Jeeves Murphy

Utilizing Tempo With Arranging – Taking It Slow

I mentioned in a previous entry about the different methods of arranging for a cappella, or at least the different methods that I believe exist. While I was listening to Van Morrison, I started thinking about the different ways that you can modify an original song to make it your own – song reinvention. I also read that Deke Sharon and Dylan Bell are working on the first book for a cappella arranging. That gave me the idea for this post.

I was chillin at my buddy’s bar the other day. I sometimes like to sit and just watch people – call me weird, but you do it too, and you know it! Anyway, I was sittin there sipping on my ginger ale (seriously… a ginger ale… not modifying the truth for political correctness) and I heard a song come on over the PA. I can’t be sure if they have an online station that they subscribe to or something, but it’s an eclectic mix usually. Anyway, the song that came on was Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” Great song, I know, right? Sure, it’s a classic. But if I can be real with you, I have an a cappella version that I like better (of course I do, that’s just how I roll).

For you BOCA fans, you’ll know that I’m talking about the UCLA Scattertones and their version of Brown Eyed Girl from BOCA 2009 and off of their own album, “Blink” (a great CD that you should totally check out!). Along with some beautifully rich chords and some subtle percussion peppered throughout the arrangement, the first thing that you’ll notice about the song is that it is a good 40 bpm slower than the original. I think this change of tempo really gives the song a poignancy.

The song is really reminiscent of those good times the singer had with high brown eyed girl. The song starts “Hey, where did we go – days when the rains came.” You can almost see it – the singer standing in the rain, whether literally or figuratively, and wondering where “we” went when the rains came. The second verse does the same, reminiscing, while the last verse wonders what he’s supposed to do now that his brown eyed girl is gone. With the Van Morrison version, you don’t really get that sense of pain as you do with the ScatterTones version.

Another great example is JMU Exit 245‘s version of “Invisible,” originally by Clay Aiken. Remember how creepy that song was when it came out? “Whatcha doin tonight? I wish I could be a fly on your wall. Are you really alone, still in your dreams?” Amazing how one song can turn on so many preadolescent girls, and yet creep out the rest of the world. Anyway, Exit 245 cuts about 25 bpm off the original song and drops the key to a nice baritone range, changing this from the pining of a baby-faced closet stalker to the heartfelt strains of an unrequited love.

So those are two really good examples of how slowing the tempo can benefit an arrangement. It has to be done tastefully, and I think the arrangement itself needs to accentuate the tempo. I don’t think it’s possible to successfully take a replicated song, slow down the tempo, and call it a reinvention. There are some good examples of when slowing down tempo doesn’t work, I think. I’d hate to call out these guys, because I love most of their stuff, but one song that does come to mind is Roll To Me, originally done by Del Amitri. This version was performed by the Sympathetic Vibrations from Georgia Tech. The arrangement itself is great, but the recording is pushing ballad speed and really sucks the life out of the song.

The tempo of a song is a very important decision for an arrangement. There are a lot of technical reasons to slowdown a song – for instance, slowing down a really up beat song to save your percussionist from asphyxiation. However, the tempo can change the mood of a song, can help bring out hidden meaning, and even make a stalker song a lot less creepy.

NOTE TO MY READERS: I’m really interested in keeping current with this blog – that is, posting regularly about new stuff. I’d love to do some reviews of CDs, performances, etc. I love talking about new groups around the area. I’m looking to do things that will interest people and keep them reading. No one likes writing for themselves ;-). So let me know what you’d like to see from me. I have some ideas, but I want to see what you have too. Leave comments below, email me through the contacts page, or post on my Facebook or Twitter pages! Thanks everyone!

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