It’s been a very busy week. I’m probably going to skip writing about rehearsals, and even so I’m going to have to make you wait for laconically rambling accounts of probably London’s most musical community local, Filthy video shooting that did verge on the filthy, and the slowest tempo I can recall playing in.
For the moment, let me catch up with last Tuesday and Wednesday.
I’ve written already about the arranging process for what its creator David dubbed #shinyday, and won’t go back over the same ground as such. But the rehearsals (both of them) and performance involved both my arranging and playing (viola) fingers in this particular pie.
As probably mentioned or implied before, this was the single biggest body of my independent musical work to be played to date – seven songs, four of them covers I had essentially orchestrated from existing versions, and three originals for which I was responsible for the harmonic and textural structure of the accompaniment as well as its instrumentation. We met to rehearse these (and three others contributed by two other arrangers) with less than 24 hours to go to the performance, which is cutting it fine for making adjustments if anything plays badly in practice that seemed OK in theory!
I think I got off very lightly. One passage of texture got transferred from violin to piano (fortunately, in a number from Wicked and with a pianist, David Harrington, who teaches musical theatre at RWCMD and so had no trouble ad-libbing in the line!). I found a missed accidental in one of my own parts. And one song turned out to be in not quite the key the singer had wanted – which would have been absolutely devastating a generation ago, but a relatively minor inconvenience now: on the Wednesday morning with a run-through still to go: transpose up 4 semitones, print; transpose up 4 semitones, print; repeat until I have a complete set of parts in E to take with me and hand out before we start.
Otherwise I was very happy with the sound of my charts, and rather gratified to find that quite a few things which sounded at risk of being banal or dull in (very crude) computer playback (which I use more to make sure there are no typos than anything else) worked a lot better with real instruments and voices.
Which brings us to the event itself. Slightly misleadingly as it turns out, when I wrote about arranging I commented on adaptations to ‘autism-related auditory hypersensitivity’. That was what was relevant to the brief up until that point, but it turns out to be merely an aspect of what I find is usually called autistic sensory hypersensitivity, and the nuances of that (some counterintuitive to those, like me, without first- or even second-hand experience) were to be crucial to the setup of the evening.
Even in dress code, bright colours were actively encouraged but patterns, stripes, checks or anything ‘busy’ verboten. Similarly at the venue some degree of mood lighting was in but flashing, strobes, disco lights etc. out of scope.
For us musicians, having already got over the general restrictions on volume and tessitura which were mostly dealt with by arrangers (and the decisions about instrumentation made before any of the arrangers started) more than performers as such, the single most striking event-specific variation related to applause. Multiple clashing signals at once is apparently particularly bad, and this more on an acoustic level (where I suppose all signals are overlaid) than with multiple visual signals near to each other but mostly not actually in front of each other. This I say because clapping was very specifically requested to be avoided. Appreciation (of which there was a lot, both for the musical performances and David’s energetic MCing, on a day on which he had already got married!) was expressed instead by flapping one’s hands in the air (mostly around head height, though I suspect this is largely because any higher than that becomes tiring quite quickly!). This was fine for the singers and pianist (the same person for one set, jazz and blues entertainer Cari Laythorpe) on stage, and OK for the rest of us instrumentalists sitting sideways in front of the stage in a sort of undemarcated orchestra pit, since we could see at least some of the audience very easily; it was apparently highly disconcerting for MD / conductor Kizzy Jacombs, who ‘had to turn round to know if the audience liked it or had walked out!’
Critical comment on individual performances would I think be invidious (as well as far too time-consuming for a Monday evening when I need an early night to keep functioning), and singling some out for analysis while ignoring others worse. I would dearly love to list and congratulate all of those involved but am probably not going to manage that either (certainly not with a hyperlink to every name); but for form’s sake, this was certainly an endeavour in which the circumstances were unique for everyone, and some remarkable and, once again, unique music was made under those circumstances. Congratulations all round, and particularly to David Howell for firstly having the idea and secondly managing to make it actually happen! With, I’m sure he would want to add, a lot of help from his friends …