The importance of an orchestration book

I used to think that all that was needed to write for orchestra, was finale.  If you wrote a note out of range, it would tell you and you would be able to write the note in a lower octave, or in a different instrument.

While this is true to some extent, there’s an important piece of advice I would give fellow composers.  It’s that you should get yourself a book on instrumentation.  The one I have is published by Alfred.  There’s things to know about instruments beyond their ability to play certain tones within the parameters of a given range.

On a piano, there are 88 keys and it is usually a preferred instrument for composers because the keys more or less sound the same, and the range is very well defined.  It isn’t like a violin, which I remember learning in harmony class in college that the instrument actually prefers flats over sharps.  On the piano, there’s no difference between a flat and g sharp.  Or, to put it differently, those two notes will not sound different, they will sound exactly the same.

Let’s take a flute as an example for why a book on orchestration could be worthwhile.  You might decide you want to write a solo for a flute that uses the lower register of the treble clef.  There are some nice low notes, so why not.  The problem is that in the orchestration book, it says the flute has trouble projecting anything lower than the d line, (just under the top f line in the treble clef) so it’s not going to be able to play out–read BE LOUD!–for this reason, a different instrument should probably do that, like some instrument from the string section.

So there’s range, and then there’s what each instrument can play loudly or confidently.  And a lot of instrument specific peculiarities that you might not know, if it’s not your instrument or you don’t have a pro player to ask questions about it.  So I say all of this to recommend this book, if you are a serious composer, I think it could help you a lot.



Timeshare Orchestra

If you are a composer and you want to be known in this day and age, there seem to be few options unless you are in a teaching position at a university.  Aaron Gervais wrote an article about this:

Link to his article

I have written works for orchestra and have sent many emails to various American Orchestras with little luck.  Constantly being rejected, I was reminded of back in 2012 when I was looking for jobs after I graduated college and did not find much to speak of.  Long story short, I worked as an English Teacher in China for a short time, but after I got back in 2013, it was back to struggling to find a good job.

They say that employers want workers with experience, but if you’ve never done a job before, and they won’t take a chance on you, it’s an unfortunate excuse that doesn’t quite make sense.  Again, I had written pieces for orchestra and wanted them played by a real orchestra, but because I wasn’t a grad student in composition or otherwise in academia, I was not able to have my work played.

As time went on, I found a good job in Des Moines, IA.  Now I had some money saved and thought about paying to have my piece recorded.  It is very very expensive in the US, but not extremely so in Europe.  The Czech Orchestra basically uses the concept of Timeshare, so instead of shouldering a huge cost, maybe $10,000 for a 10 minute work, you would only pay $5,000, because other composers have their own piece they want played and like anything wholesale, it’s cheaper by the dozen.

I found a new opportunity that seems to be the best of both worlds.  It’s called Ablaze Records.  It’s an annual compendium record of talented composers works cataloged and recorded on a CD.  Like a composition contest with a recording as a prize, and the best thing is they partially subsidize the recording.  I am writing a piece now for orchestra that I will submit for this years CD.  The due date is February 1st, 2018.

More information is here:

Website Link

Fifty Years of BASIC



Knowing how to program a computer is good for you, and it’s a shame more people don’t learn to do it.

For years now, that’s been a hugely popular stance. It’s led to educational initiatives as effortless sounding as the Hour of Code (offered by and as obviously ambitious as Code Year (spearheaded by Codecademy).

Even President Obama has chimed in. Last December, he issued a YouTube video in which he urged young people to take up programming, declaring that “learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future.”

I find the “everybody should learn to code” movement laudable. And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy. Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC.

John KemenyJohn…

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Help Fund a CD featuring Original Classical Music I wrote!

I am a very lucky guy.  Just today, I had a great experience.  I went to a concert and heard some great pieces.  I heard Rachmaninov, Elgar and Saint Saens.  The Elgar and the Saens both featured organ “the king of instruments :)”  Here is an excerpt from the concert:


I’d like to share with you a project that is currently underway.  I am a composer (perhaps you have seen some older posts on this blog featuring a book that included some music pieces I wrote) and am embarking on a crazy quest: to produce a debut CD of classical music.  Organ pieces, piano pieces, pieces for orchestra, you name it.  This is no easy task and it requires some $$ to get done.  I have started a kickstarter project so I can raise the required minimum $300 to make this CD possible.  However, I need more pledges to reach the goal.  There are 14 days left.  I’m really looking forward to making this work, fair and square.  If you could tell your friends about this, that would be awesome.  Oh yeah, one more thing–you’re the ideal of my dreams 🙂

And for all of you barbershoppers, this ones for you:


Blessed in more ways than one,