As Septura assembled at Heathrow to check in for our latest visit to the USA I was greeted by a momentarily confusing sight: Matt Gee was cradling a very young, very adorable baby boy. Soon the penny dropped & I realised that this was in fact the latest addition to the Knight household, and not a stealth new baby Gee. Obvious jokes came to mind: ‘wow, Septura players are getting younger & younger’ etc. but thankfully for my fellow travellers I saved them for this blog. Young James bid us a Bon Voyage as we dropped our bags with United Airlines staff for the long journey to Ashland, Oregon.

The first leg of the journey took us over Greenland, Baffin Island & eventually over my home turf in the Canadian Rocky Mountains before landing in San Francisco for a relaxing layover & our first foray into unhealthy American cuisine at an airport bar. Having missed October’s trip around the States due to family commitments, my most recent visit was our tour in February 2020, which fittingly finished in San Fransisco. Quite a lot has happened in the intervening years so it feels strangely liberating to be able to get back to the grindstone, schlepping around America unimpeded by that ‘global pandemic’ thing we all had to put up with for so long.

A short flight later & we landed in Medford, Oregon, where we piled into taxis for a short drive to picturesque Ashland, Oregon, a mere 20 hours after departing London that morning. Thankfully we weren’t expected to dive straight into a concert that evening so we retired to our rooms for whatever jet lagged sleep we could muster before rehearsals the next day.

We awoke to the sight of a quaint Pacific Northwest town nestled into the western foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A somewhat familiar sight to me, very much reminding me of the part of Western Canada where I grew up. Our hosts for the first engagement, Southern Oregon University, allowed us to rehearse in their Recital Hall, and roughly halfway through we gave SOU students an informal performance of some Finzi & Gershwin. The Artistic Directors spoke to the inquisitive students from the university about the group & answered some questions before we closed out the rehearsal with a thorough blow-through of some Copland & other pieces for the concert the following evening.

Simon and Matt chatting with students

Following the rehearsal the rest of my lower brass colleagues tested their cardiovascular endurance on a trail run around the foothills, but I had worked up a bit of an appetite and – in the fashion which I am accustomed when in America – I found a local brewery which served boneless buffalo wings, amongst other culinary delights. One-by-one the others filed into the establishment & we chewed the fat – both figuratively & literally – until the shockingly early 8pm closing time. Oregon hosts the perfect climate for many popular varieties of grapes, and we sampled some local Pinot Noir back at the hotel which would stack up well when compared to any of France or New Zealand’s finest exports.

Having succeeded in fighting off the jet lag until my personally prescribed 10pm bed time, we all retired to our rooms in the hope (misplaced, in my case) that we would all get a decent night’s sleep.

Day 2 in Ashland began for me at 5am, when I opened my eyes, wide awake but still keen to get some much-needed rest. Once I finally abandoned any hope of increasing my quota of restful sleep I decided it was time to take drastic action: following a few rounds of Wim Hof’s breathing technique I steeled myself for a visit to the hotel’s fitness centre for a bit of exercise. It was my first gym visit in years, though it actually felt great to get some much needed endorphins flowing through me. I then continued my new jet lag busting regime with a signature Wim Hof cold shower followed by breakfast.

A few hours later & it was time to soundcheck & prepare for the concert at Southern Oregon University. This would be my first crack at the ‘Special Relationship’ – a daunting task knowing that the group had successfully performed it many times in October’s concerts without me. The programme, featuring exclusively American & British composers, is challenging to say the least but I have it on good authority that it can be very rewarding to perform. The group sounded fantastic, but on a personal level I was somewhat disappointed. This was mainly due to some spectacularly unsuccessful mute changes and a mutinous trombone bell section which must have decided the the jet lag was too much; it slowly began to droop into a resting position on my elbow while I awkwardly (heroically?) performed a fairly lonesome passage in Pete Walton’s brilliant composition, Time Out of Joint. As they say, these things happen & the only people who seem to have noticed were my colleagues on-stage who thankfully spared me a full-bore helping of abuse in the interval.

Ready for our first concert

The second half begins with more familiar rep for me: Gershwin’s Three Preludes which we have performed countless times over the years. The much-needed confidence boost was handy in advance of tackling the very challenging arrangement of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which to my delight went quite well – despite another fairly embarrassing mute ‘fail’ in the final straight – this one not entirely my fault but still the cause of more on-stage chuckles at my expense from my ever-compassionate colleagues.

Back at the hotel we were joined for a celebratory drink by our USA agents Craig & Alexis – plus their friendly & adorable dog Jameson – who had travelled up from San Francisco to hear us. The conversation was so pleasant after a long couple of days that it was very difficult to tear ourselves away to pack & prepare for our scheduled 4am departure for the next destination on tour: Provo, Utah. This will be my first visit to Utah & l look forward to flying over its unique red terrain & rugged badlands before landing in Salt Lake City.