by Tom Anderson
I’m a lucky guy for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is that, by any standard, I have a really cool job. I’m a professional a cappella arranger. I’ve wanted to make a cappella music for a living since I was in junior high, and I try to reflect every day on how fortunate I am that I get to live my dream. Most days, that means sitting in my home studio with a cup of coffee and transferring music from my head to Finale. And if that were all I did for my job, it would still be really cool, and I’d still be very lucky to have it.
As it turns out, though, I’m even luckier than that. Because that’s not my favorite part. My favorite part is what I hope you see firsthand at ACappellaFest in Chicago this fall. My favorite days at “work” are the days when I’m travelling around the country teaching arranging classes and talking to other musicians – like you – about creating and doing this work that we love.
There’s never enough time. There’s so much to talk about. Any of the other instructors will tell you the same thing. We get fifty minutes to talk to classrooms of engaged, curious fellow artists about subjects we really dig. Take arranging, for example. At ACF, I’ll be moderating a panel that includes a couple of my favorite arrangers, Chris Harrison and Troy Dolendo. Texture and counterpoint, advanced harmony, bass lines, syllables, form and arc, arranging for the studio, writing for small groups vs. large ones – look, I’m glad we still have a few weeks to figure out how we’re going to distill everything we want to tell you about a cappella arranging into a fifty minute class, because right now, as I write this, I have no earthly clue how we’ll even get close. And in the end, of course, we probably won’t. But we’ll try. And we’ll be around the rest of the weekend, too, hoping that you’ll ask us more questions outside of class so that we get more chances to completely nerd out about arranging. (True story: in the middle of writing this post, I spend an hour chatting on Facebook with an up-and-coming arranger about voice leading. Just voice leading. For an hour. Underestimate my geek level at your own peril.)
I’ve taught arranging classes from NYC to UCLA to MIT. But as a Minnesota boy who lives in Wisconsin, it’s especially thrilling for me that I finally get to teach at a CASA festival here on my home turf in the Midwest. I truly hope you’ll be there to take part in ACappellaFest this year. We have brilliant instructors and masterclinicians (if you haven’t been to Ben Stevens’ Essential Listening class, you haven’t really been to an a cappella festival), spectacularly talented performers (including a couple of headliners, Sonos and Edge Effect, that rarely make it to the Midwest and are worth the price of admission all by themselves), epic after-parties, and a beautiful setting at the University of Chicago. We’ll have a campus full of people who all care about the same things: making and experiencing the best a cappella music we possibly can. And I don’t know of any better place to do that, for those three days, than right there at ACF.