To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim

Continually, continually, continually, continually, continually, continually……. If you’ve sung through this work at least once the word “continually” has probably started to lose all meaning.

Handel’s works for voice are notoriously challenging, however, not necessarily in a way we would expect. Remember that this was written in a completely different time. A time when the church and monarchs were one all-powerful force and women were often not involved in singing and performing. Instead, young boys would sing soprano. Even the way in which instruments were tuned was different back then, and many of those instruments we would barely recognize.

The cadences and structure are satisfying familiar and formulaic but there are two distinct difficulties we tend to find with Handel’s music.

  1. It’s repetitive – Handel was a creative dude, but you will find that he repeats himself a lot. He even borrows his old music or melodies and repackages it as a new. (What up, Zadok the Priest.) Because of this repackaging, we cannot go on auto-pilot when singing his music. These ideas are infuriatingly similar but oh-so-different….so while saying the same word over and over and over again can lull you into a false sense of security, IT’S A TRAP! You can never, ever take your eyes off the page, because you might miss a teeny-tiny new note or rhythm.
  2. Tessitura – For the aforementioned reasons, Sopranos and Tenors tend to dread these choral works. Why? They’re not “high” in terms of range (the highest and lowest points in the piece) but they are “high” in terms of where the voice has to live and spend most of its’ time (tessitura). Personally, as a soprano I’d rather sing one big “High A” than a whole page of wordy quarter notes on the “F” just below that.

Because of these reasons, I urge you to be careful when rehearsing this piece at camp — it WILL tire you out. Be judicious with the use of your voice when rehearsing for hours and days on end. This type of song will sneak up on you and use up all your voice and brain power.

Now for a few tips on how to practice and learn this piece.

All examples shown below are taken from a public domain version of the score to avoid copyright infringement. 

Here are a few things I’d like you to do with your score:

Click to download a sample score and follow along with my notations.

  1. Start counting. Any time you say “continually” more than once, count them up. Then, number them backwards starting from the first to the last. The reason we number them backwards is so that you can count down and know when to stop as opposed to counting in order and not knowing how many you’re counting to. So if you count up 6 “continually”s then go back to the first and label it “6”, the next one “5” and so forth.
  2. Repetition is no excuse for missing out on word stress. Underline the most important syllable in each word and/or cross out final, unstressed syllables.
  3. Observe punctuation….but not always with a breath. I put straight vertical lines between words when there is punctuation. As long as you lift to observe punctuation there is no need to actually breathe each time. In fact, it may be detrimental to your singing to take in too much breath.
  4. Sing on the vowels. When a syllable or word ends with a consonant, cross it out and move it to the beginning of the next word or syllable.
  5. Finally, feel free to fill in dynamics where they aren’t indicated in the score. If there isn’t something indicated then use your best judgement to fill in the gap. Don’t be boring!

This should get you started… hopefully it will help dig you out of the hum-drum of singing the same words over and over again and empower you to make music!

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