Adopt a Music Creator blog: A retrospective

Emily Peasgood reflects on her journey collaborating with the Oxted Band for their Adopt a Music Creator 2022 project.

The first rehearsal is always a gong show. Total chaos. People reading parts for the first time, playing the wrong notes, interpreting key, time and tempo changes with confusion and playing my thinly scored harmony tentatively. Comments are made about things I forgot about, like duplicate key signatures and enharmonic transpositions, all entirely accidental and easily missed when checking a score for the tenth time at 10pm. And there’s always somebody who stares at you with a facial expression that’s hard to read, and refuses to smile back at you.

'I haven’t a clue how to conduct a brass band. It isn’t the same as singers, and it’s something I feel very uncomfortable doing.'

As I drive home from the first rehearsal, I go through everything I said and did, and cringe as I see myself in my mind's eye. I recall the moment I looked at the MD in a panic, and said: 'Darrell, please help me, I’m not a conductor!'. I haven’t a clue how to conduct a brass band. It isn’t the same as singers, and it’s something I feel very uncomfortable doing. I don’t know the ensemble, I don’t have rapport, I don’t know the difference between baritones and euphoniums. And my sense of humour is often misunderstood!

Music creator Emily Peasgood with MD Darrell Scholes

But then I ring my composer friend and he reminds me of something really important: every first rehearsal I have ever attended, anxiously presenting my work to a new group, has always gone the exact same way, where the music I worked so hard on does not sound the way it's supposed to sound. But that's normal - it can't sound like that on the very first sight-read!

So when Darrell smiles at me and a band member says, 'You're doing great, love', I sigh with relief. After all, the first rehearsal is always a gong show.

'So when Darrell smiles at me and a band member says, 'You're doing great, love', I sigh with relief. After all, the first rehearsal is always a gong show.'

My Assistant sound artist, Dani Osoba - who is working with me as part of Creative Estuary's Regenerate 2031 scheme - had this to say about her first meeting the band:

Having not worked with a brass band before, I didn’t know what to expect. Brass instruments are very diverse in their expressive abilities, and I think Emily’s arrangement really explored this in fun ways, from staccato polyrhythms to trombone slides, and played with the dynamic and pitch range of each instrument. I think this piece was quite different to what the band usually plays, but the band warmed to it as parts were explained and put into context. It was great to witness this kind of session in person.

On 15 October I went to Hurst Green to watch the premiere of my piece, 'Oxted Suite'. It was great to see my mentor, Colin Riley, and Sally Palmer from Making Music there. Their support was invaluable - I doubt audience members realise how vulnerable a composer feels at their premiere. I was so nervous I barely recall the premiere, but what I do recall is worrying that no one would like my piece, and the stammering way I introduced it.

The following Tuesday, I headed back to Oxted for the recording session, which also went smoothly. I started to relax, to feel accepted and a bit at home with the Oxted Band - which is ironic, considering it was my last night with them. 

Emily Peasgood introducing Oxted Suite at the premiere

Now that some time has passed, I can look at my experience with clarity. It was good for me. I usually curate the experience of those who perform my work - I compose it, source musicians (often amateur singers in the community), arrange rehearsals, teach the work and conduct it. It is controlled and predictable.

The Adopt a Music Creator project didn't allow for this, but that was a good thing. The life of a practising composer often involves creating work that others will teach and conduct. I applied because I wanted to work with an amateur group of non-singers in a setting with performers who didn't previously know me or my work. I wanted this because in the past few years, I have started to accrue a steady group of singers who will sign up to sing every choral work I write - and that’s great! But it also provides less of a compositional challenge as I know who I am writing for, their strengths and weaknesses, and the best way to present a new work to them. 

Oxted Band and their MD Darrell Scholes knew nothing about me when we matched for a collaboration. Adopt A Music Creator challenged me, and taught me to let go… a bit. 

Follow Oxted Band on Twitter and check out their website

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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.