C.86 - "King" (Arrangement)

Composed: 3rd to 8th November 2015

Figure 2

     We worked individually on ideas for the arrangements, and then met again on Saturday. Here we conceived of the modulation into the jazz section and the jazz progression itself that the vocal line could work off of (figure 3). It was here that we also discussed where to use the violin, backing vocals and modulation (more on that later!).

Figure 3

     The main recordings were then taken on Sunday. We recorded an external singer for the main vocal line, as well as violin parts for the ballad and reggae sections. We had worked on general gospel harmonies that we then sung repeatedly and layered over one another to create the cliché chorus effect of a gospel choir. We also recorded brief backing vocals for the reggae section and the transition from the jazz to gospel segments. Finally, we mixed every recording together in Logic and eventually had the completed arrangement.

 

Main Musical Elements

    For the ballad segment, we wrote a small and typical piano melody to accompany the harmonic progression which is taken directly from the original (seen above in figure 1). The piano subtly expands into octaves in the left hand, giving greater emphasis to the bass note of each chord. The violin is similarly used in arco, firstly to outline a melodic 4-note motif that appears throughout the original song, before resorting to chords – a cliché use of instrumentation for any music trying to be sad or romantic. It does, however, employ the use of double stopping, allowing us to play chords and create a thicker texture. Part way through this section, drum toms are added in a syncopated triplet rhythm to fill up the empty bass frequencies and to act as a form of foreshadowing for the (terribly) sudden shift into the reggae section. Towards the end of this segment, backing vocals were added in 3rds to the main vocal line – a simple employment as we did not want to overuse backing vocals early on.

 

    With a sudden change of tempo and a drum kit beating us in, the reggae section begins. The pianist stops playing, and a keyboardist takes over with the progression (seen previously in figure 2). A characteristic of reggae is the cheesy syncopated chord stab on every half beat. Thus we also use such stabs, firstly on the keyboard, and then further supported by an electric guitar later on.

     As this creates a bouncy rhythm, the main vocal line similarly follows a bouncy contour, leaning more towards staccato and disjunct passages as opposed to a smooth line. Another addition to this bouncy party is the inclusion of the violin using subtle pizzicato techniques to accompany the beginning of the section with root notes and small melodic inflections. The backing vocals appear once more, firstly in a scatting fashion to briefly provide some contrast to the blandness of the unchanging reggae progression. The next backing entries are a set of two responses to the main lyric which musically converse with the main vocalist, and then the remaining backing vocals follow up with ‘oohs’ (nearly) in 3rds to provide a touch of harmonic colour and variation.

 

      A quick and cheap keyboard transition then leads us from D major into F-sharp major – a tertiary modulation, although not quite as noticeable as it is immediately brought into the jazz section with added note chords which obscure the key upon arrival. The drums move to a triple time feel to create the impression that the metre has changed when it truly hasn’t. The piano returns, taking over from the keyboardist, in playing block added note chords in a typical progression of 5ths (figure 3, restated here). This persists throughout the section:

Figure 3

     The main vocal line plays a variation on the original vocal line, but transposed into F-sharp major and with several chromatic inflections (as this is jazz). Towards the end of the segment, the instruments are silenced and backing vocals enter to accompany the main vocal melody a cappella to prepare for the upcoming gospel section, and to act as a transition.

     The gospel section then begins after a vocal count in (something that is common for most public gospel choirs). The key has suddenly shifted to E-flat major, which is more suitable for singers, and the variation on the melodic line goes as follows (figure 4):

Figure 4

     As is typical of gospel choirs, there is a lot of physical interactivity involved here. Clapping is used, though initially attached to beats two and four, before appearing on every half beat to create a climactic shift. Coupled with this shift is another modulation, this time into B-flat major from E-flat major – a very traditional modulation, but it works effectively for singers. There are also random periodic vocalisations scattered throughout the latter half of the gospel segment – an attempt at conveying the openness of gospel singing, and particularly in imitating the cliché ‘hallelujahs’ that our western ears would associate with gospel singing. The arrangement ends with a massive a cappella plagal cadence – rather fitting as gospel music is often associated with religion, and will usually end on an excessive chord.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

     With regard to strengths, the use of four styles merged as a hybrid has allowed us to vary the original song significantly more than we would have had we stuck to one style, especially with regard to instrumentation and harmony. The concluding gospel segment also worked more effectively than I suspected, and the modulations within provided a satisfying closure to the arrangement.

      And for weaknesses... well… where to begin.

     Foremost, there was the potential for a unique introduction as opposed to a standard piano entry statement. I had suggested a potential a cappella opening which outlined the original’s main motif (figure 5), and could merge into the piano entry:

Figure 5

       I attempted a recording of this to see how it would have sounded (appendix A, separate file).

    Further, the first three styles are overly repetitive, insofar as the verse and chorus having the same musical content! A suggestion I brought up often was to separate verse and chorus and to give each a distinct musical accompaniment so that a listener could easily decipher between the two, as opposed to blending the two together in a monotonous progression of cheese. I drafted how the first style could have looked as a potential pit band-esque musical arrangement (figure 6):

Figure 6

(Continued on next page)

   This was the 1st coursework for Year 2, Semester 1’s ‘Orchestration and Arrangement’ module at the University of Surrey, which was a group-based project. As a group, we had to choose a popular song and make an arrangement of it. Much like "C.81 - Night Cries", I welcomed the challenge.

     I wasn’t particularly fortunate as the majority of others in my group were strangers to me, so I was oblivious to their tastes. Of course, I was not an avid popular music listener, so I had little say in the choice for which popular song we should cover (which was for the best!). Ultimately, the others decided on King by ‘Years and Years’ – a song I had not heard until that evening.

    I feel that, as I am now looking back through my diary to write this (which I had recently begun writing), I should add in other circumstances that made this coursework all the more depressing. Our first group meeting was originally scheduled for the 31st October 2015 – Halloween – and on this day I had caught a terrific cold. Somehow, I accidentally managed to purchase 2 train tickets, and then only when reaching the University to find no one else from my group there, I discovered that the meetup had been cancelled (this I entirely deserved due to my ignorance in choosing to not have a decent phone for them to be able to contact me swiftly). After working for 3 hours on an essay to pass the time, the day became even more grim as my returning train collided with someone, halting the train for a further 3 hours. All of these circumstances left a very salty initial taste in my mouth for this coursework.

    The rescheduled meeting took place on the 3rd November 2015, which was where “King” was firmly decided. We also concluded that the arrangement would tackle multiple different styles instead of one single style (which I figured might make the arrangement a little thin). Nevertheless, I toyed around with some piano fragments that were influenced by the original. The majority of this material was denied by the other members, except for the generic opening melody and cheesy transition between reggae and jazz sections, both of which I regret suggesting entirely (the first of these abominations is attached below).

     The next day, I experimented with the first 2 sections of the arrangement, each in their own style – an original style, and reggae style – both of which I made a quick recording and score for.

     When I gave these materials to the group on the 5th November, they were rejected. That I had suspected, as I was the least experienced out of all of them in writing for a popular song, but then it was what happened next that frustrated me. They were half-arsing it. Simply doing the bare minimum and not giving a care in the world about the quality of the final arrangement. As I noted in my diary on this day: “I suggested numerous improvements time and time again, they show no bother or care in the world… I am prepared to receive a low mark for this rubbish…”

    On the 6th, I wrote out some ideas for the final gospel segment (which I expected the group to reject), but on the 7th, they seemed happy with the idea, and so I continued and wrote the full gospel section by the end of the 7th, giving everyone else a copy so we could record it on the 8th. On that day, everything was going far better than it had previously; the others were more focused, motivated, and dedicated to creating an arrangement that is of good quality – they were finally a joy to work with! And so I enjoyed teaching them the gospel part and singing it along with them – the final audio for which is attached below.

     It was also on the 8th that I finished a draft for my Christmas carol competition composition for that year, "C.87 - Blow, blow, thou winter wind", which you can read about next. But nevertheless, here was the commentary that I submitted alongside this arrangement:

 

Orchestration and Arrangement – CW1 Commentary

 

Creating the Arrangement

     Foremost, we planned to meet as a group on Saturday 31st October, but complications arose and we rescheduled to Tuesday. Before the meeting, we had already decided to do an arrangement of ‘Kings’ by Years and Years. At the Tuesday meeting, we drafted what we intended the arrangement to be; a hybrid of several styles (ballad, reggae, jazz and gospel), each with its own variation on the original song. We used Logic and Sibelius software to help us plan this out, and then used Logic further to begin compiling the arrangement together. The remainder of this meeting was in discussing how the first two sections would work – a ballad as an introduction to the arrangement (and to toy with expectations), and the reggae, which we decided should have a bouncy chord progression with syncopated accents.

 

    We briefly met again on Thursday, where we mapped out the ballad and reggae chord progressions (figures 1 and 2 respectively) in a Logic recording.

Figure 1

     Another weakness is with regard to the violin and guitar. We didn’t exploit as many techniques as we could have done – instead, simply using double stopping and pizzicato for the violin, and chords for the guitar. The reggae section could have employed some col legno or spiccato – techniques heavily centred on bounce – and in the jazz section, perhaps some chromatic countermelody against the vocal line.

     While on the topic of the jazz section, the lack of an improvisatory piano right hand is debilitating, as improvisation is the heart of jazz – and we didn’t include it. Thus our jazz section wasn’t very jazzy, aside from the cliché that is the ‘added note chord’.

     How can I not mention the… ‘transitions’. Simply, they are too sudden. Yes, we wanted to surprise the listener with a sudden shift in style, but we also should have done it so that there is continuity in the underlying contour – so that the arrangement still flows as a single song and not four separate songs. I regret suggesting the current reggae to jazz transition, as I was never able to change it afterwards.

      A final weakness comes down to the placement of the choruses, or really, the choice for when each new style starts. Currently, the latter 3 styles all begin with a chorus, as opposed to what could (and probably, should) have ended with a chorus. I had proposed possible ways that this would have worked, but ultimately none were considered.

 

Appendix A – Potential Introductory ‘A Cappella’ Draft

      Download the separate .mp3 file I uploaded entitled ‘Appendix A – Potential Introduction’.

 

Appendix B – Other Information

     The final word count for the entire commentary is 1,482. This is divided into each section as follows:

  • Creating the Arrangement: 317

  • Main Musical Elements: 703

  • Strengths and Weaknesses: 462

 

    This word count does not take into account the main title of the essay, all of the text in the appendices and any text within a figure. It does include the subtitles for each section, as well as the figure referencing.

      I apologise for any formatting issues that might occur with the figures – they sometimes jump around when pasted into Turnitin.

 

 

    Ultimately, my commentary received a surprisingly high 78% where the arrangement itself only received 61%, with the examiner commenting that I should “develop your ability to intervene and even take the lead on occasions, even if this may seem something that is very out of character.”. Well, I did try, but now you know how that went.

      The recordings I attach below are incomplete: one is of the concluding gospel arrangement, and the other is of figures 5 and 6 (the potential introduction and draft verse I wrote).

C.86 - "King" (Potential Arrangement) - J.Shaw
00:00 / 00:00

Reminiscence written on 20th July 2016

Last updated: 23rd January 2018

© 2019 Jonathan Shaw