Adopt a Music Creator blog: A promising start

Ann Westwood, president of the Glasgow Orchestral Society, recounts their first encounters with music creator Joshua Brown as part of their Adopt a Music Creator 2022 collaboration.

We’re a 70+ member orchestra which celebrated its 150th birthday in 2020-21 - well, not really (because of Covid) - but there’s a definite feeling of celebration in all we do at the moment. Our repertoire is mainly big symphonic works from the 19th and 20th centuries as we have the luxury of a full brass section including a tuba, and our own timpanist and a regular harpist - meaning we can play almost anything we want. We don’t have a resident conductor, but one of our regulars, Chris Swaffer, agreed to be our Music Director for this project. We made our application to Adopt A Music Creator in October 2021 and we were successful!

Still keeping the secret within the committee, Chris and I joined the big reveal on Zoom on 16 January and we were delighted to be paired with Joshua Brown. We didn’t know anything about each other then, but we quickly realised that both Josh and Chris came from the same part of the world, had been to the same university studying composition and had played in or conducted quite a few of the same orchestras. It seemed a no-brainer to arrange there and then for Josh to come and meet the orchestra as soon as possible, and just two weeks later, on 31 January, he and Ailie Robertson (our mentor) met Chris and me and our principal trombone in a pizza shop near the rehearsal venue in Glasgow’s West End.

'Seeing the creative process up close was a completely new experience for us...'

It was a very productive first meeting, just getting to know each other. It set us up nicely to introduce both Josh and Ailie to the orchestra at that evening’s rehearsal. Josh had brought along his trumpet and sat in the section, as it was a great way to get to know what the orchestra was like, and get a feel for our strengths. We have weaknesses of course, but he was too polite to say so!

Josh had also brought some sticky notes for people to write down any thoughts they had about what would make a good piece of new music, and to say if they would like to be spotlit in the work, or not! There weren’t too many responses at that point because there’s always a bit of a rush out of the rehearsal hall at 9:45pm but we also sent out Josh’s questions by email afterwards which resulted in more replies.

The first workshop with Josh on 31 March had to be slotted into the rehearsal schedule for our May concert with a different MD. So after a very demanding hour and a half on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade with one conductor, it was an interesting challenge to change to a different conductor and a completely different kind of rehearsing of different music. The parts for the initial sketches were issued and after a playthrough, Josh started to work with individual players and sections. The melody which he had written appeared at one point on solo cello and Josh then had the cello section playing in unison, then mirroring the solo cello with tremolando bowing. Seeing the creative process up close was a completely new experience for us and having our super-calm conductor Chris assisting the process without fuss made a fascinating session.

Joshua hands out music sheets and rehearsals being

Joshua handing out the parts for the initial sketches as rehearsal begins

The second workshop was on 30 May, a Monday evening. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of attendance, a sign that people had really bought into the project and were keen to help make it a success. As it happens, Josh had been using ‘doubles’ to help guard against any holes appearing because of absence, Covid-related or otherwise, a device apparently used by some of the ‘Greats’ and which produced some lovely sounds from the flugel horn and the bassoon, the basses and the tuba.

It was intriguing to see how the work had grown in the weeks between the two workshops, not just in length but in depth, so that we could appreciate something of the organic nature of the creative process.

In the pub afterwards (of course!) it was great to hear how pleased Josh was with how the workshop had gone. He was absolutely delighted by the quality of our playing and how his work was sounding, and I think he realised we were quite capable of being challenged and stretched. To be fair, when he first came to see us in January we were not quite at our sparkling best as we’d had 18 months of not playing and then very socially distanced rehearsals for our first term, and because of Covid restrictions a ‘playthrough’ rather than a proper concert in November. We’d also described to him at our first meeting how we were one of four established amateur orchestras in Glasgow (not to mention three professional orchestras which have full seasons in the City) and we all compete for players, venues and audiences, so I think he feared the worst!

It’s reasonable to say that we are very much looking forward to the next workshop in September, and to our premiere concert in October. We’ve already booked the concert venue, are working on the repertoire for the rest of the programme and will be starting our marketing as soon as we get back to rehearsals in August. 

Find out more about Glasgow Orchestral Society on their website and follow them on Facebook / Twitter.

Find out more about Joshua Brown on his website and follow him on Instagram / YouTube.

The Adopt a Music Creator project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising music creators to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a premiere performance and possible broadcast. If you’re a music group or music creator and you’d like to take part, find out more.