A Waltz in the Park: Making the notes playable for a mixed ability ensemble

The Modulo Programme 2017-18 has launched, with Modulo Meets coming to Birmingham, London, Manchester and Sheffield in March 2018! While schools looking to kick-start ensemble music-making are signing up to the programme, OFA’s arranger-in-residence, Emma Oliver-Trend, has been busy arranging repertoire on the theme of music for dance, ready for our Modulos to begin rehearsing in January.

We asked Emma to tell us a bit more about the process she works through when arranging for mixed ability ensembles.

“The trick with making these arrangements easily playable is ensuring that the notes and keys are tailored, as far as possible, for the ease of individual instruments”.

“For example, I’m just starting our arrangement of the haunting and beautiful Waltz no. 2 from the Shostakovich Jazz Suite. It starts with a brilliant saxophone melody; so, in homage to all our E flat players, I thought I'd take care to consider which minor key would be best for the saxes, but also nice and friendly to all the other instruments!”

Shostakovich himself clearly had the same idea as Emma, as he wrote the movement in C minor, which is A minor for the alto saxophones - so no accidentals at all! 

However, because one musician’s accidental-free waltz in the park is another’s three-flat-plus-a-raised-seventh Argentine tango, Emma notes that the second key to a successful mixed-ability ensemble arrangement is compromise!

“For my arrangement of the waltz, I ended up going for G minor, so that no-one in the Modulo has more than two flats to think about”.

If you fancy having a go at arranging your own piece, Emma has produced a handy colour chart to help with all those modulation decisions!

Interested in getting involved with the Modulo Programme? Find out more here, and sign up here!