My latest published piece may be the last thing that you would expect me to write, but it actually isn’t too much of a departure from my typical output. The collegiate a cappella craze, the arrival (and unfortunate departure) of The Sing-Off, “Pitch Perfect,” and the viral popularity of Pentatonix have all brought a cappella pop into the spotlight. It has completely changed the choral world and as a result, it seems like one question comes up more than any other when I get together with colleagues: “Does pop music have a place in the traditional choral concert?” Show choirs aside, this seems to be a divisive topic amongst directors when it comes to programming music for their concert choirs.
Last year, my editor at Alfred suggested that I choose a pop song and write a concert arrangement. It seems like every pop piece has a basic, 4-part accompanied arrangement that mimics the original recording, but he suggested a complex arrangement in my own style. I was further inspired by J.D. Frizzell’s arrangement of “Jar of Hearts,” which honestly might be my favorite pop arrangement that I have ever heard (listen here). The arpeggios are stunning!
My compositional style has always been a direct reflection of my lifelong musical journey which includes pop, jazz, gospel, and modern ethereal choral music. My music already contains elements from all of these genres so a pop song was actually a natural fit! “Blue Moon” immediately came to mind and, while we mostly remember it as the fast rock hit by The Marcels (founding member Fred Johnson in the picture above), it was originally written as a ballad by Rodgers and Hart. I typically begin my composition process by focusing on the lyrics and I decided that I should transform it back into an introspective ballad. By reimagining the piece, I thought that I could bring out its true meaning (as I would later attempt with my arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner”). I started with an introduction that is a true reflection of my choral style and the piece evolved from there. In the recording below, you will find a piece rooted in jazz and blended with my own brand of dissonance. I don’t know if this answers the question of whether pop music has a place in the traditional choral concert, but I believe that “Blue Moon” could be the solution for directors who want to program a pop piece that will fit in with the rest of their repertoire.