orchestration and writing by hand

score bw

I’ve loved orchestrating music for a very long time. As a teenager, I would transcribe and arrange the music from The Legend of Zelda series, and I would beg my high school strings teacher to make the class play my scores. Good times … for me anyway, maybe not so much for them. Ever since, orchestration has been one of my favourite musical activities.

I’m in the process of arranging my own music, for orchestra with guitar solo, and I’ll be playing some of these arrangements with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra next February. Rearranging old work for a new ensemble is challenging but very rewarding. In porting these pieces to orchestra, I’m giving some works a new chance. Take Allons-y! from my first record as an example. I never play it live, because to do it properly I’d need at least five guitarists, ideally seven. Talk about impractical. The original ideas were in a sense “orchestral”, and now the piece has a chance at being performed live through the orchestral medium.

arrangementI used to compose and arrange in Finale. Finale is a pretty neat scoring program, but when I realized it had been negatively affecting my process, I started writing by hand.

I’ve found that scoring programs cause problems because they tempt me to play back incomplete musical thoughts before I’ve had a chance to iron out the feel, the expression, the interaction between layers, the context. The program tells me my ideas are “wrong” before I have a chance to tell it what the whole idea actually is. You could say “but Matt, you know better, just ignore what the program is saying”, but it doesn’t matter what I “know” – nothing kills my creativity faster than being constantly interrupted by little shreds of doubt.

There is something almost magical in writing by hand. There is more investment, more effort, and more joy in every single note, rest, and hairpin when you put ideas to paper in Sharpie pen. I know a lot of writers who feel the same way; these are people who carry around Moleskine journals instead of laptops. Writing by hand makes you pay more attention to the little details in your work, and I think it’s the little details that are the most important.