Long days; loading and unloading the coach several times a day; gigs in cramped venues; setting up and dismantling a drum kit five or six times a day; outdoor performances in cold and/or windy conditions perhaps with rain threatening; meals at funny times; and performing without the chance to test the acoustic are all in a day’s work for the Nevis Ensemble.
Compound these challenges with boat trips in stormy weather; mountain/hill climbs with instruments on your back; communal sleeping quarters; limited laundry facilities; hours spent on a bus; and the minor disagreements and annoyances that inevitably arise when 45 people spend two weeks living and working together 24/7 and anyone would be forgiven for asking why we do it and, more to the point, why, having done it once the vast majority will be counting down the days until we can do it all again!
For me the reason is simple – the rewards far outweigh any discomforts (even when those discomforts also include a possibly broken nose after an encounter with a very clean glass door!)
Orchestras are often seen as irrelevant in today’s society, or as something only for the rich and privileged who understand classical music. This could not be further from the truth, but many people fail to make the connection that the majority of movie sound tracks feature a full symphony orchestra and not infrequently the very classical music that they dismiss as boring. The King’s Speech, for example features the second movement ( the Allegretto) from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.
Nevis challenges these stereotypical views to engage people from all walks of life by taking the music to where they are, and it is the reactions that this can elicit that makes it so worthwhile. When you see someone who is currently experiencing homelessness moved to tears; an elderly care home resident who rarely engages smiling, singing and clapping along; a school girl with a look of sheer joy, wonderment and awe on her face; a shopper who drops their bag to dance with the conductor; then you know that you have made a difference to that person’s day, week or maybe even longer.
When you experience the genuine support from your fellow musicians, always looking out for each other and uncomplainingly helping out with those small tasks that can make a big difference, respecting each other’s individual views while always looking to gel together to achieve the highest standards of musicianship and performance, then the disagreements are forgotten. It is almost impossible to complete a Nevis tour and not have improved some aspect of your playing or musicianship, or gained experiences that help make you a better person.
When you hear about some of the massive challenges that members of your audience have been faced with that have led them to the lives they are living today, your own hardships often pale into insignificance. You forget that you are tired, or a bit hungry, or full of the cold, and you focus on how you can bring some light and happiness into the lives of everyone around you.
Of course, there are other perks to playing in Nevis too. I would probably never have visited the Outer Hebrides and experienced their beauty, tranquillity and isolation if left to my own devices. I have seen more of Scotland over the past 15 months than I had seen in my entire life up to summer 2018 – and what’s not to like about the amazing landscapes and friendly people?
Touring with Nevis may be intense, challenging, and at times emotional, but it is always fun and rewarding. In setting out to bring music to everyone everywhere Nevis has found a key to enriching the lives of everyone it touches. I am honoured to be a part of this amazing group.