Music Adventures: Arranging

In January and February I had the fun of arranging about eight pieces of piano music into full orchestrations for the elementary school musical. I’ve done arrangements for small groups of many songs, usually a piano part for a solo accompaniment or a small ensemble group. This was my first experience with an arrangement project of this size. It took me about two months. I did about a piece a week.

I did the arrangements in Finale Printmusic. I love the extract parts feature, without that, it would have taken me much longer. One of the challenges was nine verses of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Each verse had different pauses and entry cues. I ended up giving each instrument nine versions of that song, with the pauses specific to each version.

Another challenge were the original compositions. I had to compose short snippets of a foxtrot, waltz and a swing dance. The foxtrot and waltz were easy, but writing jazz was a theory… a theory… much beyond the one year of college music theory I’ve had. I read a lot online and ordered a short book, Voicings for Jazz Keyboard by Frank Mantooth. The articles online were the most help. The challenge was getting the melody to sound jazzy with only my traditional theory background.

I achieved the jazzy sound by playing around with a raised and lowered sixth and third tone in a regular major scale. I had to dig out my theory notes and go over 7th and 9th chords. Rhythms are hard to notate and learn because they are swung and not straight. I had to teach the beginning band how to play it in the right style by singing the parts to them. But in the end it was one of their favorite songs to play and they played it well.

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