Do you have an instrument gathering dust in a cupboard? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to play an instrument but never quite got round to taking it up. Now’s your chance. This summer, the BBC is asking people around the UK to Get Playing and take part in a virtual orchestra. The orchestra, led by conductor Marin Alsop, will perform the Toreador Song from Bizet’s Carmen at the Last Night of the Proms.
Radio 3’s Sarah Walker will be one member of the virtual orchestra who has learnt a new instrument from scratch. We caught up with her to find out how it is going…
What instrument are you learning and why?
I’m learning the drums. The reason: to gain some new perspectives on music, learning to listen out for things I’ve not noticed before. I also have a teacher on tap: my husband, Martin Pyne, who’s a professional percussionist working in jazz and contemporary music.
Have you ever played the drums before?
How did you start?
I started working on a practice pad, with some simple rudiments (drum patterns) – single strokes, double strokes, flams and paradiddles. Also, learning to grip the sticks in the right way. Later, I moved onto dynamics, and started to feel more like I was making real music.
Have you been practising regularly?
I have not really been practising regularly. It’s impossible with the amount of other things I have to do such as a couple of piano concerts later in August, and of course my radio and family responsibilities. But the key is to just keep coming back to it after a lapse.
What’s been the hardest thing about learning the drums?
The hardest thing about learning the drums is the delicate balance between active control of the sticks, and allowing things to happen – allowing them to bounce. Also, the drum kit is noisy and potentially antisocial.
What’s the best thing about the drums as an instrument?
The best thing about the drums is the feeling of improving my coordination. It’s really exciting to get both hands and both feet working together to create rhythmic patterns with a bit of variety. I can feel my brain expanding! Also, the drums demand a state of relaxed concentration, and I feel that’s good for me and my over-heated brain.
Have you downloaded your part for the Toreador Song yet? What’s it like?
I couldn’t wait to download my part for the Toreador Song. It looked quite daunting at first, but I got the hang of it fairly quickly. Having said that, I haven’t truly mastered it, and suspect that I never will, as the first technical challenge is a drum roll. I find it very difficult.
What have you got out of learning a new instrument?
Learning a new instrument has been really refreshing. It’s made me want to explore further, because I’ve learned that you don’t have to progress very far before you have something to contribute. I’ve leaned to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t.
What are your top tips for anyone thinking of trying a new instrument?
My top tip would be to get hold of good music. There are some brilliant tutor books out there. The Get Playing music is carefully tailored for the different levels. I chose something that was neither too easy nor too difficult – my part was just right. And remember, even if you never get past Grade 1, there’s plenty of valid, proper music written at that level. That music needs you!
To find out more about the BBC Virtual Orchestra, and how to take part, click here.