Sunday, 26 June 2016

Street Orchestra of London - 24 concerts in 4 days! The preparations...

When I auditioned for SOL earlier this year, I knew that I was auditioning for something that was perhaps a little quirky and definitely very exciting, but I really had absolutely no idea at that time just how unique, inspiring, and powerful this project would be!

The Street Orchestra of London has been modelled on an existing Dutch ensemble called the Ricciotti Ensemble, which has been running for many years already. This tour with SOL was the first of its kind in the UK, so it was a new venture for everyone involved. The orchestra aims to break barriers between the players and the audience, to reach new audiences in new locations (and ALL locations!) and to share music with all members of the community.

SOL's slogan reads: Music for everyone, anywhere... I think we definitely proved not only that this concept is a possibility, but also that it is necessary and beyond valuable for everyone involved!

Us players met each other for the first time on Monday afternoon, when it soon became clear that the coming week was going to be pretty damn cool. The other members of SOL had all chosen SOL for the same reason - to share music, which kind of sounds simplistic... but we truly all had this in common! From day 1 it was already so refreshing to meet all of these wonderful musicians, each with their own vibe/style/background, but each with a passion for getting out there in the community, sharing in high quality music-making and having heaps of fun in the process.

Days 1, 2 & 3 were all about rehearsing, getting to know each other and getting to grips with the 23 (or was it 24!?) pieces of repertoire that we would be taking on tour later in the week. We were delving into rep including: Beethoven 7, Bizet's Carmen, works by Donizetti, Puccini, Gabrielli... David Bowie, Gershwin, Piazzolla, Snoop Dog, the theme tune from Ski Sunday - we pretty much dabbled in every genre, which was loads of fun! We also played some new commissions/works by composers Gabriel Prokofiev and Charlotte Harding.. so we had some hefty 9-hour rehearsal days in order to get our fingers and brains in gear, punctuated by truly yummy meals at our hostel, made by our very own tour managers who achieved the impossible - feeding 40 hungry musicians whilst running the whole shebang - pretty incredible! We had plenty of time to get to know one another, as we stayed in a youth hostel near our rehearsal venue, and opposite a lovely pub. The pub owners probs weren't too sure what had hit them on night 1, when a gaggle of thirsty musicians entered their doors, but by the end of the week we'd gotten to know them pretty well!

At the end of Day 3 (our last rehearsal day), we found the perfect opportunity to perform a programme for an audience before heading out on tour. Underneath the Church we'd been using for rehearsals there was a refugee centre, and they were keen for us to go down and share some music there. It was at this point that we discovered how SOL would work in practise. The idea of the orchestra is that we are able to perform ANYWHERE.. and at limited notice, which means carrying as little equipment as possible. The orchestra therefore stands up to perform, apart from us cellos, basses and percussion, so we would sit on boxes which also doubled-up as containers for stands and music. We also had some tech equipment, allowing us to have a microphone for our wonderful singer and for introductions etc. So, as an orchestral team we would carry, set-up and pack-down all of our equipment before, after, and in-between all of our gigs. It was really valuable therefore to have the opportunity to practise this slick operation at the first concert in the refugee centre.

As soon as we began playing in the tiny, cramped space beneath the Church, I felt an incredible excitement for the week ahead, and it really dawned on me just why SOL exists. From the very beginning of the Carmen Overture, a lovely lady in the audience began beaming and dancing in her chair, and did not stop until the music did! This same lady stepped up to conduct the orchestra in a fun rendition of the Wallace and Grommit theme tune, and the look of pure joy on her face was just the best thing. It was a wonderful feeling to be part of a group of musicians who were there purely to share their love of music with anyone who wanted to listen/dance/sing/just be present. Later that evening the weather was sunny and dry, so we popped outside the Church to try out one of our Guerrilla (flashmob style) performances. We began playing to an audience of about 3 people, which very quickly turned into a sizeable gathering of school children, parents, city workers, passers by and even local residents on their balconies/hanging out of their windows. It was a truly exciting taster of the 4 days that followed...

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