South East London’s Harmony Sinfonia

Harmony Sinfonia in rehearsals
Harmony Sinfonia in rehearsals

South east London’s Harmony Sinfonia played their first concert of 2013 in St Peter’s Church in Brockley on Saturday 9th March taking its near-capacity audience on a modest jaunt around some of the more mainstream tourist destinations of Europe in a programme consisting of Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony, Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Bizet’s kind-of-symphony Roma.

I took part in Harmony Sinfonia’s concert, one of four players in the percussion section (five, if you include the timpanist which I’d always understood was an orchestra ‘section’ all in his / her own right). In comparison to previous relatively present-day excursions into the heady world of orchestral playing when I played the triangle and the clash cymbals with the Bromley Symphony Orchestra, my commitment to the Harmony Sinfonia was slightly higher-key.

Although musically unsatisfying – Gershwin’s American is undoubtedly fun to play and – when I managed to tear my eyes away form the score and the conductor during the performance – enjoyable for the audience too. A number of heads were observed bobbing up and down in addition to appreciative glances exchanged.

But it was Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony which proved the revelation for me. Unfamiliar works are probably best tackled by a spot of active listening and what better way to actively listen, than by sight-reading your way through something you’ve never heard before in order to determine when to place the all-important strikes on the bass drum.

Australian Harmony Sinfonia conductor Lindsay Ryan’s clear beat and textbook direction proved invaluable. No nonsensical stick-waggling here. It should be no surprise that after being introduced to it yesterday afternoon in rehearsals, I’m now listening to the London Philharmonic’s 1987 recording with Haitink at the helm. A highly recommended work to get your teeth into – considerably more satisfying than some of the more mainstream and now – frankly – wallpapery works we all jump to when we think of Vaughan Williams.

I’d long dismissed amateur music-making as being something below me. It’s only now after three separate engagements in the local area that I realise that ill-thought view was the result of the tyrannical influence of ‘perfect’ recordings, broadcasts and professional concerts. There is an assumption that if isn’t perfect then it isn’t valid.

Pish. There is immense pleasure to be derived from participatory music-making and whilst it may in itself not make for headline grabbing writing, its local and hyper-local value is unquantifiable.

We might do well to ensure that funds depleted as they will almost be now still get funnelled into amateur music-making. It is these organisations which help form partnerships between professional and further education bodies extending ad-hoc music making beyond outreach or educational strategies, bringing them to the heart of a local community.

Sometimes it's a bit lonely being a percussionist.
Sometimes it’s a bit lonely being a percussionist.

Particular credit should go to principal percussionist Catherine Herriott (her efficient marking up of parts was as professional as it was vital), principal trumpet (not entirely clear what his name was – it certainly wasn’t Anna Bainbridge as credited in the programme), leader Paul Weymont and principal flautist Sharon Moloney who also doubled-up as a highly efficient and effective stage manager.

And if anyone’s wondering, rumour has it the bloke who played the car horns is set for a stratospheric rise on the amateur orchestral scene in South East London. Possibly.

Harmony Sinfonia‘s next ambitious concert of Stravinsky’s Firebird, De Falla’s Three Cornered Hat and Tchaikovsky Waltz and Polonaise from Eugene Onegin is on Saturday 29 June at 7.30pm. Tickets £9. More information on the band’s website, via @HarmonySinfonia on Twitter and on Facebook.

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