While arranging music for any a cappella group requires musical sensibility–not necessarily training, but sensibility–arranging music for an all-female group requires particular dexterity. It is a socially challenging activity, especially at an 18% Greek liberal arts school when you’re asking hot, cool girls to sing nonsense syllables. More often than not, collegiate a cappella groups are comprised partly, if not almost entirely, of excellent shower-singing members–not musicians who get excited about chord progressions. Before you arrange your next (or first!) song, read over these ideas to get your mind right.
These ideas have currency for any group, but I found myself guided by these kinds of principles much more than, say, some of the all-male groups on campus.
- Arrange for your girls
When I arranged music in college, it was for 16 fiery women with amazing–and amazingly diverse–talents. Writing arrangements to highlight the exact strengths of your group’s members is one of the greatest secrets to success. When they can sing what’s written for them, great. When they can sing it with tremendous confidence, and when they trust that the notes written for them make them sound good, the result will always be a better sound.
- Learn their strengths
Applying this philosophy requires no small amount of observation and study on the behalf of the arranger. I did my best to know the limitations and “money ranges” of each one of the girls–in volume, in tessitura, in movement, in stylizing–as well as which circumstances were best for stretching their comfort zones. If you have a password on your computer, you could even try making a [top secret] spreadsheet and making notes for each woman.
Then, arrange parts that highlights what everyone is best at.
- Make adjustments
If your second altos are getting nodes because their parts are too damn low for women (beware the folly!), for God’s sake, don’t make them sing low Cs this time. If there’s a soprano II who’s terrified of the F an octave and a half above middle C, don’t make her sing it. Unless you’d like to teach a lesson to the very shy soprano, don’t assign her a descant. Scratch their backs, and they’ll scratch yours. Write parts that make them feel safe and confident, and they’ll perform better. Really!
- Assign by names, not just parts
If you arrange a song with divisi parts, don’t just haphazardly break up the first altos during rehearsal. Assign names to each line before rehearsal, so you can carefully decide who would be best singing which part. If it’s written on the score before rehearsal starts, there’s a much smaller chance that anyone will protest or ask to sing something else. Of course, this is done best when the soloist and percussionist are already assigned. Make allowances if they are chosen later.
- Don’t coddle them
This applies more to the teaching part of the arrangement, which is still many black lines and dots away, but I wanted to clarify. I do recommend shielding women from their own trouble areas, and generally making their lives a little easier in your arrangements. However, once you get to rehearsal I don’t recommend telling them your master plan, or babying them. Once you’ve arranged a song, and you’re confident that it will sound good, stick to your guns. Help them learn that tough transition, but don’t offer to change it.« Go Back