Diary of an Orchestrator – Mission Estate Concert project, day 9

Saturday, 18 January

I’ve been so absorbed for the past few days that I forgot to submit my bimonthly article to New Zealand Musician Magazine. Hopefully they won’t notice and let it slide until Monday. But I’m always forgetting little deadlines and such when I’m this committed to a big one.

It’s only about quarter past eight, but I’m stopping for the evening. It’s been an inspirational day. The whole time I’ve been waiting to see what my last three songs would be for this project (having committed to a minimum of 10 out of 30 arrangements). Well, today I found out, in a sort of mounting cascade of excitement. First the music director gave me “We Could Be Lovers” by Sharon Corr, an artist for whom I’ve gained a lot of respect over the past couple weeks. I liked the song – it’s pretty cool, low-key, and in one of my favorite oddball key signatures, G# minor. Just when I’d got finished evaluating that song, the next e-mail informed me that I was assigned “Mna Na Heireann”, a traditional folk ballad in an instrumental version once again by Sharon Corr – this time as violinist. I was ordered (willingly) to expand the texture and scope of the arrangement, which is essentially orchestral already but with band instruments and synths. I got pretty stoked by this, and found it to be my favorite so far of all the songs I’d been given.

And then I got the plum – Melanie C’s version of “Both Sides Now.”

I don’t see how I could have been given a better three songs, and especially that last one, which is a piece of personal and cultural history. Transcribing it today, I got back in touch with what was so special about the song as composed by the great Joni Mitchell – its simplicity, poignancy, and directness, all about emotional ambiguity and growth. And there was something else, made evident by the transcription, one of the hallmarks of a brilliantly crafted song: its adaptability to other artists. In this case, Mel C had worked very hard to personalize the flow of melody and the emotional arcs, while yet being respectful of the original intent of its composer. My esteem for her gifts has developed as well. Getting on the inside of music like this and hearing all its nuances and inner connections, and the way in which those are given life, really illustrates that pop can be virtuosic in its own way.

I pretty much binned the idea of scoring the Billy Ocean today, though I did spend a couple hours carefully transcribing its vocal lines and chord changes as the reference staff for the score (as I also did with “Both Sides Now” and “We Could Be Lovers.” I’ll save it for two days from now when I have one long uninterrupted day to score. Tomorrow, I’m walking to gym again, so I’ll score “We Could Be Lovers” then, because I’m pretty sure I could score the whole thing in a morning before I set out.

Endless subdivisions! This great Sharon Corr song was mild, Billy Ocean and Mel C went even further.

Endless subdivisions! This great Sharon Corr song was mild, Billy Ocean and Mel C went even further.

Anyhow, what all these songs had were endless subdivisions! Anticipations, delays, offbeats that fall anywhere, even on the downbeat (which happens a lot, actually). One might wonder why I’d take the time to work these out. The reasons are: a.) because I like to really connect the conductor to the flow of the band, and b.) I get a lot of great rhythmic ideas, and can connect them visually on the page. Also, c.) because I can, and I know that the score is not going to be misinterpreted because of anything I left out.

So an early night tonight, and no entertainment requiring visual acuity! Then on to Sharon Corr’s moody ballad about temptation when I wake up, hopefully before dawn.

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