Phil Shotton and the Maghull Wind Orchestra.
I began playing the clarinet aged six. Two years later, at the age of eight, I joined the local concert band; a small group of amateur musicians know then as the Maghull Town band. The group performed for church fetes, rose queens, various school fun days and a whole plethora of bandstand performances. I loved every minute of it... I was hooked!
I continued to play with the band both on clarinets and saxophones throughout my time at school, in addition to various music service ensembles and school groups. At the age of sixteen I attended a conducting course hosted by the Bands of the Royal British Legion. Following this, I was occasionally asked to conduct the band for rehearsals and the odd concert. I found that I enjoyed conducting very much and this sparked my interest in conducting wind bands.
Whilst I was studying for my music degree the conductor of the Maghull Town band retired and the committee asked if I would take on the role of musical director. I accepted and in 2004 began taking weekly rehearsals of the band. At this time membership had dwindled to a low of eleven members, including me! Eleven years later we now boast a membership of over one hundred and twenty musicians, and we are continuing to attract new members on a regular basis.
I had a very clear vision for the band, I wanted to make community music making accessible for all, regardless of age, ability, social background or financial situation. I wanted the band to provide a high quality musical outlet for players of all ages and abilities, where everyone involved could make a contribution to the overall performance, and feel that they are part of a very special ensemble where everyone's contribution is valued. As I took over the baton our name changed to The Maghull Wind Orchestra to reflect the change in direction, repertoire and style of the band.
I felt that our community was lacking in performance opportunities for the amateur musician. Often we are educating young musicians to a high standard but then not providing them with anywhere to continue their music making as an adult. We have members who join us having previously played an instrument throughout school, but after studying at university they find they no longer have anywhere to play. We also have a number of members who have retired from their careers, who may not have played for years; their instrument has been packed away and stored under the bed or in a cupboard. When would they get the chance to play again? With the wind orchestra! We have both young and adult learners, some complete beginners. They can now get the ensemble experience that is so essential for any musician. We also have many very experienced musicians, music teachers, retired professional musicians and educators within the various sections of the band.
Impressively MWO breaks down any age, ability, social or financial barriers and we all come together to make music. To make high quality, fully engaging, enjoyable for all music! MWO is the friendliest group, so encouraging of each other. I stand at the front and watch highly qualified extremely experienced musicians helping other less experienced members in a friendly way, encouraging them, sharing tips and helping to facilitate learning on a weekly basis. New members are made to feel so welcome by everyone, and the whole ensemble has such a happy feel at all times.
Directing a wind orchestra of this size has its challenges: balance can be an issue along with intonation, and we have worked hard on both of these areas. Rhythmic clarity and clear articulation are a must when you have many people playing the same part. Each rehearsal starts with a collective warm up of scales, arpeggios and chorales using various dynamics and articulations. I always try to use relevant material to warm up with depending on what the rehearsal focus is. Since taking on the role of musical director the band's repertoire has changed significantly from the days of hardly anything but marches on the bandstand! We now perform works by Sparke, Jenkins, Whitacre, Gorb and Fergal Carroll alongside some more traditional works by Holst, Coates and Vaughn Williams, not forgetting the usual smattering of film music and selections from the shows! I try to keep our programmes varied and exciting, both for the musicians and the audience.
In addition to around twelve concerts per year, we also run educational workshops and performances for local schools, and I direct a conducting workshop for members of MWO. Many of our performances are for charity, in the last two years we have raised over ?8,000 for various charities. This year's performances include the Grand Opening Ceremony of Kings Gardens, Southport and a Christmas celebration at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool. We have recently performed alongside the Cantorian Sirenain Singers and have just been invited to take part in a world premiere of a commissioned work by Chetham's School of Music to be staged in April 2016 at the Manchester Bridgewater Hall.
I am very proud to conduct MWO, and have a real sense of joy knowing what we have achieved and where we are going! MWO is community music making at its very best, bringing people together through their passion and love of music. To stand at the front of the wind orchestra is a great privilege and I take great satisfaction in what we do. Music has huge therapeutic values, and performing together in a safe environment is tremendous. MWO is a fantastic opportunity for any musician whatever standard and at whatever stage they are in their musical career.
I owe a lot to MWO, it's where it all started for me. I'm so pleased that I can give something back to the band that took me on board as that eight year old clarinettist and set me off on my career in music. As the conductor and musical director of MWO I hope that I can pass on my enthusiasm and enjoyment of music to both the members and our audience, raise the profile of community music making and fly the flag for wind orchestras throughout the country.