Ja’Shon Burks is the Director of Choirs at Lafayette Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana. He directs the Varsity Singers concert choir, and The First Edition mixed show choir. He received his Bachelor of Music Degree in Choral Music Education from Huntington University. He is currently studying to obtain his Masters’ of Music Education Degree from Ball State University. While at Huntington, Ja’Shon founded and directed the Huntington University Gospel Choir where he finished his 18th year of directing gospel choirs. Ja’Shon continues to work as a music educator and a professional performer, as well as a freelance choreographer, arranger, adjudicator, and clinician for various show choirs, and concert choirs throughout the state of Indiana.
1. Please describe your basic setup. (Your technical setup as well as the physical space that you work in.)
I have my set up in my music room of my house with my Roland KR-5000 digital piano and an 88 key midi keyboard. (Above my piano hangs a portrait of a puzzle that my great-grandmother and I did together before she passed away that my wife had framed and personalized for me. I use it as inspiration to give me creative guidance while I am working.) I use an iMac or my MacBook Air as my devices and Finale as my software of choice to arrange all of my songs.
2. What is your process for brainstorming or inspiration-seeking as you start a new arrangement?
When I am given a song to arrange, I usually listen to the song multiple times. (Especially if someone has a specific vision or wants to hear something specific to the song itself.) Sometimes, I also listen to various arrangements of the songs that have been done. Once I have done this and have a good idea about the song, I then work on transcribing or notating the vocal melody line along with the piano chords and bass line. This will give me a general structure and framework of the basic layout of the song. I then play through that and create various harmonies and things that I feel would work best with the song. I also listen and look for ways to really give some variation to what is not the norm or typical to maybe hear in the song. I love creativity and a WOW Factor.
3. What is your go-to snack and/or drink when arranging?
I actually don’t usually eat while I’m working, but if I’m in need of a fix or get be going again, it would probably be Peanut M&Ms or Girl Scout Cookies and either Diet Mountain Dew or Coke.
4. What is one thing you wish you would have known when you started arranging?
I would have to say that for me, the one thing that I wish I would have known when I started arranging was the power of simplicity sometimes. Sometimes, I wanted to just do some of the craziest things as far as part-writing and the overall structure with the instrumentation and everything, and I would literally spend hours doing what was unnecessary not realizing that I had already had a great product.
5. What is your favorite shortcut or time-saving trick in your notation software?
I think the just the whole keyboard shortcut system itself would have to be my favorite “trick” in the software. I will say that being able to Copy and Paste entire sections and things like that is a really great tool. Anything that makes life easier is definitely something that’s good to me.
6. What is a favorite arrangement of yours?
My favorite arrangement would have to be a Big Band style arrangement of “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” from Bye Bye Birdie for Show Choir. I unfortunately don’t have a link for it because it was one that I did just to have in the hopes of one day being able to either have one of my own groups or another group perform it. But it is definitely a fun one and one of my pieces of work that I am most proud of.
7. How can people get ahold of you?
Email is probably the best way to reach me: firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging me through Social Media works well also.