What does orchestral choral sheet music look like?

I don’t know what it’s technically called, but I’m thinking of something where they use the choir just as another instrument, and they don’t seem to be singing any particular words. Like that Duel of the Fates piece from Star Wars (although that might have real words, I’m not sure).

Does the sheet music have words to sing and they’re just impossible to make out, or is it just notes to sing, or what?

I don’t think there’s any particular name for using a chorus as an instrument… that being said, the best example I can think of is “Neptune” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. There is a six-part chorus for female voices and the notes are written as normal, only there is a performance note saying that the syllable to sing is “like the ‘u’ in ‘sun’.” Gives it an eerie quality.
On Duel of the Fates in particular, the closed captioning on my DVD indicates they are actually singing words, just not English. Beats me what it is, probably one of the many constructed Star Wars languages.

There are lots of works in which the chorus sings only vowel sounds or hums; they’re usually written like normal choral music with the sound the composer wants sung underneath the notes (“ah”, “oo” or whatever) indicated instead of specific words. Every composer seems to have a different phonetic system; I’ve seen scores which used the International Phonetic Alphabet. Humming can be indicated as “mm” or as a direction (“humming” or "“with mouth closed” or whatever). Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe is a good example of a choral score where the choir has no words.

Singing wordlessly is sometimes called “vocalizing”, but that’s not likely to appear in a score; just the vowel sounds or composer’s instructions.

Choral smilie --> :o

A good example is “Atmospheres” (I believe that’s the title) by György Ligeti. You’ll recognize it from the acid-trip-like sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey where Bowman is … well, tripping through space (in more ways than one).

There’s also the piece “Gesang der jungling” (song of the young/of youth) by a composer whose name escapes me (it’s been a long time since university).

Both eerie pieces…

  • s.e.

In Duel of the Fates. they’re singing in Sanskrit. John Williams chose it because it has good vowel sounds (he liked the way it sounded) and is unfamiliar to most people.

The actual lyrics are two lines from Robert Graves’ poem “Battle of the Trees” — “Under the tongue root a fight most dread, and another raging, behind, in the head”.

Are you writing a choral piece? Keep in mind that the vowel sound will make a huge difference in the timbre of the piece. Also, the range it’s written in will have a big impact. And remember that singers tend to have a much smaller range when humming than when singing. It can be very difficult to hum very high notes that require more space in the mouth to create.

Oh, in another movie score, I like Annie Lennox’s vocals in Apollo 13. That has the same wordless quality you mentioned, SmackFu.

If you are, I strongly suggest you find the scores of the aforementioned pieces and check how the choral parts were notated. As well, you should do some research at a university music library.

I know that when I wrote my 3rd year contemporary piece (gawd, six months of work for seven minutes of cacaphony ;)) I had to use a lot of weird-ass notation that even the conductor found difficult. I had to explain some of the stuff to him and the instrumentalists.

[size=1]God, I hated having to write contemporary music. :mad: *