Our students often ask us what voice part is best for them and usually our answer is “It depends on the music this year!” Last year we did an overview with some detailed info on choosing an All State voice part (click here for dudes, and here for ladies), so start there if you’re new to the process.
Here is some information that is specific to this year’s music with some instructions on how to go about testing out the ranges of the voice parts to decide what’s best.
Of course the S1 part always rides a bit higher than the S2, but the true extremes of the ranges are tested in “Ride on King Jesus ” (the end, if your area takes the top line). You’ll need to be able to pump out a lot of sound above the staff, as well, not just get there! I would also take a look at Flight Song, measures 42-56 to make sure you’re comfortable hanging out and shaping dynamics up top.
At times, S2 hangs with S1, which makes it essential that you’ve got the high notes. The difference is, perhaps an S2 doesn’t need to make as much noise above the staff as S1 does, because they’ll specialize in more mid-range singing. But what I tell my students is “If it’s hard for you, it’s probably hard for everyone” so if you occasionally have to pop up high and it’s not your favorite, remember that you’re not alone. Of course, if high singing is your jam, you’ll have a huge advantage.
If the question is whether you should sing S2 or A1, I’d definitely go to “Ich lasse dich nicht” and sing through measures 66-82 where S2 crosses above S1 for a while. Here it’s not about popping off one high note but about tessitura, meaning: can you hang out up there for a long time or does your voice prefer to go back down to earth to rest? Since the sopranos don’t have to sing the difficult end section of this piece, this middle section is a likely cut for Sopranos, so you want to make sure you’re solid on it. If that’s difficult, check out A1 instead.
Altos have to dig pretty deep this year, so if you’re deciding between S2 and A1, I’d definitely check out “Ride on King Jesus”. If you aren’t comfortable using some chest voice here (the style demands it) then you might want to go up to S2.
If you’re deciding between A1 & A2, again, check out “Ride on King Jesus”. Almost nobody can actually sing all the A2 notes there, but if you can you should seriously consider singing A2! Flight song also has some really low business, so try out measures 25-26.
This year, there is a clear divide in tessitura between tenor I and II. If deciding between these two sections, sing the “O sacrum convivium” as the tenor I tessitura sits around F and G. Also, check page 10-end of “Battle of Jericho” for the sustained F#’s, G’s, and A’s and the written high C for tenors at the very end. If you’ve got it, go for it! You should be comfortable with the high tessitura in all of these sections.
If deciding between tenor II and bass I, sing the sections where the tenor is doubled to see if you can handle the tessitura. Sing page 8 in “I will Lift Mine Eyes” for the A-flat and B-flat that are doubled in both sections. “Ich lasse dich nicht” sustains high for tenor II in measure 73-75 and onsets high F in measure 84 to the end. As a tenor II, you could likely use falsetto if yours does not sound like a completely different voice and projects well.
Maybe you are looking ahead to pre-area and area auditions? Gagot is not as high for the tenor II’s. However, if deciding between bass I and tenor II, sing Schicksalslied sustains around E and F and also touches G.
Bass I’s should be able to sustain higher, but this year also be able to sing a sustained low F. No it does not have to sound as full or rich as a Bass II’s low F, but it should be on a pitch. Sing the beginning of “Ich lasse dich nicht” as well as the entire fugue starting in measure 86 to test out your low F.
Bass II’s should be able to sing a low E for region auditions. The piece with the most E’s is “Joshua fit the Battle,” so be sure to sing this piece if deciding between Bass I and II. There are also sustained low F’s in “O sacrum convivium.”
In the area music, Bass II’s have to sing a low E-flat in measure 96 of “Schicksalslied.” There is even a low C in written for areas E-H in the last measure of “Gagot.”
In summary: Ladies, there is a lot in “Flight Song” and “Ride on King Jesus” to help you determine your voice parts. I believe this is because both songs were originally conceived for Mixed choirs and so when rearranged for Treble voices, the ranges remained pretty extreme. Remember though, both of these pieces are for early auditions, not Area, so if you have previously advanced pretty far in the process, you may be able to “make do” at Region and pick the voice part that you can really nail on the area music.
For tenors and basses, “Ich Lasse dich nicht” and “Joshua fit the Battle” are the best pieces to determine if you can sing low or high enough for the section you wish to compete in. If your voice has only settled down to about a low A (especially entering freshmen), and you still have a comfortable high range around F, tenor II is likely your best option. Tenor I’s should have comfortable high notes with no falsetto and Bass II’s should truly have the low notes consistently on pitch as the music demands the extremes of the range this year.
We maintain that an “All State Voice” could probably make the choir in more than one room.
Note that at the time of publishing this post, what we have noted as the ranges for the voice parts is not what the TMEA website lists.
One more musing: judges want to hear your best singing, not trick you. So it’s possible that the cut wont come from a notoriously high or low section because the judges understand that may just be a snapshot and not the best representation of your singing. Also, we want you to stay vocally healthy, so consider your camp and region clinic experiences: if the range is uncomfortable you may end up feeling hoarse after all that singing!
~Natalie & Austin