Archive for September, 2010

Piano music… for trombones.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

I made a pledge to myself once: “I will never transcribe or arrange anything for trombones, ever again”.

Ok, hang on… let me explain. Trombone players are a desperate lot, and I’m a trombone player, so trust me, I’m not just saying that to be a jerk. We beg, borrow and steal from everyone. Bassoons, Cellists, Horn players, Flute players, clarinet players, oboe players… piano players.

Ugh… So what’s an instrument family to do? The only sane & safe answer seems to be to write original music for trombone. It’s not as bad as one would think; a good professional trombonist can cover about 4 solid octaves and all dynamic levels, and can create lots of tone colors. And thank the maker, trombone players are a very open-minded and receptive lot (especially if you happen to write good music). BUT, occasionally you have a request for something crazy, and who are you to turn it down? Besides, if anyone asked me how I felt about doing a chart on , I’d be immediately ecstatic, no matter what it was (God, please let it require kazoos). Oh, the exotic life of an arranger.

So, anyway… I’m working on a chart currently that is a transcription of a famous piano piece for, arguably, 4 of the best trombone players in the world. If it were for anyone else, it might be annoying, but I’m ecstatic. If it were any other piece, it would be a bit less of a pain, but I like a challenge, always and everywhere. So on to business!

It’s tricky figuring out how to approach something like this. Lucky for me, I played trombone professionally for a number of years before becoming a chairborne-qualified Finale Ranger, so I know some tricks. Note to Junior orchestrators: KNOW THY INSTRUMENTS. The most well written music can still sound like garbage if poorly orchestrated.

Back to it… The way I see it, there are 2 ways I could go about skinning this cat:

1) Go literal
2) Go liberal

Some pieces seem like they were written to be played by everything and everybody. Bach chorales, hymn tunes. Easy! Virtuoso piano music? Not so much. It may not always be possible, or practical to represent every single pitch of every single octave. In fact, if it’s a piano piece for any winds, unless you’ve got a full orchestra at your disposal, it just ain’t gonna happen. Most ensembles have enough instruments to cover a pretty good span of octaves, but wind instruments in particular have limits as to where things stop sounding normal.

So it’s time to “go liberal”. It’s the point in my chart-writing where I say “f#@! this, it’s my chart now!” I don’t want to suggest that re-writing is the 1st answer, or that radically changing a piece is the only way to go, or that it really makes it “my piece”. There are instances, however, where an orchestration or arrangement is nearly re-writing the piece; examples that come to mind are: the orchestration of Satie’s “Gymnopedies” by Debussy, Stokowski’s Bach “Prelude & Fugue in D-minor”. With others, it’s either a necessity or an open ivitation to be a little free with the interpretation, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for example. Other pieces seem to say “this is exactly how you’re going to orchestrate it, like pretty much any piano piece by Debussy.

What about trombones and kazoos…

Up With People… with guns.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

You know that it’s time to re-examine your life when the description of the thing-you’re-currently-doing includes “It’s like Up With People… only *fill in blank*”. Seriously, what could possibly go in that that would make it a good thing?

Right after high school, I was in a touring group called “the Kids From Wisconsin”, which (if you aren’t from Wisconsin) is a show troupe of singers & dancers and a small 13-piece band that performed broadway numbers, assorted vaudeville, and top 40’s tunes. It was a tiny bit cornball, very flashy, but very well run, and one of the formative experiences in my life, both as a person and musician. I learned most of the music battlefield lessons in that group, which serve me well to this day. Anyway, I’d heard people describe the show as “well… it’s kinda like Up With People”. Both groups have clips on YouTube, oddly enough, so anyone can check it out. Having never heard them before, I saw a clip of them and I had to grimacingly agree. Sure, it’s the same, maybe if it was run by the USO, which the “Kids” director and creator had actually done in the 50’s. Up until my YouTub-ing I hadn’t heard a performance or otherwise from Up With People, and I’d venture a guess that most people haven’t either, but for some odd Kafka-esque (or Orwellian, take your pick) reason, everyone seems to immediately know, without any further explanation, what “It’s like Up With People…” means.

Anyway, I’m currently on/off the road with the Army’s touring pageant-outreach show, Spirit of America. It is comprised of the various elite Army ceremonial units of the Washington DC area I may have mentioned in a previous post. Fifes and drums, the Army Drill team (my personal favourite) and of course, the US Army Band, “Pershing’s Own”. It’s a 2-act show with a historical drama/musical which gives the TUSAB arrangers a chance to play film composer for a bit, before the “cool stuff” in the 2nd act, performances by the above mentioned ceremonial groups. I overheard a colleague describe it to someone they knew as “Up With People, only with guns.”

Let’s see… singing, check. Positive messages or imagery… mm.., sure, check. Guns? Oh yeah. Lotsa guns. Simulated gunfire of all types in the battle “recreations”, and then the vertigo-inducing drill team gun-juggling. All that cool GI Joe stuff.

Up with People… with guns. Indeed.