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Topic: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

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  1. #1
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    Hi Friends and Fellow Contributors to the Subject Project,

    I am always fascinated and educated when an artist shares some of his or her insights in how they have created a work. I would love to read ANYTHING from you as to how you went about your entry this year. The music you created was well beyond wonderful to sit and listen to, but if you have a moment, is there anything you could share with the rest of us? It could be on any aspect: inspiration, homage to a style/genre/artist, formal musical theory, goals, problems, challanges ... anythink you care to share.

    This could also be a thread where other forum members can ask questions about the various arrangements.

    I hope to post some comments on my own "Good King Wenceslas" after the holidays. I can tell you: There are a few things mentioned after previous Christmas CD discussions that have influenced MY current writing.

    Looking forward to what you may offer ... And a BIG thank you for sharing your wonderful music this holiday season; it was such an inspired CD to listen to.

    Frank

    EDIT: I thought a direct link to the CD might be handy ...

    A GARRITAN COMMUNITY CHRISTMAS - 10th Anniversary - 2013

  2. #2

    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    There's an old joke about the guy who came up to Michaelangelo and asked him how he managed to carve the famous statue of David. His answer was simple: Start with a big block of marble and chisel away everything that doesn't look like David.

    My workflow is a tad more cerebral, and usually in the opposite direction. I effectively "heard" the finished arrangement played by the medium sized orchestra inside my head and, working in Finale from a copy of Shubert's Ave Maria arranged for two pianos, four hands, layered it up one line at a time until what came from the speakers sounded like what I already was hearing in my head. Beginning with the Harp in GPO4, I used the following Garritan instruments (All KS version where available):


    • Flute solo (vibrato)
    • Oboe Classical solo
    • Bb Clarinet (Players 1 & 2 layered)
    • Bassoon (Player 1)
    • French Horn (Player 1 with Player 2 doubled in Reaper)
    • Trumpet (Player 1)
    • Trombone (Player 1)
    • Steinway Piano
    • 1st Violins 1 KS (w solo violin 3 doubled over)
    • 2nd violins 1 KS
    • Violas section
    • Cello section 1 KS (doubled in Reaper)
    • Contrabass sections


    Once I was happy with the Finale version and how it sounded (which left me with a very messy score), I moved everything over as WAVs to my DAW- Reaper, where the FHorns & Celli were doubled up. A couple of tweaks and I submitted the first draft to Dan. He came back with some excellent suggestions to improve the realism of the sound, and the second draft is the one you have.
    Cheers,

    Kevin F..

    KM Frye- (SOCAN)
    Music Director- Four Seasons Musical Theatre- 2016

    Bella Vista Studios
    Canada

    GPO4, JABB3, Garritan World Inst, REAPER, Roland VS2480 DAW

  3. #3

    Cool Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    O Holy Night

    O Holy Night is one of those songs that has been covered to death by everyone and their grandmother. Some versions are really great, and others are just awful. I have a few favorite versions, but I wanted mine to be a bit different. I began this one several years ago using the original Garritan Personal Orchestra (Kontakt player), as a simple string trio arrangement. I used GPO to create sheet music for two violinists and a cellist to accompany me on acoustic guitar, as I performed live with my family for a Christmas church service. The performance went really well, and in the years following, we invited other players to join us as well as we performed the song live, including horn players, pianist/organist, guitars/bass/drums, etc. It became not only a Christmas carol, but a big, worshipful celebration. The return to the “Fall on your knees” chorus, when the band really kicks in at the end, serves to enhance the worship experience, especially in a live setting.

    For my Garritan submission this year, I wanted to try to mimic the same feel that we achieved in these live performances. I still rely primarily on GPO, but I also used a number of instruments from IO and JABB for this recording. Starting with the simple string trio/acoustic guitar MIDI “sketch”, I began by fleshing out the arrangement with other parts, improvising with each, and playing in a new line that I was hearing in my head. The acoustic guitar, which worked well in the original string trio context, was replaced by the JABB acoustic piano, since this was going to be a much larger arrangement. The solo violin, viola and cello lines (solo instruments from GPO) were reinforced with additional string parts, using sounds from both GPO and Instant Orchestra. Brass parts were added (trumpets, trombone, French horn), all from GPO. The woodwind section was added, again using GPO (Solo oboe and flute w/ vibrato). Orchestral percussion parts come from GPO, mostly snare rolls and cymbal crashes with simultaneous bass drum hit. The harp sweeps come from IO, and are very convenient to use! JABB handled the rest of the rhythm section, for more of the big “rock band” ending. All parts are played in using a MIDI keyboard, which I find gives them better “feel” than writing them in.

    All of the parts are tracked using Sonar, and I have subgroups assigned to each of the stems (i.e. strings, brass, woodwinds, rhythm section, vocals, etc.), which makes it really easy to audition and tweak the different parts, adjust EQ where necessary, and to create a variety of different arrangements on the fly.

    My wife and I sing in a musical group with my sister and brother-in-law, and they happened to be visiting with us for a week last August, so I took the opportunity to coerce them into recording a few tracks of choir-like vocal parts, to be blended with the finished recording, to further enhance the realism of the recording. I didn’t have time to get out lots of headphones and other gear, so we did two quick and dirty stereo vocal takes, while listening to the backing track in monitors in the room. I did an old studio trick, and flipped the phase on one of the takes, so when the two takes are played simultaneously, 99% of the audible monitors and room noise disappears, while leaving the stereo mix of the “choir” completely intact.

    All was going great, and way ahead of schedule into September, when all of a sudden…disaster! Motherboard failure, and a very dead computer! The new replacement computer was not ready to go until mid-October, so I ended up with only a couple weeks to wrap up the project (and learn to use Sonar X3…I had been using Sonar Producer 3.0), but it all came together pretty quickly, and in time for the October 31 deadline. I recorded the solo vocals, and got everything mixed together in short order.

    We have continued to perform the song live, too. For this year, I sang the song for our church Christmas Eve service with my wife and 2 daughters, playing acoustic guitar, and accompanied by my Garritan background tracks. Here's a link to the video, it really went very well!

    http://youtu.be/FnuD2OuWuJ0

    Hope you all enjoyed the song!

    Jim

  4. #4
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for posting your comments ... very interesting; I hope others will check into this thread now and then to hear from the arrangers themselves. This is always fun for me to hear the genesis of how a piece is developed.

    I did an 'Ave Maria' medley (well, two of the many ... the Shubert and the Gounod/Bach) for my parent's then 40th wedding anniversary (the latter was sung at their wedding) and I too used the cor (EH) for my lead, but didn't bring it in until the 9th measure of the theme. There is something about that instrument and this melody ... a match literally made in heaven! I really liked the ending too ... thought the song was over, then, a breath, and the closing.

    EDIT: I see you listed oboe, not EH ... same family anyway!

    Really nice work, Kevin, I enjoyed this.

    Quote Originally Posted by BVstudios View Post
    A couple of tweaks and I submitted the first draft to Dan. He came back with some excellent suggestions to improve the realism of the sound, and the second draft is the one you have.
    In the interest of educating us on realism of sound, care to share any of that sage advice from Mr. DP?

    Thanks again for your write-up!

    Frank

  5. #5
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    (O Holy Night) ...

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks so much for posting your write-up on your superb arrangement and performance this year. It was interesting to hear how this piece evolved from the simple string trio/guitar-vocal performance to the full-blown version on the CD. Also, I have to mention what a beautiful voice you have! Hearing and seeing you and your lovely family perform the live version was an added treat! Your CD and live performances were both very spiritual and I can see and hear how they would elevate any religious ceremony.

    I think one of the things that contributed to this being such a solid arrangement, is that you never lost sight that the vocals were the main focus; never the orchestra. This seems to be a common mistake on a lot of vocal-instrumental arrangements; too many competing spots between the two. But your treatment had the orchestra always supporting and coloring the vocals without ever dominating them. I also think it's difficult to show that restraint, so nice job.

    As much as I love this song, I agree it's been performed to death. I also almost always find two passes of it to be tedious, but withholding the bass and the 'bigger' orchestration until the second chorus really kept the interest level high. The 'rock band' final mile was great; lots of energy to match the great vocals.

    I'm curious Jim: You mentioned you recorded the solo vocals pretty much at the 11th hour ... did you use temp vocals while you built and layered the various instrumental lines?

    I feel your pain on having stuff come up at the last minute! We lost power during 'Sandy' last year in NY just as I had only about an hour's left of mixing to complete my Christmas 2012 entry ("Hark! ..."). My neighbor graciously ran 150' of extension cords up to us to run our refrigerators (which I quietly re-directed to my studio for that last hour's work!)

    Also loved hearing the old phase reversal trick ... good to be crafty!

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on your musical journey.

    Frank
    Frank D'Erasmo
    FABD Music - Arrangements-Orchestrations
    All Styles ... Specializing in Jazz, Theater, Latin & Pop

    Garritan JaBB, GPO, CoMB, World, GAS, Stradivari Violin & GigaStudio. Sonar X2 Producer, Pro Tools, Performer & Finale.

  6. #6

    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    Hi there, Frank! Thanks for those nice words!

    I guess the best note I got from Dan was a plea to remember that wind players have to breathe once in a while. I was so "into" making the song flow expressively from one note to another that until Dan pointed it out, during one passage my flautist went 22 seconds without a breath! I'll let Dan explain it:

    Whenever I create a track that contains an instruments that is played with breathing, unlike strings and percussion that can play all day long, I always take a breath then begin the track and listen until I need to breath, as I listen to the track, I blow air out of my mouth till I need a break. That's where I shorten the end of the last note of the phrase. Taking breaths longer than just a catch breath will literally breathe life into a midi project since we humans are used to hearing that.

    By doing as Dan noted, I was able to shorten the last note of each breath line by a fraction for each wind instrument, giving a greater sense that there was a real human playing.

    And it does make a change. My original version sounds quite unreal when played side by side with the finished version, although I thought at the time it was pretty darn good! Dan showed me how to make it better! Now, that little notion has become a permanent part of my toolbox.

    Thanks, Dan!
    Cheers,

    Kevin F..

    KM Frye- (SOCAN)
    Music Director- Four Seasons Musical Theatre- 2016

    Bella Vista Studios
    Canada

    GPO4, JABB3, Garritan World Inst, REAPER, Roland VS2480 DAW

  7. #7
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    Hi again Kevin,

    Quote Originally Posted by BVstudios View Post
    ... I guess the best note I got from Dan was a plea to remember that wind players have to breathe once in a while. I was so "into" making the song flow expressively from one note to another that until Dan pointed it out, during one passage my flautist went 22 seconds without a breath! ...

    ... By doing as Dan noted, I was able to shorten the last note of each breath line by a fraction for each wind instrument, giving a greater sense that there was a real human playing. ...
    Ahhh ... a GREAT TIP! ... thanks for sharing this (and thanks Dan for pointing this out). I think more wind simulations are ruined by ignoring this simple point. It seems to be a bigger problem with musicians who do their entire mix in notation, but I've heard plenty of DAW-produced pieces that do it as well. Even if you remove the breathing aspect, I've always felt music is phrase-driven, not single note-driven. This applies to string players too ... always sounds funny to me when the phrases aren't articulated.

    I'm lucky in that I play some reeds, enough at least to be conscious of breathing influences on phrases (helps with knowing how much time to allow when switching between reed doubles, and switching brass mutes on and off too! LOL!)

    I'm glad Dan's tip helped improve your piece!

    Frank
    Frank D'Erasmo
    FABD Music - Arrangements-Orchestrations
    All Styles ... Specializing in Jazz, Theater, Latin & Pop

    Garritan JaBB, GPO, CoMB, World, GAS, Stradivari Violin & GigaStudio. Sonar X2 Producer, Pro Tools, Performer & Finale.

  8. #8

    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    I've really been enjoying these "How I Did It" posts - Thanks for starting it, Frank. It's always interesting, fun and educational to know how people produced their Christmas projects.

    I finally set aside time this morning to write my contribution - I knew it would take awhile. Now I've finished re-visiting the multiple Sonar project files (I had about 15 versions) - I have an accurate list of instruments I used, and have refreshed my memory on the process.

    -------------------------

    After listening to various versions of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," I found a short MIDI file online of the pure and simple traditional version of the carol. For reference, I brought that into the template Sonar file I used for the previous 2012 Christmas carol.

    Starting a year ago, January 2013, I started improvising with ideas for an arrangement. I used just the piano in Cakewalk's TTS-1, a General MIDI VST that's been available in Cakewalk/Sonar for a long time. It's light weight and very handy for sketching in ideas.

    Over several months' time, I opened the project once in awhile to add new ideas and re-work/develop ideas already in the file.

    At some point, sometime late in the first half of 2013, I had arrived at my arrangement, still only being played back on the piano. Then began the exciting phase of adding the instruments I was going to use, often playing the instruments along with the piano track, and sometimes getting a start on the new instrument MIDI tracks by copying and pasting bits from the piano track.

    For a long time I used just one unchanging tempo so it was easier to add new material, without worrying about following tempo changes. Only when the whole arrangement was fleshed out did I go to work on a more complex tempo map. I basically knew where I wanted tempo changes, it was a matter of working it out in Sonar's Tempo View, using the pencil tool and the Snap off so smooth changes could be drawn.

    Everything from the piano track was used in the expanded full version which eventually had around 60 instruments. And, as always, additional ideas emerged as I worked with the instruments, expanding and adding more complexity to my more basic piano arrangement.

    SOMETHING NEW for me this year: Besides producing the orchestral version intended for the Christmas CD, I wanted to also develop a Concert Band version of the arrangement. Once I had the orchestral version done, I re-worked the material for band, working in Sibelius. That process brought the addition of more harmony lines. I added a second Flute line, and two more Clarinet lines. When I'd developed those, I imported MIDI from Sibelius for those instruments, and worked them into a new version of the orchestral version. That was the first time I'd incorporated any notation work into a Christmas project.

    As usual, once I had the full orchestration worked out and had recorded layers and layers of MIDI data, I bounced all the tracks to audio, since that's my preferred way of working. Once I had the audio tracks, I muted, archived, and hid all the MIDI tracks from my Sonar project file, and also disconnected all the ARIA instances, since I no longer needed them.

    I worked on the mix off and on over several months. I'd work a few days on it, then put it away for me to listen to weeks afterwards, knowing that with fresh ears I'd hear more areas where I could improve things. By the end of the process I had track automation added to some tracks, and a lot of track automation on the group buses.

    I ended up using 14 buses, each with an instance of Altiverb in the FX bin. I based my reverb settings on the orchestral pre-sets in Altiverb which give you basic stage positions for all the sections of an orchestra. The buses were:

    Woodwinds 1
    Woodwinds 2
    Violins 1
    Violins 2
    Violas
    Cellos
    Basses
    Flugelhorns and Cornets
    Brass
    Horns
    Percussion Left
    Percussion Center
    Percussion Right
    Harp

    --Flugelhorns were separate from the rest of the brass so I could place them farther away by adding more reverb. Violins 2 were separate from violins 1 because I place them European style, on the opposite side of the stage from violins 1. Harp had its own bus because its placement is unique and apart from the groups. Basses were moved just right of center instead of their traditional place, because it makes for a more balanced recording.

    The Master bus which all the buses fed into had the following plugins:

    Master EQ with bass roll off, dip at 250, treble boost above 3k, roll off at 20k and above
    Voxengo Overto GEQ - Stereo Sheen
    Modern Exciter tweaked
    George Yohng's Limiter tweaked and automated so it had different settings throughout
    Master Altiverb - Mechanics Hall

    The 2-track mixed master recording was tweaked a bit in my audio editor, Sound Forge. In that program I removed DC Offset, then used a volume envelope to add a bit more drama to the dynamics here and there. I also added some mild compression and Normalized the edited track up to the full DB range.

    That final master also was the soundtrack for the video version of the project. For the end credits in the video, I produced a version of the arrangement using only the woodwinds. That was easily done, going back to the Sonar file and muting everything but the woodwinds.

    And finally, here's the list of instruments used with notes indicating the Garritan Libraries they're from.

    As with most of my projects, looking at the list and hearing the results goes to show how using the entire group of Garritan Libraries gives the user a huge and wonderful family of virtual instruments to work with. It also shows that the key to having a full, rich sound, layering is a key ingredient.

    Piccolo solo - GPO
    Piccolo group - COMB
    Flute solo* - GPO
    Flute group 1* - COMB
    Flute 1* - JABB
    Flute group 2*
    Oboe 1 GPO
    Oboe 2 GPO
    Clarinet solo* GPO
    Clarinet group 1* - COMB
    Clarinet 1* - JABB
    Clarinet group 2* - COMB
    Clarinet 1* - COMB
    Clarinet group 3*
    Bass clarinet - GPO
    Bassoon 1 - GPO
    Bassoon 2 - GPO

    * All woodwinds with the asterisk played lines which had been either edited in Sibelius, or were completely written in Sibelius.


    Horn solo - GPO
    Horn overlay ff - GPO
    SAM horn - GPO
    Euphonium Solo 1 - COMB
    Flugelhorn 1 - JABB
    Flugelhorn group 1 - COMB
    Flugelhorn 2 - JABB
    Flugelhorn group 2 - COMB
    Flugelhorn 3 - JABB
    Flugelhorn group 3 - COMB
    Cornet Group 1 - COMB
    Trombone solo - GPO
    Trombone 2 Open - JABB
    Trombone overlay AG - GPO
    SAM trombone solo - GPO
    SAM trombone pl2 - GPO
    SAM Trombone section - GPO
    Bass trombone - COMB
    Tuba - JABB

    Cymbals - IO
    Triangle - GPO Basic Orch. Percuss
    GPO snares KS - GPO
    Snare and Rolls (FIVE instances)- Instant Orch.
    Sleigh bells GPO Percuss Toys KS
    Clave 1 - GPO Percuss Toys KS

    Timpani - IO
    Glock - GPO
    Handbells KS - GPO
    Salvi Harp 1 KS - Garritan Harps

    Full strings - GPO
    Violin 1 solo - GPO
    Strad - Garritan solo library
    Violins 1 - GPO
    Violin 2 solo - GPO
    Violins 2 - GPO
    Viola solo - GPO
    Violas - GPO
    Cello solo - GPO
    Gofriller - Garritan solo library
    Cellos - GPO
    Bass solo - GPO
    Basses - GPO

    "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

    Randy

  9. #9

    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    Hi Frank – Thank you for taking the time to listen so closely, and for your kind words. And I’m happy to hear that you understand what I was trying to accomplish with the arrangement! I love all kinds of classical music, but I have sort of a long history of arranging contemporary pop/rock type songs, so I approach to creation of the song a bit differently than some. For pop/rock, it’s all about what’s right for the song, and the primary purpose of the music is to support and showcase the singer. Regarding your question about the dummy vocal during recording, I did not have an actual vocal to listen to, but I did start off with a piano line playing the melody, so I was always aware of where the vocal would be. It is important to have that as a reference, so the supporting instrumental parts do not interfere with the vocal.

    The other thing I have learned from pop arrangements is that, in order to keep the interest of the listener building, more and more instruments are added gradually as the song progresses. Songs typically start with very simple instrumentation, and the song becomes more and more complex. One technique that I did not use here, that I like to use, is to build, build, build, then suddenly drop back briefly to a very simple arrangement, and then come back in with all guns blazing. Very effective, very frequently-used technique.

    I forgot to mention that, like Randy, my initial “sketch” of the song was constructed using non-Garritan sounds. I have a Roland Sound Canvas multi-timbral synth that allows me to very quickly piece an arrangement together, to get a quick-and-dirty idea of how the song is going to sound. I then replace all of those parts with Garritan instruments, sometimes re-playing them if the initial touch response wasn’t quite right.

    And finally, a note about quantization: There are differences of opinion about the appropriateness of quantizing the MIDI, but I find that “selective” quantization is appropriate. That is, quantizing everything will make it sound very fake and mechanical, but a little can be useful. I typically will reduce the strength of the quantization to about 80 – 90%, and then quantize the bass guitar and drum/percussion parts, to give it a rock-solid backbone. Pretty much everything else will remain un-quantized, but I’ll be really careful to play in the pocket.

    Thanks again for your comments, Frank!

    Jim

  10. #10

    Re: 10th Anniversary Garritan Christmas Album - How Did You Create YOUR Arrangement??

    Quote Originally Posted by mistahamma View Post
    ...like Randy, my initial “sketch” of the song was constructed using non-Garritan sounds...quantizing everything will make it sound very fake and mechanical, but a little can be useful. I typically will reduce the strength of the quantization to about 80 – 90%, and then quantize the bass guitar and drum/percussion parts, to give it a rock-solid backbone. Pretty much everything else will remain un-quantized, but I’ll be really careful to play in the pocket...
    I've loved listening to your Christmas contribution, Jim, and have appreciated your contributions to this thread, including this one that mentions the NOVEL I wrote directly before you, which I hope Frank notices, since he's shown particular interest in the process we all went through for creating our CD tracks.

    Thumbs up on using stand-in instruments at the early stage of arranging. To have quick-and-dirty instruments to turn to, without being distracted about how we're going to end up using our particular, final instruments, is a big boon towards focusing on the music itself. Very glad to see you endorsing that method.

    Quantization - It's just something I never use in its pure form, but especially when working with something rhytmically oriented like "pop," as in the second half of your track which has percussion, we do want that rhythm section pretty much in the pocket. I'll drag things around in the PRV getting them very close to "the money," and your advice for using a quantization filter at between 80 - 90% is very good, because it yields pretty much the same result. And then, as for the rest of our tracks, quantization can be our enemy, while correction of notes which are just too far "out of the pocket" one way or the other is of course helpful.

    Great post, Jim.

    P.S. It's kind of fun that our two pieces ended up being the bookends for this year's collection!

    Randy

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