Aliens whispering in Macclesfield

Composer Christopher Schlechte-Bond on working with KEMS Concert Band during their Adopt a Composer pairing

In September of last year I found that I was to be paired up with the KEMS Concert Band as part of the 2016-17 'Adopt A Composer' programme. When I first met the band, I was pleased to see that they were a friendly bunch, a competent set of musicians of all ages that loved to play and were excited at the prospect of a piece being written especially for them!

I found the process of writing this piece particularly tough: for instance, the instrumentation of the band is often changing, which means that my piece has to be very adaptable. However, I seem to have jumped over this hurdle and I am now in the final stages of finishing the piece.

Based on a bizarre dream I recently had, Curiosity Rover Finds An Alien Saloon Bar Hidden Deep Beneath The Martian Soil begins with a quirky soundscape of strange instrumental timbres and sounds underneath a haunting and distant piccolo solo. The instruments gather together in a mysterious development of colourful harmony before exploding into a clamorous, furiously rhythmic and slightly jazzy crescendo.

Unusually for the concert band repertoire, I have asked the KEMS lot to whistle, to whisper (furiously), to chant strange hypnotic nonsense words, to play in 'freetime' (playing freely against the barline) as well as playing their instrument in the conventional manner. Many of the band weren't used to this, but I think they are finding it easier and easier now that I have explained it all (many times!). We should hopefully end up with a piece that is unique, quirky, musically striking and challenging but also fun to play.

My experience working with amateur bands and choirs so far has always involved the challenges of trying to get my ideas understood. The nature of such a long and luxurious rehearsal process before the piece is finally performed means that in the first few rehearsals, I only had scraps of material and unfinished ideas.

What is fully formed and coherent in my head has to be understood from scratch by the rest of the band. This is a challenging process but a rewarding one: as I write more music and we play and discuss it more, the nature of the music and what it's really meant to represent becomes more apparent. It becomes more obvious that the music is less about melody and more about 'atmosphere'.

The band have been extremely welcoming to me so far and despite some initial confusion have embraced my ideas wholeheartedly. Some of them have even given me some brilliant suggested improvements to the music that would better acheive what I'm trying to aim for. So thank you, KEMS!

The piece is nearly finished - 90% of it I would say, and I hope to have finished the score very soon for our October 15th performance!