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Anyone with experience or knowledge of SATB choral quartets/octets? I need aid :)

Hey all!

So I'm planning on recording with a small choir soon and am composing in that wonderful old English four-voice sacred style. Initially that was enough, but I'm probably going to splash out on an octet as that's where the richness starts to come out. This being me, I can't leave it at "SATB with double the singers"; I have eight voices to play with and I want more.

Question being, how much is wise to divide with SSAATTBB? I was inspired by this Bairstow piece:

At 1.23, b15, altos and tenors suddenly divide for massive chords, with bass and soprano remaining unison. Bingo, six voices instead of four. I know it sounds great with an octet because there's some performances online, and it ties in with advice I've seen on strings - to only divide the middle and leave bass & 1st vn alone. Does anyone have any perspective on that, especially as it's my first time recording with a choir - perhaps I should play safe? I feel up to six voices is solid. You tell me.

Please tell me!

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I've sung in a pretty good community choir for almost a decade and we've done some fairly adventurous stuff. The primary question will be will you use professionals? If you use professional singers then it will be easier to get the sound you want.

However, the piece you posted isn't exactly difficult. The thing to keep in mind is when you have an octet singing unison it's a powerful sound because all eight voices are singing the same notes. When you split things up suddenly you'll have just one or two voices on each part and the result can easily sound less powerful. This can be managed with careful dynamics, you'll need to mark the unison parts much quieter than your 6 voice chords. The sound you're looking for doesn't happen automagically. Some divisi should work fine and you're right it works better in internal voices, though in the choirs I write for there's usually a plethora of sopranos and altos so divisi in those parts is no big deal, but I don't split the men unless it's absolutely necessary (it usually isn't).

Good luck, writing choral music is much fun, especially when you get to hear it sung by humans.

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