Sunday, 15 April 2012

Playing outdoors

So much to write about. A new piece of kit, a malfunctioning microphone, selecting tin whistles and, in respect of the whistles, the start of the R&D (research and development) week for The Pied Piper tomorrow.

But all that in good time.  Today I drove across to a piece of woodland south-west of Cambridge where I'll playing for a weekend of expressive dance over the first weekend in May.  It takes place in beautiful woodland with a dance floor in the trees, roofed but not walled, and involves the participants camping in clearings.  Most importantly, the site has a spacious and very effective sauna.

Today's meeting was primarily to connect with the space.  Much as I enjoy playing jazz in gardens for weddings, there is nothing quite like improvising in response to the environment and the moving human body. The Romans used to leave offerings to the genii loci, meaning the spirits of the place.  It is curious that the music I play on this site is completely different from that which comes to me at other sites.  Everywhere has a different  vibe.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The strap

I consider it a successful term, by the standard of recent years, at the academy (formerly the high school). My goals were modest.  I wanted to correct the bad fingering technique of two eleven year old clarinettists by prevailing upon them to use a strap to hold the instrument.  The weight of the instrument means that young players invariably take the pressure off their right thumb by resting the side Eb/Bb key on the first knuckle of their index finger.  Not only does this prevent them from using this key, it also means that they can't reach the keys operated by the little finger of the right hand.

Their previous teacher, no doubt a pragmatist in search of a short-term solution, had taught them to play bottom F with the left hand. This is fine until the pupil needs to progress to playing bottom E and, dare I say it, cross the break into the clarino register. It took a while but now both girls use a clarinet strap and, optimist that I am, their index fingers will soon be employed to play, rather than support, the instrument.

The danger of straps is that children rely on them to hold the instrument unaided.  The site of a clarinet swinging from the thumbrest is unsettling to say the least.  And on the last day of term disaster struck.

I had told a young saxophonist on numerous occasions to 1. Put the strap around his neck before attaching the sax and 2. never let the instrument dangle.  While putting the strap, instrument attached, over his head the saxophone suddenly fell to the ground.  He was surprised that, in spite of having broken its fall with his foot, the instrument no longer played.  But not as surprised as he'll be when he gets the repair bill.