It’s that time of term, when a procession of children and young people beat a path to my door bearing all kinds of instruments, and in all kinds of mental states, and in every different stage of readiness for their forthcoming music exam.
The cat takes one look and leaves home. She is not partial violins, suspicious of cellos, and nearly concussed herself on the cat flap when she heard a french horn for the first time. The trombone also caused an instant panic. She loathes woodwind of all description. In fact the only tme I was ever bitten by any of my cats was when I ventured to play a harmonica when the cat in question was lying on a cushion behind my head. She instantly tried to sink her fangs into my scalp – luckily she couldn’t get a purchase and I was able to retaliate before any damage was done.
What I love about accompanying is that wonderful moment when you and the soloist become a single musical performer. It is a rare experience, but it can happen with a beginner violinist or a Grade 7 flautist, and anywhere in between. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck all rise, as suddenly we are playing TOGETHER, listening and interacting with each other. Joy!
And in the meantime, you are looking for that magical sentence or idea which will make it possible for the young performer to lift their playing to another level; maybe to understand a tricky rhythm, or find a way to manage a difficult shift, or even just help them to understand what the music is saying, and communicate this with their audience.
This week I discovered how to persuade grade 1 violinists to play Daisy Bell in three-four; calling “THANK YOU” after each dotted minim transformed their time-keeping:
Dai THANK YOU sy THANK YOU Dai THANK YOU sy THANK YOU give me your ans THANK er do THANK YOU PLEASE THANK YOU I’m THANK YOU half THANK YOU cra THANK YOU zy etc etc etc Mad, but it worked.
By the end of term, I will have accompanied about fifteen children, aged between 8 and 16 years old, playing violins, flutes, clarinets, saxophones and violins, anywhere between grade 1 and grade 6. Fingers crossed for all of them!