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  • Peter McAleer

The trouble with men...

...in sam scores.



A better way for composers and arrangers.


Most men are sensitive creatures and don't like being alone. We like to feel the vibe with our womenfolk. By that I mean, literally, 'vibration'.


You're in a choir. One of about three men amongst two dozen or so ladies and you're singing this arrangement for sopranos, altos and men:


Why am I not enjoying this?

You're not happy - things just aren't bonding 'together' and it sounds lonely down there with just your fellow men! Hollow even. Why?


Well It's the distance between you and the ladies. No, not your geographical distance, but your distance in pitch. Look at the example: the 'interval' between you and the lowest ladies is over an octave most of the time. And here's the rub: this arrangement is trying to address the ubiquitous problem of the lack of male voices in mixed choirs by using the old 'S A Men' trick and blow the tenor. You can't have a blendy tenor line since you don't have the right forces, so the women harmonise away, rather sparsely, over the top of the texture, while you men are reduced to singing a kind of supporting bass-line - mostly in the bass register no matter what your voice - rumbling around on your own as if in a different room because that's what manly men do, right? They sing bass. Grumbly rumbly stuff. Who needs a tenor to resonate with and tie the whole sound together?


So there are two things going on here in your SAM choir, first, your bass-lline stuff and secondly the real choral, nicely-nice singy-songy-harmony stuff over there, where the women are. Two halves. Don't worry, the piano fills it in; you men, don't trouble your little male brains about it - just get down into your muddy boots and bellow away like real gruff blokes should, you're not here to enjoy yourselves you know.


There has to be another way!


Calling all arrangers - there is another way!

So you have no tenor line knitting the sound together. What could your arranger have done to make it better? You have loads of women with all kinds of voices and three men on their own. Oh dear, what to do.


Arrangers, here's a clue:: "You have loads of women with all kinds of voices...". Does that help?


OK, here's another clue: most (female) altos I've come across are proud of just how low they can get; hardly any boast of their top notes. I'm right, yes? Still not got it?


Last clue: Some altos I know volunteer to sing the tenor line when it divides in two. No?


Divide the ladies more imaginatively


  1. Let the altos who like to sing low do just that. Divide them up. High and low altos.

  2. OK, so there may be twice as many sopranos as altos. Then divide them instead (or even as well as); some sops like singing harmonies (oh yes they do!) - some can't get above G or A - don't ask them to! Give them a special part allowing three-part harmony with the altos.

  3. Now bring your low altos within touching range of your men, if I may be allowed to put it that way.

  4. Don't assume your men are all basses (please!), they're probably somewhere in the mid-range between tenor and bass; lift their tessitura a little and allow them to blend with the lower ladies. Supply alternative notes in the men's part for those who can't get higher than, say middle C - maybe a short passage of octave doubling, or some kind ossia. I know, I know: it means using your brain. It's good for you!


You now have a full four or five-part choir. Don't believe me? Here's my own arrangement of The strife is o'er with additional original material of my own. It's part of a short introit for Easter Day, a capella. I knew I had only two tenors and the rest were altos and sopranos. Can't be done? Oh yes it can:


Believe me, this setting really works. And the notes sit comfortably within everyone's range. There are no gappy textures, no empty bits, no voids in the sound canvas and no need for a keyboard to 'fill in the rest'. (If you want to use it this Easter, by the way, contact me.)


There are many other techniques which can be used - including the 'flexible anthem' approach (but avoiding the SAM trap) and I'll maybe post some of my own solutions in a future entry in this daybook.


In the mean time, happy singing, and mind the gap!


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