How to arrange a song medley - with Ed Blunt: Part 2

In the first part of this article, we introduced a new contributor, Ed Blunt. Ed is an arranger, pianist and choir director working across a wide range of musical fields. Alongside performing as a freelance keyboard player, his recent commercial arranging work includes scores for orchestra Ensemble Animato, string arrangements for rock band Deaf Havana and in-house arranging for sheet music publisher Music Sales Group.

Ed Blunt choir bioA graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Ed established Camden Voices, a 30-piece auditioned contemporary choir based in Camden Town, in 2013 and continues to write for and direct the choir.

Composition and arranging are areas that we haven't covered very much on Total Choir Resources to date, for the obvious reason that Christine and I aren't composers, so we're really delighted to welcome Ed, who has some fantastic advice for musicians wanting to develop their composition skills. 

A quick caveat. With a worldwide audience, we can't deal with issues of copyright and licensing for all jurisdictions. What might be fair use in one country might not be in another. So please ensure that whenever you use someone else's music, you get the necessary permission to do so. And with that, let's dive in.

Part 2 - Pacing and Artistic Decisions

In Part 1 of this article, I looked at how to select songs for a medley and sketch out a structure. In Part 2, I want to look at narrative, pacing and other artistic considerations.

NARRATIVE AND PACING Use the extended form of the medley to your advantage and convey a narrative through the ordering and pacing of songs. There are several dramatic devices you can use to achieve this. One that I’ve found particularly effective is to bookend the whole piece with a short overture and coda. Referencing the same song for a starting and ending can be a nice way to wrap things up and bring a sense of completion to a medley, especially if you keep to the same tonal centre on its recurrence, helping to bring the listener home, harmonically speaking (even if they didn’t know it). Just prior to this coda, it can be an effective trick to bring the medley to a big climactic number (which turns out to be a false ending), which further heightens the sense of circularity when you then reference the opening song again.

In terms of pacing, mix and match your tempos and feels. Audiences have short attention spans (in general) so keep them hooked. Segue an uptempo swing number with a medium ballad followed by a fast waltz (I’m exaggerating, of course), and so on and so forth.

SOLO SPOTS Medleys provide a great opportunity to feature several different soloists in one stroke. Always write appropriately for soloists and choose the singer wisely according to the song key and feel. And it’s worth saying here, some of our favourite singers are pretty difficult for anyone to match up to (that’s why they’re our favourites). Stevie Wonder’s high register belt, to take one example, really is a natural wonder (I apologise, stay with me) that most amateur or semi-pro tenors would struggle to reach without sounding like a distressed goat. In this case a solution could be to adjust the key, or find a strong alto to take it on. One more word of advice - always have a back-up singer ready to dep the solo in case of absence or illness.

ARTISTIC FLAIR Lastly, use the medley writing process to try new things out and explore creatively. Some ideas off the cuff: reharmonise the chorus (eg. switch to relative major/minor); restyle a song as a vintage swing number; revoice an idiosyncratic solo part from soprano to bass (or vice versa); arrange an uptempo number as a two-voice medieval organum. The list goes on.

And thus concludes this brief look into the world of medley arranging. Have fun, and good luck with your writing.
How to arrange a song medley - with Ed Blunt: Part 1
Why are choir leaders embarrassed about money? Part 1

1 comment

Victoria Hopkins

Thanks Helen. We hope to feature more from Ed in the future.
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