I was somewhat intrigued by Brian's review, and wanted to poll the "masses" (all 17 of you) for your thoughts on the subject...
Task 1: Compile a list of great female artists you would die to cover.
Why just female artists? With artists like Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Beyonce, Carrie Underwood, etc., the task of delivering a compelling performance becomes A LOT more difficult. It seems as though, in today's "billboard society," a lot of the women are successful because they simply have *amazing* voices. Whereas, aside from the vocal talent of Michael Buble, we have male artists like John Mayer, Chris Martin... even older singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Bob Dylan, where you are a) choosing artists that have become popular *in spite* of their sub-par voices (usually meaning they came up with something either catchy or actually good), and b) your soloist doesn't face the impossible task of trying to better one of the *sick* female vocalists on the charts today.
*** OMG this doesn't mean you should record Waiting on the World to Change, or Fix You. ***
Next up, let's tackle arranging. I'll admit, arranging for female groups is a tough task to do successfully. The reality is that In the Pink often has a span of two and a half octaves separating the Alto II's and Soprano I's. This is a recipe for disaster with even the best of singers and seasoned groups. When you have your altos in the basement and your sopranos in the stratosphere, you might as well be throwing paint at the wall, hoping you'll end up with art. Tuning is just plain tough when you put your singers in this predicament. In the Pink should pick a key their singers can be successful in and then tighten up those chords (keeping all voices within a 3rd or 5th of each other at all times) and only move out of this comfort zone for effect when you know your singers are capable of it. The only voices where it may be acceptable to have an interval larger than a 5th between them is with your Alto II's and Alto I's where the bass line may require an average of an octave between them. Female groups shouldn't feel pressured to have to replicate the voicing of male and co-ed groups. In an age when female groups can utilize the octavized alto line through production, there's no reason to keep your lowest singers in a range that's detrimental to the tuning of the group. I'm convinced that 80-90% of the tuning problems on By Any Other Name (and this album is severely out of tune) are a direct result of inexperienced arranging.
I would agree... a consistent span of 2.5 octaves between outer voices is probably a recipe for "not good." However, I think that's less a matter of the distance between the voices, and more a product of arranging at tessitur-ial extremes. Voices not only sound weaker and more strained, but intonation and general accuracy are weak when people are stuck singing outside their comfort-zone (which Brian so thankfully commented on).
The one thing I tend to disagree with: I can't stand listening to an A2 line that sounds like it's not at all "low" in the alto's voices. I need to hear some female resonance, and get a feeling that it's an actual "bass" line. Obviously, we don't want the part to go outside the singer's range, but that's consistent across the sexes. I want it to sound a little fat, full, *insert yours here*.
Task 2: Get great arrangements that your singers can sing successfully. It's okay to purchase arrangements from more experienced arrangers and you'll learn a lot in the process, too.
Wow, I couldn't agree more. I've been arranging for 10 years now, and the best experience I've gotten has been through looking at arrangements by Nate Altimari, Joseph Bates, Deke Sharon, etc. Purchasing an arrangement from a professional is worth it's weight in (government) gold.
I understand a lot of Brian's review was directed toward In the Pink specifically, but his perceptions kind of sparked my curiosity as to how others think on the subject of female a cappella.
I'd love to get some insights from other females on how they approach arranging, since they know how the female voice works better than I ever will. :-)