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Eoin O’Keeffe’s Weblog

Teaching at “Giuseppe Verdi" marching show band - March 2008

Eoin has been teaching the brass line at the Senators since the beginning of 2007, and is currently the Brass Caption Supervisor.

Friday 14th March 2008

I left Brighton at 6 to travel to London Gatwick airport to catch my flight to Milan Malpensa. Italy had always seemed to elude me in the past, so I was looking forward to finally visiting the country. After a two-hour flight, with some fantastic views over a snow-capped Alpine landscape I arrived in Malpensa where the director of the band, Daniele Valeri, greeted me. It was nice to be able to walk outdoors in a t-shirt only in March.

We travelled to Daniele’s house, close to the town of Lonate Ceppino in the province of Varese, Lombardy, where the “Giuseppe Verdi” marching show band are based. They are so named, because they were founded shortly after the death of the Italian composer early in the 20th century. After some great homemade Italian cuisine, I was briefed on the band and their history and aspirations, as well as shown a number of recordings of recent performances. Later that afternoon I met with the band’s president Paolo Antonietti, who brought me for a tour around the area, which is steeped in history. Then back to Paolo’s house for dinner number two, and another helping of fine Italian food.

That evening I went to the band’s centre where the wind section was rehearsing. Although I have worked with woodwinds extensively recently when writing for symphony orchestra and chamber groups, it has been several years time since I have worked outside of the drum corps idiom in terms of a marching ensemble, and so had been used to dealing with brass only in the wind section.

Initially I left the wind line to warm-up in their normal manner with wind teacher Simone Ronzoni for the first 30 minutes or so, allowing me to listen to the overall sound of the wind line and to identify possible problem areas in terms of balance, timbre equalisation, etc. Apart from the standard music terminology, my Italian is essentially limited to the Pizza Express menu, and so it was good to know that most members of the band had some English, and there were a few members with a very high level, who could translate when necessary.

We spent the remainder of the evening working on the basic warm-up programme, introducing some chord-based exercises designed to increase tuning and ensemble awareness, as well as combining playing with singing for pre-pitching means, and introducing the concept of ‘bonus-breathing’ (a method of easily doubling your intake of air). Finally we worked on a short progression I wrote based on the Requiem by Verdi, as I thought it would be apt to use some of his music considering the name of the band.

Saturday 15th March 2008

As rehearsal was not until the afternoon, this morning I was collected from my hotel by three members of the wind line (Andrea, Aurora and Floriana), and they brought me to nearby city of Como, which is scenically located in the hill swept southern shores of Lake Como, a tourism haven thanks to its stunning location, along with its traditional feel appearance. The hills surrounding the city are dotted with fantastic villas, many of which belong to Hollywood celebrities. Although the sun was shining, the cool breeze from the nearby Alps kept the temperature relatively cool. After several hours of exploring the city and getting briefly lost, we returned to Lonate Ceppino where another fantastic meal awaited me.

That afternoon I had several hours to work with the wind line again, in what would be the most intensive rehearsal of the weekend. After some breathing exercises based around ‘bonus breathing’ we moved through the warm-up programme and slowly familiarising everyone with certain exercises and chords indicated by gestures alone, saving any communication breakdown as well as leading to more continuity within the warm-up programme.

We then moved on to working on the show music. The band are using music from “Phantom of the Opera” this year, in what is a modified version of their 2007 show. A number of the musicians had moved on to different instruments from the previous season; so in a sense for a large percentage of the line, they were learning the music again form scratch. But the musicians are of a good standard and they all read music to a good level, so this was not an issue. As all of the music is bought in from America and written without a specific number of musicians in mind, a number of dynamic markings needed some adjusting in order to achieve the intended results. We slowly moved through each of the pieces, spending some time working on precision of attacks, as well as pitching up to releases. We also made a number of changes in terms of tempi and prominence of parts. The show follows the traditional symphonic format of a drum corps show, with a slow introduction leading into more upbeat section, followed by the ballade, the scherzo like rhythmic-based piece, and finally the emotion-driven finale. The bulk of the time was given to the ballade, as this is quite an intricate piece to deliver well and so needed some work to help the piece flow better.

That evening, I returned to my hotel, and at 8 pm a large number of members and staff from the band arrived to eat in the hotel restaurant, where pizza was the speciality. This was a good chance to get to speak with a number of members of the band on a more informal basis, and they were all very interested to know about the Senators and the marching activity in the UK and Europe.

Sunday 16th March 2008

I was collected form my hotel at 9, and rehearsal started at 9:30. Everybody was ready for a full days rehearsal. I spent much of the morning working with the wind section in their rehearsal venue, and essentially repeating much of what I had done the previous day. We spent the majority of time working on parts I and II of the show, as these were the pieces that would be worked on visually today.

We later moved to a gymnasium next-door, where the band spends much of their time learning drill in early season. The next few hours were spent on drill only, and I had a chance to talk to a number of other staff members from the band, as well as meeting Felice Cattaneo, the president of the Association of Italian Marching Show Bands, and hearing about how the activity has grown in Italy within the past decade. We then broke for lunch, and there was a huge array of food available straight off the barbecue, as well as home made cakes, etc.

After lunch, we spent a short time warming up once again, this time in the gymnasium, and then spent some time in ensemble work with the drum line. (The drum line had worked with the Senators percussion caption head John McNamara in the past, and it was through John that the band got in touch with me) After ironing out any minor balance issues, which were more evident now that we played in a larger space and with percussion, it was time to put music to movement. The remaining hour was spent on parts I and II, and I moved between listening to the overall sound from a distance and individual errors. The majority of the work that we had done as a wind line only seemed to be maintained, which was very encouraging. By the end of the afternoon, everyone was tired, but satisfied with the progress made this weekend. I was told that to be able to play the full show and to march half of it by mid-March is not the norm, and so puts the group in a good position for the year ahead.

That evening I returned to the airport and returned to the UK. Everyone involved with “Giuseppe Verdi” marching show band was extremely welcoming, friendly, and eager to develop as a wind line. I look forward to working with the band again in the future and seeing them develop.

Eoin with GVMSB director, Daniele Valeri

Eoin working with wind section only

Eoin working with the full ensemble

Eoin with all members of the band

Eoin with Andrea, Floriana, and Aurora at Lake Como