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Why Carols With An Orchestra?

1st of December 2014

Church Bands in Britain predate the common presence of organs. The resurgence of instruments in services must be due, at least in part, to John Rutter. From the early 70s imaginative orchestrations of carols flowed almost effortlessly, adding a fresh coat of paint to much loved favourites, invariably with small orchestra, yet evoking masses of colour. Similar techniques are seen on ‘Songs of Praise’, and magnificently at the ‘Big Sing’ with symphony orchestra. Overflowing attendance at St Paul’s Carols seems to have endorsed the innovation decisively.

Traditional carols are the backbone, but we include some excellent new carol compositions each year. Rutter varies the combinations of instruments. Flute or clarinets, oboe, bassoon, horns along with strings along with adaptions so all can use the ‘Standard Chipperfield Orchestra’ of flute, oboe, clarinet, horns, keyboard (as a harp,) trumpet, percussion and strings. Amazing the possible diversity!

Orchestration is greatly assisted by a clever computer programme aptly named ‘Sibelius’, that knows about orchestras, understanding all the notes every instrument plays. Notes handily turn pink on screen when they take the player close to exploding, red when completely unplayable! It also plays back, so you can hear if anything is wrong, with no rehearsals needed! Instrumental parts are teased out, forming as effective as possible an orchestral accompaniment and redistributing unavailable instruments’ notes. An awesome sound-world is available from exuberant to intimate. The computer prints players’ parts in the right range and key. Miraculously, when talented ‘live’ musicians and singers come together (mainly local in our case), they bring it magically to life. Of course, venue, balance and cost keep one grounded, but generous giving continues to make it possible.

I hope the church will again be filled as we unfold the timeless Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Keith Beniston
Director of Music, St Paul’s Church

This page is edited by Tony

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