‘Following the Science? Or are we sacrificing the arts?

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Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the arts with performances cancelled, theatres and cinemas on the brink of closure, musicians and actors scrambling for any kind of alternative employment and the stimulation and exhilaration of high quality live performance denied us. The fragile, interconnected eco-system the arts depend on appeared to slip away almost without notice.

Many theatres are struggling to remain in business during the pandemic

It sounds bad, doesn’t it? But, if you were caught holding the wrong instrument, then things got worse. Strings or percussion players were fine. But wind and brass players were in trouble due to the aerosol production caused by these instruments. As for singers… well, they were the worst. 

Or so we were told…

But do these dramatic headlines stack up?

I would suggest my first paragraph is just about spot on. As a professional musician, I and my colleagues have had our performances cleared by Covid-19. When we hear theatres such as Manchester’s Royal Exchange, London’s The Globe and even the South Bank Centre are in dire straits, there doesn’t seem much hope for the minnows such as The Lexington in Pentonville Road and Slim Jim’s Liquor Store in Upper Street. Both venues are in Islington, London and are just two of scores of live music venues across the country crowdfunding to try and pay their rents and staff during the current crisis.

The Lexington Islington

However, it comes as a welcome relief to hear that restrictions around singing, wind and brass Instruments in England are to be relaxed as the UK Government updates its guidance reflecting new research into transmission risks from singing, wind and brass performance.

Of course, this is great news after months of uncertainty but what was all the fuss about concerning wind and brass instruments?

Up until the announcement today, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) seemed to have these instruments in the super-spreader league. Here’s what they said…

“Singing and playing wind and brass instruments, especially in groups, are considered higher risk activities because of the potential for aerosol production and the absence presently of developed scientific analysis to assess this specific risk” 

What the DCMS seemed to be saying was singing, wind and brass playing was high risk, not because of the science, but because of the lack of it. So the ‘potential’ for aerosol production in these activities was so great there was only one remedy – eliminate them.

So let’s just take a closer look at the science we do know. Richard Steggall, a well-recognised pro horn player brilliantly put together a short, simple video and addressed the issue of aerosol production in brass instruments. It’s worth taking a look. You just might be surprised…

As Richard eloquently said in his letter to Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport , ‘much of the rhetoric of why wind and brass instruments might help spread coronavirus has involved the idea that we “project” air as we play. Although we do use air to make vibrations in our instruments, we project sound waves, just like a piano, violin or loudspeaker. As I believe Sir Simon Rattle told you, “You cannot blow a candle out with a trombone.” The rate of airflow leaving the bell of a brass instrument is tiny, and, after going through at least 1.4m of tubing (the length of a trumpet), the droplets in the breath are caught in the instrument and can be disposed of…..it appears that, although the government keep telling us they are “following the science”, they are in fact going on their perceptions.’

Perhaps one of the culprits as to why wind and brass players became the bad guys was down to the only remotely relevant article related to the issue which was entitled  “Propagation of Respiratory Aerosols by the Vuvuzela” 

As Dr Stephen Carney says in his editorial  entitled ‘Following the Science? Or are we sacrificing the arts?’ in the influential magazine Drug Discovery Today, ‘the authors of this study recommended that, as a precautionary measure, not to blow a Vuvuzela in enclosed spaces where there is the chance of infection. There are clearly significant differences in the structure of the Vuvuzela and modern brass instruments: i) The Vuvuzela is plastic, ii) It is a straight flared tube, iii) Typical measured time blown was 2s at a rate of between 2 and 8 l/s iv) the length of the Vuvuzela is 30 cm (compared with an estimated length of about 140 cm for a standard B flat trumpet. Clearly, given this information, the Vuvuzela would not represent a good model for aerosol distribution by orchestral brass players.’

 

Vuvuzela – a brass instrument..?

Dr Stephen Carney’s full article: ‘Following the Science? Or are we sacrificing the arts? can be read here: 

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drudis.2020.07.022

Support for the arguments of both Richard Steggall and Dr Stephen Carney comes from an article by Lars Brandt MD PhD, Department Chairman, Ass. Professor, Center for Performing Arts Medicine, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, Odense University Hospital Department of Clinical Research, University of Southern Denmark. He concluded that:

“The emission of aerosol measured from brass and wood wind instruments was very low, and almost at the same level as background concentrations. Other experiments have shown very little airflow and very small aerosol concentrations at short distances from brass and woodwind instruments.’

Dr Carney continues ‘This preliminary research is, to an extent, confirmed, if somewhat anecdotally, by an article by Spahn and Richter and by further anecdotal studies from the Bamberg Symphony orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.’

https://www.br.de/nachrichten/bayern/bamberger-symphoniker-wissenschaftler-messen-aerosolausstoss,Ry6T6OU?fbclid=IwAR0q9LfNqv3QFBZ6EiWDlKs2vvNEnBJKb96oYhDa-PeKx6ePGu9jQqy5RrQ

Admittedly, much of this research has not been peer-reviewed but, again referring to Dr Carney ‘for those who suggest that we wait until we are in possession of peer-reviewed research, in normal circumstances I would agree; however, I am more than aware of how long this is likely to take.’

So, given the amount of information that was available, it seems a pity that the UK government was slow to act with the guidance it has now put in place. Dr Carney reminds us ‘what is at stake here is the livelihood of many musicians and the state of music and performing arts in this country, now and in the future.’

The impact of the government’s initial guidance concerning singing, wind and brass playing has been severe. Choirs, orchestras, brass bands, ensemble both professional and amateur, have been laid low for months and anecdotal evidence indicates a reticence within schools to recommend the study of wind and brass instruments due to the ‘perception’ of aerosol transmission. 

Clearly the damage to the arts as a result of this pandemic has been huge but sadly, it may be years before the reputation of wind and brass instruments is fully restored. This would be a great shame as the immense benefits of playing these, and indeed all musical instruments, is well documented. If the government can offer the resources and encourage support for the arts along with a comprehensive education programme for all instrumental studies within schools it may be the damage to the creative culture of the UK can be mitigated. Only time will tell….

Arban Bootcamp

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When Brett Baker, General Manager for Geneva Instruments, invited me to create a practice regime for lockdown as part of a collaboration between the company and 4barsrest, I was delighted to accept, of course, but it did raise a few questions as to the best way to structure my ideas.

Brett Baker and Geneva Instruments

At the time of the invitation, the world had shut down for business and we were under strict instructions to ‘stay at home’. Clearly, this regime had to be both productive but also reassuring. I didn’t feel it was the right moment to introduce some revolutionary concepts using material that would be difficult to acquire and I felt the regime needed to be both playable, familiar but also challenging.

Keeping things familiar during lockdown

Probably like most brass players, I’ve become used to the idea that all the best thinking for practice regimes had been developed relatively recently. Most of the greatest players around now are passionate educators and there are many superb methods and study books available for us to really take things to the highest level.

Much to my shame, the Arban method was gathering dust on the shelf as I’d subconsciously filed it away as a classic book but perhaps a little old fashioned for today’s modern, multi-dimentional, multi-talented cornet/trumpet player.

An early edition of Arban’s Cornet Method

However, I had revisited Arban’s timeless Characteristic Study No 1 just to give it a GarageBand revamp which I have cheekily recreated as Arbanista No 1. You can check it out here when you have a moment.

https://paularchibald.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/arbanista-no-1/

Looking through the book once again I was quickly reminded that any player who mastered this method would have a solid and secure technical foundation at the end of it. All I had to do was structure some of the material into manageable sections that, when bundled together, would create an enjoyable and inspiring practice session but ultimately ensure that the time spent was worth the effort in terms of personal musical development. And so the Arban Bootcamp was born! Checkout the Arban Bootcamp video here:

https://vimeo.com/417172704

Once the exercises are familiar the Bootcamp takes around 45-50 minutes to play and it’s a great workout once completed. Once band and orchestra rehearsals, concerts and contests restart you’ll be in great shape and ahead of the game. It will be a great feeling I can promise you….

Toru Takemitsu: Paths

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Two months into the lockdown,  with seemingly little good news on the horizon for the performing arts, maintaining productive work on the trumpet can be challenging.

This week I set myself a goal to home record Paths – In Memoriam Witold Lutoslawski – for solo trumpet which was first performed by Hakan Hardenberger at the Warsaw Autumn Festival on September 21, 1994.

Listen to Paths – In Memoriam Witold Lutoslawski here:

Toru Takemitsu

I was fortunate enough to work with Toru Takemitsu when I was a member of the London Sinfonietta and performed in the world premiere of the London Sinfonietta commission Rain Coming. Interestingly, we also premiered Witold Lutoslawski’s Chain I so I was thrilled to work with another great composer who Takemitsu held in very high regard. Paths is dedicated to the memory of Witold Lutoslwaski who sadly died early in 1994.

Witold Lutosławski

Composing for solo trumpet does present a composer with some unusual challenges due to the lack of harmony but Takemitsu explores a range of sounds, requiring the player to maintain a dialogue between an open sound and the sound of a harmon mute without tube. The ghostly effect is mesmerising with unexpected dynamic fluctuations from triple piano to fortissimo and subtle changes of tempo between crotchet = 60 and 68.

There are no bar lines but very specifically notated note length and rests. I have to say I found it difficult to be totally faithful to Takemitsu’s notations as it seemed to me that the pacing of the phrases and duration of the silences are an integral part of the atmosphere of the work. Having given quite a few live performances of the piece I suppose it is natural to give more space to such a short yet expansive work. Hopefully, Takemitsu wouldn’t object to some leeway in interpretation but sadly I’ll never know. He died in 1996 at the relatively young age of 66 years. 

English Brass Ensemble Charles-Marie Widor Symphony No 5 in F Minor

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The year 2020 marks the 30th anniversary since the brass version of Widor’s Symphony No 5 in F minor was recorded by English Brass Ensemble at Gateway Studios, Kingston Polytechnic (now University) music department. At the time it was quite a feat of engineering  (and stamina) as all the brass parts for the symphony were recorded by six players and mutitracked by our excellent producer, Colin Sheen

Gateway Studios (now Visconti Studios)

The players performing on the recording were:

Paul Archibald & Richard Martin (trumpets), James Handy (horn), David Whitson (trombone), Roger Williams (bass trombone), James Gourlay (euphonium, tuba), John Scott (organ)

The recording initially was released by ASV records but dropped from the catalogue some years later when ASV were taken over by Sanctuary Record Group. So for the last 20 years the recording has been dormant apart from a few stragglers available on Amazon and Ebay. For its 30th anniversary it seemed appropriate, therefore, to bring it back to life courtesy of Soundcloud.

Original CD cover

Chosing keyboard music to arrange for brass can be challenging but in the case of Widor’s Symphony No 5 it seemed to be an ideal work. The general absence of contrapuntal writing and the specific registrations laid out by the composer in the organ original certainly suggest that he viewed the tonal colours of the organ as he might have done an orchestra

Charles-Marie Widor

The symphony is in five movements: the first opens with a lively main theme leading to three variations. The development of the central section eventually culminates in a monumental restatement of the first theme on full brass. The second movement is really a simple intermezzo. In the third movement the tubas maintain a restless ostinato figure eventually moving aside to allow a calm ending to the movement. The fourth movement is surely intended as a ‘calm before the storm’ and it’s quiet, restful pace sets off brilliantly the virtuosic and brilliant writing of the Toccata.

You can listen to the recording on Soundcloud here:

The theme running through the original CD recording was ‘ Toccata’ and also featured arrangements of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor and Elgar’s Severn Suite, a movement of which is also entitled Toccata. The Bach and Elgar  recordings will be uploaded to Soundcloud during 2020.

Requiem to the Old World (1st Movt)

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Anna Segal is a Ukrainian-born composer living in Israel. I first met Anna during one of her visits to London and it was a thrill for me to perform her Trumpet Concerto with the London Mozart Players and to commission her to write a Double Trumpet Concerto, again with the London Mozart Players and my friend and colleague, Peter Wright.

Anna Segal

Anna’s works are regularly performed by many orchestras, ensembles including the Berliner Symphoniker, London Mozart Players Orchestra, Ukraine National Philharmonic Orchestra and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and, as you’ll hear, her music has a depth and quality that engages immediately engages the listene. Her lyrical style lends itself  beautifully to the distinctive sound of the trumpet. 

It seemed appropriate, therefore, the first movement of her ‘Requiem to the Old World’ should feature a soprano with trumpet as soloists. At the time of recording the world was locked down  as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic so the recording was made virtually in our homes but I hope we were able to do justice to Anna’s exquisite music

The soprano soloist is Magda Marian who is a principal with the Armenian State Opera.

Those Magnificent Men and Women

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Like many other brass bands, the Coronavirus pandemic has put paid to rehearsals and concerts for the foreseeable future. Regent Brass, however, are continuing to perform online so as part of our big thank you to the NHS and key workers we decided to offer our version of the classic theme from the film, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying machines.

We’ve adapted the title of course to include everyone who is playing an important role in keeping the country safe and secure during the lockdown We’ve also put together a video that we hope will be both amusing and show off the wonderful players that we have in the band.

To make the recording, each player recorded their part asa video whilst in isolation at home, working alongside a guide track, which was then put together to form a wonderful performance full of energy and vigour.

Please spare a few moments to look at the video and please leave any comments if you have enjoyed our performance.

Regent Brass perform Those Magnificent Men and Women

We’ll be making more videos during the lockdown so stay in touch….

Moving On – A New Life at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok

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2020 has been quite a year. For many of us working in the arts, our lives have changed beyond recognition. Covid-19 continues to spread throughout the world and we have all had to find ways to cope with its devastation. 

Returning to ‘normal’ no longer seems to be an option and the ‘new normal’ hasn’t quite materialised yet but we probably have a rough idea how things will turn out. More hand washing, sanitising and social distancing and less travel, concerts and sporting events for us to attend.

In common with many of my professional colleagues, many of the orchestras and ensembles I am associated with are no longer giving performances. When these performances do take place they have much reduced personnel to make them commercially viable. 

Most performances have been cancelled due to Covid-19

But amongst this gloom there is some positive news as I now have a wonderful opportunity to focus on my teaching life and to work in a vibrant community that will be stimulating and challenging. 

On August 14th I move to Thailand to take up the position as Head of Woodwind and Brass at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok, one of Asia’s top schools. 

Music is a flagship for Shrewsbury International School and the music department is renowned for staging high quality concerts and recitals. The school has an international roster of specialist music teachers with many students progressing to the finest music conservatoires and universities, often pursuing a professional career. 

Chris Seal, the Principal of the school, has been a top cricketer and is well versed in the complexities of the music scene as his brother, Michael, is a professional conductor, currently Associate Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Chris Seal – Principal, Shrewsbury International School

The Music School enjoys a beautiful space overlooking the river. It is progressive in design with teaching rooms, multiple practice rooms, a dedicated (Mac) computer suite and specialised rehearsal space, centred around an outstanding Recital Hall with Concert Grand Piano. Major performances are staged in the 600 seat Memorial Hall Auditorium, complete with with its own Steinway Grand Piano.

All students from EY1 to Y9 enjoy music lessons as part of their timetabled curriculum learning, with a number of students going on to study the subject at GCSE and A-Level.

Year 5/6 classes also have one lesson of brass/woodwind tuition, where they are given access to an array of instrument resources, bought especially for this purpose and which has led to many students choosing to pursue the study of these instruments individually as part of the school’s co-curricular programme.

Canterbury Field

I’m also looking forward to working with Rowena Calvert, a superb London-based cellist, who joins the school as Head of Strings. Rowena and I have often shared the concert stage as performers so it will be a delight to collaborate with her on a variety of projects at Shrewsbury International School.

Rowena Calvert starts her position as Head of Strings in September 2020

AVE VERUM

This beautiful choral work might be considered to be an unusual piece to feature as a trumpet solo but I thought it would make a lovely addition to a short film created by a friend of mine, Dina Besiso. She is new to film making but we did think that adding an arrangement of the Ave Verum would enhance the images she has created. It certainly helps to set the mood and the soprano line lies beautifully for the trumpet. The choir enters halfway through the arrangement and I’ve also added some very subtle electronic sounds to help the atmosphere of the story. It’d not to everyone’s taste I’ll admit but I’m really hoping Mozart wouldn’t be too offended…

 

Arbanista No 1

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After three weeks of lockdown it’s been a joy to see my social media feed move on from Brexit to (almost) non–stop music making as friends and colleagues turn to performing online.

From solo performances in the garden of Somewhere Over The Rainbow to complex group performances complete with multi-screen images of all the musicians, the range of creativity and ingenuity has been astonishing. It’s heartening to see the important role music still has in our lives and how much pleasure we derive from performing even the simplest of melodies.

I’ve been doing most of my practice with a practice mute (the joys of living in a flat in London) but I have occasionally given the neighbours full blast to record some of my efforts. I’ve rediscovered the joys and complexities of the Jean Baptiste Arban’s Cornet Method, an extraordinary piece of work written in 1864. The method just about covers everything you need in order to master the technicalities of performing a valved instrument.

So, to keep things interesting, I thought I’d give Arban’s Characteristic Study No 1 the Garageband treatment just to liven things up a little. I hope you enjoy this version and apologies to Arban purists. Might be best to turn away now….

CONCERT: WATERBEACH BRASS – CARRY ON CORNETS

CONCERT: WATERBEACH BRASS – CARRY ON CORNETS

Waterbeach Brass Band in concert 23-06-2018

Waterbeach Brass Band in concert 23-06-2018

Histon Baptist Church
2 Poplar Road
Histon
Cambridge
CB24 9LN

Saturday 22nd June 2019 at 7.30pm

https://www.wegottickets.com/event/473476

It’s been a while since I’ve appeared as a guest soloist with a brass band so when my good friend and colleague, Andy Kershaw, pro tuba player and MD of Waterbeach Brass, invited me to play with the band I jumped at the chance!

Having started playing through the Salvation Army as a small child I’ve never lost my love of the brass band movement and the sense of community that it brings to music-making. As MD of London-based Regent Brass, I’m still very much involved as a conductor but, it will be a particular thrill to play with Waterbeach Brass especially given the fun repertoire Andy has chosen for the concert. 

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Waterbeach Brass is a high quality second section band well known for its friendly and enthusiastic approach to performing. The band was founded in 1978 and soon became a vital part of the musical life in and around Cambridgeshire. Take a glance at the band’s website http://www.waterbeachbrass.org/events.php and you’ll see a busy calendar of events over the summer – testament to the essential work it does in bringing live performance to people in the area.

Andy Kershaw, of course, is a well known character in both professional and brass band worlds and his informed, ebullient and light-hearted humour will bring a smile to the faces of the audience I’m sure.

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The concert also features the cornets of the band so do come along and enjoy a great evening of excellent music performed by the superb Waterbeach Brass!