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Orchestration - What is it?

In 2012 I became classified as a Master Orchestrator through the Berklee College of Music - one of America's most illustrious music schools.

"But Patrick!", you ask, "What IS orchestration?" Let me tell you.

or·ches·tra·tion (ôrk-e-stra-shn) N.

1. A musical composition that has been orchestrated.

2. Arrangement of music for performance by an orchestra or band.

This is a limited definition, as it doesn't touch on the emotional considerations of orchestration.

Take John Williams for example. World famous movie music composer. (And NBC's Olympic music). When he was pitching his idea to Steven Spielberg for the music to "E.T.", John played the music on his piano. It was beautiful. This is composition.

Now, flip through your memory banks and try to see the famous 'bicycle chase' scene in which Elliot and the ET launch heroically in silhouette past the moon. Now, mentally rewind, and try to hear that epic E.T. score as if it were played on piano. In my mind, Elliot and the ET crash. Had Mr. Williams only used a piano to support that scene, the goosebump factor would have been at 0.

Instead, Williams handed off his music to Herbert W. Spencer - the sadly unknown man responsible for orchestrating most of Williams' incredible body of work including the "Star Wars" saga and "Indiana Jones". He took William's already great music and gave it life.

I share this not to discredit Williams - as every note of woodwind trill and violin run was penned by Williams himself. But Spencer developed what we understand to be the 'sound' of John Williams - which turned into the 'sound' of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and so on... Think of it like this. If creating music were like building a human body, the composer builds the skeleton and provides the heart and skin. The orchestraton fills in the holes with the right organs, a brain to make it all work, and forms the body into a breathing, emotional life form. Don't be fooled by the word "Orchestration" though. It doesn't necessarily indicate strict use of traditional orchestral instruments. Guitars, hang drums (one of my favorites), kalimbas, uillean pipes -- the list is endless. I personally use instruments from all over the globe... whatever it takes to a) properly 'set' the location of the film, or b) provide just the right emotional enhancement to a scene. Fortunately, I have everything I need at my fingertips. I am the movie music composer. I am the orchestrator. That's right! I'm 2 - 2 - 2 things in 1!

Stay tuned for more music musings. Next time : Orchestrating Songs \ Pop

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