What makes a quartet’s arrangements traditional?

Another blogger I highly respect commented in a recent post on this blog that I have a very narrow view of what makes quartet arrangements traditional. I believe this was in response to my view that Gold City’s recent arrangements have been on the progressive end of the spectrum.

In my view, a few characteristics of a traditional quartet arrangement is that it will highlight the vocals and feature the piano in accompaniment, even if there are other instruments. It will typically not have a country twang, a contemporary twist, or an inaudible bass part. It will be straight-ahead singing with a powerful lead, smooth baritone, high (or operatic) tenor, and low contrabass.
Those are just a few preliminary and almost random thoughts. What, in your opinion, makes a quartet’s song arrangement traditional?

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15 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I think your definition nailed it! And I would like to hear more of it.

  2. I have another, semi-related question: Why do quartets (and other gtoups) almost always line up in order from lowest voice at stage left to highest at stage right? Barbershoppers, a cappella rockers, gospel singers, classical singers . . . everyone seems to do this. Sure, the personnel move around a bit during performances, but they usually come back to this “home base” lineup. Why?

  3. How should we stand on stage?
    This will depend on your voice placement and/or volume of each voice. Most competition quartets have elected for: L to R – Tenor-Lead-Bass-Bari. This works well, because the bari and bass depend on each other, everyone depends on the lead and the tenor comes thru no matter where he stands. It is also important when in “show position” to have each end singer (tenor and bari) turn inward to form a semi-circle. This will place you in a better position to hear each other, and still face the audience.

    Source of Information:

  4. Tradition

  5. I always wondered why the Cathedrals DIDN’T line up that way.

  6. I guess my main gripe Daniel is that your definition is too narrow. I believe your definition for traditional SG would have fit 20 years ago – but like music always does – the face of traditional SG has changed and evolved into something more. Now, traditional includes huge orchestrations without a piano accompaniment with traditional vocal arrangements. So yes, while Revival by Gold City does have some more country and progressive moments – at it’s core – it is still a traditional recording. The same can be said of Brian Free & Assurance and Mercy Mark’s latest.

    Question – how would you define the last two recordings from the Dove Brothers?

  7. So that means Ernie Haase & Signature Sound will be seen as traditional come 20 or 30 years from now.
    They are ahead of everyone else in the evolving process of southern gospel music right now.

  8. GMF:

    EHSSQ is traditional today, with a nod toward the Statesmen and a big thank you to the Cathederals. They’re just a little more energetic about it all. A typical concert has tight harmony, old songs, new songs, a funny bit with the piano player and some synchronized movements. For a refresher, check out the Statesmen’s old tape of “The Old Landmark.”

  9. Yeah, it always boggles my mind to see people call EHSSQ a progressive group. Stylistically, other than a few key songs (much like GC), they are traditional to the core.

  10. EH&SS come out singing “Someday,” written by Joe Moscheo, throw in some Gaither classics, some patriotic songs, and a slightly dressed up version of “Get Away, Jordan.” How could that be anything other than traditional? Lari GOSS orchestrates all of their stuff.

    They are one of the most traditional SOUNDING groups on the market right now.

    Their gimmick is that they don’t have traditional haircuts. That’s it! They still wear suits…they work the stage like the Statesmen used to do…everything else they do is rooted in SG tradition.

  11. Jugglernaut: Actually, in barbershop, the order is traditionally in the line of (from House L to R) Tenor, Lead, Bass, Baritone. Otherwise, the traditional lineup for SoGo that tends to be (from House L to R) usu. high to low I believe goes back to the early days, where they only had one mic (or you can see pictures of the Statesmen, where they have 2 mics, tenor and lead on the left mic, and baritone and bass on the right). I think this may have had more to do with having a way for the voices closer to the same frequency to be broadcast on the same mics. (Not totally sure, but I know I’ve read that somewhere. Sorry for the unciteable references.)

  12. To those who have been trying to be helpful on the subject of how quartets line up on stage…may I point out that it is(from L-R)Tenor, Lead, Baritone, Bass…NOT Tenor, Lead, Bass, Baritone.

    Some quartets may have lined up that latter way for some reason, and some may even do so now…but most all quartets have lined up in the former manner for as long as I’ve been familiar with them, anyway.:-)

  13. My above post of Tenor-Lead-Bass-Baritone was for Barbershop Quartets. Then, I mentioned that otherwise (which should have clearly been stated that the other order Tenor-Lead-Baritone-Bass) is the way SoGospel quartets have lined up since the early days.

  14. For a quartet, the piano and voices as the focus, with other instruments as backup, is a MUST the way I look at it.
    Sure, other types of arrangments are sometimes appropriate for trios, ect… But when a quartet starts to cover up the piano with screaming electric guirars, orchestra, or whatever else fits their fancy, it is usually bad. For example, “Do You Want To Be Forgiven”, or “Jesus My Lord” ( A well known studio musician wrote it, and one can tell by listening)

  15. “Traditional” is such a vague word. I already posted some thoughts in this vein on the thread about what makes “contemporary” music. The fact is everybody’s got their own definition. It’s a really subjective kind of thing.

    That said, I think we can at least do some rough separating out of which groups are more trad than others. For example, as Chris has pointed out, EHSS is at heart extremely traditional. It’s just their stage presence that’s labeled as “prog,” and they’ve been toning that down lately. I actually think a group like Brian Free & Assurance has a much less traditional sound. At times, they recall the popular CCM group 4Him. In fact, I remember reading somewhere that BFA and 4Him were deciding which of them was going to cut a certain song. I can’t point to any popular CCM group that EHSS resembles.