Diary of an Orchestrator, April 8: Harp Concerto Notes III

9:25 p.m. Currently uploading photographic files to the macProVideo server. mPV got me a license with a royalty-free image company, granting me the ability to download up to 25 shots per day for my orchestration course. It’s not a bad source for certain images – good closeups of orchestral instruments and their players are in abundance. I’ve also found some great shots of concert halls and pipe organs. But there are definitely some very silly photos in abundance: overly made-up models in revealing clothing posed alluringly with violins and cellos (and holding them all wrong). And every single photo of an orchestra is “for editorial purposes only” – a fat lot of good that does me. Oh, well. I’ll see if I can beg a few from some orchestra managers I know.

Anyway, I’ve been downloading 25 images per day for half a month, and tonight I’m uploading them all to the server, as they technically belong to my clients. I’m tempted to throw in a cello-playing supermodel, just to see if they’re paying attention. Last night, after realizing that my insomnia was simply not going to go away, I went through about 350 photographs, organizing them into different sections of the orchestra, then different members of each section, plus related instruments. I really want to show a bit of musical evolution in these courses, like how the violin was developed by merging the shallow body of the rebab with the mechanics of the viol family, for an entirely new sound. 

Had a very interesting chat with one of Hollywood’s top film trailer editors as we drove through Laurel Canyon this afternoon on our way to lunch. She said that the use of orchestral cues in film trailers is almost entirely derivative. Editors need music with simple, effective melodies that build rapidly, and come to a definitive conclusion in 60 to 90 seconds. Clients who approach trailer houses often come around with the notion that they want to “think outside the box” (there is an entire box of ideas that are outside “the box”) – but what generally happens is that the editors will be asked to adjust this, add that, subtract something else, until the client is left with an utterly conventional trailer. And what is that? A mini 3-act story, with fairly predictable hits. Thus the need to be imitative. Cues get reused over and over, like the music from Aliens as the atmospheric reactor explodes – that must have been recycled in action film trailers over a dozen times. And if it’s not the same music, it needs to feel like it – music that pile-drives along, then conveniently freezes so the characters can float in slow-mo for a few seconds a la The 300 or The Matrix.

All the same, film trailer editors have very keen ears, and often subvert the audience’s (and client’s) expectations with music that’s counterintuitive but incredibly compelling. Although many of them work with music editors, who help them come up with samples of different possible cues, in the end the film trailer editor bears the responsibility for fulfilling the contract. And some of these projects are massaged and tweaked in countless ways, trying to portray the film as one genre or another, in attempts to target exactly the right demographic. Apparently the film trailer for 13 To 30 underwent over a dozen different discreet versions before the clients settled on a satisfactory direction for the campaign. This is where having a lot of personal resources such as cultural awareness of trends, a great sense of humor, and a good practical musical ear makes all the difference. It’s not just about flow and pacing.

I promised the last of my conductor’s notes for the harp concerto tonight, so here they are. I’ll just preface them with the information that the conductor’s got back to me, answered several concerns, and passed along others to the orchestra in a group e-mail. I’m truly grateful for the concern that being expressed at every step of the way.

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Movement II

bars 2-4 – maybe a slightly more acute angle to the hairpin dynamics, with the strings fading out a little faster and the clarinet fading in a wee bit sooner.

bar 13 – flute: “fall off” meaning to bend the pitch downward (sorry I wasn’t clearer)

Check tuning at bars 11 and 16.

In general, the bass drum and timpani are feeling a bit too strong, though perhaps the effect was being magnified by the rehearsal space. More of a heartbeat than a knock on the door.

Movement III

figs. F-G & L-M – nicely balanced for the most part, but I’m wondering if the winds can play even just a hair under where they are now, on account of the string section numbers being smaller. Then I think the harp part would be even clearer right here.

figs. M-N – There was something bothering me about that part last rehearsal. Could it possibly be that one of the players is misinterpreting the rhythm there, or coming in late for their cue? I listened hard the second time, and couldn’t quite figure it out, but something felt amiss with the wind soloists.

p. 109 – Christina and I came up with a better way to fill the hole in bars 205-206. I have attached a new last page to the harp solo part, so you can see what that looks like. I wasn’t anticipating such a strong carryover of the sound from bar 204. Could we perhaps kill the last dotted quarter note in all parts but the timpani for that bar?

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At the start of Movement 2, a long note on clarinet slowly emerges from the texture of the strings, then transforms into the same note on bassoon. It worked great in rehearsal, except the clarinet didn’t stand alone at the start long enough as a distinct timbre before the bassoon faded in. As a result, the magic of the slow changeover was lost. Perhaps this could be fixed with a quicker fade by the strings, leaving the clarinet out in the open sooner. Note the term “acute angle” – composers and conductors often discuss the score geometrically to one another, as if it were a series of physical constructions. I guess when one musician is playing one note at a time, that is one pathway going through a landscape. But many musicians and many interrelated pathways form a three-dimensional space – a tunnel, bridge, or hallway rather than a path. Or in the case of J.S. Bach, macramé.

At last Tuesday, our percussion section consisted of one very dedicated player covering 3-4 parts. This may have contributed to a bit of overcompensation in the heartbeat pulse of the kettles and bass drum. I want the audience to feel it more than to hear it, like they’re walking on the deck of some craft, the soles of their feet feeling the trace of some throbbing engine far below the floorboards.

The notes for Movement 3 are pretty self-explanatory, and will probably work themselves out fine in rehearsal. Tomorrow, I’ll drive down from North Hollywood a couple hours before my meeting with the soloist and the conductor, to beat the traffic and also just do a little obligatory hanging out around town while I’m here on the ground. After the meeting, we’ll all go over to the dress rehearsal at the Santa Monica location. I’ll share that with this diary tomorrow night when I get home.

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