Every holiday season, radio stations play the same familiar standards—but that doesn’t mean your winter concerts have to lack variety!
We’ve rounded up our favorite new Christmas, holiday, and winter-themed music for concert band, choir, and orchestra. All the titles on these lists are Editors’ Choice selections that were published in 2022, and you’ll see a variety of styles and levels of difficulty represented. No matter the age or skill level of your ensemble, you’re sure to find a few selections that will be a good fit for your next performance.
Wintertide, a festive and bright Grade 2 piece from composer Randall Standridge, comes from the Wingert-Jones Achievement Plus series. This accessible and easily programmable title celebrates the winter season rather than any one holiday, offering a sense of wonder alongside some hints of darkness. Percussionists will love this selection!
Another title that’s sure to be a favorite among your percussionists, Toboggan is a solid Grade 3 that will offer students a rewarding technical challenge. It opens with a bell solo, depicting the hushed calm of freshly fallen snow, then quickly picks up in tempo as the scene changes to a toboggan ride down a steep hill. With a good deal of interplay between sections, solo opportunities for alto saxophone and flute, and plenty of excitement, this JaRod Hall piece for Randall Standridge Music is not to be missed!
From Larry Clark and Excelcia Music, Santa’s Spring Break weaves a medley of classic holiday melodies, including Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Up on the Housetop, Joy to the World, and more, with Spring from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” This creatively orchestrated Very Easy arrangement introduces Vivaldi to younger students along with a variety of musical styles. Plus, it’s a great study in dynamics and articulation!
Ed Kiefer’s arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy for Carl Fischer Music has excellent parts for every section of your band, including interesting woodwind counter-lines that transition between major and parallel minor keys. With festive flair, familiar melodies, and significant educational value, this Grade 2.5 piece is an ideal choice for middle school students.
Very much like Santa’s Spring Break, Christmas Race features themes from Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture along with the familiar holiday melodies Deck the Halls and Up on the Housetop. A great option for beginning bands that sounds much bigger than its grade of 0.5 might suggest, this classical educational mashup opens with William Tell and transitions seamlessly into the festive segments for an exciting kickoff to your concert. When it comes to both educational value and programming variety, you can’t go wrong with John M. Pasternak’s arrangement.
A sequel to Randall Standridge’s popular Santa the Barbarian, our next pick has excellent percussion parts along with a delightful narration of the adventures of Santa the Barbarian (optional, but we highly recommend including it). A solid Grade 1.5–2, this jaunty sea shanty-style piece is a great exercise in 3/4 meter. Incorporating themes from Jolly Old St. Nicholas, I Saw Three Ships, and Ukrainian Bell Carol while turning Santa Claus into a barbarian pirate, it’s sure to be a winter concert standout.
Jolly Ol’ St. Stickolas, a Grade 1.5 piece from C.L. Barnhouse Company’s Rising Band series, is a Latin-inspired mashup of Jolly Old St. Nicholas and Pachelbel’s Canon. Another wonderful selection for developing bands, Todd Phillips’ arrangement includes a percussion feature for two mallet players.
We recommend Douglas E. Wagner’s December Joy, a solid Grade 3 challenge for high school ensembles, to set the mood as a winter concert opener. This bright, spirited title has something for every section of your band, from bold brass fanfares to sweeping woodwind lines and dramatic percussion parts. Melodic themes include Deck the Halls, Here We Come A-Caroling, and a parade-like take on Jingle Bells.
Pinkzebra’s music dominates our holiday sales each year, and this newest addition to their catalog is sure to be a winner for choirs of all ages. Upbeat and festive, A Very Merry Christmas is available in SATB, SAB, two-part, and SSA voicings. With a grade of Medium Easy, it’s not difficult to learn and will inspire self-confidence in your students.
Our editors love this selection—and “Encanto” fans will, too! Like We Don’t Talk About Bruno, I Feel Like Fa La La has both a salsa-inspired feel and a tendency to get stuck in your head. An infectious accompaniment track and cool sections of body percussion help to establish the groove. This piece works for unison, two-part, and three-part voicings, and snippets of traditional holiday music from around the world offer opportunities for further exploration.
Kyle Pederson’s new setting of the traditional Noel Nouvelet carol is ethereal, mystical, and simply beautiful! The piano accompaniment and oboe obligato add to its haunting feel. Relatively easy to learn and full of awe and wonder, Sing We Now of Christmas is a great choice for school, church, and community choirs.
And now for something completely different: this selection is like no holiday music you’ve heard before! Featuring multiple percussion instruments, bass, piano, and an optional rap solo, Kevin Phillip Johnson’s modern arrangement of the traditional African American spiritual has a soulful, gospel feel. If you’re looking for holiday repertoire that will challenge your choir, this is the piece for you.
This whimsical, feel-good medley of three well-loved tunes from the classic Muppet Christmas movie will tug on singers’ and audiences’ heartstrings. Available in SATB, SAB, and two- and three-part treble voicings, A Muppet Christmas Carol Medley can work for almost any choir. Songs include One More Sleep ’Til Christmas, It Feels Like Christmas, and Thankful Heart.
A Light of Hope, a Song of Peace offers a wish for peace in our world and hope for the future. Very easy to learn with plenty of unison, this beautifully simple yet powerful piece can work for any time of year but will be especially effective during the holiday season. It’s a natural fit for candle lightings. SATB, SAB, and two-part voicings are available.
#ShantyTok forever! In A Yuletide Sea Shanty, the crew has been dispatched on the Northern Sea on December the 24th to find Santa’s missing sleigh so Christmas can be saved. Encountering a glacier and the Yule Tide, mayhem abounds, but the crew does triumph in the end, saving Christmas and bringing Yuletide cheer to all the good folk in the world. Tons of fun for tenor-bass choirs, this lighthearted Christmas shanty will steal the show at your next winter concert.
Jazz up holiday performances with this groovy and festive chart! Great for choirs of all ages, including treble and two-part show choirs, Holiday Jazz! includes suggested choreography and can be performed with either a live rhythm section or an accompaniment track.
Written for mixed or treble three-part choirs, this original song based on jingling bell sounds is set in a driving minor key we love! Each voice part gets a turn imitating bell sounds (“jingle, jingle, jing-a jing-a jingle…”) creating interest throughout the score. Hear the Sleigh Bells Ring! is easy to learn yet great for diction and precision, and sure to be a crowd and student favorite.
Thank you to Pentatonix for this beautiful new holiday song, available in a variety of voicings! One of their few non-a cappella selections, Thank You includes piano and cello accompaniment. From the opening motif to the heartfelt lyrics, this selection is a winner all around. Create a special moment during a performance for singers to pay tribute to parents, the community, or each other for helping them to get through challenging times and celebrate another holiday season together.
An accessible Grade 2.5 from Excelcia Music, Katie O’Hara LaBrie’s Thundersnow! depicts the rare meteorological event with driving eighth notes, tense melodies, and sudden impacts. Rising and falling dynamics drive home the turbulence of the storm, while interspersed accents represent thunder. This selection is an excellent concert opener, and it offers directors the opportunity to incorporate some science facts.
Michael Story’s Grade 2.5 arrangement of Fum, Fum, Fum, a popular 16th or 17th-century Christmas carol from Catalonia in northeast Spain, is energetic and well scored with plenty of Spanish flair. While the piece is written for strings alone, we recommend including the optional piano and percussion parts for some extra flavor. If you don’t have castanets available, sticks on the rim of a drum or woodblocks are good substitutes. The melody is shared throughout the piece, so every section can have some fun.
A Forest Snowfall, a moving title from Grand Mesa Music, paints a vivid picture of a dark evergreen forest after a snowfall. Winter themed but not holiday related, it’s a good choice for performances throughout the season. The piece opens with a lyrical main theme in A minor, transitions to a contrasting staccato section, then returns to the original melody. There are easy tempo and meter changes throughout along with opportunities for younger string orchestras to work on tone, balance, and blend.
No matter how many times you tell audience members to silence their cell phones, there will always be at least one person who forgets. Using ringtone effects and a script for the director, this clever piece for beginning orchestras flips the script on those digital interruptions, making them part of the show! Lighten the mood of your young musicians’ first holiday performance with this crowd-pleasing, tongue-in-cheek selection that includes an assortment of classic holiday melodies along with some audience participation.
From Carl Fischer Music, Cooper Ford’s exciting and fresh arrangement weaves the melodies of two traditional carols: We Three Kings and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Great for studying syncopation along with 6/8 and 3/4 time signatures, this Grade 2.5 title is a challenging option for young ensembles. Each section has a chance to play the melodies, and it’s an engaging listening experience from start to finish.
Jolly Old St. Pachelbel, a very clever mashup of Pachelbel’s Canon and Jolly Old St. Nicholas, comes from the Wingert-Jones Achievement Series. With a grade of 1.5, it introduces some new musical concepts to players who are no longer total beginners. Bring an orchestral classic into your curriculum while having some holiday fun!
Who doesn’t love a snow day? This Grade 1 piece from Katie O’Hara LaBrie evokes the excitement of waking up to discover that school’s out and a day full of sledding, building snowmen, and sipping hot chocolate lies ahead. This highly accessible piece with optional jingle bell accompaniment includes only notes from the D major scale, and every instrument gets a turn with the bright melody. With its focus on winter rather than the holidays, Snow Day! offers programming flexibility.
Inspired by a line from the classic carol What Child Is This?, Angels Greet with Anthems Sweet is a cinematic Grade 4 selection with thick string voicings in the style of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Chris Thomas’ arrangement, an excellent challenge for advanced orchestras, explores legato bowing technique and rubato while giving every section the chance to play expressive melody lines. Showcase a star player with the soprano recorder or solo violin feature.
The Sleigh Ride, a Grade 2.5 adaptation of the third and final dance from W.A. Mozart’s 1791 masterpiece Three German Dances, is from the Wingert-Jones Achievement Plus series. Transposed to the key of D major, Ken Selden’s arrangement can be played entirely in first position apart from the string bass part, which reaches third position. The Sleigh Ride opens with a series of celebratory gestures, then transitions to a depiction of a relaxing sleigh ride through the country featuring pizzicato for the second violins, violas, and basses. An optional sleigh bell part helps to set the mood.
With easy chromatic finger patterns, foot stomps, finder snaps, and even some bass spins, this exciting arrangement is pure fun! An optional drum set and a great backbeat give your young string players the opportunity to rock out, and you can even get the crowd involved with this one.
We hope that our lists help you select winter concert repertoire for this year and beyond! Do you have any questions about these selections? Is there another topic you’d like us to cover? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!