Friday, November 3, 2017

Christmas Songs for Winds, Brass, and String Instruments

In my last post, I discussed the “Christmas in July” project to complete the arrangements of twenty nine Christmas carols for woodwinds, brass, and string instruments.  They’re finished!  Since my goal has been to create arrangements that can be played by as many people as possible, a good deal of time and thought was spent determining the best key for each song,  The Christmas wind and brass arrangements are all in the same key so that flute, clarinet, oboe, saxophone. trumpet, trombone, and any other band instruments can play along with each other.  The string arrangements of the Christmas carols are in the same key so that violin, viola, cello, and bass can play together.

I have kept beginning and intermediate players in mind, and made the keys as easy as possible, but I realize that it’s difficult to make everybody happy.  Finding a key that puts alto and tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, and trumpet all in a comfortable key for students is a real challenge.  My solution was to place as many instruments as possible in a friendly range, and for the instruments that are not in a comfortable range, I have provided an extra arrangement.  For example, the band version of The First Noel is in the key of concert B flat, which places many instruments in an easy key.  However, that key forces the clarinet to cross the register break several times, which can be problematic for some students, so I also included an arrangement of The First Noel for clarinet that is entirely in the lower register.

A version of The First Noel for the clarinet that is only in the lower register, making it easier for students.

Whenever possible, I have placed the band and string arrangements in the same key, so that all woodwinds and brass can play along with violin, viola, cello, and bass.  Typically though, the wind and brass arrangements are in the key of C, F, or B flat, while the string arrangements are in the key of C, G, or D.  There are still several options for all types of instruments to play together, though.  The main lead sheet page for each carol also includes arrangements of the songs in seven different keys: up to three sharps and three flats, (and no sharps or flats).  Therefore, if a tenor saxophonist and a cellist want to play Hark! The Herald Angels Sing together, they can easily find arrangements to play it in the key of concert G (key of A for the tenor), or any number of other keys.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, melody and chords in the key of G. Bass clef and alto clef versions are available, too.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to provide an arrangement for every single need, but I’ll keep trying.  Next up: lots of piano versions of the carols.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Christmas in July - Jolly Old St. Nicholas

It’s hard to imagine, especially given the mid-90 degree temperatures we have been experiencing on the east coast, but Christmas is exactly five months away.  The tradition of celebrating Christmas in July goes back at least 100 years.  In the northern hemisphere, it’s a happy reminder of cooler temperatures and the holiday season.  In the southern hemisphere, July is typically the coldest month of the year, making it a nice time to think of snow and Santa Claus.  Christmas in July also has given stores an excuse to offer sales in the middle of summer.  It’s also a good reason for people to give gifts and spread the joy of Christmas throughout the year.

The phrase itself was further engrained in our minds by the 1940 Preston Sturges film “Christmas in July,” which featured Dick Powell and Ellen Drew.  Interestingly, it was released in October of that year, not July.  The film tells the story of a young couple who suddenly become rich after the husband thinks he has won a prize of $25,000 (adjusting for inflation, that is over $400,000 in today’s economy).

I am celebrating Christmas in July this year by resuming work on my Christmas song arrangements for wind, brass, and string instruments.  Today I completed the sheet music for Jolly Old St. Nicholas.  The wind and brass music for Jolly Old St. Nicholas is in the key of concert B flat, so all band instruments can play it together.  The string version of Jolly Old St. Nicholas is in the key of C.  There are also versions of the carol in seven different keys, so anyone can find an arrangement that matches their range or comfort zone.  Merry Christmas in July!