Pop Filter: Eliminating the negatives

When I choose a piece to work on, I ask myself, how does it show off what my group is good at, and how does it play around our weaknesses? As members have rotated in and out over the years, I’ve had to continuously reevaluate how to do this. Part of the reason why I’ve found that people are more enthusiastic about my present-day arrangements than they were about my earlier experiments is because I learned how to arrange for their particular voices — not for my artistic expression or for an accurate representation of the original piece. If people wanted to hear a Phil Collins rendition, they’d listen to Phil Collins. More radical reinterpretations of the music allow me to throw out what doesn’t work and keep the bare necessities.

Sometimes I’ve had to abandon an arrangement because it wouldn’t put the group’s best foot forward. A great example of this would be back in freshman year when I wanted to arrange “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” one of the most well-known Disney songs. I considered arranging this after our first performance of a Disney Medley at Spookapella in 2013 that ended with “mysterious as the dark side of the moon” to enthusiastic applause. I wanted to do “Make a Man” because I wanted a high energy song that had mass appeal and also one that showcased the male voices for a change. I knew it would be fun for us and fun for the audience, but I had some concerns about how it would sound musically.

The song would be demanding to say the least. It’s upbeat and with a lot of emphasis on the percussion, but at the time, we had no vocal percussion. Volume was also an issue. It’s a powerful song that needs a powerful male section to provide the foundational “Be a Man” in the background of the chorus. At that point in time, it was unreasonable to expect us four guys to pull that off convincingly. The problem with a song that everyone already knows is that they have expectations for how it should sound, and, with us being inexperienced with a cappella, it was probably inadvisable to take on such a daunting piece so soon after we’d formed the group.

Instead, I arranged “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from “Hercules.” It’s completely different tone-wise from the testosterone-fueled Mulan piece, but it focused on the strongest voices of the group: the sopranos and altos. They collectively play the role of the Muses as they tell Megara to stop hiding her feelings and so are expected to be a dominant force throughout the piece. Part of the appeal of the piece is the conflict between the soloist and the background, and that’s something I felt we could pull off well. As it happens, “I Won’t Say” is one of the few songs that we sang in 2013 that we still perform today.