When you’re choosing new repertoire for your choir, it’s important to take your singers’ vocal range into consideration.
In a mixed choir, you’ll probably have some sections that are better populated than others. In the western world, it’s common to have many more women than men. A lot of mixed choirs are particularly short of tenors these days, simply because men’s voices have, on average, been getting lower over the last half century.
When you’re considering any new piece of music for your choir. There are two main issues to consider about range. The first is the extremes of range; the second is the ‘tessitura‘.
Extremes of range
If you run an auditioned choir, you will have heard all the individual voices that make up the group. Perhaps you even make notes about people’s ranges and voice quality. Within any voice part, there will be people at the higher and lowers ends of the expected range. So while you could have a large soprano section, there might only be a few of those sopranos who would be comfortable singing a top A or above. Similarly, you might have a few soprano voices that struggle around a middle C.
So, when you’re assessing a piece, it’s worth checking how high and low each vocal part goes and considering whether your singers will be able to tackle it. If you run an unauditioned choir, you’ll probably have less of a clear idea about the individual voices in the group, so it’s even more important to check for extremes of range.
However, it’s not only the extremities of range that have to be considered, which brings us on to:-
The tessitura of a piece or section is the average lie of the notes, and it often has more impact than on the ‘singability’ of the music than the range itself.
Let’s use the sopranos as an example again. If they spend most of a piece singing around the middle of the stave, from an F above middle C to the upper C, they’ll be very comfortable. Popping up to an occasional high note or down to a low one will not phase them. However, ask them to sing the same passage starting on an upper C, so that most of the notes are clustered around D/E/F, and they will find it very challenging, even though all the notes are well within their range.
So a piece can comprise notes that are all within a singer’s range, but it can nevertheless be difficult to sing because of the tessitura. When you’re assessing a new piece of repertoire, keep an eye on the average lie of the notes, as well as the extremes of range, and you’ll be able to select music that suits your choir and is enjoyable to sing.