Free online Christmas music for a capella singers, Gabriel's Message is a haunting and very beautiful old carol. Also called "The Angel Gabriel" and "The Basque Carol," it is believed that this carol was "found" by French composer Charles Bordes (1863-1909) while researching traditional Basque music. The English translation was written by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924).
Here is the Choir of Winchester Cathedral singing a traditional arrangement:
And here is my mostly 2-part arrangement for unaccompanied singers (they don't have to be sopranos and altos, but that's what I have in my beginning singing class):
How many parts are there, really?
My arrangement has enough harmonic dissonance in it to give it an other-worldly flavor, but the feeling is more medieval than contemporary. The soprano part really does not need to be split into two parts (see the second-to-last line, where Alto I and Soprano II sing the same notes for just part of a phrase on "Gloria"), but I decided that my altos needed a little help from the sopranos, so I just wrote the change into the music.
How hard is this duet for young singers?
The soprano melody is lovely and easy; the alto part is tricky (for a beginning choir) and requires careful attention to the notes, as there is much stepwise motion back and forth, and slurs that look deceptively like ties. After singing it with the words, my choir sang it with the counting. ("3, 1-2, 3, 1-2, 3, 1-2" etc.) I'm thinking now that I need to have them sing with NOTE NAMES. That way they'll really have to read the music.
Though the arrangement sounds nice as a duet, it takes on magic with a blend of additional voices...
Here is Aled Jones singing Gabriel's Message on Songs of Praise. So clear, so clean, so beautiful. This is my favorite solo version of this carol:
And again in his native tongue of Welsh:
I hope you and your students come to love this evocative carol as much as I do!