Member blog: Westerly Winds

Catherine Herring, volunteer events co-ordinator of Westerly Winds, tells the story of how their members decided to take their Grade 5 music theory exam amid a pandemic. 

Many leisure-music groups have been impacted by the pandemic, and Bristol-based concert band Westerly Winds was no exception. Still, we worked hard to keep the group together and maintain the whirring of our musical cogs. 

We did some fantastic work to create lockdown videos, learn new skills and raise money for charity along the way, like an arrangement of Toto’s Africa, selections from The Greatest Showman and scoring the original poem ‘The Night Before Christmas: A Covid Story’. 

In spring 2021, once it became clear that normal rehearsals wouldn’t be able to resume, our conductor Andy Loveridge decided to hold weekly music theory lessons over Zoom. 

It was a great opportunity for the band to get together on a regular basis (albeit virtually) and allowed us to explore a new side of music. The group was originally formed as a teaching band, and the promotion of lifelong music learning and participation is an important element of their remit, as it is for their umbrella charity: the Avon Wind Band Association. Prior to the pandemic, however, we didn’t think that remit would involve swotting up for weekly theory tests!  

'It’s so often the case that, as we get older, we become somewhat stuck in familiar patterns and habits and it’s easy to shy away from learning new things.'

A small cohort of us decided to take the plunge and sit our Grade 5 theory exams. This was a huge step outside everyone’s comfort zones, given that it had been a while since any of us had taken exams, let alone in an online setting!  This was a new experience which came with its own challenges beyond the syllabus content. Would the camera work? Would I be able to navigate my way through the software? Is it ok to mutter 'stupid computers' and 'I hate technology' at regular intervals throughout the test? 

In the end, all of our fears were unfounded and I’m delighted to say that not only did we all pass, but we did so with flying colours (even the drummer!).  

It’s so often the case that, as we get older, we become somewhat stuck in familiar patterns and habits and it’s easy to shy away from learning new things. We’re so grateful to our conductor for giving us this opportunity to widen our musical knowledge and encourage us to push ourselves to do things we probably wouldn’t have considered on our own. 

screenshot of people holding their certificates to the screen over Zoom

Members of Westerly Winds display their Grade 5 theory certificates over Zoom 

We’re all proudly brandishing our certificates, except for Quentin – one of our trumpet players – who has already misplaced his (there’s one in every class)! 

I hope this story might act as encouragement to other, perhaps older, music makers who might feel reticent about taking exams or taking their music learning in new directions.  

It’s never too late. 

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Does your group have an interesting story to tell about in-person or online activity? Get in touch or send a member blog (250-350 words).