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Most challenging song(s) for you personally that you were proud of yourself for learning and performing well!

For me, right now, the most awesomely hard song I ever did with my choir was I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes by Leo Sowerby. It went everywhere but where my ear wanted to go, and the 6/4 time signature was a killer(what a mean thing to do to singers, haha!), but you know what? We did it, and it was awesome! Another one was the Deposuit Potentes movement of Vivaldi's "Magnificat" which can run away from you if you don't stay on top of the rhythm. Then he tries to trip you at the end of the run with a weird interval! (Meanie! :)) I ended up memorizing that movement and it was easy by the time I performed it with my choir.
It's the BEST feeling to "get" a song!
So I'd like to ask all of you--
Is there any music that looked like a mountain to you until you figured it out and nailed it?
Replies (45): Threaded | Chronological
on November 23, 2013 3:47pm
The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore by Menotti. One of the toughest pieces I have ever sung.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 23, 2013 6:29pm
Heinz Werner Zimmermann's, Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme  but I got it, finally. Great piece! Stravinsky's, Illumina nos totally stifled me.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 7:46am
Two that my choir performed last night in concert:  Britten Antiphon and Bernstein Chichester Psalms.  'Course, there is always the second of the two fugues on "et vitam venturi" in the Credo from Beethovan's Missa Solemnis ...
David Spitko, Artistic Director
The Choristers
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 24, 2013 7:59am
Frühlingsblick by Max Reger is a pretty tough one.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 8:00am
My high school jazz choir is working on an arrangement of "All The Things You Are" which is a cross between a Swingle Singers & New York Voices. Super tough! Each measure is a hill (mountain) to climb. Every other day or two, one of my singers will come to me and ask if we could just forget working on it or, "Could we just cut this section and paste the ending right there!" Fortunately, we are down to about 16 measures. Each day they are seeing the feeling of satisfaction over a bit of blood, sweat, and fears!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 8:02am
Without question, the premier of Thomas L. Read's "Carving the Circle" - really great pieces and nearly impossible!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 8:08am
Schoenberg's Friede Auf Erden; Penderecki's Stabat Mater
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 24, 2013 8:55am
Balshazzar's Feast by Walton.  I grew to love it, but learning was tough!
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 24, 2013 2:27pm
I have two to throw into the ring - 1) Andrew Lloyd Webber "Requiem" - I think he made it harder than it needed to be! 2) Dave Brubeck "Light in the Wilderness." I agree re Chirchester Psalms, Beethoven "et vitam venturi" and Belshazzer; not easy, but wonderful to sing. Wolf "Die feuerreiter" is another difficult piece.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 3:11pm
R. Murray Shafer's "A Medieval Bestiary" -- some very bizarre stuff in there, but oh so cool!!  Took us awhile to get it, but it was definitely worth the effort.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 6:51pm
Schoenberg's De Profundis.   12-tone, atonal, in Hebrew, really hard and random-sounding rhythms.  I sang it in grad school under Robert Fountain.  He started by teaching us the tone row and all its permutations, painstakingly, insisting on perfect tuning every time.  By the time we had the piece under our belts, we had that atonal universe fixed indelibly in our minds, and it felt as expressive and home-y as any major key.  It is, to this day, still the most powerful musical experience I've ever had.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on November 24, 2013 8:42pm
As a singer?
Nenia by Lars Edlund. 10 minutes of clusters, quartertones, overlapping polyrhythms, plenty of major 7ths and minor 9ths to tune but not a single diatonic triad anywhere in the piece. It took us an entire semester, and it was the only piece we sang for that semester!
I've sung the Menotti mentioned elsewhere in this thread, and it was an easy sight-sing by comparison
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 5:53am
I must agree with Austen.  Menotti's "The Unicorn, The Gorgon, and The Manticore" is incredibly challenging, but an amazing artistic ride.  Some of the other tough ones to perform are the Beethoven "Missa Solemnis" (simply for the physical demand to sing it), the fugue from the 3rd movement of the Brahms Requiem, and Hubert Parry's "My Soul There is a Country".  All fantastic pieces of music!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 25, 2013 8:31am
For my Middle School Choir: Barber's Agnus Dei (a cappella), Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine, Thompson's Alleluia (a cappella), Hancock's Judge eternal, Wilhousky's Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Professional: Stravinky's Les noces, Shostakovich's Symphony #13 (Babi Yar)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 9:48am
In college, Poulenc's Gloria and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, (as a baroitone singing tenor), in the same concert.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 11:31am
"La Guerre" by Jannequin and Lars Edlund "Gloria."
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 25, 2013 1:08pm
So many of the  c.1440-1520 rep, (& before Trent) we performed at the Columbia Collegium & Renaissance Chorus of NY were wonderful after we got our polyphony straight! Later attempts with Ives, Schoenberg, Stravinsky et al always seemed to need others to convince me it was or wasn't nailed!
Am feeling good with our current work with Eton Composers Browne, Lambe also Sheppard in our upcoming concerts. Our 1975 Fayrfax Missa Tecum Principium under Harold Brown took over 4 months to solidify, but was memorable.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 4:29pm
I'd say first and foremost the piece I was most proud of mastering was when I was singing with the Netherlands Chamber Choir and we prepared, recorded, and performed the Lamentatio Jeremiæ prophetæ by Ernst Krenek. It is reputed to be the most challenging choral work ever written. An a cappella twelve-tone composition that clocks in at about 1 hour and 15 minutes, it is written without bar-lines and explores a variety of Renaissance contrapuntal techniques. As the piece proceeds through each of the Hebrew letters it gradually gets more and more complex polyphonically with the choir eventually splitting into about 12 parts. Each time the refrain, "Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum", returns it is more complex and expressive. An amazing piece. Normally, we would rehearse a project about a week or so, but for this piece it took us a good 3 weeks to master it. After recording it we then took it to various venues to perform it. The effect on audiences was always the same--totally overwhelming. It packs a serious wallop! After our recording was released we were rewarded by receiving a wonderful letter from Mr. Krenek in 1992, shortly before he died, expressing his profound and deepest gratitude. He said he had long doubted this piece of his, conceived and written during the darkest days of the Second World War, would ever be recorded or even performed so well. He considered it the best recording any of his works had ever received! A few years later we did it again for several performances, and for those of us who had learned it the first time, it was easy peasy! Once you get a piece like that into your voice and head, you never forget it. If I had to, I could probably sing it tomorrow! Our recording is one of which I am enormously proud.
Some other pieces I have performed and found enormously challenging, but ultimately incredibly rewarding are: Messiaën's "Cinq rechants" and André Jolivet's "Épithalame" (a work hardly known on this side of the pond). Again, these pieces are about as hard as a cappella choral music can get, but once you get them learned, performing them is nothing short of incredible!! How blessed I have been.....
Applauded by an audience of 4
on November 25, 2013 7:01pm
F. Melius Christiansen wrote some mega anthems.  Anyone heard Copland's "In the beginning"?  It's fun. :)
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 26, 2013 10:17am
Kristoff Pendereztki's "Agnus Dei". An incredibly moving piece with a 10 note chromatic cluster chord on "PECCATA!" square in the middle.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 27, 2013 7:44am
I'm glad I see some Murray Schaefer here, seeing his Miniwanka for the first time blew me away, that someone could do that to sheet music and expect others to sing it. But all it took was a conductor willing to disect it, and it became manageable.

Orban's Pange Lingua was a bit of a test for me, that quaver run toward the end with no discernable melody? Yikes, I don't know if I ever got it right.

I'm very happy with the standard of which I performed Brahms' requiem, but only because we started learning it on the Saturday and performed it on the Thursday. A lot of material to cover, especially so when it was matched with Barber's Prayers of Kierkegaard.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 27, 2013 5:56pm
For me, they included:
Bernstein- "Chichester Psalms"
Bernstein- "Almighty Father" from his Mass.  Acapella- Every interval had to be memorized.
Schoenberg-"Friede auf Erden"
Stravinsky-"Symphony of Psalms"
Ellington (Arranged by Alice Parker)-"Songs from the Sacred Concerts".  This was the first time I sang choral jazz arrangements.
Delius-"Sea Drift".  We had an acapella interlude in the center that had to be perfectly in tune when the orchestra came back in, and we recorded it with the Florida Orchestra for the Naxos classical label, which meant it had to be of the highest standard.  The reward was the recording hit #1 on the Amazon Classical Choral charts and was ranked #15 in the Grammy nomination votes for that category.
We are currently preparing Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium" for the Florida Orchestra's "Holiday Pops" Concerts, but since it is also being recorded live for the Naxos label, our bar is set very high.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 28, 2013 8:21am
for me personally...
The most challenging works I have performed...and very fortunately with the Phila. Orch were:
1. Penderecki - St. Luke Passion
2. Barber - The Lovers
I never worked so hard, as a chorister, than in performing these works!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 28, 2013 9:35am
Rachmaninov 'The Bells' --even in English, it was still beyond us by concert time. We train-wrecked and lip-synched our way through it somehow, and fortunately the orchestra was so good that nobody cared about the chorus suddenly going AWOL for long stretches.
Britten's 'Sacred and Profane' --8 short pieces, they sounded and looked so simple at first--  NOT!! We knocked ourselves out, but still ended up having to drop 2 of the movements at the last minute. But we nailed the remaining 6. Very, very worth it.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 29, 2013 8:02am
Sven David Sandström:  Agnus Dei
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 29, 2013 11:47am
In our early years, it was Messiaen's Cinq Rechants. When we actually did it in performance, it seemed as if it was only by magic.
More recently, it was Imagining Incense, the title piece from our third R Murray Schafer CD. Schafer's music ranges from easily do-able to intensely challenging - there's one movement in Imagining Incense which reaches that latter limit!
But managing to get through these hard pieces often brings the singers and me immense satifaction.
Jon Washburn
Vancouver Chamber Choir
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 17, 2014 11:02pm
To be completely honest one of the most difficult pieces I have had to learn was Fling Wide the Gates in Stainer's marvellous Crucifixon.. When I first began learning the piece boy it was hard but our choir had it quite beautifully done but the time Good Friday came last year so I was extremely proud of myself and the choir for that amazing performance we did. :)
Brianna Bambery
St Peter's Cathedral Choir, Adelaide
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 18, 2014 8:39am
Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms"... and three psalms (Ps.112/113/114? unsure of exact title...) by Yeheskel Braun... all in Hebrew...
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 19, 2014 8:47am
Leos Janacek - "Glagolitic Mass"
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 19, 2014 6:40pm
I remember from university days that the Chichester Psalms were a real bear.  Ligeti's Nokwik (sp.?  I can't seem to find it anywhere now) and Hambreaus' Motet for the Archangel Michael were difficult but wonderful and enjoyable challenges.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 20, 2014 10:55am
The complete Carmina Burana with its tempo changes with a high school choir. Exciting accomplishment.
R. Murray Shafer's Epitaph for Moonlight which once dissected was very manageable.
Same for his Gamelan.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 21, 2014 2:54am
Frank Martin Mass
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 11, 2014 10:43pm
"The Major-General's Song" from Pirates of Penzance. "Sam" from Forbidden Places by Meat Puppets (think "End of the World As We Know It," only more so). Jeff Buckley's cover of "The Way Young Lovers Do" (challenge yourself to replicate every syllable).
on August 12, 2014 6:37am
It's being published through Pavane as we speak, and the Concordia Choir is performing it this fall. 
I dare anyone to try it.  MWA HA HA!!!   ;)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 15, 2014 5:51pm
Beasty! I like it!
on August 13, 2014 6:52am
The Lamb of God arrangement of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. Also, King David by Arthur Honegger!
on August 13, 2014 5:16pm
It seemed impossible at the beginning of the year, but we recently wrapped up a tour in Scotland & England with Bach's motet Singet dem Herrn on the program. 36 pages long and it never felt shorter than that.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 14, 2014 6:58am
My jazz choir tackled and conquered  "The Garden" by Bobby McFerrin. Definitely one of our most challenging acapella pieces. Memorizing the roadmap alone was a separate challenge in itself. 
on August 14, 2014 11:04am
I never had any type of voice training and was not allowed to sing in my high school choir (after successfully passing the audition) because I would not play in the marching band (was a school requirement).  So, when I got to college, everything in choir was new, challenging and exciting, particularly Les noces, the sections of the B minor Mass with the vocal runs, and Carmina Burana.  This was  the 60s, and still the era of men's and women's colleges in New England, so it also helped that each term concluded with a joint performance with one of the women's colleges!
on August 14, 2014 8:28pm
As a conductor, "Hotarui Koi" by Ro Ogura ranks right up there for me, especially because I attempted this song once with a choir of about sixty 8-9 year olds and am currently attempting it with a group of fourteen 9-11 year olds. Getting them to sing a capella in a three part round in Japanese one beat apart at a very fast tempo is a bracing challenge. Especially because they have often need me to conduct every entrance for them. However, getting children that young to perform challenging music is always worth it!
on August 15, 2014 5:13am
Dvorak Stabat Mater
on August 15, 2014 5:33am
Frank Martin Mass for Double Choir
on August 15, 2014 9:23am
Our choirs grew EMENSELY through the study of and accomplishment of:
-  Greyston (Bill) Ives'  Psalms
-  Litanie a la Vierge Noir - Francis Poulenc
Pueri Hebraeorum - Randall Thompson (double choir)
To Rosemary on the Methods by which She Might Become an Angel - Randall Thompson (fabulous !)
Canticum Canticorum - Palestrina
-  Barbershop singing and study ( talk about tone detailing )
on August 15, 2014 2:46pm
JC - Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms, Britten Rejoice in the Lamb (with "mouse" solo), Josquin Je ne me Puis Tenir d'Aime (Renaissance French! Aargh!)
CSU - Stravinsky Les Noces, Dallapiccola Due Canti di Michelangelo, Szymanowski Stabat Mater
LAMC - Boulez Les Soleil des Eaux, Penderecki St. Luke Passion, four Beethoven 9ths followed a week later by 3 Carmina Buranas. Ouch!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 15, 2014 5:04pm
Probably the most challenging and rewarding choir work I have ever performed was Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Choir Mvt.3, +12mins non-repeating Russian text with divisi up to 16 or 32 part, and Concerto for Choir Mvt.4(video link I am in the choir) which after Mvt.3 is an amazing clense and also divides to 32 parts at end! Sang both these in The Concordia Choir in college, at that high divisi it was me and one other guy on one voice part. One hear different parts of the cord from the guy behind you, to the right, left in front. Its like you're in a chamber ensemble.
I performed David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion with a small group of professional and non-professional singers right after college. Very emotional piece. Some very unique effects in the piece, very difficult rhythms at times contrasting between all parts. Its also has unique accompanying instrumentation.

Probably the most difficult small group work I performed John McCabe's Woefully Arrayed. Harmonies and entrances that appear out of nowhere, But it is so crunchy!!
Francis Poulenc's Tristis est anima mea from 4 Motets pour un temps de penitence was the challenging rewarding piece from my high school days. It's a little bit of a rollercoster ride.

Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini. Moves frantic at times, link in obviously the Cum Santus
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Community tags: Vocal jazz