The longest-lived choral composer/arrangers – including most of my favorites – had groups they wrote for in much of their writing.
- Gene Puerling – The Hi-Lo’s and The Singers Unlimited
- Alice Parker – The Robert Shaw Chorale
- Darmon Meader – The New York Voices
- Anders Edenroth – The Real Group
- J.S. Bach – the St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig, among others
- Palestrina – the Cappella Giulia, among others
As Ms. Parker described it to me, when she was writing a solo line, the staff paper became almost transparent and she could see behind it the singer she was writing for. So often, the soloists would later say how well it fit their voices: of course it did – they’d been singing it from the moment pencil hit paper.
Alice added, “write perfectly for one choir, and it will work well for all choirs. Try to write something for all choirs, and it will be perfect for no one.”
When it’s a commission, of course you can tailor to the specific ensemble. But even when it’s not to be sung by one specific choir (or you don’t know the choir well enough to write with them in mind), have an ensemble you know and love in your head, singing as you write. In the end, the music will be much better.