Last year we (Patrick Bailey and Matt Harrison, BSO Associates) made three visits to the Isles of Scilly – one visit to Five Islands School (the school for the majority of the island’s children from age 4 to 16) – and two others to work outside of school hours. Our colleague on the islands is Debbie Wainwright, the tireless head of music at the school.
This year we are planning four visits. Each visit lasts a weekend where we work with a variety of community groups. Our aims for the year include working with a group of instrumentalists from the school; continuing with our Rusty Returners; supporting singing on the islands, helping launch a new generation of brass players and establishing our family orchestra.
Young Persons Instrumental Group
Or, inevitably, YPIG (why pig?). This was a lovely session – 2 flutes, 2 recorders, 4 clarinets, 2 saxes, bass guitar and electric guitar ranging in age from 8 to 15. We started by making some vocal pieces using only the sounds in our names by way of warm up but soon got stuck in to some work on our instruments. This is a new group and we had no immediate agenda other than to get them playing together.
James on guitar gave us a couple of chords that he knew and thought worked well together – Am and C. We soon built a simple line for the wind instruments based on the roots of these chords with an added passing note. Joby, only a few weeks into his bass playing career joined in too. James added a third chord to the riff – G major and so our melodic line grew. Each small section found their own embellishments, Joby found two different Gs – 3rd fret on E and the open string.
We then did some rhythmic work, finding a range of complex or simple rhythms. Breaking into smaller groups, each section added some notes to their rhythms leaving us with some really interesting ideas to build on next time.
Adult Rusty Returners
The joint forces of BSO and the BBC saw this group playing live on BBC Radio 3 in May. Luckily, it hasn’t gone to their heads. What we did discover though is that there was a real yearning to play some notated music. So we did. Straight off the BBC Ten Pieces website – In the Hall of the Mountain King, Mars and The Firebird. We had a good group including a violin (yay!) and a cello (someone had found two cellos in their loft and donated them to the school, another resident had played cello aged 8 and was picking it up again for the first time in 30 years!). It was a good session and I think we can probably bump some people up from ‘beginner’ level parts to ‘intermediate’ soon enough.
We have been running some kind of singing session on our previous visits but had not quite found the right set-up. This was out latest attempt. And proof that perserverance can pay off. We invitied the ladies community choir and the gents we had met in a male singing group to come together in a kind of 3 part, SAB, choir. With notated arrangements but learning at a gentle pace to include everyone. Debbie wanted to take the rehearsal to begin with to challenge herself. Matt was an able pianist and Patrick a willing bass. We split and Patrick took the gents off for a sectional, a singing circle, which had a lovely atmosphere. We made great progress and the choir was able to put the piece back together.
For the next session, Debbie has asked Patrick to take the full choir part and she will lead the ladies sectionals. We will also run the choir for longer – an hour and a half.
Brass hasn’t been taught on the island for a generation, simply because there is no one to do it. The school however, do have a whole set of brass band instruments that a quick blast of valve oil bought back to some semblance of life. Matt ran two sessions for anyone vaguely interested in how a brass instrument works. We had a great turn out for both sessions. We spent a lot of time on the mechanics of brass playing and breathing. This really payed dividends, as by the end of the session, everyone was making was a good quality sound. We ended the session with a perfectly passable version of “I Feel Good” by James Brown.
Despite the excellent weather, we had a very good turnout including some new members young and old. We love putting reticent parents on tuned percussion because when it gets going and makes a beautiful gamelan-ny sound they all smile!
We wrote a piece together. The first three notes of the tune are B, F, G. We called it Big Fat Giant. To be continued….
At the end of our day Patrick and Matt has some spare time to see the beauty of the islands for themselves. Armed with only a trombone and a melodica, they trekked for a good 45 minutes without a map or any real sense of where they were going. This is evidenced in the photos, which we are well aware looks like a cheesy 70’s album cover.