Personal Development

Escaping being Stuck in a Rut.

I have, for a few months now listened to the delicate rhythms if a stream in springtime and wondered how on earth I can possibly try and reflect that in music. I was searching for a sound that I wanted to re-create in a score, but I had no idea how to go about writing it. I had experimented with semi-quavers and tuplets,triplets, quintuplets and demi quavers, I had no success because whatever I wrote was either physically impossible to pull off, or, I didn’t get the sound quite right. Cue a far more qualified and experienced composer/arranger Gareth Westwood.

During my exploits at Butlins Miners Contest, I watched some of the championship section entertainments contest. This is a programme put together about 20 minutes in length and features a varied programme suitable for entertaining a whole family. One of these bands was “Desford Colliery Brass” who put together an entertaining performance. They finished on a number called Stardust which is music from a motion picture. Within the first few bars of the arrangements, I believe I found the answer of what I was looking for. After having tried to hunt the arranger through the wonders of modern day social networking, I managed to get through to the composer directly. Due to copyright reasons and as per the wishes of the composer I can not put any of his score or recordings on at this point, I will only upload a sample of my end product.

I would, however, Like to take this opportunity to thank Gareth Westwood, for taking the time out of his day to send me over the score and a recording of Stardust in order to help me progress with my studies.

Now, thanks to Gareth, I believe I have the compositional mechanism available to score the sound of a trickling stream. This is something I have wanted to know how to do since summer last year and I will deploy this mechanism in my current Musical Work in Progress “6 Roman Deities” Please find below a preview of my work. I intend to incorporate this mechanism in to both an orchestral setting and a Brass Band Score.

  • preview in progress
Personal Development

What are the Benefits of Competition and Music?

In a cold and grey winter weekend in the Butlin’s resort of Skegness Brass Bands from around the UK and, in some cases, our international friends, come together for a weekend of competitive music making. The so called “Butlin’s Mine Workers Brass Band competition” is a stalwart of the Brass Banding calendar. There are 5 sections all together, starting at the fourth and then going up to championship. Championship bands consist of some of the best of the best in the world of brass. These contain world class musicians capable of seemingly superhuman capacity to interpret and perform the music!

I started in a community band who’s foundation was completely based upon an anti-competitive nature. As this was how I was raised I adopted a similar nature in that, for a long time, I did not think much of competing. I thought music should just be shared and acceptable to all standards and ability. Not until recently, having been with my girlfriend now for 3 and a half years, did I start to understand and come round to the idea of competitive playing.

My first Competition with my girlfriend November 2018. In Towcester Studio Band colours. (we won!)

There are advantages and drawbacks of competing and I think each option takes its own specific approach. Firstly I will discuss the advantages of competitive playing. The fantastic people of Towecester Studio Band are just everyday people that are committed to their music and their musicianship and development. To hear the standard this band can reach on their test piece is really quite epic!

A test piece is a piece of music that is chosen for a band to work towards. They often have a few months notice to get the piece ready. There will be an adjudicator who is normally in their own right a very high qualified musicians with a lot of championship experience or composers who also play in championship level performances. Various aspects of a players ability are tested it could be;
Technical quality (how clear can you play twenty thousands semi-quavers, working with your section to give the illusion of consistency so we can breathe, how tight are the band?)
Intonation and tuning (how in tune are you in relation to your previous note?)
Dynamic capacity (can we as brass even players play a double pianissimo?, can we play loud enough to be heard from outer space and still stay in tune?)
Musicality (a two parter, how is the MDs interpretation and how are the band responding to the conductors interpretation, or are they watching?)

Of course there is a degree of personal preference from the adjudicator but that list is just a general idea of the kind of things that an adjudicator may look out for. Each item is then scored or marked separately and the person with the highest score wins that competition. If you put all these things together it makes for a high score and one heck of a performance!

Another advantage is the psychological aspect of competing. In some test pieces one single person may have to start the piece of as a cadenza. This year at Butlins it was the euphonium players turn. This puts a deal of performance pressure on a soloist as they have to, in effect, set the tone for the whole piece (which is usually 10-15 minutes long.) I do believe that overcoming any performance anxiety to pull it off for your team takes a special kind of person. I think competing helps create cohesion in a band as you are automatically categorised in to “us” and “them” it gives a person a sense of belonging as per Maslows Hierachy of Human Needs and wanting to do well for your team (for most people at least) not to mention the great feeling of winning and doing well after having worked hard. If you do not win then hopefully you do get some useful feedback from the adjudicator to help you become a better musician.

SO, Great! you may ask, when can I start? just contemplate this next paragraph . As a competing brass bander you are committed to learning one piece extremely well. This can cause a headache for a conductor who may have a lot of normal concerts where a programme of entertaining music is required to please a paying audience. In some cases adjudicators can be really quite harsh and counter-productive in their feedback. This can cause damage to peoples confidence which can have a reverse affect. You have to be able to take the feedback on board and not take it to heart.

A competition is a day or sometimes even a weekend long commitment. You have to travel to one location that can be over an hours drive and sometimes you have to wait all day before you can get a result. Bands are drawn at random and if you get drawn to play first you have to hang around to hear the results. Needless to say if you’re first on, spend all day in a normally under-equipped location that is not particularly close to a town, only to find out that you came last place and the adjudicator did not give any useful feedback, you might find yourself somewhat rather “frustrated” to be polite. You often play to an empty hall bar one or two adjudicators. An adjudicator might have to listen to the same piece 15 times in a day. Fair enough the interpretations can differ, but even if there was a Pink Floyd inspired interpretation with additional synth effects, you would still find yourself bored after a couple of hours. The composer might not be too happy either!

On the other hand, community bands, like my own band, Wadhurst Brass Band, will have up to 20 concerts a year. Though we don’t win trophies we put together performances that are highly appreciated and usually our main concerts are completely sold out. We can make a good sound, even on test pieces and different arrangements and I intend to prove that, as, in our Spring Concert we will be performing the 2020 test piece for the fourth section. Although I wont have a highly qualified adjudicator to give constructive feedback, I will listen to what the audience have to say, people who are willing to depart with their own hard earned cash to come and spend a couple of hours listening to us. Not to mention, I am able to spend more time working on sight reading, and my band continue to do well when a new piece is brought out in front of them. Once the initial complaint of “we can’t play this, so I don’t like it” has subsided, of course!

I have, personally learned a lot from competing which has helped me become a better musician, but, more to the point, as a student composer the level of detail the piece has to be known both by the conductor and the band, in itself, helps to decode or analyse the music and the composition mechanisms used within the piece. This helps the band understand the music at a deeper level, therefore increasing their musical knowledge. However, would I give up community banding to compete? not in a million years. We’re a community band but we can give just a good a concert as a competing band.

If you are the type of person that is competitive, wants to win awards and get good at what you do, or you want to be well known, I suggest you take the competitive route – as it may inspire you to be the best musician you can be. However, if you are maybe self conscious and feel like your confidence will get knocked as a result of an adjudicator. I suggest that you take the community route. We can’t pull of a piece to the same standard that a competing band play a test piece. However we can make a terrific sound that is appreciated by a lovely audience who just want to come along for the fun. There will be conflicts in opinion and various stressful dysfunctions as there is not a common goal as such but If I had the time, I would conduct a competing band, commit to a competing band but play as a regular in a community band. I would like to thank my girlfriend for opening my eyes to the world of competitive banding

A shout out to Lauren for helping me develop as a musician and as a person, by opening my eyes to competitive banding.

However, for now, I shall continue plodding along with my laptop close, just in case, there is the off chance, I can bore anyone with musical conversation. All the while I shall still continue to study and learn how to write music, how to tell a story with sounds or to paint a picture with music. Hopefully some people will see eventually a score with the name “David Healy-Richards” above the right hand corner, until then, there is still lots to learn!

Personal Development

Walking in the Shadows of Giants

In the early 19th Century, Gothic Architecture was still around in great abundance. However the community wanted a church so they raised funds to start building this church in 1827. The man in charge was Decimus Burton. However by 1974 the church was labelled as redundant to pastoral needs. The church was left abandoned and once again the community did not want to waste this beautiful building. The Tunbridge Wells Civic Society raised a petition to find a better public use for this building. They were granted 6 months. Within that time it was decided that Trinity would be a Community Arts Centre and a whopping £50, 000 was raised to fund the cause. By 1977 the lease was signed and the transaction complete it was now the Trinity Theatre.

In June of this year I set up, with the help of my Wadhurst Brass Band committee, a concert in the historic Trinity Theatre in Royal Tunbridge Wells. This theatre has seen the likes of Westlife, Take That and Rodger Waters (song writer for Pink Floyd) The concert was a programme of show-stopper tunes from the west end and was hosted by Louise Stewart, Former BBC South East political editor and a dedicated advocate of CRUK.

This was to be a reward for my Band for all thier work and input that helped us achieved yesteryears success. The opportunity to play in such a prestigious venue where we can put on a full show with lighting and sound technicians was such a temptation, I simply couldn’t resist!

Trinity auditorium

We were fortunate enough to be joined by three very talented singers for the occasion. Two of whom had performed in many a variety of concerts including a regular spot in Glyndebourne Opera House. Many Thanks to Tom and Charlie Snee and George Tero for thier incredible performances throughout the night.

From a conducting point of view there was an additional layer I had to think about while performing. I had previously been one of two conductors where there had been a choral master leading a choir and myself leading the band. As we had solo singers I had to look at the musical aspect for the singers as well as my band.

During the concert we asked Louise to talk about her experiences battling cancer and her parents who also suffered at the hands of this horrendous disease. In the middle of the second half we had a poignant dedication to all those who had ever suffered or lost thier battles with cancer. The band played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with all the singers at the front. The audience joined in instantaneously and the whole hall united in a show of defiance against The Despicable cancer. Once again, music brought everyone together with a common purpose.

Firstly, while organising combining the band and vocalists, I had to make sure that the singers where happy to sing in the key that our music was in. In order to do this I had to prepare a vocal sheet. This meant taking the melody line from whichever instrument had it wherever it was in the score. In doing this, it also made sense, in some cases, to add the lyrics. This meant researching the lyrics to make sure the band phrasing and the lyrics matched up.

Secondly, whilst I was conducting the band – I had to make sure I was really clear to the singers when I cued them in. Any ambiguity in my beat pattern or body language could have lead to a catastrophically obvious mistake! luckily that only happened in a rehearsal leading up to the concert! In some cases I had to give the vocalists some vocal advise which was a stretch beyond my comfort zone (as I should not be allowed to sing, ever) however help was at hand when one of the bandsman, who was far more vocally adept, was able to run through a particularly trying piece with one of the vocalists.

Wadhurst Brass Band Perform “There’s no Business like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun” arr. Goff Richards. Under direction of David Healy-Richards.

As part of the hire fee for this beautiful venue we were provided a technical manager who could advise us as to how to get the balance right for the singers it was difficult to tell from where I stood what was the best thing to do to get the best sound from our singers. I am glad we had our technical manager Katie, who turned out to be an old friend from my school orchestra days. Many thanks to Katie for her help with the lighting and sound.

In this project we managed to earn a further £2, 500 for CRUK it certainly developed me as a musician in that I learned about leading vocal soloists with a band. I learned what the necessary steps where to ensure a successful performance in this context. The production of the vocal lead sheet was a necessary tool in order to communicate and work with the Vocal soloists and discuss thier concerns if they had any. Over all, the thanks goes to the Wadhurst Brass Band, Ian Morgan chair of Cancer Research UK in Tunbridge Wells, The steward team at Trinity and the Technical Manager, my vocalists, band manager and Louise Stewart.

Personal Development

The Olympus Suite

On Saturday the 9th November I got my band together to perform three of my original works. The concert finale was a suite in five movements that I wrote about an original take on the story of Hercules. Each movement is between 2-3 minutes long and the whole composition, once the narration between movements is added the whole piece should last 15 minutes.

Movement I is entitled “the Pilgrimage of Olympus” and represents Hercules as he ascends Mount Olympus following the summons of his Father Zeus. The piece starts with Hercules standing at the bottom of the mountain whilst he gathers his thoughts. As he begins his ascent the basses provide a driving rhythm that forms the basis of the movement. As Hercules climbs Mount Olympus he first hears a fanfare of trumpets practicing in the distance. The higher Hercules goes the more tension builds as represented by the intervals written later in the movement. As he gets closer to the top of the mountain the harmony becomes more dissonant and the low tom represents Hercules’ eager personality as nothing will deter him from fulfilling his destiny. As Hercules arrives at the top of Mount Olympus the whole band joins in in the fanfare welcoming Hercules home.

Wadhurst Brass Band perform “The Pilgrimage of Olympus” conducted by David Healy-Richards.

In Movement II we hear Aphrodite the night before battle serenading the gods to keep their morale as high as possible. Aphrodite starts the theme before the chorus erupts as all the other divines join in. However the jollity must be put aside as the Divines know what lies ahead. This is represented in the second half of the movement with the introduction of the timpani – representing the war drums of Olympus.

In Movement III – Hades’ plan is in full motion it starts in the underworld as represented by crunching dissonance and scurrying chromatic scales. Hades theme owes some of its inspiration to Chopin’s “Marche Funebre” utilising the same interval that Chopin used. Hades begins to tear in to the Morale of the Gods as he twists the morale and tries to get in the minds of the gods. This is represented by Aphrodite’s serenade written in the minor key. As Hades army builds strengths the texture of the movement becomes thicker before eventually building in to a march as the Army of Hades advances.

Wadhurst Brass Band perform “Hades and the Army of Lost Souls” conducted by David Healy-Richards.

Movement IV represents Alcmene, Hercules mortal Mother who sings the lullaby she used to sing to her baby Hercules. This is the moment in the piece that is aimed at hitting the listener straight in the feels! As she sings her lullaby she tries to convince herself that Hercules will be okay, this movement tries to capture the feeling of any mother who has had to go through the emotional turmoil of sending their sons and daughters off to fight. Alcmene almost convinced herself that everything will be okay, but, being a mother she can’t hide her worry anymore! The following video contains running commentary with Wadhurst Brass Band playing in the Background.

In the final movement both the forces of good and evil are at battle together In this movement all the motifs used in the previous movements are brought together to represent the battle twisting and turning between good and evil before the fanfare from the first movement and Aphrodite’s serenade rings through representing the victory of the Divines and you hear Hades driven back down to the underworld defeated by the devastating power of the Divines lead by Zeus.

From writing this concert item I learned so much about ways I need to develop myself as a composer and a musician. I thoroughly enjoyed the research involved with writing a long piece of music and each little movement telling it’s own story before each story joins together in the last movement in a huge clash of all of my musical ideas. However I have found a few areas which will need development;

Understanding range – All of my tenor horns notified me that the range was incredibly high for long amounts of time not giving the musician’s lip chance to settle. Where possible I may have to re delegate bars and phrases to other sections.
Long phrases – while most phrases can be shared if there is more than one to a part it became apparent that the instruments that just have one to a stand would struggle with the passages I had written.
Over concentrating on little details – This can be seen as both good and bad, I had a set idea of how I wanted the music to sound in my head and kept trying to bring it through from the band in doing this I got myself to bogged down on little intricacies and other areas of the piece may have suffered because of this. When I next do a workshop I will try to focus more on the overall picture than little bits.

However, I have also received a lot of positive feedback from the audience and the band saying that they liked the music an appreciated the challenge. In some cases I got told that they were happy with the areas that I decided to develop in this piece (intervals on the euph and section work) some people said the motif played in movement II was “beautiful” These are all useful pointers that I will take on board for my next workshop.

I would like to thank the Wadhurst Brass Band and our deps for all of their work on the day. I would like to thank Merlin Beedell who recorded the whole concert and took the photos throughout the day. I am proud of the Band and I am extremely grateful to the fantastically supportive audience who came along to listen even though it’s not the normal Band type programme. It was a fantastic day and one where I felt everyone took something from it. I look forward to more in the future!

Personal Development

Original compositions workshop.

On Saturday the 9th February I organised my band a workshop where we would have sectional rehearsals throughout the course of the day, followed by a full run through and then finishing the day – with a formal rehearsal open to the public in my local commemoration hall. The programme consisted of three of my own works. These were “Funk Avenue” “Moonchasers” and finishing with a concert suite of 5 movements called “the Olympus Suite.” This workshop was put together with the Wadhurst Brass band having no previous experience of the pieces. The idea of this workshop was to challenge the musicians in the band and stretch myself as a composer and conductor. This will form part of an on going series of workshops which I intend to broadcast and eventually put towards my degree.

In this blog I am going to focus on the first programme item of the evening “Funk Avenue.” The drum takes the introduction so that the musicians and audience can gain a feel for the piece and settle in to the rhythm of the track. This is then followed by a very simple bass riff consisting of both syncopated and un-syncopated rhythms based on the G minor pentatonic scale. For me, as a trombonist, this piece loaned itself to the occasional glissando as demonstrated by the first major 7th chord as played by the trombones and baritone section.

Funk Avenue discussed by David Healy-Richards and performed by Wadhurst Brass Band
Score Video – Funk Avenue

The piece follows a strict rondo form consisting of 3 sections (A,B and C) with a musical break (D) played to punctuate between the different sections. Together, hese sections form the ADBDC rondo structure. The first section starts at letter A and is played until letter B. At rehearsal mark B we see our first “D section”. In this section I introduce a riff on solo cornet and flugel that will be used to glue the two different motifs together. This is the form of a break consisting of “call and response” technique between band and percussion. I mentioned this in the introduction. The next section (B section) is announced by the new “swamp funk” rhythm played on the kit at rehearsal mark “C”. With this section also comes a new motif played as a solo cornet line with the new drumkit rhythm. We hear a quick reprise of the “D” section 4 bars before rehearsal mark D. This reprise is diminished in length and the break is altered by the riffs being played by Repiano cornet and then Flugel. The rest of section D is a recapitulation back to the original motif until rehearsal mark E where we have the 2nd motif played over the first drumkit rhythm At Rehearsal Mark E. The first melodic phrase is introduced at rehearsal A as a euphonium solo. The rhythmic figure played in the background on the cornets at rehearsal mark A is a common feature performed throughout the piece. The drum kit in this section is holding a steady basic funk beat.

The harmony in itself is quite simple mostly a V, IV, I progression with the majority of the piece based on the tonic G minor pentatonic scale. I occasionally add a major VII for a jazzy feel. All melodic phrases are based on the tonic. I use musical stabs (e.g. Horns and Baritones at bar 46) to highlight the changes in the phrase. In bar 39 I discovered as I wrote that a simple Minor III, II, I progression created a brilliant break accompanied by a break on the drum kit.

Through studying M1 – composing music with UCA I am learning a much more intricate understanding of rhythm. I was able to apply this when composing the motifs for this piece of music and my more developed understanding of rhythm really comes to the fore in the percussion parts. In Particular, the relationship between the drum kit and the bongos. I would highlight the 2 and the 4 of the bar by using the higher pitched bongo alongside the snare drum which weaved so well to create a very satisfying emphasis on the strong beats of this piece of music. In doing this it helped the rhythm to keep driving on.

As I did not want this composition to be a case study on structure I added a few little quirky touches, the trombones ascending glissandos the use of the bongos, triangle, claves, hand claps and other various percussion just so that the band could have fun while playing this piece. I added various musical “stabs” throughout the piece and altered them just to keep the piece fresh. Using these varying rhythmic patterns meant that I could emphasize different parts of my melodic phrases. I try to create an illusion that within each melodic phrase there is always something different that we can hear each time. One of the devices I utilised was rhythmic displacement of the riff that I introduced I the first “D section” as it is played throughout the piece at different places in the bar again maintaining interest and emphasizing a different perspective of the same melodies.

I uncovered a few areas of improvement within myself as a composer throughout the course of the day. My players had informed me of mis-leading muting instructions and lack of varying dynamics. These are all constructive criticisms and I know that to progress as a composer – I will just need to pay more attention and take more care when instructing mute or dynamics. As a conductor I learned that I can get too bogged down on certain aspects when I host a rehearsal. In order to develop as a conductor I will aim at first trying to get the band to play the overall piece as accurate as I can and then iron out any small wrinkles once a band is more familiar with my compositions.

I would like to thank the Wadhurst Brass Band and all the participants of the day and the audience for all of their support throughout the day. I would like to express my congratulations to a community band for doing such a good job of playing some really tricky bits of music in such a short amount of time.