Professional Music Solutions For Local Churches

21st Century Sacred Music: Part 3

A better way to write

Now that we've looked at the disadvantages of the current approach to orchestration for the Church Orchestra ensemble, at least in theory, let's look at the 0 To 60 Music approach and, along with audio samples, see (or rather, hear) how we can make things better.  We'll start from the bottom of the conductor's score and work our way up.

The String Section (on paper)

Current Approach

Violins (with divisi)
Violas (3rd Clarinet)
Cellos (Bass Clarinet)

0 TO 60 Music Approach

Violin I
Violin II
Viola (3rd Clarinet)
Cello (Bass Clarinet)

The 0 To 60 Music approach to the string section only offers 1 minor improvement over the current approach to orchestration.  Instead of scoring for just "Violins" with divisi, I advocate for treating the violins as 2 distinct parts; Violin 1 and Violin 2, just as you would for any traditional string or symphonic orchestra.

This shouldn't be a problem even for Church Orchestras who deal with significant fluctuations in performers from week to week because the violin, at least in the U.S., is the first string instrument students are presented with as early as the 2nd or 3rd Grade and is therefore the most commonly played string instrument.

The String Section (in performance)

Below are MIDI renderings of the string section from a portion of my setting of the Gloria In Excelsis Deo text.

Example 1 is the String Section without doublings.

This is the ideal scenario for the Church Orchestra and is the same structure as both the small Community Orchestra and the large Symphonic Orchestra.

Example 2 is the String Section with the 3rd Clarinet and Bass Clarinet doubling the Violas and Cellos, respectively.

If a Church Orchestra is a little out of balance with the Violas and Cellos the woodwinds can help resolve this issue.  For the Community and Symphonic Orchestra, these 2 woodwind parts would simply not be performed.

Example 3 is the String Section with the 3rd Clarinet and Bass Clarinet replacing the Violas and Cellos.

This is the least ideal scenario for a Church Orchestra, but it does demonstrate how this doubling technique can allow the Church Orchestra, with its fluctuating number of performers from week to week, to still successfully render a piece of music even if there are no Violas or Cellos present.  Though the String Section has lost some of its orchestral sound.

Example 4 is exactly the same as example 3 but with one cello added.

This is a more likely scenario than example 3 for a Church Orchestra which might have trouble finding a Viola player but is likely to have at least one Cello player.  You can hear how even one Cello can really bring back the orchestral sound of the section.  This also frees up the Bass Clarinet to rejoin the woodwind section (which we'll look at in Part 6).

Orchestrating for the String Section

There are several things to bear in mind when orchestrating for the String Section using this approach.

One, with this approach the Viola and Cello parts need to be written with wind players in mind.  Some might see this as a limitation, but in practice it's actually beneficial.  Too often writers for Church Orchestras compose string parts that are nothing more than long, unbroken chords that simulate an unimaginative keyboard part.  By requiring the Viola and Cello parts to be woodwind compatible, the writer must approach these parts with the same creativity and musical interest as they would any other brass or woodwind part.

Now, I will admit to having written some long, unbroken string parts when it suited the music, but I wrote them with appropriate places for the wind performers to breathe.  From a compositional perspective, this means that I wrote the parts in such a way that the 3rd Clarinet and Bass Clarinet don't breathe at the same time.  In the string parts, the breath marks are simply hidden to avoid confusion.

Two, the notation of pizzicato parts is slightly altered from the usual notation method.  For pizzicato sections, the string and wind parts are written with staccato markings over the notes with rests in between for anything longer than an eighth note.  This provides a consistency between the parts and a clarity of intent for both instruments.

Three, the pitch ranges of all the instruments needs to be taken into consideration.  In many Church Orchestra arrangements the Viola and Cello parts are written as if they will only ever be performed by those instruments.  In that situation, any notes that are out of range for the Clarinet or Bass Clarinet are either transposed up or down an octave in the part or simply left out of range in the part with the performer expected to transpose them as necessary.

In 0 To 60 Music orchestrations, the Viola and Cello parts are written with the pitch ranges of both instruments in mind, so there are never any out of range notes to transpose.  This preserves the voice leading and contrapuntal qualities of each part regardless of which instrument is performing them.

String Section Summary

The "traditional" approach to scoring for the sting section in a Church Orchestra, while sometimes lacking in creativity and/or good part writing, is relatively easy to transfer to the Community Orchestra or Symphonic Orchestra.  The 0 To 60 Music approach doesn't really break any new ground in this respect but mostly aims to improve these minor deficiencies while retaining the ability of the parts to be performed by all three orchestral ensembles.