I am delighted to present this final video blog recalling the events of Friday July 3, when the British Paraorchestra, Southbank Sinfonia and Charles Hazlewood performed the world premiere of Towards Harmomy in Bristol.
I hope you will get a sense of that momentous occasion, through the selection of short interviews and conversations with players, and some clips from the piece itself. The video ends with the final section of the piece in full, and the subsequent response of the audience.
I'm certain it shall remain one of the proudest moments of my professional life, surrounded by friends and colleagues who had put so much into this groundbreaking performance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ivan Riches, who has edited all of my video over the last year or so with patience, good humour and creativity, and the brilliant team at DAO - Trish Wheatley, Colin Hambrook and Alice Holland, who work tirelessly to produce content for this site.
My thanks to you too, if you've read any of my blogs, watched the videos or commented. I hope we'll meet again soon.
Today began with the 8.30 train from King's Cross to Peterborough, where I met with Kate Risdon, our brilliant flute player. I had promised her some pastries to go with our morning coffee on arrival - the Paraorchestra, like most bands, works best when fed with caffeine and cake...
Kate has an extraordinarily beautiful bass flute solo half way through the piece, in partnership with our bassoonist Sonia. The bass flute is well over twice the size of its parent instrument, and the first time I heard Kate play it I just knew I had to find a moment in which it could feature. The passage in question is in 5 counts per bar, meaning you can divide the metre in 2+3 or 3+2. Kate described the effect of this rather memorably, stating it was like music for camels! Listening again to the lopsided, insistent rhythm that repeats again and again, I can certainly hear what she means. I think I'll call that section 'camel music' from now on.
Next up was Oliver Cross, our harmonica player. His Dad, Simon, kindly met me at Kate's and became something of a tour guide for the rest of day, driving me first to see Oliver's teacher, Steve Lockwood. What followed was 90 minutes of ear-bending experimentation with some gorgeous timbres on what is fast becoming one of my favourite instruments. The sheer range of subtleties you can draw out of it (pun intended) is endless - I urge you to listen out for it at the concert. Oliver already has much if the part learnt from memory, and I can't wait to hear him incorporate some of the ideas we played with today into the final performance.
While we there, Steve adjusted the tuning on one of Oliver’s harmonicas, a process he dubbed 'open harp surgery’, much to my amusement. He adjusted the tuning of one of the reeds by a semitone with the tiniest blob of blu-tack, barely bigger than a pin prick. Fascinating stuff.
After the session, we went into Cambridge for some refreshments, before Simon dropped me off at the home of another Paraorchestra member, Guy Llewellyn. Guy is our horn player, and predictably hadn’t had any trouble with the part I wrote for him. If anything, I realised there are sections where I could give him more material - which I will write out tomorrow. You should have seen how his face lit up when I told him there were four horns in the Southbank Sinfonia too. Yes, four! Originally, I was going to use two horns, a trumpet and trombone, but decided instead I wanted the rich sonorities we could create with four of the same lined at up at the back. With a small string section lined up for the gig, I didn’t want to overpower them with too much heavy brass.
So, we are another day closer to the gig, and another three players - all pivotal to how the piece will sound - are well on the way. I couldn’t be happier.
Buy tickets for the performance on July 3 HERE
Book your tickets for Colston Hall on July 3 HERE
So while the loud and proud celebrations at BBC Music Day have somewhat dominated things before the weekend, somewhere in the background I've kept up with my visits to various Paraorchestra members around the country.
Firstly, there was Gemma Lunt, our extraordinary saxophone player, who I will be featuring in my last video blog later this month. She studied at the Trinity College of Music in Greenwich, where she now lives, and can make a stonking sound on any saxophone. But my particular favourite is the soprano, and so I've asked her to play on that instrument for the duration of the piece. As we ran through her part, we discussed things that orchestral players frequently encounter, such as tuning, ensemble and tone. We both remarked it was so nice to be able to delve into these areas perhaps more than we've ever had chance to before in the context of the Paraorchestra, as one of the disadvantages to playing improvised music is that you are often concerned with form and process - basically, what do I play next?! But now I've provided a framework for the piece, form and structure should become less of a concern for everyone and we can focus on the nitty gritty things to do with producing sounds on a musical instrument.
My next visit was to Matthew Wadsworth - definitely one of the leading lutenists of his generation, and an extraordinarily sensitive musician. In his spare time, Matt has enjoyed one or two daring challenges, as you will see from the video below (warning: not for the faint-hearted!)
Then on Saturday, I saw Abi and Takashi, our wonderful string players. I was quite exhilarated to see that Takashi has already learnt most of his part, and is already onto exploring interpretive questions. Abi is certainly not far behind, but asked for a mock-up of the piece with only her part in it.
You may wonder how some of our visually impaired musicians learn the music - well, it's different for every player of course, but most musicians with little sight rely on braille music, learning by ear or a combination of the two.
When Abi listened to the mock-up of the entire piece, she found it hard to hear her own part, and when I listened through to it again, I could perfectly see why. The solo string parts do tend to get lost in the mix on such a demo, so I have now provided her with a version that has her part isolated, which should make learning the notes much easier.
Tomorrow, I have THREE musicians in one day to visit in the Cambridgeshire area, so I'm going to go get some shut eye now and I will report back tomorrow evening (if I've any energy left!)
Phew! What an intense (but hugely rewarding) few days since we last spoke. I've been in Bristol with four other members of the Paraorchestra for the BBC's inaugural Music Day on Friday. We joined up with hundreds of other performers from the city, including the brilliant OpenUp Music Orchestra, the Bristol Youth Choir and the City of Bristol Choir. The very lovely Victoria Oruwari from the Inner Vision Orchestra was also there, as were several local signing choirs, meaning it was a truly inclusive afternoon of music making at the Colston Hall - where we will be performing Towards Harmony in around four weeks time. Have you booked your tickets yet?!
You can listen to the concert we did again on iPlayer, and below is a clip of me and Charles on BBC Points West from late on in the day.
Tomorrow, I will update you on some of the musicians I have been visiting in recent days too. Full steam ahead!
Book your tickets for the World Premiere of Towards Harmony on July 3 HERE
My week of rehearsal madness continued apace today - I visited the wonderful Adrian Lee at his home in North London. I have introduced you to this magician of the guitar already on this blog, and I always enjoy visiting and rehearsing with him. Although I will freely admit that we are both guilty of becoming sidetracked with too many tea breaks and talking at length about our favourite music, instead of actually rehearsing!
We experimented with an interesting device called an EBow on his electric guitar, which creates a fantastic sound with the right amount of delay and tone. The climactic ending of Towards Harmony features a string of descending scales for some instruments, and Adrian's use of the EBow has transformed the relatively simple material on the page into something that sounds greater, and more beautiful, than the sum of its parts:
The BBC are continuing to profile members of the group in advance of BBC Music Day on Friday, and today it was the turn of Charlotte White. Slightly confusingly, we actually have 2 Charlotte Whites in the Paraorchestra, one who plays trombone and one who plays the Ableton. It is the latter who is featured in the video below (which also answers your question 'What on earth is an Ableton?'
As part of #BBCMusicDay on Friday we'll be hearing a unique performance by the The British Paraorchestra and 200 young singers! Meet Charlotte White. who performs in the paraorchestra and local group OpenUp Music - using an ipad as her instrumentPosted by BBC Somerset 95.5FM on Tuesday, 2 June 2015
Book your tickets for July 3 HERE
That's right - as announced in my last video blog - the world premiere performance of Towards Harmony will take place in Bristol's Colston Hall on Friday 3rd July as part of the Fast Fowards Music Festival.
I am only too aware that my presence on this blog has been somewhat sporadic over the past 12 months, so as the day draws nearer I aim to post as often as I can manage.
This should bring you an insight into the rehearsal process we're going through for the piece, which has begun in earnest. Last Thursday I visited my first musician, Ziad Sinno, who is a fabulous oud player and really very friendly company. I must admit I was somewhat anxious - in the best possible way - to hear the notes I had written on the page brought to life for the very first time, but I soon saw that Ziad (and I hope he won't mind me saying this) was more nervous about bringing his part to life than I was about hearing it! He sounded great of course, so he needn't have worried, but he shared an interesting thought which might explain his initial nerves. He said that since receiving the part, he had been under the impression he would need to recreate the notes I had written on the page EXACTLY, in the same way a classical musician might interpret a work by Mozart or Chopin.
But this is not - as I hope I've made clear through my vlogs already - what I'm trying to get the Paraorchestra musicians to do. I want each musician to play a part that matches their strengths, and forcing Ziad to learn a part using a 'classical' approach would have been foolish on my part. Why would I want him, as a Lebanese musician who normally plays traditional Arabic music, to play in such a way? So we used the notes I had written as a springboard to further discussion and experimentation, and formed a part that suited him well. It was satisfying to see Ziad become more and more confident as our morning together progressed, and by the end of the day we were both beaming from ear to ear. A very positive start to my tour indeed! Now, only a dozen or so more to get through in the next couple of weeks...
At the end of this week, it's BBC Music Day, and a group of us from the Paraorchestra will be joining forces with musicians in Bristol to perform at Colston Hall. As part of the promotion for that gig, you may be seeing a few of us pop up on various BBC outlets and social media accounts. Today it was the turn of Steph West, our harpist, who I have introduced you to already on this vlog. You can follow her on Twitter here, and do watch the video from BBC Points West below!
Excitement at the final composition 'Towards Harmony' plus an introduction to Paraorchestra member Clarence Adoo
My composition Towards Harmony is now finished and ready to be premiered by the British Paraorchestra on 3 July in the Colston Hall, Bristol.
Watch the video below to hear a sample of the final composition and to hear an interview with Clarence Adoo, founder member of the Paraorchestra and the Headspace Ensemble.
Clarence illustrates how the Headspace works and how he came to develop the instrument with Rolf Gelhaar using sound beam technology as the starting point.
Watch the video below to hear how my piece (as yet untitled) is influenced by two musical ideas which originated in music of the Baroque era. I also provide demonstrable proof that composers don't always simply write down music that comes into our heads, aimlessly forming a piece as we go. Sometimes, it's possible to take a small idea and play with this using a variety of established compositional techniques.
Also in my video blog this week, Baluji Shrivastav - amongst the first musicians to join the Paraorchestra in 2011 - to the two instruments linked with a huge amount of traditional Indian music, the sitar and tabla.
Baluji also holds the distinction of heading his own group of musicians - the Inner Vision Orchestra, which is made up of blind singers and players from all over the world.
The website of a film about the Inner Vision Orchestra can be accessed here
It's time for our next musician to be put in the spotlight, and this week it is my very great pleasure to introduce you to Adrian Lee.
He is an indispensable member of the orchestra for which I'm writing - here you can read my thoughts on a fabulous gig he and fellow guitarist Tom Doughty did at Unlimitied last year. And as you'll hear in the video below, Adrian's introduction to music and subsequent work has been a truly kalaidescopic mix of styles and genres. He's just as comfortable picking out a Bachian harmonic progression as he is weaving together Reich-infleunced ostinati. If you're unsure what I mean, then watch the video to hear
There's also time for me to explain the orchestration process - that's when I take my basic plan I worked out at the piano, and decide whcih instruments should play what notes.
As usual, your question and comments please... I love hearing from you all!
Charles Hazlewood, founder of the British Paraorchestra, has always been very clear about his reasons for setting up the group. When his youngest daughter was born with cerebral palsy, his eyes were opened to the world of disability, which (by his own admission) he had paid little attention to before.
This led Charles to consider disability in the context of his work as a conductor. He realised he had encountered very few disabled, professional musicians – a handful, at most – in over twenty years of working with the best musicians around the globe.
Yet, with a few cursory searches on the internet, he soon discovered a wealth of disabled musicians in the UK alone – not only fascinatingly diverse in their chosen areas of music, but supremely skilled in their craft and crying out for exposure on a bigger platform.
Aiming to provide this, Charles formed the Paraorchestra. At first, it contained only four musicians (see the very first public performance here) but it has grown since to hold around thirty. While the response to the idea has been largely positive, there have been one or two concerns. Charles addressed one of these in a piece for the Guardian:
Not everyone has been pleased with the idea. Some feel that a "disabled" orchestra somehow patronizes the disabled community. But until the Paralympics, no one took disabled athletes seriously. These people deserve to be seen and heard not because they are disabled, but because of their talent.
I will admit that I thought long and hard before joining the Paraorchestra. Naturally, I wanted reassurances that it would not patronize its members as some thought it inevitably would, and I’m happy to report it has been able to sidestep this trap by bringing together only the very best musicians available, and not becoming a free-for-all simply on the basis of having a disability.
Charles’ comparison with the Paralympic movement is apt, not only because we share the prefix and performed at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics, but also because the Games celebrate the huge achievements of elite sportsmen and women from the disabled community. Similarly, our musical counterpart has become a home for only the most talented musicians with disabilities, and for that I think we should make no apology.
Incidentally, Charles has often made the point that music is actually more universal than sport, and the ability of music to bind people together is beautifully demonstrated by the Paraorchestra. Where else would you find a blind sitar player, quadriplegic Headspace player and a deaf violist sat together, making music? Sport may bridge the gap between nations, but so can music, and in the former you have to segregate competitors into classes, depending on your specialism, gender, disability type, and so on.
My other principal concern at the outset, other than the resolved patronization issue, was whether or not it would last beyond the glowing year of 2012. I am only too aware that many projects like this are ‘made for TV’, and sure enough the birth of the Paraorchestra project was recorded for a Channel 4 documentary (watch that here). But any suspicions I had that the concept would be quietly dropped post-London 2012 were cast aside when I met Charles in person for the first time. He has an unstoppable drive and passion for this, fuelled by his personal experiences and the incredible music making he has been able to draw from the ensemble.
Since 2012, I would say we have been at least partially successful in capitalizing on the flying start we made. It was always going to be challenging to maintain such momentum, and while we have had some real highlights (such as performing for the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day and our first international tour to Qatar), securing hard cash and establishing links with ensembles and venues can be a frustrating process, which takes time. All I can say now is watch this space, as Charles and a few other individuals are working very hard on shaping an exciting future for the group.
I ought to return to the question I posed in the title – why all this? I often tell people that in an ideal world, the Paraorchestra wouldn’t need to exist, as disabled people would already have a space in which they can create music for the enjoyment of a large amount of people. But truthfully, there were not enough opportunities for disabled musicians before it existed, and there still aren’t. But the Paraorchestra is going some way in addressing this problem, and it should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself.
As always, do let me know your thoughts. I would be particularly interested to hear from people who think there are better ways in which we can tackle the under-representation of disabled musicians. Are you concerned the Paraorchestra acts effectively as another ghetto? Do you think the comparisons with Paralympic sport are misguided? Your comments and questions please!
The latest project in the spotlight for this series on accessibility to the arts and their associated venues is Attitude is Everything.
They are clearly one of the major players in the business of finding forward-thinking, dynamic solutions to the difficulties disabled people face every week at festivals, theatres and concert halls across the land.
Last year, I caught up with Suzanne Bull MBE - the founder of the organisation - to talk about their mission. I was astounded by how much growth they have achieved in a relatively short timeframe. Suzanne's statistics on the number of people they now serve at Glastonbury are impressive to say the least.
Check out the video below, and do leave any comments on your own experiences in this area. Have you benefitted from the work AiE do? Is there something you feel in the sector no-one is addressing at the moment?
It's high time you lovely lot were introduced to some of the extraordinary musicians from the Paraorchestra.
To get us started, here's a video I produced earlier in the year, before the Sound of Disability project began. I interviewed Steph West for my online music show, Taking Notes. Steph is an extraordinary harpist, flautist and singer, with roots in folk music (although she is also able to play in many other styles, as is so often needed in the Paraorchestra!)
In our conversation, we talk about the origins of the group, our recent tour to Qatar and why the Paraorchestra is necessary for the development and exposure of disabled musicians. At the very end of the show, we perform together too, a song that was arranged and rehearsed 10 minutes before the cameras started rolling!
English subtitles are available, and do check out other episodes from the series on YouTube if this interests you...
In this month's update, I explain my daily routine of working as a composer. Of course, each and every artist will have their own preference with regards to how, where and when they work, but one thing that never seems to change is an audience's curiosity with the (sometimes mundane) details of how a piece of art is conceived.
I also bring you a world exclusive - by playing some of the first notes I have commited to paper for this new commission I'm working on for DAO. The finished piece will be performed by the British Paraorchestra - more info on that amazing group is given in previous video blogs.
As ever, I want to hear your comments and feedback, so do leave them below or contact me on Twitter @LloydRColeman.
Lloyd talks to members of UCAN Productions about a new app for visually impaired people and tries out some ideas for his emerging composition
Welcome back! In the second installment of my video blog, I play some of my initial ideas for the Paraorchestra piece, and meet Mared Jarman and Megan John from UCAN Productions, who are developing an app to assist visually impaired people move around performing arts venues.
Take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments section below. I'm intrigued to hear your thoughts on the app in particular. [Please click on this link for a further in-depth conversation with Mared and Megan about the UCAN Go app.]
How has the development of mainstream technology changed your life in recent years? Is there an app or piece of software you're still waiting to be invented?
Will update you again shortly.
In an extended version of the interview posted today, Mared Jarman and Megan John from UCAN Productions explain the concept of the app to Lloyd Coleman. [Please click on this link for Lloyd's August video blog, including an extraordinary explanation of his approach to developing musical ideas for a diverse orchestra]
The app is designed for you to use on your phone to navigate public spaces. It will have a 'route' function to help you navigate from A to B and a 'lost' feature to allow you find where you are if you feel lost within the building.
Welcome all, to my brand new blog on Disability Arts Online. Over the next few months, I will be working on a very exciting new commission for the British Paraorchestra and a major UK symphony orchestra.
As well as charting the progress of the project, the video blogs will raise issues and debates around disability art. This is where you, the reader, can play a part.
If you have any experiences or thoughts you'd like to see discussed in the video blogs, then leave a comment below, or if you'd prefer, contact Disability Arts Online directly who will forward it to me.
I look forward to hearing from you!