The process of arranging and recording “Amazing Grace”

Hello awesome people!

Today we want to tell you a little bit about our process in writing, recording, and  filming music. We have a brand-new audio track that we’ll be filming in the coming weeks. Click here to read about the filming of this music video.

Me and My

Me and My “Little Clarinet”

WRITING THE ARRANGEMENT

Last year (2014) I had the opportunity to conduct the Oquirrh Mountain Symphony (now Utah Philharmonic Orchestra) in a September 11 Memorial Concert. I composed two pieces for this concert including this arrangement of Amazing Grace. I used Finale 2014 to notate my orchestral scores.

Orchestral Score

Orchestral Score

This image shows a draft of that score.

Kacee and I wanted to make a recording of this music but we cannot afford to hire an orchestra to record it for us.

Cut off view of Orchestra Score

Cut off view of Orchestra Score

So I transcribed the piece for 5 Clarinets and 2 Bass Clarinets with the idea that I would record each line individually and then put them all together in the end. There were only a few issues with transcription:

  1. I cannot play the Clarinet as high as a professional violinist can play (at least not well). This means that I needed to make some octave adjustments which leave the clarinet version less expansive than the orchestral version.
  2. The Clarinet has a smooth attack. The sound on the clarinet begins with moving air. This is very different from the piano or drums which both use percussive strikes to elicit sound. Think of it like a coloring book. The Clarinet gives you color between the lines, while the piano and drums provide the dark outlines with their percussive attack (the piano then provides notes and color after providing the dark lined attack). This means that a clarinet-only piece will lack certain feelings of definitiveness. It will be airy and uncertain – kind of like really watered-down/flat soda.
  3. Along with the last issue, there is the lack of DIVERSITY in the tone color if you only use one kind of instrument. I think of clarinets as blue and purple, flutes as silvery pixie dust, Trumpets as vibrant yellow etc. In a clarinet-only ensemble you may have dynamic and harmonic contrast, but you will struggle to find contrast in TONE COLOR.

So these are the problems which presented themselves. How did we fix those problems? Well, read on! We basically solved these issues with a single solution.

We added piano to about 75% of the piece. By adding the piano we gave those darker/definitive lines to shape the color. By adding the piano to the clarinet lines we created a composite color (basically create a new instrument sound). The doubling of Clarinet and Piano is a satisfying blend. This only occurs when they play in exact unison – octaves don’t really count.

We gave it contrast by leaving some sections as clarinet-only, and we gave life to the high violin lines by leaving them for the piano instead of the clarinet.

Here’s what that 7-clarinet reduction looks like:

Clarinet Version

Clarinet Version

Now you need to know that I do not claim to be a clarinetist – I just really like that instrument, and I happen to own four of them.

Three Clarinets, one Bass Clarinet, two flutes

Three Clarinets, one Bass Clarinet, two flutes

So yes, there are many clarinetists who could have done a much better job than I did… but hey, I own the instruments, I might as well put them to good use!

RECORDING THE TRACKS

We went to our friend Clive Romney’s house to record the tracks. I brought him a copy of score (and dedicated it to him). Bringing a score makes the process a lot easier; it saves you time and money.

I sat down at the piano and recorded a “practice track.” We would then have that track as a reference point in recording the other tracks. This track would not be present in the final product. This track needed to represent the exact timing of the final product as we would use it to match the other tracks. I would also add pulsating 8th notes to act as a make-shift metronome.

I got out my clarinet and put on the headphones and sat in front of the microphone. The practice track came on through the headphones and I recorded the first clarinet track in time with the practice track.

Practicing the Bass Clarinet for the Recording

Practicing the Bass Clarinet for the Recording

Sometimes I wouldn’t play exactly in time with it, and I needed to go back and re-do it. We repeated the process until all five clarinet tracks were completed, and two more bass clarinet tracks were complete.

Once the clarinet tracks were done, we put Kacee in there where she sang like an angel. When she finished, I added the “real piano track,” to give added clarity where it was needed.

KAcee singing

Today between general conference sessions, I went back to Clive’s to add my input in the mixing process. With about ten different tracks happening simultaneously, we needed to boost some sections, and make others less-prominent.

CONCLUSION

So that’s how we got this track. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a really fun thing to do! Click here to read our post about filming this music video!

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One thought on “The process of arranging and recording “Amazing Grace”

  1. Pingback: Amazing Grace | New Music Video | brickplayhouse

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