Arranging a cappella with The Naturals


By Brynne Ramella
Special to the Tribune

I discovered the existence of The Naturals by accident.

At work a couple of months ago, I was following along with the live Twitter feed for MU Mania, which was a showcase of all of Marquette’s entertainment groups. I was familiar with every group but the Naturals. But once I saw a friend tweet that the group was a bow tie-wearing, all-male a cappella group, I was intrigued. I have always wanted to know how an a cappella group arranges its songs, so I decided to look into it.

After contacting the group, one of its members invited me to sit on a practice so I could film. The practice involved all the guys gathered around running through songs in their repertoire.  A lot of the terms they used in their practice were Italian musical jargon – so they were literally speaking another language. I have a tip for anyone who ever sits in on an a cappella practice: If members of the group talk about “Barry,” they are most likely referring to someone singing baritone, not a guy named Barry. That one took me a bit to figure out.

Arranging songs is not a group activity. Specific members of the group have that role. Chris Hardin is one of the arrangers for The Naturals. Hardin has taken music theory most of his life, but this is the first semester he has started to arrange for his group. As a matter of fact, this is the first time that he has ever arranged a song for the Naturals.

A lot of arranging can take place on a computer. Once Hardin has a song picked out, he looks up other a cappella arrangements of that song on YouTube. Then, he can use that version for comparison when he enters in his own version of the song into a musical arrangement program on his computer. He will often refer back to the original when writing his own version.

“(I) take bits and pieces to make something original from that,” Hardin said. He also said that current computer software makes it really easy for him to create his own original piece.

He compares arranging a song to writing a paper, so he said that he likes to have another arranger look over his work to see if there are any mistakes. At the time of the interview, the song Hardin was working on was “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction.