Adi Yeshaya hasn’t appeared on NBC’s “The Voice,” but musical arrangements by the Plymouth resident and faculty member at St. Paul’s McNally Smith College of Music are a regular part of the show, accompanying performances by both contestants and celebrity coaches.
Yeshaya has contributed numerous string arrangements to the show’s music production team over the past two years, working remotely with a variety of digital tools and typically with just a day to produce a handful of arrangements or more.
“Usually these are very quick turnaround,” Yeshaya said of his arrangements for “The Voice,” an episode of which recently drew more than 15 million viewers. “But they are very doable, because the assignments usually come very detailed with what they’re looking for. As high-pressure as it is, it’s still within what’s possible.”
Yeshaya’s work with “The Voice” is one of the latest milestones in a career that has seen him work on dozens of projects for artists including Prince, Aretha Franklin and the late Whitney Houston. His string arrangements appear on the song “affirmation III” on Prince’s most recent album, “Art Official Age” and on the Prince single “FALLINLOVE2NITE,” featuring guest vocalist Zooey Deschanel.
Yeshaya’s highlights on “The Voice” include his work on the string arrangement for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which the show’s coaches performed last December. He also contributed an arrangement of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You,” which finalist Damien sang in last year’s finale. Last month, he wrote an arrangement for a performance on the Grammy broadcast on his laptop while at a local urgent care with his sick son.
“I have to admit that the pressure is a huge instigator in creativity,” Yeshaya said of arranging on tight deadlines. “I have found that when I don’t have time to look back, I have fewer opportunities to wreck something that worked.”
In addition to arranging songs for TV performance, Yeshaya directs the arranging program at McNally Smith, where he teaches arranging, orchestration and composition and has been a faculty member for 13 years. His other teaching experience includes four years at Berklee College of Music in Boston and three years at the University of Minnesota School of Music.
Arranging and orchestration classes are required for all students, whether they’re studying performance, production or the music business, Yeshaya said.
“The emphasis is to prepare students to work in this field, for contemporary music” Yeshaya said. “They get to do both the academic studies of orchestration in the traditional makeup of the orchestra as well as working with technology to be able to produce scores with the so-called virtual orchestras.”
McNally Smith president Harry Chalmiers said the modest Yeshaya serves as a role model for students in his musical expertise and his ability to build relationships and sustain a career in the music business. Yeshaya uses charts from his work with artists such as Franklin when he’s teaching arranging.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have someone as talented and accomplished as Adi on our faculty,” Chalmiers said. “He’s a fantastic musician, composer and arranger, and he brings a level of real-world experience that benefits students in many ways. Students learn from one of the industry’s true masters by digging into the creative decisions and musical considerations of his arrangements.”
Getting band back together
Last month, Yeshaya reassembled the Adi Yeshaya Big Band, an all-star ensemble that played and recorded here in the early 1990s, for a performance of his original arrangements of classic jazz standards at McNally Smith.
A native of Israel, Yeshaya came to this country to continue his musical studies at Berklee. He and his wife, who is originally from Minnesota, moved to the Twin Cities from Boston in 1988. They went back to Boston while he taught at Berklee and returned to Plymouth in 2009.
Yeshaya, an accomplished pianist, discovered his affinity for arranging music as a teenager. He’s pursued it as advancing technology have largely merged composing arranging and production.
“It’s almost like a puzzle with an endless amount of possibilities,” Yeshaya said of creating an arrangement. “It’s a pretty complex process, but the more time I spend with this, the more it becomes like painting. It’s gotten to the point where it’s less about how to accommodate 80 players in a symphony orchestra as much as what kind of colors I want to hear.”
After often working solo in recent years, Yeshaya said playing before an audience last month had rekindled his interest in performing live, as his band did weekly for some time at the Dakota Jazz Club when it was in St. Paul. He’s also thinking about going back in the studio. While he’s recorded with a number of Twin Cities artists, he released his only CD in 1993.
“The show was a great experience,” Yeshaya said. “It got me thinking about putting this whole thing together again. Stay tuned.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer from Woodbury. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.