I have awoken early this morning mainly I think because I went to bed early last night; it is still dark outside . It may have been the first time in weeks that I went to sleep before the end of one day and slept through the changeover into another. I have been lying here in this ever so slightly chilly room willing myself back to sleep but instead random memories of the past day or so keep popping into my head; chief among them are short bursts from Gournod’s Petite Symphonie. We may have started looking at it on Friday night actually, and spent two of out five sessions yesterday playing through the four parts before having a go from beginning to end to finish off the day.
There are an awful lot of notes for the tenor part I was playing and my hands were literally aching towards the finish; more of a comment on the tension from the sustained concentration of trying too hard to keep my place and monitor how I play the notes. A longer piece like this, played at the tempo we were directed at (which may have been slower than the composer originally envisaged?) requires a fluency of play that I find hard to achieve when tired. There were times when I gave up the struggle and just let me mind and fingers do their own thing without my controlling intervention. These can be the times I completely surprise and excel myself; it can be incredibly thrilling as well as a bit scary.
I suspect this freedom of playing is how really good players play all the time whilst lower beings like myself try too hard letting the density of notes, complexity of rhythm, articulation marks and accidentals overwhelm my sense of control and so I stumble and struggle, unable to process the information quickly enough; or perhaps it is more about confidence. I know from experience that by the end of the year, these seemingly over tiring pieces will become completely playable and I will learn to love them because the anxiety of my part will disappear in the wholeness of the all the orchestral parts being played together and more importantly perhaps, I will hear all the parts too. That of course is the nub of playing in an ensemble, listening to other parts and other players in my own part whilst also playing and holding one’s own line; if I don’t do that then I and the other players will not make a single coherent sound.
One of the things we talked about last night was that being in the presence of one conductor directing the orchestra whilst being advised and taught by another meant that we, the orchestra, became a lot more appreciative of the immense difficultly in processing the many demands that conductors have to balance. I compared it to learning to teach my children to drive where when I sit and think about all the things I am doing automatically it becomes rather difficult to teach without overwhelming the student with demands. It is the same in music making. Playing in an ensemble places so many demands on me that it can feel overwhelming when adding a new skill to the repertoire (great bass in bass clef for instance) but in the grand scheme of things I believe I will be a better player for doing this. Like driving, practising one part of the whole while helpful and important is no substitute for trying to coordinate the complete melting pot of demands.
I think this may be the sixth year I have taken part in the orchestra and I always amazed at how good this rag tail group of people can play together. The other day I can across a you-tube clip of a concert we did in Edinburgh a few years back when we played the premiere of a piece called Brington Chrysal by Lyndon Hilling. It is always fascinating to hear a piece I have played in from the outside looking in, but what struck me was how good we sounded. That final part of the soundscape puzzle is something I as a player can easily forget, but it is actually the end product of all our efforts, the soundscape the audience will hear. It is also of course the soundscape the conductor hears too and right now I wish I had brought my audio recorder along and captured the moment we played through the Petite Symphonie for the first time (for this particular group) for that moment will never happen again and though it may not have been concert standard yet (judging from my playing at least), it is a moment in the orchestra’s history that I feel should be remembered, treasured and celebrated.
Hopefully now that writing is enough to banish thoughts and stray memories like wondering if I teased the second conductor too much, if I asked an indelicate question over somebody’s breaking of an engagement, or comparing the vanilla and tobacco notes of a Merlot over the lavender and violet notes of a Chilean Malbec.