2022 was one of the busiest years ever for the New Note Orchestra. We returned to the stage following the COVID lockdowns, made new friends, did two virtual reality live streams, and kicked off a brand new outreach with the Key Changers project. Here, we look at some of the highlights of the year.
At the beginning of 2020, the New Note Orchestra was all set to take to the stage at The Old Market, in Hove. But as we all know, fate had other plans, and in March of that year, the whole country was ordered to stay indoors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. New Note immediately went online and met weekly to create music. We even managed to record an album: Kind Rebellion.
By 2021, the orchestra was able to meet in person again, albeit with strict restrictions, and we started working on some new music for 2022. Musical Director Conall has said one positive memory was: “coming out of lockdown, removing facial masks, and being together again. I could sense everyone in the orchestra was eager to create and play music.”
Of course, this time last year, we were getting ready to enjoy the festive season, and New Note celebrated Christmas with a trip out ice skating, much to the delight of percussionist Nick, who particularly enjoyed “Conall gliding around like a swan.”
But once 2022 was underway, it was time to do some serious work. This year, the New Note Orchestra did eight performances, which might not sound like much to an average touring band, but for the orchestra it’s a record. This is a considerable amount of work — each concert takes hours of logistical planning. There was also a whole new repertoire to be written and learned. Our new show, A Green Recovery, is musically the most ambitious piece the orchestra has attempted, and it took a whole year of rehearsals.
Before A Green Recovery went in front of an audience, the orchestra embraced cutting-edge technology and performed in a high-tech livestream. The event was a collaboration between the New Note Orchestra and the internet radio station The Thursday Night Show. It was filmed with a 3D 360-degree camera and a special microphone that captured spatial audio. Put simply, if you have access to virtual reality equipment, you can listen to the orchestra as though you were right in the centre of the group.
The group performed a suite of “miniatures,” or short minimalist compositions, that had been composed by individual musicians over the past 2 months.
“I particularly enjoyed performing the short miniature pieces that were written by orchestra members for our live stream in February 2022. It was great fun to stitch into a 20-minute performance the varied and contrasting musical ideas that had been written by orchestra members. It was a perfect example of the orchestra collaborating together,” said Conall.
On the ball
In April, New Note’s activities took a rather sporting turn when we did a music session with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as part of UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Cultural Programme. The programme included a series of panels discussing music and sport, a new official anthem created with contributions from the public, and a number of local anthems created in collaboration with schools and community groups. The orchestra was delighted to contribute. “The experience with the Royal Philharmonic was all-inclusive and gave everyone, including even the more timid and bashful, an opportunity to join in,” said handbell player Dawn.
Euro 2022 took place between 6–31 July in England, with cities around the county hosting thrilling matches. Due to other commitments, the orchestra was unable to take its music to the terraces, but we like to think a little bit of the New Note spirit inspired the Lionesses to beat Germany in a thrilling 2-1 final to become champions. Maybe just a little?
A triumphant return
Speaking of other commitments, July turned out to be one of New Note’s busiest months ever, with three performances of the new piece, A Green Recovery. “The music that was created as part of A Green Recovery was our most challenging, and we spent months rehearsing it and getting it ready. Watching some of our musicians develop their poetry within A Green Recovery was so uplifting. I’m always bowled over by the amount of talent we have within the orchestra,” said New Note Founder and flautist Molly.
An hour-long show, A Green Recovery combined exuberant rhythms, funky instrumentals and ethereal timbres with emotional spoken word pieces. The first performance was a second collaboration with The Thursday Night show at One Church in Brighton on 7th July. “The One Church event felt intense and exciting. I really enjoyed performing my Green Recovery piece there,” said handbell player Adele, who shared her thoughts on volunteering in one of the spoken word sections of the performance.
Back to The Old Market
One week later, the New Note Orchestra finally returned in front of a live audience as it took the stage at The Old Market for two sold-out nights, sharing the bill with local community choirs Wham Jam Thank You Mam and the Jam Tarts.
Though there were no longer COVID restrictions, the orchestra was still impacted by the virus. Two key members, handbell player Dawn and guitarist Crispin, were unable to perform, having tested positive days before the performance. Though they were missed, their parts were valiantly covered by Molly and Adele on the handbells, with guitarist Matt covering Crispin’s lead lines. Despite having less than a week to prepare, they all nailed their parts.
The orchestra was introduced by Councillor Lizzie Deane, the current mayor of Brighton and Hove, who has chosen the New Note Orchestra as one of the 2022/23 mayoral charities. Commenting on the great work organisations like New Note do to help people experiencing addiction, she urged people to donate a bit of extra cash following the performances. Lizzie also sang on Friday night as part of Wham Jam Thank You Ma’am.
The performances received an incredible reception, with standing ovations on both nights. “Returning to The Old Market was a joyous experience. So glad to be back there,” said Adele. The audience also gave generously, and the orchestra raised some £2,000 over the 2 nights just on donations. But more importantly, the experience for the members of the orchestra, a couple of whom had never played live with the group before, was highly positive.
Ch-ch-ch (key) changers
While the orchestra was preparing for these performances, some members were also training for a new outreach project, Key Changers. This project is part of New Note’s goal to reach out to groups that might benefit from communal music making in the same way that members of the orchestra have. The training took place over 3 days and was facilitated by Graham Dowdall, a musician and community music expert who also lectures in community music at Goldsmiths University.
“I have loved the development and launch of the New Note Key Changers. Watching some of our musicians become emerging community music leaders has been truly remarkable. It’s the first time that people with lived experience of homelessness, addiction, and challenging mental health have been trained and supported to deliver community music workshops for others who have faced the same challenges in life. We have worked with three partners to deliver the workshops and have doubled the amount of people we would normally engage with. It’s been a fantastic way to do meaningful outreach. I’m hoping we can run it as a yearly programme,” said Molly.
Three members of the orchestra taking the training then went on to do 6 weeks’ placement with some partner organisations, with a total of 19 community music sessions conducted. One of these outreach programmes took place in Crawley, where guitarist Roger worked on some of the community music techniques with local people in early addiction recovery. The Crawley outreach project culminated in two short concerts at St. Barnabas Church. Although the audiences were not quite the hundreds that had attended The Old Market gigs, those who did attend enjoyed the performance, and it was a fantastic experience for the orchestra. In fact, handbell player and dancer Lauren said one of her favourite memories of 2022 was “watching you all play amazingly at the funny little Crawley gig. It was beautiful!”
The Key Changers project will continue in 2023, with 19 outreach sessions planned and further training in drumming and vocal techniques.
On September 8th, the New Note Orchestra met up with other arts recovery organisations from around the country at the Addiction Recovery Art Network conference at the University of West London. To open the conference, the New Note Orchestra and Fallen Angels Dance Theatre performed a collaboration. Fallen Angels is a dance troupe based in Chester that supports people in recovery. Like the orchestra, they work with professionals to create work that they perform throughout the country, especially in the Northwest of England.
For Matt, “going to London and playing with the dancers” was one of the highlights of 2022. In addition to the performance, it was a great opportunity to talk and exchange ideas with other people who use art and creativity in their recovery.
“My favourite New Note moment of ’22 was, without doubt, the conference in London. Connecting with people from other recovery arts groups and seeing the same transformative power of the arts that we experience at New Note in their chosen medium was inspiring — also having the opportunity to see them all perform, our collaboration with Fallen Angels, and the meal with them afterwards, which was full of laughter. A wonderful day,” said keyboardist James.
A short video of the conference can be found here.
On 3rd November, the New Note Orchestra launched Music4Recovery day at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton, with another performance of A Green Recovery. The concert also featured local psyche-rock trio The Qwarks, along with Not Saints artists Gabrielle and Little Tealief.
There are many sober musicians, from big stars to small independent artists, amateur artists, and even people picking up a musical instrument for the first time. Though the music industry is synonymous with drugs, alcohol, and addiction — music itself can be about serenity, acceptance, and community. Getting over the hurdles of early sobriety can be difficult for musicians, especially those who have been using substances to deal with social anxiety and performance anxiety. However, a healthy sobriety can mean more energy, focus, and commitment. It can help with creativity and improving skills.
With Music4Recovery day, the New Note Orchestra wants to celebrate people making music in sobriety and tackle the stigma faced by those who have experienced addiction.
At the event, the atmosphere was fantastic, with a particularly rousing performance from the orchestra. “Seeing you all play at the Brighthelm Centre” was guitarist Marcus’s favourite New Note memory, “I was blown away by the performance, and [keyboard player] Warner suggested I give it a try.” This was the first time Marcus had seen the orchestra, and he was so inspired that he has since become one of our newest members.
Ringing in the New Year
It has certainly been a busy year for the orchestra. But it has also been an exciting, inspiring one. The return to live music, the new projects, and the increasing quality of the group is made possible by the members of the orchestra and professional musicians we are lucky to work with. We thank all the people who have helped us in our journey this year, from the string quartet to the sound engineers and stage help who have brought our performances to life. From the orchestra’s trustees, who oversee what we do, to our friends and family* who support us while we are preparing for our concerts. And most of all, we want to thank our enthusiastic audiences, who time after time have proved to us that all the hard work is worthwhile.
Music is love.
See you next year.
*The writer, Alex, would also like to thank his immeasurably supportive wife, Gianna D’Emilio who gives her time and energy to help copy edit these blogposts.