From melody to 8-part harmony: arranging for the Pinkies

Chris C

With just over a month until our next concert, A Night At The Movies – The Sequel, we thought we’d find out how Chris Chambers, one of our home-grown arrangers, goes about his craft. 


The Pink Singers’ concert repertoire comprises a superb collection of songs from movies, in a variety of styles.  Although we acquire some rights for existing arrangements, we are lucky enough to have several talented Pinkies who arrange beautiful songs especially for us.  Chris has been doing this for several years, so we thought we’d quiz him on how the magic happens. Here it is in his own words:


STEP 1: THE SONG

The announcement of the concert theme is succeeded by a lengthy trawling of internet ‘top 100’ lists. I also see if I can sneakily find a tenuous link between my favourite pieces of music and the theme in question.  The list of suggested repertoire is released for the Music Team’s consideration which is also a good time to sway opinion. And drink wine. Then I wait to see what the Artistic Team would like to offer me.

STEP 2: THE ARRANGEMENT

As a teacher this is normally done in my holiday repose after a certain amount of dread and much procrastination. In the final 2 days of my six week holiday I set up the laptop, turn the telly on in the background (somehow this makes it seem like less of a formal commitment to hours of work) and place the first of a multipack of Diet Coke on the digital piano. I then spend hours playing the same chords over and over again, much to the delight of my husband, until I stumble accidentally on something I like.

Four hours later this is all securely entered into the music notation software. The play button is pressed and the afternoon’s work is duly deleted. When eventually completed the score is emailed to the Artistic Team 4-7 times to rectify numerous omissions, errors and changes of heart. Sadly the hours spent listening to and playing my favourite songs over and over again render me insensitive to the reasons I liked them in the first place.

STEP 3: REALISATION


The rights have been successfully obtained and it is the exciting first rehearsal with the choir. Some parts of the arrangement instantly come to fruition. There is a certain degree of disappointment with some of my decisions and my unreasonable expectation that everyone should sing it perfectly from the first read through. These hugely narcissistic thoughts fed by an extreme fear of inadequacy are usually allayed by the second rehearsal. The ensuing sense of achievement and satisfaction is punctuated with occasional trips from my rehearsal chair to the musical director to highlight yet more omissions, errors and changes of heart.

STEP 4: POST-CONCERT


Of course, everything works out well in the end. I vow not to do any more arrangements due to the emotional turmoil. The theme of the next concert is revealed. I remember that I am incredibly lucky to be an amateur having their work performed by such a vast and able choir and repeat Step 1.
A Night At The Movies – The Sequel will be performed by The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall on Saturday 20th January.  Tickets are on sale here.

By Special Arrangement

Cadogan Hall, London

Philip, a longtime member of the Pinkies, looks back on a concert of some of our most special arrangements…

Our winter concert in 2016 showcased the diversity and talent of our members through their very own choral arrangements and compositions. Most pieces were specially arranged for the Pinkies by choir members, along with some iconic classical commissions. Well, we needed an excuse to sing Handel’s Zadok the Priest!  Also included was a piece specially commissioned for our 30th Anniversary in 2013 from composer Richard Thomas:  I, Choir.

The concert opened with an arrangement of the Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky by Michael Derrick, who joined the choir in 1987 and has been arranging songs for us ever since.  Kate Bush has many fans in the choir and two of her songs were featured: Running Up That Hill (arranged by Simon Pearson) and This Woman’s Work (arranged by Andy Mitchinson).

One of our most prolific arrangers is Chris from the basses, who joined the choir in 2008. We sang his first ever arrangement for the Pinkies, Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love, as well as Chris’s arrangements of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax and a new version of epic pop hit Chandelier by Sia. Soprano Naomi came up with a fabulous arrangement of Video Killed The Radio Star, while ex-Pinkie Fran composed some beautiful music to the poem Lake Isle of Innisfree by the Irish poet W.B.Yeats.

The concert also featured two talented home-grown small groups comprised of current and ex-Pinkies– the bubbly Barberfellas (www.barberfellas.com) and the high-spirited Gin and Harmonics (www.ginandharmonics.com).  For those of you who missed the concert most of these pieces were recorded for our latest CD appropriately entitled By Special Arrangement.

The Pinkies performing Video Killed the Radio Star
Timeline datestamp: 14 January 2016

Our Special Arrangers!

This Saturday’s concert, The Pink Singers: By Special Arrangement, is all about celebrating the sheer musical talent within our 90-strong chorus. Let’s take a look at some of the Pinkies behind the magic!

Michael DerrickMichael Derrick
Michael has been in the choir for 29 years; his first arrangement for the Pinkies was of Tom Robinson’s Glad to be Gay in 1988 – their take on the song needed updating as women had just joined the choir.

His style of arranging varies from piece to piece; he enjoys playing to the strengths of the choir and says he starts by “identifying the essential features of the song, then I try to forget all the performances I have heard, and construct the arrangement as if it were an original composition.”

 

 

Simon PearsonSimon Pearson
Simon has been a Pinkie since 2012, but has been arranging music ever since he started playing the piano at the age of six! His first arrangement for the choir was in fact for a string quartet, to accompany Kirsty MacColl’s song They Don’t Know in our 30th anniversary concert.
Simon says, “I try to understand the message and motivation behind a song, before beginning to arrange it to be effective for a 90-strong choir. The results can therefore vary greatly when comparing the piece to the original!”

 

 

 

Naomi BerwinNaomi Berwin
Naomi is also musical director of one of our guest choirs – Gin and Harmonics – and first started arranging music for her a capella group in 2010. She loves the a capella style, and often uses voice in place of instruments in her arrangements. Her take on Video Killed the Radio Star is in fact Naomi’s first non-a capella arrangement – although you may still hear that style coming through!

Her first Pinkie arrangement was performed last year: a fabulous version of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.

 

 

 

Chris ChambersChris Chambers
Chris joined the choir in September 2008; his first arrangement for the Pinkies was of Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love in 2011. He loves to play with interesting harmonies, often involving eight parts.

Chris admits he is careful when it comes to choosing pieces to arrange: “A piece of music usually has a key factor which makes it a favourite piece of music. Sometimes that factor can be enhanced by arranging it for choir; sometimes it would be lost. For me, arranging a piece has to be about hearing it in a different light, accentuating the things I like about it or creating something which is satisfying to sing.”

 

 

Murray HipkinMurray Hipkin
Murray has been musical director of the Pink Singers since 2010. His first arrangement for the Pinkies was of Lisa Lan, a beautifully atmospheric Welsh folk song, in 2012. When it comes to arranging a piece, Murray likes to start with the vocals and to establish the melody, before working on the other parts. He says his style “depends on the piece – but I like to stay quite faithful to the original source.”