Harlequin Brass Ensemble
University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield HD1 3DH.
Sunday 2nd June 2013
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29th June: The weather forecast for the weekend is appalling with more rain on the way for the whole of England and Wales. Not just the south! The rain will not be good news to South Yorkshire as floods are only just receding. The concert on Saturday with NSWO is looking less likely and I think that the organisers are working with Margaret to find an alternative date. I will be away for a time in July and August so it is looking like next season at the moment. Decisions are not yet final but I think, given the experience of the past 10 days that these weather warnings need to be taken seriously and a lot of trouble and expense can be saved by a few wise decisions in advance.
28th June: Yesterday the Mayor of Sheffield announced a fund to help to put right the damage done by the recent floods. I think that a big concert featuring Yorkshire groups in a big South Yorkshire venue could raise a lot of money for this fund. Often there is a rush of money then the public move on to another cause but this event is in our own region and we should consider doing something to help! I wonder if The Council would consider a free venue or is that too much to ask?
27th June: I have had email confirmation that some of our Sheffield based players are doing ok despite the conditions. There are flooding problems which have caused electrical issues and some lack of power but people seem to be safe and dry; thank goodness for that.
Travel has been difficult and most people have suffered from delays and long diversions but it seems that some of my main concerns can be aleviated. It's strange that when I don't see my players for weeks on end it doesn't bother me too much (it does a bit) but the thought that any of them could be in difficulties is very troubling. They are all very good people.
26th June: Terrible floods have caused havoc in South Yorkshire which causes fear for my Harlequin players who all live in that area, as do some players from YWO and NSWO. Looking at the pictures I can only hope that they are all ok. The rain will long be remembered as the worst day of rain for decades. The M1 and A1 are closed to traffic and electricity supplies are disrupted. For those in the worst flood zones there will be a lot of disruption for some time to come. Perhaps when it all dries out we could be thinking of playing some concerts to raise some money for the people who have been worst affected by this flooding.
25th June: We had an annoying but somehow funny experience yesterday in Leeds. I have been rather incognito due to the mobile phone I have had for 18 months giving up the ghost; or at least the battery is knackered. It was time for us to upgrade the phones on our Orange contract at the dreaded Orange shop in Leeds.
There followed a rerun of that funny Nationwide advert when the assistant is both arrogant and annoying "New customers only" and that sort of thing. The guy was telling us that we are low users and don't get the same free upgrades, nor could he say which phones were available to us, he had no prices and on the displays there was no indication of anything other than the word "free". None of the labels said "Free for everyone except you, you gnu". If it wasn't so annoying because of the time we had put aside to do this it would have been quite comical.
In the end I headed for Carphone Warehouse (also a zoo) but the manager there answered all my questions and showed us how to change to a better contract, save money, get a nice gnu phone; and....and keep our numbers the same.
It involved a phone call to Orange to request a pac code in order to pass the numbers across to the new service provider. Needless to say the woman on the other end of the customer services (hmm) line was not very helpful, trying to delay sending the codes until the next bill and being generally unhelpful. I had to ask for the supervisor who tried to offer a better deal, saying that the people in the shops have no power. Well, I said the have the power to piss people off and so the future (for us at least) is certainly not Orange. Oh well, I must be getting grumpy these days. (I can virtually see you nodding, so stop it!)
Today a very hard working rehearsal at NSWO without my first flute who is away for a hen night. I really like her playing and I do miss her influence when she is away. Then I rush to Bramley to conduct Phoenix in the park, but it is pi**ing down. The official in the park won't let us cancel, even though there is no one around, no cover, no bandstand, no seats. He has to wait until 2.30pm the official start time before he can cancel the performance. I wonder if he fancies a job with Orange. At 2.30 we all go home. Some players have travelled miles, knowing that today there was really no chance of playing without good cover and an audience of ducks. So, grumpy again! I like my new phone though, it lets me have Radio Days as the ringtone to remind me to do something about getting it published!!
22nd June: A busy week followed the hectic weekend. I see that there are still three outdoor performances to do with various groups and wonder at the rather haphazard manner in which these concerts are organised by those who want us to play.
There is seldom enough shelter or cover. Parking and access is often a problem. The timings are almost random and often too long. There are no clear contingencies for bad weather; you'd think we'd have learned by now. There are seldom places for instruments or decent facilities for the groups.
If the concert last Saturday had a little more respect and confidence from the NT I think they would have had an amazing and unique experience that may have brought people back year on year. Instead the tiny tent made the orchestra almost invisible, there was no stage, not much lighting, and timings that were frankly too long for any concert; let alone one in the chill of the evening.
The concept of a wind orchestra playing an outdoor summer classics concert makes real sense. The strings in the symphony orchestras need amplification and do not often play out doors. There are few amateur orchestras that could really sustain such an evening as the string sections tend to be less powerful making the wind and brass struggle to balance with them. Professional groups go round presenting such concerts but the cost is huge and there needs to be enough audience to cover the cost.
If the conditions were right and the marketing matched the event these concerts could be excellent for everyone concerned, not least the listeners.
It was a miracle that the concert last week worked so well and credit has to go to our own organisation of John and Amanda who worked tirelessly to ensure success. They did everything from providing refreshments, hiring and moving percussion, looking after players and their friends, playing the tubular bells, setting up the stand, shifting chairs, coordination with the sponsors and the National Trust, setting up the microphone, photo sessions, and that is only what I saw. Amazing!
17th June: Well, It didn't rain at the two outdoor concerts and the YWO really deserve praise for their efforts at Beningbrough. Also there was a good turn out at NSWO this morning in Nottingham; including the players who performed last night. My kids came to have lunch with me in Leeds so all in all a good result. We even found the squirrel (explain later).
15th June: It has rained cats dogs and elephants for the past 24 hours, lots of flooding and cold weather; not exactly perfect for our outdoor extravaganza this weekend.
I have been trying to reduce the wav. file of the brass piece to an MP3 to put it on the site here so that people can have a listen. The original conversion; which I did with Steve Edwards' software (link on this site) was too big. I emailed Steve and he has fixed it for me. I discover that somehow I have missed the ending. It ends two minutes too soon! Still it will give you an idea of the music and what it is trying to say.
Listen to the way Harlequin produce the emotional content of the score after only one rehearsal.
14th June: Last night, Harlequin Brass recorded my new piece; Closure, so that we could assess its general sound before the final revisions. Unfortunately on the way to the rehearsal a trombone player cancelled; one who has caused similar problems in the past!!
A ten piece work with only 9 players is always going to be; well 10% under strength but, a solution was found. I had the multi track recorder with me so we recorded 9 players, then Rob Fisher as cool as anything, played in trombone 2 in headphones as if he had done it a thousand times. I have converted the recording to an MP3 file and will try to upload it for readers to listen to.
12th June: Last night the Yorkshire Wind Orchestra worked extremely hard to tackle the emmense programme for the evening at Beningbrough Hall. I hate finishing after the agreed time but it was impossible to get the whole programme rehearsed in the time we had; even without the normal short break. There were some problems with tuning in the warm humid room, some ensemble issues and some things that the players cannot play yet.
A normal wind orchestra can survive with players who only practise on the day but YWO players have to be fully practising players who by definition put in a significant amount of work between rehearsals. This will be a real challenge for everyone, not only because there are some very difficult passages in the parts, but also because we may not play some of these pieces as part of our core repertoire. I can only, humbly, request that the players try to find the time to get to grips with the technical passages and I will deal with the rest.
I still felt that regardless of the type of repertoire, the orchestra is gaining in cohesion and the sound is developing well. When the phrasing and balance improves I hope that the space cleared in the score will allow people to hear the intonation more clearly and so deal with that issue as well.
When Beningbrough has been done we can begin to shape the sound and infrastructure of the group with some detailed and intricate rehearsal designed to define the musical character of this potentially excellent group. The fact is that producing programmes quickly is fine up to a point but getting the fundamentals right is most important and if it is left undone; as with other groups I have been involved with in the past, it can be very difficult to backtrack and fix these basic elements. They are not elements that the individual players can always develop alone; it is a group ethos that is required.
I look on this as a responsibility and a duty; as all conductors should, and if I get it wrong or get too busy, lazy or distracted to concentrate on it, the group will never reach its full potential. When I look back on it, that was the source of my frustration with NSC and in a way it was not my job or my place to do that.
10th June: A better attendance at NSWO today but still a few empty chairs. A very hard-working and demanding rehearsal in which much was achieved.
The group seem to be taking on the idea of the residential workshop in October. With good music, quality time and excellent tutors there is no limit to what can be achieved.
I am considering several pieces for the workshop; they are:
Dreamscapes- Martin Ellerby, Samurai- Nigel Clarke, L'homme Arme -Christopher Marshall, Diaghilev Dances- Kenneth Hesketh, Meditation- Martin Ellerby, Canons and Cadenzas- David Bedford, Windharp- Joseph Horowitz, Symphony for Winds- Martin Ellerby. These are the top few at the moment anyway and I will be choosoing the final repertoire very soon.
8th June: A busy rehearsal with the Phoenix group trying to add new things for the outdoor concert on the 16th June. This concert is on the same day as the YWO event at Beningborough and I was very unhappy that they wanted to go ahead with it with several key players unable to attend. It looks as if there may be some big gaps in the group and that is not good in a live situation. I know that groups need the money but the balance must be obtained with putting out a good group.
7th June: Last night, Harlequin tried the new work for the first time. They read it very well. I wondered if it all worked because they do things the way I like them done, or that I wrote it knowing how they do things, or a bit of both.
The music did work well, with the right emotional content clearly emerging from their efforts. I will make some slight adjustments after hearing it live; but not really anything huge. The title is "Closure" and I want to contact Ian MacMillan about the possibility of matching some poetry on this subject with the music.
5th June: Last night the YWO began rehearsals for the evening at Beningborough Hall. This is an unusual event for this type of group and requires us to quickly learn some orchestral pieces transcribed for winds. The group worked very hard and I know that the players will utilise the web site to get their parts practised.
Although this is not our normal repertoire I firmly believe that the benefits musically are sound and that the ensemble skills required are no less challenging. This concert will help to mould the group into a solid experienced unit. It might also be great fun. It will be very good and I recommend it as a good night out; if it stays dry!
3rd June: Back to work today with NSWO and what seemed like a long drive down after a nice week off.
The group were short of about 12 players; some of them principals and this was not good for the rehearsal in general. It also got a little warm which did not help the intonation. In fact, some of the tuning really needed attention.
The group worked hard though and they always try to do their best. I do hate empty seats! The half term holiday is a factor but I think that this group has the dates published well in advance and serious groups need to know that their players will plan things in a similarly organised way. It is so important not to blame those who have attended for the absence of others and to make the rehearsal worthwhile. In the back of my mind whilst fixing loads of phrasing in one of the pieces I am thinking that it will all have to be done again when the band is full.
The spring bank holiday was good for me and I did get my new work finished. Unfortunately I do now have two versions; a positive (perhaps a little cheesy) ending and a more reflective one which I think is the most appropriate. I will let the groups play both and then I will decide.
Back to work tomorrow and June is quite busy for everyone. At the moment it seems daunting but I'm sure I will be able to muster sufficient GNU to get it all done.
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