Monday, February 25, 2013

W8: The Art of Orchestration

When this week’s book came out of the Biblio-Mat, I was excited. Bound in forest green with gold scripted text, this dustjacketless tome was a welcome sight. Regardless of what the book subject matter was, at the very worst I had received a nice hardcover to add some colour and elegance to my bookshelf.

Judge this book by its cover.
The Art of Orchestration, by Bernard Rogers was surprisingly printed in 1951. In contrast to last week’s book, first impressions would lead it to have been printed much earlier. I’d like to say it was the textured binding and the musty smell of a vintage tome but really it was the fact that anything written in an Arabic-esque script automatically becomes ancient and profound.

When I imagine “orchestration”, my mind wanders to politicians and nobility of ill repute skulking in dark confines laying the groundwork for grand plots of a Machiavellian nature. This hope of instructional views to scheme like a mastermind was lost when I opened the cover and saw musical notes. Right. That type of orchestration. While I believe everything has an artistic component, the predominant memories of my grade eight band teacher flailing his conductor wand wildly as thirty teenagers butchered four-note arrangements did not conjure up enough artistic value to fill a pamphlet, let alone a book. However, like a cultural sieve I approach all things literary with an open mind.

The images looked not unlike that W5 battery book.
The Art of Orchestration was helpfully divided into two parts. The first, “The Tonal Elements”, introduced the different components of an orchestra. With chapter titles like “The Sovereign Strings” and “Heroic Expression: The Brass”, one cannot help but feel the grandeur of mythic factions being assembled for an epic journey. It should be noted, though, that I had recently watched The Hobbit so many things are being reimagined like Middle-earthen quests in my mind. That being said, these sections did indeed impart many understated aspects to a variety of instruments that I was not aware of before. At one to two paragraphs for each entry, Rogers presents clear concise descriptions of the utility of each orchestra instrument. If, for reasons unknown, you need more than a paragraph understand what a trombone is, I would suggest other sources. Like the internet.

The second part, title “From Line to Color”, embraces the metaphor of arranging an orchestra being the same as painting a masterpiece. The chapters “The Sketch” and “The Picture: One” hint at it subtly; “The Orchestral Painter” not so much. The most interesting aspect of this book, though, falls in these chapters. Rogers presents the idea that all the instruments covered in the first part fall under specific colours and like in painting, you can mix these colours in certain ways to get secondary sound/colours. Using warm colours to invoke feelings of harmony and happiness, blues and greens to stir up fear and isolation, it becomes a method of arranging by visuals. As a fan of paint by numbers, I wholeheartedly embrace this theory.

It's why I'm so good at Electroplankton.
The appendix itself was a whole separate text. It contained nothing but eleven pages of sheet music going over the music theories covered in the first two sections. However, with a staff of half a centimeter, the twenty-four lines on each page resembled a four-lane highway for ants. 

That or a spit-take with a mouthful of Jäger.
Luckily, with a background in playing the trumpet through my junior years in high school, I was able to follow along fairly easily. Rebuffed by the confidence of my past experience mixing in with the newfound knowledge of this musical colour theory, I picked up my guitar wondering if this fresh awareness has helped my playing. An hour later, the answer was no.

Book rating: 9/10 (useful, educational, and good-looking)

Random quote: “Another rare device is the pizzicato tremolo, in Italian, bisbigliando.” (This sentence sounds delicious.)

8 comments:

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