Edinburgh Concert Band: opportunity and challenge

Judy usually plays Bb Clarinet with the Edinburgh Concert Band, but when the chance to try her hand as a percussionist arose as part of their collaboration for Adopt a Composer, she didn't know quite what she was letting herself in for.

"We need a volunteer for percussion - anyone up for stepping up for Gaynor’s ‘Step Up!'...?"

I jumped at the chance, there is a surplus of clarinets and I have always wanted to try percussion... and for the Adopt a Composer piece - wow that gave me a buzz. I was up-front with the percussion section leader; "I should warn you that one of the reasons for volunteering is because my sense of rhythm is so bad I am keen to get it improved so please feel free to turn me down or sack me." With magnitude and grace the reply was " I will take anyone who is keen" - I was 'in'...

I never thought I'd be swinging washing machine tubing above my head when I volunteered for percussion!

So in one fell swoop I had transferred my musical skills from blowing to... well counting, banging (claves), slapping (vibraslap) and whirling the inside of a washing machine above my head, yes you have read correctly! I will not say why or for what effect as that would be a serious plot spoiler suffice it to say this is all about creating an effect of nature.

In the three weeks I have being playing my assortment of instruments I have learnt so much and I am amazed at the amount of multi-tasking a percussionist has to perform. Not only do I have to count, count, count I also have to work out how to get from one instrument to the other in enough time, and  work out with which part of my body I am going to use to make the instrument 'sound' - it is truly a revelation and I am filled with a new admiration for the percussion section. I have also had to up my swimming - thank goodness I pack in 150 lengths per week as I have to swing that tubing for a long time high up in the air.

Being part of Adopt a Composer is an experience I was never going to forget and only feel excited and honored to a part of... I for sure won’t be forgetting it now.

MD Sarah offers an insight into the opportunities and challenges that arise as part of collaborating with their adopted composer, Gaynor Barradell.

What a brilliant afternoon of music making!  Gaynor Barradell handed out parts for our first draft of the music, eagerly awaited by myself and the band. She had worked extremely hard since her last visit to have the first draft ready in time for a full Sunday afternoon of workshops.

The workshop opened with a warm up session from Gaynor herself to get everyone in the mood and then we were off and running. Her enthusiasm and knowledge of the styles she wanted was not only informative but very infectious.

With so many new and juxtaposed styles, grooves and challenging rhythms the big question was, ‘How do I communicate this to the band and get the best from the players?’

With instrument in hand the week before the rehearsal I set to work personally exploring the different sections. I tried to put myself in the position of the players and the different abilities in the band. The only answer I could come up with was that it had to be unforgettable and a little bit crazy.

The sections of the workshops took many forms.

  • Playing around with notation and note values.
  • Dissecting sections and replacing the music with different vocal sounds, clapping and stomping to help feel the grooves and focus the mind.
  • Words and phrases to suit the tricky rhythms ‘I am going on holiday, yes and I…….’, ‘I can feel the rhythm’, ‘this is lovely’, ‘it is, it is lovely’, ‘I can play this rhythm, oh yes I can’.

Did it work? Just as quick as it started the workshop was over, rounded off by a full run through of the piece. It was really starting to take shape and it really felt like we had made a lot of headway.  

There was a lot of smiling faces leaving the rehearsal including Gaynor’s and mine.  

There was only one thing left to do – visit the local Italian restaurant for a band and composer social.