A new musical family

Composer Gaynor Barradell writes about her 'adoption' by the Edinburgh Concert Band

I’ve been ‘adopted’! A strange concept for me to get my head around both personally and professionally, however, the guys at Edinburgh Concert Band (ECB) have been so welcoming that I feel like I do have a new musical family.

I was so nervous, arriving at the Adopt a Composer launch day back in September.  I bravely signed in at reception and quietly announced myself, not knowing what or who to expect.  Hot on my heels were Sarah and Judy from Edinburgh Concert Band. We worked out quite quickly that we were going to be paired, so when the announcement came in the following session we managed to look surprised, but the delight was indeed genuine.

What a lovely, but all too short, day was then had. There was so much to discuss, my mind racing with questions and ideas. A concert band! With over 60 musicians!

I admit to feeling rather smug when attending the composers and mentors workshop day in October. I was able to announce that not only did I have an invitation to rehearse with the band, but my band workshop date was arranged - and the actual date of the premiere! This gave me an extra boost of confidence to participate in the workshop. I threw myself into all the activities of the day and really enjoyed it. Even the improvised singing!

First rehearsal day arrived – I had agreed to join the saxophone section of ECB for their normal Tuesday rehearsal session. I was slightly nervous as Sarah had sent me a list of the pieces they were working on, and, after a brief YouTube session later, I knew I was in for a challenging sight read and a right good blow!

Rehearsal with Sarah was fast-paced, really energetic, and super-well organised. I barely had time to make notes, but hastily scribbled my thoughts down as we tore through the most recent repertoire the band were preparing for their December concert. And I was flattered that so many band members were keen to meet me and tell me their thoughts in the social session after rehearsal. I gleaned all sorts of information about sectional requirements and ‘wishlists’ from the brass!  All useful stuff, this gave me lots of ideas about the forthcoming workshop.

Workshop rehearsal arrived- I had worked flat out arranging a piece I love, ‘Mandela’ by Abdullah Ibrahim.  The band came to my logistical rescue with printing charts. I ‘conducted’ (and I use that term very loosely) the band through the chart and we worked through the feel, rhythmic aspects, listening exercises, and improvisation sections that I hoped we would. 

Everyone was so attentive and responsive, it felt good and sounded great. I was able to come away with a real sense of where the band really bonds. I was absolutely delighted and blown away with the band’s generous patience and attention throughout the session.

Christmas comes but once a year… and if you’re lucky, so does a well programmed Christmas Concert!  I knew this would be a classy affair, but my, was I surprised.  Arriving at the historic Greyfriars Kirk in the very centre of beautiful Edinburgh, the venue made an immediate impression.  What a glorious and appropriate backdrop to a magnificent stage set-up. The band performed brilliantly – a super programme of perennial but well-chosen seasonal favourites and a selection of really impressive contemporary concert band masterworks including ‘44 Scotland Street’ by Peter Graham. 

I’m looking forward to seeing them all again by the end of January, when I hope I will have some viable musical material to offer them to start work with which relates to the ideas we have mentioned in various exchanges over the weeks. In the meantime, I’ll need a lend of extra brains, bigger ears and an overdose of imagination to get this new piece going full steam ahead!