SeS­Sion di­ary

Re­flects on the re­al­i­ties of play­ing with an or­ches­tra, bow tie and all

Guitarist - - Opinion -

love and feeds our souls. This con­trasted sharply with my con­cert last week at the Royal Al­bert Hall, play­ing with the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra on a selec­tion of mu­sic from the James Bond films.

They are ob­vi­ously a fab­u­lous or­ches­tra and I was very happy to be do­ing this gig, but my point is, many of the con­sid­er­a­tions we have as gui­tarists on a day-to-day ba­sis go to the back of the queue when it comes to work­ing in or­ches­tras with a clas­si­cal con­duc­tor. Ses­sions with or­ches­tras are gen­er­ally booked as three-hour slots, so it’s very com­mon to turn up at a con­cert like this for a 3pm to 6pm re­hearsal, hav­ing never seen the mu­sic be­fore, and then be on stage for a 7.30pm con­cert in your din­ner jacket and bow tie (with no park­ing space for your Fer­rari or, in­deed, any­one to iron your frilly shirt). You need to make sure you’re plugged in and ready to play on the dot, and you need to have had your cof­fee be­fore­hand as clas­si­cal or­ches­tras can sight-read any­thing.

It never ceases to amaze me that ses­sion mu­si­cians are ex­pected to in­ter­pret their gui­tar parts in the same amount of time. In these re­hearsal/con­cert sit­u­a­tions you are lucky if any of the mu­sic is played twice be­fore the con­cert.

Clas­si­cal con­duc­tors usu­ally (and why shouldn’t they) have less knowl­edge of the dif­fer­ent skillset it takes to make a rhythm-sec­tion part sound good than it does for a vi­o­lin­ist to sight-read their parts (which are usu­ally much more pre­scrip­tive and leave less room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion). You are, how­ever, ex­pected to do it within the same time frame. Sud­denly, whether your dis­tor­tion pedal is true by­pass or not seems very sec­ondary to just mak­ing any sort of cor­rect noise at all at the right time.

Code Of Con­duct

For this par­tic­u­lar con­cert we had a fab­u­lous con­duc­tor in the shape of Gareth Hud­son. But, the first few times I played with or­ches­tras were ut­terly ter­ri­fy­ing. Like most of us, I grew up play­ing along to Me­tal­lica and Iron Maiden records in my bed­room. I don’t re­call James Het­field ever wield­ing a con­duc­tor’s ba­ton, and the first time I was con­fronted by this phe­nom­e­non, I re­alised very quickly I had ab­so­lutely no idea what all the wav­ing of arms meant. I still don’t re­ally, but here’s a tip: when­ever you think the con­duc­tor is giv­ing you a down­beat, it’s ac­tu­ally about half a sec­ond later. Clas­si­cal mu­si­cians tend to have a much more fluid ap­proach to time-keep­ing than those of us from a rock and pop back­ground, and your job, in this in­stance, is to surf the fine line be­tween where you think the beat should be as a rhythm­sec­tion player and where the or­ches­tral play­ers might hear it.

I’m not sug­gest­ing there’s a right or wrong, sim­ply that your job is to be flex­i­ble and aware of what is re­quired of you (and not to su­per­im­pose your ego and opin­ions onto the sit­u­a­tion). Also, make sure you don’t kill the back desk of the vi­o­las with your Mar­shall stack (Fen­der Prince­ton is my or­ches­tral amp of choice) and don’t for­get your bow tie. Fi­nally, re­mem­ber to have your­self a cleans­ing lis­ten to a nice bit of Na­palm Death on the way home.

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