Saturday 30 September 2023

One day one photo - 30: Getting out my flute for folk band practice

Rehearsal with South East London Folk band

After an absence of a few months I finally resumed rehearsals with the local folk band, South East London Folk group. 

I go there and play my flute. It's quite a nice change from clarinet playing, and the style of music is also very different. I am relatively new to the flute, as I major in clarinet and learned that a few decades ago. I am only on about grade 3 or 4 at the flute, and I still mess up my embouchure - but going to this group is a great way to improve my flute-playing.

There's a much more laid back atmosphere compared to being in a concert band or orchestra. For a start we don't have a conductor. It's just the band leader, Richard, who himself plays the accordion or guitar and is able to keep track of how we're playing at the same time.

We don't have first flute, second flute etc. I just sit among the "whistles" which is basically anyone playing a wind instrument - so flutes but also tin whistles, other variations on flutes such as the piccolo. The music is not adapted for any particular instrument. The manuscript has not orchestral articulations. It's all just plain concert pitch - which is handy for a flute. However, there are a couple of tunes with notes below middle C, so the flautists adapt by going up an octave, or improvising in other ways. In fact when we learn a new song, Richard, along with Belinda, who also leads the group encourage people to come up with variations and improvisations. 

Richard is a fully trained musician, who knows all the theory, though a number of people in the group can't read music (or dots, as some people call them) and play by ear, which I find quite impressive.

There are others, notably those who play the fiddle (aka the violin) who are classically trained and used to play in orchestras, but have moved across to folk music because it seemed less stuffy and more laid back. We just turn up at the rehearsal room on a Saturday morning, put £7 in the collection box and play - we're just a merry mix of fiddles, cellos, accordions, guitars, bodhrans, and whistles. There's a certain pureness and simplicity about the whole activity. 

The folk tunes originate from different parts of the world, and I must say I do enjoy seeing a different side of music-making from the traditional classical or jazz stuff. I haven't done any concerts with the group yet, but they tend to be at Ceilidhs, garden parties or harvest festivals. The gigs generally involve folks doing some country dancing while we play. We also get the chance to do some of the dances too. Wow, I don't think I've done that since I was about 12 years old! I look forward to getting involved in a concert; I just need to brush up on my Durham Reels.

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