Yesterday I finished an arrangement of this Pet Shop Boys song. It isn’t going to be rehearsed, never mind performed, till a couple of weeks after the Referendum (capitalised like everything else we’re Really Scared and Fed Up Of). The irony is very far from lost on me.
The arrangement is one of seven (almost certainly the last, though there still might be an eighth) which have posed an interesting set of musical challenges. They are for a one-off private event in Reading (so for once I can’t be accused of blatant self-promotion – there are no tickets to sell), essentially a cabaret evening.
The first major twist is that about 50% of the numbers are being written by the client. So for three of my arrangements I was presented with a vocal line (fully written out) and told ‘write accompaniment to this, please’ plus a few hints at style and featured sounds. For the other four, covers of one sort or another to be done by singers with musical theatre / function-type backgrounds, I was pointed to recordings – the original for the Pet Shop Boys and a Mama Cass song, personalised (transposed and in one case re-edited) backing tracks for two others. Researching lead sheets / piano transcriptions ensued, followed immediately by a fair bit of ear work to determine where the transcription parted company from what I was listening to. If the singer learns by ear and has a backing track she uses regularly, you want to make everyone’s life easier by matching the track pretty closely in terms, even if almost every note gets transferred to a different instrument.
So the two groups of material – new and cover versions – rather neatly correspond to the ends of the arranging spectrum. One almost (dare I say it) a co-composing brief, provide all the instrumental parts to support this vocal line, including presumably introduction, and if needed some instrumental interjections and a coda as well as accompaniment. The other a transcription really, with good practical reason at least to interfere as little as possible with the material.
The second twist in this particular tale is the forces at hand. The client, at least one other in the band, and a significant proportion (I don’t know how high) of the audience have autism-related auditory hypersensitivity, and the music is tailored to be as suitable to that varied condition as reasonably possible. Acoustic, bar a mike for some singers. Instrumentation was preset for me, with an eye both to limiting volume and to lower tessitura (high notes, as well as high volumes, are generally a particular problem apparently): piano, string trio, two alto flutes, French horn, bass clarinet. An expectation of restrained volume, few high notes (notably in the violin part, as probably potentially the highest instrument bar the tinkly register of the piano) arrangements generally avoiding using the whole group at once (I may have stretched this a little, particularly trying to avoid completely bastardising Wicked‘s ‘Defying Gravity’) and the horn and strings being muted most of the time.
For the covers at least, the most interesting bit of this is the absence of guitar, bass or any percussion. Maintaining rhythmic drive in 60s folk-rock, a jazz ballad or even a musical number, let alone a down-tempo dance-pop track, required some lateral thinking, especially given I didn’t want to produce a set of arrangements essentially accompanied by piano with barely-necessary chord washes and counter-melodies making up the entire string and wind parts.
So maybe I’ll be more concerned with how well the music works than with which word of the title stings when we meet to rehearse on 19 July. In the meantime, arranger available (large commission recently completed so can give substantial time to new work), rates negotiable …