Yumiko Matsuoka

Yumiko, originally from Tokyo, Japan, is an accomplished arranger/composer/performer as well as a seasoned educator/clinician. She is the founder of Boston-based a cappella quintet Vox One whose albums Vox One (1993), Out There (1995) and Chameleon (1997) won multiple awards from the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America (CASA). Yumiko's arrangements can also be heard on another Vox One album Say You Love Me (1995) and Pure Imagination (2006) as well as on recordings by other a cappella groups around the nation including m-pact and Toxic Audio. She is an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, teaching ear training. She has been a guest facilitator at the Western Wind Ensemble Singing Workshops, and has coached collegiate and semi-professional groups throughout the US and in Japan.

Contact Yumiko.

Yumiko Matsuoka: To Every Thing There Is A Season

Tsubasa (wings)
And So It Goes
Scarborough Fair
Where is Love?
Black Is The Colour
Blowin' In The Wind
Eleanor Rigby
To Every Thing There Is A Season
Georgia On My Mind
Both Sides Now
Skye Boat Song

Founder of legendary Boston-based Vocal Jazz group Vox One, Yumiko has always been one of our favorite vocalists and arrangers. She has two excellent collections of arrangements in the PAC catalog, "Collection Vol. 1" and "Collection Vol. 2." The Anthology "To Every Thing" is her first solo album, and it includes a piece Yumiko wrote for acoustic guitar for some friends' wedding, "Tsubasa," her arrangement of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," performed by the Western Wind vocal ensemble with Yumiko, and her marvelous arrangements of the English Traditional tunes "Scarborough Fair," "Black is the Color" and the title tune, performed by Boston Jazz Voices. The Western Wind also shines on Yumiko's arrangements of Lionel Bart's "Where Is Love" and Lennon/McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby." Yumiko's classically accompanied arrangement of Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind," her lovely arrangement of Joanie Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," performed by Syncopation; and the Scottish Traditional "Skye Boat Song," performed by Yumiko with the women of the Cerddorion Vocal Ensemble, are all favorites. "To Every Thing" is a remarkable collection, highlighting the tremendous vocal, arranging and composing talents of Vocal Jazz master Yumiko!

Listen to Where is Love? in RealAudio.

3021 CD $15.95


Yumiko Matsuoka: Collection Vol 1

Yumiko Matsuoka, one of the founding members of Vox One, the renowned vocal jazz group, is also on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music. Her arrangements reflect her technical expertise, years of experience, and her intuitive understanding of the jazz idiom.

Black Is The Color SATBB
The Lord's Prayer SATB
Scarborough Fair SSAATTBB
My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night SATBB
The Water Is Wide SATBB

An arrangement of the classic folk song "Black Is The Color" that reflects the deep dark color of "my true love's hair." Opens with a tenor solo, then develops into a warm, full-textured chorus. "The Lord's Prayer" is a solemn and heartfelt a cappella rendition of the well-known tune. Rich close harmony is employed throughout, which soars to a climax with "for Thine is the kingdom." An old English folk "Scarborough Fair" song made popular by Simon and Garfunkel arranged with a larger ensemble in mind. Tenor sings the melody, surrounded by soprano/bass pedal point and alto/baritone ostinato lines. It then shifts into different moods, keys and harmonic settings, sensitively corresponding to the lyrics. "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night" is one of the Stephen Foster evergreens, this arrangement starts with male unison, then develops into a rich close harmony with some twists here and there. Followed by a short baritone solo, it builds up to a beautiful climax with a key change, and a calm, pensive ending. An excellent showcase for a strong small group. "The Water Is Wide" is a ballad to be savored by both singers and audiences. It showcases male and female soloists over a beautiful, haunting background lines, builds up to the tutti section where each part has a moment to shine, then comes to a quiet close with a reprise of the male solo.

2220 SHEETMUSIC $13.98

Yumiko Matsuoka: Collection Vol. 2

Eleanor Rigby - SAATBB
Danny Boy - SATBB
Over The Rainbow - SATBB
Star Spangled Banner - SATBB

The Lennon-McCartney classic "Eleanor Rigby" retains some of the flavor of the original Beatles' arrangement intact by giving the background vocals a string-like texture in the opening section. It then goes through a couple of key changes and gives different parts an opportunity to sing the melody, while the background supports with strong harmony and interesting counterlines. Arranged for a cappella quintet Vox One, the classic "Danny Boy" song showcases a soprano solo. In the middle section, the alto and tenor parts weave a line reminiscent of a brook in a green field of Ireland. Lush, complex harmony and a dramatic build-up reward both the singes and the audience. Recorded on Vox One's, Chameleon. The national anthem is treated here with solemn but inspirational sound. The rich harmony, without going too far away from the original, builds to a climax with contrapuntal lines that make it interesting for the singers.

2221 SHEETMUSIC $12.98

"Welcome aboard, aspiring writers!"

by Yumiko Matsuoka

More Essays

Millennium Women
   by Morgan Ames

Skills for Harmony Singers
   by Sandy Cressman

Women in Harmony
   by Amy Bob Engelhardt

Women in A Cappella
   by Rhiannon

I am probably one of the luckiest people around, in the sense that I get to do what I enjoy tremendously, and somehow make a living. It all started when I heard the Singers Unlimited's Christmas album on the radio in Japan, back when I was in high school. The amazing sound of Alfred Burt's and Gene Puerling's arrangements and their impeccable blend absolutely blew me away, and the impact was so strong that 1) I had to find out what they were doing to create those chords, and 2) I told myself that one day I would try to do what they were doing. Thus began my long journey to a cappella writing and singing. It took a lot of turns unrelated to a cappella, or even music, but I feel that everything I encountered or got to do on the way has helped me shape my sound.

So how does one go about writing contemporary (as opposed to classical) a cappella arrangements? I'm not about to offer a definitive answer to this question, nor do I have the space to go into the details of writing techniques. But maybe I can give some tips to my fellow a cappella-heads who aspire to write for their own group, friends and relatives.

The first point that comes to my mind is the choice of songs. A song has to speak to me at a deep level in order for me to want to write an arrangement. It could be the lyrics, melody, chord progression, rhythm, any combination of the above, or something even more intangible. Anyway, it has to inspire me one way or another. (I truly admire songwriters who can create those wonderful songs from scratch!)

There are times, however, where a client asks you to arrange a particular song, rather than lets you choose one. I remember a time where Vox One was hired to sing at a wedding reception, and was asked to arrange a specific song for the occasion. I volunteered to write, but it wasn't a song I really liked, and the result was (at least in my mind) mediocre. It never entered our permanent repertoire. But most of the time, if you keep an open mind, you can find something good about a song and a seed of inspiration can go a long way.

After a song is chosen, I let my mind come up with some ideas for it. Or rather, let the song play with my imagination to create some musical fragments. While making a song sound more or less like an original can be a valid and fun exercise, I'm not partial to that type of arranging. I would like to add something new to it, modify it, and enhance it so that what is already wonderful is given a fresh angle and it shines in a different way. Some songs may be harder than others to do so, because the original is arranged and performed in such a manner that it's almost impossible to give it a new life and make it equally engaging. That's another aspect of choosing a song which needs careful consideration. One should pick a song that is great, yet has the potential to be molded anew. Folk songs are some of the best materials, I think, because the melodies are often beautiful and the chord progression simple that they allow for much room to play with. Furthermore, most of them are in the public domain meaning that you are free to record and publish your arrangements without having to pay royalties.

How can I let the song help me create new ideas, you might ask. For that to happen, you have to build a catalogue of sounds and ideas that you like (and to a certain extent, what you dislike). In order to do that, you have to start listening critically to what you hear. In some ways, it takes away the fun of listening to the music, but it's a very important step in building one's own music vocabulary. If you like what you hear but don't exactly know what it is, transcribe it. It can be frustrating at first - so start small - but once you get the hang of it, it can be addictive.

I have had the privilege of getting acquainted with quite a few Japanese college students who are big fans of Vox One, and almost every one of them tells me that he/she has transcribed a number of our music (so that they could sing them)! Instead of leaving the task to one person, each group member takes on one part, and they bring it together. I was very impressed by their efforts, even if they may not have been quite accurate. As an arranger, you have to be able to look at the big picture, so you can't necessarily ask someone else to do one or more parts for you, but trust me, the reward is big. I can't tell you how much I've learned from transcribing Gene Puerling. The secret is that you learn what works from within, rather than from what a book or a teacher might tell you. By the way, the source doesn't necessarily have to be vocal music either (or, for that matter, strictly contemporary). I would name the Beatles and Debussy to be some of my other teachers - with the former, probably more for their instrumental lines and phrases than the vocals

It might also help to write out the lyrics on a separate sheet. Read the poem and let it speak to you. I have a few arrangements where I did that first and it gave me a new perspective to those songs. This way, you could come up with a new concept for the arrangement, rather than just ideas. Knowing whom you are writing for is another advantage. You can write in such a way to let each person in that group shine.

With an idea (which could be as tiny as just a chord) I sit down at my keyboard (alas, I don't have a room for a piano!) and start fooling around. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. When it happens, for me, it's God at work, because in retrospect I can never understand how I've managed to create something that actually sounds good. After the arrangement is done, it takes on a life of its own. It's not necessarily easy when I'm in the middle of it, but somehow I get done unscathed. And it's one of those precious moments that you completely forget where you are - hours seem like minutes, and you're flowing in it so freely, even when you're struggling. On the other hand, when it doesn't happen, I write down the fragment so that I wouldn't forget it, and come back another time.

Ultimately, my goal is to create music that means something to some people; if possible, something that could heal. If I could rework an already beautiful song and give it a new light (instead of killing it!) my mission is accomplished.

So, welcome aboard, aspiring writers! I hope our paths cross one of these days.


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