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In Hindsight

Ryan Fogleman

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Hi, everyone!

After hearing some of the beautiful compositions other members of this forum have posted here, I decided to share my first choral piece, a setting of 3 Sara Teasdale poems.

I'd love to get some feedback on it and answer any questions people might have.



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I'm a band guy, not a choir guy, so some of my feedback may be askew--forgive me if so.

Regarding the compositional technique, there are moments when it's really nice, and then there are moments when things get bumpy. Nothing to stress about, so much of good composing is being able to edit and revise! Some interesting harmonic stuff, especially when everyone's singing together with the tight dissonances that release into consonance. Reminds me of Whitacre and his gang of composer pals, which is cool :) There are some places where melodically you lead me places I don't really understand in terms of the chromaticism. Be careful that you LEAD them, like a tour with a logical route, rather than just letting that kind of thing happen willy-nilly. Give it purpose and it'll feel much different from my seat.

I'd love a fuller picture of how this would sound without a vocal performance, the vowels and verbal interplay have a huge impact on this kind of work. Have you tried having some friends perform it, or even multi-tracking (recording and overlaying each part yourself) yourself singing the parts so you have an idea of the "sounds" and how they'd interact? Even if you don't sound terrific outside of your comfort range, it'll help get an idea of how it all locks together.


Cool work, keep writing!

Gustav Johnson


p.s. if you do decide to record it with voices let me know and I'd love to listen!

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What are you using for your software, Ryan?  I think I'm hearing the same "choral ahs" setting that I have available through Musescore.  You might want to explore some different options that aren't actually mimicking the sound of a human voice.  It's a hard thing to do well in a computer program, so I've noticed a lot of choral composers prefer to use flutes or strings or something else for their demos.  This sound setting gets really woofy sounding when the basses get low in their range.  Some of the other options may have too much vibrato that makes it hard to hear what's going on.  Some have an annoyingly accented ATTACK! at the beginning of each note.  Play around and see what works for various pieces.  But know that some of the working pros don't feel like they have to use "voice" sound options, so no one is going to look at you funny if you don't either.  

Some day, I will buy all the expensive software... sigh...  

This is a great first foray into choral composing!  It shows that you have thought about this carefully and taken time over your score.  

There are couple of things that aren't wrong, but if adjusted, could increase the odds of a successful performance for these...  There isn't a problem with any of your ranges, except that this is a cappella.  Accompanied, these would be fine, but even very good choirs tend to drift flat in a cappella pieces.  The longer the piece, the more inevitable it is, and the flatter they go.  So you can't have any particularly low notes for any vocal part toward the end of the piece.  Your basses are likely to run out of audible bass-li-ness in this instance.  Particularly because the sopranos have some high notes early on.  The sopranos will flat a little because they won't be quite warm, and will be shying away from the high notes, the chorus will adjust to a slightly new key to account for them, and the poor basses will be dying by the end.  They may still be able to reach the notes you have written, but they won't be able to produce a very full sound at that part of their range, and the chords may sound a bit unbalanced as a result.  Is this a deal breaker for what you have written?  Absolutely not!  But it does make things a little more difficult for the director and the choir.  So if there are any sections where you are thinking of several possible ways to go, put this on the scales as one thing you think about going forward.  They may flat.  They probably will flat.  So generally, if it's a cappella, you want to use your highest notes for everybody more towards the end... where they won't actually be that high!  Ha!  And your lowest notes towards the beginning, where they haven't dropped out of the range of human hearing yet.  

Point number two.  Again, this isn't a deal-breaker, it just makes things go more smoothly, so it's worth thinking about when you can make it happen:  No one ever has enough tenors, so avoid dividing the tenor line if at all practical.  Unless doing so would be a really awkward leap, ignore the rules of voice leading and find a way to give that extra note to the basses, or to the altos.  (Unless the altos and basses are already divided.)  In the best of all possible worlds, we would want to have a choir of 100 singers be composed of 30 basses, 27 tenors, 23 altos, and 20 sopranos.  Because the basses often have the root of the chord so we really want to hear them, and because high notes tend to carry better in a hall so we don't need many sopranos for their part to carry.  But, what you actually usually have for a 100-person choir is 20 basses, 10 tenors (some of them not very good at holding their part, you just had to take whoever you could get), 40 altos, and 30 sopranos.  (Thank you gender roles and ideas about manliness and singing.)  Since there are never enough tenors, for a small choir, there may only be one tenor, and if the tenor line divides an alto or bass is going to have to jump to that line anyway.  In a larger group, there may still be so few of them, compared to the rest of the sections, that if you divide them, you won't be able to hear either tenor line, and the chords will sound unbalanced.  

Hope that gives you some things to think about going forward!  These sound good!

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Thank you both for the feedback!


Gustav- I'm honored by the comparison to Whitacre, and I understand what you mean as far as awkward movement in the voices and chromaticism. I haven't formally studied the types of harmonies that I used throughout the piece, and my judgement of my own work isn't too reliable, so of course the ear of another musician is very helpful in figuring out what does and doesn't work. If I do record the piece with my own voice (although I'm not so sure of my soprano chops haha)  I'll post a link as an addendum in this topic.


pateceramics- Yes, the sound sample is the MIDI choir soundfont built into Windows. I admit it doesn't sound very good, but in the future I'll be looking into more professional programs and sample libraries to better represent the sounds I hear in my head. Your insight about the technicalities of choir are very helpful :) I didn't consider the relative balance of parts in a typical section when writing this, so knowing what to expect if I tried to arrange a performance is definitely good to know.


Again, thank you both; I'll try and apply some of the ideas you all wrote about in my next effort for choir and post it here.

Best Wishes,

Ryan Fogleman

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