It’s not about me…


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a sentiment that is becoming lost in a world that celebrates the superficial, the new fad and the mediocre.  A world that promotes celebrities that have achieved very little but have the look of the moment and only a snapshot of life to reveal.

This was brought into sharp focus for me this week by the honesty of Brian Blessed in his interview with Piers Morgan (ITV Piers Morgan’s Life Stories) and an article I read in the latest MI Pro magazine (http://www.mi-pro.co.uk) by Tim Slater in the Last Word column.

Are courses and qualifications promising too much in their titles and promotion with a view to tempt the students interested in an easy way into a profession?  Have we lost sight of what are the most important aspects of becoming a professional?  Working with others in a musical, visual or theatrical environment which I still regard as the most productive and exciting way of creating something new, something with life?  What Tim Slater was writing about was a qualification that gives the title of ‘Professional Musician’ after three years of study, something I started to learn about and acquire the status of during the years after I left college as I worked my apprenticeship in many bands and orchestras in concert halls, village halls, clubs, theatres and studios.

Education can give the opportunity to master many skills (often with the safety of failure being a learning experience) but in business (and music is a business), failure is often the “never again” for many musicians and how can this outcome be replicated in an educational situation that is geared to showing achievement?  Only when a performer has proved reliability and a consistency in approach to the music and his colleagues over a number of years will there be the possibility of achieving professional status.  There is no certificate or diploma for this honour, only the acceptance by colleagues that you are one of them as you have earned the respect of your peers.

In the interview on ITV Brian Blessed showed great humility, quite opposite from the persona that is regularly reported.  He has an infectious enthusiasm but this is balanced with respect for both people and nature, especially Mount Everest, with little regard for his own feelings.  His family, friends and colleagues described him as eccentric and mad during the course of the program but by my analysis he is respectful, creative and inquisitive.  One from three is a value that is still considered important but the other two are from a different era and in general, as a society, they have been lost as the norm.

When I orchestrate I continually think about the performer and what they will be performing.  The first thoughts are “are the notes on the instrument and where?”  The “where?” part is very important, on many instruments performing at the extremes (of the instrumental range) can be both difficult to control and tiring for the performer and if that effect is needed then I consider where the performer can have a period of rest or perform in a comfortable, less tiring, range or is there a different instrument that would be more suitable?

The next thought is “are the musical lines interesting?”  This is considered from the performer and also audience/listener point of view.  Sometimes difficult to achieve in certain dance music where repetition is expected but I try and orchestrate with lines that will keep the performer involved in the music and change ensemble textures, often subtly, for the listener’s interest.

These ways of working are based on a respect for the musician(s) that will perform and interpret my compositions and the audience that listens, the interaction between musicians/musicians and audience and the communication of ideas and reactions that this creates.  Sometimes this interaction can get lost in the recording/studio environment but should be in a producer’s thoughts when they are orchestrating/arranging/producing, three names for very similar creative skills.  As a composer it has never been about me, it is about you.

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One Response to It’s not about me…

  1. Hi Pete Very interesting read and i’ve got to say i agree with every word. One of the problems young musicians need to conquer is the me, me, me sydrome. I often find they get hung up on their guitar part or their solo and forget about the fundamentals of whether it is a good piece of music. They quite often disregard the abilities and sensibilities of the musicians around them, refusing to change key so the singer is more comfortable because it ruins their guitar solo. I do believe they should go through this though especially at this age. I am often asked why I let them play this noise, usually alluding to the heavy metal they all seem to champion, my answer is because they want to and because they may never get to do it again once they leave education. You know that unless you are one of the 1% that achieve the dizzy heights then getting stuck playing only the style of music you like is a mistake, especially if you want to earn a living.

    I’ve met Brian Blessed a couple of times, once when he came to the college as a guest when we launched the HE provision in Performing Arts. He did the usual handshaking, networking duties and then I asked if he would record a sound bite for the college radio, which he did with good grace, despite probably being asked everywhere he went to utter the imortal lines “Gordans Alive”

    Thats my rant over, back to work now and the realities of education

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