Question is likely to be in the minds of many choir directors regarding the positions the different parts may take, and the number of voices necessary for each. Also, someone may ask, How may I overcome slight disadvantages of certain weak parts?
it is not essential that the singers squarely Face the congregation, but it is essential that the music in their hands be in direct line between their eyes and those of the conductor. It will be found helpful to have the choir seated in slightly curved rows, each individual facing the director's stand. This has a double benefit: It makes it possible for the director to hear the tone more as a unit; and it gives the singers the opportunity of hearing each section as it blends with the others. This arrangement is of great assistance in securing better group singing. Teach the choir members to listen to all four parts ; it will help them to submerge their individuality in the unified body of choir tone.
The high voices are usually found at the conductor's left, with the low voices at his right. There is good reason for this arrangement, if a piano is used for the accompaniment—which is the case in many places. The top of a grand piano opens from the right side; therefore the instrument should be on the left of the rostrum. This permits its mouth to open toward both, the choir and the congregation. Have it turned slightly so that the accompanist can easily see both the director and the music without turning his head. The piano should be as close to the singers as possible. Every additional inch away from the choir increases the hazards of "off key" singing—unless you have an unusual group. The sopranos, especially, need the instrumental support, because there is more part movement and a greater display of intervals in that voice, which is the key voice to the pitch problem. In the kind of music sung by most of our choirs, there is less motion in the "inner" voice parts than the "outer" ones.
Each voice section should have some frontage—one or two singers on the front row. It makes the group more compact, and each row thus becomes a small choir in itself. Sometimes the sopranos take the front left position, the altos the front right, and the tenors and basses the left and right back, This "bottles" up the male voices, and does not produce the best results. There should be at least one male voice on each end of the, front row. If the male voices seem strong, they may be spread wider toward the back row. Tenor and bass should have an equal representation in row one; soprano should take the preference, with alto next. The whole arrangement, of course, is primarily to produce balanced tone power. There are four wheels to the harmonic vehicle, which should not sag through overloading at any corner.
Consideration should be given to appearance as well as to tone. Careful placement of the individuals in each section according to height will do much to present a pleasing appearance. There should be no conflict between visual and aural impressions, for when these two agree there is a more definite message conveyed to the auditors.
Taking thirty as a suggestive number of choir members, have two tenors at the extreme left on row one, four sopranos at their side, three altos next, with two basses at the extreme right. Row two would be lined with two tenors, three sopranos, two altos, three basses. This plan calls for nine chairs in a short third row at the back, ten in row two, and eleven in row one. The order may be reversed if desired, with other adjustments, of course, to keep the parts well placed. Have those in the back rows looking between the heads of those directly in front of them.
Center Around the Simple Plan
Here is a plan which will greatly assist in deciding the approximate number of voices for each part. The first letter of each voice makes the word TABS. Place the figures 4567 or 5678, or 6789 (according to the number in the choir) beneath the letters of the above word, and you have a working basis for the numerical balance of the voices.
There are no rules that will fit every case. One must know what he wishes to secure, then work toward that end. His endeavors, however, will be found to center around some simple plan. If, for example, there are only three tenors, when you should have six, place two on the first row with the stronger third voice behind them. Let the sopranos fill their allotted space in front, supplying additional ones to fill up the unoccupied space of the tenors. This arrangement will give the tenor part the advantage it needs, and will do much to overcome the weakness of tenor shortage. It assists weaker voices—weak from timidity or from lack of vocal powerto place a leading voice behind them. The stronger voice will reach the ears of those in front, and inspire them to greater endeavor. In spite of the general preference for no leading voice in each part, the fact remains that choirs with unseasoned material do better work with such assistance. A leading voice does not necessarily mean one which stands out and above the others. It means one that is true to pitch, firm in tone, accurate in reading, and sensitive to the director's suggestions.
If a conductor studies the placement of parts, and experiments a little, he will soon detect the importance of part position, and be able to make some decisions of his own that will greatly aid him in reaching greater heights in church-music standards. There are many effective ways of placing the parts. Those suggested here are but a few of the possibilities.