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A Christmas Story with Composition Tips…

Hi, I’m Adam and I’m the leader of Warwick’s A Cappella Folk group, Practical Folkers. We’re nine parts strong and only formed just over a year ago. In that short space of time we’ve pumped out a steady stream of folk inspired covers or popular songs with a folky twist. We also performed at the inaugural Open A Cappella Competition back in February and it was amazing to sing alongside such talented groups from across the country.

Photo credit: Tara Noonan

Not long after that incredible high lockdown hit and with it any hope of us being able to sing together in person. Most Folkers haven’t seen other members in 9 months now but that hasn’t stopped us doing our own pub quizzes like the rest of the country, along with movie nights, Jackbox games and skribbl.io (if you haven’t heard of it, we definitely recommend it). We have always been a close group but since March the Practical Folkers have been about so much more than just singing. We’ve provided each other with a friendly face and a regular chance to chat, laugh and forget about the stress of exams, the pandemic, job searching, etc. for a couple of hours.

When I signed up for a cappella back in my first year of university it was because I thought it would give me a chance to keep up my singing and that was really it. But if I was encouraging others to take up a cappella now this would be quite far down on my list of persuasive reasons. First and foremost, a cappella as a whole is a friendly, welcoming community where you will make friends for university and beyond. You get a chance to pick the music you want to sing, make all sorts of funky noises with your voice and apply whatever other talents you have, whether that is composing, arranging, leading, choreographing, music technology and many other things.

“First and foremost, a cappella as a whole is a friendly, welcoming community where you will make friends for university and beyond.”

Adam Lofthouse-Hill

On top of our social exploits the Practical Folkers have also recorded and published a couple of new songs through the magic of MIDIs and mixing software. For anyone who hasn’t seen any of these types of recordings each voice part records their individual parts while listening to a synthesised version of the song so everyone is in time. This could never replace the experience of everyone singing together in person as you lose the balance and rubato this brings but it has allowed us to keep singing and making music together.

As of right now the Folkers have two songs in production, one of which is a very popular Christmas song which we’re all very excited by but most especially me. I love Christmas for all the usual reasons, the music, lights, mince pies with mulled wine, seeing your friends and family and the unrivalled excitement and joy it brings to my niece and nephew, but also because I missed out a bit on 4 Christmases when I was younger. I was a chorister from 9-12 and as a chorister you had to sing regular Christmas services in the week up to and including Christmas day. For me this meant boarding and being away from home and my family over the whole week and also on Christmas morning. So, all this giddy Christmas cheer more becoming from a 5-year-old than my 21-year-old self is partially to compensate (perhaps over-compensate) for those bits of Christmas I missed.

The Leamingtones 2018

So for those hoping to spread the Christmas cheer through a cappella here’s my two pence worth on making a Christmas arrangement. If you haven’t done much arranging before choosing a classic Christmas song is probably easier than a more modern Bublé pop song as it should have a simple chord progression and melody. This doesn’t mean boring though as you can always jazz it up to make it more exciting. I’d then try and find some existing sheet music for the song and transcribe it to the number of voice parts I’m writing for, making sure all the key melodic and harmonic substance in there. If you play it through and listen to it now it should sound like the original song, if perhaps a bit dull.

However, now comes the fun bit of arranging for a cappella. You can mix the rhythms up by adding rhythmic variety to normal chords possibly creating a call and response between two parts. If you’re trying to make a song sound more Christmassy a suspended 4th can go a long way. If you want to capture the feel of the original you can use the lyrics for the accompanying parts to mimic the original instruments. You don’t need all the voice parts singing at once; by reducing the number of people singing you can place greater emphasis on the few lines that are still on going while also providing a greater contrast with the rest of the piece. Taking this to the extreme, complete silence except the melody is surprisingly effective in a cappella as it lays bare how exposed the singers are. Most importantly though your arrangement should be something others enjoy singing because it will inevitably be a piece others enjoy listening to as well.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and make sure to keep an eye on the Practical Folkers’ Facebook page for our upcoming videos. 


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