Tag Archives: Orchestration

Final touches

I brought the printed out copy to rehearsal and I showed it briefly to a couple of friends. I guess I realized that I didn’t need to ask many questions anymore. I’m feeling comfortable with what I’ve learned so far, and I hope that a real orchestra will read it before too long. My contrabassist friend mentioned that they don’t really like solos, but I have this line that is letting them solo briefly in the piece. Well, they get to anyway.

This morning, I look through the printed copy. I make a mental note of a handful of things to take a closer look at. I noticed this part where the second violins cut out for two beats, and I was wondering if they should keep doubling the viola line right there, and decide to let them do that.

I also noticed that I had changed the pitch in the timpani sooner than I realized, and make a note for the timpani to change one of the pitches earlier in the piece. There is this fortissimo section, where the flutes were only at mezzoforte, so I give them fortissimo as well.

There was this place that looked unfinished. I had copied in a couple of string parts to the clarinets. And the second clarinet was playing higher than the first. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but it didn’t look right. So I went to work on that section. Now the first is playing higher, and I also added in some flute doublings, because they should be playing when it’s nearly tutti.

I look at the timpani some more. At first, I’m thinking, maybe I should add a fifth timpani to the mix. But that seems excessive, if it’s just for one note. So I work on the timpani part some more, and add in another tam-tam beat at the fortissimo section, and a triangle entrance that adds some zest.

I’m very pleased with the divisi violas from yesterday.

I can’t believe how hard it is to call it done. I feel like every time I look at it, I find another small problem with it. But I need to move on. It would be very fun to prepare the professional parts, with cues and everything. I know how helpful that must be for the timpani after 31 measures of rest, to know just what to listen for. It is for me as a violist, after a long rest, and I don’t usually get that many measures of rest. Sometimes there are no cue notes, and you have to infer from tempo changes, just count, or make notes yourself to know what to listen for.

So I go through it again. I’m second guessing the quick switch from snare drum to bass drum, and give the percussionist three more beats to switch. I decide to divide the violas one more time, just for a few notes, to make the string sound a little fuller, not so gaping between second violins and viola.

The competition I’m entering asks for program notes. So I take some time to describe what is happening in the movement. It’s pretty abstract, but I guess all this blogging about the orchestration and composition of this piece might have helped me know how to talk about what I’m doing.

That’s it for now. I’m not making any more changes unless an orchestra picks it up and there are obvious problems with something I wrote that I hadn’t addressed.

Today’s the day? Maybe

I’m starting where I left off. I’m at the percussion, last two pages. And I listen to the ending. Ugh, that chord progression and bass line together? I change a couple of notes in the contrabass, and double with the second bassoon and tuba. I like it better. It’s more definitive.

I continue to go through the symphony movement. I fix a few notes that ended up the wrong kind of dissonant in the clarinet part yesterday, add in an oboe doubling. Adding in more percussion, because with the new introductions of instruments, my palette of sounds has expanded and I can hear how the new ones (shaker, tam-tam, wood blocks) can fit in on occasion.

I keep going through, fixing slurs, dynamic markings that are obscured. There’s a few more articulations I add in. It’s getting very close to where I feel I can play it for my family for the first time.

Breaking for some baking. I play the piece for my family after adding in another couple of percussion lines/phrases.

As we listen to the piece, I decide I want to write some more notes for the viola. That leads to a few more notes for the rest of the string section as well. I give the woodwinds a diminuendo right when the horns are coming in to give them more space to be heard.

I’m feeling very close to abandoning the project. I fix a few more slurs so they aren’t obscuring the note underneath. It’s a strange sensation to stop working on such a big project. I’ll look at it some more tomorrow, and make sure I didn’t miss writing in dynamics for any parts, and other such easy misses.

Final week of symphony polishing

I start the morning’s composition session by looking at what I wrote Friday. I see that I then thought the shape was about right, and that it mostly needed detail work.

I listen through the ending. I feel content with the transition from B minor to C major. The ending feels like the timing is about right, but it definitely needs more orchestration doublings, maybe some other figures in the winds and brass and percussion.

I listen through the entire movement. I make a note of a trumpet part that needs a note fixed, I see a second clarinet part that totally looks incomplete, like I wrote one note and somebody interrupted me. And from page 20 on, I know I need to look through the orchestra and add in lots of doublings and more figures because it’s basically string orchestra only, and it needs to be a tutti section, more or less.

Where I had written a contrabass solo, the melody doesn’t come through well, and I’m thinking I might double them with cellos. I try it, and realize the cellos will totally overpower the basses. I give the tuba a lower dynamic, and give the contrabasses a fortissimo, and maybe it will work now.

I make the second clarinet part a little longer so he or she can stay on that trill for ten beats instead of four. I start working on the second flute part in that section. It’s definitely fuller and more complete.

The string orchestra section that is supposed to be tutti is first supplemented by a triangle part. A few measures later, I write in two flute parts, an oboe part, a clarinet, and a bassoon part. Even though the figure of the section is familiar, the new-ish bassoon part is the one that stands out as most melodious. I decide to double the gist of the line with trombones, add in some trumpets after that, and it just continues to flow with more brass parts. I know I’ll need some shimmering flutes to double the shimmering violins in the next few measures. But the trumpets have gotten to the end of the piece, which is very exciting.

I add in the timpani, cymbals. I listen through the piece again. Wondering if it’s any good. Making notes of adding in some punctuating horns, possibly a viola part, and a marimba. And then I don’t know what to do. So I’ll break for lunch soon. But first, I try to do the ideas I wrote down. It’s a good stopping point.

It’s concert day, and time for my viola to get a sound check, so I spend the rest of my day taking care of my instrument, warming up, playing through the most difficult parts of the orchestra pieces, and drive my daughter to climbing practice, drop her off and head straight to call time for the orchestra concert.

Orchestra concert is fun. It’s a new venue, and at our preconcert practice I can hardly hear most of the orchestra. I just hope we sound together. I sit close to the cellos this time, but when the concert is going on, I can hear most of the sounds I’m supposed to. It’s surprisingly well-balanced, and it’s a lot of fun. I think my favorite part of the program is Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-SaĆ«ns. Because it’s the last on the program, it’s easy to have the melody linger in the mind after the concert is over.

Playing the Imperial March this time, the trombones are glorious, and I am basking in the fun accompaniment that the violas participate in. Our conductor has some weird Star wars helmet on which brings a kind of gravity to the piece.

It’s my first time performing Peter and the Wolf (by Sergei Prokofiev). It is kind of an odd piece, that has lots of little parts. I think my favorite part is when the duck is swimming in the water. If you’ve heard this piece, you may remember that it’s the oboe that plays the duck theme. The violas accompany in divisi, meaning there are two viola parts and we split.

I know I’ll try and finish the orchestration either tomorrow or the next day. I might have time to also go over all the bowings and phrasing for the strings.