Kholwa Brothers, South Africa © Choi Yongbin

The Best Choir Pieces From Around the World

Great choral music from places all over the globe for your choral repertoire


In music, there are very few universals. But all cultures, no matter where they are or when they flourished, have been fascinated by the music of the human voice. For that reason, you can find so many incredible choir pieces coming out of every country on the planet.

Today, we are going to give you a sampling of some of the very best. You might have heard of a few of these, but some you might not have. Hopefully, you’ll have your horizons broadened. And who knows? Maybe next time you take to the risers, you’ll sing something from this list.

1. “Shosholoza” — South Africa

Sometimes called South Africa’s second national anthem, this is a folk song that developed among manual laborers. They would sing to maintain a rhythm, making sure that they kept in sync. The lyrics include words from both Zulu and Ndebele, both Nguni languages.

The sheer joy of the music is uplifting, but the content of the lyrics and the history of the song complicate that message. Often sung by people working in mines and suffering terrible conditions, it acted as a form of encouragement for people who were barely able to continue.

2. “Mata del anima sola” by Antonio Estévez — Venezuela

This work is a shining example of what makes 20th century Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez Aponte so impactful. His ability to draw from the rich traditions of music from his homeland’s plains people, as well as more formal music in the region, led to lively compositions like this one.

This work is a madrigal — an elaborate vocal piece written for many voices — and its lyrics come from a nationalist poem by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba. The piece really builds on itself, continuing to introduce more and more layers and texture over its runtime.

3. “Rosas Pandan” by Domingo Lopez — Philippines

Sometimes mistaken for a folk song — a piece of music with no true creator — this work was composed by Domingo Lopez with lyrics by Levi Celerio. Their song is a lively creation, one that has gained popularity over the years thanks to its versatility and exuberance.

The lyrics tell the story of a woman named Rosas Pandan who descends from her home atop a mountain to party at a fiesta in a nearby town. There she grabs the attention of everyone. Such a lighthearted story is matched by vocal lines that seem to dance.

4. “Furusato” by Teiichi Okano — Japan

This children’s song was first released in 1914 by composer Teiichi Okano and lyricist Tastuyuki Takano. Over the course of the 20th century, it became extremely popular throughout Japan. The lyrics are from the perspective of someone who must work far away from home and who is fondly recalling the place they grew up.

It garnered international attention thanks to its inclusion in the closing ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Though that exposure helped increase its popularity abroad, it remains a relatively obscure song around the world, despite its instant recognition in Japan.

“Happy Song” by Se Enkebayar — Mongolia

Se Enkebayar is probably the leading Mongolian composer today. Though currently living in China, his work has helped popularize musical ideas of his homeland while also developing new approaches to integrate throat singing (Khöömii) and long song (Urtiin Duu) into an idiom that feels familiar to fans of modern choral music.

“Happy Song” delivers on its name, with many fun musical moments that make it easy to fall in love with. Highly optimistic and dynamic, it’s a wonderful piece to open up any choral performance.


Final Thoughts

The world is filled with talented choirs and innovative composers who use their unique cultural backgrounds to inform their work. Unfortunately, it can become easy to stay focused on choral music from your own country — limiting your experience of these amazing works.

Interested in taking a more global perspective with choral music? Check out the World Choir Games presented by INTERKULTUR. Based on the same ideals of peace and harmony that inspired the Olympics, the World Choir Games bring choristers from every corner of the globe together to celebrate the power of song.

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