For the past several weeks we have examined the steps in accepting a gig arranging 3 tracks on a CD, organizing the necessary melodic, harmonic, and orchestrational assets, planning the form, and creating one of the intros. This week, we will look at another of the needed intros and at wrapping up and delivering the arrangements.
Here, as I was doing multiple tracks on the same CD, I didn’t want to use the same method twice, as the overuse of any device can wear it out. We already looked at an intro using material unrelated to the tune melody, in pursuit of contrast. This week we will do the opposite and use DNA from the song, but sliced and diced to hint at, without prematurely and completely revealing, the tune itself. The song in this case was “Besame Mucho,” a Latin standard with so much mileage on it that it coughs up dust. With such a venerated pedigree, it presented two contradictory challenges: how to make it conventional enough for Latin FM radio airplay and enchanting enough that I still would want to put my name on the arrangement (and not just the paycheck). Once again, the intro became the key. Despite using tune elements for the intro, I still wanted some intro/song contrast so I ran down the list of possible elements that could give it to me. Tempo? I chose a rubato, out-of-time approach, setting up the tune tempo at the end. Color? It was client/artist-given: solo acoustic guitar feature over the ensemble. Orchestration? Consistent with rubato, I wanted a dreamy effect, sharpening to a focus at the point when real time is established. Let’s see … hmmm … strings … dreamy … strings … dreamy….
Again, going to the well of favorite moments in my musical warehouse was a descending series of string chords/trills (practically reeking of “dreamy”) from Gustav Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, near the beginning of the 5th movement. (Hey, if you’re going to grab, grab from the best.) It was a series of eight major chords, descending by major and minor thirds (A-flat, E, D-flat, A, F, D, B-flat, and G-flat). It’s a device used countless times in fantasy movies, but this treatment seemed just right. (See example 1)
Carefully, emulating the half- and whole-step trill scheme, and working backwards from the already-established opening key of the arrangement (thanks to our organized approach,) all I had to do was correctly revoice, transpose and adapt the string figure (a small nightmare of detail work) to fit the bread-and-butter range of my small string group (2-2-2-2-1) while getting out of the way of the featured guitar stuff. As far as that “stuff” went, this was the fun part. I grabbed three recognizable snippets from the tune itself, and placed variants of them, sequentially, on top of (and transposed to fit) the eight chords, each as a mini-statement, some leading into others, some not. All of it led, harmonically, to setting up the rhythm section entering with two-bar patterns (under repeated rhythmic string figures), setting up the entrance of the melody in the oboe (example 2). As of press time, the strings have not yet been recorded, but it will be a simple matter to conduct them from the already-tracked rubato guitar figures.
Do you again see how a flash of a favorite musical memory can be adapted to become the bedrock of something new and exciting? Don’t paralyze yourself with some obsession to produce only that which you can tell yourself is 100% all yours. In almost all cases, true musical creation and composition is the adaptation of something preexisting into something new. You do have a deadline, and your name probably isn’t Stravinsky or Schoenberg. With the intros (and with them the basic dramatic look-and-feel of each arrangement) in place, all that was left to do was to fill in the holes, like a crossword puzzle, while making sure everything was correctly voiced, notated, and practical to record. As all major arranging decisions had already been made, in focused isolation and in logical sequence (thus avoiding any major missteps which might require huge overhauls to fix later), this part was relatively routine.
Obviously, the more you do any kind of creative work, for whatever form of pay and under real deadlines, the better you will accommodate the demands involved. One of the lessons to be learned from this was how getting (and staying) organized and compartmentalized can go a long ways toward getting the job done completely, satisfactorily, and on time, and without the stress which is usually at the root of any dreaded writer’s block. That, and trust in your warehouse of all the musical “stuff” you’ve absorbed all your life which can be your best friend when it comes time to produce.