Wait for it…
Every week when we sing the “Glory to God” there’s a point where our trumpet player plays a phrase that seems to lift the music to a higher place. The music builds and you can almost see the assembly’s faces light up a little. You can’t help but be moved. It’s inspiring. Our collective voices get a little stronger as we continue to sing: “…with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father! Glory to God in the highest!” From week to week it’s wonderful to see people almost ‘waiting’ for that part to happen. Wanting it to happen.
Creating those kind of musical moments is an important part of what we do. It’s one thing to give an instrumentalist a part and say “Here is the part. Here is the intro. See you at the end!” (I’ve done that many times myself, I must admit.) It’s another to weave their part in and out of the music, letting it come out of the texture, and then lay silent for awhile. This is especially true when there are 2 or more instruments. I’m talking about arranging.
Hearing a flute, trumpet, oboe, clarinet…whatever…playing melody or descant the entire song, or even on every song, is not only poor arranging, it’s boring! The ear gets used to hearing it and almost tunes it out. It is no longer adding anything special. It’s just become part of the regular accompaniment, almost like a guitar or piano comping the chords. Instead, experiment with more creative uses: feature these instruments on the introduction, interludes, and instrumental verses. Lessen the accompaniment, if necessary, so it can be heard. Let these wonderful instruments add to the arrangement, not become lost in it.
Some composers are also skilled arrangers and have already thought a lot of this through for you. This is especially true for choral octavos with instrumental parts included in the score. It’s different, though, when we have to come up with a part on the spot, they have to read off of a lead sheet, or we’re only doing part of a song, etc.
You can find C, B-flat, and Saxophone & Brass instrument parts/books from many publishers, including WLP, OCP, and G.I.A. I was part of the editorial team that helped put together the instrument books for Voices as One volumes 1 & 2 (World Library Publications). With all of these books the challenge is to be creative with the music. Talented arrangers have created some wonderful parts for you to play, but every liturgy, every music group, and every situation is not the same. Just because it’s on the page does not mean you need to play it every time! I’m sure even they would tell you to arrange them in a way that makes them interesting, musical, and engaging for your assembly.
Remember, sometimes one of the most musical things you can do is not play anything. Then, when you do, it is something special.