My March Music


A musical, mini symphony and a percussion soundscape.

March 2017 sees the culmination of months of composing, revising and scoring for: beginner orchestra Stereo Sinfonietta, percussion group The onset of rain and for a community Pioneer – The Rotherham Musical rather than a reference to left – right, left – right – left… based compositions I have created in the past. The journey from concept to realisation of the musical has been years, the percussion work was prepared in a few months and in the case of the orchestral music it was completed in less than a week.

Each one of the compositions has had diverse aims and the writing processes have been varied. The main focus of the final realisations has been to allow the performers to excel no matter what experience they had on the instrument. This approach is in some cases quite restrictive and resolving the complications that arrive from using this method is all part of the process of composing for specific groups of performers.

Stereo Sinfonietta had the first performance on Wednesday 15th March at the North Lincolnshire Music Service’s Play Day in the Bath’s Hall, Scunthorpe. The Play Day is an annual event for any pupil/student in the borough that is at grade 1 and above standard to attend and be part of an orchestra. There were approximately 175 musicians at the event plus the Music Service staff and thank you to everyone who rehearsed and performed the music. The full score and parts are available as a download with more information at

The onset of rain has its first performance tonight as part of the annual concert given by the music department at the Winterton Academy. The ensemble performing the work is made up of five drummers who have been playing for a few years and five that have only been having lessons since September (2016). Good luck to everyone involved and enjoy. The music for this work is now available to download from


Pioneer – The Rotherham Musical has performances booked for Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th March in Magna Science Discovery Centre. This is a renovated steel works that is a most appropriate venue for the story about a town that has had iron and steel at its heart for centuries. The music has been partly written by school pupils and I have completed the other parts to make the musical complete. To hear some examples of the music the overture is available online at

The performers are a mix of actors and school pupils and the Facebook page, with action shots from some of the rehearsals, shows how creative the pupils are Tickets can be ordered through (registration required first before finding the Pioneer ticket booking page).

If these compositions can inspire the participants to cultivate their musical and/or dramatic aspirations I would regard the works as successful and I hope that this has been achieved during a hectic March.

© P. R. Birkby 2017

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The composing of Rotherham’s Pioneers the musical


In my previous post I posed the question ‘how do you get young composers to create music for themselves that relates to their experiences?’ This was my main concern when visiting schools in Rotherham and working with the pupils to create ideas for the musical.

I used two main approaches during the project: one was to compose for scenes in the show relating to place and/or period, for example a railway station or the steelworks during the second world war, and the other was to use the lyrics that had been written by Karen Mulcahey. At the start of the project Karen and I had discussed whether the young composers would be obliged to use the scripted lyrics or whether they could analyse the lyrics and create their own song with a similar sentiment. We chose the latter yet during the project the pupils were happy to work with the lyrics and only occasionally requested little edits to allow for a better flow to the music.

During my school visits I was rarely allowed to work with any pupils that were taking exams that year. It seemed acceptable for Years 3, 4 and 5 in junior schools and Years 9, 10 and 12 in senior schools to take part but I never saw any Year 6 pupils (SATS year) and only saw a few year 11 (GCSE) students during my visits.

The junior schools all engaged with the project with various amounts of enthusiasm and from these pupils came compositions based on the scenes depicting a railway station, bombing raid on steelworks, factories and the sounds of a fair/fete/feast. The pupils were also creative in putting music to lyrics and during sessions often collectively developed full songs and various verse ideas for the different pioneers taken from the script.

Most of the senior schools seemed to be working to a prescribed curriculum and were much less flexible in their approach to the project. If composing a song was not in the syllabus then the only creative time on the project was during my visits. These visits generally lasted for a few hours and the results were a mixture of individual and group compositions. The senior school students were encouraged to compose using instruments and were often restricted in their composition by their performance abilities. In a few of the schools I visited there were some very talented performers, mostly guitarists or vocalists, and these students created some very interesting ideas although they had little concept of how and what they had produced other than it sounded good.

songideas_stbernards I am encouraged by the amount of composition that was created during the visits and would like to continue with the concept in other areas of the country for different music hubs. For the next project I would like the school visits to take place over a shorter period of time with only a few weeks between the introduction/description visit and the collecting of the draft ideas by recording workshops. In this first project there was a half-term holiday in the middle and because of this curriculum topics changed and the composition for the musical got a little lost in the schemes of work.

I am now in the transcription phase and hopefully the demos will be ready just after Christmas for the choreographer and director to take into schools to rehearse for the performance at the end of March. It is a tight schedule but has to be to fit in with the periods of participation before the schools close their doors to visitors and concentrate on many assessments. Will keep you informed of progress and is my composition  and publishing website.

© P.R.Birkby 2016

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Finished week one and now starting week two of visiting junior and senior schools in Rotherham with the aim of inspiring the pupils to compose music for Pioneer the musical, the story about the people, and some places, that make Rotherham special. The script has been written by director and educator Karen Mulcahey and has 57 opportunities for music with my first job being to help the pupils/students to create the music for the musical. They have a couple of months to create, revise and edit their work before I collect it all up and order it into a score ready for rehearsals to start in the New Year. Performances are booked for the 29th and 30th March 2017 in the main auditorium at Magna Science Adventure Centre

It all started with a question I had asked myself many times ‘how do you get young composers to create music for themselves that relates to their experiences?’ This is a different concept for the young musical mind in the education system that is usually (if at all) asked to compose to a set of defined rules or with certain preconditions. The only requirements they have to meet is that the music relates to one or more of the 57 cues from the script. There are no defined styles to work to although if the student composers want to write a period piece the script allows for this as it covers a few thousand years of history as well as being in the present.

This could make for a disjointed series of music and drama sketches and I envisage my role as editor, arranger and possibly composer will give a consistent character to the final work. In the first week I saw over 250 pupils at various schools and recorded over 30 minutes of first thoughts created in a short period of time by individuals and as collaborations. Hope there will be hours to select from when more ideas have been composed in the coming months.

The overarching concept I had for the musical was as a project to inspire creativity and then present these ideas at a high standard which would help encourage the composers to carry on writing. The project has grown with the addition of drama and dance to have the potential of being a celebratory spectacle with a cast of hundreds. It is a credit to all at Rotherham Music that they have supported the project from concept to fruition and now there is the small matter of pulling all the elements together to make the show a success.

© P.R.Birkby 2016

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Present and past, new and old, now and then.


How to celebrate 37 years, and counting, of composing and publishing music? This is the question I have been pondering for a number of weeks and then everything became clear as I was editing some new compositions. The idea is simply a BOGO, BOGOF or to some BOGOHO approach and to fully explain the acronyms: BOGO and BOGOF are buy one get one free and BOGOHO is buy one get one half off.

The result of this concept is Percussion Now and Then. The plan is to produce a specially curated collection of music for percussion that couples brand new works with ones from the extensive prbp back catalogue. Each pair of works are chosen to be at a similar standard, have some similar instrumentation and are ordered with the capability of being performed as one work or as two individual works to fit your programming requirements.

There are now approaching five hundred works for percussion in the prbp catalogue with many of these are in collections such as Festive Music, Ten Xylophone Solos or Dance Suite No.3 to name a few.   The new works I am writing have a link to my music from decades gone by in that concepts and problems I experimented with then will have shaped and informed my current methods and practices of composing. I hope the ideas and obstacles I find now will enlighten me in the future as well.

My first offer in the collection is a pairing of the brand new Pencil Panorama with a work from Ten Quartets, my first book of percussion ensembles, Drum Parade both for percussion quartet. Both works feature the timpani and to match the resources of the two works a little more closely I have edited the timpani part of the Drum Parade and added an extra drum.

The product can be viewed at in an A4 format. As with many of my recent publications the music has been prepared with the option for onscreen use as well as printing.

The second offering in the collection will be two more quartets both inspired by rail journeys and available in the coming weeks with the third being two pieces for 12 percussionists of mixed abilities.

Thank you to everyone that took the time to comment on and like the anniversary and I have started planning for the 40th anniversary already. TBC, TBD and/or TBA in a future post.

© Peter R. Birkby 2016

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Part-time PhD and amendments

Bowed cymbal

The main writing has been done over a six-year period.  The aural examination of the evidence is complete and there seems to be an inevitable stage for the new Doctor to then be required to complete some more paragraphs that further explain, make the examples clearer, include elements discussed in the…

Life has been on hold for over seven years as any ‘spare’ time was taken up with trying to get to the heart of the problem and where is this extra time to come from now?  I must admit I was exhausted once the thesis had been submitted but there was no relief as it was  impossible to take time off at such a busy time of the year. I stopped writing words, infrequent blogs are the proof, and started composing although that was difficult with rearranging and editing being my way back to music.

Most of the new works were discussed in the Something old, something new, something borrowed and something based on the blues blog and I am still editing and rearranging now with these four new additions to the catalogue.

Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas for drum soloist with percussion ensembles (8 players in total). Full score and parts now published and available to order from [advanced standard]

Timpani Tunes with piano accompaniments in £ in $ [elementary/beginner standard]

French Omelette for trombone quartet in £ [advanced standard]

Rhythm Quartets 6 with Dot in £ in $ [elementary/beginner standard]

I have also been revising the blogs and for the percussionist and/or any composers/arrangers reading don’t forget the resource of the A to Z of Percussion featured in a series of blogs last year.





E, F and G       

H, I, J, K and L

M, N, O, P and Q

R and S           

T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z

Will soon have submitted the amended thesis and then can I relax please? Probably not, music is a vocation not a job and is always with me.

© P. R. Birkby 2016

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Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas now published

Castle Hill 360

For Percussion Ensembles

Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas for drum kit (set) and two percussion ensembles is now published and the complete set of full score and parts is now available to order from the Home page at

I experimented with a download version of the music for ease of distribution, and consequently a much lower price, but the complexities of the concept meant creating a full score with many options would be too costly, in time and resources, for the customer. As I have all the resources to manufacture the books ordering a physical copy will be much more satisfactory, even though there is a wait for the postal service, as it will be a better and more lasting product when it arrives through the mail. The score is a fully bound A3 size book and the eight part books are bound A4 size.

The concept for the complete work is that two ensembles perform fixed sections of music (Vistas) one after the other (there are a few that have some overlap). The ensemble of drum kit and tuned percussion has 18 Vistas, titled 1 to 18, and the ensemble of unpitched instruments has 19 Vistas named A to S. Each ensemble can start with any Vista and then continue in a linear fashion to an end point (which can be pre-determined or decided during the performance). As there is no defined start or end point the performance can continue in a loop, all music supplied in the score and parts, until an end is reached.

Starting points – if all the Vistas are to be performed a pre-determined starting point can be decided by the conductor/director, audience participation or chance – picking a number and letter out of a hat, key-pad voting, show of hands, texting, tweeting… At the first performance which was organised out in the community at a local bar and restaurant and the audience used whiteboard and pen or text to choose the starting points of Vista 11 followed by Vista J.

End point – the performance can be of any duration, fixed or undefined, with any amount of time being possible. As with the starting points the end point can be pre-determined or left to the discretion of the conductor/director during the performance or the audience could decide. Approximate (or suggested) durations for each Vista are included on the contents page to assist with the performance choices and the whole work, with no repeated material, lasts approximately one hour.

Instrumentation – the numbered Vistas are performed by a percussion quintet that features the drum kit (set) with marimba, tambourine, vibraphone, tubular bells (chimes), glockenspiel (bells), timpani (4 pedals), triangle, bell tree, finger cymbals, Mark tree, and shaker. The lettered Vistas are performed by a percussion trio using a mixture of 3 tambourines, high and low metal sounds (not cymbals), high and low wood sounds, high and low drum sounds, snare drum Mexican bean, pop gun, bass drum, 2 wood blocks, 2 temple blocks, claves, 2 suspended cymbals, 2 triangles, 3 sandpaper blocks, bongos, hand drum, ride cymbal, hi hat, china cymbal, crash cymbal, splash cymbal, large crash cymbal, clash cymbals, brake drum, surdo, castanets, tom tom, congas, thunder (metal) sheet, 3 brass prayer bowls, Indian bell, brass rod, bullroarer and 6 cowbells.

Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas was composed so that it can be performed almost anywhere, no power or other extras needed, and I hope to hear of how different versions of the work are received in various environments. Some of the music is freely available to listen to at my Bandcamp site

© P. R. Birkby 2016



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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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