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Hello Colleagues,

I recently posted a piece here for solo piano called Spies!, along the idea of a mythical spy movie theme song. Fellow Composers' Forum member Stephen Lines liked it well enough to arrange it for orchestra and I think it worked out pretty well. Here's Stephen's arrangement. Comments as always invited >

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Off course you may, Kevin. What do you want to know?

Kevin riley said:

May I ask about the choice of key Stephen?

Why the sharps? I am sure that it would be more comfortable all round up a semitone.

Why not? I’m looking for effect, not comfort. Would you like to play the 1st trumpet part up a semitone?

Kevin riley said:

Why the sharps? I am sure that it would be more comfortable all round up a semitone.

It would only go up to E flat and in the Big Band world that is not that high. I have this thing about sharps and wind players. G major would be my limit with a purely wind ensemble with more than a few players. But that is just me!

01%20-%20Full%20score%20-%20Spies%21.pdf

Just thinking something like this key, surely has to be easier to play in?

I’m sorry you have a ‘thing’ about sharps and brass instruments - perhaps if you were an orchestral player you’d have a different view - I personally don’t see this as a problem - more of a solution to creating the effect that I consider Spies requires.
You also appear to have a ‘thing’ about ‘making it easier to play’ - all the keys are available and all have a different feel to them - are you suggesting that anything beyond f major is too difficult for brass players?

I don’t think there’s the slightest chance we’re going to agree on this matter so let’s leave it there shall we.


Kevin riley said:

It would only go up to E flat and in the Big Band world that is not that high. I have this thing about sharps and wind players. G major would be my limit with a purely wind ensemble with more than a few players. But that is just me!



Stephen Lines said:

I’m sorry you have a ‘thing’ about sharps and brass instruments - perhaps if you were an orchestral player you’d have a different view - I personally don’t see this as a problem - more of a solution to creating the effect that I consider Spies requires.

Stephen I have played in all types of ensembles over the years. It is not a problem as such but in all the many big bands I have played in sharps are not as popular.  In orchestra they are mainly used to satisfy easier playing for the strings as you well know.


You also appear to have a ‘thing’ about ‘making it easier to play’ - all the keys are available and all have a different feel to them - are you suggesting that anything beyond f major is too difficult for brass players?

I agree that all keys are there. I am not sure that getting your alto saxes to play in 5 sharps will make the piece sound any different to playing in C for them. Why create a problem for your players when you don't need to?

I don’t think there’s the slightest chance we’re going to agree on this matter so let’s leave it there shall we.

True but sharing thoughts is how we can progress

Great job Gav and Stephen!  I enjoyed this.  As mentioned the drums might benefit from the typical contemporary approach of implying a downbeat backbeat structure but that's individual preference. 

Contemporary productions also tend to emphasize the lower frequencies more, I can't really hear the bass guitar, but again that's a choice.

Thanks kindly Ingo!



Kevin riley said:

I agree that all keys are there. I am not sure that getting your alto saxes to play in 5 sharps will make the piece sound any different to playing in C for them. Why create a problem for your players when you don't need to?

Just out of devilment (and to fit in with your philosophy)I have written to the publishers of the following and asked them to re-publish them in F major:

Chopin Prelude N0 13 in F# Major Op.28 for wind quintet

Beethoven Violin Concerto in F# Major

Beethoven Piano Sonata No 24 in F# Major

The list goes on and on of course. My point being that different keys have different effects on my ear and those of many other discerning composers and listeners - taking any of the above down a semitone would destroy the point of composing them in F# major in the first place.

 

Interesting discussion here. Since I have never had my music performed, I have to rely on my books, such as Orchestration by Walter Piston. Also Forsyth's, and a a few others. They do give information on what works well and what may be risky. But I always assume that professional players can play most of what reasonably careful composers ask them to. By reasonable I mean being aware that although very high notes are technically playable, that doesn't mean it's always a good idea. same for low notes (Forsyth calls the Oboe Bb "nasty"). So I try to keep that in mind.

But the idea of keys being difficult for some instruments, primarily it would appear, winds; is indeed problematic. I agree with Stephen that the composer puts the music into the keys that he or she wants it for good reasons, which are artistic rather than technical. Then, you just have to hope that the players can play it. And it sounds good. If my music ever does get performed, I anticipate I will need to do many revisions. Hopefully mostly for technical reasons. Since my music is mainly orchestral, it does not demand much in the way of virtuosity for a given instrument. Virtuosic music is a different story, there you do have to be extremely knowledgeable about the instruments, or you're just wasting the performers time, by asking them to play music that is too difficult, too boring, or both. For many of us here, we're going by dead reckoning, to use a nautical metaphor (I'm currently into reading books about maritime disasters). 

What we all need is either a performance, or a reading of the score by a conductor. Hmm, there's an idea for a new service: Score Reader. any takers?

There's only ONE reason to ever transpose a piece of music to a so-called 'easier' key and that is if you're writing for beginners or young students. Who, by the way, would find Spies way too difficult to perform in any key....

I was commissioned a few years ago by a bass player to write a big band arrangement of one his pieces. Like most bass players' (and guitarists') pieces it was in E major (thus F# for all Bb instruments and C# for Eb instruments). It was a very fusiony piece with lot's of difficult intricate lines, particularly on the bass, so I could not change the key and ask him to relearn his own piece to accommodate mediocre musicians. To my fortune and surprise, even though the band was mainly made up of amateurs, nobody complained about the key... I suppose they were distracted with the intricate lines... Ha!

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