Best wishes, Alan

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