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Seating



Ok Group,

After much ado......people are placed and as promised responses are posted
to my question about seating and placement. Needless to say, we all owe a
big Thank You to Weston Noble. As I had forgotten (being a Midwest Lutheran
College Choir Guy myself) that it was he who came up with the idea in the
first place. The question and responses are listed below as well as how I
ended up doing it. FYI the warm-up, or placement tune that I used was "O
HOW I LOVE TO SING where you begin on 1(o) 3(how) 5(I) 8-5(lo-ove) 3(to)
1(sing) and my choir loved it as a warm up!

THANKS!
Brad Ford
Bel Canto Chorale, Wantagh NY
Kbradford1(a)nyc.rr.com

ORIGINAL QUESTION:

> Here is my dilemma. My new ensemble has never had auditions nor it
> now appears placement. SO, next rehearsal there will be a sectional
> period to "place" the women. My question is: How do you place your
> singers? What sort of blend do you go for? Do you seat fullest
> voice, strongest intonation in the center and work out to lightest,
> airy intonation? or vice versa? AND what tools do you use? I am
> planning S1 S2...B1 B2. The choir performs a variety of lit. from a
> cappella to orch. and has decent pitch and steadily improving
> intonation. As always, I have fewer men than women. The seating
> will most likely be women in two rows and men across the back in one
> row.

How I did it-

I lined the ladies up in one row and tested range. Then, I placed 2 by 2
voices together using a great warmup that was used on me and they were
amazed that the sound changed. Then I went through my stack of cards and
picked A1/A2 put Alto 1 behind Alto 2.....oddly enough, this works. The
same for the Sopranos....Aside from a little complaint about "I always
sing.....or I can't hear my part" They will adjust just fine. NOW I just
have to get to the men. The Seating will most likely be (From my view) S
B/T A where B2 is the very back row. The proof is that there is NO right or
wrong way.

RESPONSES-------------------------------------------------------------------
-----------

I know the Weston Noble approach of finding a good strong voice and then
fanning out from it, and I'm sure others will define it better. I don't use
that. I arrange my singers in rows with the strongest voices in the rea,
the
middle in the middle, and the smaller voices in the front. No value
judgments here, just size of instrument.

I hear folks in various combinations (never fewer than 2) singing a legato
phrase of something with a range of an octave or so, like the first line of
O
Beautfiul for spacious skies (it's not an octave, but we can move it up and
down and cover the range). And i move people around from row to row and
within rows until my ear hears what I think is the best setup. It takes a
while! And sometimes (often) two people sound better when the one on the
right moves to the left, so there are LOTS of combinations.
i do one section per week for four weeks, 45 minutes before rehearsal
begins.

One has to be sure to remind them several times to sing like they do in the
group, not with a special "audition" voice. If they have blend problems,
this
is a time to address them, perhaps hide them, and you can't do that
if they don't sing out during this process.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
-------

I use a variety of techniques to find optimum singer placement. I also have
the problem of not having enough men. what I have found out is that if I put
them in the middle and separate the S and A sections that it helps the
inherent balance issues. My concert choir might look something like this:

AAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
AAAAAABBBBBBTTTTTTSSSSSSSSS
AAAAAAAABBBBTTTTSSSSSSSSSSS

Those aren't my exact numbers but you get the idea.
Secondly, I try to pair contrasting voice qualities together. For example, I
classify the women's voices as reeds or flutes and the men's voices as cello
or horn. I then try to pair contrasting voice qualities and strengths to get
an overall blend. It is not uncommon for my choirs to have 5-10 different
seating arrangements during a semester, until I find something that works
for my ear. Also Paul Raheb at Clovis West High School in Clovis, CA wrote
an article about singer's spatial proximity by voice type. it was in our
ACDA California newsletter last spring, you might go online and see if it is
there.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Using one section at a time, seat your singers by timbre matching (I
got the technique from Weston Noble 20+ years ago). Line the girls
up, soprano section alone, e.g., in a row in front of you. The order
doesn't matter as you begin. Teach all the girls one hymn you pass out
(I use "My God How Wonderful Thou Art"--from Weston Noble). Tell them
what you are going to do and that they'll be helping you with the
process. Pick one girl who has a "sound" you like to begin-- have her
sing with each of the other girls in her section. Have that first girl
and the other girls help you choose which voice sounds "best" with girl
1. You listen for good intonation/how the vowels work together
agreeably. Once girl 1 has a "partner," girl 1 sits down and you have
the next girl in the line sing with each of the other girls in the
section. You continue the process until all have sung. I keep a sheet
with the timbre placement order--names. Move the key around to fit a
section. Sing in the middle of their range as you begin. This
approach has worked incredibly well for me in a college choir with all
types of voices--very experienced, no experience/voice lessons. etc.
You'll solve quite a few intonation problems, assuming you are teaching
your singers to sing with good alert posture and active belt-level
breathing. For seating, I put the men in the middle between sopranos and
altos. I think it gives strength to the sound and you'll hear balance
better--IMHO.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
---
I would put men in the middle (between altos and sopranos), have tenors on
front and basses behind them. Put sopranos to the right of the men (your
left), and put altos to the left of the men ( your right ). Of coure put s1
on front s2 behind them. Same for a1 and a2.
I had a extremely good conductor in college whose choirs sang in Carnegie
Hall. This is how he had his choir seating. It works really well.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
This is how I place my singers.
They come down by section S1, S2 etc... they sing "My Country tis" then I
begin to move singers around based on color! Dark, light, brights, dulls
they are relate to pitch. dark colors will tone down the bright colors,
while the dark give a little more weight to the bright singers.

Balance, blend and ensemble sound comes from your music training at
college/university level. You will most likely look for the sound that
was created there. (Weston Noble calls this the perfect choir in your
head)
My response may be a little random, but I hope it helps.
Ask your singers what feels good to them.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Have you ever done voice matching? I don't always use it, but I feel it
makes a difference. Every director in every school choir I've been in since
9th grade has done some variation of this (it's a St. Olaf thing originally
I believe). It really won't work with fewer than 6 or so in a section, and
it can take a long time with a big choir. If you haven't done it, it works
like this:

Have all the members of a section stand in a line and sing a small part of
the same song (my country 'tis of thee, for example) a cappella, then have
them sing one at a time.

Put them in some kind of preliminary order (I usually go dark, bright, dark,
bright... to start).

Have them sing two at a time (person A with person B, then B with C, then C
with D, etc). You're listening for blend.

If two voices don't match well, switch one of those people with someone else
and try again. Keep switching until the two singers blend.

After you've done that, have them sing in small groups (3 or 4) and check
for good blend. Feel free to keep rearranging.

Once you have them in one long line, if you're doing two rows, bend the line
in half rather than having them file up to their seats (for example NOT a
row of A, B, C... through M and a row of N through Z, instead, a row of A -
M and a row of Z - N so that the middle people are behind and in front
rather than on opposite sides).

You can check front to back blend between the two rows using the same
methods.

Have a great time with this tried-and-true method.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
-
I PLACE MY SINGERS BY WARMTH AND DEPTHNESS OF VOICE. WARMEST
AND DEEPEST VOICES TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE CHOIR. MELLOW VOICES IN THE
FRONT. WHEN DEALING WITH A MIXED CHOIR I PLACE 1ST SOPRANOS ROW 1, 2ND
SOPRANOS ROW 2. I LIKE A UNIFORM BLEND. ONE THAT IS RICH, ROUND, AND
RESONANT' I PREFER A MID-TO DARKER TONE QUALITY THAT IS FULL. YES, I SEAT
FULLEST VOICE AND WORK OUT TO LIGHTEST. I PERSONALLY BELIEVE IF AN
INDIVIDUAL HAS INTONATION ISSUES THEY SHOULD NOT BE ISOLATED. THEY NEED TO
BE ABLE TO HEAR THE OTHER SINGERS. I STRATIGICALLY PLACE MY SINGERS WITH
INTONATION ISSUES. IF PLACED CORRECTLY MOST INTONATION ISSUES EITHER
DISAPEAR OR BECAME INAUDIBLE. I DON'T HAVE A SET PLAN OR FORMULA FOR THIS,
IT IS MOSTLY TRIAL AND ERROR. I DO CHOOSE A WARM-UP OR SONG THAT WOULD TEND
TO EXPOSE INTONATION PROBLEMS - SUCH AS A DESCENDING SCALE. IF I HAVE SAY 7
1ST SOPRANOS I FIRST SEAT THEM FULLEST TO LIGHTEST WITH FULLEST IN THE
CENTER. THEN PAIR THEM UP BEGINNING WITH THE CENTER 2. I HAVE THEM SING
THE WARM-UP OR SONG. IF THE BLEND IS GOOD I ADD THE NEXT PERSON IN LINE AND
HAVE THE 3 OF THEM SING THE WARM-UP. IF THE BLEND IS GOOD I MOVE ON. IF IT
IS NOT GOOD, I FIRST TRY RE-ARRANGING THE 3 SINGERS TO SEE IF I CAN COME UP
WITH A BETTER BLEND. USUALLY THIS SOLVES THE PROBLEM, IF IT DOESN'T THEN I
REPLACE ONE OF THE SINGERS WITH THE NEXT PERSON IN LINE.
I PERSONALLY LIKE SEATING THE BASSES BEHIND THE SOPRANOS AND THE TENORS
BEHIND THE ALTOS. THAT WAY YOU HAVE THE OUTER VOICES TOGETHER WHICH CAN
HELP WITH INTONATION, AND THE INNER VOICES TOGETEHR WHICH CAN ALSO HELP WITH
INTONATION.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
---
My thesis was on a different
subject matter but I can easily explain the seating system which I learned
from Rod Eichenberger and Weston Noble.
First, figure out the formation you will you use for the concert.
Let's assume:

basses tenors
sopranos altos

You want the voices whose sound you like the best in the middle so,
in this formation, that will mean the right end of the bass and soprano
rows and the left end of the tenors and altos. One section at a time (say,
during break or at the end of the rehearsal), have the entire section a
couple of times to break the ice and then each person alone sing the first
phrase of the Star Spangled Banner (advanced choirs) or My Bonnie Lies Over
the Ocean (beginning and intermediate) in a good key for that voice part,
in one breath. Pick the person whose sound you like best. That sound may
be vary according to the repertoire, e.g., Brahms vs Palestrina. If you
have 2 rows, pick 2 people, etc. Have that person(s) stand alone and then
have all other people in the section sing the same phrase consecutively
with that person(s), 2 singers at a time.
Once you have a good blend between the pair or pairs of people, have
the first one(s) sit down and go through the same procedure with the 2nd
person(s) you have now chosen. Proceed the same way until you've heard
everyone, always listening to only 2 at a time. I then have the whole row
sing (half if it's large) to see if I like the blend. Some minor shuffling
may be needed. Sometimes all you have to do is have 2 adjacent people
exchange places and it improves the sound. People tend to be either
"right- or left-eared" and will sound different with someone else depending
on which side they stand on.
Couple of important points. You sometimes end up with someone who
can't blend with anyone. I would put that person in the back row on the
end furthest from you, so he/she doesn't distract you. Or, you can have
that person go down the row, singing between each person, 3 people at a
time. Either way, handle them with kid gloves because they might feel
like the last person chosen for a grade school baseball team! (Sometimes I
just place the last couple of people by guessing.) Instruct everyone at
the beginning of the exercise to not TRY to blend with each person but
rather sing comfortably at his/her own dynamic, vibrato, etc. The whole
point is to find compatible voices without them having try to blend. I
tell them sometimes solo voices are placed later and it's true. Pick a
rehearsal when everyone in that section is present. It may take several
rehearsals to do the whole choir.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
By and large, what you can do about placement is experiment. Select a
passage from a piece that is familiar to the choir. Section by section,
have them sing the passage. Then have subgroups sing it. (If you have
seven sopranos, ask three of them to sing; then two of the others with
one of the first three; then the last two with one other; e.g.)
You may be amazed at how different the sub-ensembles sound from each
other; but you should begin to get an appreciation of the kind of
sound, or blend, that is reasonable to aim for. Shuffle persons among
subgroups so that you begin to find out where best to place that one
obtrusive voice (or those two or three). Do the same with each other
section. It sometimes (often?) turns out that who sings next to whom
even influences the ability of the ensemble to maintain pitch.

Don't be dismayed if you haven't figured out everything you think you
want to figure out in one session. Once you've had them move around a
bit and sing with other singers as neighbors, they'll be accustomed
enough to the idea that you can do it anytime, and won't even need a
defensible reason for doing it.

Another experiment worth doing is (if your numbers are reasonably well
balanced; if not, modify as appropriate) to sort them into SATB
quartets (or other small groups, but with SATB in each insofar as
possible). You don't need to ask them to sing as solo quartets, but
you may find that this kind of shuffling has interesting effects on the
timbre of the ensemble. (I know some singers who prefer choral singing
in quartets, as part of the overall group, rather than in single-voice
sections.)

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
----
Following a workshop on the subject by Weston Noble, I tried the following
with amazing results. Try combining voices, 2 by 2, so that every voice in
the
section has a chance to sing with every other voice. You will notice that
certain voices definitely clash, while others make amazing blends.





Compilation of who should sing next to whom responses:

There's got to be something on this topic in the archives. I'd be interested in
your responses. I'd say intersperse your blenders/strong singers, and try to
surround your less strong ones with them.
Nate Miller

***

Yes Rubik's cube.
Do it often.
You will quickly hear the differences and develop an instinct.
Be aware of the peculiarities of your rehearsal space and your performance space.
I get a lot of extra sound from my back rows, I guess because of the construction
of our chancel.

good luck
Ray klemcuk

***
Joseph Flummerfelt, director of Westminster Choir used to put his 'core singers' in
the middle of a section and the problematic voices on the outskirts. Lighter
voices in front, heavier in the back. I have used this technique with even my
children's choirs and have had lots of success with it.
~~~
Edie

Other than placing solid singers with those who are weaker (usually singing
'though' them), have used the following for several years in many different
types and sizes of chori (church, community/barbershop):
determine each member's 'voice'...bright/medium/dark (or whatever other
labels you wish to use...and then mix them by part (if your choir is large
enough) and voice; balance the entire unit. Your ear should be able to do
the fine tuning.
Hope this helps.
Dave McCaffrey

with my children's choir, I juggle voices until I find the right blend.
Sometimes it is quite obvious that two voices next to each other don't
work, and just as obvious when they blend beautifully, not because they
are doing anything different, but because of the acoustics of each
voice. I have them sing "Alleluia" slowly on A with good round vowels,
and mix and match voices until we find a blend that works. Takes time,
but is well worth it!
Joy Hirokawa
Founder and Artistic Director
Bel Canto Children's Chorus

***

Good questions. I'll answer some of them, and I'm sure you'll get lots of
responses on the other things.

It's easier for a singer to hear someone who is standing behind them than
someone who is next to them. So, if you want a weak singer to be led by a
stronger one, place the stronger singer behind (and to one side of) the weaker
one.

On the other hand...
The hardest thing to tune is a unison -- it's especially difficult for
inexperienced (or insensitive) singers to listen well enough to distinguish
their voice from that of someone else who is singing the same pitch. The
out-of-tune singer is more likely to sing louder and out of tune if they are
surrounded by stronger singers. If you can place the singer where she can hear
herself as well as her part, she will be more aware of what she sounds like in
relation to the others. That often means putting them on the back row or on the
end, so the wall or shell reflects their sound back to them. That sometimes
causes other problems, and then you have to seek other solutions.

If you can teach your choir to sing in mixed formation (you can still put a
strong singer behind a weaker one on the same part) they can hear themselves as
well as the other parts, which means they can tune better.

I don't use mixed formation with my church choir, but I use it a lot with
community and school groups that have more extended time to prepare before a
performance. My church choir stands in sections on three or four rows, S-A-T-B
(left-to-right, all sopranos, then all altos, etc.)

"Rubic's Cube" is a good thing -- just be sure you settle on a formation well
before a concert. Nothing screws up a choir worse than getting put into a new
arrangement just before a concert. Every time you change the singers' positions
or the acoustical setting, it takes them a while to adjust to the new
environment. The best scenario is to rehearse and perform in the same space
using the same standing arrangement. If that's impossible, get as close as you
can.

I'll be interested in seeing the answers you get -- I hope you'll compile them!
Good luck!
Nick Boltz

***
I will suggest u make use of the last option u said and what u experience mail. I
wish best of luck.
Olusesi Temitope
I have a HS group of 24, and just about everything we sing is 4-8 part a cappella.
In the fall, we do Classical and traditional as we prepare for our Madrigal Dinner
in January, and in the spring we do Jazz and contemporary a cappella.

Sometimes, a particular piece just doesn't seem to work in a certain formation.
The blend is off, and the intonation wavers. So we mix up and experiment with the
sound. For us, it seems like chorales work better while standing in an SATB mix
while madrigals work better while standing in sections. I feel that we can still
have a professional look if we shuffle into a new formation in between songs.
Besides, the sound is the most important.

Scott Wickham
Centaurus HS

***

There is a person who has gone into the question of "riser stacking"
in great and impressive detail, but unfortunately I can't remember
his name. His ideas have been picked up by the Sweet Adelines
International barbershop choruses, and if you know anyone in your
area who is in one you should arrange to talk to their director.
I've seen it demonstrated and heard what it can do, and it isn't
always as simple as you'd think. Your singers with pitch problems
might do better with a solid singer from their section beside them,
or behind them, or with a solid singer from another section next to
them or behind them.
John Howell

***

looking at how small your sections are, how about 2 rows instead of 3?
rebecca rottsolk


***
rubics cube is what you have to do. take 5 min. in a reh. (for each
section) to have different people sing next to each other and you'll
eventually hear the proper fit.
Susan Bohlin

***

Placing voices is one of my favorite things to do - and it makes a huge
difference in everyone's ability to sing comfortably, in tune and to
enhance the sound I prefer. I start by lining up each section by
height, dividing them into the number I want in each row so at least I
start with a height consideration. Then I start working with each row.
I find the most desired sound (and ear) and generally place that voice
(or combination of voices) in the center of the row so I reinforce the
sound I want, and work out from the center placing other voices so they
connect to the core sound.I like a solid core so that the less secure
singers really hear a sound they can connect to. I put a weak ear on
the end if possible so that they can hear themselves and the more
secure singer they are next to. Then I go to the next row etc. and do
the same thing- and hopefully find core voices that match enough in
color with row 3. Occasionally I have to switch singers from the row
they fit in for height... I especially separate throaty voices from
each other so they don't reinforce each other - or overly dark voices -
same reason. Now with really huge voices - as long as they have good
technique and are sensitive singers you don't have a big problem - but
I often find a 'glue' voice to put between two bigger more colorful
voices so that voices knit together without having the bigger voices
have to sacrifice color and vocal health in order to 'blend'.
Sometimes when going on to the next section I have clashing voices next
to each other (or those throaty or dark ones I don't want to reinforce)
and do some more tinkering after I've worked out each section. I think
this is really fun - and the singers enjoy the process, too. Rebecca
Rottsolk

***

compiled by
Cynthia Frank
Mendocino Women's Choir
qedpress(a)mcn.org

155 Cypress Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437
707-964-9520 * fax: 707-964-7531
on October 21, 2003 10:00pm
I have a small vocal ensemble (14-16 singers) and Paul Smith suggested to me last year that I put my basses in the middle of the middle row and assemble the other voices around them. This has worked great for me as now everyone can hear the basses better. The ensemble hangs together and stays in tune much better in this arrangement, esp. with Renaissance music.
on November 2, 2003 10:00pm
The seating technique used by the choir I was in is as shown (for chamber choirs mostly)

SSSSS BBBBB AAAAA TTTTT

Note that this is in a single line U formation. During performance we do seated (as what Filipino choirs are famous for), the seating arrangement is done in an SATB manner.

SATBSATBSATBSATBSATB

you would have a triangular shaped core group. one on each end and a center quartet. This proved particularly successful as evidenced by the Philippines' Madrigal Singers (EGP Winner 1997).
on January 30, 2005 10:00pm
I'd like some suggestions on placement for a women's choir SSA. I have varying tonal qualities, of course. I also have only 11 singers. Currently I have 4 soprano, 4 second soprano, and 3 alto. We are in two rows as follows: S S SS SS A A
S S SS SS A
I currently have the stronger voices on the outside wings. Anyone with some suggestions. There are some nasal of flatter voices, some darker voices, some tiny voices and some brighter ones.
Thanks in advance for your help.
on September 22, 2005 10:00pm
I have a SA choir of about 60 voices. I'd love some input on how to place them on the risers in order to achieve the best blend.
on April 14, 2007 10:00pm
My choir uses the following formation... We also use Rubik's cube in each section for placement, usually mostly dark -> bright.

B1 A1 B1 A1 B1 A1 B1 A1 B2 A2 B2 A2 B2 A2 B2 A2
T1 S1 T1 S1 T1 S1 T1 S1 T2 S2 T2 S2 T2 S2 T2 S2
B1 A1 B1 A1 B1 A1 B1 A1 B2 A2 B2 A2 B2 A2 B2 A2
T1 S1 T1 S1 T1 S1 T1 S1 T2 S2 T2 S2 T2 S2 T2 S2

We tend to place the louder singers in the front row, as well as the singers with greater vibrato. The singers with the best pitch are placed in the back row, and the dark, round tone is in the middle branching out to a lighter, brighter tone on the ends of the rows.