Juilliard Orchestration

Fall 2017

The fall semester covered the stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass), harp, and the percussion instruments. The class experimented with the instruments by writing three 30-second composing assignments, and two are included here. The final project involved orchestrating segments of Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 4 for piano.

The Juggler (30 seconds)

This is a violin / viola duet. The last note for the viola involves slackening the lowest string, and plucking it while tightening it as a comical sound effect. The performer didn't do this because in a short, highly time-bound reading at Juilliard, it would take too long to retune the string, and it could damage the instrument. Do orchestras keep old stringed instruments around for this purpose? Could it even be in the domain of the percussion section, to create these effects?

Sheet Music PDF
The Juggler

Fae Forest (30 seconds)

This is a harp / vibraphone duet that worked out really well for both instruments. The vibraphone sounded best with hard mallets, since the effect sounds like chirping birds.

Sheet Music PDF
Fae Forest



Prokofiev Sonata No. 4 (final project)

This involved taking a couple excerpts from the third movement and adapting it to an ensemble consisting of 3 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, 1 bass, and 1 harp. 2 percussionists played cymbals, triangle, conga, bongos, snare drum, vibraphone, and marimba. There was no guidance on how to orchestrate something (that apparently happens in advanced orchestration).

1. Pianistic elements like the do sol mi sol pattern tend to be harder for stringed instruments.

2. At bar 39 the players mentioned having to jump strings in order to play it, so this is one section that can be reworked.

3. The music is adapted to Sibelius, which doesn't properly play glissandos across barlines, and percussion instruments.

The amount of work that has to be done to get this right is enormous, even with existing music with markings. Orchestrators need to focus on dynamics, slurs and articulations, placement of voices, reworking for instrument ranges, parts, historic vs. current music notation standards, transposing instruments and their enharmonic issues. As well as trying to get everything to fit on one page.

Sheet Music PDF

Prokofiev Sonata No. 4


Spring 2018

The spring semester covers woodwind and brass instruments. The short excerpts are listed below. The final project involved taking Debussy's only string quartet and adapting it for a wind ensemble.

The Fledglings (30 seconds)

This is a flute / clarinet duet.

Sheet Music PDF

The Fledglings


The Hummingbird Jive (30 seconds)

This is an oboe / bassoon duet.

Sheet Music PDF

The Hummingbird Jive

Brass Quartet

The spring semester became scrambled because of two snow days and this assignment was cancelled. Unlike string players, wind players are in shorter supply, and pushing our schedule out meant bumping up against end of school year juries.

Quartet in G Minor (final project)

The wind ensemble is comprised of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, and tuba. The challenge with this is that string players don't have to worry about breathing, so long passages need to be adapted.

Time-saving tip: Print out the original excerpts and number each measure so that it matches your project.

Quartet in G Minor (corrections)

Because of the snow days, our orchestration covered brass instruments after our final project. This meant (more than usual) many of us ended up writing things that were impossible to play, and in my case the poor tuba had no room to breathe! Here is an updated video of the corrections, and a run down of what was fixed:

  • Starting at measure 15, extra notes added at the end of phrases to facilitate a smoother transition to new instruments playing

  • Measure 56 is interesting. Because I had trouble making everything fit in an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, the instructor suggested changing the bassoon to tenor clef in the score to eliminate ledger lines. What I missed is that I should have left the bassoon part as is, without switching to tenor clef. She squawked during the reading because it was unintuitive seeing notes go down when the pitch went up.

  • Measure 43: I'd missed adding the slurs for the clarinet.

  • Starting at measure 113, the tuba was reworked to have places to breathe.

  • At measure 130, the sixteenth notes were unplayable for the brass so they were reworked.

Hummingbird Jive FollowUp (in progress)

Second version, and the hope is to break this down and build it up step by step to expand this further. About the original 13 bars:

1. This bridges between classical and more mainstream popular music
2. This also bridges between the tonal and atonal worlds. It's just tonal enough, and the transitions under other circumstances would be almost trite. But there is enough atonality in it that the melody becomes ephemeral. And yet, it's not jarring.
3. Because of #2, it doesn't require much for this to blow up when trying to expand it.