Finding the Music

Chris Maslin of Horsham Symphony Orchestra describes composer Adriano Adewale's workshop with the group

The Horsham Symphony Orchestra has had a fairly leisurely start to the Adopt a Composer project. We were fortunate enough that Adriano has been able to attend a few rehearsals over the last term and even to see us performing at our last concert. He is beginning to get to to know the character of the orchestra and get a feel for what we can (and can’t!) do. Today’s workshop was an opportunity for Adriano to share his musical background, to get to know us and to explore ideas for the new piece.

Not only a composer, Adriano is a talented percussionist and by way of introduction, he played us a short improvised piece on a collection of African and Brazilian percussion instruments and a Berimbau - a single-stringed “musical bow”. It was a wonderfully evocative performance and fascinating to hear such a range of often unfamiliar sounds.

Adriano encouraged us to talk about how we chose the instruments we play. Responses ranged from our bassoonist Roger, who always knew that he wanted to play bassoon after hearing a single note at the start of a piece of Mozart, to Alice who only started playing the violin because her sister could only manage half a lesson, and they needed someone else to make up the numbers.  It was striking how many players wanted to play a particular instrument, but ended up playing something else. As Adriano said: “It’s not you who chooses the instrument. It’s the instrument that chooses you!”

This was followed by an extended session where he broke down the rhythm of the Samba into its constituent parts, assigning different aspects of the rhythm to a group of us to clap out. Not as easy as it sounds! This was further embellished by using our own instruments in a way that was pretty much akin to 'on the fly' composing, with each group choosing how they wanted to play the notes of the rhythm, thus producing different interpretations between ensembles. Both challenging and huge fun it gave a real insight into composing and interpretation.

In the final section of the day, we split into smaller groups and were asked to consider a short piece of music (Sinho Zezihno D’Angola) written in three parts. We were encouraged to experiment with different sounds and textures that could be obtained by varying the combinations of instruments playing. There was an impromptu performance of the piece by each group and it was fascinating to hear how dramatically different the same piece of music could sound. More importantly, it gave us ideas about what we might like Adriano to use in our composition.

It has been a truly successful day. There was a definite air of apprehension at the start of the day and so it was great to see all the orchestra members get involved. There was a definite buzz amongst the group as we left, and we can’t wait to see how the piece will develop.