Something old, something new, something borrowed and something based on the blues.


I submitted my PhD, enjoyed a few hours of conversation during the viva and have a list of amendments to complete but musically what do I do next? During my research I discovered many pieces of music that were written and performed years ago and I was surprised that, despite the intervening years and the developments in my ways of working, I still liked them.

As well as the older works there were also some new ideas that were inspired by events and conversations that needed completing so the last month has been spent editing and uploading music for publication on the Payhip and Sellfy sites. The old is the brass and flute sextet music, the new is the saxophone and wind quintet composition plus the pop-up percussion ensemble idea, Scarborough Fair and Bolero have been borrowed and the brass music has strong roots in the blues.


Scarborough Fair for violin and piano A4 size

US letter format


Simply for Soloist for trumpet and piano A4 size

US letter format

Flugel horn

Withershins Waltz Take 2 for flugel and piano A4 size

US letter format

Tenor Saxophone

Circumference 1 for tenor saxophone and piano A4 size

US letter format 

Alto Saxophone, oboe, Bb clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoon

Circumference 5 for wind quintet A4 size

US letter format 


Only the dead have seen the end of war for flute and piano A4 size

US letter format 

Flute sextet

French Omelette A4 size

US letter format

Percussion quartet

Suitcase of Sounds A4 size

US letter format 

Bolero (Ravel) A4 size

US letter format

Marimba duo

Arrow of Eros A4 size

US letter format


The use of the two sites is for ease of cataloguing and currency with Payhip being priced in £ and all formatted in A4 size while the Sellfy material is priced in $ and formatted for US letter printing. Hope you feel inspired to try some of the music and this growing catalogue of music has a page on Facebook:

© P. R. Birkby 2016

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Divide and communicate


For the first time in many months I have been able to stop ‘doing’ and take time to review my business as a musician. In this line of work there is a lot of doing: performing, rehearsing, composing, preparing, teaching… and taking time to analyse what is being done is often at the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. Considering the what, how and why of all these activities is a necessity for a more productive and organised business and could also reveal where the time for reflection can be found.

The first part of the reflection process was to list all my current jobs and roles and then break these down into the different activities associated with them. One example of this is the percussion and drum teaching I have at various schools, colleges and community centres in term-time. Splitting the work into the constants: travel, lesson duration, syllabus, school calendar… and the variables: preparation of materials, speed of progress, special projects or events… revealed some areas that could be completed using a common approach and others that needed an individual plan.

Another of the elements in the portfolio of musical roles I undertake is composing. I looked at the many works I have written, approximately one thousand pieces of music, and it became clear that these works needed some detailed cataloguing and classifying if I was to effectively promote the music. This is a considerable undertaking and not one to be achieved over a weekend.

The way to organise has started to become clear as I divided the music into a number of categories and sub-categories. When I have a number of related works I then prepare them for publication in the most appropriate format, mostly aiming for a digital download configuration, and use Facebook Pages to compile and promote the music.

Some examples of the half dozen Pages I have created can be found at Recital Music Online  Percussion Music Online and Rhythm Quartets Series

To create and place items on the Pages has been quick and easy for text, images and links to other sites coupled with the ease that Facebook links with other social media makes this an ideal starting point for my composition promotion. I am glad I have been able to take a break from doing and got back to thinking as I will use time more efficiently in the coming months. Just need to find when the next review will take place, at 2, 3, 4 or 6 month intervals?  Some review of the reviewing will be needed next year.

© Peter R. Birkby 2016

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Anniversary music – A Lot of Light Music

Skythrough trees

This month is the second anniversary of Urban Skyline on Bandcamp as LinkedIn reminded me the other day.  I hope to release an album of Light Music on the label in the coming weeks as a celebration of all things melodic  The stimulus behind the compositions was this year’s RPM Challenge ‘ten songs, or 35 minutes of original music, created during the month of February.’  and if you have the desire to write some words there is plenty of time to start planning for National Novel Writing Month in November

The concept of forcing yourself to write, compose, paint, draw and just create for an intense period of time I find very useful.  This year it has allowed me to focus on writing one style of melodic instrumental music and given me the ideas to experiment with combinations of sounds as well as various musical structures.

Unfortunately various other work got in the way for me to submit by the deadline on the 1st March 2016 at 12 noon. Managing your own time is difficult when you are a freelance musician as earning a living is a necessity and accepting employment when it is offered sometimes leaves little time for any self interests.  On the plus side I have completed nine original compositions plus three bonus arrangements with a total duration of the music is over 35 minutes and I am looking forward to producing an album full of melody with some memorable tunes.

Look out for the virtual release of A Lot of Light Music on an internet enabled device near you soon.  © Peter R. Birkby 2016

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Music making should be available for everyone


My week has already started with two days of accompanying a fantastic group of young people from Barnsley at a rehearsal and then in the Manchester Amateur Choral Competition at the Royal Northern College of Music. One hundred voices singing with confidence, discipline and commitment in a purpose built auditorium that showed them off at their best.

I will also be part of[ events during the coming few days organised by North Lincolnshire Music Support Service presenting inspirational, entertaining and hopefully what will turn out to be aspirational experiences for the children of the area. This is only a tiny snapshot of the numerous music related activities that take place all around the country, week in week out, held in all venues from church halls to concert halls, spare rooms to school rooms, coordinated by an assortment of amateurs and professionals with a passion for music.

In the recent climate of needing scientific measurement to prove the worth of any activity a recent study in the UK by Professor Robin Dunbar and team found some very positive effects of music making similar to those achieved by exercise. Another study from Northwestern University in the USA by Nina Kraus and team revealed that active engagement in music making improves ‘neural processing’ which in turn makes for more attentive and engaged students in other subject areas.

On a different measuring scale taking part in making music is the important factor and it is not necessarily being able to perform fast, high, low, loud and soft but it is being able to perform with others. To be able to hear what other musicians are doing and fit with them in a sympathetic, supportive and significant way is often the recipe for a happy group dynamic. This in my opinion should be the main aim for performers and when I listen to groups those that are more aware of each other’s contributions often create a more complete sound.

Involvement in music making, whether that be in a band, orchestra or choir, will reap benefits for the participants and hopefully will be the start of lifetime’s attachment with music. Let us hope that those with the purse strings do not decide to trim this important part of a complete education any more and those in charge of curriculum design recognise the value that music can bring to many different subject areas and include it as a core subject.

Photograph by kind permission of M. Alonefti, © Peter R. Birkby 2016

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Natural recovery

After the intense concentration, writing, thinking, arguing and decision making of the last few months I, quite naturally, managed to attract various germs and bugs into my body when the submission day had passed.  Even in my feverish state of mind I did remember writing a blog about this a few years ago regarding a change of circumstance: holiday, end of a project, moving house… can often lead to the immune system working less efficiently and consequently the body is more susceptible to germs and bugs.

I had planned to publish some of my backlog of works as soon as the thesis was submitted.  The music was not part of the compositions for the doctorate although they would still relate to the general concept of ‘A Twenty-first Century Light Music Composer’.  I am only now starting the process of publication but am happy to say it has started.

The first work to be published is a duet for marimba Arrow of Eros that includes two versions, one for two marimbas, one possible on a 4.3 octave instrument.  A demo recording can be heard at and the music can be downloaded in A4 format from or at US letter size at

The book of poetry and photographs inspired by a year of commuting Travels of a Peripatetic Percussionist is looking good and will be published soon.  Over 50% of any money generated from sales of this download will be donated to Dementia UK to help in the finding ways to treat the condition.

Back to the music and Dozens of Duets are almost ready for publication for bassoon, keyboard percussion, trumpet, clarinet, violin, flute… with these all being the next on the list.  Much of this would be published already but unfortunately life got in the way and, of course, with recovery will come new music.

(C) Peter R. Birkby 2016

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Only a 35 year work anniversary


So Linked In reminded me this week that my independent business had been going for 35 years and thank you for all those that passed a comment or gave the thumbs up. This is one anniversary I had not thought about celebrating although a 40 or 50 year party could be on the cards and I plan to keep going far longer than that.

All those years ago I published three collections of music, the first works in a catalogue that now contains over 300 books/collections/tutors/ensembles/suites…, and the standard of the product has changed from a stapled assembly of A3 photocopies to a card covered/wire bound printed book to an illustrated and only downloadable PDF.

My pricing policy has changed according to the manufacture with the initial products being near cost before I introduced a more structured process for the more substantially manufactured items and more recently back to a more reasonable price range now that the manufacturing costs are no longer part of the reckoning although distribution is still a factor in the final price. I have had a number of comments about how cheap some of the pricing is and in general I am happy to produce a product that will sell x number of copies over y years and will cover all the costs as well as allow me to invest z in the future.

I try and create music that can be performed by many people in different groups and hopefully at times in different combination. My belief is that the music will be used by a number of performers and with a bit of good fortune help grow a musician or two along the way.

So what happened to the works from 35 years ago? Ten Xylophone Solos with piano accompaniment is still going strong, Little Suite covered its costs and what I thought was the most exciting of the three, The North Yorkshire Suite, hardly did anything. Probably too much of a limited audience at the Scarborough Spa and surrounding Wolds for that one although I did include it in the Three Suites Collection published a few years ago.

What is more exciting is what is coming next: Dozens of Duets will appear on-line soon for clarinets, bassoons, unpitched percussion, trumpets, pitched percussion, horns, violins, oboes, violin and cello,… These duets start very simply during the first few dozens before progressing to a more challenging standard and are written for student with student. After years of not quite being able to find the right music for marimba I think I now have and Arrow of Eros, an electric baroque influenced composition, is available in both two players/one instrument and two players/two instruments format.

Suitcase of sounds will be available this month for percussion quartet, all the instruments used fit into cabin sized luggage, and other publications are nearing completion with music and poetry and images.  A new collection of Traditional Tunes arrangements for percussion soloist with piano accompaniments are now available from Southern Percussion and there are others I have missed but I’m sure my social media will let you know as soon as things happen.

Happy new music and @prbpnews is my Twitter address, is the website and is my Facebook page for Percussion Music Online.

© Peter R. Birkby 2016

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Long time no blog


Hello again, for my regular readers I apologise for neglecting you during the past few months, and I hope the New Year is a good year for you. The first few weeks of my New Year, and the last few months of the previous one, have been spent in completing the work for a PhD and I am glad to say it was all submitted by the due date.

Thousands of words and the scores to over one and a half hours of musical compositions later it has all gone to be reviewed and assessed and I am now free of thesis thoughts and I can turn my attentions to other things. Not that I have been solely focussed on the research during my years of part-time study, I had to work and earn as well, and being pulled in different directions has sometimes meant difficult choices due to the irreconcilable requirements of the research, work and life balance.

I can understand why many postgraduate students do not complete their courses with the rate of between 40 to 50% dropout being cited for the USA over many years. This is a revealing statistic with many funding themselves but choosing not to complete and forgo the possible return on their investment. The demands of research are numerous with full immersion in the subject and lifestyle of a postgraduate researcher being one key aspect that many who had left felt could have helped them complete according to one Vitae discussion roundup

Along the way I have found some very good resources: pat thomson, @ThomsonPat on twitter or, posts some excellent information as well as interesting retweets being a prime example and do not forget to talk to your colleagues, current and past, as they often have information or can facilitate an introduction to a good source.

New music to write and publish now as well as edit the most appropriate works for digital distribution and get back into a work routine. I have enjoyed some aspects of the research and it has taught me, or made me realise, how to evaluate myself but would I embark on such a journey again? Full-time with funding: þ yes but part-time while working ý no, there are just too many conflicting demands on limited time.

Evaluation done and now on to editing Traditional Tunes – a collection of eight arrangements featuring timpani, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone or xylophone with piano accompaniments – available from Southern Percussion ( soon, I still very much have a passion for music.

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