2017 saw Semitones in very good heart, continuing patterns that were working well — such as rehearsing on the first two Sundays of each month and giving concerts on the last two — while seeking ways to improve our standards and make our performances still more approachable and enjoyable for our audiences. We gave eighteen concerts at care homes or retirement flats: seven in Gosforth and the others in Cramlington, Fenham, Great Park, Jesmond, Longbenton, Ponteland and Wallsend. We contributed to the Jesmond Community Festival in May with performances at Jesmond Library, Cestria House, Craghall and Wordsworth House, played at Gibside Chapel in July, and added some Christmas bling to our usual uniform to do some enjoyable fundraising in Eldon Square and Gosforth Shopping Centre. As usual, it was a pleasure to be able to play for a tea event at All Saints Church in June: a very small thank you for the church's generosity in giving us use of the rehearsal room. We are all also grateful to our conductors and to those who keep the whole operation running smoothly, especially Ewa, Jen and Katharine, and to Jennifer for heroically managing and manhandling the music.
In the first half of the year a good deal of thought went into buying new sheet music, and into working on our performance skills in a series of workshops: one in January on rhythm/sound led by David Blackwell, then in June-July two workshops each on singing (led by Sarah Robinson), woodwind (Colin Kellett) and string playing (Amy Gleeson). It was good in particular to recognise that singing lustily is an important part of our job in concerts, and lower-pitched settings of folk songs by Chris Cooper should help. We are grateful to all the leaders who inspired us and to Annette and others who procured the funding. After the summer we were able to introduce new repertoire into our programmes under the encouraging baton of David Milner, and recent concerts have gone with a swing.
The Gibside concert in July was followed by a picnic on the lawn, fittingly since it was the last of the season and our last with conductor Alex Guthrie, and also the occasion of a sad farewell to James Ferrier as he left to study music at Cambridge. His contribution to Semitones over many years, playing flute (occasionally piano) and conducting, has been outstanding and warmly appreciated. Meanwhile, it has been a pleasure to welcome several new players to Semitones throughout the year, and with such a diverse and enthusiastic membership we can look forward confidently to another year of playing and growing.
Last year's report ended with looking forward to the benefits that would come from Kellie Morrissey's involvement with Semitones, and the following from Annette picks up that and some other threads. DW.
From Annette: funding and our use of it
Lottery funding paid for Kellie Morrissey, of the Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, to observe our concerts during the first few months of the year and give us feedback on how we could improve our music for members of the audience with dementia. As a result, we have changed the order of our musical pieces, beginning with music that is more lively, we spend more time introducing ourselves and our instruments, and have changed our repertoire, including more music that has particular relevance for people in their 70s and 80s.
Our finances remain fairly healthy as we received a number of grants last year which we have been spending this year. We spent a significant amount of money on new sheet music. We also ran 7 music masterclasses: 1 rhythm, 2 singing, 2 wind and 2 strings. As well as receiving over £500 in donations from care homes this year, we received £140 from the Waitrose Community Fund. Leading up to Christmas, we performed for two hours in Eldon Square shopping centre where members of the public donated £200 and then the following week we played in Gosforth shopping centre. In just one hour, we raised £150, half of which came to us and half was donated to the charity Slow Shopping which operates in Sainsbury's Gosforth. AH.