Jazz St. Louis was pleased to host ten-time Grammy winning vocal group Take 6 on Friday, December 15, for a short performance and conversation with area students. The event was hosted by IN UNISON and Des Lee artist-in-residence Brian Owens and took place in the Ferring Jazz Bistro. Lunch was provided for teachers and students attending the event.

The men of Take 6 provided a master class for the middle school and high school students in attendance:

The Five Commandments of Vocal Arranging

Let’s ‘take the radio apart.’ That’s was the suggestion from Take 6 singer, Joey Kibble. Break it down to the basic elements and then learn how to put those elements back together again. With that in mind, he led the students and others present to think about the basics of vocal arranging:

1. Have a group.

Having an arrangement ‘in your head’ or in your mind’s ear is one thing – it isn’t real until someone sings it! And the only way to have someone sing it is to “have a group.” Take 6 shared about how they got their start by forming a group – they were young men in college who loved to sing, so they created a group.  Starting with four men, it expanded to the current six; also expanding from rehearsals in the bathroom (all singers know how really good we sound in that kind of acoustic space!) to concerts on stages and concert halls all over the world.

2. Learn from others.

Listen to other recordings. Go to others’ concerts. Be a sponge. Soak up new ideas.

3. Use a broad to specific approach.

It’s a lot like planning a trip. Decide where you want to go, then plan the route. So, in writing/arranging a song, decide on what kind of song it is that you are creating. Latin? A ballad? An up-beat song? Start with that and then see where that takes you.

4. Conserve your musical ideas.

Again, Joey started with an analogy. It’s like “making a pizza.” You go to the refrigerator, but you don’t choose to use everything in the fridge to write your song. Be true to your recipe and the flavor of what type of song you are creating. Choose the ‘cheese’ and maybe the ‘dough’ for this song. Save the blueberries maybe for another song about waffles!

5. Melody is king.

This is an important rule about not only arranging, but also performing. Balance is important. The part of the arrangement of the song that will make it memorable is the melody. If folk can’t sing it, they won’t remember it, and then they won’t ‘buy’ it. So, have fun with rhythm, take care of harmony, but be sure that you have a melody that sticks in the ear.

The performance included the creation of a song created from 5 notes from a student audience member and then a lyric also offered up by a student.

The session ended with a performance of the holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with guest cameo appearance by none other than Des Lee Community Music Artist in Residence, Mr. Brian Owens.