I recently completed a 7-movement commission for Hollidaysburg Area High School's music department. This suite is anchored by 4 jazz ensemble pieces, with 3 pieces for other ensembles between the jazz band movements.
These three other ensembles are (1) chamber string orchestra (2) SATB chamber choir and (3) flute + rhythm section a la Claude Bolling jazz suites.
This was my first opportunity to write for SATB choir. And only my second opportunity to write for string orchestra. Where to begin?
I've been at this long enough to have learned a couple things:
- Make sure the music is playable by the musicians for whom I'm writing.
- Music that is idiomatic for the instruments is more likely to be played better.
- Know the cash register of each instrument or voice, and use it.
But, there were many things I didn't know about writing for a choir, because (1) I had never done it before and (2) I had never sung in one.
So I called up a couple friends who are choir teachers and picked their brains, asking questions like:
- What makes a choir piece really singable?
- What are common stumbling blocks and should be avoided?
- What are some of the things that make a good choir piece sound good?
- What are your favorite choir pieces written at this grade level? Why?
I did similar research for the strings, though I didn't have to ask quite as many questions since I had been through this before.
I borrowed a couple scores, reread the germane part of Don Sebesky's great book, and hoped for the best. And, I think they turned out pretty well.
If you'd like to listen to these pieces, you can download the scores and listen to the Finale All-Stars' performances below.