Well… what a momentous week it’s been! With the news of my appointment as Associate Music Director finally made public, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect briefly on the journey I’ve had so far with the British Paraorchestra, and tell you a little about what my hopes are for the years ahead.
This is an exciting new chapter in a journey that started one sunny morning in May 2011, when I arrived at a church in central London to meet with Charles Hazlewood and three other musicians – Clarence, Baluji and Lyn – for the first time.
After some coffee and small talk, we gathered together to play: with me on clarinet, Clarence on a custom-built instrument called Headspace, Baluji playing sitar and tabla, and Lyn triggering samples and drum loops through her iPad. Instruments at the ready, Charles simply said: ‘Let’s find the mood of the room, shall we?’ No sheet music, no tune, and no planned structure – just four musicians who had met thirty minutes before, with an open invitation to listen and respond to one another.
I’ll confess now that in the moment of silence before we started, I did wonder what on earth the ‘mood’ would sound like… as this was a lineup quite unlike anything I had seen or heard before. But in the hours that followed, a remarkable and beautiful thing – which we now call the British Paraorchestra – was born.
As the four of us whizzed through a gamut of different sound worlds, taking in everything from Indian folk music to techno, I realised immediately the enormous musical potential of Charles’s idea. And since then, the Paraorchestra has grown enormously to include around thirty musicians at full-strength; all of them equally diverse and brilliant as the three I met on that first day in London.
Over the last six years I’ve been blessed with some amazing experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life – playing the Closing Ceremony of London 2012, traveling to the Middle East and Colombia and headlining the Park Stage at Glastonbury with Army of Generals are all things that come to mind.
But I think my personal highlight so far is writing Towards Harmony – a twenty-minute piece specially scored for my friends and colleagues in the Paraorchestra alongside a ‘conventional’ symphony orchestra. Last February, we played it for the second time with the amazing City of Birmingham Orchestra, and for me it perfectly encapsulates our main aim – making music with world-class musicians of all backgrounds, regardless of disability.
My new job as Associate Music Director will allow me to continue composing and playing with the Paraorchestra, as I always have done. But from now on I will have a more formalised role in developing new projects, meeting new potential artistic partners, and recruiting new players for the Paraorchestra. We will be announcing more in due course about how you can audition to join us – and trust me, there are so many exciting projects coming up that I think you’ll want to be involved with…
Between now and Christmas, I will be playing a part in the launching of a major new project at Simple Things Festival in Bristol in October, starting development work on Velocity, an Unlimited Commission in collaboration with Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and choreographer Caroline Bowditch. I’m also excited to start working with Sound and Music Portfolio composers Amble Skuse and Rasmus Zwicki – on their new pieces for a group of Paraorchestra musicians.
So… plenty to be getting on with! I hope you will be able to join us on our sonic adventures in Bristol and beyond – it’s going to be quite a thrill.