Kate Foley of the City of Bristol Brass Band recounts her group’s feelings on preparing their premiere and recording with Laura Shipsey for Adopt a Music Creator (formerly Adopt a Composer) 2019/20.
There is always a sense of trepidation and excitement when taking the stage for a live performance. All the hours of hard work have culminated in this moment as the buzz of the audience dies down and the lights come up to reveal the smart arrival of the band. For City of Bristol Brass Band’s return to the stage on 17 October 2021 at St George’s Bristol, the stirring atmosphere was palpable, but this was more than just pre-show anticipation. The concert signified a landmark occasion for the band as our Adopt a Music Creator project finally came to fruition. Nearly two years since Making Music had paired us with up-and-coming composer Laura Shipsey, those opening notes sounded like a celebratory fanfare for music making.
We were first partnered with Laura in 2019, after an extensive application process. The band was delighted to be one of only seven music groups in the country paired with a composer to create a new piece of music. With the prospect of a live premiere and professional recording ahead of us, enthusiasm was high. The project officially kicked off in November as Laura brought both the Senior and Learner bands together for a collaborative workshop, through which she could learn a bit more about the world of brass banding and explore the different sounds and effects that could be featured in her music. The bands were put through their paces with some competitive rhythm games, and by the end of the day, both musicians and composer alike had formed a good understanding of each other’s objectives for the project going forward.
'There was a fast realisation that this was going to be an eclectic and spirited piece of music, written in a contemporary style, that was very different to our usual repertoire.'
In January 2020, Laura again visited the band, this time with some draft excerpts of her piece now officially titled ‘Of Far Flung Skies’. It was a chance for us to hear about Laura’s inspiration and start to delve into the soundscape she was creating. There was a fast realisation that this was going to be an eclectic and spirited piece of music, written in a contemporary style, that was very different to our usual repertoire. A few perplexed expressions crept up around the band room as it became apparent that this would be a challenge for all our musical abilities. However, almost as soon as we had picked up the gauntlet, Covid-19 reached the UK and we were banished to our homes. It was hard to keep the momentum going as each hint of normality was struck by another lockdown, and much to our dismay, ‘Of Far Flung Skies’ was left on the back burner for almost a year.
Finally, in the spring of 2021, we were allowed back to the band room. We returned with cautious enthusiasm, daunted by the challenge that still faced us after such a long period of limited playing. We knew there would have to be a quick turnaround, with the premiere now re-arranged for October, and some very detailed and dynamic parts to learn in the meantime. Laura’s music was complex and intricate, with details of her orchestral background shining through, meaning individual and small group sectionals were key to nailing down difficult rhythms. Solo practice in lockdown had thus far denied us the opportunity to explore how our individual parts fitted together - so many hours were spent in the rehearsal room (and at home with the sound file on repeat) marking entries and learning the intricacies of the music. Confidence wavered at times, particularly due to the soloistic nature of the music, but slowly the movements started to fit together. In the final rehearsals before the big day, the Learner band added to the acoustic with lively sound effects and expressive fanfare, their involvement undoubtedly bringing a fresh energy to the group.
City of Bristol Brass Band on stage after the 17 October 2021 premiere
In the end, the premiere was a resounding success and the band performed ‘Of Far Flung Skies’ with bravado and polish. The feeling of achievement on the night was immense. We had all learnt a great deal throughout the process, both in terms of technical musical skills and self-confidence. There is now a renewed momentum and desire in the band to tackle bigger challenges and not just sit within the comfort zone of our repertoire. In fact, composer Liz Lane commented that the occasion ’demonstrated just how much potential there is for brass bands to successfully reach out to new opportunities and listeners’, and we can only agree. Undoubtedly, the success of the Adopt a Music Creator initiative and the positive reception of ‘Of Far Flung Skies’ has boosted our confidence, and reignited a spark at a time when perhaps passion for banding had dwindled. We are now looking forward to a bright and successful future and hope to keep that passion alive.
Adopt a Music Creator is run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music and is funded by the PRS Foundation and the Philip & Dorothy Green Music Trust.