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Room for Improvement

Writing and arranging music for records and print publication is one of those jobs where your work sometimes hangs around long enough to remind you that you weren’t nearly as smart or as talented in the past as you may have thought you were. I was reminded of that this week.  

Let me explain…

In 1982, 1983, and 1984, I was lucky enough to arrange and produce three Christmas records for KVIL Radio – a big pop radio station in Dallas. The projects were the highlight of the year.  I had a real budget and access to the best studio musicians in Dallas/Fort Worth.  (There has always been a very large pool of great players and singers in DFW – thanks to North Texas State, two major symphonies, and the radio jingle recording scene.) The charts I arranged for those projects were, in my estimation, really good.  Exciting, jazzy, slick – all done in the vein of Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle (two of my arranging heros).

Over the years, I’ve continued to listen those recordings at Christmastime.  They still sound good, and they bring back great professional memories for me. But this year, I pulled out the scores and read along as I listened – an eye-opening experience.  While the arrangements still work – I was struck by how much I’ve learned in the past 25 years. Voicings, harmonies, economy, ranges, tempos – the list goes on. Every one of the fifteen or so charts needed changes to meet my own standards of today. I’m not talking severe changes or major overhauling. But every chart had plenty of reason to make me want to slap my forehead and say “What was I thinking when I wrote THAT?”

So – I gave myself a Do-Over. I pulled one of the charts – a 180 measure jazz waltz monster, and I re-did it. I wrote a new version, fixing all the things that made me slap my forehead.  It took me over two days – and I’ll probably never have a reason to record the new version.  But I think it was worth the time.

I doubt I’ll do the same with the other arrangements from those projects.  I’m a bit compulsive, but I’m no glutton for punishment. But the process reminded me there is almost always room for improvement.

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