Maybe you’ve been there, or maybe you’re there now - the choir director who’s trying to piece together a music library on a shoestring budget with anthems that are interesting and relevant to your choir and congregation.
As we all know, music is expensive ($2-4 per octavo for most choral pieces) and there isn’t always room in the budget for those kind of expenditures throughout the year, especially if you’re looking to build a music library and purchase more than 1-2 new anthems per year.
The struggle is real.
But, there’s good news. Some music is free! That’s right. Music published before 1923 is in the public domain (in the USA), which means it is free to obtain and use.
It can be a bit overwhelming to sift through all the music that’s out there, so today, I’m sharing a few of my favorite go-to resources for music in the public domain along with some anthem suggestions that might work for your choir.
Free Choral Music Resources
Looking for free choral music? Here are a few places to start:
The Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) features a variety of choral pieces, arrangements, and descants in the public domain with links to download print-ready PDF files. Many offer Sibelius files of the score, so you can edit it if needed.
The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) is home to a comprehensive collection of public domain music - choral, instrumental, etc. Search by composer, title, nationality, time period, instrumentation, etc.
Free LDS Sheet Music
Though geared toward LDS churches, this site offers music that is common to several denominations, so it’s worth checking out.
A virtual catalog of classical choral music for sacred settings, including titles by J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Vivaldi, Handel, Monteverdi, Mozart, and others. The site also includes similar indexes of hymns, carols, and organ music in the public domain.
I’ve mentioned hymnary.org before, but it’s a great resources for hymns and responses in the public domain. If it’s no longer under copyright, they’ll include a copy of the score (sometimes several, from multiple hymnals).
There’s a section of this site dedicated to free sheet music, including 20 pieces for church settings. Most of hymns you likely have in your hymnal, but there are a few others mixed in that might be new to you.
Open Hymnal Project
This digital hymnal includes hundreds of hymns, songs, and instrumental music all in the public domain. Like the hymnals in your pew, this one has numerous indexes: title, author/translator, tune, metrical, and topic.
*Note: This site also includes links to download and print a Christmas Edition, Lent/Easter Edition, and Choral/Instrumental Edition.
Free Choral Scores
A collection of free choral anthems written by living composers (but made available to print and sing for free). See a complete index of titles here.
English Hymns for Free Use
The Church Music Association of America has compiled a list of English hymns that are free to use, print, record, distribute, etc. The list includes newly-composed hymns and old hymns in the public domain with a PDF link to download and print each one.
I spent some time digging through these resources a bit and came up with a few anthem suggestions for you. Again, the anthems listed below are all free to use, copy, and perform, either because they are in the public domain or because they are made freely available by the composer. Enjoy!
If you're looking for quick, easy-to-put-together anthems for your choir, here are a few to consider:
Jubilate Deo (Praetorius)
A simple canon for 3-6 parts. Try it as a choral call to worship.
All Creatures of Our God and King (Hall)
A standard SATB hymn setting - works well throughout the year.
Prayer of Thanksgiving (We Gather Together) (Hall)
A standard SATB hymn setting - great for Thanksgiving Sunday!
With a Voice of Singing (Shaw)
Written for SATB, though it looks harder than it is. When you look a little closer, you’ll find many of the sections are in unison!
Dona Nobis Pacem (Traditional)
A familiar canon for 3 equal voice parts - works well for youth choirs and smaller adult choirs!
For the Beauty of the Earth (Grunewald)
This setting features the familiar hymn text with an original melody, written for 2-part choirs.
Down in the River to Pray (Traditional)
A simple folk song from the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" There are several arrangements available, for SAB, SATB, or SSAA choirs.
Lead Me, Lord (S.S. Wesley)
A hymn-like setting for SATB choir with optional Alto solo.
A Prayer for December (Thompson)
A simple Advent/Christmas prayer scored for SATB choir.
More Challenging Anthems
These anthems are a little more challenging (and perhaps a little out of reach for the small church choir), but I thought I'd share them nonetheless. I think they'd work well in a combined choir setting, if you ever share a service or community concert with neighboring churches. Just a thought!
Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart)
An SATB anthem - great for communion.
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (Praetorius)
An Advent favorite! Written for a cappella SATB choir.
God So Loved the World (Stainer)
A fairly well-known anthem, written for SATB choir. It is often sung during Lent or Holy Week.
Shall We Gather at the River (arr. Soderling)
A new setting of this familiar hymn, scored for a cappella men's choir (TTBB).
Five Spirituals (arr. Rawson)
A medley of five well-known spirituals, written for SATB choir.
Wade in the Water (Traditional)
A traditional (a cappella) arrangement of this spiritual, written for SATB choir.
Ave Maria (Bruckner)
A more challenging, but beautiful setting of the familiar "Ave Maria" text, written for a cappella SATB choir.
Teach Me, O Lord (Attwood)
A prayerful anthem written for SATB choir.
One last note - don’t forget about your hymnal! See this post for more details on how to turn a standard hymn into an instant anthem for your choir.
What are your favorite pieces in the public domain? Have you used any of the resources above?
P.S. Looking for free music for handbell choirs? See this post.