It can sometimes be difficult to muster up the enthusiasm needed to get on with the task of orchestrating, especially when only at bar 89 or so out of 400. Just as when writing anything large, there can be moments when it feels as if the work will never be done. I think that I have made a rod for my own back in some respects in telling myself that I will sit down and spend two hours on orchestrating on a morning, when the real likelihood is that shorter sessions are much more productive. I have read many times that the brain can only operate at full capacity for 40 minutes or so before performance begins to dip, and, when writing out a full score, whether by hand or on a computer, the repetitiveness of the task can lead to silly errors. I see them in my scores and I also see them in scores by other writers.

I read The Art of Concentration recently in an attempt to navigate the choppy waters of working for oneself, and have adopted many of its ideas.  Thus, today I have broken up my work into more manageable chunks, so that I was even beginning to enjoy myself by the end of the morning, especially as the end of the piece hove into sight. This is still very much the first draft of the orchestration, so it will need refining, rewriting and rigorous proofing, but I am currently at bar 319 of the 400 odd, and the remaining material is derived from the opening, so can be extrapolated from there. Best of all, I might even hit my target of the 10th for getting the work finished in version one, which will give me plenty of time to leave it, come back to it and smooth out any rough edges before it needs to be submitted for its competition. If I can get the first orchestral draft finished by Saturday, I should be nicely on track, and I think I may even be running early at the moment.

I imagine that the process of orchestrating is similar to the way a painter views colour. The piece exists already as music, but the timbres and hues are only set when the work is adapted for orchestra. With the advent of programs such as Sibelius, a composer can have a passable idea these days of how a work will sound with the various instruments, whereas beforehand there was only the imagination on which to rely, unless you were fortunate enough to have a captive orchestra. For all the good Sibelius does, however, it cannot come even close to matching what one hears in the flesh, and I am always on the look out – or should that be the listen out? – for combinations of instruments I can, ahem, borrow. I studied orchestration as an option for Finals at Oxford, and am glad I did. I like to think myself reasonably proficient at the task.

All in all, though, I am not convinced yet that this orchestral piece is any good. It will be sent off for its competition and, in all likelihood, sent back somewhere along the line, but I am keenly aware that there are areas where I have not hammered out the best solution, and others where I am feeling my way a little. That is a good thing, however, for the ideas and conundrums (conundra?) will ferment in the back of my mind and what solutions may arrive will manifest themselves in my next instrumental work. That work will not be too far away, either, for the commission for the Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir is next on my ‘to do’ list, but after that I have my eye on another competition, and am already looking forward to tackling the same problems in a new an more secure way, but in 40 minute sessions of work, most likely.

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