The Trials of Arranging Music


I am arranging the Puyo Puyo Theme for four baroque recorders.

I’ll let you read that sentence one more time.

I am arranging the Puyo Puyo Theme for four baroque recorders.

Isn’t my life totally nuts?

So yes, I am working on arranging a piece for a community group I play in, the Norwalk Gamer Symphony Orchestra. We are a young, spunky bunch who love music, video games and... have little money. To counteract this, many of our musicians are arranging the pieces we play. I am in awe of every one of them. These are not professional musicians; they’re just a bunch of dudes! They’re my friends! And they’re creating these awesome, intricate pieces for us to perform. They take a song from their favorite game, put their spin on it, and produce a challenging arrangement that's thrilling to sink your teeth in to.

There are so many video game songs I want us to do. If they can arrange them, so can I, right?

Inspired by their talent, I sat at my computer, downloaded MuseScore and began my composition arranging process for one of my favorite orchestrated pieces.

Just kidding. I immediately gave up.

How do my friends do this? How am I supposed to do this? There are so many parts. I don’t play strings, I don’t read chords, how do you notate a tuned timpani? I was overwhelmed and exhausted instantly. I think I wrote eight measures of Violin I before I collapsed into a puddle and completely gave up.

A few weeks later, the idea came to me again. But how can I write parts for over fifteen instruments? I decided to think back to a time when I did write music, back in high school writing the background music for the Shakespeare plays. It was just flute and clarinet so I was able to figure everything out fairly quickly and write a few nifty duets. Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe I need to start small.

I canned my eight measures of 1000 Words from FFX-2, an extremely ambitious project, and decided to write a small ensemble piece. The song? The battle music to one of my favorite games: Last Surprise from Persona 5.

I asked my friend to write an awesome slappin’-da-bass bass groove and focused on the other instruments myself. Writing the strings (Violin I, II, Cello, and Viola) was fun and rewarding. I was well on my way to getting halfway through my first piece.

Until my computer randomly shut-down and deleted the file with all my work on it.

As if struck by lightning, I was left with nothing and back to square one. And this time I wasn’t dramatically tired– emotionally overwhelmed and freaked out– I was seriously exhausted and frustrated. Twelve hours of work! Gone! Maybe arranging just wasn’t in the cards for me. The music gods obviously didn’t want me to put a single dot of ink on a staff again.

I stopped thinking about arranging for months after that. I just took the music that people brought to practice with a smile and continued to gush over their creativity and dedication to our group. I was a little jealous. I had tried and failed, twice. I didn't have the patience or the skill to arrange anything, forget about the calibre of music my friends were producing. It wasn't even worth it to even try again.

Then, one day at a small ensemble rehearsal, my friend came in with a box overflowing with instruments. He found an amazing deal online and got a set of baroque recorders (bass, tenor, alto, soprano, and sopranino). Recorders, instruments I could play. Recorders, very similar to the flute (my primary instrument). Recorders, easy to learn with a little bit of time.

I can write for those.

My arranging itch was back.


So now I am knee-deep in the Puyo Puyo theme song. Why did I pick Puyo Puyo? Because I’m obsessed with Puyo Puyo Tetris and the theme is a cute little song that the recorders inject with additional whimsy. My first arrangement was horrible; in the wrong key, screechy, and overly complicated. But all the rhythms were there. Now, on my second rewrite (and dropping the sopranino recorder because what even is that), I think I am on my way to a decent composition. The base melody and rhythmic foundation are there. I just need to dress it up with the other instruments. The harmonies aren’t bad either, ignoring the piercing C# which I can’t escape. It may not be the best piece we’ve ever played, but I’m producing a nifty little quartet that I think is definitely good enough to perform.

The best part about being in a community group is, you guessed it, the community. Once I’m done with it, I’m going to show my friends and ask for their opinion. I regret showing one of my friend the first draft (it was that bad) but once I’m done with this one, I think it will be good enough to show. I may actually be writing my first piece for this group from scratch! (I did create a recorder quartet piece for the theme of FFIX but that originated from a flute trio I found on MuseScore so it I’m not counting it).

What’s next? Will my composition lead me to a 5-chain combo? Will I be able to convince my friends to play it in concert for an amazing All Clear performance?

Who knows? I need to finish writing it first.

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