Virtual Venue

This is a theatre, or an opera house. Or whatever you want it to be actually, it’s your own personal concert space, an environment where you you can choose to hear any piece listed in the programme below. Some are genuine live performances, where the contributors details are cited. Others are digital renditions, where the performers will generally be the House Band of some sort. But the House itself is up to you. To listen to a brass band, you might choose the Albert Hall, sitting in those famous plush red seats, perhaps with a beer from the stalls bar; to listen to an orchestra, transport yourself to the tiered Royal Festival Hall or the circular Sheldonian in Oxford, or any local concert venue of choice. It’s a Virtual Venue. To listen to any of the repertoire available, simply take a seat wherever you want, be it a church, a recital venue, a bandstand in a park, a school hall, a well-loved theatre stage, sit back and choose your piece. Drinks are on the house. Virtually all of these pieces are available in The Shop., or from other publishers where shown. If anything isn’t immediately available I’ll try to make it so.

Princip to Poppies

Performed by the Royal Northern College of Music Trombone Choir, conductor Adrian Morris, at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, on 20/5/15.
This is a sad story all about WW1; is there any other kind?  It’s one of my more descriptive works in that musically, a story is told, with distinct events and a main character. *Adrian, Benny to all who knew him, conducted this piece in the latter stages of cancer. He was very weak, but even after this, he found the enormous strength to be an adjudicator at the British Open on the 5th September. He left us all on the 21st of that month. RIP Benny.
The last movement of Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices has one of the most beautiful endings I know.
House Very Mixed Ensemble. In a nightclub. Adrian Miotti asked me in April 2018 to write something for his new group, Neoteric. The ensemble is a brilliant idea as its six members – 2 winds, 2 trumpets and 2 low brass – can double up to around twenty instruments! In this tune, a chorale followed by a heady riff, the two wind players become five, and the Second Trumpet also plays the wood block. https://www.neotericensemble.co.uk/
House Brass Band.
A contemporary work about the Hiroshima bomb. The title is the date and time of the explosion. The first half of the piece is utterly innocent, a busy early morning street scene building up three times, incorporating musical haikus and the traditional Japanese children’s song ‘Toryanse’. But the plane is heard overhead, and after that it’s pandemonium, musical Chaos. Not without form though, and I hope that the recurring sequence, on which layers of panic and destruction are mounted, serves to enable the listener to bear it. It’s devastating music, as it should be. In this digital version there is a gap in the middle, as Sibelius doen’t recognise a wind machine. Then there is real space, silence, but we know what’s coming…
House full orchestra.
This is the first of 2 pieces in the style of Steve Reich.  SRI is Sacro Romano Impero, the Holy Roman Empire, which of course was the First Reich.  Harbleedin’ har.  But I liked the title enough to keep it, because 3 stark capitals are a bit mechanical, as this sort of music is, and there’s also more than a nod towards Michael Nyman’s MGV (Musique a Grande Vitesse).  For full-blown orchestra, the piece almost lives up to Steve Reich’s proportions at 11 minutes long. There is also a reduced (in length, to 6 ½ minutes) version.
Here is a Hoedown, written in 2011 for the brass and percussion sections of ICO. ICO is an orchestra based in Warsaw, comprising of young musicians from seven eastern / ex-Soviet countries: Poland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova.  For those eastern players, I wrote the most Western-like tune I could think of, a Hoedown.

House Cacophonium.   Here’s the same piece, this time for a 39-piece Concert/Symphonic Band. This riotous combo suits this piece very well. The title, without the ICO connection now, is written normally.
Sketches of Shetland. Performed by Kidlington Concert Brass, conductor Duncan Wilson, at Exeter Hall, Kidlington, on 31/3/19.
This is a five-movement, continuous twenty-minute piece depicting these beautiful islands. We first went there in 2008, and standing at the very top of Britain, at Hermaness, in freezing rain, watching the furious sea crashing on the rocks and the cliffs round the lighthouse, the gulls and terns whizzing around above the water, I knew this would be great for band. You could almost hear it. It took another ten years (see above) for me to get going on it, but that’s where it started. The five movements are 1. The View; 2. Boat Trip and Cave; 3. Mousa by Midnight; 4. Hoswick Bay, and 5. Hermaness.  Five very different impressions of these spectacular, then adventure-filled, mystical, heroic and stormy islands. You must go.
In February 2010, the brilliant trombone quartet Bones Apart commissioned me to write them a set of variations on the theme Spanish Ladies.  The initial idea was of a traditional Air Varie, where there are increasingly flashy versions of the tune, but I soon realised I could have much more fun than that.  Much more work too, but the piece would be better for it if I treated the melody like Enigma Variations, where Elgar takes snippets of his tune and uses them to create entirely different characters.  So the tune was chopped up, overturned, reversed etc, all common techniques, and we ended up with a series of 6 variations.  These are Polka, Habanera, Solonelle, Zortziko, a kind of sultry Danse Macabre which I’ve called Muerte Blues, and finally Rondo.  For those that don’t know -and I didn’t – a Zortziko is an authentic Spanish dance, mostly in the north, and is in 5/4 time, with the beats divided into 1 + 2 + 2. Published by Bones Apart.
It would help to describe this piece if I gave one of (!) its original titles, which was Fanfare, Theme, Ghosts and Hoedown. This is a melange of a piece, in those implied moods, written as a thankyou to Duncan Wilson and Kidlington Concert Brass for performing Sketches of Shetland, which I must say they did brilliantly. When I couldn’t settle on a title for the melange, I wondered if, when KCB played it, we should have a sort of raffle, where members of the audience could suggest a title, based on what they’d just heard. It was quite an up-and-down summer that year.
Or Bombasticity II, takes us back to the beginning of the recital. Genesis did an album in 1979 in which the opening returns at the end, and the way they did it always gripped me. This is a similar effort, to close this cyclic recital. So after drifting through the sky above the clouds, we sink right back to a sepulchral beat and a revisiting of the material of the opening piece (and Ghosts). This inexorably leads to the very first phrase, and a cadenza, over a hiatus in the piano part, which brings us to the final ending. It is my hope that this return ties the whole recital together like shoelaces, rounding off and finalising the performance so it becomes a single entity.
Solo trombonist, solo open piano.
The Rocket explores the rather outer-space-like effect of playing a trombone into a piano.

Tor

House Brass Band. Possibly in Somerset. At Sunset.
There’s a glorious picture of Glastonbury Tor, and I’ve yet to find the photographer who took it. This piece is entirely based on this one incredible image, mostly bright orange, of the sunset mists across the fields, rooks rising from foreground trees, and the magnificent monument itself, just rising on its tor above the clouds.
Air Moving. This is simply one of the most beautiful tunes I’ve ever heard, by Kathryn Tickell, the brilliant Northumbrian pipes player. She gave me permission to arrange it for trombone quartet so here it is. The original tune is published by Not Them Again/Purple Patch publications.
I used to live in Walthamstow, and this is a short, light piece, the most traditionally-brass-band I’ve written, with a catchy theme and middle section. What makes it Walthamstow is the postcode bridge section, where during its brief four bars, 17 Es are heard on the flugel and glock.
This was the second Steve Reich-inspired effort. SRI is driving, headlong music, this is more atmospheric, and tells a story. It would have been A Walk in the Woods but it’s in ¾ so the Waltz seemed appropriate. The woods were going to be tranquil English ones, but things take a decidedly spooky turn in the middle section. After a stream has appeared innocently then gathered pace and strength, we wander off into the trees, where twigs crackle, leaves rustle, owls hoot; we feel lost, it’s very Blair Witch, and the use of a haunting treble recorder doesn’t help. (Detracting from the spooky atmosphere in this audio file are a few unwanted interpretations by the Sibelius music programme. The gentle sweep of a violin bow down a cymbal comes out as a crashing gong, and it thinks a guiro is a doorbell buzzer). But we return to the path, to glorious progress – from ca. 10 minutes to 13.40ish is some of the most joyful music I’ve written – and the Walk ends dreamily.
Good title eh? Written in 1984, we played it on the NYO Summer Course that year. A better piece than the title.
Back outside in the sun, we were led up the path past about thirty sheds, where prisoners were kept. We were shown into one, I think most of the rest aren’t used for anything now. Before we went in, the guide said ‘Now you’re going to see 58,000 shoes’. Inside were cages, ten feet tall, all down the middle of the shed, and knee-high ones round the sides. They were all crammed with old shoes, belonging to ex-prisoners, a stunning portrayal of the numbers involved. But more than that, not just the numbers, you felt their personalities. Walking down the sides, I instinctively reached down and started touching some of the shoes through the mesh, and looking up, I saw that other visitors were doing the same. I think I wanted to touch what the prisoners had touched, but then I suddenly stopped and drew back, I think because I couldn’t help them. There was one red shoe among the mostly flaky grey ones, and this implied character; a character; what sort of person wore this shoe?
A relaxing sailing trip hits a storm thrown at it by Steve Reich, before the boat sails off into the sunset with a warm flugel solo. This piece set sail after a single low flugel phrase on the telly reminded me what a gorgeous sound that is. While writing the flugel solo, I remembered that my gorgeous friend Amos Miller, force of nature at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire loves heavy jazz chords, so this piece is dedicated to him. It’s nice, this dedicating thing.
House Trombone Quartet at the Virtual Venue. Ten ways to say Goodbye. Got a pencil?
Loopy Louise is my wife Helen.  On a train journey to Manchester, she suggested I write something for just mouthpieces, so that’s what this is.  Or intended to be, anyway.  It works much better on the whole instrument, and is an encore piece, containing 10 ways to say Goodbye, in about 90 seconds.
A nice little number for piano and string orchestra that I started before leaving school, finished sometime at college, and added the strings about 20 years after that. The version for solo piano is followed by the same, but with the added strings, and there’s a bit of a blip in the solo page because of a Coda marking which Sibelius doesn’t like. So to hear the full, uninterrupted and orchestrated version, start at 2.30. On the recording, not in the morning. Though it is music written for the night. I’ve added a second audio file which is just the main section, the piano with strings, and tweaked the dynamics so the balance is better.

6/8, The Sequel

The Virtual Venue Brass Tentet, with percussion. This particular mp3 percussionist is quite keen.
Here’s a celebration of G&S-ness! The medley comprises of 12 of the catchiest tunes, and hidden within these are 14 additional excerpts. Also lurking, perhaps in plain sight, are 4 completely random, non-Sullivan inserts; 30 things to spot in all. Or just switch off and enjoy these amazing tunes. The title is from a well-known colleague, who whenever he was asked to do a D’Oyly Carte show, simply wrote 6/8 in his diary.

Return of the Polar Express

The second minimalist piece for brass band, see below.
Another minimalist piece for band, this time more John Adams than Steve Reich. Listeners will spot that the introductory figure is almost exactly the same as ‘Sea, Storm and Sunset’, there’s only a single semitone difference. However, what comes from it is of course entirely different, isn’t music amazing? And anyone else would take the same 4 notes and produce another new and completely different piece altogether. This time, instead of a bold, nautical opening, the intro is cold, desolate, frozen with icicles, and the following fast rhythm is scrunchy. The train is off, but through uncertain, jagged territory. It builds and strengthens, then changes track from C to Ab7, and darker voices are heard underneath. Back to the wilderness. This section ranges though keys, but builds again and swings back into C major. By now the train is flying headlong through much happier scenery, and the repeated riff is firmly rooted in the 4-note beginning. Another swing lands us in the home strait of G major, and the engine is now in its triumphant final rush to the end of the line.   About the title. The piece is definitely a train journey. Initially I saw only rolling prairies and the wide-open spaces of America, and the ending definitely smacks of the Iron Horse. But it’s spooky to start, and the locomotive riff is only the second half of the piece. So then it became ‘The Transylvanian Express’ travelling initially through gnarled woods and creepy countryside. Then a friend suggested that the final riff and build-up reminded him of Sibelius, and I could see his point. Normally when people, always well-meaning, say ‘that’s great, it sounds like just like…’ that’s a bit of a body blow, as it’s so hard to create anything original, and a compliment like that can be very deflating. But in this case I didn’t mind, as I say, I agreed, and so the whole train shifted a long way north. Finland itself, for the Sibelius feel, was suggested. But by now I wanted a journey from dark to light, from cold to a triumphant blaze. Nothing to do with the wonderful Tom Hanks Xmas film of 2004, nothing to do with Santa Claus. If there is a connection, it’s in the word ‘Return’, in that my train is travelling in the opposite direction, not to the North Pole but away from it.     June 2020. (7th piece of Lockdown).

The Long and the Short

House brass band, possibly standing behind marimbas, but they never play them.
A brand new band piece as of April 2020. This is what would stereotypically be called a minimalist piece. It’s entirely based on a single cell, a 5-note phrase of only two pitches. The rhythm roughly resembles the words of the title, and that’s it. I’ve borrowed some effects from Steve Reich, for me the beguiling master of this sort of music: the off-setting of the cell at the beginning and end, repeated and overlapping chords, and big, wide chords underneath the cell. What Reich also does is multiple repetition, his pieces can easily last half an hour and some players will play the same or similar music throughout. This is obviously not physically possible for brass players, so I’ve divided things up a lot, and the entire piece is under seven minutes. After a passage where the overlaid chords are punctuated by more threatening ones, there’s what I’m calling a ‘stereo section’, where, in a normal brass band set-up, the music shifts quickly across the band, so it’s virtually a visual as well as aural experience for the audience. Finally the cell falters, breaks up, and could have ended there but for a final shout to round it off.
High (!) solo trombone.
This is a light tune. Light in style, floaty in feel, the trombone plays fairly high throughout, and is very much in the old-fashioned solo mode.
Encores are too long. This one is a minute and a half but there are a lot of notes. Mostly in 5, it’s a bombastic zoom up and down various arpeggios, always tongue-in-cheek (which makes it a lot harder to play). For use as the encore to the recital for which it was written (as is the case here), before the final manic flourish we are reminded of snippets from all of the previous pieces. This takes this piece up to a laborious 2 minutes.
A made-up word for a bit of swashbuckle. The opening piece in the trombone recital, Reaching for the Clouds (see Shop and Composing Categories).
A set of four pieces not just for trombone but trombone player. Nowadays, the music profession has so contracted that we are all often required to double on other instruments. The alto trombone has been up the player’s sleeve for centuries, but more recently, euphonium and bass trumpet are common additions. To play this piece is to demonstrate proficiency and an employable standard on all the ‘other’ instruments. Each instrument takes a movement, and one of the classical Four Elements of Ancient Greece to portray: Earth, Air, Water and Fire.
Definitely Arvo Part-driven, this is a relentless piece set in D minor. Huge, lumbering trolls hurl boulders at each other in the mountains through a torrential downpour. The boulders and the rain are heavy, the rocks boom. The fight in the monsoon continues from start to finish, if anything becoming more and more thick and stormy right to the end. Melodically, it’s simply a descending whole tone scale on the trombone, played twice. There’s a slip into C# minor between the two scales. Harmonically, we flit through keys relating to the notes of the trombone scale, until its final two tones, F# and E, when the rain music distorts and threatens. The trombone is the giants and the boulders, the piano is the rain. But finally the E, not having reached its final D-estination first time round, resolves, though the rain pounds harder, and the giant conflict never does give in.
House brass band, in sombreros. Especially the soprano player.
This was written for the Cory Composition Competition in 2019, and though it didn’t get anywhere, it didn’t fade away either, and was premiered by the Birmingham Conservatoire Brass band in November that year. Obviously a Spanish piece, there’s a section that evokes a Spanish guitar, with 6 instruments representing one open string each. It starts as a fiesta, with some flamenco clapping, then the guitar introduces the beautiful middle section, with Navarran desert heatwaves, before a flourish towards the end.
Pam-e-ent-see Kaz. I wanted to call this piece ‘A tribute to Serocki’, but it translates better into Polish to say Pamieci, which is closer to ‘in memory of’. Kaz is a flippant shortening of Serocki’s first name, Kazimierz. And the piece is less in memory of the composer himself than a tribute to his Sonatina for Trombone, written in 1954 and still one of the best pieces for the instrument.
This piece follows straight on from the relentless Giants in the Rain, and is therefore a quiet, ethereal contrast. Giants started with a long piano introduction, Ghosts has the solo trombone softly laying out the theme, a recitative-like chant based on the most recurrent motif of the recital, a 5-note snippet going up or down towards the end.  The piano joins the second (now muted) version of this theme, flitting between airy wisps and lower, darker accompaniment.  The ghosts always have sinister beauty.

The Gypsies

House Mixed Ensemble.  Coming out of a field in the rain.
This really is a random ensemble, of piccolo, 2 flugels, tambourine and wood block, triangle, vibraphone, guitar and bass guitar, and tin whistle. The piece created the group. It’s a round and round on guitar, which I always fancied to support a flugel tune. 1 flugel became 2, as a duet appeared. Steve Reich has long been an influence, and I added a wood block or temple block as a constant, a sound I use a lot anyway. Another effect I love is that of a triangle used as a drum kit high hat, by which I mean it’s mostly damped, but open on occasional notes. Then I put another favourite in: the delayed bass entry. The bass guitar funks in before you expect it, but it’s delayed even so, and I love that. Chris Hazell does it in 2 of his brilliant Brass Cats; I guess I learnt it from there. Once I’d put these bases onto Sibelius, the music started to become a piece, with a direction and a feeling. Music always needs form, and so a 2nd section evolved, or rather a contrasting tune over the same guitar chords. This high woodwind tune, played on piccolo and tin whistle in a stretched tonality, gave the piece its character and title. This is minimalist stuff really, with the guitar chords playing from start to finish, but the layers make it more and more complex. The syncopated vibraphone layer gave it a lilt, as the gypsy convoy jolts by. With the scene in place, it seemed right to add a short cadenza for solo gypsy guitar, and the whole piece is another Jamie’s Patrol (see Riffem and Blues, above). The convoy pipes its way over the field, out of sight, and the piece ends like that, it just stops. Extended tonality, a constant riff and wood block, a delayed bass entry, the fact that it’s a bass guitar in the first place, the triangle high hat effect, 2 flugels, the ending without preamble; no wonder I like this one.
Published by Brass Works. My favourite Trombone Concerto has always been Edward Gregson’s, so of course that influenced me when I was writing this. It was written in 1987 for the Final Recital of a fellow student and good friend of mine, Ed Tarrant, so given the 2 Eds, the first movement motif is the notes E and D. The second movement is Shostakovitchian in places, and has a cadenza which introduces third movement material. 23 years later, Robb Tooley (2nd trombone of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) performed the concerto twice, with the St. Aldhelm’s Orchestra in Dorset, conducted by Kevin Smith. It is dedicated to Peter Gane, who did so much to help my career and life when I was at college. Published by BrassWorks.
House Orchestra. Possibly in a very large igloo. Players wrap up warm.
A Polar Journey. Pictures, events, storyline. Despite initial intentions, there soon appeared very definite pictures in my head to portray in this piece, so that in the end it’s practically a journey. Both the Arctic and Antarctic are represented under the heading of Polar, simply because the scenes shown don’t exist in both places (e.g. penguins and polar bears, the bears live north, the penguins south). We open on a bare frozen wasteland, sounds emerge from the scene only slowly, as the picture thaws. Various pre-borrowed motifs from the rest of the piece are heard, the ‘home’ key of F minor is hinted at. We come to a glacier, vast, stretching out below us.  Wide, sweeping music, majestic, started by the brass but mostly concerning the strings. An Arctic fox nips across the snow below. Suddenly we reach a busy sea, vibrant, with leopard seals twisting and zooming through the water and white whales and giant squid in the depths. The seascape becomes brighter, shafts of sunlight in the water reflect technicolour shoals of glittering fish – rather a more tropical scene than polar – and the sea swarms with marine life. Finally the waters calm and darken, and we see an ice floe on which stand a family of four polar bears. This is the most graphic section of the piece. As the ice floes are melting and shrinking, the family, represented by the horn section, swim to a smaller floe. Only three of them make it, and the water surrounding them becomes more dangerous, threatening both them and the floes. Only two survive the increasingly breathless paddle to the next patch of ice, the water is swirling and angry now, and finally only one bear is left on a solitary floe. The dark sea overtakes and consumes both with terrifying chords. The sea and climate have won, and settle to heaving, brooding waters. But we’re heading inland now, and creatures of the deep are heard below. The music lightens and more marine animals are heard nearer and nearer the surface. The tide crashes gloriously onto the rocky shore, and on land we see penguins shooting out of the water and waddling inland to their colonies. As they huddle together a southern storm is on its way, snow drifting down in heavier and thicker blankets. Soon the colony is engulfed by the ferocious blizzard. As it passes, the skies clear, yet we are still in a remote landscape, and return to the opening key, and to the desolate panorama. Snippets of earlier melodies return, forlorn bear calls are heard in the distance, the Arctic fox even makes a cheeky return, but the music is spreading out again, before a crevasse opens, and the white wilderness is all we are left with.
Performed by the House Trombone Quartet. Live in the Virtual Venue.
Again for Bones Apart, this was finished in November 2012 for the group’s ‘Legends’ programme. It’s a telling of the Robin Hood story, in a series of scenes like a film. Some of the characters differ from tradition: Robin Hood is a brigand, perhaps heroic but a hardened outlaw all the same; Maid Marion is an utterly alluring temptress, nothing like a damsel, and the Sheriff of Nottingham is a podgy adversary to Robin’s men. There is a showdown, with glissando arrows whizzing between the trees of Sherwood Forest, victory stays in the hands of Robin and tradition, and the film ends in the forests murky depths. Published here: https://www.bonesapartpublishing.com/apps/webstore/products/show/8102825

On the Band-Stand

Riffem and Blues

Expanding forces further, to 12 trombones, this piece has made it to performance, by the students of Trinity College, the Royal College, and the trombones of RAF Northolt so far.  I’d had the riff for ages and knew roughly what I was going to do with it.  The piece starts with a musical “Hello” on mixed mutes, then the riff starts in the distance and builds up around it, then it skips a beat and falls into a big blues, in the manner of Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk.  The riff returns and fades, finally ending with the opening reversed, now as a musical “Goodbye”.  There’s a piece for brass band called Jamie’s Patrol, about an American Civil War band, which starts with the bugles and drums over the hill, approaching until the full cavalry sweeps past, then  strides off into the distance again.  Very atmospheric, and obviously an influence on Riffem and Blues.   It is published by Roger Harvey at Brass Works.

It would help to describe this piece if I gave one of (!) its original titles, which was Fanfare, Theme, Ghosts and Hoedown. This is a melange of a piece, in those implied moods, written as a thankyou to Duncan Wilson and Kidlington Concert Brass for performing Sketches of Shetland, which I must say they did brilliantly. When I couldn’t settle on a title for the melange, I wondered if, when KCB played it, we should have a sort of raffle, where members of the audience could suggest a title, based on what they’d just heard. It was quite an up-and-down summer that year.

Written for a performance at an International Trombone Federation bash in 2006, for Katy Price and Christian Jones, shortly before they got married.  Based on their initials, and the imminent wedding, the theme takes its cue from the song about Casey Jones, the American pioneer.

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