Arranging for Choir

More specifically, Arranging for Community Choir.

Not a thesis yet, but with 5 terms and 20 or so arrangements under my belt, over the next few blogs I want to put down a few observations on the process of arranging and part writing for community choir.

What I’m looking for when choosing repertoire:

(1) A good tune

Quality of the melody writing

This might seem obvious, but when I have been exploring iconic tracks by iconic artists, I am sometimes surprised by oddly constructed some tunes can be… The voice of the artist and the way they can sell their own material has a significant influence on our appreciation or love of a particular song.

Not knocking them in any way (as I am a great fan) but trying to reinterpret classics by Kate Bush, David Byrne or Bob Dylan, for example, can quickly fall down. Is it just possible that the soul of the singer and the quality of their voice might just be irreplaceable?

The closest we got to getting over this peculiar dilemma was our electronically re-invented version of Isolation by Joy Division, although as I write I remember that we sampled the voice of the late great Ian Curtis, using it in our live performance as it seemed too symbiotically linked to the words and melody to leave out. The melody, in the case of Isolation, is pretty dull and almost completely irrelevant (disproving my earlier thought about what I look for in a song), but it didn’t seem to matter in this case as we were going for an interpretation of the soul of the song.

In a similar fashion, what great singers make simple and effortless (I’m thinking specifically of the songs of Burt Bacharach we programmed in our second term) can just be too slippery for lesser mortals to get around. The excitement of seeing Burt Bacharach in the Usher Hall programme was met with a certain amount of confusion when I trawled the Bacharach back catalogue looking for material that would lend itself to a usable arrangement. They are great yes, but how? Bacharach resisted (mostly), but we persisted.

It is almost impossible to say why a certain melody can make a song a great song, but not always a great song for us to sing. I may need to research and write a thesis to find out (not going to happen).

Stephen