A year of discovery

My first and most important resolution of 2014 was a simple one on paper, but in other ways is proving far more difficult than the standard ‘eat less, move more’ one which I’m also battling to maintain!

The resolution was first and foremost to expand my knowledge of orchestral repertoire – having come from a brass banding background, most of my classical repertoire ‘knowledge’ comes from yellowing arrangements of the ‘popular’ classics, along with various works studied at A level and during my degree. So this year I have big plans to change that, and a good deal of this is coming from the resolve to listen to at least one new piece of music everyday for the whole of 2014.

My definition of ‘new’ is a little loose – essentially what I mean is music that is new to me, i.e. I’ve either never heard it before or, if I have, it’s been as background noise that I’ve not listened to with any real intent. What ‘new’ certainly doesn’t mean is music written during the last few years; I’m sure the majority of what I listen to will not be new in that sense at all!

Definitions aside, as I said, I’m actually finding it harder by far than I had imagined it might be. I’m hoping that, like all resolutions, if I stick to it it’ll become increasingly easy – once I’ve worked out ways to do it ‘properly’ for want of a better descriptor! As it stands, I’m seven days in and already on method number five when it comes to making my selections for the day’s listening.

Days one and two were fairly easy; I simply turned on my iPod, selected the classical genre and hit shuffle. This worked well – I’ve been collecting CDs during the last few months and indiscriminately loading them on to my iTunes account, regardless of whether I know or like the composer/arranger/performer/period/genre etc, so finding something I had never listened to was almost guaranteed in one hit (as it happened, shuffle magically chose my favourite film score to play; if I was a superstitious person I’d have taken this as a sign that I shouldn’t branch out and should stick to what I know and love…luckily I’m not, and one click of the ‘skip’ button turned me on to the perfect beginning to my quest for musical discovery).

Day three was altogether more tricky, mainly on the basis that I’m perpetually forgetful and neglected to ensure I had my iPod in my possession when I left work on Friday, meaning that Saturday was a portable music player-less affair. Spotify was my saviour, and I went for the ‘search for the first composer that pops into your head and then select the first piece of theirs that appears’ approach. Not really recommended – I felt depressingly lazy and a little like a fraud when I tweeted the day’s finding, despite the fact that the work I’d listened to was exactly what this journey is all about – discovering music that I would otherwise not know.

Day four I picked a country and went for one of the big five; the following selection involved me thinking of a piece that I knew and loved followed by seeking out the composer’s next work in that series. Day six was when real laziness kicked in (I heard somewhere that the sixth day of a healthy eating programme is the most dangerous for any dieter; the day most people fall off the wagon?) – I actually turned to my boyfriend and told him to pick something for me. I wasn’t proud of myself. Day seven was when I googled one of my most loved and admired composers and then listened to the first work listed of theirs that I wasn’t familiar with.

Seven days, five methods. Four selections that I will being very happy to hear again, one that I found interesting and will go back to when I’m in a learning kind of mood, one that I found relatively dull (aside from the moment that I clocked the snippet of a well-known tenor horn solo) and a final choice which I loved from beginning to end.

I’m intending to do a round-up of my discoveries each week, which I will post here. The first post on this will be a little longer than average as I’ll do my writing on a Sunday – this week I’ll have a few of the previous week’s offerings to reflect on too.

I also intend to come up with a better way of choosing what I listen to – a great idea in theory, this was clearly not something I thought out all that well. Now that I am considering it properly, it occurs to me that I was foolish to ever believe it would be easy. There are hundreds of years worth of compositions, thousands of composers and an incalculable number of pieces out there waiting to be discovered. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am currently one of the most spoilt-for-choice people in the entire world. And on that basis, I am going to stop complaining about this being difficult right this second, and start being very excited about the potential this resolution holds.

2013 in Retrospect

So I’ve decided that 2014 is the year of self-indulgence – perhaps not in food or other comestibles, but insomuch as I’m now going to allow myself to believe that people might just be interested in things that I see, hear or do occasionally.

As such, my first blog post will be an overview of my 2013 – mainly from a musical perspective.

In January I recall I was feeling fairly smug; I’d selected my options well at university the previous September and therefore had the exact sum of zero essays to stress over during the winter semester break. That meant I could focus on score preparation, as well as making a start on getting together the report for my Arts Administration elective.

The end of January was something of a shock to the system – the first rehearsal of the brass band for my final semester at university brought the news that my tutor and conducting mentor, Dr Howard Evans, has been diagnosed with cancer, meaning he would be having treatment over the coming months and would therefore not be around for my finals months and exams as a student. Clearly this was a blow, but I am pleased to note that the most recent update from him is positive and we hope he’ll be free of cancer after his final scheduled operation in the next couple of months.

This meant a new tutor, and a new set of approaches to my degree. I missed Howard massively, but set about working on learning the score for an imminent conducting exam in February. I was honoured to given the chance to conduct only the second ever performance of ‘Three Cornish Legends‘, a testpiece by Darrol Barry, written for the Cornwall Youth Brass Band and dedicated to Goff Richards. Certainly the piece was a challenge for myself and the band but I loved working on it and was proud of an excellent performance for the exam.

March saw my conducting debut at the North West area contest with Denton Brass in the 4th section. A nervy performance didn’t result in a podium finish, but experience was gained and lessons learnt.

In April I was invited to be a guest speaker at the National Association of Brass Band Conductor’s annual conference, held in Bury. The day was focused on women in banding and, more specifically, female conductors within the movement. Along with Mareika Gray and Samantha Harrison I was interviewed and questioned by the conference attendees and finished the day assured that people are working to encourage more women into the role of Conductor. Additionally I was invited to take a Diggle B Band rehearsal, preparing them for their Whit Friday appearance.

May was a particularly busy month which included deadlines and final examinations. I has chosen to conduct Philip Sparke’s ‘Kaleidoscope‘ and had spent many hours with the score and the Adelphi Brass Band preparing for the day that the whole of my final year has been leading up to. I was extremely busy outside of university also, preparing Denton for the annual Whit Friday outing. The band battled the weather to play at nine villages and were rewarded by being the fourth placed ‘Best Local Band’ for Tameside. The final week of the month was spent mainly in the bandroom working on the programme for the Ripon Entertainment Contest. It was also the week that I received all of the final marks for the various components of my degree and I learnt that I has secured a First Class Honours degree from the University of Salford.

The first day of June was entirely taken up with a trip to Ripon to conduct Denton in the aforementioned entertainment contest. Our African-themed programme found favour with the adjudicators and we were awarded fifth most entertaining programme. A few days later I became a ‘proper grown-up’ as I began working for M247 Ltd as Provisioning Coordinator.

July was graduation month and I spent a happy week holed up in the Lowry Theatre as part of the brass entertainment ensemble. Over the four days we played to over 19,000 people – it’s fun to know that, when you add in the 2012 and 2011 performances, I will likely feature somewhere in around 21,000 students’ graduation photo albums!

August was packed with summer-style brass band concerts of course, as well as an enjoyable three-week stretch conducting the famous Marple Band, including rehearsal of ‘Behold the Power of God‘ by my good friend, Christopher Bond. Additionally I was invited to lead the Rivington and Adlington band in a summer concert in Ormskirk – nothing like a bit of sight-reading!

In September I made the decision to move on from an enjoyable and successful ten months at Denton Brass, and became inundated with freelance conducting work across numerous bands in the north west, including Rivington and Adlington, Sale Brass, Poynton (VBS) Band, Marple Band and Poulton-le-Fylde.

October was a manic month, with one week being particularly busy. I had the joy of seeing Allen Vizutti in concert (the man is utterly incredible) and also watching an Alison Balsom masterclass at the RNCM, witnessing one of the most impressive performances of a wonderfully innovative work for trumpet I have ever heard. On the Friday evening I conducted the wonderful Marple Band in their annual Vice President’s concert on a programe which included some of my favourite works for band. In particular, the bands performance of Vaughan-Williams ‘Prelude to 49th Parallel‘ is a moment that will stay with me and is a real highlight of my 2013. Following the concert I drove straight to Glasgow in order to be ready to produce for a recording with the Cooperative Funeral Care (Glasgow) Band. This CD will be the third in a series of CDs produced for the Clarence Adoo Trust and is entitled ‘Music from the Great Composers‘.

November included further freelance conducting work as well as being the month in which I met my heroine, Marin Alsop, after a concert by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall.

December has again been busy with a good deal of travelling around the north west for conducting engagements and various concerts and recitals, as well as a few trips southwards; a visit to Bournemouth to catch up with and watch a concert conducted by Dr Howard Evans, a trip to Derby to assist the Classic FM team in a live concert recording of the Symphonia Viva, and of course the journey home to Cornwall for Christmas. Only a few days ago I had the pleasure of watching my younger brother take one of the lead roles in the KidzRUs pantomime – a very proud moment as I watched him take his first steps on a road not too different than the one I am following myself – performance is performance!

I realise that this has been a lengthy and extremely self-indulgent blog posting, and can assure you that I do not intend them all to follow this example! Hopefully this will be useful in a year’s time when I will not really need to summarise 2014, having already explored it as it unfolds around us all.