After a long period without the pleasure of playing together in the NFO due to the ongoing pandemic, First Violinist Andrew Easton reflects on the great joy of returning to regular rehearsals.
"Will Shakespeare was right when he wrote ‘If music be the food of love play on . . . ‘
It’s wonderful to back playing in the strings of the NFO on Wednesday nights after over a year’s break, the joy of interacting with others in life affirming music puts all the worries about the world around us right out of your mind.
Soon we’ll play again as a full orchestra, although it is very nice to be playing inspirational string music as an alternative.
Andre Previn once said ‘A day without music is a wasted day for me . . . ‘ how true this is and whilst I personally enjoying playing on my own most days and learning new pieces, playing with others and then taking the music home to look at in more detail and practise for the next rehearsal is once again inspiring to me.
After over a year away from the NFO we need to get used to playing together and with one another; I’m lucky to play behind Alan and Vivienne and in sight of Ieuan – if I miss Ieuan’s beat I can often catch a fellow musician's foot tapping in the right time and beat to the music!
In the NFO we never play wrong notes, we never play out of tune or even at the wrong time EVER, oh no - we just have ‘happy little accidents’ which we can smile and chuckle over and then play on as a cohesive group and get better together.
IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK!"
Following on from Bassoonist Adrian Dence's inspiring reflections on his time in the National Youth Orchestra, we proudly introduce our wonderful Timpanist and Percussionist, Cynthia Mason, who was interviewed by leader Alan Ford.
"There’s a wonderful symmetry with Adrian’s story in that Cynthia Mason, our New Forest Orchestra Percussionist and Timpanist, played in the National Youth Orchestra at the same time as Adrian. At that time her instruments were Viola and Piano. She came from West Yorkshire and attended Skipton High School. A contemporary of hers at the school was Elizabeth Harwood who went on to have a stellar career as a Soprano, singing at the Salzburg Festival, LA Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, before sadly dying at a young age from cancer.
Cynthia joined the National Youth Orchestra playing viola. Her memory of Ruth Railton is that she “was like a God. We would have put our cloaks on the floor for her to walk on, like Sir Walter Raleigh.”
Cynthia went on to the Royal College of music to study Viola (with the legendary Cecil Aronowitz) and Piano. Contemporaries were the likes of the flautist James Galway. Whilst at the RCM it emerged that there was a need for someone to step up and play percussion. So she did, being the first to perform a Concerto for a Percussion instrument at their concerts as well as participating in numerous performances.
Cynthia went on to play Timpani and Percussion professionally with a number of professional orchestras – including BBC Symphony, BBC Concert, Royal Opera House, Royal Ballet and Ballet Rambert, for a number of years.
Cynthia later trained as a Physiotherapist, working with children with multiple disabilities. After moving to the New Forest in 1989, Cynthia became Head of Percussion for Dorset Schools Music service, a role she performed for eighteen years.
Despite being in her eighties, Cynthia has not lost her keyboard skills. She has continued to help innumerable local children, accompanying them in their Grade Exams.
There is a rather nice link in that Cynthia was able to give Adrian (Bassoonist) some National Youth Orchestra programmes she has kept for all of these years, featuring both their names!"
As we enter another period of lockdown, this seems a good moment to learn more about the talented players that make up the New Forest Orchestra. This week, Bassoonist Adrian Dence shares some memories of his time in the National Youth Orchestra in the 1950s.
"The National Youth Orchestra was in its early days in the 1950s but its reputation went before it! I cannot recall where the idea of auditioning came from, but it must have been Antony Brown, the Director of Music at Canford School. The lovely Iona, his daughter, had already been accepted for NYO – she later went on to become a well-known Violinist and Conductor.
Writing anything about the Founder and Director, Ruth Railton, makes my skin prickle! She was a formidable lady - quite slim and petite with her hair scraped back in a bun; pale in complexion and always wearing (to my memory tinged with awe) a delicate, pale blue, angora cardigan. She had a sweet encouraging smile but not far underneath was an iron will. What RR said happened without question. She travelled round the UK auditioning young aspiring musicians at their schools.
At Canford there were a handful of candidates. AB introduced me to Miss Railton and I played my piece. She listened intently with that smile of encouragement. As readers will recognise from my description and the length of this paragraph, she was an intense and determined lady who came across to many other prospective players in just the way I have described. Her summing up after I had played was one of those moments in one’s life that you don’t forget; she leant forward, “Adrian do you really want to play in the National Youth Orchestra ?” “Yes Miss Railton - more than anything”.
Intensity and discipline were part and parcel of the 120 strong membership. Some weeks before each week-long course a fat envelope arrived containing the music for the course which we were expected to be familiar with when we arrived (for example in Bristol, Cork, Manchester, or Hatfield). The music included a major Symphony (perhaps Schubert’s Great C Major or Shostakovich No 1); a classic Piano Concerto (possibly Mozart or Beethoven) with a child prodigy soloist. In the woodwind section there were at least four players for each instrument. After lunch on each day of the course we rested quietly on our beds! And when we entered the concert stage it was in silence in single file wearing our NYO badges on a white shirt. We looked smart and Iona Brown looked fantastic.
The musical experience was magical as you would expect. We had all been selected for our inherent musicianship, so I don’t recall having any difficulty in the areas of rhythm, intonation or phrasing. However, there were moments of technical challenge such as in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or Elgar’s Overture “Cockaigne” which just had to be practiced repeatedly. As I progressed through the hierarchy, I became Principal which meant Solos!
In Malcolm Archer’s 2nd Symphony, the second movement is introduced by the principal bassoon - a typical haunting melody which I can hum to this day. John Dalby the assistant musical Director took me aside as the day of the concert got nearer. “Adrian you play this beautifully, but you need to let yourself be carried away; don’t be afraid to put everything into it”. I did!
We performed abroad, notably in Berlin where we were driven round the demolished east sector and to Cork where we performed in the massive Theatre Royal.
My time with the NYO came to an end with a request that I audition for the Concerto slot in a future Course. This took place in the main Hall of the Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road where I played Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto. I was not selected but the occasion had a memorable postscript. Some little time after my audition I opened The Times (or was it the Daily Telegraph?) to find a full-page advertisement featuring myself playing the bassoon on behalf the Shell Petroleum Company! For this prestigious appearance I earned the princely sum of £10."
At the NFO we are all missing our rehearsals and concerts, but there is always music making happening somewhere in our homes behind the scenes! Leader Alan Ford shares his thoughts during these difficult times as we begin to look ahead.
"It has been a difficult few months for everyone. It was extremely disappointing to have to cancel our March Concert a fortnight before it was due to take place and subsequently the July concert went the same way.
I think it is important not to get too depressed and look for compensations. I know that unexpected things did emerge from lockdown – discovering new local walks for one. I think that quite a lot of people became more “tech-savvy” during this period and managed to find new ways of making music in solitary fashion or online with others. There are a number of Apps which help one to make music in the comfort of one’s home (for example “Partplay” for String players and “Appcompanist” for singers), and musicians from the NFO gathered together online with Westbourne Orchestra to join in Virtual Rehearsal Sessions run by their conductor Lee Marchant. At the NFO we also had fun through social Zoom sessions with quizzes and games before the summer holidays.
The Government finally gave permission for Amateur Music Groups to think about rehearsing again on 17 August. There was a little window of near-normality in late August when several NFO players took part in the band for an outdoor Shakespeare event featuring several performances of “Romeo and Juliet “ and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the woods at Beaulieu. We sat apart in gazebos hoping that the rain would stay away. Since then we have had the Rule of Six, and subsequent clarification that Amateur Music Groups can be exempt from this provided Covid Risk Assessments are completed and there is no social mingling.
It is clear that things have changed and that we have to adapt our expectations at the moment. It is also clear that changes are going to keep happening and we need to be flexible. During the last few months the only change on our website was the notice that Concerts and Rehearsals were cancelled. It is not yet totally clear when we will be able to start meeting again, and even when we do, there is a distinct possibility that things could be closed down again. In the meantime we thought you might like to learn a little more about some of our players, so over the coming weeks we will be sharing some interviews and profiles on our blog that we hope you’ll enjoy."
Alan Ford, NFO leader
All of us at the NFO love meeting for our Wednesday evening rehearsals. It’s always good fun, and occasionally funny - especially the early sessions where we are all sightreading (often very challenging) new pieces for the season ahead. Andrew Easton, from our first violin section, shares his notes on such an occasion...
"Concertgoers regularly ask what goes on at a rehearsal, something some members of the orchestra sometime ask as well! Well the NFO members are back in the New Year rehearsing for our Spring concert in New Milton on 28.3.20. To give people a flavour of what goes on, consider this recent rehearsal...
The orchestra assembles and sits down by 19.30, we tune up to an oboe A (it’s always useful to be in tune at the start), and then our conductor Ieuan shows us the piece to be played, raises his baton, a couple of beats to set the tempo and we’re away:-
Diddle dum diddle dum diddle dum dum du-
“Hang on!” says Ieuan, stopping the proceedings, “something is not right.”
Someone from the wind section asks, “It is the Gershwin we’re playing?”
“No”, say Ieuan, “It’s the galop from the Rossini – William Tell!”
“Oh,” – says the bewildered player – “sorry about that.”
“As we’ve stopped, what bowing are we doing at the start of the Galop?” asks Ieuan.
“As it comes”, say our leader Alan, “up down, up down, with a bit of bounce on the bow”.
“Oh!” says Ieuan, “It’s just that the New York Phil play it two downs and one up, with bounce.”
We might have the word NEW in our name but we’re not the New York Phil...
Someone in the strings says “how about three notes to each bow?” – as they find this easier.
“Let’s try again”, says Ieuan, “and use Alan’s bowing.”
Diddle dum diddle dum diddle dum dum dum diddle dum diddle dum diddle dum dum dum...
From the start of the Galop until the end a few minutes later, everyone gives their all, some have a glance at the conductor, other keep their heads down and try and get brain and fingers to work in harmony and others, from the look on their faces, are terrified by all the notes, so many notes and so little time to play them all in.
Curiously we all finish together – now we have to work out all the bits in the middle!
“Thank you” – says Ieuan, “that’s just a bit slower than I’d like to play it in the concert”.
Phew - we all felt, in the orchestra, that it was just fast enough!
So – that’s what we do at our rehearsals, the conductor’s beat is essential, but Ieuan is not there just to beat time, he’s there to make sure we can all play together, in time, in tune and play the dynamics and tempos of each piece, all at the same time. "
We’ll be continuing work on Rossini’s William Tell Overture over the next few weeks, as well as a whole host of stage and screen favourites, including The Big Country Theme, Gabriel’s Oboe and the Peer Gynt Suite. Join us to enjoy our resulting concert ‘From Stage and Screen’ on Saturday 28 March at Arnewood School in New Milton.
A wonderful evening was enjoyed by all at All Saints' Church in Milford on Sea on Saturday night, with a truly special programme filled with festive favourites. We were thrilled to be joined once again by the very talented Total Voice Chamber Choir, and our fabulous audience also raised the roof singing along to our swinging medley of Christmas songs as Musical Director Ieuan displayed words up on the big screen for all to follow.
We were delighted to accompany two very talented soloists; singing Mozart's beautiful Exultate Jubilate was soprano Sally Prince, and our very own leader Alan Ford put down his violin to give a moving performance of Vaughan-William's Fantasia on Christmas Carols.
The orchestra were kept busy with the fast and furious Dance of the Tumblers by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky's magical Nutcracker Suite. The evening ended with a very special - and rather unusual - piece, 'A Musicological Journey through the Twelve Days of Christmas' by Craig Courtney. Words to the traditional 'Twelve Days of Christmas' song are set over twelve pieces of music that take the listener on a journey through time and place, beginning with Gregorian Chant in 6th century Rome and finishing up with the Stars and Stripes Forever March in 19th century America. The orchestra and choir were thrilled to receive cheers and a standing ovation from an audience that seemed to enjoy the evening as much as we all did. Following the concert we received some wonderful emails including the below - feedback like the below means the world to us...
Thank you so much for a wonderful evening on Saturday... lovely singing and such a lively programme, particularly the 12 days of Christmas... the gentleman sitting next to Joan and me was chortling with delight... as were the party sitting behind us. Well done and many thanks... the Orchestra goes from strength to strength!
Thank you to all that joined us - and from all at the New Forest Orchestra, have a very merry Christmas!
Does your six or seven year old child or grandchild show musical promise? Perhaps a first violin could be a good birthday or Christmas present?
One of our members is offering a quarter sized 'Knight Academy Violin outfit' for sale, including a shoulder rest and case, all in excellent condition, for £25.00 (O.N.O.).
If you are interested please contact Lily on 01425 638296 or 07980424210.
We thoroughly enjoyed our open rehearsal on Saturday -from Tschaikowsky's Nutcracker suite to Christmas medleys and Gould's Pavanne, we certainly covered a wide range of music! A huge thank you to all of the new (and current!) players that joined us for the fun.
If you missed our open rehearsal but are thinking about joining an orchestra, it isn't too late - new players are always welcome to come along to one of our Wednesday evening rehearsals to try us out for size. Please get in touch and we'll look forward to meeting you soon!
On Sunday we had the pleasure of playing at the wonderful Milford on Sea Music and Arts Festival. We've played at Milford Festival many times over the years, drawn back by the upbeat atmosphere, talented performers and friendly crowds. This year was no exception, a similarly brilliant event in a wonderful village and one we are proud to be part of.
With this year marking 50 years since the first moon landing, our programme featured numerous moon-related works, opening with Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (also known as the opening to 2001: Space Odyssey) and including Moon River with a rousing audience sing-along and Rusalka’s Song to the Moon with talented soprano Sally Prince. The second half of the performance featured two orchestral favourites - Mendelssohn’s Hebrides and Smetana’s Vltava.
A slide show playing above the orchestra added to the excitement, with beautiful shots of the moon, song lyrics and images relating to Hebrides and Vltava. The slides are available to download below:
This recent article in the Guardian caught our attention... 'It's never too late to terrify yourself by playing music badly in front of strangers'. Here at the NFO, we couldn't agree more.
Whilst we hope that as a group we manage to play well in front of strangers, it's true that returning to an instrument after a break or taking your playing from private to public can be a daunting prospect, and we have all made mistakes at one time or another. But, as the article says "what’s the point of playing an instrument if no one ever hears you?"
There are so many reasons to join an orchestra - we listed just eight of them in a previous post - and with a supportive group like the New Forest Orchestra you'll be glad you did!
If you’d like to join us we'd love to hear from you, please get in touch and come along to a rehearsal soon!