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10 Things We Wish We Could Tell Composers

I would just like to start off by saying I admire composers. Sitting for hours, figuring how to get the ideas out of your head onto paper, mapping out movements and constructing interesting solo lines can’t be easy and something I definitely do not have the concentration span for.

So, before I royally take the mickey, I’m just letting you know, you have my upmost respect. Please don’t chase after me with pitchforks or very sharp pencils, or using an old Sibelius CD-ROM as a death frisbee…

Now I’ve got that out of the way, here are ten things we wish we could say to composers.

1. Copy and paste is a magical thing. Not 36,000 bars of it though…

‘36,000 bars of the same semi-quaver pattern? Great! I needed to work on my double-tongue anyway. Wonderful!’

Said no-one…ever.

2. Putting any note below a bottom C in the flugel part.

If the sound you were trying to create was that of a male goose going through puberty, then by all means put in that bottom Ab. If that’s not the sound you were intending…what exactly where you expecting?

3. Speaking of flugel parts- we are not joined at the hip with the Repiano player, will you give us a separate part?!

I’m a big David Attenborough fan, so I’m all for saving the planet by saving paper… also, this might also be more of a publishing issue than a composing one…but I’m going to moan anyway. Why are we classed as the same person, like some weird brass version of Jekyll and Hyde? We’re not even in the same section! If I ever become a composer (God help the world) I’m going to give the soprano cornet and the Eb Bass joint parts, just for the hell of it.

If you’re not sure why this bothers me so much, try sight-reading the flugel or repiano cornet part to The Force of Destiny- absolute nightmare.

4. Writing a ‘challenging piece’ which is basically a truck-load of dissonance and technical passages.

They’re a challenge to play and a test piece shouldn’t be easy- I get that. However when it’s a challenge to listen to, even for the die-hard band geeks, isn’t that missing the point? I’d rather listen to the Arban played from cover to cover, at least some of the exercises sound vaguely more interesting than some test pieces I’ve had to suffer through.

5. Time signatures: 5/4, 6/4, 7/8, 9/8 and the like.

Did you have a bad experience with a normal time signature as a child and it just brings back bad memories?

6. Treble Forte (FFF) or Treble Piano (PPP)

Also known as ‘overblowing’ and ‘tuning issue’ respectively. Why do these dynamics even exist. Is fortissimo/pianissimo just not good enough? Why? Just Why? Is this some kind of ploy by test piece composers to see if they can trick us into playing out of tune? Well the jokes on you, we do a fabulous job of that all on our own.

7. Putting a singing section in the piece

I feel some composers think choral ‘ah’s or la’s’ over the top of a lower brass chord progression is going to sound ethereal, like the end music in the last episode of Game of Thrones. I admire your wishful thinking and in an ideal world it probably would.

Alas, it always seems to sound like Dawn of the Dead, with people not being sure what note they’re supposed to be on, some being totally oblivious that they’re singing in a completely different key and some who just open their mouths and make a similar noise you would make at the dentist.

8. Writing doubled up parts on the same stave.

It’s not just the rep and flugel who struggle with badly written double parts. Tutti cornet parts can be just as much of a pain. When you’re playing a load of semi-quaver runs on different notes, with a sprinkling of accidentals thrown in for good measure and the parts are so squished together it looks like a spider fell in an inkpot and went to town all over the manuscript. Is it really that hard to add an extra stave? We have computers now that insert them for you!

9. Not marking solos

As a flugel player (did I mention I play flugel?) I feel some composers expect us to be psychic. You’ll be lulled into a false sense of security, happily sight-reading a new piece, when all of a sudden you notice the rest of the band back off and you’re the only one playing or even worse, you start playing a section and nobody comes in with you.

At first you think you’ve made a mistake, maybe you miscounted or you’re in the completely wrong place, only to be told that it’s meant to be a solo line, it’s just not been marked. I now have solo trust issues. Don’t trust any sections that are suddenly marked mezzo-forte and your mate next to you has got piano written or you suddenly have the tune- it could be a solo. It’s all a trap!

10. Please write more pieces where non-percussion band members get to play percussion!

It’s a section brass players mercilessly mock, however when it comes to pieces like, The Bare Necessities for example, we fall over each other running for the maracas. I enjoyed playing the triangle in Philip Harper’s arrangement of Copacabana far more than I thought I would, despite not having a clue what rhythm I was supposed to be playing- I now have far more respect for percussionists, I’m clearly too much of an idiot to be an expert triangle player. More please!

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