Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Brave New World

Since the last post I’ve barely played at all. Not just through lack of people to play with, but more relevantly because I lost a crown on one of my front maxillary central incisors. With all the virus-inspired chaos going on, and the fact that it wasn’t really an “emergency” I didn’t get it fixed for a few months, but the fix turned out to be only temporary (the crown post had snapped in two). So now I’m half way through the brave new world of implant surgery, and will not be playing for ANOTHER few months. I could probably attempt playing on the temporary teeth by now, but I want to give the implants the maximum time possible to heal properly so that they really do become a “permanent” solution. And since there’s very little group playing going on this is as good a time as any.

It’s rather taken the impetus off my transcribing too, though I had started on the Brass Quartets by Ramsöe which look like they’ll fit really nicely on a wind quartet (no french horn), and I’ll get back to them eventually. It coincided with another Brave New World, which was attempting to use MuseScore in a semi-serious way as opposed to my usual Sibelius poison. This has been mixed in results. Actually inputting notes was straightforward, but getting the page layout correct was very non-intuitive, and drove me slightly batty. Oh, and the fact that the program crashes at start-up every other time. I’ve also gone for my first new PC in 10 years, and have still not bitten the bullet and escape from Windows. Sibelius is one of the main reasons for that, so I’ve either got see whether I can get it working under Wine, or else convert wholesale to MuseScore. Expect some reports eventually. Meantime, I’ve published the first two Ramsoe transcriptions here and here

Where is the music?

As I write this, nearly every form of collective music-making has fallen victim to the ongoing health crisis that is engulfing the world. Of course the mere thought of blowing one’s germs over the other members of the orchestra and the audience is only the most obvious first thought! As we hunker down, perhaps this is an opportunity to practise that piece that you’ve always been promising to get under your fingers, or composing that music that has been dying to get out for years.

For me, it’s Barber’s “Summer Music” that has never QUITE made it to the top of the list to spend time on, and in the hope that I will be going on a chamber music course in August, that’ll be my first option. I’ve also got a number of wind quintets in score-only form that I could transcribe and extract some parts for (out of copyright, natch), so there’s something to occupy me musically. In fact I’ve started transcribing the quintet by Erwin Landvai, a set of theme and variations. As always once I start it quickly consumes me, and my rarely exercised Sibelius skills mean it’s a bit of a slow process…

STOP PRESS: Have been invited to perform at a concert in September too, so time to brush up for that as well!

Another day, another voice over music

I think I’m becoming sensitised to background music. One of my favourite YouTubers, the Gosforth Handyman, has suddenly started using music in the background while he’s talking! Since he’s from Gosforth I usually need to be listening carefully to make sure I understand what he’s saying (yes, I’m a sissy Southerner), and the music just adds another challenge. Grrrr.

And oh, I discover that there are companies who deliberately SELL background music for voice overs. Needless to say I won’t give links to them here, but a simple Google search (I used “voice over background music”) will find them. Double GRRRR!

Not So Background Music

It may be something to do with my age, but one thing guaranteed to have me wound up is spoken content with background music.

Just WHY?

If you really want someone to listen to what you’re saying, why distract them with music? As a part-time musician it’s particularly annoying because I can’t concentrate on the music either, because some is speaking over it. (And do you remember those radio DJ’s who used to talk over the interesting instrumental introductions…?)

If you are trying to get your message across in a podcast, for example, PLEASE don’t put background music through the whole piece – I’m talking to you, I had to unsubscribe since I couldn’t get the message with the incessant BACKGROUND MUSIC.

I know we have to give musicians and composers living, but put the music in the section breaks or the introduction and play-out NOT during the actual talking. Sheesh

Always new music to discover. 

At this time of year I’ve often been attending the fabulous Harrogate Wind Chamber music course (now held in York). The vagaries of scheduling mean that some years the course coincides with one of my other favourite events, the Great British Beer Festival, as it does this year. 

So I’m thinking about what I might have been playing if I were in York, and as luck would have it our regular wind quintet has a meet up scheduled for next week. I’m hoping to re-acquaint myself with the Partita by Irving Fine as well as introduce it to my fellow quintet members.

Harrogate has always been somewhere to discover unfamiliar music, and so without a recent visit I’ve had to find other sources. The clarinet player in our quintet is always unearthing some of the more obscure compositions for the ensemble, so much so that I don’t think we’ve crashed through the same piece twice in the 18 months or so that we’ve been meeting. I’ve also returned to a rejuvenated resource, Brandt’s Woodwind Quintet Site. Rejuvenated mainly because Andy Brandt has retired from full-time professional playing and continues to augment this wonderful site way beyond his original “list” from over 40 years ago. While the listing of quintet compositions and arrangements is unparallelled, he’s now adding historical essays about the development of the ensemble. Highly recommended. 

As a result of this I may spring a new piece (to me, anyway) on the quintet next week. The Quintet Op. 52 by Theodor Blumer has somehow escaped my attention until now. Tricky, but sounds worthwhile… 

Is music a competitive sport?

Following hot on the heals of the announcement by the BBC that they are going to commission a “Choir of the Year”-style competition for amateur orchestras (here), there has been a fair amount of discussion and debate about whether this is a good idea. Or is it simply another cheap-ish way to fill air time by using participants who don’t demand media-style salaries?

In real life, nearly everything is competitive in one way or another, either directly or implicitly, leading to a hierarchy of price/cost/importance/prestige*. The BBC in particular has a long track record in musical competition, including the “Young Musician of the Year” started in 1978. There are legion other musical contests – Cardiff Singer, Leeds Piano, etc etc. The very act of auditioning to play in an ensemble is competitive. It’s a way of life for Brass Bands.

Is this then the start of the same process for orchestras? Traditionally, in Great Britain at least, non-professional orchestras were often somewhat different. For one thing they are made up of a mix of complete amateurs, music teachers, semi-professionals and often a professional conductor and/or leader. Often they rehearse with available players and supplement the numbers with paid musicians come the concert. The way the competition is currently arranged will exclude many ensembles – more than 40 but less than 75 members, for example – and the amount of time required may well interfere with the normally running.

I’m still trying to make up my mind whether I think it’s a good idea. I know that my regular orchestra (< 40 regular players) will not be participating. I’ve long used the term “amateur orchestra”, but the term “community orchestra” is a far better description in most cases – a local group for local players. Should a community be competing?



* take your pick

A short history of my favourite music

A friend has inveigled me into exposing my history of music-listening via a series of Facebook entries. I decided that actually it would be fun to add them here, where I can get a chance to expand them.

Here’s the first:

Day one of musical memories.

Glenn Miller

String of Pearls – Glenn Miller and his Orchestra

This was on a 78 we used play on an old portable record player in the loft at home in Sittingbourne. There’s a little piano “tinkle” at around 2:00 which used to sound like someone dropping a glass, but the up to date rendition makes it clearly sound like a piano. The great thing about the 78s were that they were so thick and heavy there was little danger of a sub 10-year-old damaging them more than they were already, other than by accidentally dropping it out of the loft hatch (never did, of course).

There were several other old vinyl records we used to play, but this was probably the best music. Others you won’t be seeing included “Six White Boomers” (1963 A side, the B side was “I’ve Lost My Mummy” – I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out the artist); “Milord” by Edith Piaf (never really liked that one), and an usual 10-inch long player of a Slavonic dance or something (struggling with that one even with the internet)


Not so much playing

I’ve sometimes wondered how it must be for a player of a less frequently used instrument when it comes to playing a concert where you’re either only in one or two pieces or you play very few notes on the ones you’re in. Well tonight it’s been both. Playing 2nd bassoon in a concert that featured solely strings in three out of the six pieces was always going to be one of those quieter evenings. As it turned out, there weren’t that many notes in one of of those three pieces either.

So I did get the opportunity to listen for a change, and very lovely the pieces were. (for the record, they included Elgar’s Sospiri and an arrangement of the slow movement of his String Quartet).

Spare a thought for the triangle player, though. About 10 “strikes” in one piece. At least he got to go home early 🙂

Reasons for optimism

Often I don’t find many reasons for optimism, since I tend to be of a more cynical nature. However, after a week in Harrogate at the White Hart Hotel playing almost all day on the great wind chamber music course there, and with the second meeting of a local wind quintet approaching I am finding myself looking forward for a change.

The wind quintet is a fragile beast, and it’s been said that the bassoonist (i.e. me) is the only person who enjoys it. Since the flute struggles to be loud enough, the oboe is forever delving into the quacky end of its range, the clarinet has mostly virtuosic stuff and the french horn player has to play quieter then he or she would like, there is a certain truth there. Not only that, but the personalities often attributed to the players (I’ll spare you the stereotypes) mean that keeping a group of five wind players together can be a challenge. The more regular chamber ensembles, for example the string quartet, have a more homogeneous nature, and also the presence of a clear leader (primo violino) means that decisions can be made!

Still, there is plenty of music, both original and arranged, for the quintet; from the classical starting point of the Reicha and Danzi quintets to the up-to-date jazz-influenced music of Jim Parker, with something from everyone in between. This year’s Harrogate was the opportunity to discover some previously unknown pieces to me: two of the four quintets by Johan Sobeck, a bohemian clarinets from the 19th century; a wind quintet by Howard Brubeck, of Dave’s two brothers. These were definitely worthwhile additions to the “playable” repertoire – hence my optimism.

It’s that time again..

..for another blog entry just to keep up the average of nearly 3 a year 🙂

As I mentioned in my last blog post nearly two years ago sometimes having a “foot in many camps” means that actually some of the camps get a bit neglected. Perhaps 2014 should be the year in which we decide WHICH camps we’re still going to stay in? The easy availability of so many sources of information, entertainment and commerce on the internet certainly encourage a magpie-like approach which requires quite strong self-control to avoid. I don’t have that sort of self control short of turning off my computer and walking away. Yes, I still have a “computer” and I still sit at a desk despite having access to the more mobile forms of technology. Possibly it’s an age-related thing that means that the two large screens on my desk are more attractive to my be-spectacled optics than the smaller screen real-estate presented by the phone and tablet.

So has anything fundamental changed in the last year in my relationship with software and music? Actually probably not. I’m still happy playing the bassoon, and I increasingly use electronic copies of music to play from when at home – the libraries of the International Music Score Library Project provide a valuable resource for rehearsal material of the orchestral music I typically play. I have acquired a Nexus 7 – fabulous piece of technology in its own right – but for quite a lot of the time it doubles as a (albeit high-function) alarm clock, replacing a Joggler that died. Probably the most significant piece of technological change for me was the new camera, I have jumped ship from a Canon DSLR to the estimable Olympus Micro-Four-Thirds format EM5. Has my photography significantly changed though? Again, actually not, although the improvement in size & weight mean that I tend to take the camera with me more often.

A year of incremental improvement then? Certainly. I’d love to say the same about all of the software deployed where I work, but, well, a supertanker takes a long time to turn. Oh, and there’s the new car too which probably contains more software than all my previous ones put together. Has it made it any better to drive? Possibly not, but then I’m relatively undemanding in my requirement for a car – I like it to start, go, and stop with as little drama as possible. Which it does.

Looking forward to 2014!