La Générale

La Générale refers to a French dress rehearsal before a show or concert but with no senior military officer in sight.  But why am I talking about a rehearsal?  Well, as some of you Dear Readers might know that for my many sins, I am a horn player and musician.  Both can happen simultaneously, despite our reputation! From February 2009 until July 2022, I played the horn for the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet in France.  Some people had cottoned onto the fact that I dabble in this photography lark, and since they had just changed musical direction, they would like me to take some photos of the new director in front of the band.  I of course said yes, and following the lessons learnt during the American Concert, I was feeling quietly confident.

The musicians were asked to attend the Générale in concert dress, all looking very smart.  This would allow me to wander around the stage freely, not annoy the audience, and have complete freedom to try to take a couple of photos.  What a good idea!  It also meant that I had two hours to get the job done in a satisfactory manner.

I had the Canon 6D Mark II with the 85mm F1.8 Canon lens, and the trusty and also favourite, almost to the point of it being a fetish, Fuji Film X100F, with the telephoto adapter which transforms the lens into a 50mm F 2.0 lens.  I could take off that adapter and have 35mm equivalent lens.  To the uninitiated, you will think I have just spouted out a huge amount of gobbledy gook, but I it actually means something to me.  It was out of the question that I would miss 60 photos like last time.  A lesson most definitely learnt!

Sooooo…  I wandered around taking photos and trying to make sure I didn’t just photograph the horn section.  Nobody couldn’t accuse me of favouritism;  except that I had treated some images first for friends and had posted them on Facebook.  Two of those friends were, of course, in the Horn Section.  Ooooops a daisy.  Ah well.  I did, however, tell everyone that these were merely a foretaste of things to come, and I realised I had actually been quite democratic and represented most of the musicians.  Out of the 400 odd photos taken, 124 were presented to the musicians in a private Google Gallery.  Not bad for two hours of shooting.    You will see a small selection of those photos at the end of this article.

As a thank you, I was invited to the concert the next day.  After a Barber appointment to tame my overgrown beard and a visit to the pub just to say hello to the staff and friends, I headed off to Cholet for my Rendez Vous with music listening.  Keep music live etc!! 

Naturally, with the change of conductor, there will be a change of musical direction.  Each person had to get used to the novelty, and the new conductor has to make his mark on the orchestra, which is perfectly normal.  I had heard all kinds of things and wanted to make up my own mind.  The concert theme was “Heart of the Forest.”  I was determined to take it all in with no preconceived ideas.  Just enjoy the bloody music, you fool.  So I sat down and did just that.  The sound at the back of the auditorium differed completely from what I had heard the night before.  As a musician, we hear the concert from where we are on the stage.  The audience really hears that difference.  I was blown away and just sat there enjoying watching my friends create music.

With time, the orchestra and the new musical director will get to know each other, and I look forward to seeing their next concert and seeing the outcome of this new relationship in future concerts, and it goes without saying that I wish them the very best of success for the future! 

Now for the photos, and not just the horn section…

He’s still wider…

Dear Reader, in my last article I said I would try and get some more photos for your delectation. On Saturday I was in a rehearsal room all afternoon playing for a new orchestra. The Symphonique des Bords de Loire, which basically means on the river Loire just south of Nantes.

The Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet have just just changed musical direction, and all of a sudden I was looking for a new direction (not the pop group), so I seized the opportunity to make a change and start playing some more “classical” music in a different setting. I of course wish them the best of luck with their new conductor.

So that’s where I was on Saturday afternoon and so wasn’t really busy capturing images with my new toy.

My wife has decided to get to some Spring cleaning. Who ever said you can’t do autumnal Spring cleaning? Vive la différence! My cleaning skills despite military training in the early nineties have been declared not up to my wife’s standards and methods so my apparent incompetance is your gain, and also allows me to be out taking photographs with my new toy, the 12mm TT Artisan fish-eye lens on the Fujifilm XT2. At least I’m doing something creative instead of getting shouted out for being bloody useless.

So, I am now in town taking photos at the Hangar à Bananes which is seriously lacking in bananas before going to Sunday night mass, and looking after my soul. You get a different kind of crowd on a Sunday night and it feels a little more exclusive. I will then proceed to the pub for a pint of Guninness to look after the Guinness family, and to continue to drink the pub dry one pint at a time. This is a life long quest so I can take my time instead of do it all in one session. I suspect that they might being re-supplied before I can dent their stock. I suppose it’s just a feeble excuse to go to see my friends and talk bollocks all night.

Here is the photographic evidence of the time spent this afternoon pursuing artistic endeavours!

My friend Hervé

I was at Mass, in Nantes, on a Sunday evening, and being appropriately prayerful, knees bent praying to prepare my mind for the sacrifice of the mass wondering if I was going to be able to stand up again. Despite my gammy knee, it wasn’t a problem. Mass started, and they were off.  During the entrance hymn, my director of music at my Wind band, but most importantly, my friend, Hervé, accompanied by his wife, and daughter, walk in and sit just in front of me.  We gestured hello, but you don’t interrupt the Word of God, and we saved niceties for after Mass.

It was a genuine pleasure to see him there and not just because we share the same faith, but just nice to see a frightfully nice chap, but also an all-around good egg!  We exchanged conversation and I said how wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the pub for a pint.  They’d had a long day, but to his utter disbelief, Veronica, acquiesced and we were given her blessing.  I suggested they park in the same place as I usually did and that we meet up.  We both knew where the pub (John Mc Byrne) was and headed off to claim our reward for obvious good behaviour.

They were already at the pub by the time I parked and so I walked up to join them.  Strangely my nose just seems to lead the way!  I saw him standing outside waiting for me and I showed him the best seats in the house, or for me, nearly a home (it’s where I see my friends).  I introduced him to Simon who knows nearly everything about sport, whiskey, and good places to eat in the vicinity, the Rob, whose jokes are almost as cringe-worthy as my own, and lastly to Gavin who is half and half…  Half Scottish and half French.  His parents are obviously to blame.

We commented on how the establishment wasn’t a bar but was a proper pub, and how nice his pint of Irish IPA was.  I persuaded him to taste a pint of O Hara’s Nitro, which is the nearest thing that I found to Yorkshire bitter over here.  We both seem to have similar tastes in beer, which helps in a friendship.  It’s unbearable when one likes lager and the other friend, beer….  It tuned out that he had some homemade Bitter that he wanted my opinion on.  Ah well, there goes a perfect reason to meet up again!  Fortunately, I was going to be on holiday during that week, so we set the date and time said goodnight to each other and headed home.

I asked if I could bring along my portable photography studio to take his portrait and he very kindly agreed.  At the appointed time, on the appointed day, I turned up with my studio and dog.  Molly wasn’t very sure about hanging out with a big very friendly, almost too friendly for her, beautiful chocolate Labrador, who was coming out of puppyhood and entering doggyhood.

I said she could stay in the car and left the windows slightly open so she would be fine and said that I would come back and check on her now and again.  Smaug, the Labrador, was put on one side of the house, and Molly decided she could stay by my side and still be OK.  We tasted the beer and were unanimous in our praise of this wonderful concoction.  Then the photoshoot.  Hervé already knew that I dabble in photography, as do you Dear Reader, and was most impressed when I set up the studio.  I was quite impressed by it too because it was only that afternoon that I had back to revise how to operate my speedlights and trigger.  The first shots were more to break the ice, not just for Hervé but also for me, and already we were getting some good shots.  He played me a recording of a new project launched by the Brass Quintet with whom he plays and has my old horn teacher as the horn player.  It was amazing.  They were playing in church with a massive organ played by the organist from the Nantes Cathedral.  Wow, that is all…

We then go the instruments out.  First the E flat tuba.  I thought, let’s just break him in gently.  Then I went back out to the car to get my horn and make him look like a proper musician with the most beautiful instrument from the orchestra in his hands.  We would suggest to the horn teacher that Hervé had finally seen the light and wanted to convert.  Then we messed it up by getting out his conductor’s baton.  All in all, we were having a laugh, talking, just as friends will be want to do.

I ate with them and by the time I left that evening the two dogs had even sniffed each other and were even respecting their own private space.  That Smaug is one lovely dog and not at all dragonlike as his name suggests.  He’s a big softy.  A bit like myself Dear Reader…

The Phenomenon that is Johan de Meij

For my many sins, I am a musician and not just a depressive dude with a camera.  I play the French horn.  Some might even say that I’m a French French horn player, without being corrected by my autocorrect.  So this music thing…  I play the horn in a Wind Band, in Cholet, in the Anjou region of France, with good food and wine.  I wonder what decided me to join them…  There are a series of concerts every year with each concert having a given theme.  This next concert’s theme is about the planets.  The programme will be The Planets, by Gustav Holst, and the third Symphony by Johan de Meij, Planet Earth.

If you want to read Wikipedia to tell you about the Planets by Holst, then you can click here.  I will now give you my version of events.  Gustav Holst, a man with Swedish, German, and Latvian origins but born in England, wrote a series of pieces that made up the Planets Suite.  His ancestors must have settled before Brexit!  This was ground-breaking stuff, akin to Stravinsky and his Rites of Spring.  However, this program is about the planets, so we’ll leave Spring to Igor, the composer and not Frankenstein’s whacky assistant.  As any trailblazer will tell, they just weren’t ready for it man, and that it was ahead of its time, which to be fair, it was.  He started writing the suite in 1914, and the first movement was “Mars, the bringer of War.”  Quite eerie when you think about what happened in 1914.  Composing finished in 1917 and the première took place at Queen’s Hall, on the 29th of September, in 1918.  There were seven movements, and when I was a child, I always wondered why the planet Pluto wasn’t included.  What did they have against Mickey Mouse’s dog???  Then I learnt Pluto was only discovered in 1930.  The poor planet was demoted in 2006 and is no longer considered a planet but is still a heavenly body…  Just like Yours Truly!

This music that first disturbed people, has, over time, and thanks to John Williams, become the music of space and the stars, wars or no wars.  Some have accused John Williams of nicking everything in the first movement, Mars the bringer of War, and using it to compose the music to Star Wars.  I’m not saying he nicked it, but… A nice American gentleman, Charles Cornell, has exposed his point of view in a YouTube video 

When you look at it like that you can get where those people are coming from.  But in a completely nonpartial way, I couldn’t give a flying fart.  Both composers’ music is wonderful, and I think one could call it more homage than pilfering. Mind you, there are certain similarities.

When you look at the Planets Suite, you notice the Earth isn’t mentioned.  One person that noticed this and who could do something about it, is a certain Johan de Meij, whose name is engraved on a plaque on our rehearsal room in the Cholet Conservatoire.  A Dutch trombonist, he moved into composition, arranging, and conducting.  In the Wind Band world, he is very well known and respected.  Nearly all of us will have played some of his music at one stage in our careers.

The third Symphony takes us from the beginning of our Lonely Planet, Planet Earth, ending with Mother Earth.  It isn’t as much a narrative, but a more auditory exposition of ideas in an abstract form.  A soundtrack with electronic sounds helps the symphony become one musical experience as opposed to the classical three separate movements.  Planet Earth really is a continuation of Holst’s Planets.

It’s a whopping significant piece and a joy to play despite a few difficulties to challenge the horn player.  We were very fortunate to have Johan come and visit us, not just to say Hallo, but to explain the piece to us, conduct us and rehearse us.  The poor lad was full of cold, but shared his wisdom and experience with us, which I’m sure will prove itself invaluable for our performance on the 14th of November in the Théâtre Saint Louis in Cholet.  We worked on aural skills listening to the chords and listening to them to adjust the tuning and seeing where we fit into those chords. It might be an insignificant detail to you, but the seats are very comfortable and the acoustics are pretty damned good too!.  Holst couldn’t make it. Must have had something else in his diary for that weekend!