Last week was our first rehearsal for 2021, and the first in 11 months where we could play together as a real orchestra. Masked up, checked in and socially-distanced, we got down to do the magical business of music-making, together again.
First up was an orchestration of the “Tetris Theme”, and just like the the computer game it got faster – and harder – on each repeat. Then arrangements of pieces from our “Composer of the Season” Sebelius’ Karelia Suite. After the break, and a welcome catch-up with friends, was our first non-virtual play of K Travers Eira’s Alun Key Supplied. Commissioned by Squawkestra in 2020 during Covid-19 lockdown and first rehearsed in online “Zoom” rehearsals it was a fitting conclusion to our return to in-person rehearsals.
Tonight is our first In-Person rehearsal since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we couldn’t be more excited!
Of course it won’t be quite the same as pre-pandemic rehearsals. Our Northcote venue isn’t currently available for our use, so we have moved to Fleming Park Hall at 102 Victoria Street Brunswick. There are a range of DHS regulations that we must follow including venue QR check-in, mask wearing and social distancing. Full details are available in our Covid-19 Safe Plan, available on the Members page. We expect that the rules and conditions will continue to change and evolve over time, so will appreciate your assistance and flexibility as we work towards a “Covid Normal” Squawkestra.
With a new venue and a new year, we are ready to Re-Unite!
We are delighted to see Melbourne’s COVID-19 case numbers shrink to zero, and are enjoying the increased freedoms that the relaxation of lockdown restrictions bring. We now have the opportunity to play together again in small groups in private residences.
However the continuing constraints including total numbers gathering, density & proximity restrictions and in particular very tight limits on the number of wind & brass players means that we will continue with virtual “zoom” rehearsals for our final rehearsals of 2020. It’s not the same as playing in-person, and we still hit the odd technical hitch (plus the perennial “You’re on mute!”) but it is fun music-making all the same!
Our 2020 AGM will be held in the break of our online Zoom rehearsal on 29 October.
Presented will be last year’s AGM minutes, the Treasurer’s, President’s and Musical Director’s report. These will also be available in our google docs folder, link to be sent in our regular Squawkestra Update email.
If there is any other business from members please let one of the committee know so it can be added to the agenda.
Please consider nominations (for yourself or others) for President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and a minimum of four committee members as all positions will be declared vacant. If you have always wanted to contribute your energy and ideas to Squawkestra we’d love to have you involved.
Buoyed with the words of encouragement from Zoe Knighton in her recording masterclass, Squawkestra members have been tackling the challenge of recording with enthusiasm.
Working with the new, unfamiliar, and sometimes bewildering interface for virtual, collaborative music making that is BandLab, we are learning.
Learning how to add, record and save tracks for each of our instruments to a shared Squawkestra project. Learning to play alone with a click track rather than with our squawky mates next to us. Learning the best time to record to avoid the neighbour’s barking dog or the tuneful, but unwelcome, blackbird singing outside the window. And above all, learning how to screw up the courage to listen to the playback of your recording!
We still have lots to learn, and indeed as Zoe warned us, it’s frustrating at first! But we are progressing and can’t wait to hear a full Squawkestra sound again, thanks to the perseverance of Squawkestra members and the magic of technology.
Our Spring concert season is called “Keeping a Record”, and what better way to start than a masterclass on recording by Zoe Knighton, cellist and founding member of Flinders Quartet? Flinders Quartet’s 20th Anniversary Season has been severely disrupted due to COVID-19 lockdowns, but it has not stopped their playing together, with a pivot to virtual ensemble work using recordings as a rehearsal tool. Zoe was generous to share her experiences, tips and tricks with us in our latest rehearsal to encourage us to use recording to create an ensemble sound and “Rip the Bandaid Off Recording”.
With latency making it impossible to play “live” together over the internet, layering recordings of each instrument in a tool such as BandLab allows us to recapture the complete sound of the whole group. But to make it a success, care must be taken with the following:
Tuning – use an electronic tuner to tune (Squawkestra tunes to an A at 440). Switch the tuner to sounding a drone (or for string instruments play another open string) whilst playing scales to help train the ear. Listen for the “beating” of the notes when not in tune, and be aware how the same note will need the slightest shift when playing against different intervals to make it sound right to the ear. (Zoe suggested Howard Goodall Big Bangs Equal Temperament for more info)
Rhythm – recording often necessitates playing to a click track, so practise by playing with (and listening to!) a metronome, the immovable and annoying extra member of the ensemble. To get a physical sense of the beat, tap alternating feet as if marching to steady the beat. Use words or a phrase that match with a tricky rhythm to get a sense of it, and for an entry that is off the beat, focus on the note that is on the beat. As in childhood skipping, moving with the beat before entry, rather than a static start, will assist.
Recording can be compared to a photograph – capturing a moment in time, and if done regularly, will track improvement over time. Just like a quick look in the mirror before going out, recording & playing back allows a check to make sure all is where it should be. The hardest step is the first time – and first take. Once you get beyond that, the rest is easy!
Recording tools can be as simple as a smart phone, using the voice memo app. Watch the wave forms for maximum sound, and if you’re “peaking” (too loud for the recording) move the phone or microphone further away. For louder instruments consider putting it behind you. Listen back with earphones for the best sound. Set a number of takes, (say 3) and after recording 3 times, pick the best one – that’s the baseline for the next practise.
Squawkestra will be using BandLab to build an ensemble sound, with each member recording their part / laying their track down, and making it available for other members to enjoy playing with each other.
Zoe encouraged us not to be discouraged by the inevitable initial technical frustrations, get in early by not leaving it to the deadline, overcome our “First-take-itis”, and just get into it!
‘My study’s function has expanded in this COVID-19 world to include Squawkestra rehearsal space, mask-sewing facility and working from home office. I’m grateful to have such a place to maintain social connections, make music and continue working but it’s the escape of my daily walk that allows me to spend the rest of the day there. Seeing the wattle bloom on the banks of the Yarra, noticing the emerging blossoms in neighbours’ gardens and hearing the currawongs and magpies carolling or the lorikeets’ tuneless screeches re-energises me for another day in my study’. (Katherine Ramsay)
Last rehearsal we were very lucky to have guest conductor Mark Shiell lead us for our zoom rehearsal.
Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” was the focus of the night, and Mark first introduced it to us with a short video presentation describing the inspiration (Tchaikovsky’s trip to Rome in 1880) and comparing and contrasting it with excerpts from Mikhail Glinka’s “Spanish Fantasias”, the piece it was modelled on.
Then it was into rehearsing. We practised sections, watching Mark’s conducting and playing along with a recording of our arrangement. With special attention paid to identifying the sections where watching the conductor is a must, tips for the tricky transition from Andante to Allegro, addition of accents and the exhortation of “Don’t worry about soft!” our knowledge and understanding of Capriccio Italien was greatly enhanced.
After our break and members catch-up, Mark shared with us his recent experiences of online rehearsing with Orchestra Geelong and Percy Grainger Youth Orchestra. He described techniques use to engage and extend both orchestras including using video introductions such as he had prepared for us, master classes and “listening lounges” where members present pieces they had prepared. We demonstrated our own version with Mike, our newest clarinetist, rising to our Soloist of the Week “Tchaikovsky Challenge”. Mark also suggested exercises for us to improve our sense of rhythm and encouraged us to unleash our joy of music with heart and experimentation. We finished with a discussion of ensemble playing as “not just one way traffic” from the conductor, rather communication across the orchestra using multiple sound and visual cues, and suggested YouTube clips for examples of conducting styles and conductors.
Thank you Mark, for an instructive and thought-provoking rehearsal.
Our first online season was given the title, “Build you Sanctuary”. Recently we asked orchestra members to reveal the sanctuary that has kept members busy on music and engaged with each other.
“Here’s part of my den”.
“This is a map of my neighbourhood which is my sanctuary for the next six weeks. I can go to all places within the pink circle on my bike if I can get there and back within an hour. It should be possible! I intend to know it a lot better by mid September”.
“Corona virus changed the way our orchestra got to meet and interact. We went from meeting in person, to meeting through Zoom. While Zoom’s audio features for an orchestra are not astounding, it is better than nothing. I think everyone’s experience depends on the quality of their computers and internet connection. I understand how it could get very frustrating.
I really appreciate the efforts of our Conductor, Katrina O’Brien, and the Committee Members for keeping this going. Our Zoom Orchestra meetings help me to continue to improve my understanding of music, keep me motivated to practice, and I enjoy seeing the members of our group. I am relieved to see that they are safe and well.
When we have our Zoom Orchestra Meetings, I build my Sanctuary our office. I set up my music stand and turn on the computer. Some practices, I dim the lights and string up Lights for a change of atmosphere. Though, this photo only shows a regular night”.
“Slippers-check! Heater on-check! Sheet Music -Check! Hot cup of tea-Check! Cuddles from my kids as they go to bed on the other side of the wall-Check! It’s time to load up the Zoom meeting for our fortnightly rehearsal.
Multi-tasking, multi-platform, multi-screen, multi-tab. I feel like I am pressing buttons on the console of a spacecraft rather than conducting an orchestra. None-the less, I still get the same rush that a teaching conductor gets when navigating my way through a complex tunnel of sound, trying to make sense of it for myself and for everyone else. By the end of the rehearsal, we have all learned something new about how to listen. We are playing our instrument among supportive peers who encourage us and keep us inspired.
We have learned to embrace the glitch and love the lag (hmmm…. well almost). Zoom gives us a new excuse on which to blame our late entries and wrong notes it also reminds us that we have no excuse to give up. Each fortnightly rehearsal not only gives us an opportunity to play our instruments and get better at our craft, it is an opportunity to take time to appreciate everything that we have. My sanctuary keeps me busy, and connected to my community”.
Last rehearsal was the launch of our Winter Season, with the exciting experience of our first play-through of a new work written for us by composer in residence, K Travers Eira. Travers, a composer, performer and Squawkestra viola player, has composed “Alun key supplied”, a modular piece for variable orchestra.
In a truely collaborative experience, first we heard from Travers about the inspiration and approach for the piece. Then as we played and explored, we asked about timings, markings and intent. Travers heard from us including possible bassoon fingerings, preferred clef for the cello, suggestions for additional rehearsal marks and requests to highlight favourite passages.
Travers will use the feedback collected in rehearsal along with suggestions and ideas submitted online to further refine the piece for next rehearsal. We look forward to playing the results of this work!