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I have written a score for a piece of mine in Sibelius and am now doing a mockup of it using East West's Hollywood Orchestra. I want to add some choir at a climactic point in the piece. I haven't written for choir before so I was wondering are there any particular guidelines to follow, any dos and don'ts etc. Do you generally treat the harmony in the same way as when writing for instrumental sections or instruments or is there a different approach? Thanks.  

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 Here's my method.  Write the melody first and don't necessarily give it to the sopranos.  Spread it out between parts, though basses rarely sing melody.  If there are lyrics the rhythm of the lyrics will determine the beat.  For instance, "The book is on the table," in 4/4 is eighth, dotted quarter, sixteenth, dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth, eighth. Then write the bass line usually moving opposite the melody line.  Melody moves up bass line moves down.  The other parts fill in the four part harmony usually I, IV, V, but use chords that are not in the key especially throw in some minor chords that please the ear.

     The melody line can make large jumps, sixths, sevenths, octaves, but the other parts usually move to the nearest note in the chord, one or two steps.   If two parts move together they are   usually in thirds or sixths with the other parts filling in the chords.  "Do not move all four parts in the same direction at once.  Usually it is the bass that moves opposite.

     Voice ranges are as follows for adult choirs.  Soprano: middle C to A, 12 notes higher.  Alto: G below middle C to E , 12 notes higher, tenor: C below middle C to G above middle C.  Basses D above middle C to G , 11 notes lower.

     In orchestration voices are often doubled with strings, but not necessarily.   A large choir can be treated as a separate section as woodwinds or strings, or it can sing almost acapella  with just ornamentation from the orchestra.

Some good points from Lawrence, though I'd say you can be much more flexible with lyric timing, to include melismas, canons, one or two parts held over other parts that are moving, etc, in order to get independence of lines, just as in instrument part-writing.

Heres two links I quickly looked at and hopefully you might find something that will help:

http://www2.nau.edu/~krr2/choralcomp.html
http://legacy.earlham.edu/~tobeyfo/musictheory/Book2/FFH2_CH5/5D_Co...

Thanks Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

Hi Mark,

If you are adding choir at a climactic point, then it helps to have the choir in a high tessitura in order to create the emotional impact needed. This of course depends on your piece and is not always the case, but just something to bear in mind if you want to maximalise the impact. Of course, your samples may not reflect the strength of timbre needed, but in principal it is good practice.

Even though you may be using samples, it is good practice to make sure that the phrasing gives the singers plenty of time to breath too, especially at f and above, where the capacity for longer phrases is diminished. Try singing the lines yourself, at the correct dynamic, to get a sense of what is possible.

Your question is an excellent one, I think.  Adding a choir to a piece, that has an instrumental or orchestral emphasis, is often a good idea.  As you suggest, it's something to be done for dramatic purposes at a climax; or (I would add) for the sake of additional coloring.

You asked about harmonic rules. "Do you generally treat the harmony in the same way as when writing for instrumental sections or instruments or is there a different approach?" Tessitura may or may not be an issue. You are working with "electronics," so you may be open to this idea:  I think the power can be greater if you create a "different set of rules" for your choral accompaniment than you might have for your instrumental sections.  Harmonically, this might mean, polytonality, where the chorus sings in a key distantly related to the main key signature used for the primary instrumental passages.  Or, more adventurously, where three different modes are employed:  (1) A standard Pythagorean tuning for your main instrumental melodies, (2) an Arabic Empirical mode for another set of instruments, or secondary sections; and finally, (3) a chorus using an unusual East Indian (Hindustani or Carnatic) mode.  The result would be a sort of trans-cultural polytonality.  Precedents for this sort of approach can be found in the work of Messiaen and (to a lesser extent) Pierre Boulez.  Of course, mere polytonality would be a less radical approach than what either Messiaen or Boulez did.

[Thanks, Bob Morito, for sharing your link to your piano and quartet pieces.  I very much enjoyed the first two which I just heard. Nature of Duality, and String Quartet III.]

 

[Thanks, Bob Morito, for sharing your link to your piano and quartet pieces.  I very much enjoyed the first two which I just heard. Nature of Duality, and String Quartet III.]

Thanks so very much Serenity for your kind words--very much appreciated:)

Thanks Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

 

Many thanks everyone for these fascinating and informative replies. There is a lot to think about here and I will take some time to explore and digest all these ideas. I have been wanting to include some choral elements (yes, samples I'm afraid!) in my compositions for a while now so this gives me a lot to go on. 

For the current project I am thinking of introducing it as part of a tutti which has a Ravel-style textural element in the background (Ravel-style, not necessarily Ravel-quality!) so I will probably keep it fairly consistent in terms of the harmony - the moment needs to sound powerful yet unified. Also what I do will need to be very simple yet 'subtly impactful'. However I will certainly keep all these possibilities in mind for future use. 

Just had a listen to that beautiful piece that someone linked to but the post seems to have gone now.. I love it, powerful and atmospheric with some lovely twists and turns and beautiful use of voices as well as organ. Can we have it back please?! 

Ok thanks Ray. As I said I loved the piece. It took me a while to get around to responding on the forum today which is why I hadn't listened to it earlier.


Ray said:

Mark,

I wasn't sure anyone had actually listened to my little requiem cue but it is on the list of music available on my members page.

The removal of my post here was a personal decision not related to you but rather on reading Mr Morabito's post giving oxygen to the fraud calling them self 'serenity'. I disassociate myself from such wherever I can.

Kind Regards

Ray 

Right. Ok.. Seems to be some history here so I'll graciously refrain from making any comment, except to say that I love polytonality etc. but was a little puzzled by what this particular suggestion meant. 

Dave Dexter said:

"(1) A standard Pythagorean tuning for your main instrumental melodies, (2) an Arabic Empirical mode for another set of instruments, or secondary sections; and finally, (3) a chorus using an unusual East Indian (Hindustani or Carnatic) mode.  The result would be a sort of trans-cultural polytonality."

Yeah, don't do this.

Thanks Dave, yes choirs sing in 8vas too. One of the most powerful examples of this is in Faures REquiem, the libera me. I sang this in the choir at college and had shvers down my spine whilst performing, a testament to the music, but also the power of a choir singing in 8vas. There are many many more examples too , it is a wonderful sound and a natural one given the difference between the sexes.

@Dave: In my young and ignorant days, I also assumed that every instrument in the orchestra plays an independent part.  But now, with a (tiny) bit more experience, I can say that a very large part of the art of orchestration lies in knowing how and when to have which instruments play the same line.  To those versed with this art, even the distinction between, say, a single flute playing a melody vs. 2 flutes playing the same melody in unison is a significant one, to be weighed along with all the other factors involved in orchestration.

Dave, thanks for clarifying earlier about that other member. I think I get it. And yes, being new it can be easy to assume that everyone else is somehow 'in the know'. 

Interesting discussion since then. Although I've many years of writing music behind me, I'm a relative beginner when it comes to orchestration. One of the main things I learned while studying composition intensely over the last few years is to think in terms of the orchestra as one unified sound, obviously with different textures etc. within it but everything supporting everything else. As opposed to my default thinking which used to be in terms of layers and lines, complimentary perhaps but not really integrated. It may sound obvious to more experienced people but this was a bit of an eye-opener for me, coming from a rock and jazz background where it was much more the other way, i.e. here's the melody/lead, here's a bass line, here's some chords etc., even in a 'big band' context. I now approach things very differently, at least I try to as best I can, i.e. what is the overall sound I am trying to achieve, how can I orchestrate the dynamics, what are the different ways to create texture etc. 

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