Arrangement: Army

Another one already, you say?  Sounds great.  This track was inspired in a large way by the Ben Folds Live CD -- the excitement of the crowd in singing the descant part along.  This is a strong arrangement, and takes a very different tack than Don't Stop Me now.  Here, the parts aren't as difficult to learn and sing, there's more reliance on descants, and the upper voices have similar rhythms far less frequently.  Vowel juxtaposition is one of the greatest tools in differentiating "instruments," and by the end, the block is unified for a powerful finish.  This was always a favorite to sing -- rather easy.

Army by Ben folds, TTBB, as sung by The Achordants.  Audio includes original Ben Folds Five track and a UNC Achordants Pre-Master (before it was stripped of dynamics):

Let's get started then, shall we?

The opening is the recurring motif that the horns used, using very simple syllables (close to the ones Ben Folds himself uses in his concerts).  It's scored with some pretty simple harmonizations of either line.  My baritone section was loud as could possibly be imagined, so I dumped one of them into the Tenor II section, which, as you will see, is the one regularly split.  In truth, this is nearly a five-part arrangement.  The cutoff on the downbeats of the measures were easy to hit and very clean after a bit of practicing.  In a cappella arranging, the alignment of cutoffs is incredibly important to make the group sound crisp.

No basses, matching the piano part.  The Split TII occurs over and over, but it's important that they know they tend to sit on the third when united -- when this is the case they should back off a bit.  The change in vowel is just for variety's sake, and the crescendo on the "doot" (a quiet syllable) helps to make for an interesting pop when the "dit"s return:

The basses enter with gusto!  "Dee" is an excellent syllable for basses, since it's the brightest and most forward pure vowel, and the throat is widest when singing it.  It helps the basses shoot overtones higher and brighter, and makes for a terrific blend.  They are the center of attention here, and not really driving the action -- their syllable is different from the block, so they come out of the mix with a strong melodic line.

Here's the soft section, shaped dynamically as an eight-bar arch from piano to forte and back.  Note the upper voices are aloweed to cadence firmly in m26 to bring their chords to a satisfying close; they only begin their sweep on beat three.  In the meantime, the basses have already begun their whole notes on the downbeat of m26.  By overlapping the beginnings and endings of phrases, a sense of continuity is gained.  The piano arpeggios were eschewed and replaced with long chords, which is what the voice is good at.  These long chords have carefully timed rests so all can breathe together, and in m26 and m29 a halfnote "pickup" is used as a launching point.  In the second half, some internal melodies and extra notes were added.  The "bum"s on the top were changed to "dah", since bum was too closed.  Finally, notice how the basses start off with the "doo" sustained to help give the upper voices their initial energy (while they were busy cadencing), but when the upper voices are off and running, the basses are free to dmm their way through, providing some forward momentum taken from the drumbeat.  Then in m33 is taken from the drumset pickups.

I should have written "wop" as "ahp" to help keep the pitch constant.  Singers tended to read "bah doh wop" as almost a melody, where "doh" is slightly lower.  Careful.  In any case, the chord voicings are exactly the same as the first verse, and they stay identical for verses throughout.  In this case, the upper voices are all singing different lines, but their differences are rhythmic and not melodic -- they are all still working together, and having similar open syllables helps the group sound like a united and active force.  The T2s and B1s have the sustained halfnotes that somewhat feed off each other. The basses stand alone with their "dee"s, and so the group sounds dynamic and interesting; later on, the syllables will come together for a wall of sound.

More of the same.  I decided not to write in the saxophone part here, since the section is already going to far more exciting and loud than the opening one; also, the baritone line from the opening is already used very often, including in a "breakdown" section later.  In m42, the basses go up high for their Fs (a new chord), and then descend note for note down to the Db.  Although it's a big of a jump for them to get up this high, it's important that the music not get too heavy just yet.  The bass part here is new, and the upper voices start their long chords earlier, in m48 and m49.  Also, they're on the beat more directly.

The basses this time have a different part -- it is more active and begins rhythmically earlier since the upper voices are already off and running.  Basses have a rhythm that doesn't come anywhere from the song itself, but captures the rhythmic feel of this section -- they displace the eighth notes from measure to measure as well.  Also, this interlude phrase is four measures longer than before, and has a different overall dynamic configuration.

The bridge has the whole group harmonizing the lead ("woah" should be sung "wuh" in order to brighten it a bit, and also to help neutralize the syllable for the high voices).  m63 shows typically upper voicewriting with a simple sustained note coming in on a weak beat.

The same.  In m73 there's an ambiguous chord: Eb7sus, but without the Bb.  It's a way to dodge the piano solo and return to the horn riff.

Pretty straightforward, only without the harmonies.  Very bare and hopefully exciting, like horns calling out across a field.  When the basses enter, they're hammering away on 2 and 4, and they will form a pedal point on the tonic.  Beats 2 and 4 are where the snare is generally hit; and placing the basses here helps make the song dance ahead instead of plod heavily along.

As the upper voices harmonize, another voice enters: in the middle system, a bass breaks off to fill out the middle of these chords with single notes.  In fact, he is singing the roots of the chords while the rest of the basses squat on the Ab below.  In m90 our pickup returns with new syllables.  All "b" and "d" consonants, and every vowel is an "ah".

The rhythm used in this section is similar to that which came before, except altered to fill it out more with long notes.  No more staccato.  in the second measure of each pair, a constant eighth-note rhythm is split between the parts for the first three beats (T1 to T2 to B1).  Then, in m97 and m98, a declamatory set of rhythms that's a bit more hammering.  Notice the top descant part that's soaring above the mess, and how the basses have joined the group on the "ah" syllable.  All voices are easily within their sweet spots, and they're not changing notes -- this makes this section easy and fun to sing, and very effective.  It's a wall of sound and sounds very active but not weak.  Usually, giving parts unique material will make the block sound active but potentially disorganized and usually weaker.  In this case, the rhythms used are carefully split and driving.

This time through, the basses hit the F down low, with power, in m99.  From here on out, it's more of the same.

Unlike in Don't Stop Me Now, there is very little interplay between the soloist and the block.  Also, although the parts tend to work together, they are much less rhythmically united in the verses.  This back and forth between the rhythmically pounding sections and the long sweeping notes is the basic formula used.  Aligning vowel sounds makes the block sound strong as one, and using different vowels on one part (especially the basses) can have a very large impact on the sound you ultimately get.  Writing in the middle of peoples' ranges always makes for a good happy group.

Download a PDF of this arrangement

As usual, if you use this arrangement, drop me a line and let me know -- I like to get an idea of how much these are being used.