It has been a long and rewarding project with the Lincoln Ukulele Band as part of the 2015-16 Adopt a Composer scheme. I’ve got a lot out of this project, including a Ukulele! I also got far more joy and pride out of the process than I expected. This was because I got to see how members of the band were growing as musicians over an entire year. I hadn’t expected my piece to have such an impact on the band. It took them completely outside their normal comfort zone, requiring them to play separate parts, play as an ensemble, follow a conductor, explore unusual techniques, and to get deep inside the sounds through more attentive listening. It also really brought on their perceptions of rhythm, and ability to count. It was great to see the band go from a point of perhaps feeling the piece was impossible to being able to approach it with great enthusiasm and confidence.
The band really did themselves proud on 7th December 2016, the premiere date of my piece Ukulele Fantasy and their very first solo concert ever! They had put together a really fantastic concert, with history of the Ukulele, music from different periods and genres all the way to modern day and my piece!
The concert day was a one of nerves and excitement. The band was rehearsing well when I arrived and had improved even more since I had last seen them a week or so before. The opening of my piece explores unusual sounds that the Ukulele can make, trying to conjure up the sounds of night time as the sun gradually rises, evoking rustling in the undergrowth and wind chimes. Its builds up to a loud dramatic chord that starts an energetic rhythmic section. This section uses the symbols and sounds I developed with the band over the course of the year.
When the performance of Ukulele Fantasy finally came round I had that familiarly odd feeling that any composer sat in the audience awaiting to listening to their piece experiences. That odd feeling of being nervous yet knowing its completely pointless as its now out of your control. On this day, however, I felt an added anticipation and nerves for the band themselves. I had heard them run through the piece several times earlier in the day which were excellent renditions of the piece and hoped and prayed they would all hold their nerve in performance. The Lincoln Ukulele band did not let me down giving an assured and confident performance. There were a few nervous hiccups but their recovery from these is a tribute to how they have developed as musicians and learnt to cope with mistakes and problems as the music is flowing. I was very proud of the band and my piece and I still am. I am greatly looking forward to hearing BBC Radio 3’s broadcast of my piece on:
Thursday 26 January
9:25pm – Lincoln Ukulele Band / Angela Slater
Do tune in if you can!
After the performance, we all gave a sigh of relief in the interval over a glass of mulled wine. It was lovely to receive positive comments from the audience, many of whom had been really captivated by the opening section and never knew that the Ukulele could achieve such sounds. One audience member, Liz Ashoo, found the piece so interesting they got in touch with the band afterwards and wrote this reflection on the piece and performance:
Starting quietly with creative uses of the instruments themselves, it was as if the natural world of dunes and fen with their grasses and microscopic wildlife was slowly emerging to greet the day. Elements of air, water and fire coalesced. Images of wind and rain grew into storm, reminding the listener of another world beyond that of the concert hall and as the music gathered pace there was a sense of exploding fireworks as if in triumphant praise of nature and her many moods. Then stillness.
Amongst the busy rush of pre-Christmas days, this was an unexpected treat; a time to briefly withdraw from the bustle of the day and focus solely on the images being offered by the music. At a time when repetitive Christmas songs are everywhere, it was utterly refreshing to hear an original, contemporary piece played sensitively and with conviction.
So my Adopt a Composer journey has come to an end, but somehow I don’t think this will be my last project for Ukulele or with the Lincoln Ukulele band! Looking forward to future music making!
The performance of my piece ‘Ukulele Fantasy’ by The Lincoln Ukulele Band is fast approaching. The band have been practising my piece with great dedication and it has been wonderful to hear it transform over the last few months. The last rehearsal was one of great positivity, and it was great to see the band really enjoying the challenge of the music. The band has learnt to cope with complex rhythms and unusual notation, and have developed their ensemble skills, being required to align and overlap multiple parts carefully and to follow a conductor!
It hasn’t been an easy piece for the band to learn, particularly with the rhythmical challenges of the second section. However, the band has taken it in their stride (and good humour!) and I feel that the piece has helped them all to develop as musicians. I have learnt a lot through working with the band, especially in terms of finding innovative ways to communicate my musical intentions to players of all abilities, something that is really important to this project.
After working with the band for just over a year and seeing how they have changed and developed over this time has been wonderful to observe. I feel both the band and I have learnt a lot through this collaborative project. I’m greatly looking forward to the performance of ‘Ukulele Fantasy’ this Wednesday (7th December 2016) . Tickets can be bought on the door and are also available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 07843 714327
My Ukulele playing hasn’t developed much since last time but I have learnt enough to help refine my piece and even join the band, even if only on a few chords, when the band is playing songs.
I have visited them twice recently and I am looking forward to another visit later today. The band have been working hard on the central rhythmic section I have given them, and they are making good progress with the rather tricky rhythms!
Over the last few weeks I have also begun to introduce the band to the beginning of the piece – a soundworld that explores the sounds of the night, with a stillness that begins to rustle building gradually in texture until it bursts out, marking the arrival of the energetic rhythmic section. For this beginning section I have created a number of symbols that the band have been learning to refer to different unusual sounds and techniques on the ukulele. Each bit is loosely timed before moving on the next section. I used lining paper to draw each graphic score part out in large form for the group to learn from together before creating individual parts to learn from.
The first week I went through just part 1 of the graphic score section with the group. This sounded rather unusual without the other parts and was much harder for the group to make the smooth transitions between the sounds
The second week I introduced parts 2 and 3 to the group. When we did this it began to take shape and the group were now understanding the shapes and sounds and how it made sense once all parts were put together. The piece is beginning to come to life and I really feel the band now get what l am trying to achieve here. Though we will definitely need to come up with a different method than me pointing with a broom!
This blog post has been a long time coming as it was put on pause while I have been finishing my PhD. Thankfully that is all handed in now and I feel I can focus on my composition projects whole-heartedly again, which is a wonderful feeling!
In our first meeting The Lincoln Ukulele Band generously gave me a Ukulele not just for the project but as a gift to keep which I am most grateful for! Thank you!
As I am going to be writing for 50 something Ukuleles it only seems right that I try to learn how to play the instrument so it can inform my compositional practice and method.
I’ve self-taught myself to play instruments before such as the clarinet, cello, and even the mandolin when I was younger. Although I have a reasonable knowledge of string instruments the Ukulele seems quite foreign to me due to its unusual tuning. It is tuned using re-entrant tuning – instead of the normal low to high pattern it goes high, low, slightly high, and high again – string G C E A – with the two outer string being a tone apart. This natural close dissonance in the tuning of the instrument is fascinating and is something I will explore compositionally
First workshop with Lincoln Ukulele Band (November 2015)Though this was quite a while ago now I can still remember this very clearly as it was a very stimulating evening with The Lincoln Ukulele Band. This was my first visit where I began to work on some of the sounds that may find their way into the final piece. I met with my mentor David Horne beforehand and showed him some of the symbols I had come up with for different techniques on the Ukulele.
I first took the group through a series of rhythmic and vocal exercises which were great fun and certainly seemed to get everyone relaxed and not being overly self-conscious. The group are very strong singers which was evident when I asked them to sing down a scale independently of each other, the effect was wonderful and therefore I certainly think some aspect of this will be making its way into my piece.
The group are perhaps less confident when it comes to rhythmical challenges but I am aware that this is something Will (the leader of the group) is keen to develop with them. I have therefore written quite a rhythmically challenging section to the piece, which I hope they will enjoy.
I have also made lots of different symbols for unusual techniques and sounds that the Ukulele can make. I was very pleased to see the openness to these unusual sounds the group showed and how effectively they could execute these very new and different styles of playing the Ukulele within a relative short time.
It has been a little while since I’ve seen The Lincoln Ukulele band and I am greatly looking forward to seeing them very soon. I have been in good contact with Will and sent him the challenging rhythmic section of the piece, which he has been gradually introducing to the group. I am going to be visiting them very soon to see how they are getting on and continue to explore some more sounds for the other sections of the piece!
Adopt a Composer 2015, Angela Slater on her collaboration with the Lincoln Ukulele Band
On 26th September I drove to Lincoln to meet the whole of The Lincoln Ukulele Band in their usual rehearsal space and to see and hear them in action. I found the room just as Catherine had said, next to the fish monger section at the back of a large supermarket in a community room.
I was met by a sea of friendly faces all grasping what looked like tiny guitars, which were of course Ukuleles or ‘Ukes’ as I have learnt they are called for short! Having said that there is a surprising amount of variation in the world of Ukuleles with large and small ones, bass ones, and soprano ones – I still have much to learn.
After playing a variety of songs and pieces from their usual repertoire they showed me another that showed off some of their finger picking technique – the song Rasputin – which suddenly took me back to a random memory of GCSE history and the one lyric which has always stuck out to me ‘There was a cat and then it was gone’. Funny memory aside, this song showed me the different types of playing the group is used to normally, some of which I hope to incorporate in my own piece for them.
A little way into the rehearsal Will Dunlop seemed keen to try some of the ideas I discussed at the launch day as potentially unusual ways to play the Ukulele to create interesting textural effects. I briefly insisted that they should just do a normal rehearsal as I was just here to see them in their normal environment, but the group seemed excited to begin to have a go at new things.
So, Will directed them to try some things such as the Z chord – a pitchless percussive chord, Bartok pizz, strumming near the tuning pegs amongst other things. With a bit direction and encouragement, the group created some fantastic sounds. This has certainly made me excited to see what will be possible with this group and I look forward to exploring more new sounds with a group that are open, engaged and excited to explore new possibilities with their instruments.
The Lincoln Ukulele Band are a lovely and enthusiastic group of people who have been very kind to me by giving me a Uke as a gift and life membership to the Ukulele Band. Apparently I will be getting my membership badge next time! I am looking forward to our first official workshop session!
Hello everyone – I am Angela Slater one of the Adopted Composers for this years Adopt Composer Scheme 2015-2016. It was a few weeks ago now that I found out which ensemble I was going to paired with for the year. It was an exciting day and I was glad it had finally come round after months of excitingly knowing I was on the scheme but not what the year would have in store for me – I really didn’t know what to expect!
Before the event began, the composers that had arrived begun gravitate towards each other and it was a good opportunity to finally share the excitement of being involved in such a scheme and talk about the types of composition work we did and projects we had been involved with in the past. As the different ensembles arrived we began to try and read the small labels to work out what ensembles we may be paired with. I remember someone excitedly telling me ‘Theres a Ukulele Band here!’ – I didn’t know quite to make of this at that moment, but do remember thinking ‘I wonder how do you write for a group of Ukuleles?!’.
We were soon taken through to a room with a circle of chairs and expectantly awaited the announcement of each pairing. Two people were paired with their respective ensembles before my name was announced ‘Angela Slater you are paired with The Lincoln Ukulele Band!’, after some clapping it was pointed out who the people were representing the Ukulele Band – Catherine Rey and Will Dunlop – at that point through a giggle, Catherine Rey said ‘Good luck!’ which received a laugh from the room. So I hope I hadn’t looked to worried at the task ahead. I was very surprised at the selection and, of course, a little daunted, but nonetheless excited at hopefully overcoming the challenges of this ensemble to create great music together.
Once the rest of the pairings had been announced we had a chance to meet each other and to introduce ourselves and talk about how the project could go forward. My mind was buzzing with questions: how many people were in the band? What were the musical experience of the players? What type repertoire do they currently play? How many string does a Ukulele have? How is a Ukulele tuned? Does the band have singers and percussion instruments? – and many more questions which we began to get through and will still be working some out in the coming months as it all becomes more clear to me what The Lincoln Ukulele Band are all about.
Even at this early stage I could begin to feel the compositional possibilities of a group of 40–50 strong Ukuleles could offer. I could already feel my brain racing over textural and rhythmic possibilities and how to communicate them in a clear and creative way to a group of mixed abilities, an aspect I am sure I will continue to mull over throughout this project.
Someone asked me towards the end of the day did I feel I had got the short straw with everyone else being paired with relatively traditional ensembles? I thought for a moment and then said ‘No, I’ve got the really interesting one – I’ve got the wildcard!’
With that, I left London on 19th September looking forward to meeting and watching The Lincoln Ukulele Band in a normal rehearsal the next week.