The last few months I’ve been learning about orchestration but decided at some point that the best way to learn how is to put down the instructional material, sit myself down and try. Orchestra music feels pretty far out of my current reality since I’ve never played in an orchestra. Listening Star Wars music or some good ‘ole Beethoven has me dazzled but isn’t something I know how to replicate at the moment. (Maybe it’s because they are two of the finest orchestrators I can think of…). Anyway, I decided that writing for something I know and can understand may be a good starting place: Junior High Band. Not only did I play in one (french horn!) but my 1st son is currently in Junior High Band and my 2nd son will be there next year (shout out to trombones!).
This is what I came up with. The best part of this project was that I felt way more invested in the process than finishing and sharing the product. Writing music is just so dang fun!
This piece has changed titles a few times, from “Go and Do the Extra Mile” to “Go and Do” to “Polar Plunge” and now the one I settled on. I learned that you can sketch out a story for music that doesn’t have words just like you can for a song with lyrics. My story is essentially “The Little Red Hen” with a twist- the little worker flute is diligently working and her/his example causes the clarinet to join in. Pretty soon you get to hear how the brass section feels about the idea of pitching in (spoiler: not good) and as the piece progresses, the instruments have conversations and eventually all the instruments get on board with the flute’s vision of working together- even the lazy trombone (listen for that change of heart in the last measure). Enjoy!
I just spent way too long trying to track down a quote that I heard a few months ago. To no avail. This is essentially what it said: “Writing your first draft is like sitting down to a meal with rotten food.” I thought this was hilarious at the time, but since then, I’ve been experiencing it in real time as I’ve been trying to finish the big piece that has been really challenging to tie up (and now I find the reference to rotten food even more amusing than before!). The funny thing is that even for the most brilliant musicians (as a general rule), something inspiring and brilliant doesn’t often come out on the first try. It usually comes out rocky and stuttering initially. Why does that surprise us? It sounds, well, human…And yet, when we sit there looking at what we feel like is rotten food, it is hard for us to believe anything good can come of it, and we often want to just throw it all in the garbage. (Let’s make that “I just want to throw it in the garbage!”)
But if we throw it away at that stage, we will never get to experience the magic that comes through the process. It’s the editing that cleans up all the rough spots and messes and makes it glow. That’s not to say that you or I never have moments that it just flows and we feel full of inspiring ideas. However, at least for me, this “stroke of genius” happens infrequently and for brief moments. This is good news, because otherwise, until genius strikes, we have to wait for it. With reality as it is, get that first draft down (gag if you must) so the process of refining, editing, and shining can take place. The trick, I’m learning, is to move my work through the process of drafting, editing, finishing faster so that my brain learns when it sees rotten food that there are more courses to come- and it’s worth staying at the table!