Shaping the music

Orchestra member Allison Grant talks about how Merchant Sinfonia has truly adopted their new commission as well as composer Anna Appleby

Anna’s first visit to the Merchant Sinfonia here in Glasgow was before Christmas. She pitched up with her oboe and played with our oboe section during our rehearsal, which was a really brilliant way to introduce herself to us all. At this stage of course, there was no music and no clue as to what was to come. We went to the pub after rehearsal and started to bond with our newly adopted composer. A few weeks later, Anna turned up again, this time without the oboe but with David Horne, her mentor, and they sat at the side and listened to us as we scraped, tooted and hooted through the rehearsal. It was early in the term, and we were largely sight reading, and I was not sure she would come back after such an experience.

However, return she did, each time bearing a little more sheet music and, most recently, with a completed score of our very own Adopt a Composer commission. I’ve watched with real pleasure as the orchestra has thrown itself wholeheartedly into the challenge of playing unheard and contemporary music. Anna is enthusiastic and exuberant and has captured the heart of our orchestra. 

We have always welcomed beginners and rusty returners - it’s very much our raison d’etre, and it’s built into our constitution - so we have a really wide range of experience and ability in our players. However, I think it’s fair to say that for most of us, our comfort zone lies in the familiar and traditional, even if we can’t play it. We’ve done one or two more contemporary pieces, and tackled them with relish, and done our best with them, but the core of our repertoire tends to lie in the heartlands of classical music.

Anna’s managed to give us something that every section can get its teeth into, with the most amazing rhythms and fantastic tunes. The orchestra has embraced our new piece with excitement and a sense of adventure. 

Anna’s been wonderful in encouraging participation and feedback, which I think have been pretty central to the sense of ownership the orchestra’s developed for the music - it’s our music, and we have helped shape it.

We’re doing things we’ve never done before, and just loving it.