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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Beautiful sounds and never a silence


An orchestra of marimbas (with bass, percussion and a xylophone), handcrafted instruments and cymbal mutes were just some of the highlights for the ears on Sunday 8th February at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The Day of Percussion has now completed 23rd consecutive years and is still going strong.

The day heralds the new percussion year with spring just around the corner and it was good to meet up with colleagues from the RNCM, Southern and JAM Percussion as well as catch up with long standing partner in rhythms Dave Hassell. There was also a very productive meeting of the National Association of Percussion Teachers where members discussed some very good ideas for the committee to set in motion for the coming years. All information will be available at or on the Facebook page

My exhibitor table was placed on a balcony overlooking the doors to the main concert hall and sandwiched between the Matt Nolan Custom and Cymbomute stands. Some wonderful sounding hand made cymbals, gongs, effects and triangles from Matt Nolan offset by the equally effective (and most needed for a practice room or teaching studio) cymbal mutes that allow the drummer to ‘keep the feel’ Two entrepreneurs creating new sounds for the drum and percussion community.

The day was as usual packed with concerts and demonstrations to appeal to the wide range of experiences of the audience and included a rare outing for the Manchester Marimba Orchestra that had been organised by RNCM and Birmingham conservatoire tutor Liz Gilliver. The sound was fantastic as the ensemble of 20 marimbas, a xylophone, string bass and some orchestral percussion performed a repertoire of music seldom heard in this country.

Manchester Marimba Orchestra

Manchester Marimba Orchestra

As for the day, I hope a few more drummers and percussionists will join NAPT after our conversations, I met customers that were only email addresses a few weeks ago and I was commissioned to write some new works. And why never a silence? With all the different stands of instruments on show stretching from the main doors to the furthest balcony of the reception area there was always someone trying something percussive so never a quiet moment.

Percussion music from Peter R. Birkby is available at or email with ideas for commissions.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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The troubles and life of technology


The composing, filming, writing, recording, mixing and publishing (on YouTube at of Travels II (sunset over Yorkshire) took approximately 19 hours due to the availability of hardware and software (on phone and computer). Not that remarkable in these times of software and hardware compatibility (as long as you have well-matched products).

The breakdown of the time spent on each aspect of the work is itemised below. Editing, scoring and articulating exactly what was required took the majority of the time. It is not the devil in the detail but the standard I aspire to for the final product that is so time consuming and so detailed.

Inspiration, observation, collection and analysis

Recording film                                 3 minutes (sat on train)

Recording idea                                1 minute (walking from station)

Recording trains                             2 minutes

Editing recordings                          2 hours 30 minutes

Development and refinement

Scoring for string quintet                4 hours

(string quartet and bass)

Articulations on the score              5 hours (dynamics, phrases, accents, tempos)

Transcribe to percussion quintet 40 minutes

Product development and production

Collecting all elements                             10minutes

Placing film and music in software        25 minutes

Editing in software                                    1 hour 20 minutes

Final mixing                                               20 minutes

Burning to sharing format                       15 minutes

Alternative software version                   50 minutes

Publishing (sharing) and evaluation

Uploading film                                 7 minutes

Blog about it                                     2 hours 40 minutes (evaluation and promotion)

These hours were spread over a ten-day period so there was time for reflection and refinement away from the technology and the music. Time spent just thinking, imagining and visualising the final work. When I started composing and arranging (about 45 years ago) I would never even dreamed of completing such a project, a score on paper was as ambitious as I could be. I also managed to persuade the brass band I performed with, Besses o’th Barn, to play them through as well so I could hear the results.

Media equipment was so heavy and difficult to access and the recording studio was very expensive and only for the professionals in those far off days. Now all the features to create a film or recording are readily available on the mobile phone.

In his article What has happened to young people? on LinkedIn Martin Jones describes the consequences of making everything accessible but explaining very little to the students of today.

Any difficulties these students encounter with software are mainly due to not comprehending the concepts that make it function. In my experience of undergraduate popular music students the performers can communicate to their audience very effectively (they are ‘natural’) but what caused them to study on the degree course was a need to understand the theory behind the music.

The ‘natural’ approach is limited by physical and mental restrictions and at some point there has to be work and application to make the ‘raw natural’ into a natural professional. Research how many gigs Ed Sheeran had performed to perfect his style before he was given a chance.

My music is now going with film, something I dreamed about and now is a reality. In the intervening years I have looked at films and artworks with a critical eye, I have composed hours of music with a critical ear and now I can put them together with confidence. They could still be better so I am still learning and perfecting the art and that is the trouble with technology, there is new software to bend and mould to do my bidding.

© Peter R. Birkby 2015

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First and last – recognising the ISMN

full band cartoon

Cartoon by Andy Pitchforth

 Around 20 years ago I invested in the International Standard Music Numbers or ISMN (for full details please see ). The ISMN is similar to an ISBN for a books but specifically designed for notated music publications. According to the news section on the site the ISMNs are still not universally recognised, Amazon had no idea about them and from my own experience iBooks only asks for an ISBN.

Why did I choose to use them for my publications? It was a recognised way of cataloguing the music that I had published and it meant I had to get my output in order rather than forgetting or mislaying certain titles and editions. By the mid 1990s I had published over 150 pieces, collections, suites, adaptations and arrangements and they needed putting in order.

The first collection in the catalogue is 979 -0 -57007-001-5 (57007 being my unique publisher number) Graded Grooves Volume 1. The first in a series of six volumes of ensemble music for use with GCSE, BTEC and A level students.

The books can be easily adapted to various instrumental combinations, examples are ten keyboards or small band of flute, clarinet, tuba and rhythm section with concert pitch and transposed parts included in every set. Each of the Graded Grooves volumes has parts for three ‘front line’ instruments with part books in C for violin, flute, guitar, oboe, keyboard, tuned percussion or trombone, in Bb for flugel, trumpet, cornet, clarinet, soprano sax, baritone, euphonium or tenor sax. and in Eb for alto sax, tenor horn, baritone sax or Eb bass.

The rhythm section parts are two guitars (single line but not TAB) and and chord part, piano, synthesiser, bass, drum kit and hand percussion. (some vocal cues and ideas are included). Each volume has a section for composition and/or improvisation with given chord symbols and notes on types of improvisation and some arranging techniques.

Volume 1 contains ten original compositions for elementary standard ensemble entitled;- First March, Modal Rock, More & More, Blue, Country Waltz, Cha Cha 1, Drone (Film music), Boss Bass, Rock Blues, Hit Rap with 2 extra chord sheets for improvisation ideas including explanatory notes;- Sequence 1 and Sequence 2.

All compositions were written by myself and the series was edited by Richard Ingham who I found out today is featured in the Fife Jazz Festival on February 7th this year as well as presenting a concert featuring eight new pieces for saxophone to celebrate the bicentenary of Adolphe Sax. The new works are an eclectic mix of contemporary classical, traditional and jazz music and will take place on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 @ 7:30 in The Cardy Net House, Lower Largo, KY8 6BJ.


The most recent ISMN in my catalogue of original music is 979 -0 -57007-236-1 French Omelette for brass quintet which was performed by the Aylesbury Grammar School brass quintet at their Christmas concert. The piece was so well received the group got a booking to play it again at an 80th birthday party this year. Details of this and other brass music is on the home page at

The composer or arranger feels good when the music that has been carefully put together is appreciated by an audience and they as for an encore. Long may it continue.

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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Butlin’s, Maynard and Brass Bands


 Sunset during a drive through Lincolnshire, 17th January 2015

It was off to the Lincolnshire coast last Saturday for a gig with the Maynard Ferguson Legacy Big Band as part of a full weekend of contests and entertainment at the Mineworkers Championships in the Butlin’s Skegness holiday complex. Talking with some of the visitors they described it as a great weekend of music with band contests and different musical interludes to rest the lips of the contesting musicians at other times.

The Maynard Ferguson Legacy Big Band is a British band playing the music that Ferguson recorded and toured in the UK during the 1970s. The music is a fusion of big band jazz, rock, funk and pop that had some commercial success when it was released (try selling that concept to a record company these days). I remember being very interested in his version of MacArthur Park. One of the impressive points was it is long, around 10 minutes, but never seemed to be repetitive. Perhaps it was the changes in groove during the music that injected extra interest and excitement.

So there I was on Saturday playing music that influenced me during my youth to an audience made up of mainly brass players. The brass bands were a major influence during this period of my musical life as well.

What interested me from looking at the music (they were the original parts) were the arrangers, which was their main instrument and how did that reflect in the arrangements: Dale DeVoe (USA Trombone), Alan Downey (UK Trumpet), Adrian Drover (UK Trombone), Pete Jackson (UK Piano), Jerry Johnson (Canada Trombone), Keith Mansfield (UK Saxophone), Jeff Steinberg (USA Piano) and Kenny Wheeler (UK Trumpet). Some groovy, some brassy, some featuring chorale style… just depended which part of the band the arranger came from.

With guest soloist Chad Shoopman taking the parts of Maynard Ferguson and the band enjoying every moment of the music it was bound to be a very special evening. But don’t take it from me, Facebook had a review and photo from Jason Mountford before the gig had even finished.


“phenomenal sound, great players and the awesome Chad Shoopman.”


Chad Shoopman in stereotypical trumpet player pose with Adam Linsley, thanks to Steve Walker for the photograph.

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