Friday 10 July 2015

P-bones and Stravinsky

Britten Sinfonia and Norfolk Music Hub’s Wider Opportunities Celebration Day 
Wednesday 8 July 2015

“I didn’t like to ask in front of the children but, what on earth is a ‘P-bone’?”  

It is early on a bright, Norfolk Wednesday morning and St Andrew’s hall, rescued some 550 years ago from the destructive orders of Henry VIII, is decked out from stage to wall in a sea of stack-able chairs in the monarch’s favourite crimson. These are carefully and laboriously divided into sections each of which is identified with colourful laminated signs:

“Reserved for violins x 60”
“Cellos x 10 (plus some violas)”
“Clarinets x 68”
“P-bones x 60”

This is Britten Sinfonia’s Wider Opportunities Music Celebration Day fuelled by the unflagging good cheer and excellent organisation (and funding) of the Norfolk Music Hub. It is the lull before the storm as we are expecting 60 ukuleles, 15 flutes and 30 xylophones and miscellaneous brass in staggering numbers to join those already marked out to make up a total of just over 300 primary school children and their teachers. They will join 11 of Britten Sinfonia’s musicians for a celebration of instrumental learning. Today we’ll play, sing, compose and perform together under the creative guidance of workshop leader and composer Fraser Trainer.

Britten Sinfonia’s leader Jackie Shave is mustering her troops before the children arrive. In addition to playing alongside the young musicians, Britten Sinfonia have prepared a special performance, a little taster of where they might one day be if they continue the hard work they’ve been putting in at their instruments. “Remember”, she reminds fellow strings Miranda Dale, Kate Musker and Billy Cole, wind players David Cuthbert and Joy Farrall, brassers Alex Wide, Tom Rainer and Chris Smith, pianist Simon  Lane and percussionist Jeremy Cornes, “make everything big, do what you are doing but even more so. We’re playing for children remember and this should be the most exciting thing they’ve ever heard or seen.”

She might have been describing the whole day which is big and more so! The children arrive, colour co-ordinated armies, musical weaponry in hand, under arm, or casually slung across a shoulder. Positions are jostled for, a ukulele tumbles to the floor and a violin loses a string. Fraser wields a microphone over the cacophony of noodling and hissing “shushes” from vigilant teachers. He begins to sing, a call and then, a breathless moment of sudden quiet before the sweetness and power of 300 young voices raised in melodic response and the day has begun.

The end of project sharing is indeed celebratory, and one of the highlights for everyone is the chance to put down their instruments and perch at the edges of their seats for Britten Sinfonia’s performance. Anyone familiar with the orchestra’s concerts will know that one of the highlights is the compelling physicality of Jackie and her colleagues’ performances. Today is no different and three hundred young faces light up when the first notes of Stravinsky’s Ragtime ring jauntily out through the hall. The final drum beat is met with spontaneous whoops of appreciation and much bouncing in seats. Even the most seasoned of the professionals on stage cannot help but crack a smile at such genuine enthusiasm.

Afterwards the musicians - older and young - cluster in groups to exclaim over new instruments they’ve not seen before, ask questions “how do you make that sound?” or make suggestions “you should play loud all the time”. The relative merits of one instrument’s tone over another’s and Stravinsky’s compositional technique compared to the day’s other creative ventures are discussed in depth. The gaps in ages and experience melt away simply leaving 311 musicians sharing their art.

At the centre of one group, our question is answered: A ‘P-bone’, it is loudly explained, “… is like a trombone, only cooler, way cooler, ‘cos you see, get this right, you can get all different colours! Mine plays the best because it’s blue. The blue ones are the best and I can play really loud! Listen to this …” He waves his instrument enthusiastically, narrowly missing the opportunity to decapitate a classmate. “Nah don’t worry” he says soothingly when we gasp at his willful disregard of the fragility of a musical instrument handled with such enthusiasm, “its plastic, right, so we can’t smash it, see.” He thumps the bell as though greeting an old friend. P-bone – plastic trombone – but clearly here is the next generation of brass player through and through! 

Jen House
Creative Learning Director

Find out more about our Creative Learning team and their work here.

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