Arranging songs – one of my favourite bits of my job….

Photo credits – Ursula Kelly @STUDIOSOFTBOX

New term, new songs – for everyone! My community choir as well as my smaller groups. When I hear songs, I hear what they’ll sound like with groups of voices singing. I hear harmonies which might not be in the original track, I hear alternative arrangements. It’s not always easy to translate this into a teachable format as many of my singers have little or no formal training and are unable to read music. I want my arrangements to be accessible and ‘easy’ and so I record each part myself.

Luckily, I have a very plain voice. There’s little or no vibrato and/or styling. It’s a good voice for teaching, but you won’t catch me winning ‘The Voice’ or ‘The X factor’! So I sing along using my favourite programme, audacity, to each and every part.

AudacityI can then hear what the whole thing sounds like together and share this with the choir or group and I can also separate the parts back out so that they can have access to an audio file of just their part. I think its important for the singers to hear roughly how it’s going to sound when it’s all together. From that, they are able to appreciate their own part. Sometimes parts are SO DULL and people wonder if their part is important to the structure but when they hear the piece together, it helps them to understand that it is and why it is.

I’m working on ‘Just Like Heaven’ by the Cure for the community choir. I LOVE this song but there are huge instrumental gaps to fill with vocals. The audacity photo above show me singing each instrument part as a vocal line in 4 separate bits. The introduction to the song always sounded like the Cure were introducing each individual instrument and I plan to build on this with the voices. I might even pop in some ‘kari-ography’ to keep interest levels high!

I’m also working with my Wednesday group on ‘Top of the World’ by the Carpenters. I’ve just read a biography of the band which was incredibly insightful. I wrote my extended essay about the Carpenters when studying Performance Art at University and love their songs so much. I was delighted that my singers chose ‘Top of the World’.

Richard Carpenter made the Carpenter’s sound. He crafted harmonies and created the distinctive multi-harmony overdubbing beautifully which was ahead of it’s time in the 1970s. And so I get the recreate this. And it’s VERY tricky! When harmonies are as close as these (3rds, 5ths with a fews 4ths knocking around) it becomes very difficult for the ear to hear them individually. It sounds more like a colourful wash of voices as opposed to being distinctive definite ‘parts’. I have a feeling I might have to resort to the sheet music for it – but that’s another level of fascination for me. Often, when I’ve needed to download sheet music I merely glance at it and say “oh yes!” as it’s very obvious. The more I train my ears, the better I get…. but I’m not at Richard Carpetners level!

Top of the world

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