For those who, like me, regularly attend concerts across all musical genres, the government’s roadmap out of lockdown has been a welcome announcement, as we were finally given a timeline as to when live music events would start to come back into our lives.
Now in my second year as President of the Academy’s Students' Union, I can't help but empathise with students across the globe who have missed out on all of the traditions and experiences that come with starting at a conservatoire or university. I especially think of our own students, who have missed some of the on-campus interactions that happen in normal times, including getting to know the wonderful staff and students who make the Academy the place it is.
As someone with a penchant for jazz, musical theatre, vocal harmony and brass band music, among other genres, to say my musical journey so far has been varied would be somewhat of an understatement.
The first lockdown in March 2020 gave us all a chance to think back to a happier time where we were all able to make music together with as many musicians as would fit on the stage. Time and time again, I came back to the largest Academy project in recent years, with Semyon Bychkov conducting over 100 Academy students and alumni in Mahler's Symphony No 2, 'Resurrection'. This recording captures the last 15 minutes of a recording made on one of the hottest days of 2017 (hence the fans), and for me remains unparalleled by any commercial recording because of the sheer emotion conveyed by every single person in the Duke’s Hall. Look out for me and my fellow off-stage horn colleagues as we squeeze on at the very top left of the picture!
The next piece I've chosen comes from a little earlier in my musical development – during my time at Junior Guildhall, where I spent two years giving up every Saturday for what I described to my parents at the time as ‘the best thing ever’.
By far, the highlight of my Saturdays at Junior Guildhall was the brass band led by euphonium player, Musical Director and founder of the Docklands Sinfonia, Spencer Down. It was here that I got my first taste of touring, as our band was booked to play at the prestigious Two Moors Festival in Somerset. The programme we took on (including this piece) was insanely ambitious for young musicians, but we made light work of it and pulled off a fantastic concert.
Peter Graham’s Shine as the Light serves as a real masterpiece in textural writing, with expert precision in the percussion parts (the difference between a good brass band piece and a great brass band piece). I dare you not to smile by the end…
This piece comes in the form of a medley and combines two of my favourite genres – musical theatre and vocal harmony. If you have never heard of Voctave, your ears are in for a real treat. Formed in 2015 by producer and arranger Jamey Ray, Voctave's output has been met with worldwide approbation and over 150 million views on YouTube. Their a cappella arrangements of Disney and musical theatre classics never fail to amaze. I found these arrangements to be so beautiful that, in 2018, I felt compelled to transcribe one to include as part of my Final Recital at the Academy!
Released in October of last year, Voctave's album The Corner of Broadway & Main Street, Vol 2, some of which was recorded remotely, came as a welcome gift as England entered a tiered approach to curbing the spread of the pandemic. Highlights from the album include ‘Remember Me’ from Disney's Coco and ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but for me the stand-out track from this album is the ‘Prince of Egypt Medley’, the story of which was adapted from of the Book of Exodus. It follows the story of Moses, with music by Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz.
Voctave's medley opens with a hauntingly beautiful soprano solo and transitions effortlessly between keys, textures and the various original songs from the film, including ‘Deliver Us’, ‘All I Ever Wanted’, ‘The Plagues’, ‘Through Heaven's Eyes’ and ‘When You Believe’. Lyrically heartbreaking and unmatched in tone, Voctave's typical use of the extremes of range complements the emotion needed to pull off this medley as a high quality, stand-alone vocal piece.
The last piece I wanted to include is something that I most likely wouldn't ever have come into contact with had it not been for my love of jazz, which led me to audition for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) Horn chair – a position I've now held for two years. NYJO's Jazz Orchestra extends the traditional big band set-up to include a horn and a flute chair, as well as an expanded rhythm section and a larger horn section overall.
I've listened to the music of Nikki Iles for larger ensembles and played a handful of them in NYJO, my favourite of which is a tune called Wild Oak.
Nikki dedicates this composition to the late, great Geri Allen – a notable pianist, composer and bandleader who sadly lost her battle with cancer shortly after her 60th birthday in 2017. For me, Wild Oak takes the listener on a real journey – it starts out mysteriously with the first hearing of the melody, which is somewhat disorientating due to clever use of texture and harmony through the opening. Just when we think we know where we are, Nikki takes us on a different path by additional percussion, giving that 'wild' flavour, and leading to piano and sax solos evoking feelings of loneliness and of moving forward respectively. We're eventually brought back to a very chilled feeling, finishing with muted trumpets and flute in an upward figure, which always leaves me wanting more. I urge you to check out Nikki's interview with NYJO, where she explains more about Wild Oak and the inspiration behind it here.