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Topic: Arranging for Choir

  1. #1

    Arranging for Choir

    Still working on my score for the musical theater and turning my attention now to the vocalists. Fortunately, most of the songs are solos, with a couple of duets and a trio, for variety. But there are several chorus numbers. One for just the men, another for the ladies only. The rest is for a mixed choir.

    That last one is the stumbling block. I have 8 principal characters in the show. Ensemble player assume minor roles, as needed. Counting the latter, I need at least 5 men in the chorus and 2 women. Obvioulsy, I need to add more women to the ensemble, to have a balanced sound in the full chorus numbers (and also so the men have enough dance partners).

    If I go with 5 men and 5 women, will that make the vocals rather lopsided? Six men and six women would give me three singers on each part (SATB). This would also make my musical more expensive to produce.

    If I went with 5 men and 3 women, and only 3 of the men sing in the mixed chorus, that might work. I don't have much harmony in the vocal parts. The songs for the male and female choirs, respectively, are sung in unison. So they would work with 5 men or 3 women.

    But, on the big numbers, there are two parts for the ladies and the men double them an octave below. That might make things a little lopsided. (The men split 2 and 3, the women 1 and 2.) Does this work? Do you normally have more singers on the higher parts? If so, does that ratio scale well to such a small ensemble?

    Reducing the number of singers will just make the big numbers sound more intimate, which is not what I want. If I went with a chorus of 4 women and 5 men, I could have one man lay out of the big numbers. That would give me 2 singers on each part (which may be the best compromise).

    Any ideas, or suggestions. (I'd love to hear from people who have actually done this kind of thing before and know how it would work in practice.)


    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2

    Re: Arranging for Choir

    Hi, ejr - It's good to hear you're still working away on the musical theatre score.

    I understand how there's a quandary over how to balance the sound in your mixed chorus number. My reply whittles the whole thing down to this: That there's no way to predict what size chorus will be used in the production. Even if the show managed to be produced first on a Broadway stage, there would be budgetary and other practical considerations made by the producers which will essentially have nothing to do with what you've written down as the ideal size for the chorus.

    Of course it's more likely that the show will first be produced by a regional theatre, a civic light opera, a university, or even a community theatre - and in all of those situations, the main considerations for putting together a chorus will be based on the talent available, and then budgetary considerations as I said above, size of the stage, etc - They'll come up with whatever they can, and whatever they're willing to do - And then your vocal score will be adapted accordingly, with the SATB arrangement being divided up in whatever way the musical director decides, with assignments made in a gender-blind way for instance.

    So - really it's just as with the rest of your score. You can have your ideal balance in mind for everything, down to precisely how many strings there should be - but all of that planning could go out the window once it comes down to putting together the actual physical production of the show.


  3. #3

    Re: Arranging for Choir

    Thanks, Randy. I know what you mean. And, as a performer, I agree with you.

    But, as a composer, I need to know this stuff. It's just like when I write a play. I don't put in any more description than absolutely necessary, and precious little about the set, but I have to have a very clear idea in my mind about the specifics of how the piece would look and sound if I were staging it.

    If I were the music director, and I had some input on the number of people we need for the chorus, what would I do? The minimum number of performers to make all the doubling of minor roles possible, in this case, is 5 men and 3 women. I know I need more women, but how many? And how to distribute them on the parts?

    And I will have to record a demo with real singers eventually. I need to know how many people I will need (or how many overdubs) to make it sound like a real chorus. That's all I was getting at.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  4. #4

    Re: Arranging for Choir

    you aren't absolutely obligated to write for an equally-balanced 4-part chorus.

    if you look at some well-known (and even some lesser-known) shows out there, many of them eschew using a "fixed" 4-part harmonization for the chorus parts.

    In Into the Woods, for example, the "chorus" parts are treated more as two and three part equal-voice writing.

    If you have a minimum fixed number of performers (set to a fixed number of roles), then why not write with those roles in mind?

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