BSO and the Isles of Scilly

BSO Associates – Patrick Bailey & Matt Harrison

This is our third visit to St Mary’s this academic year. The first visit was to the school and the second was much more focussed on music in the community and music-making beyond school for those students with an interest. This visit was designed very much as continuity to the second.

Saturday April 23

We are getting used to the plane journey now and this flight had the added bonus of not being accompanied by high winds meaning the view through the cockpit to the emerging island and its cliff-top runway was now only mildly disconcerting and not actually terrifying. Brilliantly, our request to the airport taxi driver is to take us to ‘Roz’s house’ (we don’t know the address)is all we need.

Our first visit is to a new venue – Park House residential home. Here we meet 6 residents and 2 carers and a few rounds of singing and story-telling (with soundtrack provided by the group) goes down well. Better than Matt’s trombone playing goes down with one noise-sensitive resident anyhow – must remember to pack the mute next time.

After that we go to the wonderful Five Islands School, our base for most of the workshops.

Advanced Instrumental group

The first group we meet are a combination of older students (secondary age) and some more confident adult musicians. We pick up where we left off on the last visit: we are writing a good piece using and challenging the instrumentalists. Memories are pretty sharp and the piece soon works its way back into life (it is not notated at the moment). We are able to incorporate a new flautist and also develop some of the material. The piece has legs but I think some notation will be good now to allow us to bridge the several-month gap prior to our next visit and allow us to compose more and revise less.

Grades 1- 3, young and old

In all the groups we are working with, we have people from different generations – it’s completely natural way of working in this close community. This was a new group and we worked on inventing some simple rhythms then, working in pairs, ‘tagged’ two rhythms together to create a longer rhythm. The pairs then added notes and we soon had 4 quite different ‘loops’. Some loops we expanded on – incorporating the whole group, adding harmonies/counterpoint etc – and others we left unadorned. The resulting piece, a kind of rondo, was very effective and all the players were involved as performers and composers.

Rusty Returners

A grand BSO tradition – given some extra spice by the fact that this group are learning one of the BBC Ten Pieces and are going to Truro to perform it alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra, live on Radio 3. No pressure.

We’ve downloaded every conceivable part from the Ten Pieces website and spend the first half hour sorting out individual needs – mostly combing out some of the knottier bits for slightly worried Rusties. We record the first run through. Rusty. A bit more re-arranging and some individual coaching and some group rehearsal, a huge improvement in a short space of time and definitely a very exciting prospect for all the players – we have returning tuba, saxes, flutes, bassoon, timpani and trumpets.

Folk Club

Our host, Roz (whose house all taxi drivers seem to know), runs a monthly folk night in the old town. We couldn’t go last time we were here but this time went along and heard some brilliant performances (including a discovery that our rusty bassoon player is a very good singer/guitarist). We had also come prepared and performed our version of the Cornish folk song, Nine Brave Boys and also led a slightly bemused audience in a quick workshop based on a simple shanty.

Sunday April 24

Brass lessons

20 years ago the music teacher on the island was a brass player. Subsequently, a lot of people, of the parents generation rather than grandparents, are lapsed brass players. On our last visit, in January, we spent a few hours unearthing all the old brass instruments from under the stage in the school and cleaning/applying valve oil to as many as we could get working. We then had a come and play session for lapsed parents and curious young people. Building on that, we offered some individual lessons this time around and, seeking a more permanent solution, also welcomed Sara Munns, head of brass for the Cornwall Music Service Trust via a skype link and some fancy kit which allows the teacher to select from three different camera angles – one is a close up of the embouchure, one closer on the hands and one looking at a full body length shot for posture and other. The lessons were really successful and there were a couple of very promising players. The aim is to start some kind of regular lessons using both the skype link and also our physical visits. Woodwind is very strong on the islands at the moment but the addition of some willing brass players will transform things like the wind band.

Family Orchestra

The weather this weekend has been glorious. We apply the sun cream and hold this session outside in the schools’ lovely, and acoustically-superb, courtyard. However, the weather is a double-edged sword as Sunday’s, it turns out, are often used for family boating and other sea-based activity and our Family Orchestra is definitely smaller than January – a cold, grey winter afternoon. Still, we revisit the piece we started last time and welcome some new faces including a dad who claimed he had no music in him at all but who ended the afternoon a lynch pin of the tuned percussion section playing with real confidence and taking all the relevant cues to start/stop. As is often the way, he surprised himself. Our piece is really beautiful and we have a couple of ‘smile’ moments (as one participant called them) as the group start to take real confidence in this way of making music and it starts to become instinctive as much as it is led.

Men’s singing group

We met these gentlemen (and one younger lad) last time and again worked with them on some basic techniques that they could think about in their more regular sessions – some breathing excercises, some part-singing in rounds. We had great success with a couple of lyric ballads including The Rose and members of the group were really taken by the idea of sustained singing – holding onto vowels as long as possible.

Another full weekend and, with our pilot year coming to a close, a real sense of where the visits can most work next year. We are grateful to our very generous hosts for the time they give our visits.

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