A Cappella

Constructing Medleys

Putting more than one song together to make a bigger structure is a standard part of the arranger’s craft. There are all kinds of interesting things to think about the how you join the songs together, but today my interest is on the more fundamental level of how you choose them.

I think about medleys in two types. One is a collection of tunes that share a common origin or set of associations. Say, selections from a show, or songs by (or made famous by) a particular artist or group, such as my Madonna Medley or Meatloaf Medley. I tend to think of these as show pieces, useful as they offer a longer span of musical time without a break than single songs would, in much the same way that classical concert programming places more substantial works as focal points amongst the shorter items.

Goal-Setting with Bristol A Cappella

The Dilts hierarchy as analytical tool (plus some other stuff behind it...)The Dilts hierarchy as analytical tool (plus some other stuff behind it...)Saturday took me down to Bristol to spend some time with music team members from Bristol A Cappella. Our primary focus was goal-setting: working from values and aspirations through to concrete plans. I’m not going to write much about the detail, except to say that both the adventures they are embarking on and the challenges they are grappling with would elicit empathy from anyone who has been involved in a choral ensemble.

But there are a couple of points that I can usefully reflect on without disclosing private conversations. First is how the Dilts pyramid emerged as an analytical device for considering activities within both the music team and the wider chorus. We had compiled a collection of ideas about what the ideal chorus of the imagination would be doing that the real-life currently chorus isn’t.

‘Old Barbershop’, Part 2: A Case Study

In my previous post on ‘old barbershop’ (I am keeping the inverted commas as the term doesn’t get more self-evident with use), I talked a bit about lyrics, but mostly about specific technical features of the arrangements in core repertoire 20 years ago compared to now. The third area that came up in the conversation that sparked these posts was a framed as a general issue, but in the context of a particular song. There are threads to be untangled here.

So, the general issue was choreography, or possibly body language. There are patterns of inhabiting the body that are inherently linked to how we understand a style, indeed are part of the way we store it. This comes out both in explicitly-planned moves, but also in the general performance demeanour.

Musings on ‘Old Barbershop’

Some time in the early part of the millennium, around when I was writing my first book, my then boss asked me what were the new and happening things in the world of barbershop. The question entertained me, as I had been in the midst of documenting the ways in which the genre has been built on an aesthetic of nostalgia. The slogan ‘Keep it Barbershop’ (and the identity label derived from it: KIBBERs), which was still in some currency at that time, was about the resolute resistance to innovation.

It is hard to put your finger on exactly the moment it changed (Michigan Jake? Team OC Times + Aaron Dale? Westminster Chorus?), but the last decade and a half has seen not only a good deal of innovation, but also a cultural shift to a world in which the new is greeted with excitement. The seeds were planted in the early 1990s with changes to the judging system that allowed a greater range of repertoire and arranging techniques, but it has taken nigh on a quarter-century to change people’s felt experience in relation to the defined boundaries. Back in 2005, when I wrote my article on ‘Cool Charts or Barbertrash?’, this was still a very active area of contention.

On Voicings for Mixed Barbershop Choruses

Heavy Medals from BinG!: Leading the world in mixed-chorus barbershopHeavy Medals from BinG!: Leading the world in mixed-chorus barbershop

I had a couple of conversations at the recent LABBS Convention about repertoire for mixed barbershop choruses, and the specific needs/constraints on voice ranges the genre produces. I realised part-way through one of these conversations that the question is more precise and intricate than I had headspace to work through in a mid-contest coffee break, so I have come home to work it out in detail.

The mixed chorus is curiously both more and less flexible than the mixed quartet. In a quartet, the four voices you’ve got available are your absolute constraints: anything out of range for one of them means a chart isn’t usable. In a chorus, you can shuffle people about between parts to an extent, and thus in some ways get more of the benefit of the extended range of having both male and female singers. At the same time, though, the fact that you have both male and female singers on a part means you have to be careful at both top and bottom of the range.

Loved-Up with LABBS

LABBS Beacon of Harmony: displayed in the Convention history roomLABBS Beacon of Harmony: displayed in the Convention history roomLast weekend saw the 40th-anniversary celebrations of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers culminate at our annual Convention. I chose my title to report on it for both personal and analytical reasons. I’ll be selfish and talk about the personal stuff first, and then leave you with the broader analysis of the event, as the more useful take-away for other people wanting to craft wonderful experiences for their memberships (or, as I felt it this weekend, their tribes.)

So, I was feeling specifically loved-up as an arranger. The most obvious reason for this was being honoured with one of the 40th anniversary awards for contributions to the association, specifically for my arranging efforts. Which was lovely in itself, but they also said a whole load of other nice things about me before calling me up to receive it. There is nothing like being told publicly that you’ve made a difference to make you feel like you belong. Oh, I’m getting all teary again just writing this. Do excuse me.

Miscellanous Thoughts from Holland Harmony College

This is another of those posts where I ruminate on the observations that collect in my notebook over a stimulating weekend, this time from my adventures with Holland Harmony. Many of these, I discover now I try to organise them, are about making connections between things I had already been aware of in ways which illuminate both.

On Race, Repertoire, and Ignorance

Okay, this might be a long one. The subject is huge, even within the specific focus I am going to try to maintain for this post. Better get a cup of tea before we start.

During my schooldays, I learned the word 'pikey' as a colloquial adjective for miserly, niggardly. Its meaning emerged through contextual usage, with a particular emotional flavour. At some point during my teens I saw the word used as a noun, scrawled in graffiti near a gypsy encampment, and thereby learned to my surprise that it was a racial slur.

I don't have such a clear memory of the moment of revelation when I learned that the word 'cotton-picking', heard in cartoons in my childhood, likewise carried huge cultural baggage. But I can clearly remember the days of innocence when it was just sound, a mannerism used as an intensifier to give a certain rhythm and tone to the speech.

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