Arranging for the Pageantry Arts: An Introduction

Welcome to a Sibelius blog for composers and arrangers in the world of the pageantry arts, like marching band, drum corps, and indoor winds/percussion. While I am a wind arranger, and most of my topics and information will be geared for the non-percussionists out there, I feel some of the tips can be borrowed by anyone.

My name is John Meehan, and I am the brass arranger for The Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps, as well as many other marching bands, drum corps, and other groups around the U.S.A. and world. My hope with this blog will be share info and tips I have learned using Sibelius within my composing and arranging projects for the past 16 years. Before Sibelius, I used the programs Professional Composer and Mosaic (both no longer available), and before that, paper and pencil!

There is NO BETTER resource for blog topics than YOU! If you have a question, or possible topic idea, please contact me.


Master Templates

With it being the beginning of drum corps and indoor winds writing season, I wanted to focus my first Sibelius blog entry on setting up a template, and assigning sounds within it. For me, while it’s a bit daunting initially, creating a master template, then making minor adjustments during each project, saves me tons of time throughout the year. In the past, I would create a new template for each project, but found I was duplicating the same workflow each time. Now, working off of a master template, then simply deleting the instruments I don’t need and changing the title and such, gets me to writing much faster.

So what do I consider to be a “master template”? Basically, a score with EVERY instrument I might come across needing to write for that season. Maybe go back and see what woodwind instruments you wrote for last year, and how many parts per. What brass instruments, and so on. Include specialty instruments (Oboe, French Horn), as well as staves for your percussion cues. Now, when you start a project, you just need to delete the instruments not needed for that group, and viola, ready to go!


Customizing your templates

The default 4/4 for Sibelius beams four 8th notes together. I prefer my 8th notes beamed in groups of 2, so I always make sure to go into the time signature dialog box, select other, customize to 4/4 (even though the default is already there), then click “Beam and Rest Groups…”. There, change the “group 8th as” to 2,2,2,2. This comes in handy as well when you’re writing in 7/8 and other meters where you want to customize the beaming.

Get to know all of the options within TEXT in the ribbon. You can add headers (first page only, or after the first page), and lots of other useful styles.

To move between your score and parts, simply type “option-command-~” to move forward, or “command-w” to move backward.

Wildcards and Keyboard Shortcuts

Customizing your scores and parts, as well as overall Sibelius experience, can go to the next level with wildcards and keyboard shortcuts. Do you like to have a current date on your score without YOU having to update it? Well, using a wildcard, you can! The text entry for that would be \$DateShort – OR – $DateLong (with a backslash at the beginning and end of the wildcard). You can use other wildcards to customize your headers and other text options with things like $PageNum – OR – $Arranger – OR – $Copyright – and many others. Update the specific in formation in File-Info, and voilà, there it is!

Are there certain functions you use a lot, and wish there was a keyboard shortcut for them? Well, there may not be (or it’s a bit awkward), but you can make them yourself! By going to… Sibelius-Preferences-Keyboard Shortcuts, you can find pretty much every function, then assign a keyboard function to it (or learn the one Sibelius already had assigned to it).

Assigning voices

Depending on if you’re using the included Sibelius Sounds, or if you’ve purchased different sound libraries (such as Fanfare which uses Kontakt or Garritan’s “Concert & Marching Band 2” which uses Aria), this will vary.

Select PLAY in the ribbon, then playback devices. Here, make sure your “active devices” are correct. If you only use Sibelius Sounds, then Sibelius Player should be active. If you have sound libraries that use a different player (such as Kontakt, Aria, or Play), those should be selected. If you use a Mac, I suggest AU over VST.

Once the players are in your active devices, make sure the sound set option is correct. If you have a sound set, it should be selected. If you don’t, it should say “none”. To change this, click on “manual sound sets”, then select the device, change the sound set to none (or the sound set you want to use). If none, then make sure to select the box next to “use manual sound set”, and increase the number of channels to 16. Click apply, and repeat for all of your players.

Let’s say you need more voices. Simply select a 2nd instance of that player from the available devices. If you selected Kontakt (AU), under active devices, you should now see a second instance of that player. You now have 32 channels available to you.

Once all of your playback devices are selected, open up your mixer and assign voices to each instrument. First assign the playback device you want to each instrument. If you have a sound set running for that playback device, you would select the instrument right there in the mixer. If you are using a manual sound set for that playback device, you would click on the “plug-in interface”, which will open up your player (e.g., Kontakt), and there you would assign the instrument you want. Make sure the midi channels align mixer to player.

You can obviously pan and move the faders around for each instrument within the mixer, but you also have control for the master fader, as well as individual playback device pan and faders to the far right of the mixer.


Sound libraries

So what do I use within my writing? I have several sound libraries I have purchased over the years, but the main ones I use are…

  • Virtual Ensemble Trilogy – I use these sounds for my sectional brass (Trumpets, Mellophones, Low Brass, Tubas). V.E.T. comes with a Sibelius sound set.
  • Fanfare – I use this for most of my solo brass instruments. Works within Kontakt.
  • Garritan’s “Concert & Marching Band 2”  – I use this for all of my sectional woodwinds. This is a solid library as it includes Bass Clarinets, and the entire saxophone family. Works within their own player called Aria.
  • Symphony Series Collection – I use this library for a lot of my specialty wind instruments (Oboe, Bassoon, French Horn) as well as percussion and other solo voices. Works within Kontakt.
  • Impact – I use this for a lot of my front ensemble instruments. Works within Kontakt.

I have many other libraries I will use, but those are the basics. You can find libraries for as inexpensive as $49, or as high as $5,000, it just depends on what you’re looking for, and of course your budget. EastWest Sounds even has an option called ComposerCloud which allows you to pay monthly for thousands of dollars worth of virtual instruments. These sounds work within their Play engine (not Kontakt), and are very high quality.

I’m sure you still have questions, but I hope this gives you some tips, ideas, and a bit of informational motivation as you begin your next pageantry writing project.

Now get back to work!

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