Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Welcome back to the land of "All Things Brass." Over the past few months I’ve been receiving e-mails concerning a variety of questions on the topic of Brass Arranging. I’ve picked two of the most interesting for you to enjoy. Here for your historic and educational pleasure are my responses.
Matthew Smith asked, "How did you begin your career arranging for drum corps?"
I started writing for drum corps while living in New York at the young age of sixteen. The high school that I went to offered beginning and advanced music theory. This coupled with my love for drum corps gave me the information and inspiration to start arranging for different types of musical ensembles including drum and bugle corps.
The first drum corps I ever wrote for were the St. Joseph’s Cadets from Lake Ronkonkoma, New York who was sponsored by the local Catholic Church. They had 7 horns. The brass section consisted of 3 Sopranos, 2 French Horns and 2 Baritones buglers, pretty scary huh!! My goal was to make those seven horn players sound as good as I could utilizing their talents and the few orchestrating options I had. The experience was incredible, I learned so much having so little to work with. It made me do things I would never have dreamed of doing with a larger ensemble.
I found a great deal of satisfaction and success with my experiences with St. Josephs and as a result continued arranging for them as well as the Smithtown Freelancer Plebes who were the feeder corps to the drum corps I marched in at the time, The Smithtown Freelancers.
While marching in the Freelancers four of my best friends Nick Yaworski, Judy Foster, Tom Hull and I started a competitive bugle quartet called "The 4 Lancers" that competed in all of the local solo and ensemble contests each winter. Being a bit naïve I approached a gentleman by the name of Hy Dreitzer, who at the time was one of the top arrangers in the country and asked him if he would arrange a competition piece for us. To this day I’ll never forget his answer, he said: Wayne, write your own… Looking as deflated and disappointed as I must have he went on to suggest a number of different Bach Gavottes that he thought would be perfect pieces to arrange for brass ensemble as well as successful competition pieces. Three days later with the Gavotte scores in hand I started writing. As it turns out, not only was Hy Dreitzer correct about the pieces being a successful vehicle for our quartet they also proved to be the key to my successes in a state run young arranger/composer contest I entered.
In 1969 I moved to California and joined the Santa Clara Vanguard D&B Corps as a lead soprano bugler. Gail Royer the director and arranger at that time was nice enough to let members in the corps arrange pieces for the cultural art concerts we did at Mission San Jose Church each Springtime. I jumped on the opportunity knowing that this was the chance of a lifetime to arrange for a larger than life brass section.
Gail was nice enough to look over and comment on my beginning arrangements and gave me a lot of great ideas and guidance that to this day I rely on. With Gail’s support and recommendation I was hired by a number of drum corps on the west coast as an arranger and brass instructor.
After ageing out from the Vanguard and graduating form San Jose State University with a degree in Music Performance/Education I moved to Los Angeles and taught the Anaheim Kingsmen D& Corps for one year. While teaching there I was lucky enough to work with an incredibly talented drum corps arranger Mike Duffy. Mike was as generous as Gail in sharing his thoughts on arranging and I absorbed every bit of information on the topic from Mike I could during that year.
My life with the Blue Devils first began in the fall of 1973. A good friend of mine who I marched with in SCV by the name of Jim Ott was their arranger and called me to say that they were looking for a brass instructor and asked if was I available. At first said "No" that I didn’t have the time or interest and thanked him for the offer. Later that month after agreeing to go to a few audition rehearsals I just caught the BD bug.
During my years working with Jim I learned a great deal about arranging, not to mention a myriad of great orchestrating techniques. Many of those techniques became the foundation of my writing style and what people have grown to know and love as the "Blue Devil Sound" today.
Jim Ott’s writing style was much different from both Gail and Mike Duffy’s and strangely enough was based on the writing techniques of an old friend of mine, Hy Dreiter. Hy ‘s writing techniques were very bold and adventurous and "In Your Face" sort to speak. That attitude gave his arrangements a life and vitality that no other arranger of that time possessed. Many years later in a conversation with Jim I came to find out that Jim was attracted to Hy’s music for those exact reasons.
Unfortunately in 1978 Jim Ott left the Blue Devils to teach the Spirit of Atlanta. I can remember the staff meeting at my home where Jerry Seawright the director of the Blue Devils at that time said; "Well Wayne, there’s no one more qualified to take over the reigns as arranger as you"… I was a little numb and very excited all at the same time and as they say, "the rest is all history…"
I realized at an early age that to be a great writer you have to "not be afraid to fail" you must learn from your mistakes. Believe me, you’ll make plenty of them. You have to visualize the palette of color and rhythm that you hear in your "minds eye" and translate it to paper. The process takes a while and can be quite tedious. But with a lot of hard work and dedication to the art of arranging/composing along with a blend of your own sense of musical style and creativity you should be on your way.
Kevin asked, "Would you please give me a few tips on translating a Jazz band chart into a drum corps arrangement?"
The translation of Jazz Band chart into Drum Corps arrangement isn’t as tricky or mysterious as people make it out to be…
The standard jazz band instrumentation is; Trumpets, Saxes, Trombones, Bass and Rhythm Guitars, Piano, Set and Percussion accessory player. For me, the orchestration transfers pretty simply. First off, pick a key suitable for the skill level of the players your arranging for. Secondly translate each part in the jazz band to a section in the brass line as follows; Trpts – Trpts, Saxes – Mellophones (or any mid voice such as Fr Hn, Flugel Hn), Trombones – Baritones (or euphonium), Bass Guitar (or sometimes Bass trombone) – Tuba, Piano – Mallet Keyboards (sometimes orchestrating the chord changes in any choir will also add great color) Set Player & Perc Acc. – Drum Line…
The better arrangers will detail articulations, weightings (accents), dynamics and rhythmic interpretation to the nth degree to insure stylistic integrity.
Since improvisation is a major part of jazz highlighting your soloist(s) within the arrangement is extremely important. If your soloist doesn’t have improv skills it’s always wise to write a solo for them or at least a brief outline for them to use as a guide. As in any jazz band arrangement indicating chord changes on the solo part is crucial. The key to success in transferring a jazz band arrangement into a drum corps arrangement during solo features is understanding how to voice a creative accompaniment without having the guitars, piano and other rhythm section voices to use. My success has always been by utilizing various choirs in the brass section to "comp" the chord changes in a rhythmically creative way juxtaposed to the counterpoint, bass parts and melody.
After all is in place you should have a very enjoyable arrangement for your students to play and audience(s) to enjoy. This approach has worked wonders for me; I hope you find the same level of success.
For all of you members of M.E.S.T. (Major Ego Soloist Types) be on the lookout for Frank Dorritie’s new brass technique book titled "STARPOWER" soon to be released on www.xtremebrass.com. All you ever wanted to know about being an incredible soloist and much, much more… Stay Tuned….
Well that’s about it for this month, don’t forget to check out all the new brass and percussion technique books, drum cadences, drumsticks, CDs and DVDs on my website at www.XtremeBrass.com, send your questions or topics to: AskWayneDowney [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com
"Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By". See Ya Soon…
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 11-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for "Excellence in Brass Performance", Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show "Blast" and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods. We’re honored to have him as one of our contributing columnists. -jmd
Wayne Downey was the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 14-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 21 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods.
Posted by Wayne Downey on Tuesday, April 10th, 2007. Filed under Brass Advantage.