22 November 2017

We were delighted to welcome back the phenomenal teacher, writer, composer and clarinettist, Paul Harris, to work with eight of our senior woodwind players. This must have been Paul’s fifth visit in recent years and his sessions are always immensely thought-provoking and stimulating, both for the performers and audience members.

We were treated to a wonderful range of instruments – three bassoons, two flutes, an oboe and two clarinets and the full age range of students from First Year to Upper Sixth. The evening was well supported with a good number of pupils and parents.

Mr Harris, newly returned from a teaching visit to Finland, was able to spend up to 15 minutes with each of the players and was able to find something specific to work on in their performances, whether musical, technical, or in terms of projecting their playing.

For Raffy Armon-Jones (the Waltz from Rutter’s Suite Antique) the challenge was to work on posture and to find a style of playing that captured that jolly, jazzy essence of the piece. In the case of the highly musical Tom Preston in Elgar’s Romance fort Bassoon, the teaching was designed to get him to blow faster to produce a bigger and warmer sound that might balance more effectively with an orchestra. The improvement in projection was dramatic.

James Tuffill, in Brahms’ Eb Clarinet Sonata, worked on the singing legato sound that this piece demands and the importance of coordinated fingering and slow motion practice. For Oliver Glover’s lovely playing in Vincent’s Oboe Sonata, he worked on upbeats and energising the phrases to make interesting musical shapes.

Young Luc Tucker – with Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey for bassoon – worked on how to put all the musical ingredients of volume, intonation and articulation together to make a truly successful performance. For Alex Glover (clarinet) in Giampieri’s Fantasia, the object was to learn to play with real virtuosity and how to manage bravura with systematic slow practice and using kinaesthetic and aural memory in the faster passages.

Our penultimate performance was given by William Lam, with Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute, a piece with which he won last week’s Senior Solo Competition. A timely thing to work on, given his forthcoming performances with the school orchestra, was the projection of his lovely flute sound, remembering that dynamics are relative to the context – and the importance of playing with soloistic authority. Finally, Can Tugcetin a promising young musician played us the slow movement of Mozart’s sublime Bassoon Concerto. He was encouraged to think of his posture and to work on his intonation, whilst acknowledging that he is already making a singing sound on the instrument.

It was a great evening and everyone took away something really significant to think about. Our thanks must go to all who participated, pupils, accompanists, teachers – and of course, to Mr Harris, who, yet again brought us such a stimulating and inspiring evening of woodwind teaching.

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