Alum fosters talent for Sing, Pigskin

Jason Young helps Baylor students prepare for the annual musical events All-University Sing and Pigskin. Young helps the musical groups develop ideas, select song order and structure the acts. Young began arranging for Sing in 1991 and completed his 300th Sing act this year.Skye Duncan | Lariat Photographer
Jason Young helps Baylor students prepare for the annual musical events All-University Sing and Pigskin. Young helps the musical groups develop ideas, select song order and structure the acts. Young began arranging for Sing in 1991 and completed his 300th Sing act this year.
Skye Duncan | Lariat Photographer
By Madison Miller

Behind All-University Sing and Pigskin acts is one man who is instrumental to the event’s execution: musical arranger Jason Young. After 30 years, Young has seen so many acts that he’s convinced he knows the formula for an act that can win it all.

What do you do for Baylor in regards to Pigskin and Sing?

I don’t work directly for Baylor. Instead, I work directly with each group to make sure that the music aspect of Sing comes off as smoothly as possible. Practically speaking, I meet with the groups to help them develop their ideas, select and refine songs, work out order, cuts, and flow and generally help structure the act in a way that feels organic. It needs to pull the audience along emotionally and sound like it is the most natural thing in the world. However, actually making this happen can sometimes be very hard since the songs often fight with each other and have to be reordered, recut or changed to fit. It’s a difficult process to make it work sometimes.

Why does this work intrigue you so much?

The more I compose and arrange, the more I realize what an amazing vehicle music is for touching the emotions of an audience. Putting two completely different songs next to each other in order to get a distinct emotional reaction is fascinating to me. It’s a huge challenge finding that magic spark that communicates in just the right way. When it’s done right, it feels natural and obvious and I’m always proud to see it work. We don’t really have words in the English language that tap into these concepts in a satisfying way. But seeing this, well, numinous thing happening in the combination of the songs is always pretty thrilling to me. Yes, I used numinous in a sentence.

How many years have you been working as an arranger?

I have been arranging for Sing since 1991, so the Sing 2015 show will mark 24 years. Just this year I completed my 300th Sing act. I am pretty proud of that.

Do you have a favorite Sing or Pigskin act?

Well, the audience never sees the dead ends that we went down during the six to nine months we’re developing a show. They only see the final result. But often there will be successful acts that were just incredibly difficult to make work. Polishing a difficult act to where it shines is extremely satisfying. I will admit that some of my favorite music arrangements haven’t been the best from a Pigskin, no Pigskin standpoint. But I can still sit back and smile because the musical aspects worked so well. The other thing that most people don’t realize is that, of all the people in Waco Hall, I don’t actually watch much of the act. I’m head-down in the music, giving cues and making sure that the band holds together. So often people will ask me what I thought and I’ll have to tell them that I actually didn’t watch much of the show.

How and when did you decided to pursue a career as an arranger?

In 1987, when I was a senior in high school, I saw a videotape of this thing called Sing at Baylor. When I came here as a freshman the next year, I was assigned as the Pit Troll in Waco Hall. The Pit Troll gives the band cues at the start of the act and then helps communicate between the pit and the rest of the Waco Hall technical crew. In 1991, I wrote some music for my friend Jane Hampton’s student choir. She loved the Christmas carol arrangement I had done and called me one day to ask if I would be their Sing arranger. I said yes and the rest is pretty much history. In one way or another I’ve been involved with Sing for almost 30 years now. It’s crazy.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Far and away, working with the students and helping them develop their leadership skills is my very favorite thing to do. I love writing music and creating the acts, and it’s a ton of fun to help develop the show, but sharing the journey and process of Sing. That I get to use my God given skills in music and all this experience I have accumulated is a giant blessing in my life that I never, ever take for granted. I’m incredibly grateful.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your job?

Knowing that everybody works equally hard but not everybody will win or go to Pigskin is difficult. There are a lot of hours put in by everybody and it’s tough to see good acts not get picked for Pigskin. Usually, the perspective of time helps the chairs when they become alumni, though. Seeing Pigskin this past weekend and knowing that we’ll never see those acts again is also very bitter sweet.

What is the most important thing you look for in a Sing or Pigskin act?

You need good music obviously. You also need great vocal talent on stage. But more and more I’m convinced that what makes a successful act is confidence and a strong work ethic. The Sing chairs have to know that they have put their all into the development of the act and that the act is good enough, and then they have to communicate that confidence to the rest of the group and get them on board. If the group doesn’t catch the vision and enthusiasm and commit to the work then a great act will go nowhere. But if you have a huge work ethic and sense of confidence as leaders, and can get the rest of your organization to pull for you, well, I’m convinced that this is a secret to success. And it applies far beyond Sing as well, which is something I’m trying to communicate to the chairs. The lessons they learn in Sing are the same ones that they’ll use once they graduate and go on to other things.

How much longer do you plan on keeping your current post?

As long as I can. It’s funny, but I didn’t feel like I got really good at this until somewhere around year 15. Really. I’m finally hitting my stride. As long as the groups want to keep working with me, and as long as Baylor is happy with my contribution. I hope to be around. The show keeps improving and I hope to keep right on improving with it. We’ve got a great leadership team in place and the show is running really smoothly. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it.