I’m a colourful soul and so I arrange my choirs accordingly!
I’ve always been keen to use language and terms that my singers will understand. One singer asked me years ago “Excuse me, what exactly is a soprano? I only know the TV show.” So I went for my colour system instead.
Sopranos sing the high parts – I colour code these singers as ‘red’. Historically, sopranos are divas and always want the limelight! I make many jokes about this (they’re actually quite lovely) but you never want too may of them. In my arrangements, the reds often get some charming wafty harmonies, oohs and ahhssss which need to blend lightly over the main tune. I use my cake analogy here – the tune is the cake and the soprano harmony is the icing. Now, a well iced cake doesn’t over power the main taste/tune. The icing should be a thin layer complimenting what’s underneath it. In short, if you’ve too much icing you’ll be sick. The same applies if you’ve too many sopranos !
Altos are my ‘yellows’ – the refer to themselves as ‘the smug yellows’ because they often get the main tune – the bit every one knows! Altos are female singers but in fact, there’s not much difference in the female alto vocal range and the male tenor range. It all depends where people feel they most comfortably singing. These singers are my cake.
We are a massive choir, totally overrun with women so my ‘green’ section is made up of….wait for it…. more altos! But these ladies get harmonies (and often the trickiest ones) so people can interchange between green and yellow if they want to. These singers are the filling in my cake (the yummy jam or the buttercream).
My ‘blues’ are my tenors. All of the men sing in this section (the handful that we are blessed to have) and the rest are my tenor-ladies (hours of jokes with that one!) If a man and a woman sing exactly the same pitched note, the men will always sound different due to the shape of their voice box. The timbre is deeper and has more resonance and they can be heard very clearly. They are also historically the most likely to mess about – so I have the men at the front. In cake terms, these singers are the silver drum boards that posh cakes are placed upon. Essential.
Sometimes I include a very very high part – we call these the pink ladies and we never need more that about 4 (bearing in mind they can still be heard clearly over 100+ other voices). (I suppose these could count as a cherry on the top?) I always aspire to reach the depths of ‘purple’ (bass) but men bass singers are few and far between (even I can’t sing that low so no other ladies can either). These singers are the whole TABLE!!!!
A choir should be fun and not constrained by terms the singers don’t understand. Making singing accessible to everyone is at the heart of the choirs I run – as is providing cake at the tea break x
Massive thanks to Mike Beard (A Blue – nearly PURPLE!) @mikebeardphotography for the pictures and to Maria Hasting (a staunch Yellow) @westbridgfordyoga for teaching me yoga poses.