Diary of an Orchestrator – Mission Estate Concert project, days 6 & 7

Thursday, 16 January

9:42 p.m. after a long day. It’s good to get back to this journal after a few days off, somewhat enforced. After leaving Collingwood, I dropped in on a composer friend of mine who lived not too far from there, around the Tasman Bay area where the weather was a bit nicer. There really was no way to work as a houseguest, so I took some hard-earned vacation time. Returning to Wellington on Sunday night meant taking the polluted if cute and family-run Bluebridge Ferry. It took about a day to clear my head of lingering diesel fumes, and another day to see a doctor about my eyes, which had just not been getting any better. Turns out I’ve got a blocked tear duct under my lower left eyelid, which has been grinding around and prolonging my conjunctivitis. So it really wasn’t until yesterday morning that I was able to start back in again on my scoring for the Mission Estate Concert.

These arrangements are going fast – about 1-2 days apiece, or an average of 10 hours per score for first draft. Right now, I’ve got the house completely to myself for about a week, and I’m hoping I can get the bulk of the job behind me within that time. Still waiting on the last three songs that are my share of the 30-song programme – hopefully I’ll get word about them in time to fit them into this window.

As for today, I finished Melanie C’s “Never Be The Same Again.” That was a big score, made especially welcome by being virgin territory. I could add my own ideas from a completely fresh start, without worrying about the artist listening for accustomed cues from another arrangement or what have you. So I went full-scale, with big, towering textures where I could add them. The thing about arranging like this is to measure the cumulative emotional energy of the performance at any given point – and then judge how the orchestra can help bring meaning and energy into the existing band arrangement.

Three different takes on a chorus: harmonized melody, octave melody, and support by power brass.
Three different takes on a chorus: harmonized melody, octave melody, and support by power brass.

Case in point – I varied the approach in most of the choruses, so they didn’t all sound the same, and even more so gained intensity as the song progressed. The first chorus had a harmonized melody with winds doubling strings over an Alberti pattern in cello and harp and support from the horns. The second chorus added towering octaves along the same lines – but the third chorus had most of the orchestra play the pattern while the brass played a very Motown-like support of the vocal line.

One of the cool things about these choruses is that they end in little 8-bar post-chorus vamps, which were very fun to orchestrate. I especially liked the chance to let the brass work out a bit in these places. All the same, I intentionally stayed far away from the Jools Holland arrangement that’s up on YouTube. Take it or leave it, this score is all my own.

Screaming trumpet solo
Screaming trumpet solo

I stuck to the song structure as used in her last major tour, except that I added a 16-bar trumpet solo and orchestra break between the 3rd and 4th choruses. It’s a bit of a gamble, really, because Mel C might nix the idea and then I’d have to toss some fun bars and do a quick cut-and-paste over it. Or it could be that I’m asking too much of the trumpet player, with a screaming solo that goes up to high G. But I know the players for Auckland Philharmonia are brilliant, and they can probably handle it, especially as I made the approach pretty easy. It could also be played by a peashooter Bb piccolo trumpet without much difficulty. So I’m not too worried in either case.

After finishing up the score, I took a walk down into Wellington, ate some so-so sushi, and watched the latest Hobbit film again – or rather, listened to it again, and heard a lot of friends and neighbors playing on the soundtrack. I really felt there was no difference in quality or commitment between the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s contribution on this installment and the London Symphony Orchestra’s on the first. If anything, it was more personal of a sound, while still being world-class. And it was more personal for me to recognize mates playing solos here or there, who’d played some of my compositions over the years. It’s motivating me to ensure that some upcoming proposals for recording and performing don’t fall by the wayside again as they’ve done in years past.

After about 90 minutes of HFR 3D, though, my eyes started to hurt again. It brought me back to the realization that I’ll have to carefully ration what I do with my eyes in my spare time over the next couple weeks as this project wraps up. I’ll need my vision to be at its best when I work, so maybe I should lay off the movie-watching and intense book-reading I usually do over the summer.

Speaking of which, I seem to be running on visual vapors by now, so I’ll sign off, with hopes of starting and finishing the next song in one day. I could do this next one easy if I start early enough. And so to bed.

Thomas Goss is a professional composer and orchestrator with an international roster of clients. He has worked with such talents as Billy Ocean, Melanie C, Sharon Corr, and Nikki Yanofsky. His compositions, orchestrations, and crossover arrangements have been performed by such ensembles as Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony Chamber Ensemble.

Thomas lives and works in Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife Erica and son Charlie, and one very unappreciative cat.

One thought on “Diary of an Orchestrator – Mission Estate Concert project, days 6 & 7

  1. Reading this- really got me excited about what it must be like to be a professional composer and take commisions; and after I copied the notes for winds and brass and heard them I recognized my disdain for pop music was stupidity and probably arrogance.Now I can be free to see imaginative thinking wherever it might be. Mr.Goss you are changing my life and enlargening my world :now I feel emboldened enough to tackle the Schumann excerpt challenge!

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