Every single musician I know have been part of flexible ensembles. Some are in bands, and have members change occasionally so are constantly revisiting their music to make sure it still works. Some work solo, but occasionally gather a band around them. The more classical musicians I know also work flexibly – there’s rarely enough musicians on the right instruments, especially in amateur and community groups.
My first memory of flexible playing is from when I was about 14. I grew up playing in traditional string ensembles and orchestras, and we played normal, traditional string ensemble arrangements. I participated in a yearly summer camp, which meant that for a week, we attended our Conservatorium for 6 or 7 hours a day and played music together. At one of these camps, we were preparing a few pieces for a concert later in the year, a concert where we would be playing with woodwind players among others. One of the pieces was the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, and is traditionally written for string orchestra and two solo oboe players. But we were a string orchestra and didn’t have oboe players to rehearse with, so two of our violinists played the parts instead.
Looking back, it seems laughably stiff of us to be excited about modifying an arrangement in such a small way, but it opened the gates for me personally, and I started thinking about flexibility more. (The year before I had also started Jazz piano lessons, so that may have had something to do with it too!) The ability to make a piece work for any ensemble has become quite valuable to me, but it’s not something I reflect in my writing. I decided to do something about that! So I wrote an arrangement of Charlie Puth’s Attention for two parts; two parts which are flexible and can be interchanged freely.
You can play it with any combination of:
Violin, Viola, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon
Viola, Cello, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon
As long as there’s at least one player on each part, it doesn’t matter what instrument they’re playing! I find this really exciting, and it was a little bit of a challenge. I haven’t included brass instruments because personally I’m not that comfortable writing for them, but that will hopefully come in the future. You can check out the music at the links below.