‘Bassoon Inspired’ | 61 online programmes in 61 days

Laurence Perkins writes…

“When the lockdown began towards the end of March 2020 as the result of Covid-19, it was obvious that we were in for a long haul – how long, no-one knew at that stage, and at the time of writing we still don’t really know. It was also clear that, quite apart from any practical considerations, emotional support would be needed to cope with this situation. As I joined the rest of the entire musical world in having no concerts of any kind in the diary, I decided that rather than making a beeline for the garden for several months (which really isn’t my thing anyway), I needed to keep playing. For me, the instinct for sharing music is very strong, and online facilities make that eminently possible. Online does not, and never will, replace or be a substitute for live musical performance, but it was the right direction to take at that time.

“I had already seen the early examples of online performance and sharing from orchestras, ensembles, and individuals – players grappling with the technical challenges of putting it all together, with some really fantastic results. I’m in a fortunate position of having some really excellent audio equipment, so I was well set up to produce recordings in my ‘home studio’, otherwise known as the dining room! I also have quite an archive of concert and session recordings dating back to the late 1970s, so I started to delve into a large box of recordings that I hadn’t explored for years. That in itself was quite an experience, hearing myself play (in a few instances) more than 40 years ago!

Blasts from the past

“I identified that material which would be suitable for sharing on-line, and I looked at possible material that I could record as I went along, and put it all together. It quickly became clear that I would be able to do short daily programmes for around two months. This made a lot of sense, as it was partly to help and support those people working very long hours as carers or nurses or medics, who would have only very brief breaks and would not have time for a full 30- or 60-minute radio programme, but would appreciate a five- or ten-minute minute diversion.

“I then looked at dates, and 1st April – 31st May seemed good especially as the last day was a Sunday. The next task was to put together a schedule, and here I had to be mindful of workload – it takes a long time to record new material! I therefore mixed archive material (remastering is a much faster process) with new recordings, and from this emerged a schedule for April and May. Some programmes – notably videos – I knew would take longer to produce, so I had to build this in too.

Thinking up themes

“It also seemed appropriate to theme certain days of the week, so I settled on Tuesday baroque, Wednesday ‘lucky dip’ (which could literally be anything), and Thursday relaxing and meditative. Weekends were a mix of fun music and musical explorations of beautiful places that we were not able to visit, such as the Lake District, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Switzerland. This choice of virtual destinations was largely dictated by the material I had available – all this was done at incredibly short notice! Some of the musical journeys involved music and poetry, something I’ve been keen on for many years.

Laurence talking to Katy Derham live on BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’, 31 March 2020

“During that two-month period, I was recording and doing production work pretty well every day of the week. I tried to keep weekend days free, but even those were partly taken up on the odd occasion. The home studio / dining room had studio microphones and a high-spec mixer installed, and because this is not a dedicated room for this purpose and therefore not fully soundproofed, I had to work around children playing rather loudly in nearby gardens, lawn-mowers and some rather vocal birds who were in fine voice throughout that period! Despite being only five miles from Manchester Airport, the sound of planes flying over was not a problem for some reason…

Live on Radio 3…

“BBC Radio 3 heard about my activities, and the series had a wonderful launch on 31st March, when I spoke to Katy Derham live on the early-evening ‘In Tune’ programme via Skype – also from the same dining room. Understandably, they did not want to risk a live performance online, so they used my CD recordings for that, but two weeks later they came back again, offering me a slot on their ‘Home Sessions’ project. This is where the BBC commission professional musicians to record a track at home, which they then broadcast on the ‘In Tune’ programme, and this gave me a chance to make a world première recording – a lovely solo piece Souvenir Lointain written in the 1960s by Francis Chagrin.

“I began the series with Bassoon Anthem, which highlighted the other aim in this project – to widen the knowledge and appreciation of the bassoon and its music. The final programme is a video (which will remain on YouTube), with music which I wrote specially – Sunrise and New Beginning. It has an evocative and optimistic forward-looking character, including a 16th-century English dance tune The Beginning of the World, and is set to photographs that I took in north Cumbria on the first day of January 2000. The Millennium was an incredibly beautiful day, as the photos (taken on 35mm slides) show, and seem to fit perfectly with this music and its overall mood and message.

The importance of education

“I left one very important aspect of the project’s aim largely to the end: this was a focus on the importance of music education, and the effects (positive or negative) that it has on musical appreciation overall, and of course audience attendance at concerts which has been declining significantly in the last ten years or so. There have been so many cutbacks in recent years, and we now have several generations of young people who know very little music beyond that which is pumped out relentlessly on the commercial channels. School education is about introducing children to a huge range of subjects (of all kinds) to inspire and motivate them to pursue those directions which they feel is right for them – it’s all about giving them choice. Yet there are numerous instance of schools where music is barely present, often because the Head Teacher is simply not interested, and the result of this is that those children are denied the opportunity to discover music for themselves. You can’t fall in love with something you don’t know! I’m not talking about one type of music – there is a huge wealth of musical styles, cultures and genres to be explored. Music is an essential ingredient in life itself, either as a player or as a listener (or both). You can see my PDF on this subject on my webpage – just over 1200 words. If you agree with the message, please share the document!

“If you missed the series, I have taken a good selection of the pieces featured, and re-programmed them into new longer programmes which are much easier to navigate and more resemble a normal radio programme. These can be found here for the remainder of 2020 – they are all free to listen to, there is no log-in or restriction of any kind.

The return to normality?

“For me, the next important stage is to return to live music and real concerts! It’s going to be a huge challenge – finance and funding is now a major problem, but we really cannot give in to the doom-mongers who talk about “when the music stops”. Music, in all its glorious forms, is much too precious for that. If you can help at a local level by encouraging a concert – or even a little series – near to your home, please do so. This is one of the really valuable ways forward – it is only by investing properly in a way that keeps musicians playing and able to pay their bills that we will continue to be able to enjoy fine professional performances. Not that many professional musicians have full-time contract employment! As many of you know, I am also a huge and very active supporter of amateur music-making, and I will continue to be so. Amateur music-making is one of the crowning jewels of any civilisation, and Britain has a fine reputation which is the envy of the world – this is a treasure which must be maintained. This will only happen long-term with good, substantial music education in all schools…”

9th June 2020