HomeBlogsandrewmorstein's blogFinding the Essence

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When I'm not performing with Gentleman's Rule, I'm arranging. 

When I hear a song on the radio, I think of ways the song can be done by voices only.

When I start the arrangement, I am at once terrified and excited and curious and careful.

I recently received a commission by a high school a cappella choir to arrange Blackbird by you know who.

THE BEATLES. The mother f'ing Beatles. 

When I look at the brief but exciting history of modern a cappella, it appears that few groups venture into the vast realm that is the Beatles music and come out alive on the other side. It's like going to the dark side of the moon. When someone tells you that they're about to arrange a song by the Beatles, most of the time you're thinking "good luck buddy."

Some people don't like the music of the Beatles - which is fine (and kinda stupid) - but most people agree that their music changed how listeners and musicians alike consider the relationship between harmony and melody, tone and timbre, pitch and rhythm. In a few words, they were the sh*t.

So how does one go about arranging their already perfect music for something like a high school acappella group without screwing it up? 

There is no solution. You screw it up. You just have to. No cover of any song (the Beatles, more particularly) can match the effect of the original. It's just the way it is. There is a silver lining though...

If the essence of a song - that feeling, the way it bounces or grooves or the colors it creates - is captured, you have done your job.

I've been trying to learn the best way to arrange music for this genre and more and more I get the feeling that there is no best way. There is only the one way any arranger can do it justice - by capturing the essence. 

If I work really hard and I have a bit of luck when it's finally sung, maybe this version of Blackbird will find that essence and remind the listener about how they felt when he or she first heard that song. Maybe they'll remember and feel the way they felt about life when they hear this cover. Maybe. The essence is what I'm striving for. It's the only way to go to the dark side of the moon and come back with any shred of dignity.... I presume.