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Topic: Cello: To Double or Not

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  1. #1

    Cello: To Double or Not

    I'm trying to polish off my score for the musical theater. Once again, I am having trouble with my string section. The problem, as always, is too few instruments (in this case 5, not counting the string bass). Assuming that the strings will be amplifed and, therefore, volume will not be a consideration, the main problem is how to make it sound full in the bigger numbers. So, I am once again re-thinking the makeup of the section.

    I am now considering using three violins and two cellos. This type of combo has been used before in musicals. The three amplified violins in unison over (or under) reeds, or doubled with a single reed, sounds okay. So does using it as the lead voice on organ pads. They also work well divided, in the softer numbers, adding a lot to he harmony.

    A single cello in either scenario works well. But sometimes I need two for chords that are too low. Considering the number of changes, having the cello play double stops in those cases would probably be too difficult and cumbersome.

    So, since I need two cellos, I am wondering if it makes sense to have the second cello lay out when I only have one lower voice. That would leave the second cellist with a very small part to play in the score. I know, in other shows, the second cellist simply doubles the first, in unison, when the second lower voice isn't needed. Some B'way orchestrators tell me that this is fine. Others say, don't double two string instruments in unison, ever (i.e. it's better to go with a single voice, even if it sounds thin). In some numbers I have the string bass doubling a single cello line at the octave. Again, I wonder if I shouldn't use two cellos in unison doubled by the bass below, to give them equal weight.

    I'd like to hear a few more opinions about this before making up my mind. What are the pros and cons. Are the Thanks.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    Balancing forces, especially in a limited pit, is always a problem.

    If your full instrumentation includes woodwind players who double it might be possible to re-orchestrate that 2nd cello part for bassoon (if the doubler exists!) or bass clarinet (this works fairly well if the tessitura of the 2nd cello part is between the 1st cello and the bassline). Although not a perfect solution. If the bass player (acoustic or electric?) is not involved in that section he could fill in the 2nd cello part.

    Please let us know what solution you use. Good luck.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  3. #3

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    Thanks for the feedback. Actually, I am doing this all ready in some of the numbers -- the fourth reed plays BC or bassoon. But this won't work all the time. In some numbers, I need the fourth reed to play the Bb Clarinet. Sometimes the piece is just goes on for too many measures to assign it to a reed. (When I sing the part, I get out of breath.)

    The bass part is intended for an upright acoustic bass (also amplified). It plays pizz a little more often than arco, but electric isn't right for the period in which the story takes place. I have two electronic keyboards, but the emulate instruments that are hard to detect as electronic (harpsichord, organ, accordian, etc.)

    Back to my original question: what are the pros & cons of using two cellos (vs one) under three violins, in numbers where other instruments are playing and I want a big, full sound?

    Allegro Data Solutions

  4. #4

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    Others say, don't double two string instruments in unison, ever (i.e. it's better to go with a single voice, even if it sounds thin).
    Any reason why this shouldn't be done "ever"? I've never heard of such a rule, and don't really see an objection, especially if you want a full sound.
    (I'm assuming amplification takes care of not only the volume, but also the balance. Otherwise 2 celli + 1 double bass would probably be a bit heavy for 3 violins.)
    BTW, have you considered having one cello play with the violins (i.e. in its higher register) occasionally?

    Han
    Han Suelmann,
    Vista32, GPO4, COMB2, Finale 2009, Reaper, Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB, 2.67 GHz.

  5. #5

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    Back to my original question: what are the pros & cons of using two cellos (vs one) under three violins, in numbers where other instruments are playing and I want a big, full sound?
    With pro players I see no cons to using the two cellos. There's the old joke ("How do you tune two piccolo players? Shoot one!") but this is less of an issue, I would think, if your players are using their ears. Student players may be another issue - but they have to learn sometime!
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  6. #6

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    Consider a viola instead of a 2nd cello. It can play most of the upper cello lines, will bridge and balance the violins & cello, and the unison issue disappears.

  7. #7

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    I have 3 violins, 1 viola, and one cello now. I was thinking of changing the viola to a second cello. I do have the viola going high sometimes, but I'm not crazy about the sound. I have three different solo strings sample libraries. No matter which one I use, the viola seems to stand out a bit too much. It sounds a bit too withdrawn. And it plays much less often than the violins or cello. That's why I was thinking of replacing it with another cello. I thought it might sound better when a lot of other instruments are playing and I have just two string lines (3 violins in unison + 2 cellos in unison).

    Allegro Data Solutions

  8. #8

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    Oh, I didn't know you already had a viola. The prior posts only mentioned the violins.

    With small string groupings, it might be advisable to stay within the established configurations for completeness of sound. So, in this case you have basically the string quartet plus bass. I'm not sure why there's a need for third violin. I suppose for upper divisi type things it could come in handy, but otherwise would upset the string balance or, as you say, frequently leave one of the players with little to do (which is definitely not a good thing in a show setting).

    I realize you're probably after a bigger sound, but a string quartet is a string quartet and is only as big as it is. To make it "bigger", yet maintain texture and balance, roughly everything has to be doubled to a certain point, not just the first violin or the cello, and in any event, not at the expense of having a viola. If anything, I'd remove the extra violin and rewrite the string parts. Then, if the budget comes along, the parts may be doubled or tripled without concern, with the resulting balance and texture sounding even better.

  9. #9

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    The third violin is necessary because the upper string voices go rather high. In a divisi that would put the viola near the top of its range, making it stand out too much (the third voice in the triad overpowering the first). It's also needed for the unisons (3 violins playing a single line). Doubling two violins with a viola just gave too much color to the upper string voices, especially where it goes rather high.

    I can appreciate your point. All I am saying is that I tried it with this particular score and I liked the way three violins sounded more than two violins + a viola. I'd go with three violins and a single cello if I could, but there are several numbers where the rhtyhm is in the low strings and it goes out of violin range sometimes. So, it's either 3 violins in unison over two cellos or drop the third voice (which makes the chord sound incomplete).

    Getting back to my original question, the impression I am starting to get is that, in big numbers, where I have reeds and/ brass playing and two string lines, I should be able to get away with two cellos in unison for the lower voice and three violins on the upper. For passages with just the rhythm section and strings (and maybe one or two solo winds) two or three violins divided with one cello would be better (or three violins in unison over two cellos divisi, if the parts are low). I also think, when I have all the strings play tremelo, two cellos sound better than one under the three violins. But I am just going by what my samples sound like. The point of posting this is to find out if this works in practice.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  10. #10

    Re: Cello: To Double or Not

    If you are judging by samples, the defects you're hearing might not at all be the case when using real instruments. If the show is being done with samples, well that's another consideration.

    It's been my experience that the viola hardly ever sticks out in a live setting, whether the ensemble is small, medium, or large. For one thing, violas purposely underplay and work hard to blend in all situations excepting a marked solo passage. Otherwise, the only time the viola tends to stand out is when it is the top voice of the ensemble, i.e., the violins are tacet or the viola is purposely scored above the violins to make the line more prominent and tense than if the violins were playing it.

    That said, I can appreciate experimenting with other combinations, just don't allow whatever shortcomings with sample libraries lead you astray.

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