The Art Of Orchestration In The 21st Century


The composing has been arriving thick and fast during the past year: Dr. Pete’s Salsa Band has lots of new music as does the Café Orchestra that now rehearse at Holmfirth Tech, the Dozens of Duets keeps on growing and there is even music for whole class instruments starting to be published and there are some new pieces somewhere in here as well

Thankfully some of the older compositions keep selling as well with the backing tracks and with Christmas in a few months time the school percussion ensembles will be rehearsing or or both and the beginner piano teachers will be gently moving through

Recently I have had to adapt lots of music for the instrumentation available, an interesting, sometimes difficult and occasionally revealing task. Trying to keep the feel, timbre and texture of the music with different resources to the original music can be straight-forward, depends what the replacements are, and can be like creating a completely new sound.

Fortunately any copyright implications of the re-orchestrations are not applicable as all the composers have been deceased for over one hundred years. What it has taught me is the thoughtful and meticulous techniques that composers used, with limited thematic and harmonic material, to create a work of art that holds you from the first few notes to the final cadence(s). Use of the (s) is there because my feelings about some of the music is that the composer rather laboured the final part of the music, too many perfect, repeated, endings, again and again…                                                            and again.

Some of these re-orchestrations are published for percussion ensemble: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice ten player version can be downloaded from and the quartet/quintet arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero can be found at Many of the re-orchestrations will never be heard outside of the rehearsal room and these are equally as important as those that are published and performed in the concert hall. To be able to facilitate the experience of playing music where there is a connection between composer and performer is very satisfying and these days very necessary in many educational settings. In my experience the study of certain instruments, especially lower woodwind and brass, is becoming rarer despite all the opportunities and instruments available.

Hope you get chance to look at and listen to some of my music and if you are given the task of changing the orchestration for your ensemble/band/orchestra enjoy it and make the new instrumental part as interesting as you can.

© P. R. Birkby 2019


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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