Quarantined Choirs

Church musicians are learning new ways to convene their choirs and new ways to make music during these days of COVID-19. We are told that rehearsing in person is dangerous to all unless very strict protocols are followed. This applies to singing in church as well. Many of us don’t have the space to attempt this. What’s a church musician to do?!?

Gathering your choir together on zoom regularly is a great way to stay in touch. You can pray Compline together and lift up individual prayer requests. If you are recording anthems on Spire or Acapella, this is a great time to mark up scores and talk through an anthem so that everyone is “singing off the same sheet of music.”

Many of us have choir members who aren’t comfortable recording their parts into a phone and thereby don’t have the personnel to put together SATB anthems like we have done prior to these days of quarantine. With Advent and Christmas near we want to be able to minister to our congregations with music that brings them comfort and some sense of normalcy.

Recently Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary hosted a webinar to look at ways in which we can make these important seasons meaningful to our choirs and congregation through hymns and choral music. Dr. Marty Wheeler Burnett, Associate Professor of Church Music and I compiled a list of flexible anthems for Advent and Christmas – anthems that are for small ensembles or that could be used as solos and duets. In addition, we are providing a list of hymns that can be arranged as anthems by using bells, instruments, and various voicings. We hope that these will be useful to you as you plan Advent and Christmas services.


Not just for choirs, these anthems work especially well for soloists and small ensembles.


Adam lay ybounden
Matthew Larkin
Cypress Choral Music
 For SSA unaccompanied voices, this Canadian composer’s mystical interpretation of the 15th-century text is perfect for a talented treble trio.                                       

Adam lay ybounden
Martha Burford
For two or four part in canon.                                                

Adam lay ybounden
Peter Warlock
St James Music Press (SJMP) 
This traditional Lessons and Carols anthem is set here for either unison, two-part, SAB, or SATB, a piece a choir or any size can sing successfully.

Advent Carol
Alfred Fedak
This is an energetic setting of Orientis Paribus with a text based on Isaiah 35 for SAB.

Advent Processional
Richard Proulx
This unison piece, using the text, Creator of the stars of night, and tune, Conditor alme siderum,  incorporates four bells (or chimes), finger cymbals, and drum.  It would make a wonderful start to the Advent season.

Advent Diologue
K. Lee Scott
A setting for 2-part mixed choir of the classic Advent hymn, “Watchman, tell us of the night,” paired with a new tune by Scott. The keyboard accompaniment works especially well with organ, beginning softly and building to a dramatic conclusion.

An Advent Processional (Rorate caeli)
David Hurd
Do you have a cantor or small vocal ensemble plus a bunch of experienced handbell ringers? This Advent anthem uses 15 bells which could be spaced around the room. The text from Isaiah complements the Advent readings in Year B.

And the Father will Dance
Mark Hayes
This rollicking anthem is beloved by many choirs and is arranged for SAB. It is also available in four parts. 

The Apple Tree
David Ashley White
A lyrical 2-part arrangement (SATB setting also available). The flute part is “optional” but highly  recommended. Try this as a vocal duet. An excellent choice for Advent Lessons and Carols.

Ave Maria
Chris Bearer
A beautiful setting for SAB that doesn’t sound like it’s missing the tenor part!

Comfort, Comfort Now My People
arr. Richard Proulx
Mostly 2-part with one SAB section, this setting for unaccompanied voices captures the dance-like character of the hymntune. Optional parts for finger cymbals and tambourine are included; the piece is equally effective without percussion. The piece would work as a SAB trio.

I Sing of a Maiden
Robert Lehman
A gorgeous setting of this text for guitar, flute, and oboe with 2-part choir. 

Lo! He Comes
Roland Martin
This is an arrangement of the hymntune Helmsley for unison choir.  SATB parts are provided if they are available.

Ruth Elaine Schram
Augsburg Fortress
2-part anthem for treble voices with keyboard accompaniment and optional flute. This would make a lovely soprano/alto duet for Advent 3 or 4. Part of the “Children Sing” series, but not just for kids!

Maria walks amid the thorn
David Cherwien
Choristers Guild
An excellent choice for Advent 4, this unison anthem is easily done by children and adults alike.  If four parts are available, the last two measures of text can be expanded to SATB.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
Richard Shepherd
Lovely arrangement of the familiar tune for unison voices with a prelude and extended interludes for keyboard and two C-instruments. Useful as a vocal solo or duet.

On Jordan’s Bank
Simon Andrews
This is a fun arrangement of a familiar hymn tune to a familiar text.  For 2-part choir and keyboard.

People, Look East
Craig Phillips
A lively arrangement of the Besançon carol for unison choir (or vocal solo) and organ or piano accompaniment. An optional descant graces the final stanza. Eleanor Farjeon’s poetic imagery captures the season’s sense of anticipation.This popular Advent carol arranged for SAB uses finger cymbals and parts are also available for flute or oboe. 

People, Look East
Tom Mitchell
Choristers Guild
This popular Advent carol arranged for SAB uses finger cymbals and parts are also available for flute or oboe. 

Prepare to Receive Him
This is an arrangement of an alto aria from the Christmas Oratorio and can be done with keyboard, strings and/or winds. 

Rejoice in the Lord Always
Henry Purcell, arr. Katherine K. Davis
E.C. Schirmer
Purcell’s classic “Bell Anthem” arranged for SSA voices. Perfect for a trio of excellent treble singers. Especially appropriate for Advent 3B and C.

Sing and Rejoice
Sam Batt Owens
From the “Not for Children Only” series, this anthem uses 7 bells/chimes and is for unison voices.  

There’s a Voice in the Wilderness
Craig Phillips
For unison or 2-part chorus this piece uses the familiar tune found in The Hymnal 1982.  A flute could be added to good effect.  A wonderful anthem for Advent 2 or 3.

The Truth from Above
Michael McCabe
Randall Egan
This anonymous text, well known from Lessons and Carols services, receives a fresh setting by McCabe. The arrangement is mostly in unison; the concluding unaccompanied SATB section can be sung in unison with the organ playing the vocal parts.

Wake, Awake
John Horman
For three part mixed voices, this piece incorporates Wachet auf along with a dance-like counter melody

Who at my Door is Standing
K. Lee Scott
For 2 –part chorus, this lovely piece is an arrangement of the English folk song, Sally Gardens.  

Zechariah’s Song
David Ashley White
Choristers Guild
A fun 2-part piece to sing for Advent 2 or 3.


Antiphonal Carol
Paul Manz
A classic, unison arrangement of a Bavarian carol, alternating with stanzas of “Vom Himmel Hoch” (From heaven above to earth I come). Have one soloist or group sing the carol sections and another sing the chorale melody. Organ or piano accompaniment.

Away in a Manger
David Ashley White
This SATB anthem is mostly unison; an inner 4-part stanza could be sung in unison with organ or piano playing the vocal parts. A solo instrument – flute, oboe, or violin – is needed, and harp accompaniment is especially effective in place of the keyboard part. A simple, peaceful, Christmas gem.

Elizabeth Poston
Boosey & Hawkes
A gentle lullaby for the Christ child, scored for 2-part treble voices and keyboard accompaniment (which could also be adapted for harp). This would be effective as a duet.

Before the Marvel of This Night
David Ashley White
A two part anthem and the composer notes that the voicing should be flexible.  A flute, oboe, or violin and handbells make this a piece that can bring out the creativity of the director.

Before the Paling of the Stars
John Boda
For sopranos and altos, a beautiful setting of a Christina Rosetti text.

Born Today
Richard Proulx
For unison voices and ten handbells, all choirs will find this a rewarding piece.

The Cherry Tree Carol
setting by Sarah MacDonald
Encore Publications
A new arrangement of the 13th century English traditional carol for 2-part treble voices and organ accompaniment. 

Dost Thou in a Manger Lie
Martha Burford
For SAB choir and organ or piano and one handbell.

Duermete, Niño Lindo
arr. Wayland Rogers
Alliance Music Publications, Inc.
An arrangement of “A la ru,” this SATB anthem works perfectly a as unison anthem or a solo. The accompaniment is scored for piano or harp; the harp is especially effective. Spanish language text.

Gloria from Missa Brevis for Three Voices
Stephanie Martin
Cypress Choral Music
Scored for SSA, TTB, and SAB – take your pick! Especially effective with women’s voices. Beautiful unaccompanied choral writing for a trio or sextet of your most gifted singers. Latin text.

Stephen Paulus
This hauntingly beautiful SA anthem works equally well with a mixed ensemble. It could also be sung as a solo or duet. The piano or organ accompaniment can also be performed on the harp. 

He Whom Joyous Shepherds Praised
Gerald Near
An easy arrangement of Quem Pastores; SAB

Hodie, Christus Natus Est
Michael Bedford
Choristers Guild
Unison or 2-part anthem, with the second part being an antiphonal “echo.” Latin refrain with verses in English. Rollicking accompaniment works well on piano or organ. Upbeat and joyful, intended for children’s choirs but could also work with adults and intergenerational ensembles.

The Holly and the Ivy
Richard Shepherd
For two-part choir and organ, this setting of the traditional tune gets much of its motion from the accompaniment.

Holy Child, Blessed Child
Thomas Pavlechko
A lovely two-part anthem or could be used as a duet.

I Wonder as I Wander
setting by Mark Schweizer
Arrangement for solo voice with oboe or other C instrument. Consider having a soloist sing this from the back of a darkened church as a prelude on Christmas Eve.

Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head
arr. John Jacob Niles
G. Schirmer
A simple folk song arranged for solo singer. Available for both high and low voice with keyboard accompaniment.

Laudamus te (from Gloria)
Antonio Vivaldi
various editions
A joyful duet for two sopranos from Vivaldi’s Baroque masterpiece. Don’t forget about choral classics that may already be in your library or available on www.cpdl.org.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Bruce Neswick
A lovely new setting of the familiar text. Scored for SATB, it can be sung effectively in unison with keyboard accompaniment.

Maria Walks Amid the Thorn
Mark Schweizer
For SAB choir and flute with the traditional tune for this text.

Masters in This Hall
William H. Brown, Jr.
A rollicking SAB setting of a familiar carol.

O Magnum Mysterium (for solo voice)
Morten Lauridsen
Peer Music Classical
Lauridsen’s choral masterpiece from Lux Aeterna has been adapted for solo voice with organ or piano accompaniment. If you have a professional caliber soprano or tenor soloist, the is a beautiful option for Christmas Eve.

O Sleep Now, Holy Baby (A la ru)
arr. Hal H. Hopson
For unison or 2-part chorus, optional C instrument, and keyboard. The second part is a delightful and memorable countermelody. Spanish and English texts are provided. Try a soloist on the verses and a small ensemble or congregation on the refrain.    

Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow
Spiritual, various arranges and keys,
also in Lift Every Voice and Sing II
Church Publishing, Inc.
A rousing spiritual from the African American tradition. The call and response structure allows for  alternation between a soloist and a small ensemble.

Suo Gân
James Kirby
This lovely setting of a traditional Austrian lullaby is set for SA or SSA.  If three treble parts are not available a flute or oboe can play the upper part.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy
Spiritual, various arrangers and keys
A reflective spiritual from the African American tradition

Sweet was the Song the Virgin Sang
Larry Reynolds
A lovely setting for unison choir, flute, and organ. It could also be done as a soprano solo.

Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day
John Gardner
Oxford University Press
This exuberant SATB anthem with organ or piano accompaniment is equally effective when sung in unison. The optional descant can be added on the final stanza. Percussion parts (available on rental) provide additional excitement. Bonus: this anthem can be reused on the First Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Wexford Carol
Don Michael Dicie
For two-part choir and keyboard and C instrument.

What Child is This
Malcolm Archer
For unison or two part choir.  The second part may be played by a C instrument. 


Sacred Songs for Small Choirs
Stephanie Martin
Renforth Music
16 short pieces with flexible voicing, including rounds and canons, for use throughout the liturgical year (including selections for Advent and Christmas). Elegant, contemplative music for worship.                               

Quires in Quarantine                        
A collection of downloadable music that works for solos, duets, and small ensembles – perfect for social distancing. New selections are added regularly. Available from St. James Music Press at https://sjmp.com


H82 60           Creator of the stars of night – Conditor alme siderum

  • Alternate men and women for stanzas
  • If a C instrument is available, use it for the melody and a pedal point on G in the Organ
  • Random handbells on Eb, F, G, Bb, Db or to punctuate phrases (best to omit accompaniment for this option)
  • Sopranos and Tenors on the melody; Altos and Basses organum (melody a fourth lower)
  • Use alternate rhythm on one stanza

H82 265         The angel Gabriel from heaven came – Gabriel’s Message

  • Sopranos and Altos sing Mary’s parts; Tenors and Basses sing Gabriel’s parts
  • All sing “Gloria!” and Stanza 4.
  • Sopranos and Altos sing parts on some stanzas
  • Add C instrument on the Alto line 

H82 53           Once he came in blessing – Gottes Sohn ist kommen

  • Use accompaniment for voice parts in choir on selected stanzas
  • Put Sopranos on the alto line an octave up for a descant or use C instrument

H82 70           Herald, sound the note of judgment – Herald, Sound

  • All on Stanza 1; Men on Stanza 2; Women on Stanza 3; all on Stanza 4; all on the Refrain
  • Use a French horn if available

H82 69           What is the crying at Jordan? – St. Mark’s, Berkeley

  • Men drone on G and D; Women sing melody; Altos sing their part from the accompaniment on the inner stanzas
  • Best sung unaccompanied except for a pedal drone on G and D
  • Use a shruti box on G and D if available
  • Add a G4 handbell at the beginning of each phrase

H82 61, 62     Sleepers, wake!” A voice astounds us          Wachet auf

  • Use Hymn 61 for Stanza 1; 62 for Stanza 2; and 61 for Stanza 3
  • Divide the stanzas by phrase – Men on Phrases 1-3; Women on Phrases 4-6; all on the remaining phrases

H82 67           Comfort, comfort ye my people – Psalm 42

  • Use one or two C instruments – one on the melody, one on the alto or tenor part
  • Use a drum
  • Choir sing parts from accompaniment 

WLP 722        The desert shall rejoice – Sterling

  • All on the first line; divide stanzas by voice parts
  • Altos can sing their parts if only two parts are available
  • Add a C instrument and a small drum

WLP 724        People, look East – Besançon

  • Use a C instrument for an introduction and to play on selected stanzas.
  • Use C instrument on the tenor line.
  • Do one stanza in a two part canon


H82     80 – From heaven above to earth I come – Vom Himmel Hoch

  • Divide stanzas between men and women;
  • Add handbells at the eighth rests;
  • If SATB parts are available us the accompaniment and have choir sing parts,
    a cappella if possible;
  • Use parts of a chorale prelude on the tune for an introduction

H82     82 – Of the Father’s love begotten – Divinum mysterium

  • Three stanzas with plainsong rhythm and last stanza metrically;
  • Use handbells to punctuate plainsong at the pauses (Eb, F, G, Bb, Db, Eb) and randomly on the last stanza;
  • Have men drone on Eb and Bb for a stanza;
  • Use a C instrument on the alto line in accompaniment 8va higher

H82     88 – Sing, O sing, this blessed morn – England’s Lane

  • Try unison on the first and last stanzas and use men and women alternately on the inner stanzas; SATB, if available on a stanza; a soloist, if available could sing one stanza; all would sing the Refrain;
  • A descant using parts of the alto and tenor lines can be sung on the last stanza;
  • Use a C instrument on the melody, on the descant on one of the inner stanzas, and on the last stanza

H82     91 – Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light – Ermuntre dich

  • If SATB is available, sing in parts;
  • Men on first phrase, women on second phrase, all on remaining phrases;
  • With a couple of minor adjustments, the men could sing the tenor line with women on the melody

H82     92 – On this day earth shall ring – Personent hodie

  • Alternate women and men on the inner stanzas; all sing refrain;
  • Use handbells on the upper notes of the refrain

H82     95 – While shepherds watched their flocks – Hampton 

  • Alternate men and women on the odd numbered stanzas; parts, if available on the even numbered stanzas;
  • C instrument on the even numbered stanzas on the alto or tenor lines; if two instruments are available have them play those parts together;
  • Use Winchester Old (94) in place of one of the verses (must transpose up a step)

H82     98 – Unto us a boy is born – Puer nobis nascitur

  • As written in the hymnal, it is already an anthem;
  • Alternate women and men on stanzas

H82     99 – Go tell it on the mountain – Go Tell It on the Mountain

  • All on the Refrain in parts if available;
  • Use sopranos on the melody of the verses with other parts singing ‘ooh’;
  • Use tenors on the melody of a verse with other parts singing ooh; sopranos sing the tenor part 8va higher

H82     103 – A child is born in Bethlehem – Puer natus in Bethlehem

  • Alternate women and men on stanzas with all singing the Refrain;
  • Use hand bells, if available. If not, have the handbell part played on the piano;
  • On one of the inner stanzas us equal note rhythm, not using the accompaniment

H82     104 – A stable lamp is lighted – Andújar

  • Alternate men and women on the stanzas;
  • Use a C instrument on the melody;
  • An anthem version of this hymn is available (GIA G-4121) for piano, organ, flute, and choir. Use just the accompaniment and have the choir sing from the hymnal

H82     110 – The snow lay on the ground – Venite adoremus

  • Alternate men and women on stanzas; if enough singers are available have them sing the soprano and alto parts from accompaniment;
  • Could be sung with a guitar on the chords given in the hymnal

H82     113 – Oh, sleep now, holy baby – A la ru

  • Use a guitar for the accompaniment using chords in hymnal; note that guitar and keyboard do not sound together;
  • Have a soloist sing the stanza in Spanish and the choir sing repeat it in English;
  • Ask altos to sing their part from the accompaniment

H82     114 – Twas in the moon of wintertime – Une jeune pucelle

  • Sopranos sing the melody and other parts sing ooh on from the accompaniment;
  • Use alternative accompaniment for a stanza or two;
  • Add a rain stick, drum, or finger cymbals

H82     491 – Where is this stupendous stranger – Kit Smart

  • Alternate men and women on stanzas;
  • Use alternative accompaniment and have altos, tenors, and basses sing ooh; while sopranos sing melody

WLP    725 – Holy night, blessed night – Sheng Ye Jing

  • Learn a stanza in Mandarin. Pronunciation instructions are found in the Leader’s Guide of WLP;
  • Use a solo instrument for the melody while the organ plays the lower parts for a stanza or two;
  • Use wind chimes if available;
  • Use handbells either to punctuate the end of each phrase or randomly. Use a pentatonic scale (D, E, F#, A, B)

WLP 726 – Where is this stupendous stranger – Mariposa

  • Another setting of this lovely text. See 491 in H82 above.

The Hymnal 1982; © 1985 by The Church Pension Fund,
800 Second Ave., New York, NY  10017

Wonder, Love, and Praise; © 1997 by The Church Pension Fund,
800 Second Ave., New York, NY  10017

Be creative in arranging hymns into anthems. Use what is available to you regarding instrumentation and voices. Your choirs and your congregation will thank you.

Ellen Johnston, Director, Music, Liturgy, and the Arts,
Lifelong Learning, Virginia Theological Seminary