Category Archives: Pupil Performance

NBHS Spring Concert 2010

Although the end of term finished, somewhat frustratingly, with the Knox Spring Concert having to be postponed* due to weather conditions, the NBHS Spring Concert was a great success.

The Guitar Ensemble opened their set with Choro: choro (right-click red link to download)

Then Zoe, who has worked with us extensively over the last two years, joined us for two songs by Robert Burns:

The Lea Rig (some mic noise interrupted Verse 1 and so this fades in at Verse 2): the-lea-rig1 (right-click red link to download)

The Deil’s Awa’: the-deils-awa (right-click red link to download)

Although public, in-school engagements are pretty much over for NBHS pupils this term, we are hoping to represent the school at the 18th Commonwealth Forestry Conference on 28 June. Performing music of the host country at this event would be a great honour for us in addition to being a great end to the school year.

* the Knox Spring Concert has been rescheduled and will take place at 19:00 on Tuesday 20 Apr – the day we return to school

East Lothian Showcase Concert

Last night saw East Lothian’s Showcase Concert 2010 – featuring String Ensemble, Percussion, Jazz Band, Guitar Ensemble, Wind Ensemble. This is quite a high-pressure time of year for many pupils. In addition to SQA performances, many have their own school concert and the Showcase Concert all in close proximity. In the case of guitarists, this amounts to 4-6 minutes of solo music for Standard Grade or 10 minutes for Higher; one piece for the school’s Spring Concert; three other pieces for the Showcase Concert. Those from NBHS taking part in the performance for the Head Teachers’ Conference had another four songs to keep in shape. This is an impressive amount of plate-spinning at a time when portfolio deadlines loom.

I was delighted with the focus and the performance of the Guitar Ensemble last night. Here are recordings of our three offerings:

VivaldiLute Concerto in D (2nd movement): vivaldi-concerto

Herbie HancockChameleon: chameleon

Nat AdderleyWork Song: work-song

(To download the mp3 files, right-click the second link and choose ‘Save target as…’)

(hats off to David & Callum from Knox for their improvised solos in the last two items).

It was touching to see friendships spring up between pupils from different schools and interesting to see how different pupils spend their backstage time, which amounts to most of the evening. Some play cards, some listen to mp3 players, some chat, some flirt but guitarists tend to play their guitars:


sometimes with other instruments:


sometimes with such relentlessness that the guitar is soon whittled away to a shadow of its former self:


Fiddler On A Hot Tin Roof

This morning saw the band call for North Berwick High School’s forthcoming production of Fiddler On The Roof (music by Jerry Bocklyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein). By the time this pic of the band was taken


our drummer, debonair Dave Swanson, hungry for CPD as ever, had raced off to a drum clinic by Omar Hakim.

The show runs from Thu 18 – Sat 20 at 19:30 in North Berwick High School. Tickets are available on the door but, to avoid disappointment, you can call the school on 01620 894661, reserve tickets and pay on the night.

Why not visit the production’s Facebook page?

Top Of The Pops for Haiti

Last night I attended an astonishing event in Haddington’s Corn Exchange organised by Mike Cullen and a host of talented and generous friends  in aid of the victims of Haiti’s earthquake. I’m sure Mike won’t mind my mentioning here that the amount raised is already over £5,000 and rising. Perhaps Mike could let us know the final figure and the names of all those involved in putting on such an excellent night.

The Corn Exchange was transformed into a TOTP studio:


The quality of the bands was outstanding – including State Freed, featuring some Knox lads:


The audience were invited to dress up and many really pushed the boat out. I was keen to do my bit with this barely noticeable tweak to standard school dress code:


All 500 tickets were sold and the atmosphere was fantastic. I found this quite a moving event – not least because I had the chance to catch up with some old friends – including school friends. The dynamic between music, geography and emotion is a strange one. I lived in Haddington until I moved away to study in 1979 – quite a while ago. Yet last night, I’d never felt more part of, nor proud of, the place.

Well done to everyone involved!

Campie Musical Evening

Last night saw another successful Campie Musical Evening in Musselburgh Grammar School (bigger hall – more parents can fit in). The enthusiasm of so many brave, smiling young people taking to the stage was infectious. The evening comprised Guitars, Brass, Recorders, Choir, Scottish Country Dance, Jazz Dance. Guitar and Brass being timetabled, class-time lessons, it’s not possible to play both – but very many pupils took part in more than one group and several were in four!

This is really an effortless Transition event. Pupils in P5-P7 mix with peers already attending MGS and get to know the layout of the Music Department, school hall etc. What strikes me as valuable is for young pupils to see e.g. an S6 pupil perform a short solo. No amount of description of the road ahead could get the message across like this – and provide the inspiration to continue practising.

Such an evening also strikes me as Curriculum of Excellence in action. All four capacities are present in abundance – the stage was graced with:

  • successful learners
  • confident individuals
  • responsible citizens
  • effective contributors

With particular regard to the last two on this list, many thanks to Gavin and Jamie in S6 who put in a long shift (from 4:00 – 9:15 setting up and operating sound and lights). Thanks also to Callum in S6 and Hayley in S3 who helped me out with tuning and re-tuning 25 guitars in addition to playing along with the group.

I found myself wishing that councillors from neighbouring authorities, currently considering cutting primary instrumental provision, had been present, to get a real sense of the sadness and the loss that this will inevitably bring about. I can’t imagine a bigger dent being put in the 3-18 continuity to which CfE aspires.

Later in the year, when Campie’s P5-P7 guitarists put on a concert for P4s (next session’s new players) I will record the group pieces we played last night – in addition to the solos, which many will offer. This smaller event will take place in the cathedral-like acoustic of Campie’s Gym Hall.

NBHS PTA Burns Supper

On Friday 29 Jan a group of 7 North Berwick High School guitar pupils gave, along with Zoe (singer), a performance of two songs at the PTA Burns Supper. While the performances were very good, and very well received, the recordings were not great – it was a live event, after all. So today, we met in the cathedral-like acoustic of the Dance Studio to make studio recordings.

The final mix was luck – the placing of a Zoom H2 in the middle of the studio and distancing people by intuition more than science. I hope you’ll agree that the result and, more particularly, the performance of the pupils is a success. Thanks to the PE Dept. for their hospitality. It’s worth remembering that these recordings came at the end of a school day, which had already featured a lunchtime rehearsal (of other material) and that the pupils went straight to record without further run-through. It may be my imagination, but I sense a difference in feel between live and studio events for pupils: the former is all about energy, communication and the moment, while the latter is more about focus, attention to detail and posterity.

The Lea Rig: the-lea-rig-2010-02-09

The Deil’s Awa Wi’ The Exciseman:the-deils-awa-wi-the-exciseman


My friend Martyn McQuade, whom I met in P1 at St. Mary’s Primary School in 1965, runs a studio near Longniddry. He recently offered me some free recording time. I thought it would be nice to capture a few of the songs in which I’d recently accompanied Zoe, of NBHS, in various public appearances.

She Moved Through The Fair she-moved-through-the-fair-2010-01-0

Ca’ The Yowes ca-the-yowes-2010-01-04

Ae Fond Kiss ae-fond-kiss-2010-01-04

John Anderson My Jo john-anderson-2010-01-04

Zoe will be appearing, along with seven guitar pupils, in two further Burns’ Songs at the NBHS PTA Burns Supper this coming Friday (29 Jan). Featuring the Robert Black Ceilidh Band, speeches from senior pupils, piping and highland dancing, this is always a great night.

Thanks to Martyn for his recording and mixing savoir faire. Having a pair of trustworthy ears at the desk is priceless.

Can you take the pressure?

As Ronnie Summers (Head Teacher of Musselburgh Grammar School) said in his vote of thanks at the end of this year’s Christmas Concert, there is something admirable about the pupil soloist, willing to get up there and face the crowds alone (albeit often with an accompanist). People unfamiliar with school concerts might not appreciate that the same person may have taken part in several ensemble pieces the same evening – confident individual and effective contributor in one high-pressure evening 🙂 Here is a clip of Callum in S6 performing the 2nd movement of Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto in D: vivaldi-lute-concerto-2nd-movement-callum

One of the other pieces in which Callum was involved was this a guitar ensemble item entitled I’m Dreaming of a Pink Christmas: im-dreaming-of-a-pink-christmas-2009-12-17

Fund-raising concert

Last night it was my pleasure to MC the second of two concerts in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Featuring instrumentalists and singers from East Lothian Schools, the event was held in the atmospheric hall in Haddington’s Town House. I was delighted to be able to announce in the vote of thanks that the events had raised £1,320 for the charity. Timing is everything in music and news had just come in that East Lothian Council, who were being thanked for the use of the hall, the printing of the programmes and the savoir faire evident in employing us, had just won two more national music awards – bringing the total to five such awards in three years!

Here are a couple of samples of last night’s music – Robert Burns’ The Lea Rig, sung by Zoe from NBHS: the-lea-rig Three Jigs, played by David & Callum from Knox: david-callum-three-jigs



I’ve just returned from a very rewarding gig, accompanying Zoe, a fine singer from NBHS, at the VOCAL Conference 2009, held in the Marine Hotel, North Berwick.

Thanks to Ian who, in addition to taking care of sound as we played, also operated my Zoom H2 to capture an idea of the performance in mp3 form – refuting, in one fell swoop, the current gender-based myth about multi-tasking!

The many delegates who thanked and praised Zoe in person after the performance confirmed my feeling that the music had gone down well.

Autumn Leaves: autumn-leaves

Ca’ The Yowes: ca-the-yowes

Healing You (Zoe’s own composition): healing-you

This final tune is available on a CD recorded by Zoe and two other artists this summer. Proceeds (£10 per disc) go to RNIB. If you would like to know more, please post a comment.