Magic Choral Trick #153 The Case For Duetting
At one of the education classes at our regional Barbershop convention and competition, one of the judges in the singing category, Dr. John Ward, was reminding us about the importance of quartets and choruses spending a significant amount of rehearsal time duetting.
When we are working to solve matching issues with tuning, tonal quality and synchronization, having just two parts singing at the same time makes any problems much easier to hear and to fix. For the two voice parts not singing, this is unlike the old fashioned choir rehearsals where, when it’s not your turn to sing you can turn and chat with the people on either side. Intense listening is required – for feedback, and in order to understand the harmony more clearly.
The understanding of the harmony in this case is mostly visceral. When two of the other parts are creating a locked and ringing sound, it’s easy to feel exactly where your part needs to fit.
This rundown of specific pairings of voices is for a Barbershop chorus (Tenor, Lead, Baritone, Bass), but can also be applied to SATB choirs. The main difference is that in Barbershop, the harmonic function of each part generally remains constant – and in SATB choirs the harmonic function of each voice can vary from piece to piece, depending on the effect that the composer or arranger wants.
1. Lead and Bass – Here we have the melody, and the part that drives the harmony – since the Bass is almost always on the Root or the Fifth of the chord. Lots of Perfect 5ths and 4ths to be locked in here.
2. Bass and Baritone – There will usually be many 5ths to be tuned here, because often when the Bass is on the Root of the chord, the Baritone will be on the 5th. However the Baritone part also has its share of 3rds and 7ths – which will need to be backed off, and which duetting will highlight.
3. Bass and Tenor – Many octaves here, which need to be balanced and blended so that the Tenor part acts only as an amplifier of the Bass note – and not heard as a separate voice. The Tenor also has more of the 7ths than any other voice part – which need to be locked in with the Bass’ Roots of the chord – but balanced quite far back in the mix. (Quiet, but deadly accurate)
4. Lead and Baritone – The will be a fair number of 4ths and 5ths to tune here, and occasionally some augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths (Even melodically, these nasty intervals are one of the hallmarks of the Baritone part). Perhaps just as important with these two voices is that they often overlap. The Baritones need to be aware of the places where they’re higher than the Leads because it affects the kind of vocal production used. When the Baritones are above the Leads, a more heady vocal tone is required. When they’re below, they can revert to a more forward, reedy placement.
5. Lead and Tenor – Often lots of 3rd and 6ths here. Leads should continue to, well, lead, and the Tenors just lightly and angelically place in their harmony notes.
6. Tenor and Baritone – This one can be just plain strange, and can sound like the piece is suddenly in a completely different key. Then magically, when the Bass is reintroduced, it all makes sense.