I've rounded off the past year with an absolute treat of a concert with KEMS Concert Band. We've experimented with new instrumental effects that can be played on wind instruments, I've devised workshops and games that have introduced the band to new ways of counting time (tricky at first, but doable in the end!) and we've had a lot of fun along the way.
Roughly a year ago I was paired up with a friendly bunch of 30-40 amateur musicians based in Macclesfield and my task was to write a piece devised especially for them that would take into account their particular strengths and challenge them in new ways. Most of what they have played so far falls within the standard concert band repertoire of the early and mid-twentieth century, meaning that taking on the task of a new piece written in 2017 was a welcome challenge.
We started out with a series of workshops, experimenting with new sounds and timbres. I took all of these as inspiration when writing my piece, Martian Saloon. I was struck by the amount of eerie and atmospheric effects that were possible with such a large number of people, and I loved what I heard! We had a ghostly choir of discordant whistling while a piccolo lamented a strange and melancholy melody at the back of the hall; we also had a spooky and furious series of whispering while the flutes and clarinets mumbled atmospherically in their low registers. We ended with a clamorous and raucously fast-paced groove that accelerated towards the piece's conclusion.
The concert on 15 October was a roaring success. I even helped out the percussion section for a large part of it. Accordingly my respect for percussionists has now gone through the roof: the logistics of their instrument (or instruments!) is quite a task.
I learned a lot along the way: about instruments that I don't play, about unusual techniques, about rehearsing with lots of groups of people. I am sure that the band learned a lot too about playing in exciting new ways that challenge our pre-existing concepts of what music is and what it can be. I would like to extend a big thank you to all of them: we couldn't have done it without their determination! And I hope that they'll play lots of new music to come.