The WiFi Ensemble Challenge

After the successful NZ Concert Band Association Festival ‘campaign’ this year, the WCCB has spent the last few rehearsals having some fun pulling out random pieces of music, including some requests. The Pirates of the Caribbean arrangement was one such request; something I last played as a trombonist with the ‘old’ WCCB that had a god awful saxophone section of old men who refused to listen and learn. If there is one lesson in life, when you grow older, never stop listening to the youth because sometimes they just know better than you (you’d think the tech industry would have made that obvious, but music can be the same). Thankfully those stubborn old white men are all gone now (I swear to never, ever be like them).

…anyway, it was great to hear a band play through that arrangement in one go and not suck at it. Crotchet triplets from the saxes and clarinets: sorted.

Yet I digress; this post is about an exercise that our conductor had us do for the first half of the rehearsal last week.

At the prevous rehearsal he asked us to bring a WiFi capable device for the purpose of a game/exercise as a bit of fun. I just brought my iPhone 5S along. As it transpired, we were to, in our sections, find a piece or some inspiration online, practise up a resulting ensemble piece and then perform it to the rest of the band before the break.

Damn. I didn’t want to go to a band rehearsal and have to think. I had done enough thinking at work and didn’t want to have to subject myself to any more effort for the day (playing clarinet in a band is easy compared to sitting in front of a computer all day making software behave).

So, a bit downcast at the realisation that, as the section lead, I would probably have to direct things on behalf of the clarinets, we went to the practise room and got access to WiFi. At first I thought we could somehow play a pop song from ear; something like Titanium or Stay the Night, but there was just no way. I’m hit at miss at playing by ear and most of my section wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

At this point I think I heard the saxophone section practising Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or something.

The the bass clarinet player mentioned finding music off musescore and then I took a punt and typed in ‘clarinet quartet sheet music’.

We were saved!

The second link was to 8notes.com and the very first entry on the site was In the Hall of the Mountain King. Even better, it was a well written, perfectly legible, perfectly formatted, two page score for 4 clarinets. Exactly what we needed.

At this point, it became apparent that we could only pull this off by having the 5 clarinets and 2 bass clarinets standing around two tablet computers. There was no way my iPhone 5S was going to be legible enough for this performance. Even the two tablets posed a reading dilemma. It turns out the old iPad running safari tries to be clever and hides tabs, so, unlike the Android tablet, we couldn’t have the browser have two easily accessible tabs for each page of the music. With adversity however, came the opportunity for adding a quirk to our performance. On the last note of the first page we added a fermata/pause and held it until each browser could be switched to the second tab/page (very slow on the old iPad).

It got us a few laughs given the nature of the performance. Ultimately it was a successful exercise from our section of which, thankfully, I was able to just stay within my comfort zone of sight reading clarinet music and not having to do anything by ear.

For the record:

  • The trumpets played the Throne Room music from Star Wars along with a MIDI backing track. One of the guys had his laptop with him.
  • The flutes played a pentatonic piece which they pretty much made up; brave of them.
  • The saxes ended up playing off a paper copy of a sax quartet one of the players had on them.
  • The lower brass and bassoon player did Cantaloupe Island.
  • The percussion had made something up (I think).

As our conductor said, this was a bit of fun to get us out of comfort zone and to play just for the sake of making music. Personally I go to band for the comfort zone of just playing music, getting away from the computer and going home again but I can appreciate the sentiment.

It’s definitely an worthwhile exercise for a high school music class, that’s for sure.

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