WRITING FOR CHOIRS
musings from the editor
“Learnability”, “Blendability”, “Tunability”
- avoid extreme ranges (e.g. – sopranos on a high “B” will likely sound “pinchy”). Vocal fatigue; singers become tired if required to sing at the top of their range for extended periods. “Sweet-spot” ranges are recommended. “Singability” includes “blendability”.
- there should not be more than an octave spread between the soprano and alto lines, or the alto and tenor lines. “Singability” includes “tunability”.
- observe good voice leading principles. (e.g. tritone leaps are challenging for even the best choirs) Seemingly complex music can be crafted with intuitive, easy to sing, vocal passages. Avoid parallel octaves, 7ths, 2nds and 9ths. There is a reason why parallel 4ths and 5ths are historically discouraged – they don’t tune well. Vocal lines should not cross over each other without good reason. SATB choirs are common. Choirs that can handle SSAATTBB effectively are more rare. “Singability” includes “learnability”.
- note – some famous contemporary composers have been known to break all of the above “rules” – within the first 8 bars – but that’s not the kind of music Cypress is looking for.
Take the prospective singers into consideration – give them an enjoyable and satisfying singing experience. For example, singing a drone for four pages is a real drag. The potential for a successful presentation is often linked to the attitudes of the performers.
PRESENTATION OF YOUR PDF SCORE
No hard copies, please – we’ve gone digital.
- legibility – e.g. Sibelius, Finale. Email scores to us via PDF.
- layout – appropriate spacing – avoid crowding of notes and/or text
- use a choral tenor clef for the tenor line and include a piano reduction with four-stave a cappella pieces
- send an audio file (MP3) – a choral realization of your composition; if not a choir, a computer simulation.
It should be evident that considerable thought has been given to form. Musical form can be like the plot of a play, with an opening statement (introduction), a progression to a climactic moment and a convincing closing statement (conclusion). A few options:
- strophic; anthem, hymn, pop song, folk song
- binary, ternary, sonata form, rondo, ABA, ABC, etc.
- fugal (canon or round)
- through-composed pieces with motivic development
Is there a good marriage between the text and the music? – or are the two factors crying out for divorce? There are good poets and good composers but few are good at both disciplines. Hyphenate your words properly (use a dictionary).
Public domain material solves problems (text and/or songs). Otherwise it is the composer/arranger’s responsibility to obtain written permission.
LENGTH OF COMPOSITION
Cypress Choral Music publishes very few cantatas, oratorios or requiems. Most of our publications are in the 2-5 minute range.
Does the composition convey consistency of style with motivic and harmonic congruity? Does it have a feeling of completeness and integrity? Is it convincing? Does it communicate something significant? Form, the marriage of text/music, voice leading and singability factors are worth consideration.
Thank you for reviewing these choral music tips.
Please note that some famous contemporary composers have been known to break most of the above mentioned “rules” in the first 8 bars!