Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Björk for Band

I took a band arranging class this semester. It was an elective, and technically an undergrad class, but one that still counts towards my degree. Though I have some experience arranging for band - mostly marching band - as well as other ensembles, I wanted to get some more formal experience, since I haven't had any other than my required orchestration class in undergrad, and hearing how some of my arrangements turned out and tweaking them if necessary. We had a mid-term, and I did a simple, one-verse setting of Suo Gan, a Welsh folk tune I arranged for marching band a few years ago (we used it as our on-field warm-up one season). I thought about reworking that for my final project, but I couldn't devote as much time to it as I wanted. (I'd still like to write a fantasia on the tune, or a theme and variations - we'll see if it happens. It's good source material but really short, only 16 measures.)

What I decided to do, then, was to transcribe a Björk tune: her Overture from the movie Dancer in the Dark, or Selmasongs if you're looking at the soundtrack title. The opening clip from the movie is on YouTube; check it out in the original. It was originally scored for a brass choir, and I like how that sounds. Adding woodwinds in was difficult for me, partly because I've heard the tune so many times in its original that it was hard to hear the woodwinds, and partly because I like the overall dark timbre of the brass ensemble. I do like the timbre change in the "bridge," around measure 27, but I could do without the flutes, oboes and bassoons. I think I'll rewrite it for brass choir, but I really don't want to deal with the copyright issues and getting permission to arrange and publish (and paying for that). (As far as I know, this isn't published anywhere - I haven't seen it.)

My teacher kept on telling me she didn't like the title Overture, since it's not a "true" overture, but I didn't want to change the title. It's an overture to the movie/album, and though it's not like a Mozart overture or a band overture (fast-slow-fast), the title still describes what occurs.

We got to read the piece twice. They did a good job with it. The horns, who take the lead for most of the piece, sounded pretty good. I think with about 30 min. more of rehearsal it could've sounded really good - I'm not happy with how the climax turned out - I wasn't exactly sure how to write the dynamics, and didn't have time to rehearse it effectively.

One of the things I like about this piece is its simplicity: it's based on two chords, EbM and Abm. From those chords there are a lot of textural things going on, with a lot of non-harmonic tones and things that don't appear on the first listen, but seep to the surface after further explorations. The climax is great - I like the brassy sound of the trumpets (can you tell I'm a brass player?), and how it fades away so fast from there - a long build-up, a quick hit, then it fades again.

The recordings of the band are below, both readings. I posted the score, too, not so you can print it and perform it, but so you can follow along (if you desire) and give me some feedback (which I would love to have - post in the comments below).

First Read (MP3)

Second Read (MP3)

Band Score (PDF)

By the way, if anyone wants to do the music from Dancer in the Dark for a marching band show, contact me - I think it would work great, and I'd love to arrange it.

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