‘Tis the season (again)

It’s that time of year again! Barely a week has gone by since Remembrance Sunday and the band has already completed its first Christmas gig.

Unlike when I used to play with Martlesham Brass when I was growing up, and our first Christmas carolling was on the chilly chilly streets of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast in the first weekend in November(!!!), it’s now becoming an annual occurence for Camberley’s season to start in the warm!

We always enjoy a relaxed and very friendly evening with Longacres Garden Centre, Bagshot, as they open their Christmas store on a Thursday night. My wife and I snuck in a tasty dinner from their Cafe before we played an hour of enjoyable carols, rarely straying from the good old Red Carol Books, as they are universally known!

However, the risks of playing directly next to the “free samples” stall are numerous. I have never played Good King Wenceslas crying before, but virtually the whole band were watering after the adjacent wok was heated up and a stir-fry including quite some soy sauce was cooked while we played! And of course, one should never trust the bass section with free bubbly…

We look forward to the rest of our Christmas gigs this year, some of which will also be in the warm but some chilly ones outside too!

Camberley and District Silver Band commemorates Armistice and Remembrance Sunday with the local community

Once again this year, Camberley and District Silver Band have commemorated Armistice Day (Saturday 11th November) and Remembrance Sunday (Sunday 12th November) at a number of events in the local area in partnership with our wonderful community. This year we were fortunate to be invited to perform at three services across the weekend, and some of the highlights are included below.

Armistice Day – Camberley Manor care home

In the afternoon of Armistice Day, November 11th, a quintet from the band played a memorial service at Camberley Manor care home in Deepcut. This home is just 5 minutes from our band room and we were given a very warm welcome and a strong attendance from the local residents. The home was kind enough to post a video of excerpts from the service:

Armistice Day Service with Camberley &District Silver Band.Time to remember and not forget those who fought for our country.

Posted by Camberley Manor on Saturday, 11 November 2017

Remembrance Sunday – Service at St. Peter’s Church

The band also regularly plays at St. Peter’s Church’s Remembrance Sunday service. The band rehearses weekly in the hall of the church, so we know a lot of the organisers there, and we like to play for them whenever possible. Playing a full traditional Remembrance service including the full Act of Remembrance, it’s a poignant opportunity for all to come together for a couple of hours of reflection.

Remembrance Sunday – Memorial service at the War Memorial in Camberley

The Camberley Band has had a long tradition of playing at the afternoon Remembrance service on the main road through Camberley. In fact, I couldn’t get some of the band members to admit how many years they had done there!

This year the band was represented by a strong number, all wrapped up extremely warmly against the chilly wind. It was again a well-attended service, with a local MP in attendance. This photo from Alan Meeks:

Alan Meeks was kind enough to record and edit these excerpts from the service:

Camberley Remembers 2017

A video captured by Alan Meeks of the Camberley Remembrance commemorations. Surrey Heath

Posted by Surrey Residents Network on Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Surrey Heath Borough Council also posted a copy of the live video they ran from the event:

Remembrance Parade 2017

Posted by Surrey Heath on Sunday, 12 November 2017

Alexander Goehr on teaching composition

I don’t know how you teach composition

– Alexander Goehr

Last week’s Composer of the Week on Radio 3 was Alexander Goehr – someone I was initially not that familiar with. As an introduction to his work, you may like to read The Guardian’s piece about his music, and have a listen to his third String Quartet:

Goehr had a long academic career, most notably over 20 years at Cambridge’s music department, teaching a number of leading composers. But it was his comments on composition that really stood out.

If you’re in the UK, you can listen to the full episode in which he discusses his teaching here (until 13th October). Outside the UK and probably for longer, you can hear just the discussions in this episode of the Composer of the Week podcast.

I was interested in his comments because recently I had set the Camberley training band some exercises, among them some initial compositional exercises of inventing a melody to accompany some chords. Goehr’s initial comments on teaching composition really stood out; when asked how to teach a composer, he simply said, “I don’t know how you teach composition; there’s no systematic way. Some people say it can’t be taught” – this from a Cambridge professor of music! But I think his insight is very useful and accurate, when trying to encourage musical people to compose.

He goes on:

I think that teaching composition is a very short-term procedure; it’s very immediate. Somebody comes, and you either make a communication with them, or not. And I don’t think composition teaching, in my experience, should last longer than about three months; that’s enough. You either get the point immediately, or you’ll never get the point.

While it reads bluntly, here he has an excellent point. I love composing but nobody has ever taught me how to do it; nor do I think it would be possible. Certainly, you need to know certain musical fundamentals; chords, progressions, some elements of structure, history, and so forth. But the actual act of divining a new piece is something that escapes communication through inter-human mechanisms. On that background or fundamental education, his opinion is clear:

The systematic aspects of composition teaching: Richard Hall used to say “Keeping the front of the brain busy while the back of the brain is doing it’s stuff”, it’s not discussable; it’s either more traditional or less traditional or according to the individual teacher.

But how do you develop a composer when they are just starting? Certainly if your work is often performed, then you have a barometer for the success of an individual piece. Paintings are sold or they are not; how do you judge the reception to a piece commissioned by a band and only ever played by them? Goehr indicates that he has no better knowledge of whether a specific composition is good or not than his students, but he tries to make productive comments – and they are either useful, or they are not.

After that it’s a question of drinking coffee together and encouraging people, and being nice – you know. But the actual business – they bring a piece, or you set them a piece, suggest something they might write; and then when they bring it, you don’t know any more than they do what’s good or bad. But you say something, and it’s like throwing a ball in the air: and they either respond to that and they get something from it, or they don’t. And there’s no way of guaranteeing it.

He finishes with a sentiment that you will find expressed by any great educator:

I often felt my pupils were better than I was.