UMobile professor fills in orchestration ‘gaps’ for Chapmancomment (0)
January 30, 2014
When Christian music’s most awarded recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman makes his Carnegie Hall debut Feb. 8, he will be backed by a 50-piece orchestra playing a few notes born out of Mobile.
University of Mobile (UMobile) music professor Steve Dunn said his orchestration of Chapman’s hit “For the Sake of the Call” will be his own Carnegie Hall debut as well.
“I’ve written more than 1,000 pieces of music, including about 250 that have been published, but I’ve never written anything that has been performed at Carnegie Hall,” said Dunn, assistant professor of music and director of Symphonic Winds at the UMobile Center for Performing Arts.
Chapman will kick off the spring leg of The Glorious Unfolding Tour with the Carnegie Hall concert in New York City, featuring his band plus a 300-voice choir and 50-piece orchestra. “The Glorious Unfolding” is Chapman’s 18th album. He has 58 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, five Grammys, an American Music Award, 47 No. 1 singles and approaching 11 million albums sold.
Dunn said he doesn’t know Chapman, but he does know Camp Kirkland, considered one of the nation’s premier church orchestrators and arrangers. Kirkland will conduct the New York orchestra and is in charge of turning music written for Chapman’s band into orchestra arrangements.
Dunn said he was a high school student when he first met Kirkland and showed him an original composition. Since then, Kirkland has been an influential mentor and Dunn is on Kirkland’s “go-to list” when arranging and composing is needed for someone of the caliber of Chapman.
Dunn was given a recording of Chapman and his band performing the No. 1 hit “For the Sake of the Call.” Accompanying that were 20 pages of mostly blank staffs, with only the choral arrangement and original band notes for guitar, piano and drums filled out.
He had five days to write 116 measures for 17 different instruments. That quick turnaround isn’t uncommon in the industry, Dunn said.
“My job was to fill in the gaps with other instruments,” Dunn said. “I determine which instrumentation will help improve that particular moment, or create that particular sound. You have to know how the instruments work together. It’s like you are given a skeleton and you have to know how to put the muscle and skin on it. Depending on how you do that, the result can sound different ways.”
Dunn, who teaches orchestration at UMobile, said facing 20 pages of blank musical staff can be intimidating.
“That’s the time I have to say, ‘Lord, I know I’ve done this before, so I trust I can do it again,’” Dunn said. He “hears” the notes in his head, occasionally checks a chord on the keyboard in his office and writes notes for instruments ranging from oboe to tuba. If there is time, he will put a few stanzas into notation software that provides a playback of the music with all instruments. Usually there isn’t time.
Even without actually hearing the notes played together, Dunn said he knows when the orchestration is right. He likens it to a chef knowing when a dish needs a dash of this spice or a pinch of that one, how an artist is able to mix paint to achieve just the right color or how an interior decorator can look at a room and instantly know where to place a lamp to achieve the right feel.
Carnegie Hall isn’t the only Feb. 8 debut for Dunn. High school students in the UMobile Honor Band will perform “Elegy,” Dunn’s new original composition, at 1 p.m. at the Saraland High School Performing Arts Center. The concert will be conducted by Jim Hansford, director emeritus of Oklahoma Baptist University Bands, and caps a three-day clinic for talented music students.
Registration is being accepted for the UMobile Honor Band, set for Feb. 6–8. Online registration is at www.umobile.edu/honorband2014 or call Dunn at 251-442-2447.
Dunn will be at the Honor Band performance and will hear “Elegy” performed live, but he won’t get to hear the orchestration for Chapman. He’s okay with that.
“It’s always nice to hear it performed, but I don’t have to. I’ve kind of heard it on my own, in my head, and I can live with that. Knowing it was performed and other people have heard it is enough,” Dunn said.