George McKay turns the table on most orchestration manuals, by getting all the ranges, registers, breathing, bowing, and other hard details of instrumentation over and done with in 34 tersely written pages – and then following this with a generous, 177-page treatise on the theory and philosophy of orchestration. As a theorist and philosopher myself, I don’t necessarily share all his conceptualisations – and yet there’s solid, usable advice and information. The biggest thing this book will do for an orchestrator is to tell them how to organise and categorise their thoughts about texture, and such a simple and direct approach is desperately needed. Like William Lovelock’s answer to Gordon Jacob, the publication of this book was a gamble, betting on the hope that its new, radical approach to thinking about orchestration would become the new norm for university instruction. With that in mind, the book is organised around a series of exercises and assignments, all of which would be immensely useful for the student orchestrator. But like most such gambles, this one didn’t win the toss scholastically, and therefore it’s a rare book. So if you want to buy it, act quickly – there are a few, scant copies available for sale on the internet, some of these priced far beyond any reasonable budget for an actual working musician. See if your library owns a copy first.

UPDATE – a subscriber has very kindly pointed out that McKay’s estate has now published many of his compositions and writings on music. Please click through the link to order his book.