C.78 - "The Parting Glass" (Arrangement)

Composed: Late April 2015

     But first, here was another work written for a separate module during the 2nd semester – ‘Instruments and Orchestration B’ – which required us to work in groups to orchestrate and perform a traditional melody to be suitable for children to play on a recorder and sing at school. Of the three options we were given, we chose ‘The Parting Glass’ – a traditional Scottish folk-song.

     So our group got together and figured out what instruments we had available. Then, in my arrogance (as much as I hate to admit), I wrote the entire arrangement without considering if anyone else wanted to pitch in. Looking back, I regret that so much; I was not used to composing in groups, and now knowing that there was definitely at least one other person in our group that was interested in composition, I feel awful.

     Nevertheless, our group got together and performed it twice on the 1st May 2015 as was required for the coursework (both recordings are given below). I played the piano part (or at least, I tried to play the piano part – my skills on the piano are not entirely grand!). I recorded the performance and the feedback it received.

     In addition to the performance, there was also a commentary we had to write individually. Thus, here is mine (written on 10th May 2015):

 

 

Instruments and Orchestration B – Coursework Commentary

      Foremost, we considered what instruments were likely to be found in primary schools, aside from the given recorder, piano and voice. Ultimately, our memories reminded us of a ‘percussion box’ that would often be used during musical activities at primary schools, which led to us searching the percussion box available at PATS for percussive instruments that would typically be available for primary schools. Thus we decided on additionally using a basic drum, wood block, egg shakers and a toy glockenspiel – instruments that are not entirely complex to use, but are readily available at several primary schools. The decision to add an acoustic guitar came down to the fact that we had a guitarist in our group, and so we firstly considered adding a guitar as an optional component to the arrangement (for example, if the teacher or an assistant had basic guitar chord knowledge) but concluded to firmly use it to support the harmonic progressions of the arrangement with the piano.

 

Figure 1.1 – A piano reduction of the introduction

      The decision to contain an instrumental introduction and conclusion came down to the reality that the plethora of songs sung by primary schools contain an instrumental introduction beforehand, usually a statement of the main melodic theme, and thus is seemed logical to keep this convention and use a short instrumental introduction to introduce the theme:

 

      The decision of the outro was more vague; after we rehearsed through a couple of times, we found that ending bluntly with the last line of the final verse didn’t fit as an ending, so we added a final statement of the melody with a tierce de Picardie to create a definitive conclusion to the arrangement:

 

Figure 1.2 – A piano reduction of the outro

 

     We further decided to contain a short instrumental statement between each verse, primarily to give each instrument a small-scale solo which is both relatively easy to play but yet makes the student feel involved. This also solved our problem of bridging verses together rather than simply continuing through without any expansion, and by alternating the solos between glockenspiel and recorder, it allowed more instrumentalists to ‘show off’ their talents.

      We concluded that our percussion instruments should maintain a steady and simple beat, having the drum accent primarily on the first and third beats and the woodblock on the second and fourth, as to imitate the typical drum kit rhythm and keep a consistent tempi that students can easily follow.

      The recorder part ended up following the vocal part entirely, but after reflecting on this, it would seem to be rather challenging for primary students to perform the melody, thus something I would have changed would have been to make the recorder part simpler by turning quaver phrases into crotchets, and potentially adding more timbre variation by only having the recorders playing the first and third verses and having the glockenspiel play the second. Also with the glockenspiel, we limited it to only playing one note at a time, as it would have been too difficult for a primary school student to perform two consecutive notes at a time, although I would have made a future change of having the glockenspiel part be written for two students per glockenspiel, therefore having multiple notes at once in order to increase the social interaction of the students and allowing them to have more options with the instruments they wish to perform on rather than most of them having to sing:

 

Figure 1.3 – A comparison on how the glockenspiel part could have been changed

 

     With regard to the harmony, we wanted something that was simple but at the same time explored some interesting chords. So we concluded on focusing on E minor exploring mainly the dominant and relative of this key, such as B major and a modulation to G major for the second half of the verse, and to add some unusual harmonic colour, we added a chromatic descent from A major into A diminished with the penultimate line from each verse in order to break out of the continual functional harmonies and add something interesting that works as a secondary dominant (see Appendix A for full score).

     Responding to feedback, the unfortunate fact that the tierce de Picardie was only given from half of the ensemble was solely down to the reality that we didn’t organize enough rehearsals beforehand, reflecting possibly that we should have found an alternative method of ending the arrangement that didn’t involve unusual harmonic progressions in case of such problems; a possible example being ending with both the glockenspiel and recorders playing in unison with all instruments joining in with playing the concluding chord of E minor. Further, the piano root note dancing about too often was added to mainly avoid repetitive and bland root chords appearing consecutively, however it did create instability for modulations, and so it would likely have been more efficient to have the chord root remain more stationary and posing more movement to the upper parts of the piano part – perhaps even removing the right hand doubling of the melody in order to add possibilities of counter-melodies. Though this would then pose a risk of confusing the primary school students, but perhaps a student would be allowed to play an upper piano melody for the final verse whilst the teacher continues in the central register of the instrument.

     Finally, the suggestion to use root chords in 1st inversion as opposed to chord iii is something I partially agree with; as the harmony progresses from IV – iii (in G) twice for each verse, perhaps one of these progressions could be changed to IV – Ib in order to add more harmonic flavour, but the other remain in order to avoid consistent use of tonic, sub-dominant and dominant chords.

 

 

Figure 1.4 – A comparison on how the harmony could have been changed

 

      Ultimately, our arrangement received 68%, and my individual commentary was 78%, evening out around a solid 73%. It was a good, fun coursework.

Reminiscence written on 20th July 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

© 2019 Jonathan Shaw