Una navidad española (by Matthew Gee)

The story begins at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, with a typical touring check-in of 6:20am. Given previous touring mishaps, the simple fact that we still had flights booked made it one of our more successful starts to a tour.

Not really knowing how cold Spain would be in December, most people came wrapped up for winter. Phil Cobb had inadvertently picked up one of the band members’ coats from an East 17 concert earlier that week.

A hearty Heathrow breakfast was a perfect opportunity for Simon to pre-mortem everything that could go wrong on the trip. Thankfully nothing did, but it pays to be prepared.

Most people caught up with sleep on the flight – my 3 month old son had very kindly woken me at 2am to make sure I didn’t miss the flight. Matt Knight, however, isn’t like most people, and he excitedly and energetically poured over/conducted the score of The Nutcracker in preparation for tomorrow’s concert.

Simon had hired a minibus to drive us from Bilbao to Tafalla. It was beautiful drive through the Basque countryside, despite feeling like we were passengers in the Wacky Races! Simon’s claim that ‘the car just kept stalling itself’ was met with much laughter, but all things considered he did adequately.

A bite to eat and then we were down to the Culture Center to polish the following night’s concert: Schütz’s Das Wort ward Fleisch, Bach’s Christmas Suite, Handel’s Messiah, and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It was great to be playing this programme again. It’s easy to take The Nutcracker for granted, but there are some truly magic moments in it. Plans are afoot to record this work, but more of that later.

Tired chops signalled the end of rehearsal, with shouts of ‘a couple of beers, nothing silly?’, met with much enthusiasm. Over dinner back at the hotel (and some fantastic local wine), one of Simon’s pre-mortempredictions did not come to pass. The Nutcracker requires Matt Knight to fire a replica gun in the air. Simon had spoken to British Airways about the best way to transport a gun, to which he was advised to keep it in his hand luggage and just take it out at security! We feared this might cause alarm and result in Simon being detained, so we left the gun at home, and thankfully Amazon Prime Spain did not fail to deliver.

Septura’s trombones with their Spanish students

The following day was tough – six hours of teaching, sound check, then gig. Language barriers focused the mind and made for some novel pedagogical approaches. But the students were great and really took on board what we were saying. No matter what the standard of player, the music was always shining through, and this is huge testament to the teaching in the area and the Tubala Brass Festival. We are not quite sure what happened in the tuba class: Sasha only had two students, one of whom was a euphonium player. Six hours later they all looked as shell-shocked as each other!

It’s obviously a huge pleasure to play chamber music with such remarkable players, and this concert was no exception. An audience of around 350 gave us a fantastically warm welcome, and enthusiastically demanded two encores from our bruised faces.

Following this, we met many of them in the foyer, where I confidently broke out some very rusty Spanish on anyone who lingered, whilst the rest of the group signed copies of CDs for our new fans.

A local bar enticed us in and suggested we try something typical to the area (we were aiming to go straight to bed), which we washed down with the obligatory Spanish goblet of Gin and Tonic.

And here finishes our first trip to Spain and the final gig of 2018. Chat naturally turned to next year with some really exciting projects and tours planned. But until then, all of us at Septura wish you a wonderful Christmas.

Altmark Festival, Germany (by Sasha Koushk-Jalali)

The Altmark Festival was Septura’s first German destination of 2018, and we met early on Saturday morning to polish up our Borrowed Baroque programme. We have performed this a number of times in the UK recently, and merely had to bring James Fountain up to speed on our newest piece, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite.

After working our way through the programme with satisfying efficiency (James is rather good at the trumpet), we headed off to St. Pancras to catch a train to Gatwick. The airport ritual was fairly fluid, thanks to EasyJet priority boarding (#thedream), and awaiting the group at Berlin airport was our transport for the weekend, a maroon battle bus and driver Mr Müller. After a brief game of instrument Tetris, I ended up taking one for the team and sitting in the slightly space deficient front seat, allowing me to showcase my limited GCSE german conversational skills, which were soon outstripped by the SatNav and BB RADIO (a relentless stream of euro/dance hits). After two fairly long hours of sitting at a 25 degree angle, we arrived at Ratswaage Hotel in Magdeburg, a city 30 km or so from the concert venue for the following day. Accommodation sorted, brief and restrained frivolities ensued, consisting of a few good quality german beers, and a surprisingly excellent late night meal at Gorillas Restaurant & Grill in the centre of Magdeburg.

The following day the members of Septura arrived chipper and refreshed for breakfast, where only Dan West managed to clock the bespoke omelette option (the group envy was palpable). Mr Müller and his lovely maroon bus awaited and whisked us away to the beautiful Schlosskirche Letzlingen, which sat opposite a  lavish castle. After discussion with the church vicar, we discovered the castle was built in 1843 to be used once or twice a year by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV as a hunting retreat.

 

The Castle in Letzlingen

Following a brief warmup we knuckled down and sound-checked the programme for the concert. As with many churches, the shape seemed to amplify the tuba heavily, and diminish a fair amount of clarity among the trombones, meaning the majority of the rehearsal was used to find an acceptable balance between us. The rehearsal over, we headed out and enjoyed a generous picnic, including ice cream dessert, kindly provided by the festival.

Enjoying an Ice Cream

The concert itself was a great success, certified by the crisp, incredibly regular applause. A particular highlight was James Fountain playing his solo in Handel’s RinaldoLascia ch’io pianga, from the pulpit, despite his initial trepidation at the idea. We were persuaded into playing two encores by the appreciative audience and enjoyed a lengthy standing ovation.

After a quick beer and a chat with the vicar we were on our way back to Magdeburg, where we began celebrations on a job well done. It being a Sunday night we were afraid that Magdeburg wouldn’t offer us adequate meal options. However, we ended up with a varied diet: starters at an Italian restaurant, and then a dangerously large Schweinshaxe at a separate establishment. Despite our best intentions to get an early night, time flew and it was heading ominously towards the small hours when the merriment came to a close. Subsequently, the 6 am start the following day was only loosely adhered to by the tuba player, much to the ire of his disgruntled colleagues. Nevertheless, we made our flight and travelled safely back to London.

All-in-all the mini tour was a successful outing, and we can only hope to return to the wonderful Altmark Festival in the future.

 

Tour stats:

Days : 2.5

Concerts: 1

Hours of sleep:  < 10

Irritating Tuba Mutes Carried: 1

Distance traveled: 2464 km

America Day 11 (by Simon Cox)

The last day of our tour began with the welcome confirmation that we would perform in Chicago after all – the snowy weather had subsided, and our scheduled masterclass at Northeastern Illinois University would now be a concert instead.

The morning afforded us a rare chance to catch up on some sleep, which was especially welcome following our sampling of the delights of Chicago (or Skokie to be exact).

Our final venue, in snowy Chicago

Battle bus 6.0 followed on from 5.0 in that it came with a driver, but unfortunately this one had no luggage space, so there was a very real risk of the tuba mute doubling up as an errant missile at various points.  We reached the venue without casualties for our usual pre-concert ritual of warm ups and sound checks, before we got underway at lunchtime. Ticket holders for our cancelled Friday performance were informed that the concert had been rescheduled, with a decent number showing up, combining with local high school students to fill the hall and create a wonderful atmosphere. The acoustic was possibly the best of the tour, and helped us to deliver an unforgettable performance of Ravel’s Mother Goose (if you haven’t heard our recording of The Enchanted Garden, check it out! – https://goo.gl/xCYS1P)

A Q&A session with students following our performance

We spoke to lots of enthusiastic audience members afterwards, many of whom were amateur brass players and had been following the group for a while – it’s a slightly surreal feeling to know that our recordings and videos are reaching people so far away, but certainly a welcome one.

An audience member drew this portrait of the group

Time was tight for our two trombonist Matts, who were travelling back to the UK earlier than the rest of us, but they still managed to squeeze in a Q&A with students before bidding us farewell. They had by now clocked up 32 days in the States during their combined Septura and Royal Philharmonic tours, so were understandably keen to get home to their wives (and to eat some vegetables).

The rest of us finally had the opportunity to do some sightseeing and experience some of the culture and architecture that Chicago has to offer, but we decided to just go and eat burgers instead…there’s always next time.

A final meal on tour before we get home to a strict detox health regime

By this stage energy levels were getting dangerously low (I swear Huw fell asleep standing up at one point), so after boarding the aircraft with instruments safely stowed in the cabin (the final potential organisational pitfall of the tour) most of us drifted off to sleep as we finally headed home.

In the UK we perhaps tend to view America through the prism of politics or show business, but this trip has allowed us to travel through the heartlands and really see a different side to the country, receiving a generous welcome from everyone we’ve met (even airport staff, who generally were able to mask their horror at needing to perform a security check on a tuba). Despite the heavy schedule, we managed to deliver our best concerts to date, and are looking forward to hopefully returning to some of the places we visited during our next trip there in 2020.

There’s always a feeling of nostalgia after a trip like this, but it’s tempered somewhat by the fact that we all see each other tomorrow for our first Pictures at an Exhibition rehearsal (preceded in Alan’s case by six hours on Mahler 5), and then concerts in Ilkley and Cardiff later in the week. It’s a good job we get on with each other…

Final tour stats:

Concerts: 10 (just)

Standing ovations: 10

Distance travelled: 14,324 miles

Time on the bus: 43 hrs 52 mins

Time on planes: 26 hrs 46 mins

Septura members still speaking to each other: 7

America: Day 10 (by Matthew Knight)

Bagels on the bus at 6 am and we were on the way to our final destination with mixed emotions. 10 inches of snow overnight had meant that our much-anticipated Chicago concert had been cancelled, which was a bitter disappointment (Chicago is a bit of a brass-players’ Mecca). On the other hand, after 9 concerts on the trot, the possibility of a night off was undeniably appealing.

Our flight was still on time when we arrived at Austin International Airport in Texas, and so we planned a leisurely day. We would arrive in Chicago, have some time to ourselves, rehearse for a couple of hours to get ahead on the programmes for Ilkley and Kleptomania, and then go out for dinner. The Denis Wick studio in Chicago had kindly agreed to host our rehearsal.

Whiling away the hours at Austin airport

As we arrived at the gate to embark the departure time slipped back – first by half an hour, then an hour, then 2, then 5. The delay was actually quite handy for me – I had finally got hold of the music for an arrangement I needed to do for concerts next week, so I sat on my own and worked on my laptop.

When we finally made it on to the plane

Alan’s reading material for the day

The others had a more sociable time, and were in gregarious form as we piled onto the plane, and stowed all of our instruments in the overhead lockers. This is always a slightly stressful moment (Will there be space? Will they all fit? Or will they try and make us check them in?). The tuba has its own seat, and the rest of the instruments go overhead, but it is always at the discretion of the cabin crew. We haven’t had any problems this trip, but in the past over-zealous staff have flatly refused to allow our instruments on-board. Wary of this, Matt Gee has actually designed a special flight-case from scratch for this tour – his trombone, suit and other clothes actually all go in one big suitcase, dubbed the ‘Gee Force 1’.

Gee Force 1

Packing 2 trombones inside

Although our new tour bus, MKV, was a great improvement (luxuriously spacious even in Huw’s hole, and crucially coming with a driver), we were a little underwhelmed when we finally arrived in Chicago. The snow had been very efficiently cleared, and so rather than the post-apocalyptic chaos that we had been led to expect, we were greeted by completely clear roads and normal traffic, with knee-high snow on the pavements alone.

The Septura tour bus MKV

We were pleased to discover that our concert was not cancelled, but merely postponed until the next morning (when we had been due to give a masterclass at Northeastern Illinois University), and so although it was now too late to rehearse, we all headed to our hotel rooms for a bit of private practice in preparation (luckily Denis Wick USA had provided the trombones with practice mutes for just such an eventuality). Practice completed we watched some of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony (in a bizarre Scottish-themed bar) before heading into town for a dinner of traditional Chicago deep-dish pizza.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 9

Distance travelled: 10,379 miles

Time on the bus: 43 hrs 52 mins

Time on planes: 19 hrs 11 mins

Time in Austin airport: 6 hrs 30 mins

America: Day 9 (by Huw Morgan)

8am, Fayetteville: after a few post-breakfast gulps of fresh Arkansas air and with the battle bus loaded, we headed onto the interstate for the last major road trip of the tour – 7 hours to Belton, Texas. Driving conditions were pretty much perfect, with clear blue skies and open carriageways allowing us to quickly rack up the miles, driver Dan West showcasing his endurance with a tour-best 5 hour 50 minute shift behind the wheel.

Great to be back in Texas!

 

Regular readers of this blog will also know that Dan’s local knowledge has proved invaluable in a myriad of scenarios, from explaining the intricacies of American sports to driving etiquette and craft ales. A self-confessed foodie, he excelled himself en route, a deft manipulation of the sat-nav leading us to Rudy’s Country Store & BBQ, one of his favourite student haunts, the added 25 minute journey time incurring the ire of a particularly implacable (or, as it turned out, simply hungry) artistic director.

Fantastic lunch stop at Rudy’s BBQ. The moist brisket gets the Septura seal of approval.

Stomachs satiated, Alan took the last driving stint of the day and I returned to my usual spot in ‘The Hole’. Remarkably -after more than 40 hours in this confined environment, and with our battle bus travels almost at an end – I felt just a little sentimental, which I suppose goes to show that even without many traditional home comforts, good company, good food and good music can go an awfully long way (though my colleagues have suggested this could be an acute case of Septura Stockholm Syndrome!)

The I35 is not the most scenic drive. This was about the most interesting thing that we saw.

Two hours away from our destination and Simon broke the news that due to a severe weather warning, Friday’s concert had at best been postponed, and at worst been cancelled. While we were all looking forward to performing in Chicago, which is regarded as a real Mecca for American brass-playing, it gave the evening’s concert at Mary-Hardin Baylor University an extra frisson of excitement, knowing that this could possibly be the last stop of the tour.

Our usual condensed hotel check-in over (I now have it down to a fine art: unpack, charge electrical devices, re-pack suit, couple of FaceTime calls, shower, head out), we arrived at the Sue & Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Center, a brand new, state of the art facility which would be the envy of many British universities.

Yet another fantastic, and brand new venue for the evening.

Greeted by a large and enthusiastic public of all ages, our programme gained plaudits from students and local concert goers alike, a particularly ebullient attendee’s exclamation of ‘Wow!’ before the applause descended after our version of American in Paris proving particularly satisfying. The only disappointment was an over-zealous theatre technician raising the house lights before we had the chance to perform our encore – much to the audience’s chagrin.

Our programme for the tour up in lights

As has become customary, our post-concert ritual involved a local hostelry and some typical Southern food in the company of our generous host, Nils Landsberg. It proved to be an early night, however, with a 6am start the next morning, and the beginning of a valiant attempt to brave the elements and make it to snow-laden Chicago…

Tour stats:

Concerts: 9

Standing ovations: 9

Distance travelled: 9148 miles

Time on the bus: 42 hrs 52 mins

States driven through: 10

America: Day 8 (by Dan West)

Never leave anyone behind. It’s the mantra of any decent touring outfit and when a group is forced to abandon this principle it does so with great reluctance. Today we were forced to ‘leave a man behind’ on two separate occasions.

When six of us met in the lobby of our charming Detroit airport hotel at 5:30am we were lacking one fairly essential person: Septura founder and Artistic Director, Dr Simon Cox. The remaining members of the septet ploughed onto the complimentary shuttle service and checked in to our American Airlines flight to Fayetteville, Arkansas via Dallas Fort Worth. The good doctor arrived at the airport mere moments after us via Uber and was greeted cheerily by his friendly and ever-supportive troops.

In the end it wouldn’t have mattered if he had actually had a proper lie-in: another snowstorm had settled in over night and our flight was due to be quite late taking off from the icy tarmac.

After a week of stale air in the Battle Bus it was refreshing to travel by plane. Lucky too that we hadn’t organised to drive this leg of the journey because the Detroit news stations were awash with footage of treacherous roads and early rush hour traffic jams. It was also due to be my next shift of driving the bus and I did not really fancy showcasing the expert winter driving abilities I learned growing up in Canada. I like to save the showboating for the concert platform, thank-you-very-much. Flying is much more civilised anyway, especially once my principal air transit worry – getting my bass trombone safely stowed in the overhead bin – has subsided.

Flying into Northwest Arkansas Regional airport

Wings de-iced, and over an hour behind schedule, we departed Detroit with little hope of catching our connection to Arkansas (or ‘R-Kansas’ as a few of the lads have been pronouncing it). In fact, we landed at DFW precisely when our connecting flight was due to take off. Luckily there was another flight due to depart soon after we landed and they managed to accommodate most of us – though Pete and his tuba had to wait on standby. Leaving a soldier behind for the second time on this leg of the tour we sailed the sunny skies to Arkansas. Nestled at the back of the E175 airliner we quietly discussed ways we could salvage the concert should Pete remain indisposed in Dallas-Fort Worth. Obviously we kept all of our fingers & toes crossed in hopes that Pete and his tuba would be accommodated on a flight which would land in time to get him to Fayetteville for our 7:30 concert. For some reason the concept of a ‘Sextura – brass sextet’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

An Arkansas hog in the grounds of our hotel

We have been greeted by incredibly courteous and friendly Americans everywhere we’ve visited, and the University of Arkansas has proven to be no exception. Southern hospitality is famous the world over, and when we checked in at our hotel, the Inn at Carnall Hall, I was pleasantly surprised to find my room equipped with a Jacuzzi tub. I relaxed in it for the better part of an hour while the artistic directors gave a lecture to students on campus.

The Jim and Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center

The building was converted recently – it was formerly a gymnasium

And inside

A warm-up for those of us lucky enough to have time

With word arriving via WhatsApp that Pete – plus his E-flat traveling companion – were finally on a flight, it was time to head over to the evening’s venue, the Jim & Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center [sic]. We enjoyed the generous acoustic as we rehearsed through a few tuba-less corners for our Ilkley concert next week when Pete made a dramatic entrance at the hall at 7:00. After a day to forget he delivered a performance to remember. We briefly worried that our streak of consecutive standing ovations was in danger but the kind audience in Fayetteville obliged in the end. So at 8 for 8, no one out and a seven hour drive back to Texas awaiting us in the morning, we found a great pub on Dickson street and tucked into another fine batch of local IPA and evermore chicken wings.

Relaxing after a pretty long day

Tour stats:

Concerts: 8

Standing ovations: 8 (just)

Distance travelled: 8682 miles

Time on the bus: 35 hrs 2 mins

Time on planes: 16 hrs 31 mins

Time in airport for Pete: about 6 hours

America: Day 7 (by Matthew Gee)

Granville, Ohio – a New England-style community, located along the western edge of the Appalachian Plateau, population 3,500. Also the home of Denison University and our sixth concert. We were housed in the impressive Granville Inn, built in 1924, and offering a touch of luxury for our one and only free morning of the tour. Upon arrival we fielded the usual questions as to why we were in the States, and were delighted to hear that we were not the first travelling band of musicians to pass through the Inn; both Count Basie and the Dorsey brothers used to play at the Inn when on the road – exalted company indeed!

Today’s short trip

Exercise and sleep were the order of the morning, before hitting the road again at noon. A mere four hours in the battle bus to Detroit, Michigan was child’s play given the heavy schedule of the last few days. En route we stopped in a colossal Walmart to purchase a suitcase for our Denis Wick mutes, which gave us a chance to stock up on some necessities: mainly clean socks and boxers (having spent so much time in ‘the hole’, Huw decided that flight socks would substantially reduce the risk of DVT developing). Dan treated the group to a family sized container of Cheese Balls, and so we began the ten-hour-cheese-ball-challenge – could we finish the colossal serving by the time we returned the hire bus circa 11:30pm. Yes, with minutes to go, and some inspirational Motown tunes ringing around the bus (thanks Joey Atkins), we could!

Now you see them…

…now you don’t!

Our plea for entertainment on the long bus journeys had not gone unnoticed, and we had been emailed another quiz by an adoring fan (thanks Hannah from London): ‘Composer or pasta?’ Do you know your Puccini from your Piccinni? (Turns out we don’t – try it out at https://www.sporcle.com/games/sproutcm/pasta-or-italian-composer).

The dodgy roads of Detroit (or was it the driving?) tossed us through the final few miles to our venue for the night, Christ Church Cranbrook. Built in the ’20s to replicate a traditional English church, the venue offered us a wonderful acoustic, and one that we felt very at home in.

Christchurch, Cranbrook

The stunning venue

When arriving at a venue, the first half hour is always given to the players for individual practice and maintenance. The performances are so physically draining, each player has fine-tuned their own warm-up and warm-down to both facilitate maintaining the exceptional standard of the group, and also reduce the risk of injury to the chops. Players combine this with a combination of lip remedies – Chop Saver, Vaseline, Robinson’s Remedies Lip Renew (a new one endorsed that night by Hunter Eberly, Principal Trumpet of the Detroit Symphony) – there are of course other brands available. However, it is not just the face muscles which tire. Holding your trombone up for a two-hour gig (often with a mute in), plus rehearsals and practice, can be tough on your left arm and hand.

Left: discolouration of the hand from excessive trombone playing; Right: discolouration of the hand from excessive cheese ball eating

The short rehearsal continued yesterday’s work for our concert in Ilkley on February 14th, before we got stuck in to our seventh concert in as many days. The wonderfully appreciative audience were invited to meet us all at a reception after the concert, where the Gershwin continued, but this time via a remarkable 95-year-old lady tinkling the ivories – all by ear, apparently unable to read music! With the Canadian border a stone’s throw from the venue, Dan’s heartstrings were being pulled every which way as he sought out each and every one of his Canadian brothers in the room.

Westy’s almost home

Canapés and cranberry juice devoured, we left the church and managed to squeeze in a pint before last orders at the Griffen Claw Brewery Company. Half an hour later, Matt and Simon dropped off the hire bus while we all checked into the airport hotel, looking forward to a maximum of four hours sleep before the red-eye to Arkansas. It’s mornings like this when someone misses the bus…

Tour stats:

Concerts: 7

Standing ovations: 7

Distance travelled: 7148 miles

Time on the bus: 34 hrs 32 mins

Cheers balls eaten: a lot

America: Day 6 (by Alan Thomas)

We’ve now reached the mid point of the tour, we’re all still in great shape and team morale is higher than ever. All downhill from here!

You may have noticed our rather arduous travel schedule, not to mention 10 shows in 10 days. However, sharing the driving and navigating, and plenty of laughs with a great bunch of pals has made the journeys pass in no time!

Less than 5 hours now seems short!

This morning we were spoilt by a seemingly late departure time of 9am. After a bit of FaceTiming to our long-suffering loved ones, we set off on the icy road to Granville, Ohio.

Usually we don’t plan our pitstops, but today we had 2 planned visits on route. First mission was to exchange our trusty tourbus MKII and transfer all our gear to a new identical one, at Budget Rental, South Bend International Airport. Needless to say, we now have loading and unloading off to a fine art so the swap over was exceedingly speedy!

Our jam-packed tour bus

Huw was more than happy with his new ‘hole’ and even reckoned tourbus MKIII gained him an extra inch of leg room!

Huw in “the hole” MKIII

Once packed up, our next stop was the Conn/Selmer Vincent Bach factory, in Elkhart, Indiana. We were kindly invited by a member of our audience last night who worked making Bach bells. He’d brought his brass playing son to watch our concert. Unfortunately none of us thought to get his name…

Septura outside the Bach factory in Elkhart, Illinois

On arrival the incredibly helpful staff at the Conn/Selmer Corporate reception were eventually able to ascertain our mystery audience member was called Rudi. Unfortunately he was on his lunch break so rather than waiting, a rather jolly Phil Brown, Category Manager, Low Brass, gave us a very insightful tour of the factory.

Trombone bells in the making

If you’ve got a Bach trombone in the last 46 years then apparently this guy made your slide

The trombone slides made today

This machine shapes the bells (and formerly made artillery shells)

Finished trombone bells

This was incredibly interesting, however when a rather clumsy Matt Knight had an accident with a newly handcrafted trumpet bell, we were soon sent packing… As for Rudi, we never did get to see if this was actually our man!

The ruined trumpet bell…a souvenir of our visit

Tonight’s venue, the Burke Recital Hall, Denison University was designed by Alvar Aalto, the same architect as the famous Finlandia Hall in Helsinki (former home to Simon Cox in his days as a trumpeter in the Helsinki Philharmonic). A good acoustic can often act as an 8th player, and this hall didn’t disappoint, with a perfect acoustic for brass chamber music.

The auditorium at Denison University

Now our American in Paris programme is well established, we’re now using our sound checks to rehearse programmes for concerts in Ilkley and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on our return, 14 and 16 Feb respectively. Running through Parsons’ Ave Maria 45 mins before curtain up came as a refreshing change and showed the true versatility of Septura.

Rehearsing some Parsons

After much beavering away on their laptops by our in-house arrangers, Simon Cox and Matt Knight, the rest of us have now been issued with our parts for Pictures an an Exhibition for Kleptomania 2 (St John Smith Square 20th February and Cambridge Sunday 25th Feb). Needless to say hearing the odd extract of Mussorgsky’s piano masterpiece during Septura’s daily warm up routines is becoming more frequent. Ever the professionals!

Pete Smith warming up

So to the concert, after a pre-show snack of crudités and dips (requested by us in an update of our rider as we’re really missing vegetables!!) we performed our first half of Ravel and Debussy with customary aplomb and found time to mix with our audience in the interval both by the CD stall and some of the less mobile in the auditorium.

The lighter second half of Gershwin sent the audience off with a spring in their step and after a quick warm down we were treated to some food and beverages by our hosts, band director Chris Westover and composition teacher and assistant director HyeKyung Lee, in a local ‘Pub’ in picturesque Granville.

A brief snowball fight on the way home and tomorrow a much needed lie in the beautiful Granville Inn. Departure time tomorrow, midday!

Play loud and Prosper!

The beautiful Granville Inn

Tour stats:

Concerts: 6

Standing ovations: 6

Distance travelled: 6913 miles

Time on the bus: 30 hrs 32 mins

States driven through: 9

Tour buses: 3

Broken trumpet bells: 1

America: Day 5 (by Matthew Knight)

 

Our route to Michigan

Almost half way through our tour, and things had been going a little too smoothly. Something had to give, and it turned out that something was our windscreen. Barely 5 minutes into our journey it cracked into a broad grin, stretching almost its entire width. With no replacement available within 500 miles, we had little choice but to push on through the ice and snow of Iowa towards our destination, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Driving conditions at the outset…

…before this happened!

Morale was high, but the temperature low (-15 Celsius to be precise), and driving conditions exceedingly difficult. Entertainment was provided by one of Septura’s most ardent fans, Elise Campbell, who had emailed in a quiz. The front of the bus (where I was sitting with Alan and Pete) prevailed in the more cerebral early rounds. When it came to later popular culture rounds (and I think these questions may have been mostly devised by Elise’s 7-year-old niece) the back of the bus really came to the fore (let’s just say their knowledge of Disney is a little unsettling). They won 34 points to 30. (Any other entertainment suggestions please email them to admin@septura.org).

The frozen Mississippi River.

By the time we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois the snow was coming thick and fast, coating the road more quickly than it could be snow-ploughed, and reducing visibility to almost nothing. Several native drivers had come unstuck and were to be found facing the wrong way on the Interstate. Wary of this potential outcome we proceeded with caution.

Driving conditions deteriorated

The slow pace gave us a good opportunity to catch up on some admin. We now have the dates for our next US tour, in February 2020, and so we have just begun to contact promoters for that trip.

Having inched round Lake Michigan, we arrived late at our hotel with just time for a quick swim in the pool (eager to work off some calories from the Chinese we had for lunch) before heading off to the concert.

Rehearsing in Michigan

The Howard Performing Arts Center on the campus of Andrews University is a stunning venue, the acoustics of which would put most of the halls in London to shame. Our concert coincided almost exactly with a local sporting event known as the “Superbowl”, so we were expecting the audience to be select, but in fact we were pleasantly surprised: a great crowd full of enthusiasm (a particularly eager audient hailed our arrival with the greeting “play loud and prosper”). We received an incredibly warm welcome, with the second-half Gershwin going down particularly well. Meeting members of the audience to autograph programmes and CDs afterwards it was striking how knowledgeable they all were about music and brass instruments: so many of them seemed to have had formative experiences in bands at high school and beyond.

Catching the end of the Superbowl

Our work done, we managed to catch the very end of the football at a neighbouring hotel. Dan, our resident expert in all things American (especially food, beer and sports), talked us through the intricacies as the Eagles powered to a convincing victory. As night fell and the temperature plummeted yet further, the crack in our windscreen lengthened menacingly, and so we went to bed with the task of finding a new tour bus the first thing on the agenda for the next morning.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 5

Standing ovations: 5

Distance travelled: 6617 miles

Time on the bus: 25 hrs 12 mins

States driven through: 7

Windscreens cracked: 1

America: Day 4 (by Simon Cox)

These days it’s easy to keep in touch with everyone back home whilst on tour thanks to technology, so a few calls were made once we embarked on the day’s drive (only 6.5 hours this time) to check in with family…perhaps just as importantly, it allowed us to keep track of a thumping victory for Wales over Scotland in their Six Nations opener, a big morale boost for a certain section of the bus.

The journey from Manhattan, Kansas to Waverly, Iowa

We’ve often wondered what we would do on a tour like this if someone got sick. The hours upon hours that we’ve spent rehearsing, recording and performing together means it would be nigh on impossible to find a last minute replacement for one of our concerts. Our curiosity was satisfied when Alan suffered the aftermath of a migraine an hour or two into the journey. It’s probably best that I gloss over the details (and we certainly won’t post any photos), but it wasn’t the most pleasant part of the journey. A quick stop at the first available services, followed by some rehydration and a bit of a snooze, and he was back in business, delivering his usual immaculate performance when the evening came.

This hasn’t been the healthiest tour. Here Dan is about to consume a deep-fried sandwich

This season has seen a big increase in the number of concerts we’re doing (around 40) so we’re getting used to preparing for upcoming projects whilst on the road. I spent most of the journey putting the finishing touches to a new arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition that Matt Knight and I have been working on for the continuation of our KLEPTOMANIA concert series later in the month in London and Cambridge, although I can’t say our bus is the ideal work environment.

Simon polishing off some arranging on the road

Snow greeted us in Iowa

Huw was well prepared

Our concert in Waverly was to take place at Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School, and began with a short performance together with hand-picked students from the school band. Having all experienced the ever-shrinking music provision in British schools, it was incredible to see how well-equipped the school’s music department is, and to hear that the band has 130 members – not bad for a middle school in a town with a population of less than 10,000!

This is how you do music education properly

Once again, the concert went well with the Debussy Préludes a particular highlight. It was good to chat to some of the audience afterwards, who were telling us about all the musical happenings in their town – including an over-55s band with a big membership, featuring until recently a 104-year-old percussionist! We also met a couple who had travelled for over 2 hours from Wisconsin to come to the concert. They had found out about Septura from our YouTube videos, and we were relieved to hear that we didn’t disappoint in real life!

After the concert we headed to a nearby bar with our host Scott Muntefering, and despite our best intentions we realised it was probably time for bed when we discovered that we were the only ones left. Tomorrow, Michigan.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 4

Standing ovations: 4

Distance travelled: 6218 miles

Time on the bus: 19 hrs 5 mins

Time on planes: 11 hrs 31 mins

Arrangements completed: 1