In this final part of the series, we show how well-chosen instrument combinations and effects will bring your orchestral arrangements to life.
As with cooking and football team selection, creating a successful orchestral arrangement is all about finding the right blend of ingredients. For the would-be chef, for example, mackerel, toffee, marzipan, liver and cherries might be delicious flavours in their own right, but you wouldn’t want to bake them all into a cake. Similarly, for the composer, an ill-chosen instrumentation combining Highland bagpipes, 12 contrabassoons and an ophicleide is unlikely to win many plaudits. To avoid horrible clashes and/or a muddy mess, skilful management of individual components is required.
Although the sampled orchestra offers exciting new sonorities, no serious arranger can afford to ignore the art of blending traditional orchestral timbres. As noted previously in this series of articles, learning to do this effectively no longer involves years of conservatoire study: today’s sample libraries deliver all the commonly used symphonic colours direct to your music room, while the ins and outs of DAW-based arranging are explained in detail in countless online walkthroughs (some, admittedly, more helpful than others). The combination of affordable virtual instruments and classic arranging techniques offers great opportunities — to reiterate my favourite Igor Stravinsky quote: “Now is the best time ever for music-making. It always has been.”
Having investigated strings, woodwind and brass earlier in this series, we can now consider combining these families into a satisfying and engaging whole. The effect of all orchestral instruments playing together is known as tutti (the Italian word for ‘all’, as in tutti frutti, which means ‘all the fruits’). Speaking of fruit, as I sit writing this in the dying hours of 2017, my mind turns to an infamous London New Year’s Eve show I played with a friend’s band many years ago: the event was memorable mainly due to the audience pelting us with oranges mid-set, which I took to be a sign of their heartfelt appreciation. I remain grateful that the gig didn’t take place in Rome, as I wouldn’t fancy being bombarded with tutti frutti — those pineapples can give you a nasty headache.
Sorry, I digress. Whether arranging for a sampled or real orchestra, a particularly happy combination is strings and woodwinds. One standard technique is to soften a violin’s melody by adding unison clarinets or flutes, which, as one composer...
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