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Topic: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

  1. #1

    Question Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical


    I've been looking around for materials, books, web sites, etc., for information on this topic. There is a wealth of information w.r.t. classical orchestration (which is tantamount, I suppose, to the act of composition), but almost nothing (really, exactly nothing, if you count what I've found) on this topic.

    Noiw, I'm primarily a song writer (well, I write the book as well, but for purposes of musical extensions, a song writer). A "song writer" is, I think, a different beast than a composer, and certainly different than an arranger. A song writer conceives a melody, and possibly lyrics, generally together with some chordal underpinnings, and a broad notion of ryhthmic quality.

    The "orchestrator/arranger" is distinct, imho, in that he/she takes the writer's melody and chords and produces something much more articulate and refined. As I understand it, very few major Broadway composers orchestrated their own works; Kurt Weill was an exception, and there were certainly others, but by and large, somebody else is tasked with that more left-brain intensive activity.

    Most things I've read suggest looking at past examples as the place from which to learn orchestration, but the examples, as you’d expect, are mainly public domain and classical (a'la Beethovens’s 27th Symphony in C Minus, “The Pasture”, aka “The Lower Forty”). Obtaining the conductor's score from "Wicked", for example, as a study text would be out of the question. Thus, learning from primary sources is a pretty tough row to how.

    Sooo, all fresh out of orchestration lackeys, I'm trying to learn as much as I can about this topic. And therefore, this posting, to discover if any one might suggest reference materials, web sites, etc, specifically targeting that special kind of arranging (and generating vocal harmonies, while we're at it) used in (modern) musicals.

    Thanks for any ideas you might have.

    Chuck Puckett (Sib 4.1, Sonar 5, BIAB 2005, HP zd8000, XP Pro, 3Ghz/2GB)
    "I don't want to steal the show. I only want to borrow it for awhile."

  2. #2
    New Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Whitestone, New York

    Re: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

    The only book I have ever read devoted to orchestration the Broadway Musical is "Instrumentaly Speaking" by Broadway veteran orchestrator
    Robert Russell Bennett. Bennett of course is writing his book or the 1930 -1960 Broadway sound . His credits do include My Fair Lady , South Pacific, Victory at Sea, The King and I etc. His book is long out of print though it can be found in the library. He wrote his book in I think 1975. Some other book that can be usefull though maybe a bit old fashioned are "Sounds and Scores" by Henry Mancini , "Arranged by Nelson Riddle" by Nelson Riddle and a good more modern book published in 2002 is "Arranging Music for the Real World: Classical and Commercial Aspects" by Vince Corozine. Hope this helps!!

  3. #3

    Re: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

    Good books, I've got the Corozine, and I'm on the look out for the others. Thanks for the input!

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    NW Illinois

    Re: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

    Quote Originally Posted by chuckpuckett

    Sooo, all fresh out of orchestration lackeys, I'm trying to learn as much as I can about this topic. And therefore, this posting, to discover if any one might suggest reference materials, web sites, etc, specifically targeting that special kind of arranging (and generating vocal harmonies, while we're at it) used in (modern) musicals.

    Thanks for any ideas you might have.
    If any of the reference books mentioned don't help, you can always sit with a recording and start transcribing. It's a slow painful process, but you can gain a tremendous amount of insight into a piece if you really listen to it analytically. (sp?)


  5. #5

    Re: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

    I think the orchestration to My Fair Lady is absolutely awesome. I was involved in a production of My Fair Lady a long time. College production, but we have a decent community orchestra for our pit that was made up of solid/experienced musicians and a director that really cared about it.. suffice it to say that they did a terrific job of playing every note of the music..using a pretty large orch (by today's pit standards, especially for a college production)... I have never liked that musical too much, but after hearing that orchestra perform it over and over and really listening at a close level ( I was singing baritone parts and having to listen to inner parts a lot), I became extremely impressed with the arranging and orchestration of that musical.

    I never knew about that book, but i would really like to find it.
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

  6. #6

    Re: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

    Quote Originally Posted by Prince of Music
    Ok... this is a little off topic, but it seemed like a good place to post this. Last year I heard about the new version coming to Broadway from London of Sweeney Todd. I thought they had to be kidding. A huge show like Sweeney Todd done with a TOTAL of 10 performers, who not only made up the cast, but also made up the orchestra. Well the cast recording is finally out and I have to say, WOW. This really works! Here is a cast breakdown from the internet broadway database (great site for those that doent know about it).

    Opening Night Cast

    Michael Cerveris
    Guitar, Orchestra Bells, Percussion Sweeney Todd
    Patti LuPone
    Tuba, Orchestra Bells, Percussion Mrs. Lovett
    John Arbo
    Bass Jonas Fogg
    Donna Lynne Champlin
    Accordion, Keyboard, Flute Pirelli
    Diana DiMarzio
    Clarinet Beggar Woman
    Manoel Felciano
    Violin, Clarinet, Keyboard Tobias Ragg
    Alexander Gemignani
    Keyboard, Trumpet The Beadle
    Mark Jacoby
    Trumpet, Orchestra Bells, Percussion Judge Turpin
    Benjamin Magnuson
    Cello, Keyboard Anthony Hope
    Lauren Molina
    Cello, Penny Whistle Johanna

    These are the ONLY musicians in the show. There is NO pit orchestra. It's pretty neat the way different performers play on different songs.

    And Patti actually does play tuba, and does a pretty good job at it.

    they have a woman play Pirelli??????
    I conducted Sweeney for a run a few years ago, and I can honestly say it's one of my favourite musical/vocal works, including all the operas I know. Somehow, though, I just can't imagine paring it down that way. I'll take your word for it that it still works.

  7. #7

    Re: Arranging and Orchestrating the Modern Musical

    Okay, here goes. (Deep breath. This will be long.)

    Contemporary musical orchestration is a combination of classical and film score techniques and rock and roll (or pop) writing. Generally the classical/film side of the orchestrations is not as elaborate as those genres however because, A: You won't likely be writing for a 40-100 piece orchestra and B: You can't overwhelm your singers. Even mic'd they will be drowned out by such a huge sound.

    Start with a small ensemble, making careful choices about what flavor you're going for based on the show's theme. An example orchestra might be:

    3 Violin 1
    2 Violin 2
    1 Viola
    2 Cello
    1-2 Basses

    1 Flute
    1 Clarinet
    1 Bass Clarinet

    1-2 Trumpets (depending on the importance of brass)
    2-4 horns (depending on importance of Brass)
    2 Trombones (one bass one Tenor)

    1 Keyboard
    Percussion (maybe 3 or 4 players)
    (other: guitar/bass guitar/harp Dependant of flavor and needs)

    That would be 20-30 players on the high end which is getting to be a fairly big pit, especially for a local show. You might need to cut back on some of the doublings or get rid of things you won't use (or replace them with something else)

    Then, I would begin by laying out the songs in a very basic order and consider flavor. Decide of flavor. ("This one will be soft and slow. This will be rock-n-rollish. This will be light-hearted and rhythmic and dance-like. Etc., etc...")

    If you're using midi, put all the vocal parts in with strings. If you're just scoring, write the vocal parts out.

    Then, for ochestration, begin with the bass parts and put in a basic part for all the songs. Then consider where that bass might make it too heavy and remove it or move it to a higher cello or horns or something. Try to make your bass parts interesting and not just playing the root of the chord throughout (though sometimes this may be appropriate). Experiment with ostinato riffs and arpeggios and different rhythms or pulses to make it interesting (depending on the song and the needed flavor).

    Secondly add percussion. Your show will take on a contemporary flavor with percussion. Throw in drum fills where you need intensity. Depending on the style of musical you can use rock/jazz percussion (back-beats) or just use fills with toms. You might use a ton of timpani (my preference...yes, I'm a timpani addict) or you might use bongos or whatnot (once again depending on flavor.) Don't be afraid of being unconventional here. There's nothing saying you can't have someone bang on a empty gas-can if that's what you want. Make it appropriate to the song/musical though.

    Then add instrumental rhythm parts. This will fill a great portion of the 'accompaniment' part of the orchestrations. This would be like stacatto quarter notes with string or woodwinds, long whole notes with brass for depth, arpeggios, scales, or even ostinatos. Don't think that this part necessarilly has to be 'rythmic'. We'll just call it the rhythm part to set it apart from the melody, bass, etc. This can be a single instrument, a single family in chords, or different families (as long as they work together) in unison or chords. (Note: your bass and rhythm parts might create and oompa, oompa sort of sound, for example, if you put the bass on the down beats and string hits on the off beats.) Once again, be creative. Do interesting things with the rhythms here. Sometimes simple is good and will work, but if the whole musical is overly simple in it's orchestral rhythm it will come across as naive even to the lay person.

    Next, decide where you want the strings or another instrument (flute, horn) to duplicate the vocal parts. Copy and paste that.

    Then add pads. Usually you would use strings for this. High drawn out notes where you need them. But you can also use horns or brass or even woodwinds, though keep in mind that they have to breath. You don't always need this so be selective.

    Then add counterparts. Counterpart your melodies. Counterpart your bass. Counterpart your rhythm and even counterpart your counterparts. Don't think technical counterpoint technique here. Just write offsetting rhythms. Use any instrument that suits your fancy and the nature of the piece here. Once again, you don't need these everywhere. Add them for intensity or on a 3rd verse. Don't 'over' orchestrate with these (unless you just can't help it, of course.)

    Lastly, your instrumental fills. Listen to the song and where appropriate (breaks in singing, intense moments, whatever) add trumpet blast, flute runs, string runs, cymbal rolls and all the stuff that send those low-brow tingles down our spines.

    Of course, use your ear. If something doesn't sound right fix it or get rid of it.

    Some other techniques: tremolos and trills. These can be used for effect a lot in musicals and work really well. Scary, shimmery, pensive. These things work great and are easy to write. You can put a tremolo bass under a vocal part with nothing more (for a bit) to great effect.

    Don't go crazy where people sing. Keep it pretty minimalistic and then go crazy if you want to at the interludes. Be aware of your singers throughout. You can mic a modern musical, so it's not super sensitive, but you still don't want to put ff brass and timpani over a solo vocal part as a general rule.

    To recap:

    6 basic parts

    Melody (Usually sung)
    Rhythm (instrumental and percussive)

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