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Gustav Johnson
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Hi y'all!

I'm writing this for a contest (not hosted by Young Composers). I'm a band guy by nature, but choral music has always struck a special chord (haha) with me.

I've spent several months on this piece, and have made some massive progress in the last few weeks. It's at a point where I would feel comfortable submitting it, but the composer's ear is biased. What do you all think works and doesn't work? For example the aleatoric stuff...? (p.s. all I did was record myself whispering nonsense - hopefully it will sound better as a large ensemble doing it!)

Thanks!

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It will definitely sound better in an ensemble. The choir MIDI sounds for most of us are why we never get into it. 
A few notes:
The aleatoric parts are done... acceptably, but it's more common to see barred notation with roadmap for the bars rather than an ambiguous whole note with one bar repeats. Sojar's piece will give you an idea of that: http://www.youngcomposers.com/t34790/o-magnum-mysterium/

Using G dorian is a bold move, especially when your main theme jumps from a major sixth to the tonic, which is presumed minor to the ear because of the minor third. 
m. 32, if it's a fermata, a 2/4 bar is kind of odd, no? 
Something to really consider; normally for choir music, the dynamics are put on the top of the staff, as to not interfere with the notes or text. Doing this might make it look like you know what you're doing a bit more.
A judge might question why you keep the G dorian key signature when it's audibly a G major key. I'm not saying you change it, but know that a judge will question that.
Make sure your fermatas a consistent throughout your parts. Sometimes they're in there and sometimes they're not and it's confusing. 
Keeping the bass on the tonic all the time makes it do these jumps that don't always follow the voice leading of the other voices. Only sometimes though, generally it works out alright.

The jumps between different kinds of tonality are played with a lot and it's really cool! I wouldn't suggest consistency per se, but more clear harmonic direction would glue the whole thing together. 

 

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I think there's a lot of really good stuff in this piece. The polyphonic parts with different voices singing different words works well--the overlap is handled so that all the text will be clear. (Not that it has to be--just look at a lot of polyphonic Renaissance music!) As Monarcheon mentioned, the modal shifts are also handled well, and create some larger-scale harmonic interest. And I think the whispering sections work nicely. I like the way you build from them at the beginning, and the part near the end where they come back is satisfying from the standpoints of form and text-painting.

The alto, tenor, and bass parts are very nice--singers will like them since they get some independence and their own melodic material (way too much choral music written today is purely homophonic.) Any choir capable of performing this piece, though, will have a soprano section that is capable of much more than the soprano line you've written--and they might get bored with the soprano part as it is. If you give the sopranos just a bit more of a chance to show off (i.e. more melodic material and more exploration of the high range), both they and the audience will thank you. Especially in the final section, adding some high soprano a little earlier on (maybe around m. 53) could help make the choir sound even fuller and add a little sparkle to the texture. You might consider just writing chordal skips on melismas so that the sopranos have an interesting line but don't interfere with the words or the harmonies in the other voices.

Aesthetically, the only things that bothered me were fairly nit-picky: (1) the diatonic clusters in m. 22 are nice, but they don't really seem to fit in this piece since they never come back and (2) the transition to m. 49 feels too abrupt. I understand how what you're doing fits the text, but musically, the sudden momentum at m. 49 feels unearned--I think it would be more effective (and triumphant) if there were just a little more rhythmic and/or harmonic tension before it.

Heck, you could even kill two birds with one stone and have the whole choir sing "let there be" on dissonant almost-clusters right before m. 49... this would create more unity by bringing back the texture from m. 22, and would also create a more convincing bridge from the section at m. 44. (As always, suggestions this specific should be taken with a grain of salt, though.)

Since choral singers (and choral competition judges) tend to be kind of traditional and think in terms of tonal centers rather than modes, I would personally use a G minor key signature at the beginning and switch to G major at m. 49 for clarity's sake. That's not a big deal, though, and some would probably disagree with me.

Good work!

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Awesome!

Thanks for the thoughts y'all. @Monarcheon I'm not used to writing aleatoric stuff and can't seem to figure out where to find the notational tools in Sibelius. I know how I would expect to see it as a performer, but finding the tools to write it that way is eluding me - I'll have to look through their reference books again to see if I can find what I need. About measure 32, there's a sustain that resolves in the 2/4 bar. I wanted 4 full counts of sustain before the resolution, that's why I did it the way I did. I'll check through the rest of the music again to make sure everything is consistent and clear!

@NRKulus These are definitely things that I was hearing but couldn't quite put my finger on. Hearing them will give me a better chance to reflect and digest as I make revisions. The diatonic clusters were a new addition to the piece as of yesterday, along with several other sizable changes in the middle, so my ear hasn't had time to identify places where I could use that technique to the piece's benefit. Also, the "Let there be" section at 44 really lost a lot of momentum after I added the changes yesterday so I'll be brainstorming ways to boost and strengthen that section as well.

Thanks for the feedback y'all, words can't express how much it helps!

Gustav Johnson

Edited by Gustav Johnson
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There is a lot of good material here, and I dig the idea of the aleatoric parts, even though everything sounds rather disastrous on MIDI and doesn't do justice to what it could ultimately sound like.

Do be careful with the choir parts, though - they aren't easy to sing. I don't know what sort of choir is going to sing your piece, but in general, try to avoid major 7ths, especially at the top of a voice range (thinking of Tenors mm. 57ff.). They'll almost never be completely precise, and if Tenors have to hit a high F# it'll be too low for sure. Finding the notes in m. 45 will be hard. The D is easy, but the Eb and Gb are hard to take from a G natural. If the choir hasn't got a 100% trained ear, you're bound to have a fraction of a second where a few voices will be floating around trying to find their note - and that's a risk I personally wouldn't take. You could give them a grace note that's easy to find and move on to the note you want immediately afterwards, that would already make it easier for them.

Another note: look out for typos in your aleatoric parts, judges won't forgive you. Correct Dues --> Deus on p. 2, spritus --> spiritus on p. 3, saunctum --> sanctum on p. 7.

Good luck!

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