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An orchestrator is someone who prepares music for performance by an orchestra. Orchestrators can work in many different settings such as opera houses, concert halls, and movie studios, and may apply their skills in different ways. This type of work requires a number of skills and years of experience and training. People who are interested in careers in orchestration can receive training through colleges and universities with music programs, or institutions which focus specifically on training musicians and composers.
Some composers are also orchestrators. They develop a piece from scratch, starting with the framework they want to use, developing themes, thinking about how they want the piece to feel, and gradually creating a score for full orchestra. Some composers like to do their own orchestration because they want total control over the piece and the way in which it will be performed. This includes everything from determining how instruments will be used for texture to establishing tempo.
In other cases, an orchestrator works with a composer to develop a rough composition into a fully finished piece for orchestra. Orchestrators can also take existing pieces of music and arrange them for orchestra. For example, on a film, a composer might develop themes which introduce characters and ideas, and an orchestrator can expand these themes into a full orchestral piece, and play with the themes as the story progresses and the characters change.
There is a distinction between transcription and arrangement when it comes to orchestrating. When a piece is transcribed, the orchestrator keeps it as close to the original as possible. When pieces are arranged, they can be altered to make them more suitable or to bring out different desired features and traits. Both require similar sets of skills, including an ability to hear the orchestra in one's head while work is done on the piece, because it is not practical to keep an orchestra on standby to test out pieces of the composition as they are developed.
Not all musicians are capable of developing pieces for orchestra. An orchestra can be difficult to manage and use effectively, and poor orchestration skills can cause a composition to suffer. Instruments may sound at odds with each other, for example, or the tempo may be off. The texture of the piece can also feel thin and half finished if the instruments are not used properly. The skills of an orchestrator are an important part of bringing a piece of music to life.