Guide to accompaniment (4) Instrumentation/Registration

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Guide to accompaniment (4) Instrumentation/Registration

Post by dmu3tem » Mon Dec 17, 2012 11:30 am

Here is a fourth subtopic: Instrumentation and registration (selection of stops, buttons on Pipe Organ or other Keyboards).
As before feel free to add your own ideas/advice/experience.

Here are some random ideas for starters:

[1] Instrumentation:
(a) With music groups, because you have more players tempi tend to be more rigid to ensure coordination.
(b) Generally I like to hand the melody to one solo line instrument leaving any keyboard accompaniment free to provide a wider variety of rhythms and textures than normally occur when you build everything around a combined melody/keyboard arrangement (as with a four part harmony style hymn). This also makes the melody 'stand out' and makes it easier for the congregation to hear and follow.
(c) Write 'characteristically' for instruments with an eye to clearly differentiated 'colours'.
(d) Taking an existing keyboard arrangement and transcribing its individual lines for other instruments is often unsatisfactory, produces blurred colours and anyway is wasteful - given that the music is already supplied by the keyboard anyway. I always prefer to produce a 'recomposed' arrangement that makes full use of available resources.
(e) Have handy a book on orchestration - there is, of course a difference between scoring for a proffessional standard orchestra and arranging for a smaller mixed ensemble, but such books do give you the ranges, indications of the tone qualities of particular instruments, and some indications of the worst technical 'tiger traps' to avoid (e.g. written Bb above middle C for Clarinets!)
(f) Write out all the parts properly having prepared a full score beforehand. Make sure they contain all the 'bells and whistles' e.g. tempo markings, metronome markings, phrase markings, bar numbers, rehearsal letters, dynamic markings etc. Don't expect transposing instrumentalists to write out parts for themselves. In other words treat instrumentalists with the same respect as you would your choir members! Using a music programme like Sibelius is obviously very handy - if only because you can run off extra copies easily and the music usually looks better produced and easier to read than hand copies. If you copy parts out by hand always check the bar numbers carefully - keep a running tally at the end of each stave - to ensure that no bar has been left out or spurious ones added in.
(g) Don't feel your players should be performing all the time. Give them a chance to rest. This often enables their entries to be more striking 'when they return'. It also reduces the risk of cluttered or muddied sounds. The sin of sins is to write a part for a player merely to 'give them something to do'. Always try to write something special to that instrument and its performer, no matter how basic their technique.

[2] Registration:
(a) Excellent useful basic advice given by Alan Smith in an article of Music and Liturgy a few years ago, especially as regards planning combinations of stops for each verse in a given hymn. Always do this with an eye to the text (this also applies for instrumentation as well). Plan your choice (and coupling) of manuals and pedal board around the availability/or not of a swell pedal and your ability to readily change from one combination of stops to another as desired. As suggested elsewhere it helps to write these down on the score.

(b) Very little is written/published about combining instruments with Pipe Organs; so you will need to work out appropriate techniques 'the hard way' by trial and error backed by experience. A basic 'rule of thumb' is to go for 'complimentary colours' e.g. : Support flutes and Clarinets with Reeds/
e.g. : Support Violins and other strings with Flute stops.

Use mixtures with great caution with other instruments. The same applies to a lesser extent with conventional octave doublings. Generally think of these combinations of stops as producing instrumental colours/textures rather than as functional harmony (but be on the alert for the way such doublings can create unexpected dissonances). In general the safe course is to go for 8' stops.

Be aware that stops that describe themselves as things like 'violins', 'clarinets', 'trumpets', 'oboes' do not produce the same sounds as their originals. In some cases the method of sound production is completely different (e.g. 'strings'). They are only loosely analagous.

(c) With organ registration the effects of doubling and using mixtures produce rival schools of thought. Their protagonists argue that these produce an 'enveloping sound' that 'supports' a congregation. It also gives them their 'cue' about when to start after an introduction or interlude and part singing choirs like it too. In addition it is of course a textural resource that can be used to undeline themes and ideas of particular sets of words. Detractors (for example myself to some degree) think that the 'enveloping' sound sometimes makes it difficult for congregations to 'pick out' the principal melody. This is particularly true when a long echo combined with use of 2', 4', 8' and even 16' combinations produces a 'wall' of sound. In this context note how people with unpractised musical ears often sing out notes a fourth or fifth up or down (or at one of the other fundamental tones that make up a note) from the actual pitch, especially at the start of a piece they do not know. With material that congregations know well this sort of thing is less of a problem and a 'supporting sound' and variety of textures can be used for its own aesthetic sake effectively.

(d) With electronic keyboards the most basic thing is to distinguish clearly between instruments that are/are not touch sensitive and those that have a sustaining pedal.

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Re: Guide to accompaniment (4) Instrumentation/Registration

Post by alan29 » Mon Dec 17, 2012 11:44 am

I was taught to "play over" using only 8 and 4 foot stops, manuals only.
No reeds or mixtures in Lent.
With a group I tend to play over on the K/B.
With a strong congregation there is no need for anyone to play the melody as the piece progresses.
Tuning, tuning, tuning comes first.

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