Decibel at Birmingham Conservatoire

Last Thursday I went along to the Decibel concert at Birmingham Conservatoire. Having not heard them play before, I was unsure what to expect, but it turned out to be a rather good concert full of premieres!

Here are my thoughts on a few of them: Michael Wolters latest piece Deutsche Volksweisen was a zany take on some German Folk Tunes. At the start I was a bit dubious with the eccentric pastiche feel, but the theatrical element of the recorder player entering in full folk regalia and dancing to keep time changed the appeal of the piece and became a thread which brought the folk/12-tone/musical theatre elements together.

Fumiko Miyachi‘s CR24 was billed as a power ballad, and I got that, but it just didn’t seem to sit right with me. It became ‘powerful’ but somehow seemed a little strained towards the end, like its battery was dying. Other people did seem to enjoy it, however, so maybe it was just me!

My favourite piece of the night had to be James Tenney’s Never Having Written a Note for Percussion which was mind blowing, played by the whole ensemble. The one thing that grated with me was that the clarinet didn’t quite blend towards the final quarter of the piece, but this is understandable in such a quiet texture.

Ed Bennett‘s Magnetic was a beautiful piece for bass clarinet and piano, executed well by both players. The bass clarinet was a good choice for the part as although it could probably have been played on a Bb clarinet, the breathiness and timbre of the bass clarinet in that register really worked well. Bennett’s Stop-Motion Music did exactly what it said in the refreshingly unpretentious programme note ‘This piece should make you want to punch the air’. Yes.

Overall the concert had a brilliant atmosphere and some quality playing from Decibel and was concluded with a wacky birthday tribute to Laurence Crane, which sent everyone home in a jolly mood!

Musical Games

Spent yesterday afternoon thinking up musical games for BCMG’s Music Maze on Sunday…

We were using those paper ‘chatterbox’ thingys that girls make when they are young:

Underneath the flaps there are musical instructions of what to play. On Sunday we’re gonna get the young people to make their own and then in live performance use them to make choices about what to play – I think its a great idea!

Maybe I need to incorporate more fun into my music…

Feel the Buzz with BCMG

This Sunday was the second part of a two-day composing workshop I was doing with BCMG called Feel the Buzz. Its a workshop for 14-18 year olds and the format is a kind of collaborative composing/improvising together approach. Jackie Walduck was leading with BCMG musicians and she used a kind of 1-page score technique which the young people fleshed out collaboratively. All based around the nOSTalgie Cabaret BCMG are doing in May.

We were drawing parallels between the past and present, so one piece we did was based on Mack the Knife (the words in that songs are really quite horrific – check them out!) and another was on 21st Century Pirates! Nice!

There was a final performance of all the music produced on Sunday evening and it was great! It was really nice to see young people all working creatively together and having input into the final pieces. And whatever Birmingham City Council think about BCMG, this project engaged an incredibly diverse group of young people from many different backgrounds.

Unfortunately due to cuts, Birmingham Music Service (who have generously funded this project for the last 10 years!) are unable to continue funding it next year, although they really want to! So it means BCMG are going to have to find to some money from somewhere to keep it going. Really hope it doesn’t stop because I think it is a brilliant project.

Music Play with Early Years conference plus BCMG at Ninestiles

Last Thursday I had a pretty busy day!

Went to Music Play with Early Years conference run by Music Leader. Felt a little like I stuck out like a sore thumb… it appears men are vastly under-represented in the world of Early Years music… ie only 3 men in the entire conference… And I know no harm was meant by the speakers at the conference but I’m not sure highlighting my presence as a token male was the best way to approach this…

It did raise the question of why there aren’t more males working in early years? (answers on a postcard) I think it is (unfortunately) quite a taboo direction for men to go in. Even in this day and age I think people raise an eyebrow at the thought of a male early years worker. (This is also true of male nurses, according to my nurse friend – although they are loved by hospitals, society in general has a bit of  thing about it!)

Anyway, the conference brought two things to my attention – the first was brought up by Dr Susan Young about the need for child-led, adult-led and child-and-adult-led forms of activity for the best outcome. The last of these is the activity which is lacking in music play settings- this I think is partly because it is the hardest form of activity to successfully achieve.

The other thing was the very interesting teaching methods of Sandra Barefoot & Sarah Moody from Visible Thinking. Their creative use of art, drama and music for early years play seemed like a great idea – particularly the use of what essentially turn into graphic scores as you demonstrate. Its about using marking so that the sounds made on instruments are represented on paper. This seemed to engage children on a different level, and seemed like a great way to provide another gateway by which children can access the music.

In the evening I did a pre-concert workshop at Ninestiles School in Yardley with BCMG before their first Urban Tour concert. The concert turned out really well. The three percussionists – Simon Limbrick, Julian Warburton and Scott Wilson did a great job. I particularly enjoyed Tag by Philip Cashian which has real character to it despite the chance techniques employed during the reading of the score. And of course, Okho by Xenakis is a fantastic piece – always a winner for me!

contraction (2009) [work in progress]

So… here’s a piece I’ve been writing for my masters. Workshopped it with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group back in 2009 – thats what this recording is. Since then I’ve trimmed it down and taken the irrelevant bits out! Haha!


So What? Sound it Out training day

Went on a one-day Sound it Out event on Saturday which was pretty good – nice to catch up with people from Sound It Out and the New Horizons course I did last year. Although Mark Bick started the day on a depressing note about cuts to the arts, things did pick up and he did talk say that there could be new opportunities for Community Musicians – if the ‘Big Society’ idea actually begins to work…

There was also a great talk on Social Pedagogy and the role that community musicians can play with regard to this – I can really see how music can play a real role not just in education but also it has a real social impact, being a way in which communication barriers can be broken down.

Then Bobbie Gardner gave a brief but helpful talk on social media and its role for community musicians – just wish there had been more time on that – its tricky to fit it all in in 30 mins!

And of course there was the traditional sharing of warm-ups / activities which is always enjoyable!!!!! Winner!

futuresonic at We Are Birmingham

So on Friday evening my friend Shelly and I put on a new music night at We Are Birmingham which was cool. We were a bit rushed for time in preparation for it but the musicians pulled it all off after an intensive day of rehearsals! The idea was to play music by emerging composers – people who have not made it into the ‘big-time’ quite yet – people like myself! It’s really hard to get performance opportunities for instrumental composers so it was good to give it a go.

It was also nice to meet Kurly Mcgeachie – a performance poet from Birmingham. I liked his stuff – a real positive vibe to it!

Quite a diverse audience attended – not just your usual contemporary music lovers. There were certainly some interesting characters there…

But it seemed to go down well and was pretty well attended! Long may it continue. I’ll post some audio/video up here when I get some.

Nice one.

My new wordpress site

Here we go…

Time for me to enter the fascinating world of blogging – to be honest I don’t think I will be a particularly frequent blogger, but it’s always good to get some tunes of my up on the old interweb! Hoping to promote new music of mine and other people’s on here too! Woop woop!