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MMD > Archives > October 2000 > 2000.10.01 > 01Prev  Next

Music Arranging and the Computer
By Tom Meijer

Matthew Caulfield invited me to tell about the impact the computer has
had on an arranger's work.  For the last five years I make my new
arrangements with the computer.  Looking back, I come to the conclusion
that this machine not only has changed my job as an arranger, but that
it has transformed the world of mechanical music as well.

In MMD 99.12.23 I wrote a message about the costs of producing book
music.  I explained why prices for organ books always have been rather
high, particularly due to the 19th century labor involved in the foot
punching of the books.  But I also showed that these costs not only
concern the craft of cutting holes in cardboard, but even more the
arranging itself.  It takes many hours to create an arrangement that
fits the specific organ.  In fact, each organ demands its own approach.

What to think of small organs with three bass notes and missing almost
all sharps.  Gerard Razenberg, a famous Dutch arranger for street
organs, told me once that arranging for such a limited instrument is
like writing on a typewriter which misses the characters for, let's
say, 'b', 'j' 'k' and 't'.  You would never be able to use the words
you wanted to use.  Remember this comparison when you type your next
message for MMD.

The computer is a great help for the present-day arranger of music for
mechanical instruments.  I summarize some of the advantages:

(1) with the computer he can do the same things as he did before with
paper and pencil, but quicker and easier - especially concerning the
always occurring repetitions in the music.  Also it is easier to make
tempo adjustments in a tune;

(2) at any moment he can listen to what he has made, while with the old
method he only could hear in mind the final results of his work;

(3) he can easily transpose a finished arrangement from one scale to
another.  Although one must be careful with this: arranging for a
German fair organ is far different from arranging for a modern dance

(4) he can print out the finished arrangement on a paper master, or cut
the book with a computerized punching machine.  Or when the organ has
MIDI capability he can supply the customer with the arrangement on
disk, ready to play the organ - as Matthew Caulfield already mentioned.

There is one risk with the rise of the computer in the field of fair
organs and other mechanical instruments.  It is pointed out in MMD
before: one of the attractive parts of mechanical organ enjoyment is to
watch book music going through the keyframe.  In 1971, when I tried to
arrange my first organ book, I always stood at the backside of the
street organs in Amsterdam.  I was "watching the holes go by" and I
carefully listened what sound was produced at the same time.

I must have studied 1001 books running through the keyframe, while
I enjoyed the arrangements of the best people who had worked for the
Dutch street organs, like Carl Frei, Romke de Waard, Gerard Razenberg
and Piet Maas.  Later on I learned to know the dance organs and I
studied in the same way the music books of the better Belgian
arrangers, who often surprised me with their musical inventions.

As there was no school or study book of "How to arrange music for
mechanical organs", the only way to learn this skill was to discover
how others had made their arrangements.  When I made my first books,
the organ itself was my best teacher!

Today it should have been easier to learn the secrets of arranging:
comfortably sitting before my computer, watching the piano roll view in
Cakewalk, I could follow the pattern of the holes on the screen and
listen to the sound which is produced.  Although, in this way I should
have missed the charm of a real organ and the comments made by the
Amsterdam organ grinders, who were very attractive in my learning
period in Amsterdam.

As Tim Trager noticed before, there is a rush to "computerize"
mechanical organs and to lay the book music aside!  I totally agree
with the advantages of MIDI-fication of organs -- for example: you
don't have to carry heavy cardboard books, you can choose on your
remote control every tune you want to hear, you can obtain new music
quicker and cheaper, you even don't notice the difference between music
produced by a book or by a disk with midi-files, et cetera.

But in this way you will miss the enchanting atmosphere which belongs
to old-fashioned big cardboard books.  I prefer the smell of cardboard
and shellac to the synthetic smell of a floppy disk.  Therefore I am
sure that many traditional organs never will be computerized.  But to
produce new arrangements the computer certainly is a helpful medium.

Musical regards from Holland,

Tom Meijer

(Message sent Fri 29 Sep 2000, 12:40:16 GMT, from time zone GMT+0200.)

Key Words in Subject:  Arranging, Computer, Music

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