In this activity, you get to play along, karaoke style(!), with BCMG trumpet player Richard Blake in a new piece, Counting Steps by New Zealand/US composer Celeste Oram.
In this resource you are invited to play along, karaoke style(!), with BCMG trumpet player Richard Blake in a new piece called Counting Steps by New Zealand/US composer Celeste Oram (pictured below).
Celeste composed Counting Steps as part of BCMG's Soliloquies & Dialogues project and it was premiered online in July 2020 BCMG trumpet player Richard Blake and a young trumpet player from Birmingham, Amelie. The Soliloquies & Dialogues series was conceived during lockdown and invites composers from around the world to reflect upon their situation in lockdown through music.
You can listen to and watch Richard and Amelie playing the piece below:
As you can see from the video, Richard plays most of the parts and Amelie one part. We have created a version in which you can play Amelie's part along with Richard - like Karaoke! You don't need to be a trumpet player to take part but just play a C or Bb melody instrument that reads in treble clef.
For a printable version of the introduction, programme note and performance instructions CLICK HERE
The piece is partly inspired by an old book about how to compose called Gradus ad Parnassum (The Steps to Parnassus). This book was a method for composing counterpoint (the relationship between 2 or more musical lines) in the style of Palestrina (another composer), written by Johann Joseph Fux in 1725.
In one sense, it is a very dry book: a scourge (pain) of music students who—over centuries and around the world—have been told to study and learn its arcane (obscure) contents.
In another sense, it is (like other musical method books) an interesting piece of philosophical writing, where ideas about the meaning of music are entangled with ideas about how we should live our lives and how society should be organised.
The entire book is written as a Socratic dialogue (a conversation in the form of questions and answers) between the master Aloysius and the student Josephus. Their conversations are not limited to the rules of counterpoint but also stray into philosophy. These lines caught my attention as I began this piece:
'We do not live for ourselves alone; our lives belong also to our parents, our country, and our friends' and 'drops wear down the stone not by strength, but by constant falling.'
I wrote this piece in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic: a situation which makes plain the ways our lives are woven together. It has become clear that our lives are inextricably tied to economics and power - where decisions about whether to ease the lockdown and require people to go back to work or school are weighed against the risk of more people becoming ill and losing their lives.
At the same time, when the economic necessity to work is removed, we can find space to grow and give to others, and take care of them, in a way that that costs us nothing. Recently, in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, a nurse from Naples, Italy is quoted as saying:
'I thought I was a weak person. Now I am discovering that I have power and courage above all my expectations.'
During the pandemic we have all found our worlds shrinking. Who or what else is your life connected to? And what changes have you noticed in yourself as a result of the lockdown?
Counting Steps is essentially a 'looper' piece: a repeating section of music is recorded and immediately played back so a second voice can be added and recorded, then a third, and so on. In the 'virtual' digital version of the piece, BCMG trumpeter Richard Blake recorded most of these parts to make a virtual trumpet choir.
One part remains unrecorded - that’s for you to play!
For the score in C (flute, oboe, violin, piano) CLICK HERE
For score in Bb (trumpet, cornet, clarinet) CLICK HERE
Below is the audio and video for Counting Steps without the final part. The first audio track has a click track that might be helpful when learning and the second is without it. You can decide whether to play along with the just the audio or the video. The C version of the video will be put up very soon.
A big thank you to Celeste for her enthusiasm for the idea of a karaoke version of her piece and for all her help putting it together and to BCMG trumpet player Richard Blake for editing the audio.
In the piece there is a recurring C Section which features a graphic score that lasts about 10 seconds.
This is an opportunity for you to improvise and explore sounds with your instrument. The graphic image represents the phrase:
'drops wear down the stone not by strength, but by constant falling'
Richard’s playing emulates the drops; your playing emulates the stone. Think about how you can represent this musically, with your instrument, the idea of a stone being eroded by raindrops…:
You might get creative and try out different mutes or playing techniques, if you have them, or even find objects around the house for your sonic explorations and improvisations! A pie pan, for example, or a sheet of tin foil, makes a wonderfully buzzy trumpet mute. NB check with your teacher to make sure these kinds of objects won’t damage your instrument.
There are no dynamic markings on the score; instead there are descriptive words like 'thoughtful' or 'proudly'. It’s up to you how you translate these descriptions into dynamic variations. You might also want to add in your own ornaments, like trills or glissandi.
Watch Celeste and Richard chatting about the piece below: