As a member of Nevis Ensemble, I am able to see first-hand the fruition of the vision music for everyone, everywhere, and I feel so lucky that I can be a part of this mission. Over the last year, I have found that playing in concerts with Nevis helps me focus on what is really important about being a musician. I think less about if my reed is a little dry or hard and more about why I chose to be a musician in the first place – to spread the joy of music to those who might not be able to, or might not have considered going to the concert hall to see an orchestra.
Whenever we drive up to our next performance venue, I can always feel the excitement of everyone coming off the bus as we know that the audience will not be expecting just how fun and energetic a concert they are about to experience. Our repertoire is wide-ranging and covers everything from new commissions and works by living composers, to funky Scottish ceilidh arrangements and traditional music, via both well-known and more unusual classical works – with a little bit of ABBA, Toto, and Proclaimers thrown in for good measure. Each concert is programmed differently by members of the orchestra, with a lot of thought given to the venue and audience, and it’s great to be able to show off the versatility of the orchestra.
Everyone in Nevis is so helpful, and if someone sees a member struggling in whatever way, they will always help. For instance, I play clarinet and it takes a while to set up. If we are in a hurry to begin a concert, someone with their instrument already put together will most definitely come and set up my music stand for me. During longer rehearsal periods, everyone cooks, serves food, and washes up together, and tours with Nevis always create a sense of community within the orchestra as well as with the audience.
One of the most amazing experiences of this for me so far was during the January Burns Tour when we performed in HM Prison Edinburgh. In between pieces from the orchestra, some of the men came up to read Burns poems and it truly felt like we were all creating an art experience for everyone to enjoy. After that gig, I think all the members of Nevis could tell that they had just been a part of something really special.
I believe orchestras can get audiences up and dancing just as much as any rock or pop artist can. The energy that is created with the blend of winds, strings, percussion, and brass is so unique, and since many of our audiences are standing instead of sitting, the toe-tappers in concert halls can actually give into the urge and dance! On one of the coldest days in December, we were playing at Social Bite’s Sleep in the Park in Aberdeen. With everyone trying to keep warm, dancing is the perfect option! KT Tunstall, Amy Macdonald and Eddi Reader also did a set at this concert, and while they got large crowds to come and listen, we had just as many excited people cheering and clapping along.
After the performance, the orchestra slept outside in the park along with a few thousand other people, helping to raise awareness and funds to support projects aiming to end homelessness in Scotland. Whilst we definitely needed a strong, hot coffee or two the next morning, it was a great way for us to get involved. We have also been to the beautiful Social Bite Village in Edinburgh twice to perform there (with the full orchestra squeezed into the living room!), so it’s nice to also see what people’s fundraising efforts end up producing as well.
My favourite part about playing music, whether it is classical, contemporary, or pop, is how it can tap into real human emotion. We were playing at Glasgow Night Shelter, which provides food and shelter for homeless asylum seekers 365 days a year. Generally, the people who stay there have been refused asylum status by the UK Home Office, and are going through the appeal process. This means that they cannot access any public funds, so other homeless services are often unable to help, even if they want to, so the shelter provides a really vital service.
When we were performing there, a young man from Syria who was there listening got very emotional after we performed Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. He explained in front of the whole orchestra very simply that he had been very stressed the past week and that our performance had just made him feel so much better. Getting to be so connected with our audience members is really unique and wonderful. Knowing that I helped make someone feel less stressed because of my clarinet playing also makes all the stresses of being a young professional musician disappear for a moment. Whenever I get home from a Nevis tour I am always wishing I could just get up the next day and do it all again.