Green Street Blues

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greenstreetbluesI had a trip down to Kent on Tuesday this week to work with Green Street Blues, a chorus based in Sevenoaks. As a group which has recently acquired a lot of new members, they gave me a very specific remit: to help them understand how their music was put together, and why the composers and arrangers might have made the kinds of decisions they did. That is my idea of a fun way to spend an evening, so we were well set to get on together.

The piece we spent most of the evening on was an arrangement by Jim Clancy of ‘You Don’t Know Me’ that I already know pretty well. But the interesting thing is, each new group you work with gives you new insights into it. Possibly that’s one definition of good music: that you learn something new each time you get reacquainted.

We made some interesting discoveries not just about expressive chord choices (of which there are a bunch in that chart), but also about patterns of deployment and re-deployment to make emotional connections between different moments in the lyric. For instance, halfway through each phrase in the bridge, there is a dominant 9th chord with the bass on the root (and thus no 5th), first time on V, second time on VI.


We explored the character of these chords, and identified and inherent haunting/yearning feeling in them, though with more anxiety the second time (with the slightly higher pitch and greater harmonic charge). This acted as a kind of musical rhyme – or possibly a musical alliteration – inviting a sense of emotional development through the words’ narrative. There is the same feeling, that is, at ‘let my chance go by’ as there is at ‘heart ached with love’, only intensified.

(And there are clues that – whether the choice was conscious or intuitive – Clancy was aware of creating this parallelism. To being with, it’s a reasonably unusual voicing. And whilst the chord is suggested by the melody the first time, with the tune on the 9th, the second time he gives it to the baritone; i.e. the recurrence is only there as a result of the arranger’s intervention.)

We also explored the relationship between the two dynamic climaxes of the piece, one in the bridge, and the other in the final section of the song. Interestingly, these are climaxes that Clancy has drawn out of the emotional shape of the lyric – they make sense there, but they are not absolutely required by the melody. (You could arrange this song, that is, with a less sharply-inclined emotional gradient without doing it damage – it would have a very different character, of course, but that character would still have its own integrity.) The parallel moments in this case actually have a lyrical rhyme - ‘shy’ and ‘cry’ – and Clancy draws attention to this connection by giving the three harmony parts their respectively second-highest and highest notes in the piece. Again there is a sense of development, though, as the half-diminished chord at ‘shy’ transmutes into the anguish of a fully-diminished chord at ‘cry’.


David Wright talks about artistry in arrangement as ‘managed déja vu’ – and this song gave us some wonderful examples of this to explore. And, at a personal level, I’m always grateful when I feel I’ve emerged from a coaching session as a better arranger myself.

(Also at a personal level, Green Street Blues treated me to a sing-through of ‘Valerie’, which I arranged for them last year. They got right into the groove, and it was a real treat.)

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