The character at changed instrumentation

A symphony is not a wind orchestra. This sounds very trivial and is by no means meant in a condescending way, but summarises the arranger’s dilemma: How can you convey the message of the composition with different instrumentation and characteristic of the sounds image?

While the composer has access to a deep arsenal of possibilities between string-, wind- and brass ensembles, that differ in tonal qualities, the arranger’s hands seem mostly tied. But precisely therein lies an enticing challenge, the solution to which will be rewarded correspondingly by the audience. It’s a similar situation with graphic artists, who have to create a masterful black-and-white image from a genius, full-colour image.
Transposing to a sensible tonal range for a brass instrument is almost an afterthought. Only people with near-perfect hearing can distinguish the changes, anyway.

A much more valid question is how to assign music to the different instruments in such a way, that the desired emotionality of the composition stays intact, despite the restrictions in tonality. For this, the arranger has to have excellent knowledge of the different instruments, their possibilities and their contributions to the overall sound image at their disposal. An instrumental education and extensive studies build the lowest requirement.

This alone is not enough.

The personal experience as band master and the correspondingly intense exchange with the tonal varieties of a brass band, as in our example, is invaluable to a professional arranger. Added to this are the mental and musical flexibility to separate one’s self from the original sound to create something new. Something that doesn’t represent a mere copy but contains the same emotional messages in a new form. Only with these abilities can the arranger assign registers and music to each instrument, eventually forming a new and, at the same time, recognisable, composition-true sound image.

The arranger becomes the composer themselves to some extent, through this work.