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Fresh Air at the RCM



Fresh Air is one of the pieces I wrote during the lockdowns, a "serenade" for multiple woodwinds. It was originally intended for the National Youth Orchestra's Inspire programme, a project that supports state school-educated instrumentalists with the participation of current NYO members. The orchestra "did me proud", eventually giving a beautiful performance in one of their high profile concerts in the the Royal Festival Hall.

 

However, my original inspiration had been a vision of a really big group of wind players, rows and rows of them filling the stage and the surrounding air. For pandemic reasons, that hadn't yet happened yet. Enter Marie Lloyd, Head of Woodwind at the Royal College of Music. She had organised a whole day and evening of wind activity at the College. Five performance-minded schools had sent sizeable platoons of teenage woodwind students. (They were from Eltham College, Mill Hill County High School, Oundle School, Cheltenham Ladies' College and a Buckinghamshire grammar school. Many thanks to them all.) RCM students had been tutoring them in the morning, and filled in key parts in my 23-part composition. It seemed to me the perfect way for an international music college to spread expertise, energy and enthusiasm around the country.

 

During the day I met quite a few of the school students, who as ever give me encouragement to think that, despite everything, there is still a positive narrative we should be telling about instrumental teaching in schools. Marie and I compared notes about which instruments students are, and are not, taking up. These days you often hear that oboe numbers are getting critically low, but on this occasion I was particularly struck by the confidence of the school-age oboe section. Marie, like me, had had experience of mini-bassoon projects with surprisingly numerous takers. She, herself a clarinettist, felt that we were currently short of clarinet beginners; that really was a surprise, remembering the youth orchestras of yore. As ever, how much we owe to our heroic woodwind teachers, who have a particularly fiddly job dealing with student reeds, complicated and easily damaged keywork,etc etc.


Pictured - actual fresh air available at the nearby Serpentine.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

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