Never being one to shy away from difficult projects, in 1978 I set out to make a version of Toccata and Fugue for my brass playing colleagues in the Wheat Ridge High School band. I worked feverishly on it for weeks and excitedly put it in front of my friends one morning to read.
It was a disaster directly from the upper left hand corner – the only parts that were even close were the tuba and trombone parts. My basic understanding of transposition was just wrong and the trumpet and horn parts were a mess.
My brand as an arranger was a wreck.
However, lessons were learned and I leaped into my next big project – the next summer was devoted to orchestrating Pictures at an Exhibition for brass quintet. Still a mess, but a lot closer this time around.
To this day, four decades and over 500 arrangements later, I still write an occasional stinker. One big lesson I have learned over that time is to know when to throw in the towel. There are a good number of finished and unfinished charts in the back of my 'filing cabinet' that will never see the light of day. There are still more that get a performance in public, and then get deposited in said cabinet.
I have developed an eye and ear over the years for choosing projects that have at least a fighting chance of working for my beloved brass ensemble. Picking the right material to orchestrate is a big part of the battle.