Situational: music-arranging and letter-writing

In my experience, ensembles have rarely if ever been perfectly chosen and thoroughly balanced, so musical arrangements for those ensembles must take into account the needs of the situation.

In Paul’s and John’s and James’s experience, churches were rarely if ever perfectly taught and “thoroughly furnished unto every good work,” so letters and epistles addressed to them took into account what the recipients needed in their situations.

To illustrate further:  During June and July I took the opportunity to adapt and arrange a previously transcribed orchestral piece—Fromental Halévy’s March Funebrè (1835).  Alterations from the first phase (ten years ago) moved from D trumpet to today’s normative trumpets in C and Bb, from horn in D and and piston horn in A to horns in F, and from ophicleide to tuba.  In some cases, the modern equivalents can project and resonate more than the 1835 instruments, and in other cases, the old instruments don’t exist anymore.  My earlier transcription, then, was situational in that it was, loosely speaking, for the “situation”¹ of the modern orchestra, as opposed to the orchestra and instruments that had existed two centuries prior.

The present (2017) adaptation was for a special, one-occasion summer orchestra—actually more like an oddly constituted pit orchestra band with a pipe organ than an orchestra per se, and this reality led to numerous changes in my score.  The situation called for it.  There were to be four trumpets (five appeared on the night of the first rehearsal) but no bassoon at all.  There were five violins total instead of the 12-16 I’d hoped for.  There was no viola; there were 0-2 cellos, depending on the night; and there was no double bass at all.  The original score called for two clarinets in A, but the sole Bb clarinetist couldn’t make the rehearsal.  There was one flute at the rehearsal, then another for the first performance, and a third appeared for the final performance.  And (gasp) a saxophone was present each time.  Fortunately, she was classically trained and sensitive and did a nice job blending with other woodwinds on a part originally intended for bassoon.  As arranger/adapter-for-situation, I considered the characteristics of the saxophone in its low range and wrote the part up an octave in spots.

I had about 35 minutes total to rehearse (20 at the rehearsal proper, plus 7 and 8, respectively, during “spot checks” prior to each performance).  Fortunately, the players were all capable, and most were at least moderately artistic, so they were responsive.  But the performing space is exceptionally live², and there was that (double gasp) organ, so I had to adjust some dynamics and even re-choose instrumentation on the fly.  These decisions are part of my training, and experience, so it’s no problem, but it does require awareness of the situation.  Remember, the original composition had already been transcribed for a somewhat updated orchestral medium, and then it was further adapted for about one-fifth of the original complement of strings; too few woodwinds, and too many brass to balance the strings and woodwinds; synthesized drum, cymbal, and timpani; and (ahem) organ.  Here are the opening measures:

Arranging, much more than transcribing, takes the situation into consideration.  Here’s a summary of the arranging proposition, speaking in general terms:

Musical arrangements should take into account all aspects of the setting, including personnel and their abilities, instrument sonority and quality, balance, acoustics, and rehearsal time available.

First-century letters and epistles also naturally considered aspects of the setting, including culture, recent events, relationship and interpersonal dynamics, prior teaching, and recent/current events in the locale.³  Take for instance the churches at Philadelphia and Philippi:  they seem to have been in good health, relatively speaking, but they still needed some communication directed to them specifically.  On the other hand, the churches at Korinth4 and Kolosse4 and in the Galatian region stood in sore need of teaching and directive, so Paul taught them according to their situations.5   The written correspondence was occasional . . . situational . . . written for, or into, specific occasions/situations.

¹ More specifically, the original transcription was also for the occasion of my doctoral dissertation.

² When reading “exceptionally live,” one might legitimately translate, “objectionably, ear-splittingly resonant to the point that most spoken words, many musical tones, and a few pitch centers were lost in garbled oblivion.”  The sounds rang so much and so long that the Doppler effect was noted.

³ We might refer here to the presence of inspiration.  In the case of music, some works might be thought of as more “inspired” than others.  In the case of scripture, it’s a more thorny proposition, yet highly consequential.  I’d suggest that the involvement of God’s Spirit in the process of, say, Paul’s letter to the Galatians means, among other things, that that letter was exceptionally well targeted:  it was written for a specific situation, a defined setting.  In other words, , if a document is situational, God can in the writing just as much, if not more.

The original has the Greek letter kappa, which equates to the English K.  I believe it’s because of the later Latin influence that we have Cs in our English Bibles for the initial consonants of these and other K-words.

5 Romans and perhaps Ephesians might be thought of as somewhat general and less specifically, situationally targeted.


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