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Composer | Writing for the Voice

Writing for the Voice

The human voice has been termed the most beautiful of all instruments. The task of the composer is to marry the words to the music she or he creates. The composer must live with the text, be it poem or prose, and own it. When writing for voice, the composer must also be aware of the scansion of text – the correspondence of the linguistic stresses with the musical stresses.

All voices are unique. Each is different, and its idiosyncracies taken into account in the compositional process. While trumpet players can distinguish a Benge trumpet from a Bach, the horns still have only three valves. A discerning ear can distinguish a Steinway from a Bösendorfer, and while the latter may have a few more keys than the standard 88, there is a certain genericness to trumpet tone or piano tone not found in the world of voices. A composer can safely write for the 88 keys of the piano or the 66 keys of the organ keyboard without being unduly concerned about the ability of the pianist to use any of the 88 or of the organist to use any of the 66. Since each voice is unique in a way different than pianos and trumpets, I prefer to become acquainted with the specific singer's voice or choral ensemble sound for whom I am writing. For ensembles, I'd also likely be asking for recordings of each of the sections. When writing for a singer, I prefer to have heard the individual perform live when possible, and in any case to have recordings provided to which I can refer. I am likely to request recordings of repertoire, in addition to vocalises on various vowels and pitch levels to inform my mind’s ear as I internally audiate this voice with the work I am creating.

I typically only begin writing notes after I have a clear idea of what the piece will be like, and in the case of a song cycle, of the place of each piece within the cycle, and these ideas often come from the text.



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