WordPlay 2019: highlights from the season so far!

Music is a language through which we can communicate an unfathomable range of ideas and emotions, and how we understand this communication is forever changing
— Matthew Jones

Our NOFA Ambassador Matthew Jones recently wrote a this article for the World Ensemble about his experiences at the NOFA Spring Course 2019 and the Regional Modulo Meet in Manchester in March 2019. We thought it was so good that we decided to share it here too!

*Brum Brum*... NOFA went to Birmingham!

On Saturday 13 April, young people from across the United Kingdom came together for a weekend of intense music making, as part of the National Orchestra For All's 2018-19 season finale!

This year the players met at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, with tutti rehearsals in the Recital Hall, and the final concert in the spectacular Bradshaw Hall.

In line with NOFA's theme this year, 'WordPlay', the concert started with the young people being encouraged to socialise with each other... using only their instruments! So as the audience took their seats, they witnessed something truly chaotic; a few intense battles, maybe casual conversations about the weather, or perhaps incredibly dramatic confessions of love, one could only guess what these musicians were ranting on about!

The conversations came to an end with something completely unplanned, the introduction of the triangle. Like the Aristocrat gesturing for silence by hitting a wine glass at the dinner table, the hall was brought to a standstill, out of which emerged Georges Bizet's 'Toreador's Song'. This was followed by further exploration of operas: Giuseppe Verdi's 'Anvil Chorus', and the Overture to Richard Wagner's 'Tannhäuser'.

After this, a different realm of lyricism, spoken word, was explored through a new composition entitled 'An Orchestra Of Overheard Conversations'. Put together by composer-in-residence Danyal Dhondy, the composition built upon ideas formed by the NOFA members at this year's Winter Sessions. These ideas were already linked closely with the theme of 'WordPlay' in that the NOFA members, led by workshop leader Fraser Trainer, were given short sentences, from which they derived rhythmic motifs. After adding harmony and experimenting with different textures, the motifs were developed into autonomous snippets of music which acted as the very foundation of this new composition! To add to this, Danyal collaborated with poet Kit Finnie, who added clearly to the spoken word dynamic by speaking alongside the orchestra. Kit also wrote out small, sometimes bizarre, conversation starters on the Orchestra's parts— one that springs to mind is "Did you know that the clarinet was a pregnant witch?"— and encouraged the young people to have conversations with each other during the performance.

The concert was concluded by easily one of NOFA's favourite pieces of the season, a Ghanaian traditional song called 'A Keelie Makoly'. This part of the performance really encompasses a lot of what I think NOFA tried to express throughout the entire concert: the audience did not know what the words to A Keelie Makoly meant (perhaps they didn't even know the words at all!), but they were invited to sing along, and happily obliged. The opera choruses were not sung; all singing was done by the instrumentalists, using their instruments. Words did not dictate the way the instrumentalists spoke to each other when the audience were entering the hall. Music is a language through which we can communicate an unfathomable range of ideas and emotions, and how we understand this communication is forever changing.

Applications for spots on the 2019-20 course have now closed, and NOFA looks forward to welcoming back returning members, as well as welcoming a number of new faces!

Modulo Magic in Manchester!

Separate to the National Orchestra For All, the organisation, Orchestras For All, also runs a 'Modulo' programme across the country, in an attempt to effectively recreate NOFA at a more localised level. On 2nd April, students from five secondary schools across the North West of England came to Manchester to participate in one of these Modulo events, and I came along for the ride!

With the help of tutors from the BBC Philharmonic and volunteers from the Royal Northern College of Music, University of Manchester and the University of Salford, conductor Justin Fung led the young people through a full day of rehearsals, to give them some initial ideas as to what being in a large ensemble includes. The volunteers hovered around different sections of the orchestra, mainly observing which students seemed lost when following the music, or found it difficult to get around their instrument. The ensemble rehearsed arrangements created specifically for mixed ability ensembles at the Modulo sessions, including Aretha Franklin's 'I Say A Little Prayer', Verdi's 'Anvil Chorus', and Henry VIII's 'Pastime with Good Company'.

After the event, Justin (the conductor) tweeted:

"Well done @Orchestras4All North West Modulo orchestra! Thanks for your hard work today. I can't believe that a lot of you have never played in a large orchestra before! Great job! Have a safe trip home. A big thank you to the @BBCPhillharmonic players & @RNCMVoice students supporting us!"

As Justin said, for many of the students at the event, it was their first time playing music in an ensemble before— as it was for me in 2016, when I participated in the same Modulo event— so it was a huge privilege to meet these young people so early in their musical careers. Huge congratulations to everyone involved!