Cow and calf: inspiring a composer

Les Goldman, Chair of the Two Rivers Concert Band shares his insight into their collaboration with composer James Banner.

On 29 June I attended my first rehearsal of our Adopt a Composer piece, 'Concertino for Concert Band' by James Banner. It prompted thoughts about some of the roles our band has played in the genesis of the piece and the roles we still have to play in the run up to our first performance planned for 6 October.

When the project began we were a bit like tour guides. James didn’t know much about Ilkley and the surrounding area, and the world of the Concert Band was not particularly familiar to him. We tried to make him feel welcome and introduced him to our sound, what we do well and what we are less good at. We discussed themes that were important to us such as our area’s industrial history and showed him Ilkley Moor and the famous Cow and Calf Rocks. It’s fascinating to see how he’s incorporated some of these themes and ideas into his music.

There was a phase early in the composition process when it felt to me as if the band became James’s paintbox, each instrument representing a different colour.

He spent time refining his palette, trying out different colour combinations and brush strokes to see what worked best and what might produce the effects he was looking for. Some band members enjoyed this role while others found it a bit frustrating. It certainly wasn’t like a normal rehearsal when most of us are playing most of the time.

Our Adopt a Composer project needs inspiration and creativity to succeed, but like any artistic venture it also needs its back-room team. This is the band committee and our trusty group of helpers. There are rehearsals to organise, parts to print out, publicity to prepare and unexpected obstacles to negotiate. Things seem to be running smoothly so far and I’m really pleased with what we’ve sorted out for our concerts featuring the new work. We’ve secured the Roof Gallery of the iconic Salts Mill in the Saltaire World Heritage site as the venue for our premiere concert - it's a huge, evocative space. And for our second performance we have struck up a new collaboration with the Ilkley Literature Festival.

From now on we also have a more familiar but crucial role to play which I suspect will challenge us the most. It’s the role of being a Concert Band and learning a new piece.

We all have our music and James has written us detailed performance instructions. He has taken some of his inspiration from the Yorkshire countryside and from our local industrial heritage, but the sound world that the piece creates is not a familiar one for most of us. It is contemporary and influenced by his background in jazz improvisation, many miles away from our usual concert band diet of Holst, Vaughan Williams and medleys from well-known musicals. 

The challenge for Mike our musical director is to help us bring all these notes and instructions to life. The challenge for us as band members is to leave preconceptions behind, to enter into the spirit of the piece and to work together to produce musical performances that I hope will entertain and excite everyone.


Two Rivers Concert Band's premiere performance takes place on 6 October 2019 at Salts Mill, Saltaire. Book tickets.

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The Adopt a Composer project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising composers to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a première performance and possible broadcast on BBC Radio 3. If you’re a music group or composer and you’d like to take part, find out more.