Music Learning Collective

International Women’s Day 2021: Emma Stafford

In support of International Women’s Day 2021, we asked MLC Loughborough Drum Teacher, Emma what her top 3 Musical Memories were.

Choosing my top three musical memories is quite difficult as there have been some events which seemed quite minor at the time, but have made a big impact on me, as well as some bigger events that have helped form my musical development. Things like choosing my own drum kit and piano for the first time, playing in bands, playing different styles of music in different types of ensembles and settings, and taking part in larger music/arts events were all pivotal moments for me. As it’s hard to choose just three, I could group some of my favourite memories into types of events: playing in pit orchestras, brass band and concert band events, and a music tour to Amsterdam.

1. Pit orchestras

I’ve always loved the idea of playing music for different forms of entertainment or media, so playing the drums in pit orchestras for musicals is one of my favourite memories. This is mainly because it’s really fun and can be challenging at times, in a good way! It’s also exciting to be part of a large production with people working together from different sectors to create the shows – actors/singers, musicians, sound/lighting engineers, set designers, stagehands, make-up artists, and the wardrobe department etc. I love the communal buzz from everyone before the performances which adds to the excitement too! The first few shows I played in were my first group performances playing different styles of music besides rock, so it was fun and interesting to have this new experience. This also led to me exploring different music and drumming styles further, beyond the realms of musical theatre. I’ve played in adaptions of musicals such as ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, ‘Mack and Mabel’, ‘The New Starlight Express’, ‘Les Misérables’, and ‘Chess’, as well as a few Gilbert and Sullivan productions, which are comic operas. ‘Cats’ and ‘Sister Act the Musical’ would have to my favourites that I’ve played in; ‘Cats’ because it was my first time in a pit orchestra and ‘Sister Act’ because it’s really lively and has some great songs for drums.

The type and number of instruments required for different shows can be quite diverse, which is another reason I like playing in musicals. For example, in some shows I played in a band with guitars, bass, and keyboards, and for others I was playing with brass and classical string instruments, plus piano/keyboards too. There could also be any kind of instrument combinations in between these, so having these different types of ensembles for each show was interesting to me as a player. All the shows had a conductor for the orchestra/band and a few required playing to a click track if there was extra audio to be used in addition to us, so all that metronome practise came in handy! In the future, there are many other musicals I would love to be able to play in, including West Side Story, Wicked, and Hamilton to name but a few!

2. Brass band and concert band events

Some more of my favourite musical memories are of playing with brass bands and concert bands at large events. I’ve played drums and percussion in four brass band competitions (Unibrass and the YHBBA contest) with two university bands and played twice at The National Concert Band Festival as a member of Derby Concert Band. It was really exciting playing at these events, similar to the feeling I had playing in the pit orchestras. There are many other bands and musicians at the events, approximately 25-30 people per brass band, which created an exciting atmosphere and that communal buzz was definitely around again! At some of the events I watched other bands perform too, which was like a concert in itself. At each of the annual Unibrass competitions there were also afternoon performances by a youth band and later a famous guest band, so all together it’s a pretty full-on ‘brassy’ day!

The pinnacle of these events was when the results were announced and we found out where our band placed, what the judges thought about the performance, and when we collected awards at some of them. It was really helpful getting verbal/written feedback from the adjudicators (professional musicians in their field) on what was good and what could be improved on in future performances. A lot of celebration always followed the results announcements, whether that was for doing really well or to celebrate the hard work put in by everyone. The two-day Unibrass event was especially enjoyable as you got to stay overnight at the hosting university, socialise with other bands, and had the opportunity to attend some workshops by renowned brass band musicians and conductors the next day. So overall these events were musical, social, informative AND a huge amount of fun!

3. Music tour to Amsterdam

My third choice of top musical memories is the week-long music tour to Amsterdam I went on with The University of Nottingham’s woodwind, brass, and percussion music society. This was one of the two tours that are arranged each year by the two main music societies at the university. The tours are really fun and you get to explore the city you’re in and play several concerts at different outdoor and indoor locations. On this tour we played concerts at various venues in Amsterdam and a couple in Rotterdam. The week before the trip was dedicated to rehearsals to prepare for the concerts abroad. The big band played some concerts and the wind orchestra played others; this was dubbed the ‘Monster Wind Band’, as it was comprised of many members from all different ensembles within the society. There were about 70 of us on the tour in total and there are usually around 40-45 people in a wind orchestra, so this was a big ol’ band, hence the ‘monster’ part of the name! We played a variety of music from different genres, including a lot of film music, and I played different drum kit and percussion parts depending on the piece. Since we were from The University of Nottingham, ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ was always on the tour set list as a way of representing Nottingham abroad!

The tour was another great social and musical trip, which included some sightseeing and free time with friends when we were not performing. It would have been great to have gone on some of the other music tours to different countries in my first and second year at university, but I’m glad I decided to go on this one in my third year, and again, I have lots of fab memories from it!

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