Being away from home is lovely in some sense but in other ways it is quite difficult. What I like about being away is that I have a room to myself and no real restrictions on what I do and don’t do. The grounds here are lovely and perhaps I should make more of an effort to explore them during the daylight hours particularly as it is a beautiful autumn day. My room is a bit soulless though and to be honest a bit cool for writing in plus it has no internet that I can access which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but now that I want to write and also need to keep the flow of writing going, I feel it is important to to have access to the rest of the world (as far as the electronic world reaches that is). However there must be more to it than that, I don’t want to just write I want to publish my thoughts and I want others to read them and in an ideal world, for other to like and comment on them. So it isn’t just about writing then, it’s about writing to connect with other people.

One of the aspects of being on a residential course is that I am also connecting with the people around me, people in this case that enjoying playing recorders and making music together. I wonder if the average recorder playing is a bit weird but I suspect we are no more weird than any other cross section of the population. Maybe there are more of us that don’t communicate with other people well which is why we communicate with music, and maybe we are more introverted as a group because we like to hide in a pack and not be outstanding; maybe. Whatever the reasons, I find myself in need of solitude and finding that solitude is not easy. I thought I was doing well by going to the breakout area where the local residents hangout because in my experience, most residents of this place are away at the weekend, and other visitors don’t tend to find this area. I appear to be wrong today; the visiting group of Catholics certainly now about this area and are making good use of it for conversations.

I think I may need to try a nap and block out these conversation for the break I was looking for; at least they are far fewer here than in the dining hall. It seemed to be successful for I must have slept because when I next looked nobody else was in the room. However there is only another five minutes to go before the next session and so I will finish this later.

And later arrives in the form of an hour long break after tea (Scottish tea that is which means the evening meal). I return to my previous location and now the three locals are watching the TV but it is quiet and after a brief greeting, I sit across the other side of the room. Unfortunately I think the catholic group is also around and two of them have just located themselves next to me and chat quietly too. At the moment I can cope.

Orchestra playing is demanding and tiring at times. Certainly at the beginning of the day when I would normally be lying in bed still we do not make a great sound. Our guest conductor works miracles on us and as time goes on we become much more coherent and musical; it is the reason I am here I guess, to be transported into another reality of an all-encompassing soundscape that communicates something no one of us can do alone. It feels the pieces are easier this year or is that I am becoming a better player? The initial view of a piece often feels overwhelming, full of expressive notation, difficult to read rhythms and accidentals (or perhaps more accurately, accidents waiting to happen). The conductor knows this and we rarely start at the beginning but somewhere more accessible and representative of the whole piece. We worry away at seemingly insignificant details, practise our breath control, work on the rhythms, and repeat sections until everybody knows and understands what is required even if we don’t always play the correct notes. By the end of the session we are playing the piece in a beautiful engrossing manner that even though I hear the piece from the inside, I know that the sound we are making is a complete transformation from what we first made.

We had an extra treat today. Our backup conductor received a lesson from our guest conductor whilst we practiced a contrabass led concertina. I enjoy playing the piece because I am on my great bass and I am reading the music in bass clef. This is the final piece in my recorder education as far as covering the standard recorders is concerned. Since my school days when I learnt to play the descant on the treble clef, I have progressed through through the treble on treble clef onto playing bass on the bass clef. This means I can read both C and F tuned instruments in the treble clef, but so far can only play F tuned instruments in the bass clef. The great bass marks the ability of reading a C instrument in the bass clef. I am not fluent yet (in the sense of being able to just play what I see), but I am getting there and that’s a nice feeling.

Conducting of course is yet another aspect of music making that I haven’t really tried and seeing learning how the conductor directs and supports the orchestra whilst following a soloist is a bit mind blowing to be honest. Everything the conductor does is transmitting something to the orchestra and if they are not aware of their style they can tell us something different than they intended. A tentative style means we will be quiet and not necessarily together; an over exuberant style will mean we play louder and eventually lose all sense of dynamics.  A conductor is essential acting out how they want the music to sound at the same time as giving the tempo, telling people when to come in, spotting errors and working how I to keep everyone together on the fly. It seems an impossible task when I think about it, but a good conductor will make the world of difference to a group. I really had an insight into the process, how difficult it must be, but also how rewarding it can be when every individual somehow becomes something greater by combining in a good and making beautiful music (well at least to my ears).

The day is not over yet though. We have another session tonight and for that I need to rest my brain. Time for another snooze.