In Measure for Measure, an A Cappella Blog contributor takes a look at both sides of a controversial issue in collegiate a cappella.
This edition’s topic: There’s an established market for the sale of professionally written a cappella arrangements. With this in mind, it is best for your group to buy arrangements rather than trying to compose your own.
True: The marketplace for professionally written arrangements gets bigger, better, and more affordable with each passing year as a cappella itself grows more established and the field of collegiate alumni eager to still have some involvement in the aca-universe expands. While there’s certainly room to still create some of your own arrangements, so as to learn the craft and take ownership over a select number of pieces, on the whole, it’s better to pay to get arrangements done right right off the bat—it will result in a better musical product and allow your group to shift a lot of its energy and focus to learning and mastering the music, perfecting performance. Sure, there’s a certain romanticism to arranging your best work yourself, but there’s a reason why there are so few instances of actors of successfully writing scripts for their own films, or players doubling as coaches for their teams. Embrace your niche and focus on what you actually do need to do for yourself.
False: If we were to liken arranging a cappella music to putting on a play, the role of the arranger would be sort of a hybrid between playwright and director. The playwright will craft an objectively good piece of writing. It’s up to the director, though, to mold that piece of writing such that it works well for her cast of thespians and physical set. A good a cappella arrangement will be serviceable for just about any group, but for a great arrangement to lead to an equally great performance, it should be crafted with the unique group of singers that will perform it in mind. Nine times out of ten, this means someone in the group—someone who knows all the voices involved—should be writing the arrangement.
On a more barebones, practical level, if today’s collegiate a cappella performers don’t learn to arrange well, who will be there to take the torch and arrange for anyone in the future? Buying arrangements is the easy and short-sighted way out. Learning to write your own arrangements is a recipe for long-term, meaningful success.