It has been another good and busy year for Semitones, with the emphasis very much on sustaining and developing our core activity of making music together for the benefit of the community. The normal pattern has been to rehearse on the first two Sundays of the month and give concerts in the second two Sundays, and this generally works well. Over 20 concerts have been given, mainly in care homes and retirement flats, but also in Jesmond Library, in the elegant Gibside Chapel, and on the windy bandstands of Saltwell Park and Exhibition Park, while in a new venture some Semitones members played to a very enthusiastic audience at a weekday lunch club in Wallsend.
The number of players remains very healthy, and there's a welcome diversity in terms of inistruments, ages and levels of experience (even more strings always desirable!). Our longsuffering regular conductors, John and Will in the early part of 2016, and Alex in the later part, have coped extremely well with the fact that, reflecting players' availability, the line-up is slightly different every time, and we thank them very much for all their sterling work. All the playing members are to be thanked for their distinctive contributions, and we are especially grateful to those who also make all the arrangements with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency: Ewa, Jennifer and Jen. Thanks also to Peter not only for his beautiful trumpet-playing, but for acting as compere for our concerts in such a warm and engaging way.
Annette's grant-raising talents have helped us to gain further much-needed funding. We received £850 from the City Council to perform concerts in North and South Jesmond, East Gosforth and Parklands; £600 (shared with Jesmond Dementia Action Alliance, JDAA) to do observations of our concerts, with a further £100 from the Concertina Trust for this joint project (explained below); £500 from the Skipton Building Society to run master classes for the group; and £300 from the Big Lottery, Awards for All, to buy sheet music from the 50s and 60s. As always, we are very grateful to All Saints Church, Gosforth, for the use of their premises for rehearsals, and we are pleased to be able to repay their generosity occasionally by supplying music for their afternoon tea events.
We are always seeking to improve the quality of experience for the people we play to, and 2016 saw a major new development in collaboration with Kellie Morrissey of the Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University. Kellie is attending our concerts, observing how audiences respond and producing detailed reports recommending ways that we can engage still better with them. It will be one of the exciting challenges in 2017 to take Kellie's ideas forward.
Semitones has had another excellent year, with new players, different instruments and some new performance venues. We continue to combine pieces from our established repertoire with some new pieces to interest both performers and audience. We have performed approximately 22 times this year, with a slightly fewer rehearsals. While most of our concerts have been at residential care homes, sheltered accommodation and day units, we have also performed in more public arenas such as Saltwell Park, The Sage foyer, Gibside Chapel and Jesmond library aiming to raise awareness and hopefully attract new members. Our Christmas performance in Eldon Square raised £145.75 for British Red Cross.
There have been several new members this year and it has been great to see so many young faces over the past few months. We were sorry, however, to see Sandra move back to Holland. Sandra has been a key member of Semitones over the last years, working hard behind the scenes to keep Semitones running smoothly. We thank Sandra for all her hard work and dedication to Semitones and wish her all the very best.
We are very appreciative of James who has been playing with Semitones as a highly talented flautist for many years but has stepped in as conductor over the past few months. He is providing excellent musical guidance and clear conducting to the group, when his school exams allow! We are currently looking for someone else to share the conducting.
A few of the members became involved in a Staying Connected project, funded by the Elders Council. This looked at trying to help staff in residential homes to run musical activities on their own, and identified that staff lack confidence in their own skills. This project helped us identify songs to incorporate into our regular concerts. We have also received dementia training from a representative of the Jesmond Dementia Action Alliance and the group is now formally recognised as a dementia friend by the Alzheimer’s society.
Logistically we find transporting and storing our very heavy keyboard difficult. As technology has moved on over the past decade, we are looking to find funding to buy a smaller, lighter and more portable keyboard for our concerts. We are still awaiting feedback for our grant request from Ballinger and Hadrian charitable trusts to support our work.
We are looking forward to another year’s music making in the community.
Semitones is now in its 7th year and continues to see about 10 -15 volunteers at performances. All Saint’s Church in Gosforth still generously allow us to rehearse there and we continue to find places to perform easily. We have performed about 20 times over the last year in different residential homes, many of which are places we are now familiar with, but also a couple of new places.
In addition to performances in residential homes, we took part in a number of community events. Three of our concerts were listed as part of Jesmond Community Festival, making our usual performances open to the public. We have also played at the chapel at Gibside, Jesmond Swimming pool, for St Hilda's Church Jesmond Flower Festival, and a Christmas concert in Eldon square, in order to generate public awareness of our group, as well as collect money for charity.
We have received grants from the Cathererine Cookson Charitable Trust and the Sir James Knott Trust to pay our conductors. Penny Callow has remained our main conductor during the year, with Katrina Buzzard the other regular conductor. Some of the Semitones players have also conducted some rehearsals. As well as our regular whole group rehearsals, we have also had woodwind and string workshops which have concentrated on technique and group performance while at the same time rehearsing ensemble pieces to perform.
We have a wide range of percussive instruments to offer residents to choose from and take part in some of our pieces; we try to include more pieces that the audience can take part in. In some homes active participation is very popular, while in others the residents prefer just to listen. We have been awarded a fund by the Elders Council to run a small project, teaching three homes how to involve their residents in more musical activities.
Semitones continues in its goal: sharing the enjoyment of performing and listening to live music.
Semitones is now in its 6th
year and continues to see about 10 -15 volunteers at performances. All
Saint’s Church in Gosforth still generously allow us to rehearse there
and we continue to find places to perform easily. We have performed
about 20 times over the last year in different residential homes, many
of which are places we are now familiar with, but also a couple of new
The concert format has changed slightly, mainly as a consequence of the award of a BBC Making Music grant that funded us to involve a music therapist for a few weeks. We now have a wider range of percussive instruments to offer residents to choose from and take part in some of our pieces and we try to include more pieces that the audience can take part in. In some homes active participation is very popular, while in others the residents prefer just to listen.
The BBC grant also funded some workshops for Semitones to allow us to develop our group playing skills, rather than specific music for concerts. Andy Booth led a very enjoyable day focussing on rhythm and listening skills, essential for good musical performance. In addition, woodwind and string workshops have concentrated on technique and group performance while at the same time rehearsing ensemble pieces to perform.
In addition to performances in residential homes, we took part in a number of community events. Three of our concerts were listed as part of Jesmond Community Festival, making our usual performances open to the public. We also took part in the national Big Gig, by performing at St Thomas the Martyr Church at Haymarket. This was organised by one of our regular conductors Penny Callow; our other regular conductor this year was Katrina Buzzard.
While these community events help to increase awareness of Semitones, and hopefully lead to new members, we also now have a greater presence online. We have a new website, a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/semitonesnewcastle and on Youtube.
The Semitones website contains recordings made during an interview with Jonathan Miles at BBC Radio Newcastle as part of their focus on volunteering during the Christmas period. The two pieces that were recorded can be heard there, along with the final broadcast which includes comments from Semitones members. The broadcast highlights many of the central features of Semitones, such as an enjoyment of music, a desire to share that enjoyment with others by bringing music in the community and a chance to know some great people in the area.
Now in its 5th year, Semitones has stayed approximately the same size over the past year; new members have joined, but we have also lost some of our previous members. There are still typically 10-15 volunteers playing at care home performances, and the instruments played have been the more traditional orchestral instruments: strings, wind and trumpet, along with an accordion, a concertina and a keyboard.
We are still very fortunate that All Saints’ Church in Gosforth allow us to hold our approximately 20 rehearsals per year in one of their rooms. We have performed 20 times this year in 15 care homes, mainly in Gosforth and Jesmond, but also in Kenton, Fenham and Byker areas. We are often approached by homes to perform for them again, sometimes for particular events such as birthdays or this year for events such as the Queen’s Jubilee. Currently we do not need to actively seek places to play to fill our 20 concert target slots.
We now have a regular conductor – Penny Callow, who is a professional musician. Penny is not always here, however, and so we have had a few conductors either for one or two rehearsals or concerts, and also Mark Edwards, our previous conductor, has returned for a few sessions and is now musical advisor for Semitones.
Thanks to the hard work of Annette Hames, Semitones has been lucky enough to receive grant funding this year from new sources: from the Co-operative Membership Community Fund for music and payment of the conductor, and from the BBC Performing Arts Fund Community Music Scheme for sessions with a music therapist and for us to hold some master classes. We have already involved a music therapist, Cindy Morison, in 2 of our performances and have incorporated some of her suggestions. These have included buying some more percussion instruments for residents to use, and allowing them to try them out and become familiar with them before inviting them to join in with us during our performance if they would like. We are hoping to hold a rhythm workshop for all semitones volunteers in 2013 to improve our listening and rhythm skills, and also plan to hold two sectional workshops (strings and wind) to work on small group pieces that could be performed in our concerts.
The Concertina Trust, one of the first sponsors of Semitones, awarded us another grant, as they like to provide continued support to groups. In addition, we received funding from the Waitrose Community Matters Scheme and donations from care homes for concerts. These funds have all allowed us to continue to pay our conductors and insurance costs, and also to purchase music and instruments as required.
We are fortunate to have received all of this financial assistance, especially in the current financial climate. We hope that this will allow us to continue to provide entertainment to those in our community no longer able to access live music easily and also for the volunteers of Semitones to develop as a group, making the experience more enjoyable for performers and audience alike.
Semitones is in its 4th year of existence and currently has approximately 25 regular players. Of these typically 10-15 volunteers play at each concert and represent a range of instruments: wind, brass, strings, accordion, concertina, guitar and keyboard. We also sometimes have a singer. All Saints Church in Gosforth generously allows us to rehearse in one of their rooms for two hours on a Sunday afternoon. We aim to rehearse approximately 20 times per year and perform a similar number of times. This year we have introduced a schedule that allows us to rehearse for three to four weeks and then provide performances for the following three or four weeks. This has allowed us to focus on introducing new pieces of music to expand our repertoire and has worked well.
We have introduced 10 new pieces this year, ensuring that we can provide a variety of music to our audiences and develop the skills of, and provide interest to, the musicians in the group. Since we play in some of the care homes relatively regularly it is important to make sure that our program does not become stale. This has been greatly assisted by the receipt of grants from the council wards of North and South Jesmond, and East and West Gosforth and from Grassroots. While the Grassroots grant was solely for sheet music, the council grants have also enabled payment of our conductors and insurance cover. Although we are a voluntary organisation, we welcome donations from the places where we perform. In addition to sheet music, we have bought a number of percussion instruments to allow members of the audience to take part in some of our pieces, which has proved very popular.
We have performed 17 times this year in 13 different care homes. The care homes are primarily in the Gosforth, Jesmond and Heaton areas, but this year have taken us as far as Prudhoe and in the past to Morpeth. We have also taken part in three extracurricular activities, the first being Jesmond festival, where we held an open rehearsal; the second at Seaton Delaval Hall (National Trust); and the third a performance at the parish church of a member of the group as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations (St Bede’s, Jarrow).
We try to play a range of music: classical music from Bach to Shostakovich; folk music such as My Bonnie lies over the Ocean and Irish folk tunes; arrangements from musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music; and more contemporary popular pieces, for example Yesterday and Match of the Day. Each performance usually lasts just over an hour and includes two or three solo or duet pieces which widen our range and reveal the outstanding talent of some of the Semitones volunteers.
A group such as this has natural turnover, and we are constantly looking for new volunteers as members move away, or find they no longer have the time to commit to the group. Advertisements are placed in local free Newspapers and advertising booklets and we also have a website which describes the aims of Semitones. Postcards are also available to leave on public notice boards around the area.
The conductor is also an important part of such a group and for the majority of this year we were lucky to be conducted by Mark, a masters student of conducting from Newcastle University. Although Mark is no longer is with the group, Simon, one of the semitones musicians regularly does a very good job at leading rehearsals and conducting our performances and he is supported by another volunteer Annette.
We are anticipating that Simon will be moving away this year, so one of our aims for 2012 is to find a new regular conductor. We hope to continue to improve the quality of our playing and the range of music so that we can provide excellent live music to the residents of the local care homes. The audience participation during pieces such as the Radetzky March has proved very popular and so we are hoping to purchase some more percussion instruments and to find some more pieces that work well with these instruments.