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devil duck

An afternoon of music geekery

A few days ago I heard about a workshop on barbershop-quartet arranging, led by a guy named David Wright (who I gather is a macher in the barbershop world, and was influential in broadening the scope of allowable barbershop music beyond pieces written in the 1920's and 1930's). It was too late to sign up for the advanced morning master class (and I didn't have a barbershop arrangement to bring in anyway), but I attended the less-advanced afternoon class, which was a lot of fun. Three hours of music-theory geekery, including discussion of just intonation, Pythagorean commas, the distinguishing characteristics of barbershop harmony, the palette of typical chords used in barbershop, which traditional rules of voice-leading barbershop obeys and which it cheerfully ignores, etc. Wright's day job is as a math professor, so his explanations were exactly in the right language to speak to me (and I think made sense to the rest of the twenty-odd people in the workshop too). And to make it all concrete, he brought up "Happy Birthday" in Finale on his laptop and we collaboratively worked out a four-part barbershop arrangement, arguing measure by measure and note by note over different possible choices.

Now, I'm not really a member of the barbershop world: I've sung about four barbershop pieces in my life, and have never actually arranged for barbershop. But I've arranged in late-medieval-early-Renaissance style, which has certain similarities, most notably that the "melody" is usually in the middle of the texture rather than on top (called "lead" in barbershop and "tenor" in medieval), and that the other middle part (called "baritone" in barbershop and "contratenor" in medieval) tends to get the weird notes left over, and therefore makes no sense on its own. And hey, vocal harmony is vocal harmony. If it sounds good, it is good.



I had never heard of "Voices of Gotham", nor David Wright, before last week, but somebody in ScaleAbility mentioned this workshop.
I (somewhat accidentally) wrote a barbershop-style song back during my filking career. I did my best to give it an appropriate 4-part arrangement, despite not being fluent in the genre. I always would have loved to see what an actual barbershop group did with it (or even just to get feedback on whether I'd come close to the style). But...water under the bridge and all that.