Adapting Music to Your Ensemble

by Amy Rice-Young (1985)

Flute Choirs are becoming an increasingly popular performance medium. With this new growth, there is also more demand for good music. Conductors and other flute choir organizers should be able to adapt all kinds of music to their particular choir.

Flute Choirs have a somewhat unique problem in obtaining repertoire. Primarily, there is no ultimate definition of exactly what a flute choir is, either in size or instrument composition. There isn't an accepted basic flute choir, i.e., a group that is generally accepted as a basis which all choirs should have. Instead, flute choirs have an enormous range in both numbers of players and instruments available to them.

While this has tremendous advantages in making flute choirs accessible to more flutists, it poses a problem to composers, arrangers and conductors who are trying to choose music for their groups. More and more publishers are producing music with optional parts to help solve this problem, but there is much that can be done by the conductor. The following lists a few of the difficulties encountered in adapting music for your choir, and some possible solutions. Keep in mind that anything done to adapt music to a particular ensemble should be in keeping with the style of the music.

One consideration is the number of flutists in an ensemble. Having too many flutists is easily fixed by splitting into smaller groups. Many pieces work quite nicely with 4 or 5 flutists per part, however too few flutists can be more difficult. A common example is a flute choir of 6 members that wants to play a piece written for 8 parts.First, decide if there are any parts that can be combined. Rewriting the middle voices might eliminate a part. Decide if all the harmonies are necessary and then eliminate the ones that are expendable. Look at octaves, as they are frequently doubled. If parts cannot be eliminated, then the piece is indeed too large for your ensemble. Each individual should decide how much of the harmonic texture they are willing to sacrifice in order to play the piece.

Many choirs have a wide mixture of ability. While a primary goal is to stimulate better players, it is important not to frustrate the less accomplished ones. There are many pieces available that have one or two very difficult parts while the other parts are far less difficult. There are many ways to make difficult parts easier, such as changing octaves, adding or subtracting articulation, changing 16th notes to 8th notes by dropping every other note and reducing ornamentation. If the difficult passages aren't too lengthy, perhaps they can be made into "solo" passages for the better players. When planning your programs, keep ability levels in mind. Very accomplished players will usually not mind easier music if they are allowed to "shine" on another piece. Perhaps feature good players in a separate trio or quartet.

A large portion of flute choir music is automatically eliminated if it calls for Eb, alto or bass flutes, as many ensembles do not have access to these instruments. Publishers are now starting to include optional C flute parts to help these groups. There are, however, other options. To supplement the "bottom" of the choir, consider using cello, string bass or low brass instruments, depending on style. A pianist can add the lower octaves. If it is necessary to re-write a part, be careful of octave placement in order to avoid forming cluster tones or awkward line crossing. To add more "top", which is rarely needed in flute choirs, there is always the piccolo. Add violins or the high brass instruments. Again, be careful of octaves and harmonic placement.

Occasionally flute choirs feel that their sound is not "full" enough, or lacks interest. Good programming plays a large part in this. Adding a piano part often fills in many extra harmonies and adds a bit of contrast. Many pieces can either be re-written or expanded to include various other instruments.

Another interesting addition is that of a vocal choir. The possibilities are endless, and in most cases, pieces are easily adaptable. The most important factors in adapting music are to be creative and imaginative. At the same time, be realistic. There are undoubtedly some pieces that just won't work. If you're not sure, go ahead and try. You may be pleasantly surprised!