A Road to Arranging (Oct 2023)

For me, this has been a lifetime in the making, although I didn’t know anything at all about Sweet Adelines until I joined this chorus back in 2001, on the coattails of CSC’s first big Wild Card win. 

I first had a taste of arranging music for my grade 13 instrumental music class when I wrote something for several brass & wind instruments an assignment. It was all hand-written in my musical chicken-scratch; Who knows now if it would’ve even been playable? I came across it once a while ago, but fortunately I can’t find it now.

After joining Canadian Showtime, I learned to love the sound of the chords and the harmonies. A copy of the Arrangers Manual was lent to me, and I studied it from cover to cover, making my own booklet of notes on the subject. When we attended international conventions, I picked up additional learning materials from SAI’s Harmony Bazaars (Arrangers Guide, Arrangers Concepts and Tools, Arrangers Home Study Course). These were self-guided manuals that led me through the process of arranging from analysis to writing. In those days, if you wanted more personal help, the only way was to meet with another local arranger in person & I wasn’t about to ask June Dale for a one-on-one! I did once mail off a copy of something I’d worked on to Molly Rowland, and she was kind enough to give me some feedback, but that was enough to make me realize I still had a very long way to go. In 2006 something was mentioned in a regional newsletter about an arranger’s workshop led by June Berg & Jarmela Speta, and I was lucky enough to have the support of CSC to send me to Region 3 to attend that. Still lots to learn….

After a time, real life intervened & I realized I needed to “get a real job”, so I went back to school to become a nurse, and the next 10 years were spent in full-time shiftwork, with arranging on the back burner while I desperately held on to BBS singing as my stress-reliever from studies and work-life.

In 2019 I heard that SAI Arrangers training was being updated to have a program much like that for directors and judges. For the Beginner level, updated self-study manuals included 10 modules that each required an examination upon completion. At the Intermediate level small groups called cohorts would be guided by qualified & experienced mentors. There was a process in place to learn all the basics, with ongoing assessments and feedback, so that the participants would learn the requirements of a contestable song for SAI barbershop music. The final assignment would be a complete & original arrangement of a song in the barbershop style. 

For me this was a light at the end of a tunnel! 

I was able to retire in early 2020, with great plans to travel the world and take the Arranging Certification Program (ACP). Flashback to March 2020 as the world ground to a halt; suddenly no one knew how to do anything anymore, as we switched to virtual communications. I reached out to SAI-HQ trying to get hooked into the ACP program, while at the same time HQ was reeling with so, SO many other issues for all SAI members. Eventually I was able to get the materials & sign up for the Beginner level, but then there was the problem of how would I be able to sit for proxied exams during a pandemic lockdown? Region 16’s Susann McKinley as Education Coordinator came to my rescue from upper New York state when she made herself available to sit as proxy for my virtual exams. Oh, the hours of boredom she endured, watching the top of my head while I put pen to paper!

I suppose, because of the pandemic leaving me very little else to do, I managed to complete the Beginner level, and was fortunate enough to start with the second cohort of Intermediate level ACP in the fall of 2020. Marsha Zwicker & Suzy Lobaugh were the mentors for our group that we called World Achord. We had members from Ottawa, ON & South Florida & Lakewood, CO, USA, Edmonton, AB, as well as down under in Hamilton, NZ & Queanbeyan, NSW, AU. The many and far-reaching time zones made it very tricky to meet, but we squeaked out a time when I was meeting after dinner on Monday evenings, and the two ladies in the southern hemisphere were meeting during breakfast and morning coffee break on Tuesday mornings.

We usually met bi-weekly, for much of the next 18 months. After our final meeting, the 6 of us went off to find an appropriate song, turn it into barbershop, then send our arrangements in for assessment. 7 very long months later, we heard from SAI that we’d all passed and could now call ourselves Approved Music Arrangers (AMA). What a relief! There may have been some dancing & floating on air on multiple continents.

While waiting for the results last summer, with the help of Canadian Showtime Chorus & Sing Canada, I was fortunate to be able to attend IES in San Antonio, Texas to participate in another opportunity to take arranging classes. It’s so nice to meet others who are moving along their own journeys, and particularly to meet in person with the name attached to many ACP emails as Kay Bromert, the coordinator of the ACP program, led many of the arrangers’ classes.

With feedback from the leaders and participants in the first 2 cohorts of ACP, SAI has updated the program to include a Bridging Program, to help give beginners more exposure to & practice with SAI-BBS music, before they venture into the intermediate level. As well, a new option has been provided for a similar opportunity to continue learning the ropes with the Arranger Enrichment Program (AEP) after the Intermediate level, and before the final stages. The advanced level of ACP is a one-on-one mentorship with an experienced arranger, that is supported by a scholarship from SAI for qualified candidates. Upon completion of the program, successful participants earn the title of Certified Music Arranger (CMA) having submitted 3 new original arrangements that are considered contestable. Further down the road, the title of Master Music Arranger (MMA) is given upon completion of all levels of the program, in recognition of leadership qualities in the field of SAI barbershop arranging.

I’m still in the honeymoon phase of having received my pin and certificate from SAI. I look forward to my Zoom meetings with my current mentor, Linda Olding, who was a graduate member of the first ACP cohort “Act One” in 2021. Together we seem to be learning from each other. She’s also assisting with a group of Bridging students. The old way of learning from the experience of others continues…. 

I want to thank Canadian Showtime Chorus and Sing Canada for their encouragement & financial support in my pursuit of the study of arranging.
As well, my husband and family deserve much credit for their patience while I slipped into my musical world and disappeared from theirs, and for their support & encouragement to pursue this dream of mine.