Friday, 3 February 2012

Mostly musical

Five adults playing in the park

I've had my last extended break in London - from now on it's weekends only, and I will have to actively book days off rather than gadding about as and when I like. Instead, I will have a job, which I hope will offset the disadvantage of seeing rather less of friends and family than over the past five years.

I have mentioned that Lola II encouraged the idea of us signing up for an orchestral woodwind day in London, and she and I plus another friend, K, all went for it. Then K let me know that two days before the woodwind event, she and her sister and brother were holding a memorial service for their mother, who died in November last year. I combined this with a visit to mum and dad and the obligatory fun at Lola II's house.

It was a very informal memorial event, with readings and music and pictures and some time to chat afterwards. K and I were at secondary school together, and another of our peers is now a vicar, so she led the whole affair including her own memories of K's mum. I met up with several others from that period of my life, and we all wished we could see each other more, and not just at this type of event.

Automatic piano and violin-playing instrument
I stayed that evening at mum and dad's, tried to help with computer issues and climbed ladders to change light bulbs, and the next morning mum and I headed off to Kew where there is a Musical Museum. It specifically deals with 'automatic' self-playing instruments such as music boxes, pianolas and organs, and is extremely interesting, especially as we joined a tour, so many of the instruments were demonstrated for us.

The most interesting one had an automatically-played violin as well as piano strings, all running off a punched paper roll. The strings were kept taut by weights hanging off the scroll end, vibrato was added by wobbling the bridge, and each string had a little motorised cellulose roller above it. The strings were raised against the rollers when bowing was required, while the fingering was done by many pads being raised and lowered along the neck. Unlike with a human player, each string could be played independently and simultaneously, so really it had the capacity of four violins and a piano.

On to Lola II's house, and the woodwind event on Saturday. I was slightly apprehensive, not having played in a large group since I was 18, and having played my clarinet only a handful of times since then. I shouldn't have worried, as it was a very large group with a very personable man in charge who positively encouraged people to take a break if they needed to. The chap sitting on my left should have taken this advice - he never seemed to know what part he was playing or where we were; in one break I saw him take his glasses out of a jacket pocket, clean them, put them on, peer at the music for a few seconds, and then put them away again. He was the exception, though; most players seemed to be at a decent standard.

Lola II grinning among the flutes
There were five conductors and six sessions of 45 minutes through the day, and in each session we were introduced to a new piece (or two in one session). By the end of the 45 minutes, we were able to run through from start to finish. Three of the pieces were composed by their conductors, and they were all very different - orchestral, 'swing', challenging time signatures, both classical and modern styles. I enjoyed it a lot, especially the main organising conductor who had a wonderful manner and reminded me of the best conductors from music school days, maintaining discipline and control as well as being amusing and sympathetic. So now I'm thinking of trying to find somewhere at home to play regularly, and wondering how I will fit it in with the badminton, and deciding to wait until I've got to grips with the routine of going to work every day.

I was looking forward to a bit of a rest on Sunday, but was persuaded in the morning to help Lola II with a piece of music written by one of her friends for her own wedding in two weeks' time. The bride is a professional pianist, and Lola II's idea was that I would record the piano part so she could practise the flute part over the next two weeks. Unfortunately, the piece is in 6/4 time with a few randomly included bars in 3/4, the piano starts with sextuplets where I had to count the ledger lines to work out what the notes were, and the majority of the piece is groups of 14 notes to fit into a bar of 6 crotchets. Not only was I utterly unable to play it, it would be completely impossible for Lola II to work out where the bars start and finish.

In the end, I recorded the vocal part on the piano against Lola II's flute part, and even then we had to try and accommodate groups of 2 and/or 4 notes against 3 beats, sometimes within a bar and sometimes across a bar line. This is flippin' difficult. And don't forget there will be 14 notes to the bar on the piano going on at the same time, and they're having, oh, two rehearsals altogether, except that one is not even a rehearsal, it's a 'run through'. I'm sure it will be fine, although I'm glad it's not me. Lola II says that some brides torture their best friends by making them dress up in ridiculous unflattering bridesmaids' dresses. This bride has been altogether more imaginative.

After all this I was looking forward to the slightly special lunch to celebrate my new job that I'd been promised, and then the bit of a rest that I was looking forward to. The slightly special lunch became very much more special when the guests that Lola II had invited arrived, as a lovely surprise. [With hindsight, this clarified why Lola II was so keen that we practise the wedding piece in the morning.] It was lovely. To top it off, Mr M produced a complicated dessert constructed from chocolate and sculptured Curly Wurlies filled with home made orange and lemon sorbet. And we went for a walk, and played on some grown-up exercise equipment that's in a nearby park, which you can see in the photo above.

So that was the penultimate proper weekend before my initiation as a working Dietitian with a real job that I have to do every weekday, and there's nowhere else I'd rather have spent it.

1 comment:

aims said...

What absolute fun! I've never heard of such an event as you have described, but then again I don't travel in any musical circles. Those days of playing the piano are long gone.

And of course Lola 11 threw you a party! How lovely!

I'm glad to have been a part of it from here.