Adopt a Music Creator: Musical soundscapes

Music creator Peter Falconer describes the beginning of his collaboration with the Band of the Surrey Yeomanry as part of Adopt a Music Creator 2023.

I'm absolutely delighted to have been paired with this Surrey-based concert band to write a piece for (and very much with) them, which we're aiming to premiere towards the end of 2023. This is my first time writing for such a large ensemble (definitely a step up from solo viola), but fortunately I am supported by my mentor, composer Fraser Trainer, and the band's conductor Michael Withers, both of whom have been invaluable so far.

I met the band in February for an initial workshop, where we played around with their favourite sounds to make, what is easy and difficult, what is rewarding, and who definitely does not want to be given a solo! I explained my preoccupation with using text in my pieces, and went through a little exercise in telling stories and setting them to improvised musical soundscapes, which the band dove into with good humour and excellent results.

musicians of The Band of the Surrey Yeomanry perform on a bandstand in front of an audienceThe Band of the Surrey Yeomanry performing at Eastbourne Bandstand in August 2021

To finish the workshop, I had the chance to conduct (kind of!) the band through a few four-bar ideas, which Michael and I were able to rearrange across the instruments to experiment with different textures. Rather than writing a full 25-part arrangement for each part, Michael introduced me to 'flex' arrangements: four-part arrangements, each transposed for instruments in Eb, Bb, F and Concert, so that any instrument could have a go at playing any part. So useful!

We had our second meeting at the end of April, this time going through a two-minute sketch I'd written in full. Hearing the dots on the page come to life was absolutely magical, and Michael and the band were able to improve things immensely - the conductor bringing out lines I'd left lingering in the background, and the band asking for clarification on things I'd not even considered. They were also able to point out which sections were particularly tricky in terms of breathing, and Fraser suggested practical ways that I could use to rewrite those sections.

'...the conductor bringing out lines I'd left lingering in the background, and the band asking for clarification on things I'd not even considered.'

Finally we had a little chat about parafiction, storytelling, and how we're going to weave that into the piece... but I'm going to keep that under wraps for now! My next step is to get some more material written for the end of June, and this time, I'll try playing more of it on sax/flute so that I can test the breathing!

I'll finish off with a quick mental health reminder (for myself): the next draft doesn't have to be perfectly arranged or breathtakingly awesome; it just has to be something you can work with.

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.

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 a professional recording. If you’re a music group or music creator and you’d like to take part, find out more.