Two sketch orchestra project templates

I do quite a bit of orchestral composing, but I find I get lured into orchestration at the expense of writing the melodic and harmonic “bones” of the piece. That causes me to lose momentum and think too much about the page verticals and not enough about moving horizontally.

While I could work on a grand staff reduction and then orchestrate later, I think it’s too restrictive. I decided I wanted a sketch orchestra - something with just the 3 main choirs of woodwind, brass and strings. With this in mind, I cast around for some suitable VSTs. I came across Red Room Audio’s Palette Primary Colors, which was exactly what I was looking for. It reduces the orchestra to three ensembles and applies the necessary smarts to smoothly change the balance of instruments according to note pitch.


(Source: Red Room Audio)

Primary Colors has the additional benefit of being free (except for a very nominal charge to cover download costs). So I accordingly downloaded it and set it up in Kontakt. (Unfortunately I believe it does require the full version of Kontakt, not just the player version.) I then banged out some expression maps and created a project template.

I use a grand staff for each choir. In fact, I found that it was worth creating two instances (so two grand staffs) for each choir to allow a bit more flexibility. I also added a piano staff because I like to use that as a scratch pad.

It all worked out fairly well, but I thought the sounds could be a bit better, so I looked for another VST, and ended up buying the three orchestral choir ensembles from Orchestral Tools Berlin Orchestra Inspire 1 for quite a modest sum. These run in OT’s free Sine Player. As before, I created expression maps and a project template. I think I do prefer this one over Red Room’s.

So all is good, and I use these as a stepping stone to capture the gist of a piece before committing it to a fully orchestrated version. There are limitations though, especially around dynamics, articulations and techniques. You don’t have the fine-grained control that you would for individual instruments, of course.

Anyway, in case they may be useful for others, here are the project templates…
Primary Colors Sketch Orchestra.dorico (1.2 MB)
Berlin Inspire Sketch Orchestra.dorico (859.8 KB)

I don’t understand the instrument ranges in the illustration: why are most of them not allowed to play their bottom note(s)?

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They are secret notes the pros don’t want you to know about :shushing_face:

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Thank you for sharing this! Very interesting!

I wonder, if one could as easily concoct something similar with e.g. VSL libraries