An Orchestra On Bikes!

Last month, Nevis Ensemble were delighted to be back on the road as an orchestra again with our first performances in front of live audiences in over a year!

However, unlike the usual scene of 40 musicians piling off a large coach, this time we did things a little differently. Over two days, twenty Nevis Ensemble musicians cycled(!) around Glasgow giving 11 performances to around 650 people and clocking up over 60km of Glasgow’s roads and cycle paths. Music included everything from Joseph Boulogne, Louise Farrenc, Hildegard von Bingen and Florence Anna Maunders, to arrangements of Duncan Chisholm’s fiddle tunes by Aileen Sweeney, Gaelic Waulking songs, and even some Diana Ross.

As we get back on our feet (or on our wheels!), we’re more keen than ever to be as green as possible and make sure we minimise our impact on the environment, but all the while still bringing music to people and communities of Scotland. We did some calculations to work out how much carbon was really used to bring music to each and every one of our audience members. We didn’t think we could ask our double bassist or drummer to cycle with their instruments so we did use one small van, but overall we think it might have been our greenest tour ever.

We calculated that each audience member got to witness live music for approximately 300g CO2 emissions. Well you may be wondering, and how much is that? We worked out that’s less than a single white coffee made with dairy milk. Here’s to more green tours!

Our musicians had a great time travelling some of Glasgow’s cycle paths and discovering what it’s like to be a musician on a bike. Here’s our violist Sagnick Mukherjee:

When I first heard about the plans for a Nevis cycling tour, I was equal parts apprehensive and excited. Even though I was accustomed to cycling short distances in Glasgow, cycling around the city and its outskirts with an orchestra seemed daunting. Nevis tours are high-energy affairs, and the bus rides between concerts usually provide musicians with a welcome opportunity to rest and prepare for the following performance. But the appeal of being back on tour with the ensemble and sharing music with audiences was quick to dispel any fears. Travelling between concert venues on bikes and reducing our carbon emissions was also a great way to follow up on our 100 Days of Green Nevis sustainability campaign, simultaneously keeping us COVID-safe by staying in line with government regulations. 

We began the tour with a short cycle from Glasgow Green to the Barras market for our first concert. The performance was very well received by an energetic and engaged audience of vendors and passers-by – a great start to the tour! The orchestra then made its way to Queen’s Cross, North Kelvinside, and Gartnavel Hospital for the next three performances. 

This stretch of cycling through city roads alongside traffic and pedestrians can often be stressful, especially considering the absence of consistent cycling lanes throughout the route. However, any potential risks were minimised by following good cycling practices as the orchestra used helmets, stayed in single file with gaps between successive bikes, practiced signalling at turns, avoided busy roads, and stayed on designated cycling lanes wherever possible. Moreover, in the days leading up to the tour, our tour manager had diligently cycled between all the venues and mapped out the shortest and safest route for the orchestra to travel. This enabled him to lead the way at the head of the column with two experienced cyclists from the orchestra in high-vis vests in the middle and at the end of the column to keep everyone together.

We ended the day with pop-up performances in Victoria Park and Mansfield Park where we were also able to witness some spontaneous dancing from audience members!

The second day began with a long cycle out to Drumchapel for performances at Blairdardie and Langfaulds primary schools. Avoiding the busy roads, we cycled along the Forth and Clyde canal, stopping for breaks and ensuring that the group stays together throughout the course of the long journey. As part of Nevis Ensemble’s activities as Artist in Residence in Anniesland and Drumchapel, through Glasgow Life’s Creative Communities, some of us had the opportunity to organise online music workshops for these schools earlier in the year. It was wonderful to meet the children and teachers in person and play for them – the performance at Blairdardie school was one of my favourites with its gradual transition from concert to impromptu ceilidh!

After a quick lunch we made our way through the Clyde Tunnel to Govan for a concert in the lawns outside Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Our final performance took us to the Pollokshields Bowling Green where some orchestra members had previously given chamber music performances in the spring. Playing for the members of the welcoming local community was a great way to bring the tour to an end, and we thoroughly enjoyed the tea and pakoras that followed.

In a year of sparse live performance opportunities, this tour was a reminder of how rewarding and meaningful it can be to engage and share music with audiences and is a testament to Nevis Ensemble’s commitment of sharing music with everyone, everywhere.