Dan Scoville is on staff at John Burroughs High School in California and is maintains a busy schedule of arranging, accompanying, and music directing for vocal groups all over the country.
1. Please describe your basic setup. (Your technical setup as well as the physical space that you work in.)
My house in Burbank is small, so I don’t have a separate room for work. My music setup is in a corner of the living/main room. I work in Finale, using a Korg keyboard for input (and demos) and a Focusrite interface. For demo tracks I use – and would highly recommend – BandLab, which is the scion of Cakewalk/Sonar and has recently been made FREE by its creators (with no discernible loss of functionality; ok, end of commercial).
2. What is your process for brainstorming or inspiration-seeking as you start a new arrangement?
Foremost for me is to understand the director’s vision; what’s the ideal impact and function of this arrangement in their set? I’ll ask about the whole set (my clients will tell you that I love to quote earlier set songs in my closers!), and get a sense of the flow this arrangement is joining. This will let me know how to approach vocal complexity and the use of soloists, as well as what kind of creative direction they want to go in – i.e., whether to consider re-imagining grooves, set-specific lyrics, or possibly mashing other song ideas; or to stay fairly close to the original. I’ll give some suggestions if the director seems open to them, and of course I’ll find out what I need to know about the group so I can write specifically for them.
3. What is your go-to snack and/or drink when arranging?
I’m trying to wean myself off of coffee (decaf after the 1st cup of the day) and towards water, but that’s an evolving battle. I don’t really snack while I’m in the creative zone. When I do bring a snack to the work area, it often sits there pouting while I completely ignore it.
4. What is one thing you wish you would have known when you started arranging?
I wish I had known how many programs all over the country were in need of quality arrangements. I began arranging for John Burroughs around 2000, and only gradually, through word-of-mouth referrals, came to realize that there was this whole community of performing groups, for whom stock arrangements were just never going to suffice. Could have quit the day job years earlier!
5. What is your favorite shortcut or time-saving trick in your notation software?
Probably the keyboard shortcut that allows me to move “layers” (voices on the same staff). Funny thing: My hands know the keyboard shortcut, but my brain doesn’t always. If I think about it, I don’t know what to type, but if I just clear my mind and think of what I want to do, my fingers type it. Anyone else?
6. What is a favorite arrangement of yours?
I’ve also been blessed to work with some amazing groups around the country, and one of my greatest joys is seeing videos of choirs giving life to my arrangements. I just looked at a video of the “Rio Closer” I did for Grove City this year, and loved it! Kudos to their director for having such a great idea! Here’s that one: https://youtu.be/MKm9q07OFbs?t=795
7. How can people get ahold of you?
Going old-school, the easiest way to contact me is my e-mail, email@example.com. I still don’t have a website for my arranging business, but I have a catalog of several hundred arrangements available upon request. Or you can always 1) Walk up and introduce yourself at one of the competitions John Burroughs goes to; or (even better) 2) Come out to California for Burroughs Showcase!