Tag Archives: East Lothian Guitar Ensemble

East Lothian Showcase Concert 2011

Many thanks to all who participated in the East Lothian Showcase Concert last night in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall. The pupils really enjoyed the venue and the performance. Thanks to James Leslie for the use of his video-camera tripod and to Don Ledingham for agreeing to operate the video camera:


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Bohemian Rhapsody

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Thanks to David Gilmour for making the audio recordings featured below. Perhaps pupils – especially those for whom this was the final Showcase – would like to download these mp3s as an iPod memento.

Rondo Birdland Bohemian Rhapsody

Many thanks, also, to Julia Wilson of NBHS who supplied the group with 20 clip-on tuners. Holding the tuning of 34 guitars  (204 strings) under the glare of stage lights is a nightmare and these were a great help.

Thanks, finally, to David Ryan (S6 @ Knox Academy) for agreeing to lead the group. You’ll see this particularly in Bohemian Rhapsody, where a nod helps the group navigate some severe changes of tempo and time signature.

Well done to all involved.

p.s. bereft of software to divide the original video into three separate ones, I downloaded some nifty, free software here.

Showcase Rehearsal No. 3

Esteemed Pupils,

You may already have discovered that schools are to remain closed to pupils until Monday 6 December. Sadly, this means that our East Lothian Guitar Ensemble rehearsal, scheduled for Friday, will not be able to go ahead. However, rest assured that parts for our 3rd piece will be distributed to you on Tue 7th, Wed 8th & Thu 9th respectively. Play-along midi files for this mystery piece will be posted along with those already there for two pieces already underway.

The next scheduled Showcase rehearsal is Friday 21 Jan. See Dates For Your Diary for the complete list.

Thanks for your hard work and savoir faire, so far. Enjoy the snow while it lasts.

photo by Lesley Pearson

Showcase Concert 2009

This year’s East Lothian Showcase Concert took place last night in the Brunton Hall, Musselburgh. The evening showcases, to a packed house, the inter-school String, Wind, Jazz, Percussion & Guitar Ensembles.

I have to confess to loathing the acoustic of the Brunton Hall which constantly threatens to undermine the many, many hours of work put in by guitar pupils, as it’s virtually impossible for them to hear one another. Rhythmic cues necessary for timing are often inaudible as, for example, a cough by one member of the audience reverberates as loudly as the sound of 40 guitars. Our preference is the magnificent acoustic of Musselburgh Grammar School’s hall, where the event has been hosted in years when the Brunton Hall was mercifully unavailable.

That said, tragedy was averted for another year and the pupils turned in a commendable performance. You can hear mp3s of the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble’s contribution to this year’s event on the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble page.

Other ensembles seem to thrive in this acoutic. The magnificent Wind Ensemble nearly took the roof off!


Qualitative Easing

You’d imagine that a job which entails 52 practical lessons and three rehearsals per week would feel repetitive. Well, I suppose it does in the same way that breathing feels repetitive but, as Burns might say, the deil’s in the detail. Timing is everything, resulting in some days feeling qualitatively different from others. Yesterday was a case in point. To paraphrase a sporting cliché, it was a game of three thirds.


Teaching in a school with the biggest variety of experience possible – S1 players who began in S1 and S6 players who began in P5. Practical exams behind us, more experienced pupils* could concentrate on repertoire for the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble (ELGE).


Final rehearsal of ELGE before next Friday’s Showcase Concert. The tiredness often seen at these Friday afternoon rehearsals was nowhere to be seen and, to coin an inelegant but accurate phrase, the pupils were really knocking hell out of the music – where appropriate, of course 🙂 There was no discussion about where to put fingers, technique etc. It was all about balance, articulation, mood, feeling – about enjoying the experience and conveying that enjoyment to the audience.


2nd of three performances of Guys & Dolls at NBHS. My role in this is simply to play bass guitar and, as I become more familiar with the part and the cues, I can begin to enjoy the on-stage action more and more. Last night the worrying spectre of illness haunted the cast and the possibility of leading characters simply not being well enough to make their next cue was palpable. Given the commitment and teamwork this really has to be the most unfair piece of luck possible. However, I would defy anyone in the audience to have noticed. This really was the most inspirational illustration of the word trouper I’m aware of having witnessed.

* some of these experienced pupils are in S1



The many stages involved in running the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble include: recruiting; selecting repertoire, arranging and distributing music; preparation of play-along files and (lately) videos; various admin tasks. One final verb remains – pruning. Parts issued in September are not performed until March and in the intervening months one of two things may happen:

  • a pupil’s ensemble skills, progress, enthusiasm, inclination to practise and to make the most of resources provided may take both of us by surprise and they may ask for a more challenging part (on the understanding that they can revert to the existing part if it turns out that we have shot for the wrong moon)

  • for a variety of reasons, the anticipated amount of flourishing may not fully materialise and a pupil may face the prospect of playing a part (in front of approx 500 people) with which they are not completely comfortable

In the latter case there is insufficient time to step down to a new part and a more likely solution is to prune the existing part so that no daunting passages remain to darken the psychology of an otherwise celebratory evening. What interests me is the varied response to this suggestion. Some are gratefully relieved*, while for others the very suggestion is the final spur required to complete the task as planned. Often the outcomes confound expectation and this is one of the things that keeps life interesting – the tension between accumulated professional experience and the continuing surprise of human behaviour.

* the burden of ensemble work is quite heavy for pupils. Depending on involvement in school and authority concerts, Burns Suppers etc. they could be asked to learn anywhere between 12 and 18 A4 pages of music each year.


Hands across the pond

I received a nice email from John Lay (of Silver Lake Regional High School in Kingston, MA) complimenting the playing of the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble and asking for details of one of the arrangements so that his own school guitar ensemble could play it. Flattered on behalf of the pupils, I emailed the score, parts and play-along midi files as a gift and look forward to telling the ensemble of our new found trans-Atlantic friends.

Memory Lame?

Listening to the latest edition of Leading Edge on the topic of the unreliability of memory, I was prompted to wonder how accurate my own memory is and some of the assumptions which rest upon these memories.

Specifically, I don’t recall being frequently tired as a teenager. Looking into a sea of pale, tired, distracted faces at yesterday’s East Lothian Guitar Ensemble rehearsal, I found myself wondering if, in my high expectations, I have conveniently forgotten exactly what feels like to be that age. In the end, a productive and encouraging rehearsal emerged from an underwhelming beginning. However, early in the rehearsal, I found myself wondering if we are going about this in the right way. Is Friday* afternoon the best time for a 2-hour rehearsal sandwiched by 30-minute bus journeys?

The edition of Leading Edge can be heard here until Thu 26th at 21.30 – scroll forward to 9:00 for memory articles featuring Karl Sabbagh, Martin Conway and a consideration of the effect of high blood sugar and memory, along with links between memory and attention.

* many instructors are not employed on a Friday


Syncopation (even earlier etymology here – as daft as that sounds) is the root of most rhythmic excitement – and trouble. The trouble is that, often, the only suitable counterpoint to a syncopated rhythm is another opposing one. How can pupils in an ensemble survive that? You can switch off to surrounding parts and concentrate on your own one but this means missing out on much of the enjoyment. Even if you manage to switch off to the distracting parts and get in the groove of your own part, even its patterns break off into different syncopations in order to avoid monotony. And some of them could turn out to be helpful if only you could single them out.

Take these 32 bars of samba – extracted from a new piece introduced at today’s East Lothian Guitar Ensemble rehearsal. There are six parts with six or seven people to a part. samba-full-ensemble

Closer inspection reveals that the six parts really fall into three teams – each with its own rhythmic patterns and breaks:

  1. melody

  2. four harmony parts

  3. bass line

The trouble is that the pitch of the melody part falls more or less in the middle of the four harmony parts.

So we remove the tune in the hope of hearing how the bass interacts with the harmony parts: samba-bass-harmony-only

Then you can’t help feeling that it might be helpful to hear how the harmony parts bond: samba-harmony-only

In order that the pupils can practice with or against each of these combos – at a variety of speeds – I’ve posted 15 versions of the piece on the Guitar Group Midis page.

While preparing the play-along files I recalled how, around 10 years ago, I was struck to notice a school guitar group incorporating quite detailed articulation* into a medley of Burns tunes – even although there was none written in the music. It occurred to me that years of aural exposure allowed them intuitively to include what the written parts had omitted. I determined thereafter to be as fussy about the articulation as possible. The resulting paradox is that using a completely unmusical tool (a computer) has resulted in more expressive articulation than leaving it to chance and feeling. The pupils can afford to be intuitive but I can’t.

* articulation = the way in which the notes overlap, join up or separate; whether the transition between any two adjacent notes is elided with slides and slurs; the way notes are perceived to be grouped together through combinations of heavy or light touch

Guitar Group Midis

Pupils! For your listening and dancing pleasure, midi files of Hungarian Wedding Dance have been uploaded to the Guitar Group Midis page.

This is the first of our East Lothian Guitar Ensemble pieces (next rehearsal – St. Mary’s PS, Haddington, 1:30 – 3:30)

The date for the Showcase Concert is Friday 27th March 2009 – the performance will take place in Musselburgh Grammar School – tickets will go on sale 4 weeks before the concert – in the Brunton Hall Box Office – this ensures equal access regardless of which school you attend.