Arrangers' Lab: Year One

Voices of Gotham baritone Jude Thomas is a composer & performer in New York City.

By Jude Thomas
Voices of Gotham Baritone & Arrangers' Lab Manager

In 2013 Voices of Gotham’s set at the International Chorus Competition included two new charts arranged either in part, or completely, by members of the chapter. The songs were Fastball’s “The Way” (arranged by Josh Ehrlich), and the “New York Medley” (arranged by Adam Bock, Josh Ehrlich, and others). Although VoG has a strong tradition of using in-house arrangers and arrangements, the experience of a complete set of homegrown arrangements, and the development of those arrangements inspired the idea of creating a place for the emerging culture of arrangers in our ranks.

Not long after the 2013 contest I was approached by Adam Bock about the possibility of creating and co-managing a new workshop for arrangers and anyone interested in arranging. After some preliminary discussions the first Gotham Arrangers’ Lab met in early 2014.

Rafi and Gus receive their certificates of achievement for first time public performance of their arrangements, presented by Jude, at Voices of Gotham's Tin Pan Alley Quartet Contest in March 2015. Photo by Steve Severinghaus.

For the first few months, the Lab participants wrote sample arrangements as exercises for working in the barbershop style (some of our early exercises included “The Water is Wide,” and “Strolling Home With Jennie”), and occasionally workshopped an arrangement by one of our members. One of the first charts we seriously looked at was an arrangement of Lady Gaga’s “Applause” by John Montroy; the arrangement is now a regular for the contemporary a cappella group Crosstown Vocal.

Another activity—when we weren’t working on our in-house charts—was to either discuss techniques of arranging by listening and examining famous barbershop charts, or to have one the more established arrangers talk about their process in creating an arrangement. One of the most informative sessions was having our assistant director Matt Gallagher talk about VoG’s 2014 contest uptune, “L-O-V-E & Marriage Medley.” Matt shared early drafts and sketches of the work with the Lab, explained his process, and discussed how the arrangement evolved based on feedback from the artistic staff. For many of us who had performed the final version on stage, it was incredibly insightful to learn how the arrangement developed over time.

For the Times performs Gus Curry's (far right) arrangement of "For the Times, Tooat Tin Pan Alley 2015. Photo by Steve Severinghaus.

Our most exciting achievement from our first year was when we partnered with Voices of Gotham’s  annual Tin Pan Alley Quartet Competition.  In March 2015,  we paired up novice arrangers with our the Tin Pan Alley quartets and premiered two brand new arrangements at the contest on March 7: Rafi Hasib’s “Subway Glide” and Gus Curry’s “For the Times, Too.” Both arrangements were well received by the audience, the judges, and the quartets (who added their own interpretive delights as well).

As the Arrangers’ Lab moves into its second year I’m excited to see where we’re headed. Our plans for this year include greater participation from our novice arrangers at the 2016 Tin Pan Alley contest, publishing charts in the Barbershop Harmony Society’s catalog, and inviting established and well-known Society arrangers to conduct a master class with the Arrangers’ Lab. In addition to the exciting plans for 2015, the Arrangers’ Lab continues to grow in participation from both the Sirens and the Voices of Gotham and the project is getting attention outside of New York City. Most importantly, the Lab is fulfilling its purpose of providing an open environment for people to share their work and facilitate the creation of great music.