(by Ricky Lombardo)
The flute choir is a beautiful medium of musical expression. The rich tone color can simulate a gigantic organ sound which intrigues the listener. Although this is wonderful and true, there are many flute choirs that just do not have the availability of the Eb, alto and/or bass flutes. How can one find the music to fit their needs? What type of music can fulfill the requirements of the growing and newly formed choir? Should it be a library of music for quartets, quintets, sextets, etc.? If someone is sick for a performance, what does one do with no replacement? All of these questions and more forced me to create many Expandable Flute Choir arrangements, the answer to all of these problems.
As a flutist and long time arranger, I have always loved the luscious sound created by flutes. In an ensemble they are exciting and thrilling to write for. There were so many creative ideas that I envisioned for this group. If only other flutists would have the same enthusiasm! But oh, no one had an alto or bass flute though piccolos were no problem. We decided to meet after I bought an assortment of music from quartets to full ensemble. Starting with a group of seven musicians with only C flutes and piccolos, much of the music did not work and without the lower flutes, there was nothing left to the arrangement. It was boring or unusable with mostly the quartets being playable.
Our second practice was even more terrifying. Some people were sick and couldn't come. Now even less music was useable. I thought to myself, if this was a performance, what would we do? With this experience of mine and that of many others who are faced with similar situations, I decided to do something about it. There had to be an answer or solution that could overcome these basic problems facing an ever growing medium. After diligent thought, I found the answer - music written in an expandable manner. One could start with a quartet and add instruments from there as they become available. Why not? It was bound to work. After all, as an arranger for night club vocalists, I write like this all the time. When touring, the singers must sound good with whatever instrumentation they have, whether the band has two horns or thirteen. This same principal could and would work with the flute choir.
My decision was to go with a basic quartet of two piccolos and two C flutes. The essence or meat of the arrangement would have to be contained in these parts. I then began to add the other instruments: another C flute, 2 alto flutes and a bass flute. I even decided to write substitute C flute parts for the alto and bass. I chose not to write an Eb flute part since they are far less available. As it was planned, this arrangement would work with a basic quartet of two piccolos and two flutes. You could then add anything else you had available and it would add to the arrangement. This was it! The answer to the growing flute choir.
Although an ideal concept, the writing task was a little different. There were certain fundamental procedures of orchestration that I had to be very concerned about. The basic quartet had to work alone. The added flutes had to have good parts that weren't just extra notes. The arrangement had to make musical sense and show good taste with all combinations. I did not want to have it boring on any part. When adding counter melodies, they had to work with the full ensemble and not clutter the arrangement, but add to it. However, when not being played, they had to not be missed. It was a difficult challenge.
I chose the use of two piccolos and two flutes because they would sound good together or separated into two distinct tone colors. Using the two piccolos in unison gives a special effect of slicing through the arrangement, which I liked. The other flutes, as they would become available, had added harmonies which gave enriched color to the chords. The extensions of the basic chords were placed in the extra parts. Counter melodies were added as additional flutes became available. I even wrote C flute parts for the alto and bass, which worked in an excellent manner, although they were not exact transcriptions. With such an arrangement, I found it necessary to change some notes in these parts to avoid harmonic clutter and interference with the melody lines which can occur in the process of transposing.
After many hours of work, my first piece was complete. It is a medley of 3 Christmas carols: Deck the Halls, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and Angels We Have Heard on High. I titled the work Christmas Fantasy because it is a happy, well-spirited piece and it was a fantasy to be working so well.
In summary, this type of arrangement is the answer to the newly formed flute choir. One piece of music can be used as a quartet or with any instrumentation up to eight or even eleven flutes. The substitute C flute parts can be used to replace the alto and bass flutes, or can be used with them. Although the cost of the arrangement is a little more than a quartet, it is economically a wise investment because of the versatility you have with it. When I taught a class at the Wildacres Flute Symposium in Little Switzerland, North Carolina for ALRY Publications (which, by the way, is excellent, and I would encourage anyone to attend), the response to this arranging concept was 100% enthusiastic, with comments such as: "This is just what we need", "Thank you for giving us music that will work in any situation", "This concept makes it easier to start a group", and "We need more music like this".
Although Christmas Fantasy was the first piece published for the Expandable Flute Choir, there are now many new arrangements available. The concept is catching on and is being embraced by flute choirs all over the country. These orchestrations should be a must for a flute ensemble, especially a new one. Expandable Flute Choir music is available exclusively through ALRY Publications:
TITLE, COMPOSER/ARRANGER (GRADE, CATALOG #)
Christmas Fantasy, arr. Ricky Lombardo (II-III, FC-25)
Gay 90s Medley, arr. Ricky Lombardo (II, FC-52)