By far the most challenging arrangement I have worked on to date, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ has taken the longest amount of time to complete in each stage of putting together this Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements. I had been encouraged by my teacher, Fran Swinn, to work with a song that had more complex harmonic movement and structure; so having already been familiar with this song, it was an obvious choice for me to transition it to the A Cappella style.
Making the Arrangement
Although every version of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ I have heard is played in a swung 4/4, I decided to take it a step further and create the arrangement in 6/8 to really take advantage of and capitalise on the swung feel. After changing it to this time signature, I was immediately reminded of two Pentatonix songs, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, due to the fact that they both are in 6/8 and that Christmas songs have that Jazz flavour due to the chords used in the songs. After going back and listening to these two songs, I was inspired to include a vocal solo in the arrangement where there is normally an instrumental break, which lead me to another of the Pentatonix songs, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”.
When sitting down to notate ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ I followed the chord chart extremely closely. I wanted to make sure I was precise and correct with the harmonic movement, and due to it’s complexity I didn’t feel I was ready to attempt the arrangement without it. Although this did cause some restriction in the way I approached the harmony in regards to creating counter melodies and feeling free to play around with chord colours, I made up for this by changing the form and feel drastically, and by adding a key change at the end. I also allowed myself some creative freedom when creating the vocal solo and outro which I spent a great deal of time workshopping and editing.
While working on the arrangement, I realised quickly that the way I voice lead everyone’s parts would be vital to its success. I feel I was able to achieve this to a high standard for Dannie, Gabby and Maddie’s parts as they all generally stay within their respective ranges; Dannie sitting around a high C, Gabby around a G-A above middle C, Maddie around an E above middle C. I attempted to voice lead Loki’s bass section as best as I could by creating many passing notes which follow the scale movement to help him navigate between supporting each chord. His vocal requires the biggest range, has the most movement and variation and is essential in requiring support for the rest of the vocalists. A lot of credit needs to go to Loki for the success of this arrangement as he came in to rehearsals knowing his part almost completely, ready to play his role.
This is not to understate the role the rest of the girls played in the success of the arrangement. Their parts involved countless accidentals when the chord deviated slightly from the diatonic scale, and their parts often lead the way through a modulation.
The dedication of the entire team to this song is reflected in its delivery at the End of Year Recital in 2018, the end of Second Year Bachelor of Music for me. The fact that they were able to navigate and construct such a difficult harmony, which I complicated with solos and an extra key change, speaks volumes of their abilities as musicians and their work ethic as people.
Taking It To the Studio
The process of recording ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ caused more headaches, confusion and laughter than I could have ever anticipated. In the first attempt to record the guide tracks, I naively thought we could get away without using a click track. When this proved troublesome, we attempted a second recording of the guide tracks, and while halfway through the song when we noticed the click track had “moved” and that beat one was no longer falling in time with beat one of the bars we were singing. What I was hoping was a glitch occurred when listening back to the recording. After seeking help from my recording teacher Darren, I learnt that somehow the template for the ProTools session had been edited and one of the bars and been changed from 6/8 to 7/8 timing, meaning that while we kept singing in 6/8, the feeling of beat one moved for us. By the third attempt of recording these guide tracks, I felt I was prepared to get them done and that I had troubleshooted all difficulties that could have possibly resulted from the recording sessions.
Oh how I could not have been more wrong! It wasn’t until I brought Loki, the first person to record this song, into the studio to begin that I realised we had delayed an entry during the vocal solo which caused us to fall out of time with the click track, but then rushed an entry during the following B section which made us fall perfectly back in time with click track! The irony of these events still astounds me months after they occurred.
This presented several problems for me:
- This meant that even when performing and rehearsing this song, we had never got the timing right for the section in the vocal solo which caused us to fall out of time, as well as the section which caused us to move back in to time. Therefore, I would have to take the time to re-coach the group as to how to sing these few bars correctly.
- I did not have enough time, nor the patience, to organise another session to record the guide tracks for this arrangement and still be able to meet my deadline of finishing recording all of the parts by the end of Semester 1 3rd Year Bachelor of Music, considering I had already had to record them 3 times.
- I had already booked in Loki to record for this song in this recording session, and definitely did not want to waste his time
I quickly came up with a plan; I would remove the guide tracks from the beginning of the vocal solo up until we fell perfectly back in time with the click track, and Loki would record the proper take of his vocal without any reference material (the accompanying voice in the guide tracks) but with me coaching him through it to ensure everything is on time and in pitch. Luckily for me, Loki agreed to this plan, and after an hour of trial and error, mistakes and laughs over the hilarity and ridiculousness of the situation, we were able to record great takes of the entire vocal solo and beginning of the B section. We recorded everything in sections so that Loki could focus on being correct on one phrase and moment at a time. He was extremely patient, attentive, and hard working during this recording session, tracking his entire part of the song despite the extreme circumstances of only a few bars. It was his performance in the studio that allowed Maddie and Gabby to record their parts with ease before the end of Semester 1.
Unfortunately I was unable to achieve my goal of having everyone recorded by the end of Semester 1 due to time constraints and unpredictable challenges such as sick vocalists, however I was able to record myself fairly early on in Semester 2.
In the video below, take note of the multiple takes in Loki’s track which have been combined together to create the best outcome possible for the vocal solo and beginning of the B section. If this does not demonstrate the effort he put in to getting this recording right, then nothing else does.
The Team Must Stick Together
As mentioned above, I was unfortunately unable to complete the recordings of this arrangement by my goal date, but I was not aware that week 3 of Semester 2 would be the last week Dannie was able to attend uni due to a serious head injury she sustained playing sport.
My number one concern in this situation was for Dannie’s health, and I never wanted to place her under any pressure or stress by hounding her to come back to uni to record her part for ‘The Way You Look Tonight’. However, at the same time I would feel as though I would be robbing Dannie of her integral role in the arrangement if I were to ask someone else to record the part in her place, especially since she has been involved and dedicating her time and effort for an entire year at this point. It was for this reason I messaged her a few weeks after her injury, letting her know that I would still love for her to record her part for the arrangement only if she is feeling well enough to do so, otherwise Maddie and Gabby had both kindly offered to sing in her place so there was no pressure on Dannie if she was not able to.
Dannie, being the amazing person she is, let me know that by late September she would have had enough time to recover to be able to sing her part. After looking at the studios availability, and coordinating dates with Dannie, I was able to give her a few extra weeks of recover by booking her in for the 10th of October.
This however, was never able to come to fruition; she wasn’t well enough to come on the 10th of October, and after rescheduling to the 21st of October, she was still not well enough to record her part. I was disappointed that my arrangement was not able to be replicated exactly as it originally sounded in the studio recording, however mostly I was hurting for Dannie; she desperately wanted to be on the recording for this arrangement and always put 110% into my arrangements.
In the last recording session I had with her back in August, we took a last minute one-take-wonder of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, and I was able to use bits and pieces of that take which would have contributed to the final product and lessoned the work she had to do if she was well enough to come in to the recording session in October. Here is a small snippet of Dannie singing her part in the arrangement, where you can hear the bits that she executed beautifully in the one-take-wonder, as well as hear the parts I wanted to record again.
Luckily, I had prepared for the worst case scenario, Dannie not being able to record her part at all, when she couldn’t make it to the first recording session on the 10th of October. I asked Maddie to sing Dannie’s part since Gabby’s mezzo soprano vocal would sit in between Maddie’s alto and now soprano vocal parts, making it feel like there is still some variation and difference between all three female supporting vocal parts. Maddie was brilliant in the recording session, absolutely nailing the part and putting in every effort to ensure she sang it exactly how Dannie would have.
The Mixing Process
Similarly to ‘The Skyeboat Song’, there wasn’t a great amount that I had to do to mix this arrangement. Aside from the some slight volume automations, I spent most of the time making sure there was a good vocal blend between the 3 supporting female vocals, then adding Loki’s bass to the blend, and then fitting in my own vocal. All in all it came together very quickly.
I also made sure I took some time to include panning automation, particularly during the vocal solo where Loki really stands out. I move him to the centre and pan my own vocal 80% to the left. I also chose to switch Maddie and Gabby during what I like to call the “waterfall” section, the staggered ascending run up, so that there is the feeling of movement from left to right across stereo speakers. Before mixing this arrangement I wasn’t sure exactly how I wanted to approach the panning of it, but it became very clear to me as soon as I sat down and I am pretty happy with how it’s turned out.
I cannot believe the journey I have been on with this arrangement. It’s been the most challenging piece in foreseeable and unpredictable circumstances, but I feel that I handled every challenge well and in an organised fashion. I am stoked with how the arrangement itself has been constructed, and am thrilled with how it sounds in the studio recording. Please enjoy the final product of my version of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’.
Discover how I created the other arrangements in my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements
Check out the final products of my other arrangements in my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements
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