Dates for rehearsals and performance of our annual Showcase Concert have been added to the Dates for your diary page. Please note the radical departure from our normal 6 x Fridays plan.
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:
(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:
Setting dates for Showcase rehearsals always seems straightforward at the beginning of the session. Refreshed from seven weeks holidays, the biological reality of, say, a Friday afternoon rehearsal at the end of the week after the October break, when the clocks have recently gone back … cannot readily be conjured up. The day duly arrived – a few excuses had been made, one bus was late and I readied myself to embrace a rehearsal where, if we distributed the new music, mastered a few bars and managed to stay in a good mood and avoided frightening the new, younger pupils, it could be considered a success. To my amazement, the ensemble pretty much knocked this off in one go:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/jizQFJxQ1i0?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
The moral of the story: never prematurely pre-install pessimism on behalf of others. Thanks, everyone!
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
I remember with some fondness my old Amstrad PCW and how it obliquely encouraged me to generate a huge body of work in few episodes. This was due to having to load the operating system from a floppy disc and then each individual programme – the loading of one necessitating the disappearance of the last. So, once set up, the temptation was to bash on.
Such was the feeling yesterday when I had hoped to make a start on recording videos of ensemble parts for this year’s Showcase Concert repertoire. I thought I’d do two or three, call it a day and set aside some time later. However, once the camera was set up, and the school nearly empty, I found myself repeatedly saying “just one more” and pretty soon all 14 were finished. It was my ambition to do each one in “one take” and I stopped only three times – once when the phone rang and twice when the weekly fire bell test took place. Miraculously, all three events conspired to take place in the closing bars of largely error-free takes – thanks guys!
The funny thing was the set up. I asked a 6th year pupil to line up the Flip Video so that the frame would be pretty much filled with the fretboad – since fingering and articulation were the main points of interest. Somehow, I imagined that my head would be out of shot, but this was not true – and I didn’t ask. Consequently, the videos have the nature of someone being filmed unawares. I have to confess that I look quite bored throughout the process, but nothing could be further from the truth – it’s simply a mix of concentration and the paradoxical endeavour to remain relaxed under pressure, in order to avoid re-takes. I must remember this the next time I suspect a pupil of less than 100% engagement. Techies might notice that the music is (sometimes) being read, in Sibelius, from a laptop screen, which refreshes only at the very end of a page/section. This doesn’t really add to the chances of a relaxed performance as you can’t look ahead – but what’s life without a little challenge now and again 🙂
The films, which are all embedded in a new Video page, are pretty much a temporary affair – hence the lack of subtle editing. The East Lothian Showcase Concert, in which these pieces are to be performed, takes place in The Brunton Hall on Friday 27th Mar at 7:30. After that date there will be little use for the videos – unless any other similar ensemble would like to play the arrangements.
When I was younger, so much younger than today, a friend said that it was his choice not to read music as he felt it would remove feeling from the picture. I wonder how he would have coped with the assertion that, as a result of playing along with a computer, pupils would more quickly approach the right feel of a piece – even although the computer-generated file was devoid of dynamic variation (see Thoroughly Modern Midi) and flexibility of tempo. But such is the paradoxical world of IT and instrumental music. In a situation where the file will not only produce the written parts but also play-along audio files, it’s important to be fussy about articulation. Many pupils do not acknowledge written articulation but very few do not intuitively go along with it – if it’s contained in, say, a Sibelius or midi file. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising in a subject where the ears of many take in more than the eyes.
What is surprising is that, seated in a mixed group, most pupils will pick out the appropriate feel for their part even in a passage of mixed articulations, such as the one between 0:33 and 0:48 of this midi file- Jealousy – where the legato notes of the tune and bass parts sandwich the detached notes of the three harmony parts; or between 1:03 and 1:55 where there are three simultaneous articulations:
bass and lowest harmony part employing full-length notes, rests and detached notes
upper harmony parts restricted to on detached notes
Also surprising is that when discussing the (as yet unnamed) phenomenon of articulation in lessons, if you ask what aspect of music is being discussed, hardly anyone will guess correctly. Some will suggest, “rhythm” until you point out that, whether this aspect is observed or not, the notes all start at the right time, which is what many people consider rhythm to mean. However, when I say, “I’ll start to spell it out on this laptop screen and you try to guess before I get to the end of the word,” I rarely get passed “articu——”
Many pupils, baffled by the whole idea of articulation, find a way in through the following analogy:
detached notes – detached houses
legato notes – terraced houses
over-laping notes (chords or broken chords) – flats
The reason this topic occupies my thoughts at the moment is that yesterday, in the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble’s rehearsal for the Showcase Concert* I was delighted to see the group knock our arrangement of the Jacob Gade‘s 1925 tango tune, Jealousy into shape in pretty much one go – articulation and all – pretty impressive for a Friday afternoon! Ironically, it has more varied articulation per part than the other two pieces put together. Sometimes things just work out on their own.
* East Lothian Showcase Concert – Friday 27 March at 19:30 in Musselburgh Grammar School.
I conducted a short experiment over the last couple of days, concerning who gets what part in the first of our East Lothian Guitar Ensemble arrangements. The piece is in three parts – top, middle and bass. I’ve also created four heterophonic parts so you could say the structure of parts is:
1, 1a, 2, 2a, 3, 3a, 3b
there are 7 beats per bar – grouped as follows 12 12 123
it is based on a very unusual scale (E Lydian Dominant) – resulting in unusual harmonies – one effect of which can be to make the less confident pupil occasionally doubt that they have landed on the correct note
Before the music began pupils were asked to identify which parts would meet the following criteria for them:
the part would (eventually*) be manageable
it would provide some element of challenge and interest
it might appeal to their natural strengths e.g. by being essentially melodic, harmonic or rhythmic in nature
it would avoid any feeling of distress
Somewhat to my surprise, every group and individual chose as I would have predicted. This could mean one (or possibly more) of three things:
that pupils are aware of their current levels
that they are aware of the likely speed of progress over the remaining months (even although some have not yet played in the East Lothian group)
that I am unconscious of Derren Brown-style levels of manipulation
Over the holiday, I hope to upload not only play-along midi files but parts of the piece so, if you play the guitar, you could simulate the experiment. For this particular piece, Hungarian Wedding Dance, most of the parts will be in TAB as opposed to traditional notation. This is due to the fact that many of the notes have been relocated onto strings other than the one where they would normally be found. This is done for two reasons:
increased resonance e.g. using 2nd string E at fret 5 instead of open E on string 1 – the sound of which is a little thinner
the note is more easily reached from the previous note than it would be in its normal location
* eventually, in this case, is the Showcase Concert on Friday 27 March at 7:30 in Musselburgh Grammar School