Yep, I did it. Referenced a Beatles lyric. Not so keen to project a creative-alternative image after all apparently …
But it has been a while, just over a month actually I found when I went and checked the date of my last post. Which is not how one gets and keeps an online visibility, I am assured.
And it has been busy, and mostly because of doing a ton of music. There seems to be a trend recently of late-in-the-day seriously stretching challenges, either risen to with unexpectedly successful results or causing a comprehensive stoppage.
The function string quartet idea is back dead in the water again – after losing two members for diametrically opposite reasons on the eve of starting to get promo material together and not having the time, energy or emotional resilience to immediately start trying to build another, better-functioning lineup. I think there are various reasons for the failure of this bid. One is the surprising paucity of nearby musicians; various tensions over travel, rehearsal space and expenses mean the idea would function a lot better with everyone roughly between London and Birmingham. In practice, almost everyone I could find was either in one or other of those two, or a student splitting their time, or a couple of people well out to the east. There are obvious problems with being only within travelling distance of some of your bandmates for half of the year, besides the fluidity of most students’ lives; I also got twice burnt on recent graduate cellists who seemed fairly stably committed until they both picked up full-time playing jobs far away (one overseas) and disappeared.
One of those, incidentally, said he had to take up the job offer as the only way he could keep his current cello was to repay £18,000 (if I remember rightly) over the following six months. (I’m trying not to think about that being significantly more than my desk job pays in a year now I’m part-time.) This must presumably be the sort of thing that ‘proper’ classical musicians with conservatoire training, terrifying technique and a relentless drive to do music and nothing else do – my violin is worth about £400, viola maybe a grand at most (hard to estimate for complex historical reasons), and both have always belonged to me outright. Granted, I don’t play recitals or concerti, and would probably want somewhat better kit to do so, but still there’s something about buying on credit I like less the less money I have.
Anyway, other problems with quartet formation: function playing is a lot of musicians’ bread and butter, but standards, desires and boundaries vary hugely. Many people (including me) will be put off by the idea of weekly rehearsals for a function group – I understand the need to have very polished promo, but in general one rehearsal per gig seems perfectly adequate even with a fair bit of changing repertoire over. Others will feel they need it to really nail the parts and fit them together (generally the ones who don’t seem to be learning the parts at home in advance as requested!) But conversely there are people for whom a rehearsal before every gig is an unjustifiable expense and waste of time. Evidently you can’t have too much of that spectrum in the same group; they will just pull apart, as pretty much happened here with cellist #3 and violin 2 who would have rather played viola. In effect, then, it’s not enough to rely on people not biting off things they can’t chew; it’s necessary to audition or at least request recorded demos, and to consider the serious possibility that someone is too good to try and keep as a permanent member, as well as too bad.
Further, I think experience as a freelance / dep / one-off player had led me to underestimate the need for an ongoing group to really gel personally. You can do a run-through and a couple of hours of performance with someone without getting on with them or even really caring whether you do or not, provided you can gel musically. If all the music is printed it should be even easier. But when you have to correspond, match diaries, discuss ideas, negotiate, then the situation can be different. You need to get on, and preferably want fairly similar things (at least on a run a business and make an income versus have a quiet life level!). The perpetually stressed 20-something freelancer who decided he had to have a smartphone (yes, that’s me) may really struggle with the nearly a generation older colleague who gets a steady income from teaching and might not reply to straightforward yes-or-no emails for a couple of days or even remember if she has replied to them. Equally, the player who seems more interested in pushing forward his own arrangements and even compositions, of dubious suitability for the context, than settling on a well balanced and appropriate demo track list, is a problem to handle diplomatically in a group but not particularly as a hired hand.
So personality is important as well. And if you have to be that much more selective on various fronts, then you need a large pool to draw from unless you get very lucky with who you happen to know. Which pulls back to the question of density of musicians. Is it worth considering starting a group based in London, even though I’d need to travel in at £12 per trip minimum (probably more like 16 to 17 with a Tube fare on top of coach from Oxford)? These are the sort of guesstimating exercises that have put me off renewing the effort.
Together with the presence of quite a lot of work and, on paper, pay (most of it awaiting transfer / me paying in cheques / arrival / something), lately. But that had better be written about another time, since many short posts are better than fewer long ones according to the aforementioned web gurus, and this already counts as a long post for digital native attention spans apparently (having just topped 1 000 words). See you a bit sooner this time …