COME MEET THE BAND with Norman Warwick
Since retiring here to Lanzarote we have heard Baroque Orchestras, string quartets, and Camerata ensembles from Russia, Holland, Germany and various other countries and have enjoyed the island´s own Lanzarote Ensemble Orchestra, that played in London a year or so ago. We have even heard orchestras playing in caves and in convents.
Wikipedia tells us, though, that the word orchestra was first used by the ancient Greeks and was actually a word to identify the front part of a stage. During the Middle Ages the word came to also include the musicians on the stage. The first orchestras were organized by kings and queens of France and in Italian churches and places during the late 6th and early 7th centuries. Most of the orchestras of this era used stringed instruments and played for ballets, operas and at dance parties.
By the early 1700s some European composers, like Johann Sebastian Bach or George Frederic Handel, wrote music just for orchestras.
Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven perfected the classical symphony in the late seventeen and early eighteen hundreds. In the twentieth century composers like Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky created musical works that required large ensembles to perform them. Later on electronic instruments were added and new sounds created.
An orchestra has now become a term for a group of musicians who play together on various instruments. Sometimes it performs alone, at other times it plays along with a group of singers. Orchestras give concerts and play for ballets or operas. They also provide background music for movies and TV shows.
When we speak of orchestras we usually mean symphony orchestras. They have many instruments and play mostly classical music which is performed in concerts.
Some symphony orchestras have only professional musicians. The most famous are in the larger cities of the world. Among them are the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, The Boston and London Symphony orchestras and The Halle.
Orchestral music is written in the form of a score, which shows the notesthat are played by each instrument. Each musician only sees the notes that he or she plays. The conductor stands in front of the orchestra and directs the musicians.
An orchestra can have up to 20 kinds of different instruments. Large symphony orchestras can have a hundred musicians. Smaller ones like chamber orchestras have between 5 and 40 players. They originally were small enough to play in a chamber or hall.
A modern orchestra consists of four sections or families of instruments. The string section is the most important part of a symphony orchestra. It has more than half of the musicians and consists of violins, violas, cellos and string basses. The violinists play high sounds and are divided into two groups. The first violins and the second violins usually play different parts. The leading first violinist is the concertmaster of the orchestra. He helps the other musicians tune their instruments and serves as the assistant. Cellos and string basses play low sounds.
The woodwind section consists of flutes, bassoons, oboes and clarinets. An orchestra can have between two and four of each of these instruments. Sometimes these musicians change instruments, for example, a flutist may switch to a piccolo. These two instruments have high piercing tones. whereas the bassoon may have the lowest tones of the whole orchestra.
The brass section has several trumpets, French horns, trombones and one tuba. These instruments are especially important in the loud, exciting parts of the music. Trumpets and horns play the higher parts, trombones and tubas dominate the lower parts. This section is located mostly at the centre and back of the orchestra
The percussion section has all sorts of instruments, especially those that you can hit, rattle or shake. The drums are the best known among these instruments. In a symphony orchestra, kettledrums or timpani make the music more exciting. Other percussion instruments include bells, cymbals, gongs, tambourines or xylophones.
Other instruments like the harp, piano or saxophone may be added to the orchestra if they are needed.
A conductor directs the musicians with a stick, called the baton. But he also does important things in preparing for the performance. He chooses the music that is to be played at a concert and decides how it should be played – loud or soft, fast or slow. Then he calls the musicians to rehearsals where he often lets sections or individual musicians play their parts over and over again until the sound is perfect.
Now, who amongst our circle of lovers of classical music can honestly say they have never dreamed of conducting a magnificent orchestra. Surely, I am not the only person ever to have spilled my late night cocoa and hobnobs by waving my arms about like a whirling dervish whilst listening to Classic FM, and giving my best Simon Rattle impersonation as I have the New World Symphony played exactly as I love it to sound. And who among us has not laughed out loud at comedic turns by the likes of Eric Morecambe and Andrew Preview pretending to lead the musicians?
Whilst we´re in the confessional let us admit, too, that most have sometimes sat back and listened to a recording of one of our favourite pieces and whilst doing so have begun to head-hunt the musicians and instruments we would select for,…oh, what shall we call it,….Norm´s New Wave Symphony Sound.
So, I am about to show you round the orchestra and introduce you to some of the musicians I have recruited, aided with information from a Google top hundred list of songs that mention instruments in their titles !
If we start here, with the woodwind section, we not only have some great virtuosos but we also have some real characters, too. On flute, for instance we have the man who virtually invented ambient music: Moby is here by virtue of his track Guitar, Flute And String, so he does tend to flit about from section to section when needed. Also playing flute, with similar licence to roam is the group called Sculptured who earned their place with Fulfilment In Tragedy For Cello And Flute, so you will occasionally find them in the string session as well. Next to them, because of his track Peace Pipe is the peter pan of pop Sir Cliff Richard, and beside him our Flute Girl, Melar. She has Magoo And Timbaland beside her on Indian Flute.
The five lads behind them, in the Hawaii shirts with surf boards under their arms are The Beach Boys who recorded an album track called Whistle In. In fact we do almost have a ´whistle in´ because also playing a Whistle For The Choir are The Fratellis.
We have quite a little studio of recorders, too, with Pete Townsend of The Who in charge of that little area after paying homage to recorders with a track by that name.
These musicians here are called Cartoonjazz Orchestra, and are led by Jeff Sandford. They all play the same instrument by dint of their recorded track The Bull Fighter And His Piccolo, and guesting with them we have Ciao Italia who once recorded Piccolo Amore.
The brass section, of course, is even larger And as you can see I am The Music Man who is also in charge of The Seventy Six Trombones, a record I made many years ago now.
The fellow you can hear tuning up that Mellow Saxophone is Roy Montell, as I´m sure you know, and he´s sitting with James Cotton and The Mississippi Saxophones.
That´s The Waterboys, over there, on the trumpets. They play with us every night now, so it´s been a while since they last saw The Whole Of The Moon I can tell you.
We have itinerant musicians in this section, too.
For instance these two Talking Heads over here have a criminal record for Sax And Violins, so sometimes they are sentenced to go and play in the string section instead.
Tom Waits is another master musician on a number of musicians and on another night you might find him at the piano, but tonight he´s here in this rather large brass section on his famous Swordfishtrombone. Next to him on the Blue Trombone is JJ Johnson, and in some performances we include the Trombone Poetry of Paul Taylor.
All this, together with the 928 Horn Jam, separately conducted by Trombone Shorty makes for a pretty powerful part of the Orchestra.
Mind you, the percussion section can make itself heard, too. Marc Bolan over there certainly likes to Get It On & Bang The Gong, and When The Angels Play Their Drum Machines, led by Helner, we strike up quite a rhythm. That lady over there is Linda Rondstadt, next to the guy in the woolly hat, Mike Nesmith, who used to be a Monkee and they each prefer to play the beat of a Different Drum.
Even here we have multi-talented players who sometimes sit in other areas of the orchestra, like Joni Mitchell, here. She plays The Fiddle And The Drum, and so sometimes takes a Big Yellow Taxi from one side of the stage to the other. She´ll often give a ride to Aswad because he plays Drum And Bass, of course,
Down in the front row, of the audience, you might recognise Jimmy Buffett. We don´t let him play with us, you know, because of his lifestyle of cocktails and cigars, but he always comes to listen When Salome Plays The Drums.
It sometimes amazes me that some of our musicians are not only maestros of their instruments but are also highly qualified in other fields as well. For instance the chap on the Hard Pan Di Drums is Dr. Alban. A doctor, no less, on the drums !
We even have a Giant, playing Drumstick, and that can certainly Scare The Snare as Jakwob once said.
All that rattling and shaking you can hear emanates from those fellows in the flashy clothes that you can see. They are The Lemon Pipers play the Green Tambourine and our Mr. Tambourine Man is that funny little chap with a mouth organ wired round his neck. You´ll have heard of Bob Dylan? Mr. Zimmerman is no longer the only audience member with a mouth harp however, as he has been joined by Yuri Lane on The Beatbox Harmonica.
There are other hand held percussive instruments, too, of course, so as we wander around you will probably see and certainly hear John Sebastian giving us a Lovin´ Spoonful of Maracas as well as Spoons by Tungg. Chiddy even gives us Handclaps And Guitar, and so scoots around the orchestra throughout the recitals. We have old skiffle instruments, too, in the orchestra, which is a unique selling point to be honest. We are very proud to include among our numbers Coney Island Washboard Woman by Israel K even if our very own Tubelord is always proclaiming Never Washboard.
Oh, and that other sound is The Cymbal Rush by Thom Yorke and you can also identify Timpani by David Ashton, and Tapes N Tapes playing Cowbell.
Many people overlook it, but let me point out that a little metallic triangle might be last, but is not least, amidst the percussion section. That is especially true when The Auld Triangle, like ours, is played by The Pogues.
We come now, though, to the strings which might be our biggest part of the orchestra, although I´ve never done a real headcount of instrumentalists or their instruments, to be honest. With so many players running around performing on two or three different pieces in the course of a concert it can all get a bit complicated to be honest. Some play more than one instrument in this section alone, so there can be a fair old game of musical chairs between pieces.
Jean Shepard, over there, for example used to be a country singer but these days she plays Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar, which now I come to think of it, actually sounds like the title of a country heartbreak song doesn´t it? Of course, the guitar was once memorably described as Six Strings That Drew Blood by The Birthday Party even as their fellow musician in the orchestra, singer writer Julie Matthews, talks of playing Blue Songs On A Red Guitar, in similar tones to those in which John Denver describes This Old Guitar, you see just lying there on the floor. Lendanear meanwhile describe their own Old Black Guitar Case as being like a lover and best friend. Some people, though, are never satisfied. Even in such a globally acclaimed orchestra as this one Johnny Preston still hangs around my office telling me he Wants A Rock And Roll Guitar, whilst Waylon Jennings is always bemoaning Guitars That Won´t Stay In Tune.
Of course, the ukulele has become quite the ubiquitous instrument these days and I hear there are ukulele bands, featuring the likes of Maureen Harrison, springing up all over the UK, including at the poetry nights I used to attend at The Baum on a Sunday night in Rochdale. Our own Ukulele Lady is, …may I introduce you to, Daphne Walker, and she sits with Holly Kirkby who delivers My Little Ukulele Song.
We have a pretty heavy bass back line, as well with a bass trap by U2
With Simon Harris constantly asking them, Bass, How Low Can You Go?
See, we´ve caught up with Moby again, too, with his Guitar, Flute And String.
We call those two lads in the corner The Duelling Banjos, but they are young and they´ll soon learn to play nicely, together, instead of trying to be the quickest on the strings. Until they do, though, God grant me Deliverance.
Of course, the violins play a massive part in the string section so we have Bagatelle on Second Violin and Aisles And Glaciers play the Viola Lion, whilst Donald O Connor, over there packing his instrument into his case, always jokes that playing the violin keeps him as Fit as A Fiddle.
You met Talking Heads earlier in the brass section because, as we said, they play Sax and Violins. An unfortunate title, perhaps, but sometimes I think I know what they mean. Joni Mitchell you bumped into in the percussion section but as you know, she is proficient on The Fiddle And The Drum so she often drifts over here, too. They make an interesting contrast with Alban Berg who joined us after he had written his Violin Concerto.
The big beast here is the cello, of course, as recorded by Slowdrive.
Playing Mandolin Wind we have Rod Stewart. He used to be a rocker ! Some people thought he had hot legs and was kind of sexy, but he´s been a pretty sober member of the orchestra ever since he started recording the American Songbook with a full orchestra, I think he´s just released Volume 67 or something like that.
All the members of Boney M each play a lute they call El Lute and claim they found it on a trip to The Rivers of Babylon.
We have some pounding bass, of course, with,…and you´ll like this, you remember I introduced you to Mike Nesmith, The Monkee who plays a Different Drum in the percussion section, …well, we not only have a Monkee but we also have Gorillaz playing Double Bass ! It´s Aswad, there at the back, who actually holds the Drum And Bass Line together for us. He has to ensure that the Bass Rave played by Bass Mekanik keeps to the beat.
Sometimes, though an exotic instrument can bring something different to the sound and, in this section, that comes from the Sitar Magic of Ashwin Batish. Sometimes too, it is musicians who made their names on another instrument, who discover such a love for a slightly different sound that they create real beauty on a second instrument. Peter Frampton was a hot rock guitarist back in the day, but now he´s a real Vaudeville Nana With The Banjolele.
Keyboards play an important role in any orchestra of course and we are lucky to have a group of musicians who can play anything, it seems. Hello Goodbye just say they Saw it On Your Keyboard and away they go, to start a Piano Party with Winifred Atwell, who sits next to Christopher Manik who somehow plays Two Pianos at the same time. Of course, we also have electronic keyboards, with Synthesise by the Electric Six and Organ Song by Boxer Rebellion. And we even have a Mellotron 1, played by Apples In Stereo. That Tom Waits chap we met over in brass tries to work his way into this section, too, and puts away his swordfishtrombone and comes to try to play the piano. He makes a lot of mistakes though, and always offers the same excuse that This Piano Has Been Drinking.
Then, finally, we have the instruments that people seem to find hard to classify, being uncertain to which section of the orchestra they belong. So, there is small section for bells and there you can find Mike Oldfield on Tubular Bells and Radiohead, who seem to be itinerant musicians in this orchestra, sometimes join him to play Morning Bell.
The Who applied to join us, apparently, just because Mama´s Got A Squeezebox, and the hippy dippy guy over there is Donovon, the folk singer. We call him Hurdy Gurdy Man but he makes some strange sounds with that instrument. We even have Bagpipes From Baghdad rapped out by Eminem.
Sometimes I have to step in and wave my baton to stop an argument, usually when The Band play Daniel And The Sacred Harp but a very strange old rocker called Captain Beefheart starts demanding that they ´Gimme Dat Harp, Boy.´
As you have probably gathered by now, my job is a lot more than just waving my arms about and pointing a stick. And does anyone call my name out? Do they heck.. Instead, all I ever hear is ´let´s hear it for the band !´
I´ve been trying to count up whilst I´ve been talking to you, though, and I reckon that in this particular orchestra we have more than a thousand instruments, so you can imagine what I have to put up with.
There are plenty more instruments around, of course, so I can only recommended that you check out
for a far more comprehensive listing. Go on, you know you want to.