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Thread: The joy of arranging

  1. #1

    Default The joy of arranging

    I'm only starting at this, and it is fun. I bought a mandocello somewhat impulsively a year ago, which led to joining the local mandolin orchestra. Almost all our music lacks the mandocello part, so I have written my own. Most of them are very simple -- manifestations of the old joke: "How does a bass player count to three?" "One, four, five, one."

    I just finished a more interesting project. About 20 years ago when I was in a barbershop chorus, I arranged two gospel songs to be sung together: I'll Fly Away and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. They have the same chord sequence. This month I dug up that old arrangement and worked out a version for our orchestra.

    Our orchestra's instrumentation is made up of whoever has joined, so it is somewhat abnormal. We have first and second mandolins, a tamburitza that plays the second mandolin part, no mandolas, some ukuleles, a classical guitar, and one mandocello (me). I play octave mandolin on one or two songs, in which case there is no mandocello.

    The mandolin and mandocello parts were fairly straightforward. First mandolin gets the melody, except for eight bars where I selfishly gave it to the mandocello. Second mandolin harmonizes with a lot of third and sixths. Mandocello -- yeah, mostly one, four, five, one, with the odd run and one or two chromatic swipes. Hey, I used to be a barbershopper, so that's what happens.

    The guitar was harder, because I don't know how to play it. I resorted to simple bass notes and chords for much of the arrangement. In an effort to not bore Anita to death (that's all she gets in most of our music), some sections consist of arpeggios or runs.

    The big problem is the ukes. What can you do with them other than have them play chords in rhythm? Even George Formby didn't do much more than that.
    Last edited by Steve Finlay; Sep-11-2022 at 11:04am. Reason: Typo

  2. #2
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Oct 2009
    Ardnadam, Argyll, Scotland

    Default Re: The joy of arranging

    Good for you, Steve. It is fun to try arranging for other instruments then listening to the end results.
    Have you thought of getting your ukulele players to restring with Aquila nylgut strings and tune GDAE as the mandolins are tuned? Quite a sweet, gentle tone from this combination.
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

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  4. #3

    Default Re: The joy of arranging

    Thanks very much, John. It would be our leader, if anyone, who could ask the ukuleles to do that. It seems very unlikely to me, though. I doubt that most of them would want to attempt completely new fingering and a lot of new technique. Also, it sounds as if it would turn the ukes into quiet mandolins, and mandolins are the one thing that we already have lots of.

    We have a new member who seems to be willing and able to play anything. He is a choir director and has no problem writing his own parts, or entire arrangements. I'll talk to my director about maybe asking him to play my octave mandolin. That would help us balance our overall sound.

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  6. #4
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Apr 2014
    South of Fort Worth, Texas

    Default Re: The joy of arranging

    Just a couple suggestions re: ukuleles. Ukes are great at strumming rhythms, as you have already mentioned, but they also sound great picking single notes, so you could (1) have them playing arpeggios where appropriate, and (2) mix it up by having them play more than one voicing for the chords where possible. With multiple ukes, having some play one inversion while others play a different inversion, even if it requires playing only double stops, can add some interest.

    I agree, asking them to tune in fifths might cause more problems than it would solve.
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  8. #5
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Feb 2016
    South of France

    Default Re: The joy of arranging

    You say you have plenty of mandolinists? Well excuse me!

    If I was in a passenger-carrying balloon over the ocean full of sharks and we were going down because we had too much weight and everyone on board played mandolin?
    Well that’s the ONLY time there’d ever be too many mandolinists.

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  10. #6

    Default Re: The joy of arranging

    Thanks very much, Mark. I had to miss orchestra rehearsal this week because of work, but next week I will ask the ukuleles what they are willing and able to play. I hope that at least some of them are up for arpeggios.

    Different inversions including double stops is helpful too. Thanks!

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