Here in Lustre-land it is competition season. We are gearing up for our sixth SAI Regional Quartet Competition in April. That means hours and hours of rehearsal and coaching on two songs in particular. Our contest ballad this year is “Bandstand in Central Park”, written and arranged by Nancy Bergman. Our contest uptune is “Flirty Eyes”, written by Marcia Hill and also arranged by Nancy Bergman.
Nancy Bergman is an international treasure of the Sweet Adelines world. She has given 50+ years of service to SAI as a quartet singer (Queen of Harmony), chorus director, judge, international faculty, international board of directors, and managing director of the SAI headquarters office. She was honored with the SAI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. She is an SAI Master Arranger, and her barbershop arrangements have been sung by hundreds of quartets and choruses around the world.
Because we are taking an “all Bergman” set into contest, we thought it would be fun to chat with Nancy about these songs. Thanks, Nancy, for spending time with us!
You are known in the Barbershop world as an extraordinary arranger of music for the Barbershop style, but “Bandstand in Central Park” is an original composition. What other songs have you written? Are they all in the Barbershop style?
Barbershop harmony is my ONLY style….and yes, I’ve written a number of songs you may have heard: HARMONIZE THE WORLD, OPENING NIGHT ON BROADWAY, WORLD, HERE I AM!, DIXIE SUNSHINE, RED HOT!, HE WAS THERE…..and everyone will be singing a little-known composition of mine at the upcoming IES series of educational classes called BRING ON THE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS.
We’ve been told that “Bandstand in Central Park” has a very special meaning to you – can you describe for us the way this song came about and what the story is about?
I was asked to write a ballad for a band theme, and I thought of the bandstand in Central Park in my hometown of Fort Madison, Iowa. The park was located enroute to downtown, and its sidewalks and benches frequented by many citizens, especially dating couples who went on foot to the movies, bowling, soda parlors and other places of entertainment in the downtown area. My future husband and I were one of those dating couples, and we especially enjoyed the park benches on the way home. As the song describes, the band played concerts there every Sunday night during the summer — and still does. This seemed a perfect setting for a ballad with a band theme, and you just can’t have a ballad without a love story, can you? Poetic license is also available to songwriters, so the true love story isn’t quite as capsuled in the song, but close enough to call it mine.
Was your transition from arranging into song writing a natural, easy one? Or did you find it to be challenging?
I find songwriting easy, once I find a topic I want to write about. THAT is the hard part! Most of my songs came about because I needed a song for competition, either for my quartet or my chorus, and I couldn’t find the right one. Actually, arrangers write pieces of songs every time they write an arrangement….we write intros, interludes, tags, sometimes original verses. And we fix the problems other songwriters make!
“Flirty Eyes” is another of your arrangements. Marcia Hill wrote the song specifically for Barbershop. What can you tell us about this song’s origins?
Marcia Hill is my good friend, and for many years the bass of my quartet and my associate chorus director. Being the creative lady she is, she came up with MANY good ideas when we were searching for music for chorus and quartet. Her original songs came already arranged in barbershop harmony (she’s SMART!), but I usually added something here and there to give it a finishing touch….enough to get my name on it!
“Flirty Eyes” is a fun, sassy uptune, with lots of key changes and opportunities for rhythmic play. It is a lot of fun to sing – was it fun to arrange? Did it present any particular challenges or opportunities?
We had to find a way to make it PEAK by adding the stomp part and building the “pa-rize” chord. We had to extend the tag to give it interest and a chance to build to a grand climax!
By pairing “Bandstand in Central Park” and “Flirty Eyes” as our competition set, we are imagining that the “pretty miss” in the first song must have had “flirty eyes”. Are we close to the truth? 😉
Are you asking if I was a FLIRTY GIRL??? Absolutely YES! Now I’m just a flirty Old Lady, but I still BLINK good!
We are always on the lookout for new songs to sing, and we find that the search for new music is one of the toughest things we have to do. How do you choose music to arrange? Do you actively seek songs to arrange? Do you arrange songs by request?
Yes, finding the RIGHT song is probably the most difficult part of arranging. I look for songs that our members would be attracted to — lots of FUN, or with a wonderful MESSAGE. Then they must call for the chords we like to sing – lots of RINGERS. Often a member will suggest a song that interests them….some have the right ingredients, some don’t. Yes, I do custom arranging, but I have to LIKE the song and believe it has the “right stuff”. I recently did a song I’VE wanted to arrange (I don’t often get time to do something just for ME) ….a real accomplishment! There is only time to arrange a few new ones each year. As soon as my new website is completed, with all arrangements FINALLY on computer, maybe I can do more. The good news is that the old ones are getting updated while getting to be more readable and PRETTY!
You have been involved at the heart of Sweet Adelines International for over 50 years. How has the music in SAI changed over the years? What excites you the most about the future of music in the Barbershop style?
Our members are now able to successfully sing music that calls for a wider range, so more songs are available to consider. But the chords are the same, and should always be….for that’s what make us what we are….singers of barbershop harmony. Some of the arrangements I wrote in the 1950’s and 1960’s are still being sung today. I have probably made them a little fancier…..a little more “show-off” than the original version, but they are still good. I hope we still keep singing those same RINGING CHORDS….for another 50 years at least!
Thank you so much for spending time with us on our website. Do you have any general words of advice for SAI quartet competitors this spring?
Our competitors are becoming so skilled that they probably don’t need any advice from me! Most know that it’s the song…..the message…..the story….the music ….that counts. When you walk on stage push your actress button….you ARE the person in the song, living it in real time. Tell it with all the emotion you can muster! Make your audience FEEL your emotion….be it happiness, joy, or sadness. Every contestant who reaches the audience with their emotion has reached the peak of performance. Go for it!