Some Thoughts on Arranging

Though we are fortunate as horn players to have lots of great original music, arrangements – specifically those we create ourselves – also hold an important place in the repertoire.  The process of arranging teaches us not only about our instrument, but also the originally intended medium.  In addition, we gain insight into the craft of composition and a composer’s style, which we can then use in our own compositions (if we choose to).  J.S. Bach famously arranged works by Vivaldi, which resulted in the incorporation of many “Vivaldian” elements into Bach’s own unique style.  And last, but not least, arranging creates new repertoire for the horn.  If you’ve always wanted to play a great piece for cello (or violin, or clarinet, or whatever), arrange it.  If the arrangement works, and the original piece is in the public domain, consider having it published, or publishing it yourself.  I started arranging more or less out of necessity, hoping to generate some more possibilities for our faculty brass trio.  We had plenty of 20th-century repertoire, but had a difficult time finding any music from earlier eras – I’m talking about arrangements of earlier music, since original music for trumpet/horn/trombone from before 1900 is virtually nonexistent.  The pieces fit brass instruments pretty well, and I ended up getting them published through Cimarron Music Press.  If you want to do some arranging (or transcribing), here are a few random thoughts on how to get started.

  1. Listen, listen, listen!  How will you know what to arrange if you don’t listen to great music for other instruments (voice included)?  Yes, we should listen to lots of great horn playing, but there’s a whole world of musical masterworks out there, and most of them weren’t originally written for the horn.
  2. Peruse public domain music collections like the IMSLP, Choral Public Domain Library, and the Mutopia Project for scores and ideas.  Find and connect with other musicians, and get to know their repertoire.  What are the great works for their instruments, and would they be possible on the horn?
  3. Step out of the classical music box.  If you like a particular jazz or pop tune, arrange it!  You more than likely won’t be able to publish it without paying licensing costs, but you can still get a lot of enjoyment out of the process.
  4. Find a need, and fill it.  Looking for solos that work out your low range?  Arrange some tuba or trombone music.  How about arranging clarinet or violin etudes to work on technique?  You may have to change keys or displace some octaves here and there to make things feasible on the horn, but that generally doesn’t take away drastically from the work’s overall musical value.

Here is one example of a possible arranging project. This summer I arranged some music for horn and piano, including  Six Studies in English Folk-Song by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the “Meditation” from Thaïs, by Jules MassenetThere are some beautiful melodies in these pieces, and I thought they might transfer well to the horn.  The Vaughan Williams is originally for cello, but there are arrangements for tuba, viola, and other instruments (and now horn).  The Massenet is a gorgeous work, and features solo violin.  In both cases I ended up altering the original keys, as well as doing some minor editing to make the parts more horn friendly.  I’ve included the score and solo part to the first movement of the Vaughan Williams below, so that you can see a few of the decisions I made in the arranging process.  This version is purposefully written in an under-utilized range of the horn, and working on it really helped improve my sound and musicality in the lower register.

Vaughan Williams I Score **Removed to comply with international copyright restrictions.

Vaughan Williams I horn **Removed to comply with international copyright restrictions.

And here’s a recording of me playing the first movement on a recent recital, with Richard Seiler on piano.

As I said, this is just one possibility – I encourage you to get creative and start working on your own arrangements!

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