Waveney Valley Orchestral Workshop Weekend
Friday 31 Oct - Sunday 2 Nov 2014

...repeat - how many times? - count - concentrate - how many bars? - no, not that sort of bar - but I am thirsty though - what’s the time? - Only 3a.m. - just can’t get it out of my head.

Nightmare – a bit like that howling gale that blew during the concert across those bleak marshes. Chilling……

Just a couple of lasting impressions of a great Workshop, held at Archbishop Sancroft High School, Harleston from 30th October to 2nd November 2014.

Not sure about the ‘shop’, but ‘work’ we all did.

Three days of harmony, in more ways than one, culminating, on the Sunday evening, with a concert. A concert playing music few of us would ever have otherwise had the opportunity of tackling and, I believe, we made a pretty good attempt at it.

Much credit must go to our conductor, Ian Hytch, whose clarity of beat and ability to bring in on cue those wayward of us who had lost count.

Ian had obviously done his homework on Sibelius' Symphony No.5 and even more work on his own exciting new piece Norfolk Scenic Overture, whose world premier we were privileged to perform.

The Sibelius was hard work. Not because it was boring, far from it. A wonderful piece of music to listen to and satisfying to make a good fist of playing it. Looking around the orchestra I have never noticed so many lips moving with the slight nod that accompanies: twelve-two-three-four, thirteen-two-three-four...

If you are not familiar with this Symphony, find an opportunity and listen and when you get to the last movement you will, hopefully, appreciate my opening statement. There is so much to this Symphony that bears listening to again and again and with a recording you can just wallow in it.

But no such possibilities with Ian's overture, which is over. One performance so far and I for one want to hear it again because it, too, has much to wallow in. However, playing within an orchestra is not the best way to appreciate the music.

Inspired by a suggestion by Sheri, our timpanist, the overture starts with a bang but doesn’t end with a whimper. As a ‘thank you’, Ian has dedicated the piece to Sheri and written a substantial part for her to impress us with, and she didn’t disappoint.

At times the music chilled us, using a vast array of percussion to evoke Ian’s vision of his adopted county. From sunrise to sunset, the latter a new experience to one formerly living in the Lake District.

There are few compositions that utilise a wind machine and that we had that facility was quite remarkable. Not only did it generate realistic sounds from breeze to gale, but it also made a wind which was felt in the auditorium up to 10 metres away. Fortunately it did not reflect the actual temperature of the marshland wind in winter. Having said that, the music itself sent the occasional shiver down the spine.

I do hope this gets another airing in the not too distant future, it deserves to.

The third work we played as a full orchestra was Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, which if you tuned in late, could be mistaken for the 1812 Overture but with no cannons (or canons).

What we did have was Frankie bursting forth on his tuba with the French National Anthem. Giving a new meaning to ‘musical chairs’, each time you looked up he was in a different seat playing maybe a trombone, trumpet or horn and finally, yes, a hosepipe. He was strictly a member of the brass section which excluded the horns who often, as here, form part of the woodwind department.

In the concert the major works were interspersed with pieces by the sections.The brass provided an entertaining interlude of music and comedy. Their finale comprised a clever hosepipe duet which, had he not been deaf, would have had Beethoven turning in his grave.

The massed woodwind forces played a quintet arrangement of a Mozart Divertimento. The strings performed Holst’s St Paul's Suite and, in case anyone had dropped off, the percussionists mounted the stage accompanied by Margery and their battery of drums etc. to perform a march with many variations.

All these contributions were of top quality for a bunch of amateurs and enjoyable to listen to when not playing.

So that was the concert, the end result of the Workshop, which  began on the Friday morning with the inevitable coffee and tea which flowed freely during the 3 days, together with an unending supply of biscuits. Thanks are due to all on the refreshments rota. In fact, everyone happily mucked in with washing up, mopping up, furniture moving etc, such was the camaraderie that persisted throughout.

The two days leading up to the concert saw us spending time with full orchestral rehearsal, sectional rehearsal, or tutorials with our specialist instrumental tutors all of which were useful in their own way. Areas within the school were available for each group to practice without disturbance, and things were more or less kept to a strict timetable.

It was a concentrated few days of playing, far more that most would be used to, and there were many ’phews’ as players came up for air towards the end of a day. But we all survived and most would come again.

Not so for all instruments. John’s piccolo decided it wouldn’t pick a low note let alone a high one but he luckily found a spare that used to belong to a founder member of the Pulham Orchestra, the late Pat Rawlence.

Then there was the clarinettist who was so sharp that she had the presence of mind to blame an elastic band. I thought that was stretching it a bit.

Ian kindly said afterwards we were, "a joy to conduct". I can say the feeling is mutual and I for one hope he will conduct the 2016 Workshop.

And finally a huge "Thank you!" to Margery whose planning and organisational skills were obvious and much appreciated by all.

She never stops and is the model of efficiency and put in so much effort to make the Workshop the success which it most certainly was.

David Evans-Jones