Less is more

Handel in the Strand available by clicking here.

I had the great fortune to play bass trombone in Dave Caffey’s excellent jazz band at the University of Denver. We played a lot of challenging stuff, and Dave is a great writer and arranger so we also had the privilege of playing new music written by him. Dave is a pro.

We were rehearsing a piece one day (written by someone else) and Dave stopped the band to correct something. He looked at the offending musician, and then looked at his score, and then looked back up and said something like “I don’t know exactly how you are going to eat that Dagwood sandwich…” Younger people might not understand the reference, so here:

He was referring to some ridiculous stack of articulations – we’ve all seen them – a staccato under a dash under an accent under a carrot, with an sfzp underneath for good measure.

Composers, arrangers, and orchestrators spend countless hours to create a ‘stand-ready’ product. And sometimes, it’s really hard to trust the musicians that are going to make the sounds you are writing on the page exactly the way you hear it in your head. So much so that some composers, arrangers, and orchestrators will notate parts in great… no, excruciating detail.

Don’t.

There simply isn’t enough bandwidth to execute all of these subtle shadings uniformly across the ensemble and in a way that anyone will really notice, especially given the limited rehearsal time professional groups have available. If you must, suggest a style and then leave it alone but for the exceptions. There is nothing wrong with the occasional tenuto, staccato, or accent, but an entire passage with accents on every note is, in a way, insulting and it clutters the page. Unless you are notating a very specific technique, indicate marcato, staccato (Grainger likes ‘shortish’ – see above), or tenuto and then leave it alone until the style changes.

In my experience, there are so many interpretations of what even a staccato means, stacking articulations is the road to rehearsal anarchy.

July 20, 2017 – Mike Allen

 

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