Another day and another bout of arranging and writing, this time with the saxophonist with whom I have been collaborating for the past few months. Every time I see him there seems to be another project on the horizon, and I have to say that I am enjoying our work very much.
Our sessions are normally four hours long, and we work without taking a break, effectively and efficiently, throwing ideas back and forth, leaping between computers, laptop, piano and saxophone until we get an idea just right. It is invigorating and exciting work, but also draining, and the one day we agreed to push on into a fifth hour found us both completely out of ideas and energy within ten minutes of making that decision.
He is off on tour in the middle of the month with somebody who is quite well known abroad (but near anonymous here), which is why we have been cramming in the work over the past few days – four hours on Saturday, tweaking and corrective work by me on Sunday, four hours on Monday and so on. Our latest piece is sounding pretty frisky, though, given that this time last week it was just barely the outline of a melody.
One of the happier by-products of all those hours spent in bands over the years is that when I now play air drums or air bass I have some kind of vague idea of what works or not. In some respects this also applies to air guitar, although I have never really sat down the learn the instrument.
It tickles me that this is much the same as what Bill Ives, my tutor at Oxford, used to do in our orchestration lessons, dancing around while miming some instrument or other, only to pronounce that a certain passage was tricky or – more rarely – just right. I have never forgotten those lessons, and still use many of the things that Bill taught me.
Some might well say that bass guitar, drums, backing vocals and the like are not true orchestration, but I would have to disagree. Orchestration is about writing idiomatically and effectively, and that comes from a knowledge of the instrument concerned, qualities that are as effective when applied to the bass guitar or the drum kit as to a string section.