John Burlace earned his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Music Education from Millikin University (Decatur, IL) and his Master of Science in Education from Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL). He has been on the choral faculty at Carmel High School, Wheaton Warrenville South High School, and Edison Middle School (Wheaton, IL. As an active arranger, adjudicator, and guest conductor, he has worked with choirs in 14 states and maintains a busy schedule as a show choir clinician across the country. John has served on staff of several summer camps including Showchoir Camps of America, The Southern Experience Show Choir Camp, and Nebraska Show Choir Camp.
1. Please describe your basic setup. (Your technical setup as well as the physical space that you work in.)
I use Sibelius to arrange, and despite being a pianist, I actually use QWERTY keyboard and numeric keypad for input. It’s what I learned first and am most comfortable with overall. Though I can sometimes be found with my laptop at Starbucks, I primarily work from my home office which has a human-sized couch for my wife Ana and a dog-sized couch for Fidi and Huey (our two fur children).
2. What is your process for brainstorming or inspiration-seeking as you start a new arrangement?
It really all depends on the project. Ever since I started teaching (which led to my career as an arranger), I have been open to inspiration when/where it strikes. For me, it’s difficult to force an idea, so directly seeking it often falls flat as well. Having said that, I rely a lot on the vision of the directors/choreographers who are going to be bringing the music to life; I feel like my primary responsibility is to support them and their kids with my work, so if they’ve got something that inspires them or a specific direction they’d like things to go, it’s up to me to make that happen for them!
3. What is your go-to snack and/or drink when arranging?
Iced tea or Coke Zero and some almonds or trail mix tend to get me through most days.
4. What is one thing you wish you would have known when you started arranging?
I wish I had been more comfortable with technological advances and music production (recording, producing, etc.) in general. (I still wish I knew more about all of this!) I am, first and foremost, a music educator. Secondarily, I am an arranger. The tech piece of things (which would certainly make my job easier and my tracks more useful – ha!) is more of a means to an end for me.
5. What is your favorite shortcut or time-saving trick in your notation software?
In Sibelius, my favorite shortcut is the R key, which easily repeats notes, measures, etc. I can only imagine how much time that has saved me over the years!
6. What is a favorite arrangement of yours?
This is tough. I have been so fortunate to get to work with some incredible teachers/choreographers and write for the most amazing young performers across the country over the past several years…how can I choose a favorite?! One of the things I have sort of become known for is writing medleys. The first one I ever wrote was for the WWSHS Wizard of Oz show (2012) so that will always hold a special place in my heart since my students helped me find my voice in arranging by sharing theirs on the stage.
But, as an arranger, it has been so fun to continue to write for Carmel High School, and a favorite show of theirs from the past couple years was their Moulin Rouge show (2020); their second song was an audience and performer favorite!
7. How can people get ahold of you?
Remember how I said I wish I were better with technology? Well…I don’t have a website (much to Ana’s chagrin), but I can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com and am thrilled to chat arrangements (or any and all things show choir) at any time!