Harlequin Brass Ensemble
University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield HD1 3DH.
Sunday 2nd June 2013
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Thursday was a busy day and the traffic into Leeds was worse than ever. When I got to the car park the machine was out of order and a sign asked motorists to go to a nearby carpark and pay there! What a nerve. If they can't get the machine working they don't deserve the money. I registered to pay by mobile phone. Simple? Not really, it took nearly 8 minutes to key in all of the information and then it asked me to contact their helpline.
The students at Leeds college of music helped to bring me back to reality. They have an amazing ability to improve quickly and pieces can be reheased effectively in a short time. It makes such a difference when the players are involved in music making 24/7.
Phoenix were better this week; more balanced, more attentive, less inclined to blast and eventually a reasonable quorum was present. Still some people only concentrate when playing and drift off during actual rehearsal. We didn't get through the whole programme because the rehearsals since the summer have been so varied in the personell attending. No way can bands improve properly on a"shift system". Bands have to be consistent and moving forward. A backward slide is often unreversable.
A busy week with parent's evenings, meetings, rehearsals with LCM, Harlequin, Phoenix and at school. Arrangements need finishing and deadlines need attention.
NSWO have lined up a terrific group of tutors for the second part of the workshop which involves people from the community. We will feature "Sun Paints Rainbows on the Vast Waves" by David Bedford and other pieces. It should be an excellent day and a great experience for players who do not get to see such repertoire or such good teachers.
Phoenix will hopefully rehearse with better attendance, a more balanced formation and more purpose and discipline this week. I will ensure that we get a lot done and that no one can just sit there and blow; there is simply much more to this group these days than just casual indifference.
As a conductor I have found that time is the most valuable asset. It has been squandered in the past by those who do not value it as I do. I have travelled 190 miles, eaten lunch in the car, rushed through horrendous traffic to find groups faffing about whilst I sit in sheer frustrated bewilderment only to find that the rehearsal time is not enough to work on the music properly. I have driven almost all the way to rehearsal that has been cancelled, arrived at groups to find players missing or late. Spent hours conducting groups with missing players or players who are not actually the ones doing the concert. It is all part of the difficulties of a busy schedule. I need to formulate a new year's resolution which encourages me to find ways of avoiding those situations. Anyway I still have a month to come up with it!
An enjoyable evening last night with members of the YWO for a meal in Wakefield. Chinese! So today I am in MSG ovedose mode. It was fun as the group is full of characters and generally nice people. The social side of an orchestra is quite important and can help to motivate people to attend regularly. It was nice to be involved as I usually have to rush off after rehearsals. I have some good snapshots which I will email to John so that he can perhaps show them off on the website.
A busy weekend which was slightly marred by the knackering of my left knee at football on Friday. I didn't feel it when playing the game but afterwards I was crippled. Any way I'm sure no one cares about my poor old knee. The physiotherapist says it is wear and tear but it's the same age as the other one!
NSWO played well at times in their Sunday morning rehearsal although we still come across some moments of severe dodginess. I think that as the best elements of the group improve it is still essential to work on the worst elements to bring them on as well. Sometimes the programme for Christmas allows opportunities to improve phrasing, intonation, balance and individual concentration. Especially when the music appears to be simple and easy.
Plans are afoot for the second part of the workshop in January to give opportunities for the orchestra to share knowledge and experience with other community players. Watch this space for more details.
Here is a link to use for rehearsals like one last week. Get a laptop, set it up in front of the band, send the fee to me.
A busy day followed by a fraught trip to Leeds College of Music. There seems to be some terrible traffic problems around the college. It took me 15 minutes to go the last half mile. The rehearsal was quite good, well attended and the students were as usual, polite, enthusiastic and quick to learn.
After a brief meal it was on to the Phoenix rehearsal. Plenty of missing players and masses of saxophones causing a huge imbalance in the group. That cannot be avoided in a community band where all are welcome.
Three good trombones help to balance things up but it is still hard work to get anything to sound good. The intonation in the tenor areas of the group; saxes, euph etc. is uncontrollable and the dynamics are rather on or off.
Or is it just me being a bit tired after an earlier rehearsal? Maybe under such circumstances a section might be taken into another room and rehearsed and tuned for half an hour to allow some constructive work in other parts. There is always a solution; I just coulldn't think of one at the time.
It is essential in any community group to find these solutions because if the balance is so bad that the better players cannot hear one another, or themselves, it can only put eveyone off and cause things to get even worse.
The intonation is always the thing that one feels could be improved but if people cannot hear one another properly no amount of tuning can be effective, so balance has to be addressed first. If the group is not allowed to make progress through the piece until they make an effort on dynamics, balance and as a result, intonation, they generally will eventually come round to it. Last night, for some reason, this was not working and it took 90 minutes to get through two short pieces. I am well aware that people like to come out for a "blow" and they will get to do that.....when they do it properly. I am fortunately blessed with patience, determination, and "shields" I can happily rehearse a section for long periods if I have to and it never bores me to do so. I am also aware of when something is clearly too difficult for a player and will generally give them the space to sort it out in time.
What happens when the patience runs out? Well, I really don't know yet. I did jump up and down once at a Harlequin rehearsal, but that just made them laugh.
Harlequin rehearsed last night and the cold virus robbed us of a trombone, although we did have an extra trumpet. The group worked on more music for the CD and we discussed using some multi-tracking techniques to record some pieces for larger ensemble. There are choices here; we could bring all of the Harlequin extended crew in and a few extras from some of my ensembles and record as a big group. That would be great for all the players and slightly awkward to organise. We could record all the parts using just the Harlequin players; that would be an interesting and challenging task for the recording people and the players/conductor.
I rather like both options. The opening on Janacek's Symphonietta and Fanfare for the Common Man are on the cards. I wonder which one you would choose; multi-tracking, or full ensemble with extra players?
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It really seems like November now with wind, rain and fog dominating the weather. I drove home from the Presentation Evening for last year's Y11 in miserable conditions, past a nasty looking accident and an hour late.
Things are being organised for the Christmas concerts in various bands and ensembles, most of which take place in the first two weeks of December. I always find that I have to work harder to get groups to rehearse this type of programme with real serious intent. I am lucky in that by now they are getting used to the philosophy of playing all styles to the very best effect.
A rain-soaked trip to Nottingham this morning. The M1 was awash with spray and I seemed to be dozing off in the car. I had to stop for a large coffee. The NSWO rehearsal was a busy one and we recorded a piece for the choir to work on before the Christmas concert. The trip back was equally hellish and I bought one fo those sports drinks full of sugar and caffiene to keep me at it.
At 5.00 YWO had the final rehearsal for the evening concert and we needed every minute of it to adjust to the room, adjust to the cold (it was freezing in there) and to get Monday's rehearsal out of our lives for good.
An hour later it was time for the concert which featured Bedford Ellerby McCabe Grainger and Tomlinson. The YWO rose to the occasion and produced a very good concert. I was pleased that they worked so well and also pleased that regardless of my state of fatigue, I could still give the group everything they needed throughout the long and difficult day. I would have loved to join them for a post-concert beer, but that would not have helped the cause on Monday morning.
Last night I went to Royds school to see the performance of the musical I wrote last year. Sally Stow and her fellow teachers had the pupils well rehearsed and put the show on with some style.
I enjoyed every minute of their performance because they had worked so hard to produce the work and seemed to enjoy performing it so much. It proved to me that both the plot and the music really does work and that it could be done anywhere. It would really suite a good youth theatre company or am-dram outfit.
Another busy Thursday with full teaching timetable. Leeds College of Music Wind Group then Phoenix Concert Band. Then today, my son's 21st birthday and the final performance of Live at the Empire in Rothwell which I shall attend. It's all go!
A good rehearsal last night with Harlequin Brass, who are choosing music to record to a CD in the coming months. There must be a bit of an economic slow down this year as Harlequin are not booked for any Christmas performances. They have a good programme for that type of concert so if anyone wants a classy and interesting festive concert, see their website.
A hard day, then a tough rehearsal in Wakefield! It was always going to be hard to get through everything and in the end I simply didn't make it through the programme.
There were a lot of tiny things that added up to a very hard evening's work indeed. The room sounded much deader than usual, it was cold, people were tired, some important seats were empty. It almost never sounded good. The tuning was a constant battle and players found it increasingly difficult to find a blend. Some inside parts were exposed and showed real insecurity and this needs to be fixed before too long.
This group is made of strong stuff though, and I am certain of a massive effort before the weekend.
Maybe it was "just one of those nights".
On the plus side, Amanda and John are pushing the raffle, the Christmas Cards; which I love, the organisation and attendance. Some players have really made an effort to help raise funds and the group was still in a good mood after the rehearsal finished.
Onwards and upwards.
Hoping for a good night's rest, this cough woke me (and everyone else in Europe) up again. It seems to get worse at night. It just has to go soon!
Feeling slightly more human today but still waking up at night with a cough.
Yesterday the NSWO rehearsal was a busy one and the group worked very hard. I could almost read their minds as they wondered after the high standards of the last few weeks, how things could sound so basic this morning. I tried to explain that the great work done to prepare the last concert can still have a positive effect on everything that follows.
For any group to really move forward they must really buy into the good practice and make it a fundamental part of their playing. The tutors who worked with our sections will have covered every aspect of group playing and a lot of techniques for improving sound, production, intonation, and interpretation. Most of these techniques will apply to all pieces and can be wired-in to the psyche.
Good groups are not just good because they consist of good players or have a good leader/conductor. They are good because they choose to be good. They will not accept bad practice, indiscipline, lack of articulation, accuracy, dynamic awareness or simple lack of tightness. They take pride in how things sound whenever they play and are very unhappy when things don't work. I think that having had a taste of excellence, NSWO will go from a position of some strength to even better things in the future. They will want to be the best that they can be and that means at rehearsals as well as performances. Every player will live up to the expectations of the group and the result will be amazing. Sunday proved that the level of expectation in the group has already been raised. The level of work and concentration in the last hour yesterday was excellent and will result in another special Christmas concert. Do not miss it!!
Phoenix rehearsal last night! It was quite a good rehearsal and the players who attended worked hard. I think that there were at least half of the players missing and that makes it hard to keep going after the rehearsal at LCM. The traffic getting in and out of Leeds doesn't help. Thursdays have become a really tough day for a lot of reasons. Perhaps when this cold clears up I'll have more energy to deal with it all.
I feel that this cold is finally abating although I'm lacking energy and still a bit bunged up. Last night, the Harlequin rehearsal was called off. Fortunately I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket and read the text in Wooley Edge services. So it was off home to watch the remainder of the champions league matches. Harlequin are very experienced and can handle the odd missed week. It is usually because players are playing elsewhere, so they keep up their practice. I am looking forward to recording with them later this year or in the new year. I want to get the pieces I wrote for them on a CD.
Still congested and fighting a headache! I received an email from Sally Stowe who is putting "Live at the Empire" on at her school in Rothwell. I am so glad that this musical is being performed and she has reported that the pupils love the show and the music. I need to find a way to make it available to more schools. Sally used the Sibelius files and the word processed script so that she could produce her own custom parts and scripts. Easy? well easyish!
Rob Buckland has asked for a set of Closure for Saxophone Ensemble to use with his groups at the RNCM. That kind of makes up for the lack of progress with publication of Harlequin Dances which has ground to a complete halt as Saxtet have changed their minds about publishing that version. Rob heard the work on the Equinox Saxophone Ensemble CD which as I mentioned earlier is one of the best non-professional sax recordings that I have heard to date.
Back to school and still coughing and wheezing. No energy at all. I received more emails about the residential workshop two weeks ago. The response is still very positive. Rob Buckland says that he is already preparing for the next one. Great news!
The concert on Saturday was the culmination of a whole afternoon of events and rehearsals. I was tired due to the remains of my cold and lack of sleep. I found concentration hard to come by and was glad that NSWO were fresh and well rehearsed.
They played exceptionally well in the first half and I was thrilled with the performance. They had a long way to go and can be forgiven for the odd dodgy moment later on.
Aly Parnell kept the nice atmosphere throughout and I could not help feeling like a bit of a newcomer by the end. What an event. I was a little concerned at the lack of a BASBWE presence at something of this magnitude. I know that invites were sent out and publicity was very good. I do think the organisation can be a little insular at times.
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