Phil Lawrence is a composer that as yet we don’t associate with symphonic wind orchestras, but he is well known for his work in the concert hall, film and TV with over 60+ adverts inc. Nike, The Times, Ibuleve & Wrigley’s, plus 6 feature films. The last directed by Irvine Welsh in the re-make of “The Magnificent Seven” re-named “The Magnificent Eleven” staring the sole survivor from the original “7” cast Robert Vaughn, also inc. Sean Pertwee (New Gotham), Keith Alan (Robin Hood) and Liverpool’s own Gary Mavers. His work for brass bands is very well known (published by Faber, B&H, Kirklees Music, Prima Vista Musikk), he’s an ex-pro trumpet player (ROH, BBCSO, Halle, RLPO, Philharmonia, BBCPO, and soloist and endorsee of the Getzen Signature trumpet), and as a student at the RNCM he played with the famous Manchester CWS band under Alex Mortimer, Maurice Handford, Jim Scott, and Frank Renton.
His first brush with a wind band was in fact a creation, his first part-time teaching post at 19 years old was with Sefton Education where he started the first wind band which is still in existence. He soon arranged for its exact forces and grew the ranks using players from the Merseyside Youth Orchestra with arrangements’ such as “Band on The Run” wings add harps and electric piano, Satie, Richard Strauss, Vivaldi. In 1979 the RNCM PG course called and the rest is well, as they say, history.
Tim Reynish was massive influence in Phil’s Post Graduate studies. He was not only Head of Wind & Brass at the RNCM but at that time conducted the Merseyside Youth Orchestra. Phil had been principal trumpet, so at the RNCM Phil began to work with the RNCM wind orchestra and also conducted wind and brass concerts.
In 2004 he was nominated by The British Academy of Composers in conjunction with BBC Radio 3 for his trumpet concerto “BLAZE” originally commissioned by the late Rod Franks LSO, but premiered and recorded by the amazing cornet soloist Richard Marshall - soundcloud.com/philw-lawrence. (Now also orchestrated for Wind).
Phil has landed a very important commission for symphonic wind band that will celebrate The centenary of the RAF in 2018. Phil hopes the work will be premiered at Royal Albert Hall, will be part of a CD. I asked Phil how this came about.
(Question and Answer session with Phil by Winds editor Bruce Hicks):
PL: Hi Bruce, thanks for asking me into “The Winds Magazine”.
I know several members of the RAF Central Band and managed to link up with Piers Morrell present Bandmaster/MD. I’d banked a few ideas on powerless flight and also had some sketches on The Battle of Britain via a documentary that never made the screen. And talking to Piers on a historical piece on powered flight after he mentioned the centenary in 2018 in an earlier conversation the embryo was sewn. I went to work very quickly incorporating these few ideas into a full blown tale from glider to Euro fighter with all the trials and tribulations of invention from the bi-plane Sopwith Camel, the Spitfire & the dog fights of the period, to the jet engine Harrier and Euro Fighter, to finish with a-typical fly-march/past military march at the Mall/Horse Guards Parade. Got all the parts to Piers in July & in early August I was invited down to RAF Northolt for a first rehearsal and demo recording. I sat and listened for a good half hour when I was grabbed by Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs who presented his ideas on the work which included finding appropriate film footage to have as a back-drop to the performance. I’ve scored it for the large scale “symphonic” band. On a commission like this we all have to “get it” without composers impressionistic interpretation notes. In terms of technical demands it’s tough for all, but above all musical with material you can walk away whistling. However, I’m still revising and working on minor conceptual details.
Bruce: “You’re also known for you work in teaching and educational publications”
PL: Yes, I think on average I’ve taught part time in over 13 UK boroughs over 25 years from Liverpool to Croydon, RNCM Jnr. School, but I stopped teaching in 1994.
The one thing I constantly witnessed was the lack of any published technical material at a basic level. Most quick learn start-up tutor books all carry the basic failings of, “Here is a C/G” then if not introducing the next note up/down it’s another C/G hence having to articulate too soon in my opinion. These off the shelf quick starts have little or no basic lip ex’s or flexibilities, very little exploration below middle C, no chromatics (lower register) when it’s all perfectly possible!
All brass teachers write out these little technical exercises on manuscript only to be lost by the pupil by week 2. So, I came up with the idea of grading technical exercises covering the basic slur/lip flex’s, fingers/chromatics, warm-ups, mouthpiece work, correct embouchure formation & articulation types from grade 1 (8 months to 1+ year of starting) to grade VIII all in 25 pages. I took the idea to Faber as a much needed book for young students and for teachers ref, Faber showed it to Trinity College and now it’s on the syllabus for every brass instrument with valves from grade 1 to VIII, the book was also endorsed by my dear missed friend Rod Franks. (www.fabermusicstore.com). More recently I was asked by B&H to compose new studies for trumpet for grades III, IV & V in their “Grade By Grade” series. One of the titles for grade V is “Bass Player” where I’ve composed a funk bass line containing the technical aspects of lip flexes & fingering also equalling fun while digesting technique and keeping it fresh.
Bruce: What in your opinion is the state of instrumental education at the present time?
I’d like to add a warning that is already too late in many cases, but although the general pulse of many music magazine’s like “Winds” is a positive one on all things wind around the globe, the health of music services in the UK and the conditions that the peripatetic have to teach under is a bleak one. Music is targeted by local authorities for many reasons, one is simply that it’s an easy mark. You’re dealing with vocational types who always have the job and students at heart and little union backing if any, new semi-musical accountant types are now appointed to lead the service & to hatchet the ?’s off budgets and salaries, teachers contracts have been binned and they have to re-apply for their own jobs (some after 30+ years’ service) and the new contract has cut hours with the same amount of pupils, the teacher no longer has full yearly pay and is now only paid for the hours they do & no pension. Hours are taken from newer teachers (first in) and given to teachers who have been in service longer if they lose their hours from schools to keep their older contract a-float. Teachers who have given nothing but good will for years who conduct ensembles also drive the vans take the music and stands and percussion and set up for concerts and do the reverse after and arrive home at midnight from starting at 5pm are now only paid two hours to conduct the concert.
My home town Liverpool have just shut their “Saturday Morning Music School” after some 50+ years, I was schooled here in the art of orchestral playing from the age of 13 in the mid 70’s with 2 orchestra’s, wind band, brass band, string orchestra, piano lessons, theory all backed by excellent professional teachers and conductors. Last summer it was axed, the general explanation was, instrumental pupils no longer exist in numbers? Replace the old with massive spin but always saving time space and money under a great PC bite-size sounding title like, “A Music Hub”. Small classes now spread out across the borough during the week but no real ensemble/orchestra to speak of.