Shall we apply for the Adopt a Composer project?
Take it to a committee meeting
Make the application
Will we be shortlisted?
Interviews to go through
We have been selected!
Who will we be paired with?
We have Robert Laidlow!
How will Rob and the band get on?
In cinematic terms, the above jumpcuts of our involvement with the Adopt a Composer (AAC) project bounced around from the start. It began as soon as our Musical Director (MD), Calum Gray, became aware of AAC. In the frame was a series of uncertainties as above, with many more arising before the last question was resolved.
We had long aspired to commission a new piece of music, but as a community wind band we had nowhere near the resource to be able to do this. We became a member of Making Music really for the sole purpose of their help in us reaching charitable status for the band. We have benefited from so much more. With the AAC project, suddenly, working with a composer to produce an entirely new piece of music had become a possibility.
We decided to make an application to the project, and after all the uncertainty, all the initial excitement and success with the selection process, the hard work of rehearsal and development began - methodically working through the score, understanding the music, preparing for its first performance. Running the "longshot" to our previous "jumpcuts".
We had many collaborative meetings with Robert, each adding inspiration for the further development of our composition.
Rehearsals began in earnest when we received the finished composition, and time in every subsequent rehearsal was spent getting to understand our role in bringing the piece to life both owning it and breathing life into it - as a faithful reproduction of what had previously only existed in our composer Robert's mind.
Cinematic similes of jumpcuts and longshots are not an accident, though. Indeed the similes have been shamelessly stolen from Robert. In one of his blogs he eloquently describes how, in explaining his concept for the structure of his composition to us, he used movie-making terms, which in turn added further inspiration to him for the piece, and resulted in him naming it "Jumpcut/Longshot".
The night of the premiere was an extremely auspicious one for our band. This year is our 25th anniversary, and 18 May was our Jubilee concert. Every former MD of the band took the baton one more time to conduct a piece dear to them. The venue was The Chapel in Royal Victoria Country Park in Netley. This historic building had recently been renovated, and although now stands alone in parkland, it used to be flanked either side by the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, the world's longest building when it was completed in 1863.
The time we spent in rehearsal was rewarded with our committed and sparkling performance in concert. Musical motifs in the piece were explained and demonstrated to the audience, as Robert presented the thoughts and inspiration behind his composition. SCWB were greatly successful in showing both composer and audience the fruits of their labour.
Jumpcut/Longshot is a triumph of modern music. Southampton Concert Wind Band's association with Robert has been immersive, instructive and an overall amazing experience. It has added so much to our growth as a band.
We wish Robert well for his assured future as a composer, and hope that we have played a small part in his growth too.
As a musician in a community ensemble, you frequently arrive at rehearsal to see a 'new piece' on the stands. More often than not, the piece will be something that you already know. Occasionally it will be an arrangement that you haven't seen before, with different keys, linking passages, tempi and orchestration that are different from what you are familiar with. It may even be a piece that you haven't heard before, let alone played.
Despite this, as a musician in 2019, it is at least possible to search for a previous performance or recording online and familiarise yourself with the piece through listening. This lets you to absorb the structure, the flow, the style - the feel of the music. Building familiarity this way means you can focus more in weekly rehearsals on your own conductor's take on the piece; to pencil in those cues which are more noticeable from your spot in the band than they may appear in the 'audience seat' soundstage of a typical recording.
Southampton Concert Wind Band is, in my experience, a uniquely talented group of musicians who all individually play to a high standard. Together we frequently tackle challenging pieces and have mastered many 21st-century compositions with the direction and insight of our conductor, Calum...
It is a Thursday evening in early January - I arrive at rehearsal to see a set of pages of music on my chair that have clearly been recently printed. Many players will be familiar with the oft-quoted approach to rehearsals:
"You don't come to rehearsal to learn your part, but rather to learn everybody else's part" - Eugene Corporon
With this particular piece on a dark cold Thursday evening, that just isn't an option! The first play through is a real eye-opener - technically and intellectually stretching in equal measure.
It is the first time in many years that I've had the chance to play through genuinely brand-new music, and it is clear that the parts are technically challenging for all sections of the band.
There is a collaborative process of iterative refinement with the composer (composer, Robert Laidlow, is there with us, talking through the intent behind each section of the piece, helping us to see his vision for the composition, while in turn each player has a real opportunity to share the reality of how best he might achieve that with the instrumentation of a full Symphonic Wind Band). I go home tired but inspired.
A couple of months later, and I have indeed missed some rehearsals. In the intervening weeks, both with and without the composer in attendance, the band and the piece have clearly been continually worked, refined, enhanced; what was initially 'hard' and unfamiliar is now sounding more 'organic'. The band now demonstrates a real understanding of what else is happening around the ensemble both as they play, and arguably immediately when they stop - who are they handing over to, where does the 'line' go next, what is the shifting soundscape that they need to be a fundamental part of communicating to the listener.
The free, un-conducted sections are now 'living and breathing', a prominent themic motif is immediately more coherent as it is stated and re-stated around the sections.
There is clearly more enjoyment and less fear across the band - we have each learned our parts in a room full of other people learning theirs at the same rate of progress!
And so we arrive at our latest rehearsal, a warm late spring evening in early-May. This is the last time the we will have a chance to work directly with the composer and his mentor before the premiere in 10 days' time. As a band we are excited to 'show off' our interpretation of his piece to him, to indulge his senses in what we have made of his work, to help him fully experience his creation. We are proud of what we had achieved over the past weeks of practice, and keen to get his feedback on how his work has matured in our care - a few minor amendments to balance later, and we are ready...the premiere awaits!
It is tradition for SCWB to go into winter hibernation once the Christmas concert and carols are done, but not this year... this year we had another festive activity before we had earned the turkey! Our composer Rob joined us for an additional rehearsal with some developed sketches of his work titled 'Puzzle'. A big challenge for our group is to adapt to the contemporary style of music so perhaps Rob's title is appropriate.
The first piece we picked up was a simple scale, starting on different notes throughout the band, changing dynamics and tempo according to pitch to see what fits and what does not fit with Rob's ideas. For him, it was important to see whether what he had written on paper was going to possible for us as a band. For us it was lots of fun doing things we do not often have the licence to do. Some found it strange, others quite enjoyed playing their individual interpretation to tempo and rhythm without disapproving looks from the band or conductor!
After our meeting with Rob in October, we suggested that it would be interesting to explore some of the unusual sounds that our instruments can make. The brass instruments for example have a whole host of pitch bending and mute options which might fit into our Jigsaw. The remainder of the practice we were led through Rob's work by our conductor Calum and look forward to seeing the completed work in the spring time.
The rehearsal done, we took the chance to have a social in the hall with a wide range of cakes, mince pies and various mulled beverages. The saxophone section (as it often does - whether the band likes it or not) took it upon themselves to provide entertainment in the form of a critically acclaimed performance of Cinderella and a sax quartet version of Pirates of the Caribbean - our composer Rob was roped in to playing alto!
Happy new year from all at SCWB!
It is now a few months since Southampton Concert Wind Band were paired wth Robert Laidlow in the 'Adopt a Composer' scheme, and though much has happened, we are behind in our update blogs!
The band first met Robert in October. SCWB were in a pre-performance rehearsal at Turner Sims in Southampton when Robert and his mentor, Fraser Trainer, popped down to meet us and to catch as much of the concert as their trains home allowed. In this concert, we had a guest alto saxophonist, Gerard McChrystal, who Fraser had worked with in the past, so as well as new introductions, there was much catching up done too!
That first meeting made it clear to us that Robert was keen to hear how we perform and the repertoire we include in concert. It is seen to be an important part of the pairings, such that the new composition reflects both the composer and the band that will perform the piece. We were flattered to hear how impressed Robert was with the range of styles we included in our programme that night.
Fast forward to the end of October, and Robert and Fraser came down to Southampton for a specially arranged rehearsal evening with us, to try some of Robert's musical sketches. Both very modern in their form, the band were not only keen to understand the pieces and how they should be approached, but also rose to the challenge of suggesting what other aspects of music making might be included while the substantive work is being developed. Use of extended techniques, periods of free music, wider percussion inclusion - these were all shouted out by a quite energised band, clearly realising that here was an opportunity to take their music making to a place they have either feared to previously ask for, or dared to tread.
No doubt the months ahead will be challenging, as ideas are passed back and forth in the creative process, but the band is deeply committed to fulfilling its joint responsibility of playing a composition as it was written to be played, while entertaining our audience in its execution.
SCWB are thrilled to have been selected to be one of only two wind orchestras in the country to be paired with an up and coming composer to create a new piece of music. The band has been chosen by Making Music UK, which is the UK's number one organisation for leisure-time music.
MD Calum Gray (right) and band member George Belfield (left) with composer Robert Laidlow (centre)
The band will be working with composer Robert Laidlow, who we met for the first time before our recent concert at Turner Sims Concert Hall, along with Robert's mentor Fraser Trainer. Robert will be in constant contact with the band and a frequent visitor to Southampton, collaborating towards his new composition which will be premiered at the newly renovated Chapel of Royal Victoria Country Park on 18th May 2019. The performance will be recorded for subsequent broadcast by Radio 3.
Work started when Robert spent some time in rehearsal with the band on 30th October and he will be visiting again in December. In the meantime, read the first of his blogs here.
Robert Laidlow (centre) and Fraser Trainer (right) meeting the band at Turner Sims