‘The Skyeboat Song’; the first song I arranged for my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements. I was greatly inspired by Bear McCreary’s version of the song for the T.V show ‘Outlander’, so before beginning the arrangement process I had a really clear vision of the harmony starting sparsely and slowly becoming thicker and fuller along with the dynamics.
Making the Arrangement
When I sat down at the piano in July of 2018 to begin, I decided to not look at any charts or sheet music that would contain the chord structure, and instead only listened to the Bear McCreary’s version and transcribed it. This allowed me to develop my own interpretations of the harmony and re-harmonise the piece. I was particularly proud of the fact I had included a fully diminished chord (my first proper use of one), and even more so of the fact that it is on this harmony where the use of unison is stopped and the harmony is fully fleshed out.
Once I had established how the chords would voice lead, I spent time working out how the harmony would develop in each repeat of the verse. As previously mentioned, in the first verse the majority of the vocalists started unison and slowly broke off until the harmony was fully fleshed by the end of it. In the second verse, I had the Soprano veer from the chord structure and instead emulate the counter melody produced by the flute in the Bear McCreary version. By the third verse, following on from the development in the third chorus, the bass vocalist is playing an integral rhythmic role, adding to the tension I wanted to create by singing in a polyrhythm, while the alto, mezzo soprano and soprano vocalists are creating a call and response. Their creation of tension was achieved by having the call and response vocalists sing a more melodic line where their passing notes would clash (often the parts lining up all as a second apart), and would then resolve into the required chord of the melodic movement. I had a lot of fun playing around with this section on the piano and discovering which voicings and clashes sounded best together. The third verse, following into the resolve of the chorus is the part I am most proud of in this arrangement.
Even though the rehearsals for this project began on the 26th of July in 2018, I have managed to find some voice memos I had recorded of the rehearsals which I had originally made to use as a point of reference of the progress of the arrangements performability. Now, they serve as a great reminder of how far the arrangement has come and how proud I am of it and the people who have helped me along the way.
The rehearsals always ran very smoothly for ‘The Skyeboat Song’; we rehearsed every Thursday morning in semester two of 2018 for my entire project, and ‘The Skyeboat Song’ only took the first four weeks to learn, leaving the rest of the semester to focus on making amendments to the performance of it and polishing up the arrangement itself, as shown below in my scribbles over the original version of the score.
Before the idea of an online portfolio of A Cappella arrangements was even conceived, this was the pinnacle of the semester, year and my time as a Bachelor of Music student. I am immensely proud of this performance and it’s reflection of the hours of work I put into it. It was after this performance my teachers and assessors approached me, encouraging me to record all three A Cappella pieces I had performed on the day, next year, in my third year of the Bachelor.
Taking It To the Studio
At the core of it, ‘The Skyeboat Song’ was very easy to record. The most challenging aspect of the recording process was ensuring that I listened to the click track carefully while singing in free time in the introduction to ensure that I fell perfectly back in time with it for the remainder of the song, as it is my vocal that cues the re-entry to a strict tempo. It had been nearly 6 months since we last sang the song together as a group before recording, so I was amazed how everyone remembered their parts exactly! One thing we found was that we sang the first two verses slightly slower than the third verse when performing it, so had to adjust slightly to keep up with the click track in these initial sections, although this was a very minor and simple adjustment, it was an interesting observation to make about how we settle into the arrangement and how we have internalised it.
As with all of my recording sessions, guide tracks were recorded first, and although I had intended to record everyone in a certain order, due to time constraints, conflicting schedules and illnesses, the order of people being recorded came to down to availability and ensuring everyone would be recorded by the end of semester 1of 3rd Year Bachelor of Music. Even with this intent, I had only recorded Loki, Maddie and Gabby’s part by the end of semester 1 due to the aforementioned challenges. This meant the recording process carried over into Semester 2 when I only wanted to be able to focus on mixing, however I was able to record Dannie on the 7th August (week 3 of semester 2), and myself on the 14th of August (week 4 of semester 2), leaving me the remainder of the semester to focus on the mixing process.
Here are a few videos to highlight the sections of the song which I feel have had a very successful outcome in the studio.
The Mixing Process
Honestly, I was terrified to begin mixing this arrangement. I had recorded the parts earlier on in the year and I knew I had learnt a lot about recording and mixing since. I was worried that I would be unhappy with the quality of the recordings!
When I first opened up the ProTools session to mix the first thing I noticed was that the recordings were very quiet. This was an issue with my initial mix for ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’, so I knew I needed to fix it before anything else! Once I had done this, EVERYTHING fell perfectly into place!
I hardly had to touch this mix. The blend of the vocals was instant with no one over powering each other in the supporting vocal. I added a larger amount of reverb to this arrangement since lyrically it evokes a lot of mystery, and being a folk song, I wanted it to feel larger than itself since this is a song that has survived the test of time. By adding just slightly more reverb, I believe I have evoked this mood and feel.
To think that the very first A Cappella arrangement I began writing is completely finished is amazing to me! I am extremely proud of the final result and what I was able to achieve in the studio with the mix. Please enjoy the final product of my arrangement ‘The Skyeboat Song’
Who would’ve thought that such a big project as creating a Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements would have stemmed from an idea beginning with the creation of this arrangement?! It was a no brainer for me that I would arrange this folk song, with Bear McCreary’s version capturing me from the moment I heard it. […]
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
Written by Sir Elton John, Davey Johnstone and Bernie Taupin, ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ has long been a favourite song of mine. This was the third piece I arranged for an A Cappella group, and my main goal for the arrangement was to create more lyrical involvement for all the […]
The jazz standard written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern was only the second song I arranged for my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements, and given the harmonic structure of this piece, I must’ve been mad to tackle this so soon! I think I’ve done a decent job with the arrangement though and I’m proud […]
Polaroid, written by Imagine Dragons, is the final addition to my Portfolio of A Cappella Arrangements. While I am proud of all my arrangements, I have to say that this one takes the cake for me. My aims for Polaroid were to; Work with more male vocalists since I have arranged mostly for women in […]