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Can an SATB choir sing a song composed for TTBB choir?

I am wondering if, in your opinion, a SATB choir can and/or should sing a piece arranged for TTBB.  If your answer is "yes" how would you go about this?  If your answer is "no", why not?
 
I am looking for serious answers from conductors, composers, publishers, arrangers and the like. 
 
Thank you for your honest replies.
on August 16, 2012 4:47am
Aaron,
It depends.
Some TTBB music is best suited for TTBB music only particularly if the composer wrote the piece for TTBB only.   Honor the composer's wishes.
But you can re-voice Barbershop quartet music keeping the bass on the bottom.   The same is true of songs from the Gospel Quartet tradition which use TTBB voicings.
Is there a clear rule for any of this?   I'm curious to hear from others.
Nick
on August 16, 2012 4:55am
In most cases of a well-voiced TTBB piece, it is not feasible.  There are exceptions, though.  The top tenors in a TTBB choir usually sing in a tessitura that is uncomfortable for sopranos. (That's part of why singing tenor is so difficult for most.)  Sometimes, that part can be taken down the octave and given to altos in an SATB choir, giving the Lead/Tenor II to the sopranos.  The Baritone part then might go to the tenors, but there is a good chance it will be too low, as will be the Bass part for the baritones within the bass section.  So, it has to be transposed up as well.  This whole process is one of the "easy" fix scenarios.
 
What piece are you considering?
on August 16, 2012 5:07am
Once upon a time, a fast & dirty way of TTBB to SATB transcription was to have S's sing Tenor I, T's sing Tenor II, A's sing Bar., and B's do what they normally do. However, this normally places the S's in a potentially strenuous register/tessitura and has everyone else spaced too far apart to retain the normal richness of TTBB texture that comes from closer spacing.
 
Sometimes this works; many times it doesn't. One is better off carefully re-arranging the piece (or commissioning the composer or a professional arranger, depending on circumstances, to do it for you) and, many times lowering the key for the SATB version.
 
I speak as a composer and arranger of a number of successful TTBB works as well as a conductor of a men's choir…
 
Hope this helps,
Robert A.M. Ross
info(a)robertamross.com
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on August 16, 2012 5:43am
It depends where the melody lies. Often barbershop repertoire has a melody in the 2nd tenor with a countermelody from a light 1st tenor above it (higher than usual for tenors) - in this case, it would be quite tricky to adapt, as you'd end up with a very high tenor line if the sopranos take the melody, or the tenors singing the melody and a very high soprano line above them. But if the melody's in the first tenor with the rest accompanying, it would be simple enough to put the melody up an octave for sopranos, and the 1st bass part up an octave for altos.
 
(Another possibility with a second tenor lead is to give tenors the second tenor part, altos the 1st tenor part at pitch, and sopranos the second bass part an octave up as a countermelody - possibly transposing the whole thing up by a tone or two in addition to the above.)
 
It depends on the piece, in the end - some will have been written specifically for male voices and won't work with SATB, others will be more amenable to it.
on August 16, 2012 5:51am
Speaking as composer/arranger, I'd say better this direction than the other way around.  Straight reassignments from SATB to TTBB are notorious for producing mush.
 
Nonetheless, male-to-mixed is not a guaranteed success.  Simply handing the choir the TTBB piece and reassigning parts is unlikely to be successful.  You tend to move from closed to open harmonies.  You gain range, but you lose the rich sonorities of an all-male ensemble.  The piece will lose something, and the better it was suited to TTBB the more you will lose.  (And, of course, women don't have much practice reading bass clef.)
 
I adapted my arrangement of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" from TTBB to SATB.  It still needs copyright permission, so it hasn't been performed yet, but I like the results.  It was definitely not a simple reassignment of parts.  I ended up transposing from D-major to G-major, just for starters.  Then I made general part reassignments, but had to do a lot of phrase-by-phrase or even note-by-note adjustment to make it work.  Generally the harmonies are the same, but the individual lines have changed.  Where things became too spread out, it sometimes worked to move the basses up an octave, but then I had to worry about extensive voice-crossings, and so on.
 
Proceed with caution and an alert sense of musicality.
on August 16, 2012 7:06am
I asked a similar question a couple months ago about "rearranging" a work for a different voicing.  There are a lot of legal ramifications for this that other people can explain a lot better than I can.
 
In theory, the sopranos and altos should be able to sing the T1 and B1 parts up an octave and it *could* work.  You'd have to get really lucky though to not have to re-write anything.  Once you start re-writing, you start running into legal problems. 
 
My honest advice would be to find a setting of the text you want that is truly set for SATB. 
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on August 16, 2012 8:44am
If it's a low enough bass part (which it often will be just by virtue of how TTBB pieces work out), couldn't you transpose the whole thing up a 4th or 5th, then have B on B, T on Bar, A on T2, S on T1 and end up with a decent sound? That's how I always assumed it worked best, because reassigning and octave flipping gets ugly and weirdly spaced very fast... What do people think of this approach?
on August 16, 2012 7:15pm
I'd like to know why you want to do what you're suggesting? I can't think of any reason why this would come up except if you had some outstanding piece of TTBB music and were just looking to avoid purchasing it in SATB form OR if there were no SATB version available and you felt that the piece was so extraordinary that you absolutely had to use it with a mixed voice choir.
It seems to me that it would probably just be easier to select something else wonderful than to spend too much time trying to do what you have proposed. 
on August 18, 2012 6:10am
Thank you all so much for your replies. I mostly agree with those who ha e stated that if it was composed for TTBB then that is who should sing it.

Our Men's Chorus is singing the piece"Advent" by Craig Courtney. It is a beautiful song and thought, "Hmmmmm....I wonder how this could work with SATB.

Perhaps I will contact Mr. Courtney and see if he has an arrangement or would be interested in doing one.

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