Our last full day of rehearsals before we began the Nevis Hebrides Tour was packed with unique experiences to accompany our tour preparations! Starting off after breakfast at 7:30am, we had the option of a yoga session or a hillwalk around Garelochhead. Following this we headed straight into sectionals With Katherine Wren, myself joining the strings for a further look at Grace Williams’ luscious ‘Sea Sketches’.

Despite being a violin player from Scotland, I have had woefully little experience with Scottish fiddle music, so it was great to have the opportunity before lunch to take part in a fun and informative session on some of our Scottish folk arrangements with Jeri Foreman, a professional folk musician. We went over some of the basic differences between classical and folk playing styles, and it definitely helped us get a better feel for the reels, jigs and marches we have in amongst our set! One of the many special things about Nevis is that we get to play such varied repertoire.

A perfect illustration of this was after lunch when, following on from Welsh (although very German sounding) 20th century string music and arrangements of Scottish fiddle and pipe tunes in the morning, we worked on our new commission piece, GEILT, with the extremely talented composer Rufus Elliot. We discussed the vision for the piece, and the best ways to navigate the psychological journey that the piece is intended to take us and our audiences on.

We continued with further contemporary music in the evening, polishing Pya-Ryu by Shiori Usui with our wonderful soloist, Laura Hundert. This piece explores the changes in one’s life brought on by becoming a mother, and is full of imitation (including Laura playing her clarinet like a toy flute) and playful onomatopoeia (such as the horns making very vivid kissing noises with their mouthpieces), along with more spiritual reflections. Our day of special guests was not over yet though!

To finish off, we rehearsed a Gaelic Waulking song arranged for strings, horns, drums and choir (the choir being made up by our inimitable wind section) and two vocal soloists- our very own Laetitia and Sagnick (who learnt a lot of Gaelic lyrics on top of all their music, so props to them)! We set off to the islands soon and we can’t wait to share everything we’ve been working on with the people of the Hebrides!

Our second day of rehearsals dawned a little damp but not enough to discourage a little pre-tour exercise, a jog along the beautiful Gare Loch which meant I missed the raucous cacophony that was the usually Nevis wake-up call, given by Maxje and Guro (two musicians go round the rooms and perform a short ditty to get everyone out of their bed each morning). There was some yoga to help us stretch and learned how to breathe to destress or release tension. It’s important for musicians to maintain physical health and well being at all times!

Rehearsals made up seven hours of the day and were challenging to say the least. As a part-time music teacher, classroom support, before and after school club manager, wife and mum to four mostly grown up children, I don’t get a lot of time to myself. Although Nevis has a rigorous timetable of rehearsals, presentations, well-being activities (and very soon, concerts) to fit around the delicious meals that the orchestra enjoy, this was a very life-giving experience last year and continues to be so again. There are 14 different nationalities on this tour, and an age range from 18 to four times that! The musicians have an energy, dedication and a joy as they concentrate on learning their parts and working together and it’s great to be a part of that team.

The repertoire is huge and very varied, there’s something for everyone, my favourites are always the tuneful, romantic dances and waltzes, this year we’re doing By the Sleepy Lagoon by Eric Coates (better to known to most as the Desert Island Discs tune), my desk partner loves the movement from the Jupiter Symphony (No 41) by Mozart and we were all intrigued to hear the new composition commissioned by Nevis, a series of musical postcards (my oversimplified description) capturing a physical and mental journey undertaken by the composer Rufus Elliot from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Our orchestra has tried hard to become more ‘Green’ this year, one member’s efforts to embrace the Environmentally Friendly Nevis resulted in comfort for the cellos, she recycled her old curtains to create cushions for their stools. Others have made delicious scones, flapjacks and carob cookies to reduce our use of packaging… it’s a delicious bonus!

Once rehearsals were over for day, there was time to unwind over a glass of wine in the Anchor Inn or playing a game of cards or table tennis. And that’s just the start – tomorrow sees the first of our 35 concerts!

Seven Things I Learnt About Climbing Mountains, Whilst Semi-Successfully Carrying My Saxophone Up A Mountain

We at Nevis love a challenge, and in August 2018 on Day 7 of our inaugural tour we climbed Ben Nevis as an orchestra to perform a concert at the summit. I’ll admit, I had never climbed an actual mountain before, only average-sized hills, but this was a day that I was super excited for, as I really do love challenges – particularly those that I question my competence for. In my subsequent words, I shall reflect on this experience through identifying a number of observations I made throughout this rather exciting day.

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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. 

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It’s now almost a year since I was picked up by Street Orchestra Live (SOL) for my first experience touring with a pop-up orchestra, as a last-minute addition to their summer tour of the North-East of England. I had no real idea of what I had signed up for, but as soon as the first performance was underway, I was hooked, and I could tell that this was something different.

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