HOT OFF THE PRESS
A hair-raising night at the opera...
by Sacha Rattle - clarinetist
After so many months of cancelled and postponed concerts, with such a stop and start nature to the business, 2022 seems to be getting back to a bit of normality in the music world. I have taken on four months of a touring opera, and thought I would write about a particularly hair-raising opening night.
We’ve been rehearsing for close to two weeks, working on a reduced version of Puccini’s La Boheme (and it’s worth keeping in mind that reduced orchestra usually means that the woodwinds are far busier than they would be in the original instrumentation, covering a variety of different instruments to fill out the texture). Everything has been going swimmingly, and we were all excited, buzzing for what opening night would bring. Little did I know, I was about to get hit with an experience, and a level of stress, that I could and would never have anticipated.
Already in the first 10 minutes of the opera, I notice that the oboist next to me is struggling with his instrument, and very uncharacteristically, many of his notes are a big struggle to get out, and getting worse by the second. He turns to me and whispers “I don’t know what’s happened, but my oboe is broken, can you cover for me?” and then leaves the pit with the oboe and a handful of tools to try to sort something out.
Remembering back, when I explained that we already had an incredibly full page of notes, the flute player and I spend the next two acts, darting our eyes back and forth, trying to play what we have written in front of us, while peering over to the oboe part, desperately trying to work out which oboe solos to play and which of us can abandon our own musical line at any given moment. I also have the added challenge that I play on transposing instruments, and had two different keys from which I was having to sight transpose, so working out which instrument I would be on at a given time.
Somehow we managed to make it through the first half without too much of a hitch, although how is a complete mystery to me. After the interval, he had managed to coax his instrument to play everything except for the note of B flat, so we were tasked with a much lower panic of trying to catch any solos that were particularly B flat heavy, and even our lovely trumpet player chimed in for a couple solos.
I have never been one to shy away from an after-concert drink, but I must say never before have I felt it was quite so necessary, nor quite so well deserved.
Mark Stevenson, actor
Pippa Stacey, glass artist
playing with glass, theatre and local poets...
by Ellie Fagg
Our first guest was the fantastic glass artist, Pippa Stacey. Much of her work has the idea of flight and nature and so was an ideal choice for our Lark Ascending concert in November. We used her beautiful drawing of wings for our publicity and her exhibition at our concert was absolutely beautiful. Playing the ethereal music of Vaughan Williams while her extraordinary glass work shone at the back of the church really added another element to the concert. We are hoping to collaborate with more artists in the future!
In December we collaborated with poets Mark Thompson, Isabel White, Esme Allman and Steve Tasanehad and Sydenham Arts on a fantastic evening of music and the spoken word about 'Togetherness'. enSEmble26 put together an eclectic programme of music by Bach, Mendelssohn, contemporary composers, Caroline Shaw, Edmund Finnis and a brand new work by Tom Norris. The evening's poems ranged from the climate, politics, to the wind rush generation and culminated in a life affirming and thought provoking ensemble poem, all mesmerisingly performed by the poets themselves in-between the music. it was an absolutely inspiring collaboration and we really hope to do it again!
Finally, we were proud to be joined by two fantastically talented local actors, Susie Ridell and Mark Stevenson. Susie moved us all with her beautiful reading of Meredith’s ‘A Lark Ascending’ in November but unfortunately for covid reasons couldn’t partake in our hugely popular Snowman children’s concert in December. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say, and, at no notice, Mark Stevenson from the immersive and brilliant theatre company Teatro Vivo, based in Forest Hill, stepped in to narrate the Snowman story. His energy and enthusiasm was extraordinary and we are hugely grateful that he could take it on at such short notice! We look forward to much more collaboration with these actors in our next season!
Music and Care in lockdown
by Eleanor Meynell
Everyone probably knows by now that I worked in a local care home during the pandemic.. or maybe not?
I'd like to share some happy stories that came about through music during that dark time. I have always been fascinated by how music flies under the radar of our conscious mind, particularly when communicating with someone with dementia. Music is the first sense that develops, even before we are born and the last function that remains even in advanced dementia.
I worked as a care assistant for 4 months, then realised I could be more useful as a musician when the loneliness for those in isolation in their rooms was extreme. It is amazing how music opens a channel of communication, even for those dementia has robbed them of their understanding of words. Mabel didn't speak in sentences, only the odd word, but when she was upset and frustrated she would become calm when I sang her anything that Julie Andrews had performed, who she adored. Her depression would lift in after a few moments of 'I could have danced all night', or 'Wouldn't it be loverly?'. Hazel, a tiny German lady, who hadn't spoken for 4 years, according to the duty nurse, after several group music sessions, spoke to me in complete and coherent sentences - we even had a conversation, 'why hadn't her brother come to visit? Where were they?'. The nurse was absolutely amazed! Kevin, who wasn't able to walk when he came to the home enjoyed coming to music sessions. He loved the convivial atmosphere and always cheered up and smiled. He was also very encouraging to the other residents. After one lively Christmas party, he found a new energy and started to walk again, which was very good news not only for him, but for his carers too. Ben, an irishman who used to play in a Ceilidh band, loved to listen to Irish folk music and we'd both sit there tapping our feet and smiling "Music makes you happy" he said. For Steve, music was a liberation. He used to say "when is the music lady coming? Is it today? Is it now?". Every group session he would request 'Waltzing Mathilda' and he would cry because it reminded him of Australia where he lived and had been happy. He also loved to teach us all to dance the waltz, which was necessary because it made him feel important again.
I am very happy to be using my skills in such a meaningful way, particularly in helping the care staff with their work, as music oils all kinds of creaky joints, literally and metaphorically: I helped a nurse feed a diabetic lady who had fallen into a slump, but who revived at her favourite song "roll out the barrel' to which she started to do actions, to help carers shift a gentleman blocking a thoroughfare, to walk to the dining room by singing with him a section of his favourite marching song 'I'll take the high road and you'll take the low road (Loch Lomand) or to calm a lady who was shouting and upset by singing her favourite song, 'Kumbaya my Lord', in harmony which told her I was listening to her.
I have been inspired to continue my work bringing quality music sessions to those with dementia in care homes and have founded a music and dementia charity called SHINE for dementia. I'd love to do more with enSEMble26 too in Sydenham and hope that we can build this into our outreach work.