Nicholas Prior, originally from central New Mexico, received his Bachelors and was awarded Outstanding Music Education Graduate from the University of New Mexico, and he received his Master of Arts in Music and Music Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. He was recognized by the New Mexico Music Educators Association as the New and Emerging Music Educator of the Year in 2015, and his choir was the 2016 NMMEA State Honor Choir. Nicholas works as a professional choral artist out of New York City, working as a professional singer, arranger, composer, adjudicator, panelist, and producer. He has also conducted with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Canticum Novum Singers of NYC, the choirs of Mt. Eden High School, the Albuquerque Boy Choir, the New Mexico Kodály Institute, the UNM Children’s Chorus, SCMEA, Regional Honor Choirs all throughout New Mexico, and was the 2019 NMACDA All-State Elementary Chorus Conductor.
1. Please describe your basic setup. (Your technical setup as well as the physical space that you work in.)
My arranging setup is pretty basic: a keyboard, my laptop using Finale or MuseScore, an ipad to reference my notes or other sheet music, and a notebook for taking notes and jotting down scribbles of ideas. I’m based out of New York City, but I’m lucky to have an unusually large room, so I have an entire corner dedicated to that music work.
2. What is your process for brainstorming or inspiration-seeking as you start a new arrangement?
It’s different for every arrangement, because a choir may want it just like the original, or very different, or combined with a few other songs, etc. Once I have as much information from the school’s team about what they are looking for, I figure out all the chords, the melodic ideas, and the form. Then I just start playing around with reharmonizing the progressions, discovering fun vocal harmonies, and ultimately deciding how to adjust the form of the song to fit what the group needs. I will often listen to covers of that song should they exist, and soak up as many variations as possible so that the possibilities for the arrangement are wide-open. Hearing the liberties other artists take gives me inspiration to take the arrangement in whatever direction my brain wants to go.
3. What is your go-to snack and/or drink when arranging?
I always have a cup of coffee, and I’m blessed to have an incredible NYC bagel place across the street, so I often grab an everything bacon egg and cheese.
4. What is one thing you wish you would have known when you started arranging?
I wish I would have known that harder and more complicated does not mean better. There are some incredible arrangements out in show choir world that just have so many layers and harmonies and brilliant innovations, but sometimes the most effective thing I can do is to keep it simple and appropriate for who is going to be singing it. A good melody can carry its own weight, and keeping harmonies limited means that you must make the most out of the least.
5. What is your favorite shortcut or time-saving trick in your notation software?
Copy-paste, baby. Copy and paste. But actually, when I discovered you can enter chords by entering the root note with the letter on the keyboard and then entering the intervals with the numbers, it sped up my process a lot.
6. What is a favorite arrangement of yours?
I realized by my 3rd year of teaching, at the middle school level, that arranging was a good way to have music that adapted to how different each choir was. Some years I’d have a true bass section, other years, nothing could go below F. Things like that. One year, I had a boys show choir doing a show about race car driving. (Life truly IS a highway.) Even though they could really, really sing, there just wasn’t any material written for middle school boys even remotely related to the show. So I took as many quotes from the 2006 racecar comedy “Talladega Nights,” starring Will Ferrell, that I could use, set them to a classic chord progression, and called it “The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” It ended up being a huge hit. Every quote got its own little melody, and writing for them let me play to their strengths while staying on theme.
7. How can people get ahold of you?
My Instagram handle is @priornd, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I also have a website in development and will update as soon as it’s live.