Odds and ends, part 1

Since I have a few free minutes, I thought I’d mention a few random things I’ve been up to.

1. The Neptune Chorus. A couple of weeks ago, the Carmel Symphony performed The Planets on one of their subscription concerts. I love the piece, and it deserves every bit of the popularity it has, but it has several aggravations to performing institutions. It’s very difficult much of the time, requires a very large orchestra (not quite Mahler-sized, but big enough), including a slew of unusual instruments (including the bass oboe, which is almost always simply left out), and requires an offstage female chorus at the end.

The choral part is particularly problematic. The voice parts are very challenging, and since they have to be offstage, there are difficulties of coordination. Also the “fade-out” at the end never works very well. The composer’s idea was to have the choir in a seperate room adjoining the concert hall, and for the door to the room to be slowly closed in the last few measures. But few concert halls have a suitable room so the singers just have to sing a slow diminuendo, which never sounds right. I have attended several performances of The Planets, and participated in several, and it’s always a big occasion to me when the choir parts sound even halfway acceptable.

I’m on good terms with David Bowden, who directs the Carmel Symphony in addition to the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and Terre Haute Symphony. I heard him mention that he was planning to use a synthesizer for the voice parts (as he did in Terre Haute several years ago), so I chimed in and told him I might be able to offer a better solution.

Over the course of several weeks, I did a mock-up of the choir parts with Vienna Symphonic Library’s Soprano Choir. I saved the recording to a CD, dividing the three choral entrances into three separate tracks, and played the recording back during the performance. A bassist in the orchestra provided a sound system, and it sounded just fine. A real choir would have been better, but at least my virtual choir was in tune, and the fade-out at the end sounded convincing.

An additional advantage to using a recorded choir was that stereo separation was possible. The choir parts in Holst’s score are written for a double women’s chorus, that is two seperate choirs of three parts each. This arrangement simply cries out for the two choirs to be separated in space, one on each side of the stage, but I’ve never heard this done in performance. I totally understand why. Given the difficulties of the choir parts, to separate the two choruses would create additional headaches in coordination, and would almost certainly result in disaster. The virtual solution eliminates all these problems.

Am I saying that my virtual choir is better than a real one? Well, I’m traditionalist enough to believe that a real choir would be preferable. But a real choir presents considerable logistical difficulties, and my virtual choir simply eliminates most of them. And given that the choir parts are wordless and are supposed to sound eerie and unearthly, I personally can’t raise any objections to it in this case. It seemed to work very well in this context.

If it were a “real” choir part like Bach’s B-minor Mass or something, of course such a solution would be completely absurd.

I could post more, but I’m out of time. More later.

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