Music should be widely accessible and enjoyed by as many audiences as possible, Dr. John Noble of Smith Mountain Lake believes, and his work helps make that happen.
Noble reworks classical music originally intended for orchestra and translates it into music a modern concert band could play. That includes a previously unpublished work by the iconic British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), which Noble completed earlier this year.
His work is “taking music that I feel is very important and significant and giving it to a wider audience, which is the concert band,” Noble said. There are far more concert bands than orchestras. “It gives people an opportunity to experience music that is significant to our history.”
“I pick orchestral scores that I feel would be good candidates for a band arrangement,” he said. What he calls “the four tenets” guide him in choosing a piece to arrange: the melody, its orchestration, brevity and audience appeal.
With more recent compositions, of which the composers are still living, Noble works with the composers to create concert band arrangements. They include Philip Lane and John Rutter.
The process of making arrangements is “changing instrumentation from strings, violins and so forth to band instruments, placing them to where they sound as near to the original as possible yet can work with the band techniques,” Noble said.
It’s all done on the computer. With the specialized software, “every note that I put down is sounded at the same time that I put it down.”
Two hundred and twenty-five arrangements Noble made are listed and available for purchase on his website, .
Each entry includes sheet music to purchase as well as the music being played for people to hear.
On the website, users can listen to the original orchestral work side-by-side with Noble’s band arrangement for comparison. “If you were a band director, (you could) play it historically as close to the original as possible … if you listen closely to it, you probably wouldn’t hear much of a difference. My intention is for it to sound as much like the original as possible,” he said.
To hear the arrangements he has produced performed live “is magnificent,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of my arrangements performed. The U.S. Navy Band performed one of my suites. I’ve heard a lot of university bands perform it,” and it has been played at the American Band Masters Convention.
You’re not likely to hear his arrangements at a high school recital, though.
“The arrangements that I write and the music that I select are largely for accomplished groups,” Noble said. “I have some things in my catalog that are easier to play, but most of the things are involved, musically and technically.”
A recent arrangement he’s excited about is “England’s Peasant Land” by Vaughan Williams. It has never been published before, and he was given the rights to it.
The piece originally was written in the 1930s for a pageant, so its single use was probably the reason why it was not published at the time, he said.
“The topic was the downfall of the English countryside which was (being destroyed) by modern technology, growth and population,” he said.
After the pageant was over, “I guess the composer, Vaughan Williams, put the piece aside because it had served its function so it was never published,” Noble said.
Vaughan Williams composed the piece for a military band. At the start of this year, Noble “created the arrangement for a modern symphonic band” to be able to play it.
“It’s unusual to get a composer as famous as Vaughan Williams, and get a piece of his which has not been published before – it landed in my lap, so to speak, so it’s quite exciting to do.”
Noble has been arranging music since he was a teenager, he said, and has done it “throughout my career, as time has allowed.”
He is a graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, Indiana University and The Catholic University of America. He taught at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke and was the Director of Bands and chair of the Instrumental Music Department of Shenandoah Conservatory, now Shenandoah University, in Winchester.
He headed a worldwide music travel business and produced four CDs featuring his arrangements.
He and his wife, the Rev. Mitzi Noble, live at Smith Mountain Lake.
“Now that I am retired, I have full time” to create arrangements, Noble said. “That’s what I’m doing in my retirement – leave what I hope will be a legacy for bands to enjoy for years and years to come.”
His work has reached far and wide.
In January, the New York City school system held a workshop for its music teachers – all 1,800 of them – using Noble’s work. The teachers “used one of my arrangements of a John Rutter piece as a focus of that conference. They studied it during the day and at the end of the day they performed it,” he said.
He was invited to make an arrangement of music by John Gardner, who died in 2011. Had he lived, he would have been 100 years old this year, and “his estate had been wanting to celebrate his centenary year with as many performances as possible,” Noble said.
Another noteworthy experience for him has been the performance of his arrangement of John Rutter’s “Distant Land,” dedicated to Nelson Mandella. The week he put his newly created arrangement of it on his website, “I got an email from a band director in South Africa. He said he was taking his band from South Africa to China to play a concert on New Year’s Day dedicated to the life of Nelson Mandela, and he wanted to know if he could do my arrangement.”
That quick turnaround of having an arrangement by him performed by a South African band in China “depicts the kind of world we live in,” with fast worldwide connections, he said.
Many of his arrangements are licensed by Oxford University Press, according to a press release. They all are for sale by J.W. Pepper and Son Inc., one of the country’s largest distributors of sheet music, as well as through a European distributor. All are also offered on his website.