About Arrangements, Marching and Otherwise

About Arrangements, Marching and Otherwise2022-12-10T21:17:51+00:00

By Matthew Maslanka
President, The David Maslanka Foundation

My father was a master orchestrator. He carefully and deliberately judged and balanced every note from every instrument or singer to help form a complete musical thought. What he wrote was an ideal in his mind. However, he lived in the real world: people often need to adjust aspects of the music to perform it. Substituting instruments or simplifying technical passages is entirely valid and he would himself often help make those adjustments.

He recognized the appeal and validity of adaptation as well: not only did he transcribe his own works into other ensembles, he routinely incorporated quotations of other composers’ music into his own.

The distinction he drew was this:

  • Direct transcriptions (keeping the musical material of the work substantially unchanged while altering the instrumentation) are usually acceptable. They present the whole work through a different perspective.
  • Quotations (incorporating a short, recognizable passage from an existing work into a new work) are acceptable as a point of compositional departure or homage.
  • Arrangements that alter the structure of a work and then purport to represent the music are not acceptable.

We never discussed sampling, but I imagine he would be fine with it as it is a compositional tool.

Why didn’t he ever authorize a marching arrangement?

At first glance, it seems like his works would be a good fit for the field. His music has exciting and powerful passages that get your blood pumping and make audiences leap to their feet. You love his music and want to feature it in a way that many more people would be exposed to it. Your performers will love it and play their hearts out.

My father had nothing against athletic bands. In fact, the percussion in the third movement of A Child’s Garden of Dreams was actually inspired by the Northwestern drumline at a basketball game. He even frequently suggested to marching groups that he write a piece or a whole show for them, but no one ever took him up on it.

Every time we discussed the matter of arranging his existing works for marching band, he was reluctant to allow them on three grounds:

  • They are virtually always cut down for time or to fit a show arc. These cuts fundamentally alter the context of the remaining material and reduce their intelligibility and impact.
  • Performances in a stadium environment necessarily compress the dynamic range to mf-fff and do not permit the level of subtlety required to represent the music in its true colors.
  • Whether the audience is there for football, a marching competition, or a drum corps exhibition, they are almost never in the proper headspace to properly engage with the character of emotion that dad’s music requires.

In these arrangements, the exciting bits have been excerpted and are stripped of their intended context. His fermatas and ritards are fundamental to the understanding of his music and ignoring or rewriting them robs the music of its power. Adding a drumline fundamentally alters the rhythmic conception and presentation of the music. What remains has only a passing resemblance to the original work.

He felt strongly about the importance of playing the whole piece. The third movement of Symphony No. 2 has been available as a standalone work for a long time. While it has certainly contributed to the work’s increased popularity, he was unhappy that it existed in this form. The movement is fun and exciting, but its brilliance is dulled without the first two movements to give it its full power.

I heard his music on the field by a major group. What’s the deal?

Carl Fischer published most of my father’s music starting in the early 1980s. They were instrumental in helping his music reach a wide audience and remain a valuable partner to this day. In 2008, he decided to move toward self publishing and offered his music through Maslanka Press. We have largely navigated this transition well, but a few things fell through the cracks. Marching arrangements were one of those things. Even though dad had a longtime understanding with their licensing department, it wasn’t communicated to the new licensing team that came in around 2010.

Fischer was entirely within their rights to issue arrangement licenses and all performances that you heard were likely properly licensed. The issue persisted for so long for a couple of reasons:

  • Issuing licenses was routine and neither my father nor the Maslanka Foundation were consulted on specific instances. This is a usual and reasonable business practice for publishers.
  • We would occasionally hear that his work was being done on the field. We usually had bigger issues to sort out and assumed that such events were an oversight.
  • When it became clear that Fischer was authorizing increasing numbers of marching arrangements, we requested that they stop doing so. As of August 2022, no further licenses will be issued without the Maslanka Foundation’s explicit permission.

So can I play his music on the field?

Potentially yes, so long as you do the whole work. Context is absolutely essential for making his powerful moments so powerful. Without the buildup and the resolution, it rings hollow. Instrumentation and dynamic range are negotiable, but performing the whole work is not.

I hope this serves as a measure of clarity. I am grateful that my father’s works have touched you so deeply and that they are important to you. I ask that you help preserve the integrity of his legacy by performing his music in its entirety with your whole heart.

Drawing boundaries is an inherently fuzzy endeavor and you may have a situation that’s borderline or that you have a good pitch for. If you’re unsure, please get in touch (info@maslanka.org) and we’ll be happy to figure out the best way forward for everyone.