Watching the orchestra players during rehearsal is very enlightening. The string players are very busy almost every minute. The woodwinds are the next busiest members of the orchestra. They sometimes play as soloists, other times as duets and trios, sometimes as an entire unit. Then there are the brass and percussionists. They are interesting to watch. Most of the time they are not playing. So what do they actually do with all that down time? They COUNT. Sometimes their music will have many, many measures of rests, then a sudden burst of notes, then dozens of measures of rest until another few well placed and rather important notes. Same with the percussion. Those players in the orchestra are mainly there to provide the PUNCTUATION of the piece, especially in compositions where the choir or vocal soloists are to be the main attraction.
Just how we understand where the emphasis should be placed in the written word by what punctuation is used -- such as an exclamation point or a comma or a period -- we feel the emotional impact of a composition by its musical PUNCTUATION. The snare drum and tom tom often provide the heartbeat of a song. A few well placed timpani rolls or bass drum thumps and we start to feel something dramatic is happening. The excitement mounts when the trumpets call. Add the tuba and trombones to fill out the sound, and the effect is very grand indeed. These instruments are used sparingly for good reason. Their colors and volume can really enhance the drama and action of a piece of music. But too much and the effect can be disastrous.
Once I heard an interview with Nelson Riddle, the great arranger who got his start creating the charts for Frank Sinatra. Early in their association, Frank Sinatra complained that Nelson Riddle's arrangements "played all over him." That meant that the singer was being overpowered by the brass licks coming in during the vocal line. Nelson Riddle discovered how to use the trumpets, trombones, saxophones and drum kicks to PUNCTUATE the vocal phrases in unique and brilliant ways that perfectly matched Frank Sinatra's signature style. Their collaboration lasted for decades.
In the hands of a talented arranger, the orchestrations of a musical composition can be magical. I am delighted and amazed when the orchestrations we sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are just right. It is so fun to watch the players in the orchestra and learn what they do. I really appreciate the brass and percussion players who patiently COUNT for measure after measure until it is time to give their perfect PUNCTATION to our phrases.