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Low notes in a composition

I'm doing a setting of "Bogoroditse Devo", the Hail Mary in Church Slavonic, for women's chorus. Now, I put a low Eb (the 2rd space in bass clef) in the Alto II line. Would most women that sing second alto be able to sing that low, or am I better off changing the line? What's the absolute lowest note one should write for these types of things?
on May 24, 2013 7:03am
Most women don't have an E flat.  F and occasionally E are written in second alto parts, but I'd re-think that E flat unless you have a specific singer in mind. Just my opinion....
on May 25, 2013 5:47am
I find that a low F is a stretch for many women's choruses. They may have a few voices which can produce the pitch, but asking for resonance and power is a strain. In general practice I try not to write below a G except at the quietest dynamic levels.
on May 25, 2013 8:32am
and even if you had an Alto 2 who could sing that low, the tone quality might not be acceptable..... better to revoice?
on May 27, 2013 1:20pm
Hello Carlos
Working for female (or indeed male voices) does impose limitations of range that are best respected.  Although, that said, and in contrast to what Dan Gawthrop has said, I have never found a women's choir whose 2nd altos could not manage the low F with fair comfort.  But any lower is into specialist territory - that of the female tenor, which causes a lot of discussion, but which is not germane to our case.
I have made an arrangement of The Salley Gardens for SSAA which is coming up to its première this year.  The final 2nd alto note drops to the E below the treble clef.  I am worried/unsure about this.  The key is E maj., and this does not push the 1st sopranos as they sing no higher than the F# - top of the stave.  I now have to make a decision about raising the key a semi-tone up to F maj.  This means that the last note for the lower altos (and only the last note) will be the F below the stave; and I think this should be acceptable.  
The foregoing should indicate that I have serious reservations about a low E.  However, a low Eb would be out of the question for me.  There are altos that can sing it, and sing it well.  But I doubt that they are too common in choirs.  I want choirs to sing my music with ease, and to enjoy it.  So there!  I think I have just convinced myself to go for F maj.  In your situation I would raise the key if possible or, otherwise, revoice the composition.
David Monks
Le Chœur d'Alzonne
on May 28, 2013 6:33am
I have known a couple of women for whom E-flat was not a problem and have used them accordingly, but I echo Mary Jane's sentiments that you should do it only if you have a specific singer in mind that you know can cover it. (If they can, they'll be only too happy to sing it.) Even so, it could limit performance of your piece by other choirs. All women singng Alto II should be able to at least phonate an F-sharp or F-natural, but E-flat is a different animal.
on May 28, 2013 9:18am
I have to agree: change the note.   Give yourself a compositional challenge to come up with something else.  It's not like in a bass voice, where you can add an optional low D and sometimes get a few men who love to sing it, but not hurt the composition if no one has the note ...  F is possible for alto, imo, (conductors might reject your work, seeing it)  but E is too low and Eb way too low. 
Just recently a very good female singer with a large range offered to sing a tenor part for me for a recording, saying she could hit all but the low Eb.  
A baritone Eb would be fine, naturally, so one easy solution is to divide the basses and let the alto rest or sing higher. 
on May 28, 2013 2:49pm
Hi Carlos,
Unless this is a personal challenge or project you're involved with, here is a version of Rachmaninoff's Bogoroditse Devo already arranged for SSAA, arrangement by Veronica Sichivitsa:
Vlad Morosan
on May 30, 2013 11:22am
To update my previous posting,
I consulted with the choir that is going to premiere my arrangement (to which I referred above).  Their altos 2 have absolutely no problem in singing the low E.  So, no need to transpose.
David Monks
Le Chœur d'Alzonne
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