Adopt a Music Creator (formerly "Adopt a Composer") is a project run by Making Music in partnership with Sound And Music. Now in its 23rd year, the scheme pairs leisure-time music groups (orchestras, choirs, concert bands, brass bands, ukulele ensembles...) with early-career composers, who collaborate to create new and exciting pieces of music.
I'm absolutely delighted to have been paired with the Band of the Surrey Yeomanry, a concert band* based in Redhill, Surrey. I'll be writing a piece for (and very much with) them, which will be premiered towards the end of 2023 and hopefully broadcast on radio in 2024.
This is my first time writing for such a large ensemble - composing for concert band is definitely a step up from solo viola - but fortunately I am supported by an AaMC mentor - composer Fraser Trainer - and the Yeomanry's conductor Michael Withers, both of whom have been invaluable so far.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram will already know this, of course, because I've been banging on about it excitedly since January. I met the band in February for an initial workshop, where we played around with the band's favourite sounds to make, what is easy and difficult, what is rewarding, and who definitely does not want to be given a solo! I explained my preoccupation with using text in my pieces, and went through a little exercise in telling stories and setting them to improvised musical soundscapes, which the band dove into with good humour and excellent results.
To finish I had the chance to conduct (kind of!) the band through a few four-bar ideas, which Michael and I were able to re-arrange across the instruments to experiment with different textures. Rather than writing a full 25-part arrangement for each part, Michael introduced me to "Flex" arrangements: 4-part arrangements, each transposed for instruments in Eb, Bb, F and Concert, so that any instrument could have a go at playing any part. So useful.
Last Monday I had a second session with the band, this time going through a 2-minute sketch I'd written in a full 25 part arrangement. Hearing the dots on the page come to life was absolutely magical, but Michael and the band were able to improve things immensely - the conductor bringing out lines I'd left lingering in the background, and the band asking for clarification on things I'd not even considered. They were also able to point out sections that were particularly tricky in terms of breathing, and Fraser suggested practical ways I could write these sections better.
Finally we had a little chat about parafiction, storytelling, and how we're going to weave that into the piece... but I'm going to keep that under wraps for now!
The band is playing at Eastbourne Bandstand on 21st June from 8pm, including a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture under a barrage of fireworks, so if you're down that way do give them a look!
My next step is to get some more material written for the end of June. And this time, I'll try playing more of it on sax/flute so that I can test the breathing!
Mental health reminder: The June draft doesn't have to be a 20 minute behemoth, nor does it have to be perfectly arranged or paradigm-shiftingly awesome. It just has to be something to work with.
*A concert band is rather like marching band that sits down and has fewer drums, no strings, and loads of clarinets.