Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music: Composers’ Forums

Composers Singing

DALE WARLAND: You all are writing for singers. Do any of you sing? I know you are not professional singers, but do you sing? Do you sing in your homes, in the car? How does writing for singers come out? In other words, do you actually make noise?

R. MURRAY SCHAFER: Yes, I sing. I think I have already mentioned that. I have been singing since I was a choirboy at age 6, and I definitely sing through any piece of choral music that I’ve ever written—I sing through every part just for breathing, for general contour and singability. So, yes, definitely, I do sing the music as I am composing it.

CHEN YI: Me too! I have sung since I was a child in elementary school, and in middle school I was the head of the choir and conducted the choir, about 50 kids. Also, I sing all the time when I teach composition, singing with my students’ works. We only come up to the piano to play the parts vertically, otherwise I sing all day and it never bothers my voice. Also, whatever I write, I sing it with my voice or in my mind. I don’t touch the piano; usually it is not necessary.

DOMINICK ARGENTO: I don’t sing. I did the next best thing; I married a singer!  To this day, you can get a big rise out of my wife, and she gets a bigger rise than anybody out of it–, by asking me to match a pitch someone plays. I’ll usually be around a tritone away. It just breaks her up!  She doesn’t understand. I have practically no coordination of these things [vocal cords] inside here! But I do in my head. When I write a choral piece, I have to be able to sing, or rather hear, every part of it, at least mentally. I have to know how it is going to feel to the singers. But I am basically a fraud as a singer. My wife and I both went to the Eastman School together for our PhD.  She is a very fine singer and got appointed as soloist at the best church in town. And in order be together, I volunteered to sing in the bass section. Thank God all the other basses were colleagues from Eastman, too! I buried myself in the middle of them, and I would just hum along anything I heard someone else sing and no one ever found me out!

ERNANI AGUIAR: I am always singing. I sing the music that I write. I sing my friends’ music. So I write many things for baritone and piano, for baritone and orchestra. I have been married three times to singers. I don’t believe that Argento doesn’t sing. I am sure that he does. There cannot be any musician who cannot sing. A man who does not sing I am scared of!