Helpful, knowledgeable and inspiring…

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Last Sunday, the Symphony Orchestra had its workshop day. Tuba-player, member of the brass section, third-year Architecture student and Society President Chris Gray was there, and had this to say about the day…


Chris Gray

Brass cheek: Chris Gray

It should be criminal for one to be on campus so early on a Sunday morning, but this was for a good reason; our mid-term orchestral workshop.

The University Symphony Orchestra underwent their first day of sectionals, masterclasses and rehearsals as a relatively new group of musicians. With the addition of new first-year and post-grad students and also the loss of students that had moved onto pastures new, the orchestra required a day of bonding as, not only an orchestra, but in their respective sections.

The orchestra was divided up into small sectionals which were led by an extraordinary group of tutors including staff from the university, friends from outside of the University and professional musicians. As a tuba player, and an orchestral musician, sometimes mentioned in separate sentences, it is important to feel part of a not only a large orchestra but your individual section.

Feeling part of a section means you breathe together on tutti sections, blend and play with good intonation. Our sectional began with the iconic opening of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, working on phrasing, dynamics and tuning. Such is Ravel’s orchestration, that tuning is paramount throughout, with rich harmonies and detailed phrasing. As a trumpet player, Alex Caldon, our section leader, has had experience of the opening solo and provided an insight into the correct method of phrasing and dynamic to produce the best sound.

The morning progressed with work on Pictures but also the choral piece Finzi ‘For St Cecilia;’ described as a mini Belshazzar’s Feast, the work again provides challenges for the brass. We worked on the opening 4 bars which are a fanfare of trumpets and trombone introducing this emphatic hymn to the patron saint of music.

Throughout the morning, the emphasis was on playing in a positive manner, producing a good quality sound and more importantly playing as a section. It was also interspersed with witty tales of an orchestral musician dealing with conductors, other musicians and the challenges that are faced in the professional world.

In the afternoon, the orchestra re-formed and rehearsals began; the difference being immediately noticeable. Sections became coherent bodies of musicians, in-tune with each other and playing with great diligence. The confidence from sectionals spilled over into a rehearsal that had developed further in the three hours of sectionals than the previous three weeks. The tutors are an invaluable resource and the students do appreciate them. The workshop days do provide a day away from coursework and deadlines were one can relax and enjoy the music. The confidence from the tutors inspires students and produces sounds that only they can muster, but most of all they are not only helpful but knowledgeable and inspiring. Bring on the concert!

About Daniel Harding

Head of Music Performance, University of Kent: pianist, accompanist and conductor: jazz enthusiast.
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