2018 has been another very successful and enjoyable year for Semitones as we pursue our key aim of bringing music to residents of care homes and sheltered housing at the same time as sharing the pleasure of music among ourselves. The year has been characterised by stability, which has allowed us to continue working on quality of playing and on expanding our repertoire. Patterns that have proved valuable in previous years have been continued, for instance most months see us rehearsing on the first two Sundays and giving concerts on the last two. Allowing for holidays, this means that we have had some twenty rehearsals and given some twenty-one concerts, not including orchestral busking in Eldon Square before Christmas and twice in Gosforth Shopping Centre: once at Christmas and once earlier, in collaboration with Slow Shopping. Of the concerts about nine have been in Gosforth (depending on how Gosforth is defined!) and the rest mainly in Jesmond, Ponteland or Longbenton. Several concerts have been return visits within the year, and it's good to feel that we are building relationships with some of the audiences. Although almost all the concerts are on Sunday afternoons, we played a Saturday concert at Wordsworth House as one of our contributions to the Jesmond Community Festival in May. We are extremely grateful to All Saints Church, Gosforth, for their continuing generosity in giving us free use of their upper room for rehearsals, and on two occasions this year we have been very glad to be able to say a small musical thank-you by playing for an afternoon tea event in the Church Hall.
Within the concert programmes we have continued with another well-tried pattern: a mix of orchestral pieces, occasional solos, familiar Tyneside songs for all to sing, and lively closing pieces such as the Radetsky March in which the audience can join in on percussion instruments. A very successful development this year has been that after a few items conductor David introduces each instrument in turn, and its player plays a fragment of music to illustrate its sound. The choice of tunes has been resourceful and fun, often surprising the other musicians and prompting the audience to start singing along. We have continued to modify the repertoire, embedding more of the new items purchased in 2017, and some of these have given us the chance to tip the balance further in favour of toe-tapping items rather than gentle sleep-inducing ones. A major feature. especially appropriate in this centenary year of the Armistice, has been a medley of World War I songs.
We have been extremely grateful to David Milner for acting as our main conductor throughout the year and have very much appreciated his commitment to all aspects of rehearsal and performance. With the benefit of his encouragement and musical experience we have been able to improve our ensemble playing both in established repertoire and in new items — some of them such as the overture to Die Fledermaus still at the preparation-only stage.
Needless to say, Semitones could not flourish without the enthusiasm and dedication of all its members. The number of players and distribution across instruments has remained fairly stable this year. As always, more string players would be extremely welcome. The jobs necessary to the running of the group are shared out among many individuals, but special thanks must go to our founder Ewa as Chair, Annette as Treasurer, Jen who organises concert bookings, Katharine who keeps us all informed of dates and arrangements, and Jennifer who nobly keeps the sheet music in order.
Thanks to Annette's skill and energy, the finances of Semitones are in good shape. She has master-minded a series of applications for funding to cover conductor's fees and to purchase new music, and has obtained a total of £2856 from Tesco, the National Lottery, Waitrose, and Skipton Building Society (further details to be given in her report to the AGM).
To conclude: the efforts of all involved are much appreciated, and we can look forward to another enjoyable year of musical challenges and pleasures.