Title: How to Flex Your Band Muscles
Subject: Flex arrangements: consider what instruments work well together
MJ Wamhoff, Delta College Symphonic Band, originally presented this at the California State Music Conference (CASMEC) in February 2022. It was such a great presentation we collaborated with him on a flex piece: Ava Maria, arranged by GPG Music Composer Steve Martin and adapted by MJ Wamhoff.
The challenges from the last two years of pandemic and slowly returning to performances, presents us with many issues and opportunities to explore new music. Many have seen decreased numbers in our ensembles. Flex arrangements make it possible for us to play interesting and challenging music with fewer players. Flex arrangements are growing, providing much needed repertoire for many band directors.
Playing a flex arrangement is really like playing chamber music. Flex arrangements seem to fall into three categories: Quartet, Quintet, and Sextet. You’ll want to hear all of the parts, so think about what instrument combinations you want to hear on each part.
Most arrangements have a few problems with the “translation” from full ensemble to the flex format. There are times when instrument ranges don’t work well and must be adjusted. Some arrangers seem more thoughtful than others, but it is still important to make adjustments to make this work for your band.
Based on your instrumentation and strengths in your individual band, you’ll need to make critical decisions as to what combinations you want on each part. Often, it’s trial and error, but keep working until you find what works.
MJ’s break down:
Let’s consider the quintet, or SSATB.
Part 1 soprano voice: Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Trumpet.
Part 2 soprano voice: Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Trumpet.
Part 3 alto voice: Clarinet, Trumpet, Alto Sax, Horn.
Part 4 tenor voice: Trombone, Euphonium, Tenor Sax, Bassoon.
Part 5 bass voice: Tuba, Euphonium, Trombone, Bassoon, Bass Clarinet, Baritone Sax, Double Bass.
What instruments sound good together?
Part 1: Flute and Clarinet are always a good sound.
Part 2: Flute, Clarinet plus, if you have one, an Oboe
Part 3: Horn and Alto work well here, but clarinet and trumpet (flugelhorn) are nice additions.
Part 4: Trombone, Euphonium, Tenor Sax, Bassoon, any combination of these work well
Part 5: Tuba, Euphonium, Trombone, Bassoon, Bass Clarinet, Bari Sax, Double Bass, any combination of these work well.
If you only have one trumpet player skip trumpets on the first; second parts are covered by both clarinet and flute on each part. With some flex arrangements you may create parts not published with the arrangement. Oftentimes there are only parts for flute provided in the first part so maybe add a part two for flute. Consider using Sibelius and write a part and transpose for the part needed. Avoid placing all the flutes on part one followed by all the clarinets on part two; instead include flute for the third part and clarinet on parts three and four.
Best advice for flex arrangements: consider what instruments work well together. Like great composers do when orchestrating their pieces, play the sounds you’d like to hear.
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