• Thomas Plater

New Beginnings, Nevis Ensemble, Post #1


So this is my new blog. I've never written a blog before, but I thought it would be a good way to write about my experiences with teaching, performing and general musical life. It may be useful to you, and it may be not- but if you're reading this, and you think there is a topic that you think I might have an insight into that you'd like me to cover, then send me a message. I don't know how often I'll end up writing for the blog, but I hope that it will be about once a week, maybe more. We'll play it by ear.

Puns will be a thing, whether I mean them or not!

This week however, I'd like to tell you about an experience I had last week with the Nevis Ensemble, and some thoughts the aftermath threw up.

The group is a Street Orchestra from Scotland, whose mission is to promote playing music to everyone, everywhere. I ended up getting involved through a similar organisation I work with, and played at very short notice for them on a single day's tour in October (which included going to Edinburgh via Glasgow on a Sleeper train, but that's another story entirely).

This time round however, we were down for the full whack, 5 days worth of rehearsals / travel towards Perth and Aberdeen culminating in the opening of Aberdeen Music Hall, and sleeping outside in Duthie Park, Aberdeen for a night as part of the 'Sleep in the Park' Fundraiser set up by Social Bite (they're a Scottish Homelessness Charity, and you should totally check out the work they do).

The whole tour itself was fantastic, we played to Schools, Homeless Shelters, a Festival, inside Shopping Centres (of which some of the time was spent running away from angry Dundeeian security guards) and plenty of pop-up performances. We came out of the week completely spent in both mind and body, but we brought joy to so many people, who would come up after performances and talk about us and their lives and music. There is absolutely nothing like the feeling of doing a pop up gig inside a tent serving Tea and Coffee to people sleeping out, and having maybe 100/200 people all singing along whilst you play so long security try to get you to stop about 4 different times. (If you're reading this, go and check out @callumbeattieUK too, he's a gentleman, and I had great fun playing with him).

Playing with @CallumBeattieUK in the Impact Village.

Here's the thing, I think it took us all about 2 or 3 days to recover (probably more for our Conductor who proceeded to fly straight out to New Zealand) but I'm not sure the people in the 'high level' classical music world understands the need for these sort of projects. I talk to people in 'high level' musical situations all the time, and whilst I think to them the idea sounds good on paper, they never want to get involved. "There's not enough pay", "I can't possibly play outside", "I have to focus on myself" are many conversations I've had in private with people. In another conversation, a good friend of mine (who was also on the Nevis tour) sent me this via facebook last night:

"A 'friend' of mine said 'if Nevis [Ensemble] would make you physically or mentally unwell, you should seriously reconsider your participation in it"
I just don't understand how some people can't see that what we do makes such a difference and that everything's worth it.

I think the problem comes inherently from the very conservative classical music view "If you're not at 100% all the time, then you're not a good musician". I hope the first reaction of anyone reading this is "wow, that's completely unobtainable", but it doesn't change the fact that in this career one bad performance, or even rehearsal can lose you work, and this puts people off from participating in tours like this, because they know their peers and colleagues will be critical of them behind their backs.

"If you're going to suffer then what's the point."

"Nothing good is ever easy" or so the saying goes, and I can't disagree. Playing on Nevis was difficult, and I have suffered physically from it afterwards, but it is the only way that we're going to be able to get Classical music out into the world, to people who don't have the means, or the want to turn up to the Concert Hall and be part of that world. If Nevis didn't exist the lives of thousands of people last week would be less enriched, and worse off because of it.

Sleeping outside in Aberdeen definitely wasn't easy!

If Classical music doesn't exist outside of the Concert Hall, it will die off as an antiquated art form. Too many young composers (especially at Conservatoires and Universities) are taught in hyper-contemporary styles which have almost no social connection to people, and their music then becomes an academic exercise in location based performance for tiny audiences, who need a certain knowledge base to appreciate it.

The only way in which we will keep Classical music alive, is by getting it out there to the people, and attempt to make it the music of the people, and for that endeavour I believe we should be prepared to sacrifice ourselves in certain ways. So maybe that first rehearsal back isn't as good as you wanted, or you're not as productive for a couple of days, but there will be more days, more rehearsals and more days to practise, the main thing is that we've have increased the longevity of our art form, and brought more happiness to peoples lives.

The wider classical world could serve to be more appreciative, and less quietly critical of such endeavours. It affects all of us positively.

Love these guys! I'm really looking forward to the next one!

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