This was the first song I had ever decided to arrange for an A Cappella group, yet for my initial project of performing only 3 A Cappella arrangements, it was the last one I wanted to attempt. I wanted to make sure I had as much experience and practise as possible at writing A Cappella arrangements before attempting this master piece of a song by Elton John, Bernie Taupin and Davey Johnstone. I also connected to it on an emotional level, so personally I needed it to be the best I could possibly make it.
Making the Arrangement
Similarly to ‘The Skyeboat Song’, I had an extremely clear vision of how I wanted ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ to work. I could immediately hear the memorable melodic motifs and moments the instruments and backing vocalists have in Elton John’s version in the interludes, verses and pre-chorus’, from these inspirations, the lyrical involvement in the chorus flowed extremely naturally and fitted seamlessly into the arrangement. Because I could hear everything so clearly, I didn’t need to tinker on the piano to flesh out any harmonies aside from the final “time on my hands” of the song in the third chorus. I know that I had recorded videos and voice memos of myself working out these harmonies, but having not realised these arrangements would turn into the project they have become, I unfortunately deleted the evidence for the workshopping of the phrase. My aim was to achieve as much colour as possible in those chords, and I feel I achieved this.
I made the decision very early to change the structure of the song by eliminating the instrumental solo and to not include a vocal solo. I had no vision of a solo being included in this song and I did not want to force something out of me creatively as it would not be my best work. I also felt that the transition I had created from the first chorus to the second verse was an effective one, and that it would serve its purpose by being used twice, leading into the final pre-chorus.
I was extremely shocked to learn that no one else in my entire vocal team knew this song, since I thought it was a song that everyone grew up knowing, just as I had. It is being aware of this fact that makes it so amazing that my team had this song learnt within two rehearsals. Gabby amazed me the most as I was expecting to need to coach her through the Bb she sings on the word “covers” in the chorus which is out of the key signature, however she was spot on with it straight away! She credited her ability to do this due to all the notes outside the key signature she sang for ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, however I think she is just naturally that brilliant and talented. The hardest part about learning this arrangement as a team was getting the rhythm right in the verses and pre-choruses, which in reality took no time at all to nut-out.
With any arrangement however, lots of scribbling and a few minor changes were made to accomodate the needs of the song and the vocalists
This was the last song I performed in my recital set to complete my Second Year Bachelor of Music. For this reason, it is the song we are most relaxed in. I chose to perform this song last as I it was the most fun for me to sing and I wanted to end the set on an upbeat note. The highlight of performing this song was looking up after entering the third chorus, just after we sung “time on my hands”, and seeing my teacher and assessor Greg do a small fist pump to himself and mouth the word YES to himself. In the video below, you can see the big grin I get on my face and even hear my voice start to waver as I try not to laugh and burst from excitement at seeing this. I received a mark of 92% for my recital set, a result I am immensely proud of.
Taking It To the Studio
‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ was the first of the A Cappella arrangements I recorded since I was submitting it as my main assessment for my recording class in 1st Semester 3rd Year Bachelor of Music. Recording this piece ran much more smoothly than recording ‘The Skyeboat Song’ and definitely ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, however it did take longer than I expected it to.
I found the mixing process difficult and struggled to decide what I was happy with, particularly regarding the EQ and volume of the mix. It was easy to decide which takes I would use, how I would fade them, and fairly easy to decide how I would pan them too, but I spent a great deal of time working on the more challenging aspects, potentially over working them. After submitting the original recording and mix, I received a mark of 74% which gives me a Distinction. I was disappointed with this mark, not because it is a bad mark, but because I had put hours of work into this song and I expected more of myself. I looked at my mark as soon as I received it, but I didn’t read my feedback until a month later which gave me time to gain some perspective on the quality of my mix and realise that it was a matter of changing lots of small elements to make a large difference overall.
Immediately at the beginning of Semester 2 3rd Year Bachelor of Music, I took this advice and did a quick edit of my mix based on it to take to my teacher for further advice. He sat down with me and showed me how he would have approached the mix, speaking more about using the Maxim plug in on the master fader, being more extreme with panning, and how to assess which parts of the EQ to take away rather than boost. He also gave me great tips on how to navigate volume adjustment; instead of automating the volume on parts of a track that are not as loud as the rest of it, separate the clip on the track so it is provided with it’s own volume settings on the editing window and adjust the volume of the small section that way. This way I am still able to adjust the main volume of the track since there are no automations restricting me.
Remixing the Mix
Honestly, I struggled a lot again when it came to mixing this arrangement again. Not because I didn’t know what I was doing, but because I was working with a session that I should have handled better in the first place. My main issue occurred when I was trying to increase the volume of the overall mix which required me to increase the volumes of the individual audio snippets and files in the editing window. Not only did I have to make sure the volume was at an appropriate level for the individual part, but that the volume was consistent across the whole arrangement. This felt very tedious to me and tested my patience a lot.
After completing this I realised that some of the takes for my own vocals could have been better; in some takes I could hear I was standing just slightly further away from the microphone, meaning I had to do some further volume adjustments in an attempt to fix this. Another tedious task which I could have avoided from the very beginning.
In the end I was able to produce a result I am happy with, and implemented the rest of the improvements Darren suggested.
I absolutely love this song, and I am really happy with the arrangement I made. Although there were moments during the recording sessions and studio phase of it where I was disappointed and began to get down on myself, I am glad I was able to produce what I have in the final product, and I am even more glad to finally share it with everyone. Please enjoy the final recording and the fully scored arrangement for my version of ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’.
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 […]
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