Who isn’t watching Stranger Things 4 right now? It’s a smash hit breaking Netflix viewing records and due to its prominent placement in the show, Kate Bush’s 1985 song “Running Up That Hill” is enjoying a huge surge in popularity. When the song first featured on the show, it immediately grabbed my attention with its distant, haunting, mournful melody. It sounded familiar but I didn’t recognize it by name. When it appeared again, this time louder and clearer, in the next episode, I immediately knew I had to find the song and listen all the way through. And as soon as that was done, I decided the tune would make for an astonishing string quartet arrangement and immediately got to work.
Though I already had a busy week, I was able to finish the arrangement over three evenings and submit it for publishing. It was a really fun and rewarding experience and I think the project turned out really well. You can listen to sample below and “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush on Sheet Music Direct.
This song harkens back to my formative golden year of music, that period in middle or high school where you formed a strong bond with certain types of music that carries through the rest of your life. When I wasn’t listening to No Doubt, Bush, Stabbing Westward, or Garbage, there was a strong chance I was listening to this song. It’s still a favorite, and it’s fun and cute quality has helped it age well over some of the more angsty things from my teen years. I’ve always enjoyed the songs great melody (it seriously is a study in melody-writing 101) and jazzy harmonies provided by the guitar and backup vocals.
For the arrangement, I decided to make the first verse stand out from the rest by means of the entire accompaniment playing pizzicato, with the cello take some percussive slaps. As the song progresses, I dug more into the harmonies and countermelodies, even adding a bit more color to them than is in the original recording. It’s a relatively simple, but effective arrangement in the end.
Oh boy was this fun. This is such an incredible song, but I was afraid that it’s heavy use of a drum beat, very bassy synthesizers, and free-styled vocals would make it a poor choice for the more straight-laced string quartet. Once I set out on the arrangement though, I quickly found some intriguing harmonies I could dig into. I also heavily debated whether or not I should arrange the instrumental coda to the song not played on the radio, but when I eventually did start it, it turned out to be the best part of the song!
Closing out a recent flurry of quartet arrangements is the incredibly soulful “Hold On” by The Alabama Shakes. I initially hesitated on arranging this one as the melody relies so much on an intense vocal delivery, but it was actually the rhythm section that convinced me to arrange this. The main guitar riff works out beautifully as a cello line with some percussive slaps, and the key ended up lending itself to a lot of double-stops worked into the melody and harmony parts to bring some soul into the string delivery. And of course, I close the quartet with a bit of a round, pretty much a hallmark of my arrangements by now.
What a song! I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like The White Stripes, so it was finally time to arrange one of their tunes. It’s actually pretty difficult to find suitable arrangement material from musicians who excel at their instrument and feature it boldly, because no amount of clever arranging could make a quartet sound like a grand piano, a finger-style guitar, or in this case, one of the dirtiest blues riffs ever written. To approximate some of the bends and other guitar-specific techniques, I actually took the blue notes even further, adding even more diminished harmonies than in the original recording. I’m really happy with the result – a short, energetic, and bluesy rendition of a great song!
A few years ago when I arranged “Maps” by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I had to first spend a week or two if I was going to arrange that song or “Zero” as they’re both excellent songs with lots of potential for the quartet. Well, it took a while, but I finally got around to arranging “Zero” as well! The song features a good dose of heavy rhythmic techniques for most of the players as they simulate the synth and drums. The violins and viola add some harmonies to the song’s original solo vocal parts and the arrangement ends with a small round and a chorale.
I really, really adore a lot of 80s music. I received a request for an arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” (well, actually a slower singer-songwriter cover of the original) and instantly was pretty excited. I ended up arranging the original version in a pretty quick afternoon and have been singing it to myself ever since!
Always a favorite of mine, I broke my own arrangement rule of arranging a song for strings that has strings in the original arrangement. This one is just too good to pass up! You can view a one-page sample of the score below.
This is the only song I’ve performed at multiple weddings, and funny enough, it’s been the Iron and Wine version each time. This one was sort of a slog for banjo which is accustomed to playing with speed. The string quartet version, though, thrives with the slower tempo and lush harmonies. You can view a one-page sample of the score below.