Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where Do I Find A cappella Arrangements?

I get asked this question time and time again:

“I want to start an a cappella group, but I don’t know where to find arrangements.”

Okay, that’s more of a statement than a question. But it’s a common problem for amateur a cappella directors or choral directors who want to incorporate a cappella into their curriculum.

Hopefully, this handy guide will help:

1)   Betteracappella.com

One of the most popular websites for a cappella arrangements is betteracappella.com. Arrangements are often cheap (or sometimes free if you ask REALLY nicely). You will have to contact the arranger by email to do business, so if you’re looking for an arrangement at that very moment, this is NOT the place to go. Also, anyone can post their arrangement on the website, so there is no quality control. Be sure to ask for a sample before you buy.

2)   Random-notes.com, Acappellapsych.com, thevocalcompany.com, totalvocal.com, human-feedback.com, thebenbram.com, edboyeracappella.com, clearharmonies.com, etc.

All of the websites above offer arranging services, with either a catalogue to choose from or a service that creates a new arrangement tailored for your group. The good news is that all of the above websites are run by experts in the field, so you’re almost always guaranteed to get a quality arrangement. For example, random-notes.com is run by Tom Anderson, arranger for Peter Hollens and many other groups. Total Vocal is Deke Sharon’s website, the father of contemporary a cappella. Thebenbram.com is Ben Bram’s website, arranger for many groups including Pentatonix.

The bad news: With quality comes price. Custom arrangements are expensive. They are worth every penny, but they will dip into your already limited choral budget.

It’s important to understand that once you purchase an arrangement, it is generally understood that you can make as many copies as you need, without paying per copy.

3)   Borrow arrangements

Do you have a favorite a cappella group that you’ve seen on youtube? Try contacting them directly and asking to use one of their arrangements. More often than not, groups are happy to comply.

4)   Do it yourself

Arranging a cappella is an art, but that doesn’t mean it is a talent. It’s a skill, just like composing other music. Through trial and error, or resource guides (like A cappella Arranging by Dylan Bell and Deke Sharon) you can learn the skill yourself.

5)   Formal websites such as jwpepper.com, Alfred.com, etc.

There are pros and cons of buying arrangements on these websites. One benefit is that most school districts favor these companies, because they usually have an account with them, so ordering is simple.  Another benefit is the authenticity of the arrangement. It would be a mistake to assume that every song you buy on these websites is a quality arrangement…I’ve been burned by too many scores to back that statement up. But well known names in the choral world, Kirby Shaw for example, carry more recognition capital than arrangements by unknown authors. If you’re playing the political choral game, this may be your best bet.

As an a cappella superfan/academic/crazed stalker, I try to avoid these websites as much as possible. Only a small handful of a cappella arrangers have had their music officially published (Deke Sharon has the most titles), but these titles are often older and written for general use. Let me explain each of these further:

Typically, a cappella groups want to sing pop music, and even more typically, they want to sing CURRENT pop music. The chances of finding an a cappella arrangement of a current radio hit on a publisher’s website is next to impossible. The publishing world doesn’t work that quickly. If you’re looking for an earlier song, maybe ten years or more, that would be much easier to find.

The other problem is the general use: The go-to a cappella arrangers are writing arrangements for specific groups. They ask a lot of questions, so that the arrangement comes out exactly the way you want it. They even ask you to pick your soloist in advance, so that the key fits the soloist perfectly. Published arrangements are not tailored to specific groups. They are tailored for a unknown group, or commissioned by a group that isn’t yours. You have no idea how many parts are in the arrangement, or if the key fits all of your singers. It’s a roll of the dice.

6)   CASA.org and Acappellaeducators.com

Both of these organizations have a free a cappella library. All of the arrangements are public domain or original material, so you’re not going to find the current radio hit you are looking for, but the arrangements you do find are 100% legal and 100% free. Speaking of which…

7)   Copyright problems

Okay, so this isn’t a website to find arrangements, but I believe it needs to be addressed. Want to know why there aren’t a lot of guides pointing you in the right direction of where to find arrangements? Want to know why it is so difficult to find a cappella arrangements? Because there are a significant amount of copyright problems associated with a cappella music.

Typically a school will have an auditorium, and for that auditorium to be legal, the school will have a performing license. Wonder why you can put on so many concerts in your school? It’s because the performing license covers this. It says that anyone can perform any minimal work legally (note how I said minimal…full length plays and musicals are NOT minimal). A cappella is included under this umbrella. Performing an arrangement of a pop song, that just happens to be with a cappella singers, is fine. Writing an arrangement and selling it is not. A cappella arrangers have ways of selling their material legally, but since I’m not a professional a cappella arranger, you’re going to have to ask them how they do it.

There is a handy-dandy website that explains all of this in much better detail than I have: acappella101.com

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dissecting the Pitch Perfect 2 Trailer

The trailer for Pitch Perfect 2 is out! I’m SUPER excited for this movie. So excited in fact, that I decided to watch, re-watch, and breakdown the trailer piece by piece. I recommend you watch the trailer first, because this article will contain trailer SPOILERS!

1)   The World Championships of A cappella

Is there such a thing as the world championships of a cappella?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Sort of.

The most well known international choral event is called the World Choir Games. Though not exclusively a cappella, and definitely not exclusively pop a cappella, the World Choir Games is the Olympics of the choral world, so in a sense, there is definitely an international choral competition. That part is true.

Also, don’t forget that the ICCA is an international competition already. (hence the word “International” in the title)

There are DEFINITELY international a cappella festivals, and some even have local competitions. As for the competition featured in the movie, no, that doesn’t exist…yet. I’ll bet five dollars that this becomes a thing once the movie has premiered.

2)   Riff off part 2

David Cross (Arrested Development, Mr. Show) is a rich a cappella enthusiast who hosts an international, underground Riff-Off. That’s the mansion the Bellas travel to in the trailer (the one that requires a fart noise password…or so I assume). Does this exist? As I am not part of the underground a cappella scene (most likely the dorkiest underground scene of ALL TIME) I can neither confirm nor deny this. But all bets are that this does not exist.

3)   Cups

I LOVE the new version of cups. After the song hit the Billboard charts and went viral, I was wondering if a bigger, cup-pier version would make an appearance in the sequel, but the softer, more mellow version is more appropriate to the story. Besides the main rivalry between the Bellas and the international groups, the story is mostly about life after college, where the Bellas will “miss me when I’m gone.” Well done.

4)   Recurring characters

They are hard to spot, but Benji (Ben Platt), Aubrey (Anna Camp), and Jesse (Sklyer Astin) are definitely there. Benji is the hardest to spot, because he only has one quick glimpse, when he performs a magic trick with a puff of smoke.

5)   They don’t speak loser

The two European actors who stole the trailer are possibly (this is a guess) Flula Borg and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen.

Birgitte is not very well known in the American cinema community, as she has only had roles in mainstream films like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s “The Worlds End.” She is starring in an upcoming rock and roll project for HBO, according to imdb.com, but after Pitch Perfect 2, I’m sure she will be much more recognizable.

Flula Borg is more of a musical personality, with a viral Youtube page of over 40 million views. A musician/DJ from Germany, Flula has many comedic posts on Youtube, combining silly discussions of American idioms with music.

6)   Aca-talent

The first glance of the riff-off shows a tremendously talented beatboxer. Deke Sharon has confirmed that his name is Andrew Fitzgerald, formerly a collegiate a cappella singer from Madison. You may also have noticed famous live looper and comedian Reggie Watts of Comedy Bang Bang. Multiple sources have confirmed that famous groups such as Pentatonix and the Filharmonic are set to appear in the movie, but are not currently in the trailer.

Marc Silverberg

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