21st Century Sacred Music: Part 2
The Church Orchestra (on Paper)
To understand the problem with moving Church Orchestra music to the concert stage, let's look at the the instrumentation for a typical Church Orchestra piece.
3 Trombones (3rd Bass)
Now, this is not the only instrumentation that is regularly seen but it is typical. A few things to note about this instrumentation from an orchestration perspective is that the Bass Trombone is usually treated as a shifting at-pitch/at-octave doubling of the Tuba part. So, it's really 2 Trombones (whether tenor, valved or otherwise) with a Bass Trombone/Tuba part.
Some instrumentations will have a lower-pitched woodwind part in the form of a Bass Clarinet or Bassoon part. Christmas scores will often have a harp or something resembling a harp part that can be played on a keyboard/synthesizer.
The Piano/Keyboard/Synth part may be either an orchestral reduction, string reduction or a unique part. The use of keyboards in this ensemble can vary greatly.
And lastly, the two Violin parts are often treated as a single Violin part with splits rather than the more traditional treatment of the two Violin parts as two independent parts.
The instrumentation isn't great but it can hold together if it's scored carefully; especially if the composer/arranger goes easy on the Brass. But all things being equal, the ensemble is weighted much more heavily in the lower pitch ranges and is not as well-balanced as one would like.
The Church Orchestra (in Performance)
with Concert Band Doublings
2 Horns/Alto Saxes
2 Trombones/Tenor Saxes
1 Bass Trombone/Baritone Horn
In performance, unlike on paper, Concert Band instruments parts are provided so that they can double the Traditional Orchestra instruments either as replacements (if any Traditional Orchestra instruments are missing) or to allow additional instruments to participate in the performance. Let's look at the usual Concert Band instrument doublings.
As you can see, the Brass section, which was already over-weighted in the non-doubled instrumentation, receives the bulk of the Concert Band instruments. The String Section gets some help from the added woodwinds and the Woodwind Section (the section which needed the most help) gets no help at all.
And not only is the Brass section now hopelessly out of balance with everything else, the bulk of the Concert Band instruments joined the lowest pitched instruments in the section; the very place they were the least needed.
And just to add insult to injury, one part not included here, but is sometimes provided, is a Baritone Saxophone part which doubles...wait for it...the Bass Trombone! Making a bad situation just a little worse.
Keeping the Church Orchestra in Church
Even if we were to ignore the Concert Band instrument doublings, any piece written for the typical "Church Orchestra" would still have an instrumentation that translated poorly to either the small Community Orchestra or the large Symphony Orchestra. The Woodwind section lacks either a Bass Clarinet or Bassoon part and the included Bass Clarinet/Cello part would be ill-suited to any other orchestral ensemble. The use of the Drum Kit to cover the Percussion parts would be challenging to read at best and impossible to play at worst. And while the two Violin parts are usable, the one-part-with-divisi structure isn't ideal.
But I have developed a modification to the typical Church Orchestra ensemble instrumentation which allows music to be written that is both backward-compatible with the current Church Orchestra instrumentation and forward-compatible with Community Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra instrumentations. However, the solution is a little counter-intuitive and requires some explanation to demonstrate how it works in practice.