I was asked to perform at a friend’s wedding ceremony recently and given free reign over the music selection as long as I avoided all of the standard wedding tunes. And that’s exactly the kind of direction I like – “Whatever you want, as long as it’s appropriate and unexpected.”
My friends are big fans of classic 70s and 80s pop, so I took advantage of the excuse to whip together solo piano arrangements of Message in a Bottle and Everybody Wants to Rule the World. The former I chose because I’d been playing it in a band setting for years and had already been picking away at a solo version. The latter was in my head because The Bad Plus recorded a pretty amazing modern jazz version of it a couple of years back, which is still on my playlist (and in fact I nicked Ethan Iverson’s opening riff, though the rest of his arrangement is far beyond my ability to perform, or, dare I say, comprehend harmonically).
Then once I’d arranged and performed them, I thought I’d transcribe my arrangements for posterity (and to make sure I don’t forget them myself). So I blew the dust off my copy of Finale 2007 and hammered out the attached scores. Please feel free to download and take a swing at them yourself if you feel so inclined. For those of you who are familiar with Royal Conservatory grading, I would estimate that these wouldn’t take someone at a Grade 8 level too long to get under their fingers. In terms of your standard Piano/Vocal/Guitar arrangements they’d probably be categorized as “advanced.” It’s also been a good few years since I exercised my copyist muscles (some of you may recall I was a professional copyist for a few years back in the 90s) so if you notice any egregious errors please let me know and I’ll fix them up.
Creating this type of arrangement is a fun and interesting challenge. I was discussing the shortcomings of P/V/G arrangements the other day with a friend who has recently taken up piano as a mature student. It can be a real disappointment to realize after purchasing a book of your favourite pop tunes, and then going through the trouble of learning them, that they are poorly transcribed, too simplified, or inadequate in any of a number of ways. My friend’s teacher had in fact warned her off popular sheet music altogether, suggesting they work together on the skills required to lift and arrange songs from the original recordings. I’d have to agree pretty much wholeheartedly. Doing it this way is a lot more rewarding.