Selecting Music For Your Quartet

So, you have finally found four guys who sound pretty good together, you seem socially compatible and you have matching socks.  Looks like the making of a new quartet!  The next step … what are we going to sing?  No doubt everyone has some excellent ideas but you just got a new CD from (insert name here) and it has some real hot tracks.  If you can find the chart and learning tracks you’ll be on your way! 

Well … you found the chart, you got the tracks, and everyone works really hard.  Guess what?  The lead line is too high, the tenor can’t hold what seems like a 5 minute post, the bass is too low, the bari is still trying to figure out the vocal gymnastics, and those are just the minor problems.

Sound familiar?

There is an old saying that might explain the problem: “Sometime our reach exceeds our grasp.”  However, I prefer to say that we often fail to realize our limitations.  We just don’t consider that many of the arrangements we hear our heroes sing are arranged specifically for their individual voices and the various strengths of the quartet; therefore, they can be beyond the ability of we mere mortals.  Just ask me, because I know.  My quartets have been sucked in more than once by a song we thought would be perfect, only to find it eventually had to be shelved for all or many of the reasons mentioned.  Consequently, we invested a lot of wasted time in learning and rehearsals.

So, what’s the answer?

First and foremost, know your limitations.  It’s often hard to be honest with yourself, especially when you or one of your quartet members wants to tackle one of the champs’ songs. You must ask, is the arrangement within your vocal range and level of ability?  You will be far more successful singing a less difficult song well than a difficult song poorly.

The minority wins.

I repeat … the minority wins.  If one member of the quartet does not like or want to sing the song for whatever reason, drop it no matter how much the other members want to do it.  This can often be a tough pill to swallow but the quartet will never perform it at the level desired or expected.  Anyway … there are thousands of excellent songs to choose from; you just need to look for them.  Don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion from your chorus director, coaches, judges, or other successful quartets, etc.   There are certainly many other considerations but a couple of important ones are; choose songs that fit your quartet’s style and music that will be recognizable and please and entertain your audience.  One more thing, don’t choose too many ballads.  Chord worshiping is fun for us but you can bore your audience to tears.

There is an excellent article in the November/December 2012 issue of the Harmonizer by Adam Scott titled “11 Tips For Selecting A Great Repertoire” that everyone involved in selecting music should read.  However, I’m convinced that the most important is knowing your vocal and quartet limitations and selecting music accordingly.