7.2.3.   Indicating changes with composers


In cases of difficult combinations of parameters, not thinking vocally, or inefficient notation and set up, I tried to implement changes with composers, as shown in the little analysis attached:



7.3.2.  Preparing the composers


            Guiding the composers was a great experience for me. I supervised composer colleagues before, but this was the first time I was put in a proper ‘teachers position.' I experienced how beneficial it is to use the extra knowledge I have as a singer, and underlined my suggestions with personal experience and understanding. I started by sharing basic information about singing (as mentioned in the previous chapters), and by setting up some basic rules and tools for composing for the voice. We discussed the difference in how singers behave in a vocal ensemble, as soloists, or in a choir. I used the instrumental analogy of string players: the attitude (and thus how he/she plays) of a violinist will be very different as soloist, in a chamber ensemble, in a string quartet, or in an orchestra. A good Konzertmeister can play his/her solo above the sound of 60 other string players, and then blend back to the sound of his group. Which parameters differ when being soloistic? String instruments share some of these with singing. For a vocalist, I would say: vibrato, intensity of sound, resonators, projection, register (head or chest or falsetto), text delivery, phrasing, character, expression and mainly: intention. In a vocal ensemble, all singers should be able to be in control of all the above, and be great chamber musicians as well – so they must listen well and make their musical choices according to the benefit of the overall sound and the whole group. I thus reminded the composers to think of this aspect while they compose. With each of the composers we went through a personal process, that could be generally summed up in the small analysis attached.


- Setting up the basic musical idea, focus or guiding thread in the piece

- Choosing text, lyrics or main source of inspiration

- Deciding the order of sopranos in the score, notated according voice colour (from lighter to darker), and according to range or other parameters

- Shaping the big form

- Drawing up general structural options (canon-like imitations, same melodies sung in different timbre, unisons, splitting up in two trios, having one soloist and accompaniment etc)

- Deciding about spatial elements of performers

- Thinking in parameters and their possible combinations

- Not making too many parameters busy at the same time

- Checking that all lines stay within the limits of what the singers can do

- Adding expression markings and help in creating subtext

- Fixing things

- Finalizing scores

- Adding small changes according to changes in the rehearsals


            We spent the most time however on proper notation. Text placing for example gave many options for mistakes: syllables connected or not, with a dash or as one word, in melismas having a tie above or a long underline etc. Notation also isn’t universal for many special vocal effects, but there are signs that are already in use, so it is better to not reinvent all of them, but to take as much as we can find in other scores.


See attached:

A short overview of the work with each composer on their piece

7.3. Teaching ‘Composing for Vocal Ensemble’


            In 2016 I was asked to conduct a piece by Hans Abrahmsen - a great opportunity to perform for the composer himself as a star guest in the festival dedicated to his pieces. We decided to name the ensemble after the piece - thus the ‘Universe birds’ ensemble was born. I had to choose my singers from school, and as the piece was written for 10 sopranos, which is the voice type that we have the most of, I could gather a great group of singers. I made a digital score of the piece with the permission of the composer for better legibility. I looked for the most efficient methods to teach the pseudo-canonic structures to the sopranos (as the musical material is spread around in space in a double quintet). All participants and the composer himself were very happy with the collaboration and how the piece sounded in the final concert. The leaders of both the Singing and Composing departments were also very enthusiastic about my coaching and based on this working process they asked me to make a project connecting the two departments in 2017.

            The idea was to create a vocal ensemble that will sing the new compositions of a group of composers. I would coach the composers on how to create works for more voices, and then I would coach the singers on how to prepare modern music and how to sing in a modern vocal ensemble. We would then deliver a performance of the new pieces conducted by me as a final result. Because ‘there are so many sopranos that if you throw them in the Danube, the River would stop’ (a Hungarian saying), I chose again to make a group of Sopranos, with the limitation of a maximum of six performers per piece, out of a pool of seven Sopranos in total, sharing the responsibilities in a rotating system. I worked with 5 young composers, each with very different backgrounds and musical ideas. Over the course of 3 months, under my guidance, they finalised their pieces and then we began a two-month studying process with the singers. The final result was welcomed from both sides and from the audience with great joy. The initiative was realized successfully, and it was a beneficial learning process for both.

As Martijn Padding noted after the 45 minute a cappella program we gave in Nutshuis in June 2017: "This was the best vocal ensemble in the last few years in a concert of our department."

7.3.3.   Working with the singers


            Even before the new compositions were ready, to build an ensemble from my singers I started with easy exercises – to get to know them and their voice –and to let them learn about each other’s voices and how they sing together. For this I used a choir booklet I wrote in 2014 called the ‘Silesius Etudes’. It is based on vocal warm-up exercises and solfege etudes that can be learned easily (in unison) and performed with aleatorics and choir improvisational elements as concert pieces. When the composers had material ready, I then chose methods for each piece that dealt with their core issues (main melody, harmonic reduction, difficult passages).


            Unfortunately, the scheduling of rehearsals was very difficult and I often ended up coaching 2-3 singers instead of most of them, but even that seemed to be helpful. A bit before the concert the pieces were on a level that we could invite the composers to work on them (ideally this could have happened much earlier with better organising). This input too made a huge difference of course in the final performance and was a big boost to the learning process of both sides.

7.3.4.   Results


            The concert was a great success. We performed each piece in a different setting, and in-between sung some of the Silesius etudes as connecting material, creating a continuous flow throughout the whole program of the concert.

I asked the composers to rewrite the scores after (often we forget to include the precious changes made during the working process with the singers, and after the concert we don’t take the time to make an ‘even more final’ version of our scores).

The composers were satisfied with their pieces, and how the whole concert went. My singer students were happy and grateful for what they learned. (I still drink my tea from a beautiful cup they got me with beautiful ‘universe’ birds on them).

The feedback from both sides was good, as well as from the audience and both department leaders. They asked me to do the course again this year and plan to continue this project, trusting me with continuing to build bridges between the two departments.

7.2. Vocal coaching at Young Composers’ Meeting


7.2.1.   Project background


            Each year the ‘Orkest de Ereprijs’ organizes a one-week long meeting for (very) young composers from all over the world – often with no experience of writing for singers before. To develop this aspect too, each year they invite 3-5 singers from The Hague Royal Conservatory, thanks to Gerda van Zelm. Suggested as a result of a tip from my former composing teacher, Martijn Padding encouraged me to apply and in 2014 I participated as a composer.


            A year later, in 2015, I was invited to be one of the performers as the tenor singer. This time I experienced ‘in my own skin’ how is it to do 10-13 pieces per person and give birth to 16 premieres, all written in very different styles, genres and idioms, all in only one week. My concerns were formulated in a list with suggestions (as a singer colleague said: ‘if you want to make things better, don’t just talk about it, do something!’).


All leaders were very positive and opened to try out some changes I suggested, including Gerda van Zelm vocal coach, Wim Boerman, conductor of ‘orkest ereprijs’ and Rob Vermeulen, conductor of the project for this week (it also is good to mention he is invited years ago to take over this project from Wim, as he is also a choral conductor and works brilliantly with singers – while Wim doesn’t have /or want/ a lot of experience with those kind of weird people – the singers).

            The edition that year ended with special compliments to the singers, from many participants: orchestral members, organisers, composers, and the conductor.

The coaching and mediating between two worlds was deemed useful. I focus only on the 2017 session, as this was the one that I had a function similar to what this research is about—as mediator between the composing and singing worlds.

7.2.2.   Helping the singers


Because of this in-between function, being a vocal coach but also a composer,

I was able to help with some of the things mentioned in the little analysis attached:


7.2.4.   A lecture for composers


            A day before the concert I also took on the task of giving a lecture on composing for the voice to the composers. Attached is the PowerPoint presentation that I used, which gives an overview of where my research was at that point. You can also find excerpts of the scores discussed in the additional analysis in Chapter 7.2.3.



                 – two experiments for being a mediator

7.2.5.   Results


            All in all the singers felt taken care of and felt they could perform with more conviction having had an active vocal coach who could also translate the needs of the composers for them. As a vocal coach who is also a composer, in the case of non-vocal writing, I could look for healthy solutions from the singers, while still fulfilling the composers' original ideas.


 "This was the best vocal ensemble in the last few years in a concert of our department." - as Martijn Padding noted after the 45 minute a cappella program we gave in Nutshuis in June 2017.

7.1. The specialist


It was a natural process how my separate activities started intertwining. 

I won the TENSO Young Composers Award, (a competition for choral composing, mentioned in chapter 6.2) and started focusing more and more on vocal music. I was singing modern premieres of my fellow composers and more and more famous seniors. With my conducting and teaching experience the circle closed, and I was asked for projects as mediator.

‘We know more and more about less and less’ – states the famous saying about the over-specializing of our times.

In this case getting my interest wider and doing a second, seemingly not totally related musical professional study arrived to the stage, where the two interests can be brought together in narrow focus (on the in-between), instead of a too broad musical interest resulting in unperceivable forms of creativity.

Thus, with keeping my multidisciplinary artistry (quoting also my distinction from my BA diploma concert) I still could become the specialist: of exactly being both and being in the middle.


In my first experiment (Chapter 7.2.), my task was mainly to coach singers performing new pieces, and only interfere with the written material when we found no good solutions for the vocal problems of the pieces. Thus my work with the composers was only to correct their scores on the rehearsals and make them more vocal.

In my second experiment (Chapter 7.3.) I could start working with the composers from the beginning, and guide them through their whole process of creating, giving them insights of vocal composing beforehand. Then apply my experiences of the first experiment in teaching the new pieces to the singers.

            Consequently, in 2016 I was in an in-between function of being one of the singers but also responsible for the vocal ensemble, and trying to prepare them beforehand. However, attempts at organizing the singers prior the start of the working week was impossible due to their personal schedules, and on the spot I also didn’t have too much chance to work with them. In 2017 Gerda gave me her official position as vocal coach, although she came in most days to check up on me and make sure that all was going smoothly. Also, she was a great help as an outer ear, as I was still a singer in the ensemble too, and I couldn’t always hear things regarding balance and amplification.

Preparing for my lecture for the composers in 

Young Composers Meeting Apeldoorn, 2017

As 'vocal coach'

mediating between 

Nina Fukuoka, composer, 

Dalma Süle, soprano and

Rob Vermeulen, conductor

at Young Composers Meeting Apeldoorn, 2017

Changes in the compositions themselves (scrolling)

-       Text changes

For example: Elisabeth Angot’s Piece for 5 voices & ensemble requires to keep sharp, staccato notes, very rhythmical, but with precise intonation and no changing syllables, just on a single vowel. This made each singer feel very uncomfortable about their personal technique: as it is a very difficult combination for a vocalist.

I tried to interfere and ask the composers permission to sing da-da-da or la-la-la, with a soft consonant in front of the open ‘a’ vowel

-       Voice distribution

For example: Blanka Stachelek had a piece written for two female voices (Banish from air) which first we tried to be sung by an alto and a counter-tenor, then a soprano and a mezzo, ended up in a soprano and counter-tenor combination, resulting the lighter sound the composer had in mind (although she had first a problem with the gender changing form only female to mixed duet)

-       Using the voice in different ways, changing amplification

For example: in Patrick Giguère’s piece, Some fantasy, a strong contrast was required between a very soft legato homophonic texture in the vocal ensemble, and a massive sound in the orchestra. We ended up changing completely the position of the singers, standing in front of orchestra and singing unamplified.

-       Rhythmic division

Paul Zaba’s smart idea to connect delay rates of airports in Delays and compose the text in various delays had diverse options of notating grouping of rhythms. The bar meters he chose were not always helpful to the singers or musicians.

Paul made a new score for the orchestra on the request of the conductor, yet some of our singers still sung from the old score, as they got used to it, and changing it so close to the concert I found dangerous to get confused.

-       Dynamics

For fixing the balance between orchestral and vocal parts, sometimes the change had to be implemented in reducing the dynamics of the instrumental parts, such as in Roché van Tiddens's Ik verlang, most dynamics were reduced with 1-2 levels for the instruments.

-       Counting repetitions

Loops in repetitive music are normal to be notated with repeats and numbers of repeats. Yet, in Nathan James Dearden: We cannot let this stand, we got a new score with written out repeats. Some singers still sung from the old score, as they got used to that counting system. The changing lengths and meters were still too tricky to get the piece performed perfectly on the premiere.

-       Range, tessitura, endurance problems

Such as in Ryan Probert's Five broken pieces, where the soprano has to hold a high g# for a whole movement – in the end we managed it with doubling in whistle and our alto singing it in ‘head voice’.

Working with the singers


Help I could provide in the preparation:

- difficult intervals by placing them in a pseudo-tonal background

- analyse difficult harmonic changes

- find reference notes in each other’s lines

- intonating tips in special ranges and chords

- counting (!!!)

- finding the right voice colours for each piece

- talking about text and what subtext could be the main motivation.

The 'two' Universe Birds

- below the piece of Hans Abrahamsen,

above the vocal ensemble that preformed it,

and took the name.

Working with each composer (scrolling)

- Karmit’s original idea was about more languages of the same text. Soon she changed this (following suggestions of her main teachers) and looked for a simple text where she could explore the sounds of the words beyond their meaning.

- She found an old collection of Dutch folk songs. She decided to use the text of two songs in two variations on the same melody

- To preserve the simplicity of a folk song – she used a melody written for a Kodaly-solfege lesson in c# la-pentatonic scale

- We had long discussion about how to clean up the score, to not make it sound too blurry

- how to create contrasts in the two quite similar movements (slightly different tempo, different sopranos getting different lines etc)

- finding the difference between first and second version of the material for speeding up so it is more singable in one breath

- choosing the singers right for the different ranges, for example same line getting too long and too high while pseudo canonic structure allows to re-distribute the surrounding notes in a way that it fits the tessitura of each singer


Renán Zelada – aki sareba

- He wanted to create a map-score at first

- he changed to an easier form of open-score

- he chose a Japanese haiku as starting point

- as main interest was also on the different timbres of the sopranos, he made them also read the text and have a constant murmur as the main texture of the piece

- he wrote an expressive and fragile melody which we could learn in unison and perform with aleatorics quite free

- We worked on creating more precise rules, as freedom on too many parameters can lead to the voice itself sounding quite ‘random’, to avoid that we had unwritten rules with the singers how to achieve the best breathing of the form of the piece, how to give reference points (for tuning each phrase from another note) and how the colours would come out best.


Alexandros Gkonis - Kassiani


- His piece was based on a sequence of a harmonic progression of three voices on an ancient text

- At some point I suggested do instead of doubling each line, the group could be divided in two trios – similarly to Abrahamsen’s ‘Universe birds’ - and next to the original material a ‘shadow trio’ could be made, where all voice leading is mixed up, to create different colour changes

- We worked on fixing some voice leading, beaming and doublings

- Text needed to be notated better (words of one syllable spread on two notes as if two syllables etc…)


Maria Rostrotseva – Something in-between

- Maria made the most difficult piece for the singers, where many parameters were difficult at same time (pitch material complementary chromatic, difficult rhythms, harmonies and relation to each other)

- We worked on simplifying with preserving the complexity of the piece as much as possible

- We beamed groups differently sometimes and put new bar lengths for easier notation

- We worked on possibilities of different prosody and rhetoric – what other type of relation of the voices can appear in the piece after the first two pages?


Vasileios Filippou – Silent wave


- He wrote for my ensemble, that also performed on the same concert, the Vocal Federation Six (VF6): so as a master student he had a bit different task than the others: writing for mixed ensemble (3 female and 3 male singers)

- The piece was based on a single melody, deciding that first it is with gaps and after a B section it returns in a continuous, uninterrupted way

- ‘The piece’s melismatic character and ornamentation are influenced by Greek Byzantine chanting’ writes Vasileios in the explanation of his piece.

- In the B section where the singers decide how to shape their entrances, we indicated extra the rules of how to fix the order of entrances, in order to create exciting waves and forms.

The singers this time were part of my vocal group, the VF6, or VocalFederationSix, which this time was involving only 5 singers (out of which 2 were replacements). In this constellation I worked with singers I knew a bit better, but also with some new colleagues. The challenge of coaching them and discovering their diverse (musical) personalities and (musical) attitudes to different parts of the process was almost as if they were students I would have to coach. 

‘You just have more things you do, Georgi,

it will need more time until they all ripen and come together

- Katalin Schultz, singing teacher


Already then I saw that the singers don’t have enough time to study all the pieces, and many pieces are written again with a different aesthetic ideal. Having exciting ideas, but sometimes not really vocally written, or lacking preparation and knowledge from the composers’ side. Sometimes singers who are invited are doing for the first time modern music, and are thrown in the deep water.

My piece was for example way too difficult for the singers, who were my colleagues at school, and I worked together with all of them before, so I should have known their vocal and musical skills and characteristics the most. Yet, the density of the piece and the difficult solfege required was a complete mismatch with circumstances and the level of the singers.

In this sense, my piece was a failure in creating the right balance between the performers and the desired sound ideal.

My portrait photo from YCM 2015, Marije van den Berg

as a young composer

The cover page of 'Silesius etudes', the booklet I wrote for small warm-up exercises, that can be performed with aleatorics and group improvisation as concert pieces.

I used some of these to build the ensemble, and they served

in our final concert as connecting improvs in-between the composers' pieces. 

The pdf of the PowerPoint presentation

I used for my lecture 'The Voice for composers'

in Young Composers Meeting Apeldoorn, 2017

Helping as a vocal coach (scrolling)

-       Finding reference points in the full score for entrance notes, especially useful in cases where the ‘vocal score’ didn’t include a piano reduction or cue notes

-       Helping with analysis of full orchestral harmony or cleaning up a cappella sections, tuning special chords (different sound with different analysis of complex chords)

-       Intonating and tuning quartertones (for example in Vasileios Filippou's Swash and Elisabeth Angot’s Piece for 5 voices & ensemble)

-       Clarifying special effects (for example in Monika Szpyrka's Counting to Ten, and Szymon Stanisław Strzelec's Supereclipse)

-       Balance and colouring of voices, blending

-       usage of microphones, as part of the instrument (being tool of expression, realizing the correlation between the distance from the microphone and the voice production needed)

-       balance in amplification (only partly done by me, also with the help of Gerda)

-       Isolating cases of not properly notated rhythms, gestures, unclear usage of different note heads (for example in Szymon Stanisław Strzelec's Supereclipse)

-       Timing issues, in graphic/special notation (as in Jimena Maldonado’s Tidewater) or with difficult tempo or bar changes (Ryan Lindvelt's Morning)

-       Finding different subtext, half-staging, or characters of performing

(such as in Nina Fukuoka’s piece for solo soprano, the different cats in Piyawat Louilarpprasert's Cat’s Song, and the diversity of expressions and characters of even just the same word, as in the winning piece, Ali Can Puskulcu’s Malkovich)

-       Setting up priorities of parameters when there is too much information on many levels (Aya Yoshida's Singing in the rain, Harmon Roché van Tiddens's Ik verlang)



Receiving the TENSO Young Composers Award 2014, Copenhagen, an award for choral composing