Gail is a founding member of the recorder ensemble Consortium 5. Having met her many years ago through mutual friends (and study) our paths seem to cross more and more frequently. She has also just set up a new company with some other innovative types who say this of themselves:
“Soundcastle is a pioneering arts collective which creates original music by engaging first and foremost with the people and the place in which the music is to take place. Our mission is to:
Explore exciting and inspiring approaches to music making
Promote music as an individual and collective voice
Make links within and between communities”
Let’s find out a bit more about this talented and motivated woman…
You have ended up in some very specialist specialisms Gail! What made you stick with the recorder?
It was a bit of an accident! I played the recorder, as most people do, learning in groups, chugging along and waiting to play something much cooler like a clarinet. But when I was ten a new music teacher came to my Saturday school and she was a real recorder player who had studied in London. She began to pull me out of lessons and give me extra pieces to learn. I was completely distracted from moving on to any other wind instrument! I also played the violin so I could play in all the youth orchestras where all my friends were so I was very happy. Suddenly I was 18 and a recorder player! It is an ongoing battle to make people appreciate what a wonderful instrument it really is. It is definitely my home and my natural voice. Was there a point when you realised saxophone was the one for you?
It came to me over time really, I had been playing various instruments for a while and then when I was 17 I realised I just loved composing and wanted to play music full-time. After that it was a matter of focusing on the instrument which felt most like my natural voice – and it was the saxophone…
…Knowing what it’s like to run a band, I envy the way Consortium 5 works! Could you talk to us a bit about how that group got together and how you operate week to week?
We were the five recorder players at RAM all leaving together in 2006. I was leaving my undergrad and the others their masters course. I can’t remember how to conversation started but at some point we all caught the consort playing bug and decided to continue after we left. Our teacher, Daniel Bruggen, is an amazing consort player and really helped us especially once he saw we were keen. It’s a very time consuming thing to commit to! We needed Renaissance instruments to begin tackling the bulk of our repertoire so we applied for the Deutsche Bank Award and won. It was an enormous boost which helped us set ourselves up in quite a business-like way. They encouraged us to think very realistically about how we were going to operate and expectations etc. Not always the easiest conversations but much easier before you start than once problems arise. We’ve rehearsed weekly since then. I’m sure you know there is an incredible amount of admin involved in ensemble life so we have to tackle all that too. We are all equally responsible for making C5 work so try to share out tasks as much as possible. Sometimes decision making can be a bit long winded but we’re all so invested in our progress that it’s important everyone is on board. How do you run your band? I always want to know how other groups work too!
For me, it’s about creating some music which really engages all the different personalities in the group. The other members of the group play in other ensembles/bands, which gives them a wealth of musical experiences to draw on. But it also means that when I get them all together I want to make the most of it! I run the group by myself which makes it easier to make decisions, but sometimes the work involved in organising performances and promotion is quite overwhelming… We might be working with some different composers next year which is quite new for us but I know this is an integral part of C5. How do you decide what to play and who to commission/work with?
At the beginning the motivation was simply to get some interesting modern repertoire. There has been a lot of work on quartets but not quintet. Our first commission was by Luke Styles who had already written a concerto for Roselyn so we knew he was interested in our instruments. Gradually as we spread the word that we were keen to play new music we found more and more people who were extremely excited by our unusual line up which has so much flexibility. We ran composers workshops at TCM when we were fellows which taught us a lot about how we help composers understand how our various arrays of instruments work. Now there is a dialogue both ways – sometimes we approach, sometimes composers get in touch with ideas. Tangled Pipes (our CD on the Nonclassical label) really boosted our presence in the contemporary scene. Now we have so much music we have to be careful about taking too much on! It’s a nice place to be considering there was almost no repertoire when we started. We’re pretty good at getting a new piece and playing it more than once as can often happen. The repertoire can be extremely challenging technically so most pieces really benefit from time to breath and develop in performance.
Is there any music that has worked really well for C5 that you wouldn’t have expected?
Recently we played at Truck festival and branched out into Drum and Bass, created by my Soundcastle cohort, Jenni Parkinson. It’s certainly not our regular genre but it sounded remarkably convincing! New repertoire has often pushed us to create new sounds and textures and push extended techniques over our huge range of instruments. I’ve really enjoyed creating new music with the Renaissance consort. Darren Bloom wrote us a piece called ‘Consorts’ which uses all the big ones. When we first learnt it I would feel faint every time we played the end (I play the six foot sub bass!). But now it’s totally fine and this strength training gave me a lot more power when we went back to the Renaissance repertoire.
All this work has showed me not to underestimate what is possible with a recorder. Over the past two years, studying for my masters at the Guildhall, I have had to adapt and find ways to work with mixed modern instruments often in band settings, classical, world and jazz influenced. It was another massive learning curve. At first I felt so weak but it’s about understanding how your voice works and making an impression isn’t always about being the loudest!
I can relate to that…!
…You had a most excellent album review from a paper in New York a little while ago, any plans to visit the US, or tour anywhere else?
Yes, the reviews were so exciting! We were invited to SXSW but sadly the cost was much more than we could manage. Like most groups we’d love to go stateside or indeed further round Europe it’s just balancing the old time/money thing.
So you have some very new projects to talk about. You have recently started a company called Soundcastle. What inspired you to start yet another innovative company (the first being C5)?
Soundcastle is an arts collective which has evolved out of the masters in leadership course which I have just finished at the Guildhall. As the course progressed we found that four of us had a meeting of minds in terms of how we would like to create new work and why understanding the context you are creating in is extremely important. It’s early days but we happily won the Guildhall Deutsch Bank Award so we’re just getting under way. As a group we excite each other with our ideas and creative processes. We’ve been extremely involved in each others work over the past year, including running improvisation workshops, creating a community parade, making acoustic dance music (Joy To Filth Ratio) and working on cross arts and site specific pieces. It’s a very different outfit to C5 in terms of output but like C5 it’s full of talented motivated people!
I like the sound of ‘Acoustic Architecture’ – is that going to happen again?
Yes! Just confirmed for the Bloomsbury Festival on Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd October at 5.30pm. I’m delighted this is getting another showing as it took months working in the incredible acoustic of St George’s Bloomsbury to put this experience together. Please come and tell me what you think! It’s my first large scale music piece and I’m always keen for loads of feedback.
I shall endeavour to be there… Do you think you can start a recorder revolution then? Or have you already done that?
The revolution is well under way! But there is still a lot of work to do to get rid of all the prejudices that exist against our amazing instrument in this country. It’s definitely an exciting time to be breaking boundaries and changing people’s minds.
Sunday 25th, 11am, The Forge, Camden
Tuesday 27th, 7.30pm, St George’s Bloomsbury (C5 collaboration with Soprano, Siona Stockel)
Saturday 15th October, 11.30am, Little Missenden Church, Little Missenden, Bucks.
Acoustic Architecture@the Bloomsbury Fesivs
Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd October, 5.30pm, St George’s Bloomsbury, London.
You can buy ‘Tangled Pipes’ here: http://nonclassical.greedbag.com/buy/tangled-pipes-1/