Instruments as image creators

Two members of the Two Rivers Concert Band offer up their thoughts and reflections on working alongside James Banner as part of the Adopt a Composer project.

The impressions of Leah Hannay, Two Rivers Concert Band's youngest member, aged 16.

I really enjoyed trying something that was new, and also a little bit different from the kind of thing I've experienced before. 

I found the activities both interesting and fun. The highlight for me was working in groups and experimenting with the way instruments can be used to create different images, like a window or a forest. 

It made me think a lot about the depth of music. The different sounds that produce texture, light and shade and shape to music are not always a traditional way, but music creates feelings, emotions and images. 

It was a great opportunity to try a little bit of composing, even if it was on a small scale.

Jane Newbury, flautist in the Two Rivers Concert Band, reflects on a workshop with James Banner.

You know that it is not going to be a standard rehearsal when you enter the Church, the band rehearsal space is bare and the Musical Director says “you know as much as I do!”

So, that’s how it started…

James commenced the morning with some rhythmic activities. We formed a circle, maintaining a beat and each saying our name. I thanked my lucky stars that I’m a one syllable named person so it was easy to fit in. At first. Any one syllable based smugness on my part was soon eclipsed by the difficulty of saying my neighbour’s name, maintaining the beat and trying to keep track of which direction the sequence was headed in. It was a good job that the three people called Richard that were standing next to each other had been split up at this point, as the results could have been really chaotic, instead of mostly chaotic as it turned out!

Scruff, our band mascot, was not impressed by our actions and had retreated under one of the pews looking distinctly anxious.

We were then split into several groups and our next task was to come up with a sentence containing the word ‘moor’ (or ‘more’) in it , within a specific number of words. We chanted our offerings emphasising the word ‘moor’ and James and Emily Crossland, (James’ mentor for Adopt a Composer) tried different combinations. The best result came from just three groups together.

The mathematically inclined tried to work out how many phrase repetitions were needed for the ‘moor’ element to synchronise.

A refreshing coffee break later, and our groups reformed with instruments. Group leaders were briefed on the theme word for a short improvised piece. However, the twist was that only the group leader knew the theme word and could only give two alternatives to ‘suggest’ the theme. Our key words were ‘hot’ and ‘steamy’. We interpreted this, after a slight false start, as a drink and our ‘piece’ tried to represent a kettle coming to the boil. We all contributed and came to a consensus result surprisingly quickly. Then, we shared the results of our work with the whole of the room.

This was a great opportunity to guess the theme which was shared with us after each rendition. Our theme was ‘coffee’ so boiling kettles weren’t too far off the mark. During this time James and Emily made suggestions and challenged us by experimenting with each contribution. I confess that our kettle boiling backwards didn’t quite do it for me, conversely, the ‘desert’ group playing from different locations in the room made their piece much more haunting to listen to, I thought.

We concluded with some discussion around the morning with feedback in both directions. Although,  I think it’s safe to say, most of us were a bit distant from our comfort zone we all took some good things away.

For me, I was able to mix and find out more about fellow band members who I don’t get to talk to regularly, we were able to work together, to respect other’s opinions and difficulties more and had enjoyed the experience.

I’d also been challenged in a positive way. But… I’m still no nearer a response to the question, ‘can a sound scape also be a tune?' Anyone? 


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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 broadcast on BBC Radio 3. If you’re a music group or composer and you’d like to take part, find out more.