February 28, 2009
I’m orchestrating the piece for Stuart High School, and I’m finding that I’m scoring a little differently than I usually do. Where I’d often use a lot of extremes of registers and extreme dynamics, I’m approaching this one more conservatively. The band that will premiere the piece is a very good high school band, but they aren’t yet the near-pros of the UT Wind Ensemble. Usually when I’m orchestrating something, I’m not considering how awkward something might be to actually play or to balance, as I figure the players will just figure out how to do it. As a result, the players and the conductor have to work that much harder just to make the piece sound good. (The best/worst example of that in my own music is probably Turbine, although maybe Turning is just as tough.)
When I wrote “Undertow,” since it was for a younger band, I approached the scoring a little more methodically, and as a result, I think “Undertow” usually sounds pretty good. The band doesn’t have to work at fixing balance issues that would have come up had I put instruments in bad ranges or over-scored things. They have to figure out how to count the piece, and play it in the right style, but they’d do that with any piece. What they don’t have to do is spend half the time fixing what were essentially my own errors that originated from trying to be too clever. That’s not to say that the colors can’t be interesting, but it does mean that sometimes, the most obvious voicing for a brass chord happens to be the best-sounding one.
One thing I always feel about the band music of Frank Ticheli and Donald Grantham is that they simply know how to make a band sound good. If the band sounds good playing the music, then the players get more enjoyment out of playing the music, and the performance comes off better and with more confidence. I once heard H. Robert Reynolds, after what should have been a disastrous but was still somehow a successful reading of a Ticheli piece, describe the music of Frank Ticheli as a “styrofoam boat.” “It takes an awful lot of bullets to sink it.”
I think I’ve only accomplished that kind of scoring in a few pieces. One is “Undertow,” and the other is the second movement of “Kingfishers Catch Fire,” which, if it’s at tempo, generally sounds good and balances well from the first reading, without any major correction to the written dynamics. (Well, okay, it sounds good when it’s being read by freaky groups like the Texas All-State Band.) Even if the first horn player misses 31 of the 32 high C’s in that piece, it still sounds pretty good, because even those notes, when they’re crucial, are typically covered elsewhere. I’m trying to accomplish that again with this new piece. It makes the orchestration process considerably more difficult and slower, but I think it’ll improve the future of the piece.
Yesterday, AEJ and I had lunch and my new (maybe) favorite restaurant here in Austin, South Congress Cafe. I started with the soup special — a corn and chile chowder. Holy crapunzle, it was good.
AEJ had the same pasta dish that she had for dinner the last time we went.
It looked tasty, but I didn’t have any of hers this time, because my lunch would have clashed with it terribly. I’ve said before that I love carrot cake. Well here’s something I’d never heard of: carrot cake French toast. Ohhh yeah.
This restaurant rules.