String Quintet Arranging Case Study

We got an interesting assignment (from a previous client), requesting an arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner, “aria”-style, after Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, for voice, string quartet and piano. The opening bars of the famous aria have an unusual harmonic scheme, pivoting between the tonic, and a melodic minor construction built on the lowered sixth. Berklee students will recognize this as an altered dominant, with the minor ninth in the bass. Another way to describe it might be as a “flat sixth minor major seventh.” It could also be described as the first inversion of a half-diminished plagal cadence, and it’s also the third inversion of a dominant with a raised 11th on the flatted second (a tritone substitute of the dominant). The distinctive character of this sound is defined by the choice of bass note.

I know, that’s a lot of jargon. Theory buffs might appreciate it (or more likely choose to argue about it) – theory buffs are an odd lot. (I’m one of them.)

Given this intro, I thought it would be interesting to apply that interesting harmonic substitution for the dominant, wherever it occurs in the tune. Having done that, we opened the Finale midi in ProTools, assigned instruments, edited, mixed and mastered, then produced this little video in Adobe Premiere featuring iPhone images and video clips from our own most patriotic experiences from the past year. We added section bass for the video version of the score.

About Jon Burr

Jon Burr is a composer, arranger, producer, recording engineer, bandleader, bassist, and educator from Yonkers, NY.. and a Finale user since 1996. As owner/operator of Arranger for Hire, he serves music arranging and production customers from around the world. A veteran touring bassist, his performance credits include Tony Bennett, Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Eartha Kitt, Rita Moreno, The Hot Swing Trio, Stephane Grappelli and many others. Arranging customers have included the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Chilean Astronomy Society, The Milpitas Community Concert Band, The Honey Taps, The Montclair Kimberly Academy’s annual musical, and many others. He writes for and leads his own ensembles, including the Jon Burr Quintet. His arrangements for Swedish YouTube artist Kim Andersson have received over 5 million views on Facebook and YouTube.