V.com weekend vote: Do You Feel Comfortable Arranging Music?

November 12, 2023, 3:21 PM · Sometimes a friend or relative will ask if you can play their favorite song - and that favorite song is seldom a movement from your most recent concerto, or an orchestral excerpt...

sheet music

Do you see where I'm going with this?

If someone wants to hear "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or "All of Me" or "Amazing Grace" or even "Happy Birthday" - it's nice to be able to grant their wish.

Is that something you are able to do?

When I was about 10 years old I felt really confident about my ability to do this. I'd "take requests" at family gatherings and stumble my way through various tunes from musicals, etc. I was happily oblivious to the quality of the results!

I'm now considerably older and a little wiser. I'm better at playing by ear, but also I've learned the value of a good arrangement. Arrangements can be very helpful in getting through weddings, funerals and other events where people request particular songs. Sometimes those songs are so personally meaningful - it feels really bad to say, "No, we have our book of tunes, we don't take requests."

After years of chasing down such arrangements, though, I've come to the conclusion that it sure would be nice to be able to do that myself.

So now I am finally dipping my toe into this "arranging thing." Over the last few months I've been taking some teacher enrichment classes in arranging and composing as a part of a Creative Music Literacy series. The classes are designed especially for Suzuki teachers, and they are taught by LA-based violin/viola teachers Carrie Salisbury and Michael McLean (who you may know for his many arrangements for violin - fun stuff like tango duets!).

Carrie and Michael have shown us some great ways to introduce theory concepts, and in learning how to teach this stuff to my students, I'm learning a lot for myself!

At this point, I can say I am beginning to be comfortable doing a small-scale arrangement. This made me curious, do most people feel comfortable making arrangements, or is it an area where violinists could use a little help?

Do you transcribe music for yourself (or others) to play? Do you arrange it for several instruments? For violin and piano? For orchestra? How often do you write transcriptions? Or is it something you simply haven't done very much? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts and experiences in regard to transcriptions.

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November 12, 2023 at 09:46 PM · Arranging music is just like arranging furniture in your front room. Hector Berlioz was a better orchestrator than composer.

November 13, 2023 at 12:13 AM · I used to arrange old tunes for my quartet or trio to play when we did wedding gigs. I don't do those any more, but I do arrange tunes for myself and my young students to play. The kids seem to like them. I know this wasn't the question, but I often compose little dance tunes, but hesitate to call myself a "composer".

November 13, 2023 at 12:28 AM · As from Daughter of Ralph Matesky, acclaimed Arranger of Symphonic Music for under College Strings/Brass/Winds ~

Elisabeth Matesky, Violin Apostle of Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, Composer EM Cadenza to after 2nd Mvt of Beethoven Violin Concerto, {recorded in Live Performance endorsed by NM}

On Occasion, Arranger, cum 'Editor' of major Chamber Music Repertoire, aka, Brahms Horn Trio! {#3}

What an intriguing Subject raised by Editor, Laurie Niles regarding becoming one's own Arranger for Special Requests Ballads, Fav Songs, aka, 'Happy Birthday', Ave Maria, & ^ "If I Were a Rich Man" {which I did and in a rare Live Walk About here in Chicago Hospital NWM for Hospice Patents with AIDES and 1 close to departing this World Patient, who hadn't moved or opened his eyes or even spoken for 3 Weeks, managed to request, and one, 'On The Spot' arranged a Solo Violin Offering of "If I Were a Rich Man" for a truly dying from Aides Patient, whom I was told had not exhibited any Signs of Wanting to Live for all the Weeks afore mentioned, yet when I managed to play my Impromptu EM Arrangement he began,

after a bit to start taping one of his fingers on a hospital tray over his bed, then 2 then 3 & then came a never expected Smile on his very pursed lips and the opening of his eyes with happiness ... r i p

I have never forgotten this Event in both our Lives, and thanked my Father's, Both, Earthly Poppa and Heavenly Father, many times over for the Gift of arranging which I watched almost daily in our

own LA home growing up with Dad at the Piano & Momma then on the Piano performing his Arrangements of some of our treasured Symphonic Masterpieces or Movements of from a Brahms or a Beethoven or Mozart Symphony and made playable for those less advanced in the Public Schools of Suburban Los Angeles, yet nevertheless, all made authentically Beautiful and True to the Composer's Score, which helped me take courage to Impromptu jump in and arrange a piece or Chamber Music Trio, i.e., Brahms' Horn Trio and in only a few minutes during our being Filmed for PBS TV WFMT Fine Arts Classical Radio Station 98.7 FM, with my colleagues, The Principal Horn of the Solti/CSO {Chicago Symphony Orchestra} Famed Dale Clevenger, and fine Chicago Pianist, Gerald Rizzer, Pianist. The TV Producer was getting impatient, and Clevenger asked me, "How are you going to do it so none know we disturbed the theme, Liz?" I nodded to him it was okay saying I was 'sewing the seams of the Theme together which might not even be noticed to not interfere with the flow of the main Theme of the Brahms Horn Trio Scherzo!" It worked, and All involved including Studs Terkel, Chicago famed Ranconteer; and others In Studio, were happily delighted including my stellar Horn Colleague, Dale Clevenger, fabled Principal Horn of Solti's with his Southern Drawl hugging me and Thanking yours truly!

Our Brahms Horn Trio Scherzo TV 'Short' went out & actually Won the NYC Best TV Commercial of Year, 1986, and WFMT Fine Arts Classical Radio 98.7 FM Bosses were thrilled with their First Ever Television Commercial promoting WFMT's Classical Music Radio Station and a Sister Station of London's BBC Radio & Television!!! We were surprised & I felt delighted with 'me-self' feeling good about my sudden swift ability to fuse the main Themes of Brahms' fabled Scherzo Mvt in his Horn Trio into mini 45 seconds of Truth Brahms!!!

As Editor of Violinist.com, Laurie Niles, writes, becoming your own Arranger to not disappoint those with Favorites & at Parties; plus Family gatherings; Restaurant 'Gigs', & even more formal Concert Hall Impromptu Requests for Encores if presenting a major Violin or String Cousin Recital, is beyond good and very often, Saves The Day and The Event with Glee amid Joy!!! Happy Thanksgiving to All ~

Happy to Remember Personal Mentions Above, it is a Perfect Time to bring this up on V.com!!!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Elisabeth Matesky ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fwd ~ dmg

November 13, 2023 at 12:46 AM · I've been composing and arranging music longer than I've been playing string instruments -- my musical training is mostly piano and composition, and I also played low brass before switching to strings at the end of high school.

My composing has fallen off a lot as my viola playing commitments have increased (I last finished a piece in 2009), and I can't say I do that much arranging and transcribing because I only do it when I have a reason for it, maybe once or twice a year recently. But I'm fairly comfortable writing for most instruments in the orchestra. (I still have trouble with harp and with percussion other than timpani.) When orchestras were interrupted by the pandemic, I arranged a number of things for virtual string ensemble performances, some of which happened and some of which didn't.

November 13, 2023 at 01:02 AM · I've never really arranged music before, but it is certainly something I can try to work on doing, having experiencing composing stuff from scratch, yet, I've never done arranging before.

November 13, 2023 at 01:09 AM · P.S. @Victor Quintana ~ Sir!!! {#6} ~

As a Veteran Violinist both in a major Symphony Orchestra, aka, Solti's Chicago Symphony Orchestra and as as internationally recognized Violin Soloist having studied as 1 of only 7 original Artist Pupil's of Jascha Heifetz's First International Violin Master Class, subsequently filmed now on YouTube on Heifetz Official, and other sites foreign, plus the First Private 'Guinea Pig Pupil of Heifetz' quote Nathan Milstein, for 3.5 years in Mr. Milstein's London home, cum Studio, and Help-Assist to Nathan Milstein's Debut 'Nathan Milstein International Violin Master Course/s' in Zurich, Summer of 1970 to 1972, then 'On Standby' throughout the 1970s due one's return to the US to professionally concertize and Teach at Syracuse University School of Music subbing for Louis Krasner, US Violinist and who premiered the Alban Berg Violin Concerto in NYC to grand acclaim, taking Professor Krasner's Violin Studio of 22 pupil's teaching them while he was on a much earned sabbatical, I do know the Orchestral literature, having performed the premier work of Hector Berlioz, and with all due respect think Berlioz was one of the most Grand Composers of All Time and also a marvellous Orchestrator!!! His Symphonie Fantastique is unquestionably a Marvel of French Poetry and the Bizarre of The Time yet it Stands most Tall in the Major Symphonic Repertoire to this Writing on 12 November 2023!!!

Thank you for this opportunity to support the Musical Composition of Hector Berlioz with a degree of not educated knowledge but First Hand having both performed & ache-loved his Symphonie Fantastique!!!

Ref: V.com; https:www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

~ Yours most faithfully from Chicago, USA ~

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Elisabeth Matesky ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fwd ~ dmg

November 13, 2023 at 01:40 AM · I've a feeling that our dear Elizabeth just might be a competent arranger (This was posted just before I saw her second post. I agree Berlioz was a great composer, but I don't think he generally achieves the emotional intensity I would expect from one with his aims)!

I've never composed or arranged for more than 7 or 8 instruments, so I only voted "a few", but I don't thik I'd be overmuch daunted if I were called upon to arrange or compose for more. Two or three of my arrangements were too demanding for the people actually playing, but some worked just fine, particularly the ones I did in and just after my schooldays.

My father arranged the Mozart 1 solo part for viola (possibly for an audition?) a long time ago, and later gave me the manuscript. I'd be unhappy not to share it with the world. What's the easiest way to go about it? Laurie, can v.com help?

November 13, 2023 at 03:42 AM · Here is the link to the class I've been taking: click here - it has been so downright practical, encouraging and helpful.

By the way, Elizabeth, the first ensemble music that I ever played in my life was at my public school, from your father's book "Learn to Play in the Orchestra." Those arrangements made me fall in love with the orchestra!

November 13, 2023 at 08:16 AM · I know nothing about woodwind instruments but over the years have arranged many piano works (and piano transcriptions of orchestral works) for string quartet or string orchestra.

November 13, 2023 at 08:38 AM · Brava Elisabeth! Here's another vote for Berlioz. Just spend five minutes looking at the harmonies of the 'Adieu des Bergers' for a glimpse of his originality, both in composition and orchestration.

November 13, 2023 at 04:56 PM · I love arranging music, especially when it allows me to write for two obscure instruments that I play: the viola and the classical guitar.

November 13, 2023 at 09:00 PM · Abilities that you need all depends upon your job, unless you are seeking personal growth and satisfaction. Finale Print Music is an excellent writing and arranging computer program. You are able to hear, transpose, change to any(size or type) instrumentation, etc. instantly. Voicing/harmonization are the most important factors. For example in a C chord, C & E could be a third or a sixth. Avoid C & G as a fourth or a fifth, unless for a particular period style or effect.

Orchestral players need to prepare the music. Improvisation, composing, arranging, etc. are not necessary skills. However, educational programs and demonstrations could be more effective with these skills. Weddings in this new generation where the customers are clueless to music can be a challenge. Asking for songs that are performed by a band and expecting a solo violin to sound the same is ridiculous!!! When explained to them that it will not work, they make it look like you are incompetent or unqualified. Fortunately, I have the skills to listen to a YouTube video and arrange it for anything. If you can’t do this well, clarify from the start that you/group play only a certain genre.

I also provide (after the contract is signed with a deposit) a list of pieces/songs with short demos to facilitate selection. Playing Classical, Ethnic, Jazz, arranging, etc. opens up more opportunities. If I don’t feel comfortable with certain requests, I recommend another group/band or a DJ.

November 13, 2023 at 09:39 PM · I am not a skilled arranger by any measure. But I can sometimes write a nice violin obligato for a familiar song. (I have written them for "The Water is Wide" and "Long Time Ago.") It's amazing how adding the obligato to something written for just voice and piano can really make it come alive.

November 15, 2023 at 06:32 AM · I would not use the word "comfortable", but I have done arranging, for the local orchestra pops concerts or small bands. Singers frequently need custom arrangements, in a different key, for the instruments that are available. The proper arrangements heard on recordings are either not available or too expensive. For me it is hard work, like doing stone sculpture with only wood chisels. I hear things in my head that don't work with the real notes on the piano. For wedding requests the customers can be clueless and unreasonable. The only thing worse than that is at my Mariachi jobs where the client will find something on you-tube that they want us to play,- one day before or right at the event. If the lead trumpet knows it and one of the singers knows it, the rest of us fake something.

November 16, 2023 at 02:31 PM · Mark, how do so many jokes get made about something that is OBSCURE (Doubtless, you've answered this question soemwhere in your string theory publications - You wouldn't have left out viola strings, would you)?

November 16, 2023 at 08:59 PM · I have made many arrangements, mostly for violin and piano and have composed some ditties. I recently performed my most ambitious arrangement - “Leyenda” by Albinez. Originally for piano and more popular in the guitar arrangement, I arranged it for unaccompanied violin.

It was doubly challenging: in the actual arranging I had to change the key to make it work well for violin. So I had to do the math with every note! And it’s challenging to play, including a lot of left and right hand pizzicato.

I explained this to the audience and it went over well. I got a lot of good feedback including one person who said “thanks for doing the math!”

November 17, 2023 at 10:21 AM · I feel comfortable arranging for any number of instruments, many or few, so I voted

"feel comfortable making arrangements with multiple instruments"

thinking that this will also include the other options.

On the music school where I work I have made countless number of arrangements both for small ensembles and big ones. I love making these arrangements. Besides being a music teacher I am also a composer, so it is in my DNA, so to speak, to work both with arrangements and composition.

November 19, 2023 at 07:41 PM · Arranging for violin. In the late 20th century, I came up with my own arrangements, in double-stops, of some tunes singer-songwriter Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. - known professionally as John Denver - had recorded and made world famous. I never wrote out any of these arrangements but had fun doing them by ear back then - especially in big empty rooms with good acoustics.

I admire the talent and skill of musicians who can take a whole piece someone else has written and then arrange it for multiple instruments. There are times I’ve heard a catchy arrangement first - before hearing the original score on which the adapter based the arrangement. One example: Johann Strauss Jr.’s Quadrille on Themes from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball). I first heard the Quadrille about halfway through high school and liked it right away. A few years later, during my degree program, I studied the opera itself on my own time - not part of my syllabus. Strauss puts together 5-6 minutes of excerpts from the opera - mostly lighter, brighter elements - hardly a hint of what a dark, tragic story this is. Verdi considered Strauss one of his most gifted colleagues. Check out this rendition of the Quadrille I came across a few days ago - run time 6:00:


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