Adopt a Music Creator blog: An outstanding year

Michael Withers, Music Director of the Band of the Surrey Yeomanry, looks back on their year of working with Peter Falconer as part of Adopt a Music Creator 2023.

Peter’s first visit to the Yeomanry was for a 'get to know you' session, where he got to talk to members and hear the band rehearse, so that the next time we met in February for a workshop, I happily handed him the reins for the whole evening. The workshop started with Peter getting us to explore the range of sounds of a concert band. Once he had extracted the loudest and softest, and the longest and shortest sounds, things got experimental - what's the strangest sound we could make? Key rattles, hissing sounds, mouthpieces played without instruments attached – nothing seemed out of bounds!

Having created a mental catalogue of sounds and techniques, Peter set us a challenge. Divided into three groups in different corners of the church, we were to invent a four-part story, and then create the soundtrack to the narration. The band launched into the project with great enthusiasm, but then came the twist: Peter asked us to swap narrators! So now we have one story being told to the soundtrack of a different one, e.g. peaceful river banks described to the sound of oncoming trains. Not only was the exercise great fun but it carried an important message: the roots of a creative composition lie in text/narrative, even if that text does not appear in the final piece.

'the roots of a creative composition lie in text/narrative, even if that text does not appear in the final piece...'

After the break, we were re-seated in conventional concert band formation and Peter handed us four snippets of composition, each reflecting a different mood or situation. By craftily having equivalent parts available for the many instruments in the band, Peter was able, on the spur of the moment, to try out different combinations of instruments, and then put them into order for a 'performance'.

This was the first workshop of this type that I or the Yeomanry had been involved in and, thanks to Peter’s positive approach and leadership, and the support from mentor Fraser Trainer, it turned out not only to be tremendously successful but also extremely enjoyable.

Peter left that evening buzzing with ideas and we all waited with bated breath for his next visit in April. In the interim, Peter and I talked about ways of handling the demands of working with the vast instrumentation of the band. Peter had already heard us play some of our current repertoire, and studied the scores of the pieces that particularly appealed to him. On his next visit he brought us several short sections, each containing the seeds of ideas that he wanted us to explore. 

In June we got a version that would become the slow movement of his suite, and the band thoroughly enjoyed this play-through. In August there was another movement for us to try out, plus a revised version of the first section that we had played through, reflecting feedback from members.

members of the orchestra standing, playing their instruments inside a church

Members of the Band of the Surrey Yeomanry during their improvisational workshop

By October, Peter’s new piece had gained another movement and a title: And Still We Carry On. Only now did it become apparent how Peter had applied a parafictional approach to our composition: he had understood the changes from the band's time with regimental duties to its current status as a concert band, and had created a piece that reflected those key stages of dissolution, rebirth and renewal. The new movement showed just how much Peter had managed to absorb not only the views and opinions of the players, but also the feel and quality of modern writing for concert bands.

And Still We Carry On was premiered at a sold-out concert in Woldingham Village Hall on 18 November 2023. The new piece, as well as the rest of the concert, were extremely well received, so when the audience called for an encore, I decided that the best encore we could provide was to repeat the first movement!

I plan on programming this piece at one of our concerts in summer 2024, and also to try to persuade other local concert bands to include it in their repertoire.

This has been a tremendous experience for the band and for me. I believe we have fully achieved the twin aims of providing the band with an exciting and challenging project, and adding a new work to our repertoire. We struck gold when we were paired with Peter: his approachability, thoroughness and creativity were huge strengths, and he showed real team spirit. I'm now looking forward to working with Peter on the 'legacy' part of this project.

Find out more about the Band of the Surrey Yeomanry on their website and follow them on Facebook.

Find out more about Peter Falconer on his website and follow him on Instagram / Soundcloud / YouTube.