Inside the Score

It’s been awhile. Life happens and we all get busy. I’ve also been searching for some inspiration.

It’s opera season and Opera Colorado is currently presenting a fabulous production of La Boheme. I love Puccini, but it means lots of down time for the low brass; even more for the poor tuba/cimbasso player. So I’ve been catching up on some reading.

Last week I read for the second time “Arranged by Nelson Riddle” book – a breezy synopsis of his thoughts on orchestration, voicing and arranging. It’s a good and quick read, and worth checking out from your local music library or even owning a copy for reference.

This week, it’s a revisit of “Inside the Score” by Rayburn Wright. This book is an in depth analysis (down to the molecular level) of the writing styles of Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, and Bob Brookmeyer. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, no matter your discipline. It’s published by Kendor Music and is available by clicking here.

The CD that comes with it has full performances of the 11 charts analysed by Count Basie and his Orchestra, the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra, and the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. The full scores of each arrangement are also included and laid out in such a way as to provide room for Ray’s genius analysis.

For me the, the chapter on Sammy Nestico and analysis of 3 of his charts were worth the price of the book (it was $44 when I bought it – now $48). Mr. Wright’s discussion of Nestico’s chord voicing and bass doubling is directly relevant to the way I write for brass ensemble.


I’ll say just a quick word about chord voicing and bass doubling as it pertains to the low brass in my ensemble.

The tuba (tenor, bass, or contrabass) is NOT a trombone. When you are voicing chords, you cannot treat it (or them if you are writing for euphonium and tuba) as an equal partner to the trombones. Like the acoustics of the instruments themselves, which require some volume of space for the overtones to bloom, the tuba family needs some space around its notes for a chord to ring. Generally no less than a fifth and preferably an octave when voicing chords. Wright notes that Sammy “Nestico avoids doubling the bass voice inside the harmony in the next octave above the normal bass range.” That range is identified as C2 to F3 – for our purposes, I would certainly increase that down to the lowest note of the brass ensemble – C3 (or lower if you dare). It is also true that the lower you write for bass trombone, more space is required above it in the other trombone voices.

The other idea in the book that resonates is making each section sound good on its own. I’m going to write some more about this – it warrants closer examination.

2 thoughts on “Inside the Score

  1. Unless, of course, you are Stravinsky or Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrating thirds at the bottom to get that Russian liturgical sound.

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