On Monday 26 October, before the second lockdown, I attended what has recently become an extremely rare event: a live music rehearsal. The Bury St Edmunds Concert Band, with which I am paired for the Making Music Adopt a Music Creator project, was in excellent form. Despite the spaced seating, mask-wearing, and moisture-guarded instruments, they were able to demonstrate the visceral power of live music and its distinctive capacity to bring people together. The band created a rich and joyful sound, reflecting the depth of their exhilaration at a return to face-to-face rehearsals. A broad mix of music was played, presenting the standard tropes of the concert band repertoire alongside more subtle textures and colours, revealing the far-reaching potential of this ensemble. As I sat watching and listening, contemplating the extent to which the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the arts and affected communities around the world, I felt privileged to be there. St Edmundsbury Cathedral
The trip to Bury began with a tour of the town led by Rob Head, the band’s conductor. We visited the various spaces in which the band have performed, ranging from the Cathedral and Abbey, to the modern Apex Arts Centre in the heart of town. I was struck by the diversity of the venues, which also included a restored Regency theatre – the Theatre Royal – demonstrating the band’s broad appeal and popularity amongst the concertgoers of Bury. Although the pandemic has halted live performance for a time, the band’s commitment to their audiences was apparent, and they, like me, are looking forward to making music in one of these spaces in the not-too-distant future.
Theatre Royal, a Bury St Edmunds Concert Band performance venue
As I write, we are on the verge of a second national lockdown. Another long period of isolation from friends, family, and the wider communities with which we engage will, once again, bring into sharp focus the significance and importance of human connection. During this time, I am compelled to communicate with the band through the various digital platforms available. A topic of discussion will, no doubt, be the departure point for the new piece and the possible direction it will take. Whatever this may be, one thing is clear: as coronavirus continues to take hold, isolating us from our loved ones and engendering a shared experience of separation, solitude, and, in some cases, loss, it is the counternarrative of togetherness, connection, and the celebration of life, that the band and I will be seeking to explore.
The Adopt a Music Creator project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising composers to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a premiere performance and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. If you’re a music group or composer and you’d like to take part, find out more.