International Dawn Chorus Day

Good morning and for those that decided to have a late one, good day.

Sunday May 3rd 2015 or International Dawn Chorus Day inspired me to include an excerpt from a suite for percussion quartet, Sweet Whistling, on my YouTube channel

For years I have listened closely to bird song and have used some of their techniques in my own work. Not the pitches or themes, although Sweet Whistling uses a few, but the way that there are repeated but subtly altered motifs during the course of many of the calls.

In The Point Of No Return (for timpani soloist) I chose to use a motif that is repetitive yet never repeats itself during the course of the composition.


This is the theme which I consciously worked at during the music to be very recognisable and the main structural element of the work but never repetitive in a cut and paste fashion. When I listen to bird song there are many examples of this concept being developed by the bird during the course of the call.


The percussion group on the film is the Mixed Metals percussion ensemble performing two movements from Sweet Whistling sheet music available from A pdf of the music to The Point Of No Return is available to download at

Information about International Dawn Chorus Day can be found at their website and there is a free pdf from the BBC with some general information

© Peter R. Birkby 2015

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Garage clearance

Solo_Recycle Rather than get a man and a van or invite one of the many waste management service providers to send a quote I thought something more creative for the jumble in the garage. The boxes, plates, jars, tubes, planks, sports equipment, metal sheets, car parts, plastic tubs and buckets (all in different states of repair) sounded quite interesting as I sorted them out.

Listening to the junk inspired different ideas in my mind and I started to organise objects into groups of sounds. The four main collections were paper and cardboard, odd plates and glasses, plastic in various shapes and sizes and metal items. These sets subsequently became the instruments for separate movements in the composition Solo Recycle.

In the music the sounds are not used to represent existing percussion instruments, the rhythms are written to suit the material, although percussion performance techniques are used to create the different timbres that can be drawn from the junk. As well as striking the objects with hands and feet a variety of beaters were chosen from the garage shelves including nails, bolts, chisels, knitting needles and table tennis bats. One of the main differences in the contents of my garage from those of many others were the boxes of old drum stands and pedals I came across, some were just about able to be used during the performance.

The recording of the performance was completed with two main microphone configurations. One was placing a stereo pair at the “sweet spot” in the room (found after careful listening to the sounds around the space) and the other was a close microphone arrangement with each group of instruments having their own dedicated set of microphones.

The version I have released at is the multi-microphone set up. I chose this version because the sounds from some of the junk placed towards the back of the stage was getting lost in the heavy curtains that surrounded the area.

Solo Recycle Recording

The five track EP of Solo Recycle is now available to buy at the Urban Skyline Bandcamp site and, for those percussionists that would like to create their own interpretation, the sheet music is available at at a very reasonable price (find it under the green recycling logo) but not on the Sellfy download site due to the quality of the .pdf available at the present time.

I hope you enjoy the music and can find your own ways to put those not to often looked at but have sentimental value items to some creative use.

© Peter R. Birkby 2015

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Online yet still so much offline


If I was to believe the majority of posts on my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds then online is everything. Full of strategies to use including how to form your tribe, the next ‘new’ approach for more customer interaction, more software to measure the effectiveness of… When I think as a business I am bombarded by these online messages but when I am a customer do I rely solely online? No, never.

There are so many stages of interaction to go through before the most important element in any relationship, the trust, is established. When I can see, then touch, play with and test something physical then I can quickly decide if it is what I require but online I only have images and descriptions to assist my choices. This advertising is created and written for the greatest effect and there may be endorsements from others at best or just a thumbs up at worst. How is the trust developed in this purely film environment when I have been brought up to watch, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge described, with a willing suspension of disbelief?

So why should I put my business online? For music publishing it means very little investment as the create -> copyright -> publish -> earn process has no manufacture, distribution and/or shipping stages. The purchasing process includes the download and the customer may print the material or may keep it in digital form on the hard drive or both, it is their choice. As a publisher who has spent years experimenting with different paper, card and binding systems to produce a quality product this loss of any control in how the physical product might be produced has been difficult to come to terms with.

The Ofcom Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014 shows growth in use and online activities from all demographic groups compared with the year before. Is this mainly for information or entertainment or will it be shopping? According to the Centre for Retail Research “E-commerce is [still] the fastest growing retail market in Europe” so I have set up my online presence and will keep you informed of the progress.

 Groove_Jogger_Page_01         Point Of NoR_Cover

 The first two items on the virtual shelves are a collection of over 100 groove styles from around the world with basic drum pattern and bass lines Groove Jogger for drums and bass and a solo recital work for four pedal timpani The Point Of No Return. Both available from my Sellfy store

I would welcome any comments about this new enterprise although I cannot see the worth of the thumbs up yet.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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I like to compose standing up


During the past month I have been working on a couple of commissions for percussion ensemble. One brief was for five players using a limited number of instruments with an idea of the performance experience of each percussionist specified.

I made some sketches on manuscript paper and wrote down some key words and phrases that would remind me of the concepts I was going to use and then left it for a while. I often do this and when I return to the ideas and they still excite me then I know that the music will be what I intended.

Feeling confident with the material that I am arranging usually means I can work reasonably quickly, normally it takes one hour to complete one minute of music, and I enjoy the process. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your work and I am happy to have found a vocation that allows me to do this.

When I am scoring, arranging or orchestrating I like to walk around. To some this may seem an odd concept when accurately placing small blobs, sticks, curved lines and the odd bit of text on lined paper. This is the first score, the handwritten one, and not the typeset version that most people expect in these days of desktop publishing software for computer. The standing and walking helps my creativity to flow, sitting down is for the more mundane typesetting and score preparation activities.


I hand-write the score because I find the ideas flow on to the paper. The process from consciousness to pencil to manuscript is quick and precise and is not stifled by the restrictions the software places on the creative path. I have tried playing the music into the computer but then had to spend too much time editing the half completed result so paper for me every time.

When the handwritten version is finished I will either type it up on the computer or hand-write the score and parts. Most professional performing colleagues I know prefer the handwritten version as it is easier to follow when the copyist writes the parts in a way that they find the most appealing and accessible to read and perform. This look can be achieved using computer software but it is very time consuming editing bar by bar, line by line and individual part by part.


The photographs are stages in the creation of the work 5:45 for percussion quintet. I hope to hear the performance in a few months time somewhere in deepest Lancashire.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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Alternative funding strategies

Money tree

It is not that many years ago that a youth organisation, recognised throughout the world for winning two Golden Diplomas for outstanding singing and the Open Popular Choral Music category at the World Choir games, would have been supported by a music service who’s main funding would have been from the local authority (public) purse. The kudos of such awards would have been promoted and marketed nationally showing the significant educational and social experience the participants regularly enjoyed (over 200 rehearse during term time) as well as highlighting the excellent standards achieved and the progressive policy that supported the project.

That was in the past, getting more distant by the day, and the reality for music organisations these days is a precarious one. Speaking with many musical directors and teachers throughout the country there seems to be a decline in the numbers taking part in the larger ensembles (orchestras and wind bands) and the encouragement of wider opportunities and/or first access class participation sessions does not frequently progress students to continuing their musical studies on an individual basis. Placard making and organising protests against the withdrawal of funding seem to be some other extra curricula activities for music groups if the number of petitions on is anything to go by.

The choir that were so successful at the World Choir Games last year were the 2014 Open Popular Choral Music winners Barnsley Youth Choir. This year they have been invited to take a group of singers to the European Choir Games in the German city of Magdeburg. That means another extra fundraising effort to hit the target of £30,000 required for the choir to be part of this choral festival.

The fundraising began in earnest a few days ago when many of the choir members took part in a Sponsored Sing-a-thon. Non-stop singing for over 12 hours through the night which can be seen and heard on their Facebook site. Donate at


Along with sponsorships and donations, which are always welcome no matter what time of year, the choir will soon be holding a gala dinner and auction and are hoping for donations of prizes (experiential and physical) from businesses to help with their efforts. Are there any businesses out there that need a theme for this year’s corporate and social responsibility scheme? If so the choir are a very worthy cause.

Fundraising through a ‘Sponsor a child scheme’ is also planned this year and the individual recipients of the sponsorship will wear the sponsors name on their shirts throughout the games in Germany. For much more information about helping the choir achieve their goals and raising aspiration for many more singers please visit

If the choir were a PLC they would be a market leader and exceeding their targets every year, especially for quality and commitment, and all this organised and managed by volunteers.

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More online views

Pinterest instagram

How to keep up with the number of social media platforms?  I have no idea which is trending so the best thing to do is ask customers and students.  Most replied that they used Instagram and Pinterest with mobile users also liking Snapchat.

I have an Instagram account now to share the images that present themselves from time to time on my travels and I have started two Pinterest boards.  One for my publishing business ( and one with enterprise and entrepreneur links, especially those with a social element, which is another of my main interests.

I hope you get time to give them a quick view and share some pins

Two out of three is a reasonable start.

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Songs for the future


Last week the schools had a half term in most areas of England and pupils and teachers will (hopefully) be getting themselves ready for a start back on Monday. In the week before the break I was part of a morning session devoted to composition and lyric writing at the launch of a songwriting competition for schools in Rotherham.

The concept of the competition is ambitious but I am confident it is achievable in the time and the eventual performance(s) will be showcased before the summer holiday. The plan is for pupils in every school in the Borough to work on songs and submit the best one to the competition in the week before Easter. The songs will be judged and the winning entries will be arranged, orchestrated and produced ready for the summer term (my main job in the process).

The complete versions of the winning songs will be sent to all the schools for their choirs to rehearse and put together as a video and possibly performed live at a community sing event. For examples of how the final results could look see the Lincolnshire Big Sing Virtual Choir or the song What If on video produced for the Commonwealth Games

Each year there are a number of songwriting competition initiatives, many with specific events and themes as their focus. Some examples are a song for the Rugby World Cup in Leicestershire or Music for Peace and Development as part of the Commonwealth Community Choir competition or the Amnesty International UK young songwriter awards. There are also more general competitions like the Teenstar and Future Music songwriting/performance competitions.

My thoughts about the value of competitions in music are mixed. Composition competitions often include directions to write for a particular group of instruments and for a specific duration (almost ‘to a brief’) and one of the most important skills to master – finishing a complete version of the work by the deadline (with edits, dynamics, phrasing, articulations, performance descriptions…) gives finality to the undertaking.

The performance and/or talent competitions where the competitors sing songs that were defined by known singers seem to have little musical worth but are geared towards creating a certain type of celebrity status for the participants. As such they are directed by the principles of entertainment rather than those regarding music.

This competition is based on judging the song through the combination of words and music. This may tell a story, be an anthem, create a mood or feeling… An original song created by the youth of Rotherham for the youth of Rotherham. If the enthusiasm of the music staff at the launch session is any indication of how the project will run and what could be achieved we should get a sack full of entries in a few weeks time. Good luck to everyone taking part and I hope there are clouds of creativity circling over Rotherham in the weeks to come.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

For further information regarding the competition please get in touch with me by email or contact the Rotherham Music Hub direct through their website!contact/cut5

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