Gene Gajewski

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More Music Fun…

It’s been a few days since the last post and I’ve got a lot of things on my plate. Mom’s at the hospital with my cousin Kimberly who has Down’s Syndrome. Unfortunately, she aspirated a bit a food and developed a pneumonia from that. So things are a bit tense at the moment. At some point I may have to takeover shepherding my cousin to doctor’s visits. In the meantime, I’m here at home holding down the fort as best as I can.

On to music things. The next classical piece to catch my eye is In The Hall of The Mountain King composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875. Wikipedia entry here. It’s not a complete symphony, it’s just one short piece. It’s from an act in the Norwegian play, Peer Gynt. I’ve never been to a Dovregrubben’s music hall, but this piece will set your imagination loose with images of “trolls, gnomes and goblins.” Fun stuff! I had to sort through the available scores for this piece on MuseScore – there were a lot of arrangements there for all number of instruments. What I I desired though was an orchestral piece (my favorite) and this one seemed to be the best of the bunch. I am by no means a musical authority on (well, just about anything), but I’m quite capable as a layman in sorting through compositions to get to the most interesting ones. Ones that will give me a at least a little challenge in producing a pleasing performance. In The Hall of the Mountain King has many staccato runs for many of the instruments. Also, the musical transcriber (person who entered the score into MuseScore) has used some interesting notations which gave me interesting puzzles to solve.

What do you mean, 1 only?

This first issue is a no-brainer really, but it indicates that I must look  through that entire part closely to look for additional directives and articulations. I’ve never run into a “1 only” directive before but its meaning is clear – only one flute player in this case. It also implies that there may be more than one flute player elsewhere, hence the directive. There can be a couple of flute players in an orchestra though they may pull double duty and to switch to a piccolo if the music register is higher than a flute can play.

What’s a polyphonic (monophonic) instrument?

Normally, I don’t worry about multiple players in woodwinds (flute, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, etc.) for a couple of simple reasons. First of all, there are never more than two, maybe three at most, of each woodwind instrument called for in an orchestral score. Unlike string instruments which need many players to achieve needed audible volume, one or two is all that’s needed for a woodwind instrument. Since these are monophonic instruments, unless you see multiple voices in their score, these few woodwinds’ instruments are all playing tutti, or together the same note. And unlike string instruments, there’s no sense of multitude as there is with string sections. You can get by with just one instrument for the tutti parts unless there’s some genuine need indicated in a score. This is why the 1 only directive gave me pause – but then I realized the composer likely wants a singleton player to keep thing those staccato flute notes as sharp, tight, and distinct as a only a single player can do. He wasn’t assuming anything about modern musical optimizations.

Modern VST instruments can usually treat a monophonic instrument as a polyphonic one, because, well, a computer can do anything, right? This makes it very easy for us MIDI guys as there no need to have more than one of a particular woodwind instrument because even if it splits divisi in some places to handle more than one voice – our virtual instrument woodwinds are polyphonic – we don’t need two or three players. But, what if a part splits divisi and the players have different articulations? How do you work that one, Mr. Peabody?

Wherein I pull a rabbit out of a hat!

A picture containing text, antennaDescription automatically generated Well Sherman, here you see the flutes go divisi for just a short short interval. Nothing at all really; you see a half note and a rest surrounded by a couple of quarter notes. But look closely and you see those quarter notes are staccato while the half note is not. How are you going to pull this one off with your “polyphonic” flute, Mr. Wizard? That normal half note and the quarter staccato note overlap!

The truth is it depends on the quality and implementation of the virtual instrument. If the two notes do not start at the exact same time and the virtual instrument can switch articulations for new notes while avoiding upsetting the articulation of an already sounding note, you’re home free. This is not a situation you’d ever encounter in real life as you’d just simply use more than one physical instrument player. This is also what I would need to do as well with our virtual woodwind instrument if it isn’t all that smart.

We’d have to simply use two instruments instead of one, just like in real life. But the purpose of computers is to automate and simplify things for us, make it easier. We only want one player for a woodwind unless the score actually calls for more and those few situations where they do split are handled automatically with our polyphonic (monophonic) virtual instrument – excepting differing articulations played simultaneously. In our case, the Halion Symphonic Orchestra woodwinds we are using can sound different articulations together if they don’t start at the exact same instant – just what we want.

Hammer Geek Time!

This is where your long time put in as a MIDI geek pays off. You develop a knowledge base of how to implement score directives, note articulations and decorations in MIDI where it isn’t necessarily apparent just how to proceed. Just like a musician who must interpret a musical score into an audible reality – you the midi geek must also.

Need an accented note? Use a key switch if your virtual instrument takes one, or you can use one of the MIDI CCs (continuous controllers) to do it, goosing a notes volume. Depending on which CC your instrument follows, this could be the CC of ‘Expression’, or ‘Breath Control’ for example. There’s a whole list of CCs available in MIDI, and they’re not always used in the most obvious ways. They are labelled in the standard in such a way to at least indicate their original intended usage.

MIDI music allows us to be be the conductor and performer of any arbitrary number of instruments. Hollywood films are scored and mocked up in MIDI these days. The score is then transferred to a real live film orchestra for recording, but they get to hear the composer’s intention even before playing for the first time.  And that’s awesome!

Now to get back to working on In The Hall Of The Mountain King! Only seventeen instrument groups left to go… Ouch! We’ll see just what the composer intended in our next post.

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