Making Arrangements

Entry By Yang Chen, Marc Garneau CI, Guest Blogger

These past few weeks have been even more busy than usual. With the Christmas Show and Music Night coming up, rehearsals have been super intense. But for this blog post, I’ll be talking about something a bit different.

I think a key to a happy show choir is having good song choices. When the members are able to lose themselves in a song they really enjoy singing or dancing to, they’ll always be hungry for more. If they are comfortable with the song, they’ll also be excited and confident to perform it for others. Of course, new songs every once in a while keeps things fresh. However, the problem is that not all songs have ready-to-purchase choral arrangements. And so, I arrange my own. It isn’t too hard – all you just need a little determination, a vision, and some free time.

The basics are simple: you want to create an arrangement where there’s three or four part harmony a choir can sing. I usually start off by listening to the song over and over again, and trying to find pre-existing arrangements for piano and voice. Since I don’t have perfect pitch (if I did, I could name what a note is just by hearing it), I have to find the vocal melody line first. Once I see the piano chords and the vocal melody, I add them to a new score on Music Notation software. (I use a free program called MuseScore, musescore.org) .

Then, I start playing around with the harmonies by using the piano chords, and following them. Should the Sopranos get the melody here? Should the baritones sing a countermelody? I love playing around with the notes. Most of the time I just go with whatever my gut feeling is on how it sounds. Also, since I’m arranging with my choir in mind, I always think about the difficulty of actually singing it, rather than just trying to create the “ideal” harmony. This is a very big benefit to custom arrangements. In our case, not all of our members are necessarily strong singers, so I try to not make the harmonies too difficult.

Once I finally get a draft done, we take it for a test run! With a couple of members from show choir, we sing the parts together. Usually there are some tweaks to be made, such as an odd-sounding chord, or a note that’s out of range. Once the arrangement is finalized and photocopied, the end product sounds glorious. It’s very rewarding to hear your own arrangement translated into live and beautiful music.

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