Orchestral Arranging Case Study

Composer Mark Lucas sent a recording to us, wanting to hear it arranged for orchestra.

The song, sung rubato in wordless melody over strummed guitar accompaniment, showed terrific pitch and heartfelt emotion. It’s a work of passion, as you can hear (first phrase):

Because of the rubato nature of the performance, the intended rhythm was elusive to us at first.

Scan of transcription worksheet

Pencil and paper transcription

Upon starting the transcription, melodic form and probable rhythm became apparent. Mark’s innate gift for melody caused him to create a composition with a classic form – A A B B A A. The B’s are double the length of the A’s, but a classic form nonetheless.

Given the limitless possibilities offered by the open evocativeness of the melody, Mark’s guidance requesting low strings, his original recording with strummed guitar and voice, and the title (“Lament”) gave us enough to get started.

At first, a few strummed guitar chords, as on his original recording, seemed they’d be overwhelmed by the initial entrance of the strings, so we wrote a guitar intro:

After finishing the arrangement, it became obvious it was a poor choice (as pointed out gently by Mark, as well as my own ears) so we used foreshadowing instead, incorporating elements in the intro that occur later in the piece in various forms:

After beginning, the piece seemed to write itself, starting with the melody and bass line in the strings, then adding the other string parts.

We often get the feeling while writing that the piece is telling us what it needs, that logic and form are not only the rule, but also the inspiration. Development is key, using classic composition techniques such as echo, sequence, and melodic ornamentation such as chromatic alteration/resolution, suspension, delay, anticipation, inversion, expansion, and other devices.

As the tune progresses, instruments enter, either with countermelodies or as reinforcement for the writing in the strings to bring out and add color to phrases as they unfold.

Countermelodies and the melodic ornamentation they contain introduce moments of “rub” and resolution, an ebb and flow, and as more instruments enter, the dynamic builds toward the climax. The denouement is a matter of subtraction, with countermelodies revisited, this time in solo woodwinds.

We found that liberal use of hairpins smoothed the transition between instrument groupings, feathering dynamic transitions. We’re grateful to Mark for holding our feet to the fire on that point..

Screenshot of a Finale score

Hairpins in the woodwinds feather them into the entering strings

We had a wonderful time working on this, and found Mark to be a nurturing, tactful collaborator, and we’re grateful to him for the opportunity to work on this wonderful piece.

Here’s the whole thing:

This piece is available for licensing from Mark Lucas. Please use the site form to request Mark’s contact information, and we’ll put you in touch with him!
Orchestral arrangement by Jon Burr – arrangerforhire.com (You’re here already! 🙂
Used by permission of the composer.

About Jon Burr

Staff Arranger Jon Burr is also the site administrator for arrangerforhire.com.

Active as a bassist, composer, and arranger since the beginning of his career, Jon's work has appeared on recordings by Chet Baker, Sir Roland Hanna, Mark O'Connor, Barry Miles, Arlyn Valencia, and many others. As a bassist he's performed or recorded with Tony Bennett, Stan Getz, Horace Silver, Stephane Grappelli, Mark O'Connor, Rita Moreno, Barbara Cook, Eartha Kitt, and many others.

Jon writes in a variety of styles, ensembles large and small, with experience in many instrumental configurations. You can hear his work on his websites jonburr.com and Jon Burr Quintet, and is receiving rave reviews from Arranger for Hire customers. His arranging reel is available on request (email us on using the site form). He also writes about cooking at The Improvising Chef.

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