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Assigning parts from other voices

Over in Choral Discussions is a thread about asking parts to sing in places in addition to their own parts.
How do composers feel about this?
In my own writing, I can think of one example where I would be very glad for basses to help out the tenors in any choir where the former outnumbered the latter.
From page 8 measure 82, tenors sing the tune in canon with sopranos but could get overwhelmed by too many basses. I don't like resorting to 'composer's notes'.
In a second example, tone-quality matters.
From measure 6 to 9, two parts sing the same pitches, but the lower voices will be nearer the top of their range and will sound slightly more energetic.
I believe that conductors geerally spot these nuances without having to spell them out. Is that your experience?
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on March 12, 2016 7:28pm
As an aside, I have a recording of Carmina Burana, the dying swan song sung by a baritone instead of the usual tenor. The sound is more strained, like a creature being cooked. Keep this in mind as you have people cover new parts.
on March 14, 2016 5:13pm
Lol the baritones covering the tenor parts might sound like a dying swan!
on March 13, 2016 9:26am
I'd recommend that composers not try to micromanage the performance decisions of conductors. There are always tradeoffs, and there's no way you can anticipate all of them. If you insist that your piece can only be performed under perfect conditions, the result will be no performances. 
Furthermore, there's nothing you can do about it. Even if you write "don't have any basses double tenor here" in the music, I'm going to use my own judgment to decide whether to obey. I'm very glad the ghost of J.S. Bach isn't looking over my shoulder telling me not to let women sing his cantatas, even though I'm sure that's what he'd have wanted. Best to make clear what overall result you want in the music and let performers determine how best to achieve it.
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on March 13, 2016 6:15pm
Right on Allen! Can you imagine an artist writing on the frame of his/her canvas "must be viewed from 15 feet in a bright light or not at all"?
Actually, it's kinda hard to 'legislate' common sense. The operative term you have used here is 'judgement', something we must all cultivate– and teach. Problems of all sorts would disappear with an amalgam of judgement and 'charity'.
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on March 14, 2016 5:17pm
Related to this when you move from satb to ssatb for a few notes how am I supposed to split the women? It's not going to be even. Oh I'll figure it out but it adds to the difficulty.
on March 15, 2016 8:19am
Is this a notation question? Notate divisi for both sopranos and altos such that the S2 part is identical to the A1 part, and, if you wish, add a notation indicating you want an equal 3-part divisi. The conductor will figure out who sings what, but this way no singers have to jump from staff to staff.
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on March 16, 2016 2:09am
This, I think, is the passage Jack is questioning. It does illustrate the points Allen and Anthony are making. The notation could be clearer, more consistent with beaming and with upward stems for the higher voice. (I've upgraded my software and learnt a lot since I typeset this.) Where the sopranos are divisi, I envisage that the split sopranos can still hold their own against all the altos. If that isn't working - maybe a small choir has only two sopranos and with different levels of confidence - then I depend on the conductor's discretion. As Anthony puts it, the conductor has both understanding of the piece and knowledge of the ensemble.
on March 16, 2016 6:05am
Sorry Nigel, I was speaking in general, not to a specific quote but thanks for taking the time.  I simply mean that when I have 5 sopranos and 5 altos in my high school choir and then I have a three part split, I have to break up these singers into three groups for a few notes.  It is never an easy choice but of course solutions will be found.  As a conductor I am asking the composer,  "is it really worth the added rehearsal time you just cost me to add that extra note?"  If not leave it out because I might not select your piece if it happens a lot.   If you were writing the entire piece for SSATB I would have the women already split and it would be less confusing.  Anytime you change where the singers are reading it takes significant discussion and causes insecurity for a while.  Allen is right that this is especially a problem if singers have to jump from staff to staff.
on March 17, 2016 3:32am
In a choir with a normal balance of sopranos and altos this would be fine - the sopranos will come over clearly.
You could put the second soprano part in small noteheads as a first alto part, to indicate that a choir with more sopranos could have altos double it instead, but I think that any choir with a very small number of sopranos will likely have first altos singing any second soprano parts as a matter of routine.
on March 15, 2016 8:07am
Conductors make a lot of decisions based on their understanding of a particular piece and especially their knowledge of the ensemble they're conducting. When to take a 4/4 in 2? Is the given metronome marking going to work today when four key voices aren't here? I know altos Esther and Mildred can handle this particular 2nd soprano line along with sopranos Florence and Tilley, and the rest of the firsts are strong. Bertram's light baritone and accurate pitches will help the tenors for those eight measures. Doing things like that can be very beneficial to the choir, espscially a church choir when it's 10:00 am Sunday and we have to do the service regardles of who is  or isn't here. The singers become better musicians in the process and may discover they have abilities they had't realized they had.
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on March 17, 2016 5:08pm
Lol you almost named my choir from 20 years ago!
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