What musicians get up to in lockdown, part 1

What diverse and interesting people we musicians are. Hobbled and restrained by lockdown, stopped from playing together, there seems to be no end of things we have turned our hands to.

The Meon Valley Orchestra’s bass clarinettist John Elder grew tired of learning for the sake of learning by Zoom. “I kept up my weekly clarinet lessons on Zoom but I got interested in Jazz. I also recorded harmonising multi-tracks of myself playing Grundman’s Caprice for Clarinets”.

“I’m a keen walker too and I wore out three pairs of trainers covering nearly 2,000 miles over the period,” says John.  An enthusiastic astronomer, John has also taken some amazing photographs of nebulae in the night sky.

“My real salvation has been working part-time in a brewery,” explains John. “I also enrolled for the General Certificate of Brewing and I’m studying for the exam which I will sit in May”, he adds.

MVO flautist, Jaqueline Cope, says that she disciplined herself to practice for an hour every day, extending her ability by tackling works by French composers like Fauré, Poulenc, Saint-Saëns and Meunier.

“During the pandemic I also finished writing a book entitled “Drifting Away”, says Jaqueline. “It narrates my epic, seven-year voyage on an old Nicholson yacht across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and the South Pacific to far flung-islands like Tonga, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and the Marquesas. It’s now on sale via Amazon for £5.99 for the Kindle or it’s available as a paperback,” she states.

Havant Symphony Orchestra’s percussionist Sarah Woods has been busy too. She’s been playing more piano, accompanying her Baritone-singing husband and uploading material on YouTube.

“During Advent, with my husband, Kevin we uploaded a carol every day. We’ve also provided pre-recorded music for online worship at our church,” explains Sarah.

Lockdown has not deterred Carla Goodyear, the leader of the HSO’s second violins and an accomplished pianist. “I’ve had the luxury of playing chamber music with friends from all over Europe twice a week using Jamulus, which is free from the latency problems of Zoom or Skype. The group has included various string combinations, oboes and even harpsichord”, she enthuses.

“I’m a former school teacher, so I’ve given my granddaughter Maths lessons. I’ve practised daily Yoga and Pilates, been hiking, gardening and growing Tromboncino courgettes and pumpkins. I’ve also been brushing up my Dutch, the first language of my mother,” relates Carla.

“Having supposedly retired but working one day per week working as a consultant at Queen Alexandra Hospital, I was asked to increase my hours,” says MVO baritone sax player Penny Jordan.  “Now working four days per week I’ve taken on the leadership of the non-Covid department specialising in breast cancer.”

“I’ve been doing Skype lessons with my teacher Ric Woods. He’s also organised sax quartets on Zoom.

“Ric uses software to mix the two sopranos and alto with me on bari.  It’s great fun.” she confides.

Former Royal Marines bandsman and musical director of the Portsmouth Light Orchestra, Ed McDermott, can’t wait to get back to conducting again. “I’ve been practicing my flute for two and a half hours per day and revising music that I haven’t seen for ages. I’m looking forward to getting to grips with new music” he says.

Ed is also a valued member of the Meon Valley Orchestra.

Saxophonist, founder member of the MVO and former GP, Annabel Armstrong is now busy doing anti-Covid vaccinations. Even so, she has kept up playing on her second instrument, the violin.

“Laura Riley, who lives next door, has been giving me lessons. I’ve got to about Grade 4 so I feel that definite progress has been made,” Annabel says.

Initially well-motivated, Lorna Allery, an MVO violinist, lost the impetus and got bored with playing the same things over without anything to work towards.

“Fortunately, because the piano is my first instrument, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of going back to old pieces and working on them,” she says. “I also recorded a violin part for my church which, when added to other parts and singers for Sunday Service, produced lots of favourable comments,” adds Lorna. “I also knitted Teddy nurses for the NHS and jumpers for the grandchildren,” she says proudly.

Alan Fitch, a violinist from the Charity Symphony Orchestra, continues to do computer work from home but he still found time to build a portable pipe organ. He bought it in kit form from the Early Music Shop in 2014.

“I shied away from starting such a complicated Medieval instrument. Its proper name is a portative organ and it’s got leather bellows. I finally plucked up courage in 2020 to build it. I just did it bit by bit during my lunch hours. I assembled a knee harp from a kit as well,” he says.

Another CSO violinist, Mary Hyde, was out on a limb when the school at which she taught closed. “I decided to become semi-retired and got another post as a teaching assistant at a primary school,” she explains.  “I was also given responsibility for a special needs pupil. I’m really enjoying it and I still find time to play with other musicians at safe distances in my garden,” says Mary.

My own lockdown story is rather different. After months of purposeful, daily violin practice I found my driving force ebbing away. Struggling with repetitive, hard graft etudes and scales by Sevcvik and Hrimaly gave me no pleasure at all. My sixth position playing on the G-string sounded more like Banshee wailing than actual music. I found myself putting off my practice periods till later in the day.

Something had to be done. So I bought a book of Kayser’s intermediate and progressive studies which I remembered playing as a teenager sixty six years ago. Coupled with playing old favourite etudes like those of Kreutzer, Wohlfahrt and Mazas, that did the trick. I also discovered material by Jakob Dont; challenging, but not too much so. Hopefully, I’m now back on track.

Ending on a completely different note, during lockdown I got hooked on woodwork on YouTube. From my little, newly-created, joiner’s shop in my house, all manner of useful items are emerging, like garden seats, display shelving for the kitchen, upholstered footstools, storage boxes with dovetail joints, music stands for desks, wooden mallets, frame saws and so forth. I love it and it keeps me busy but it’s still not as good as ensemble playing.

Stuart Reed in his workshop

Read Part  2.

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