The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra

The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra just released its 6th collaboration: “A Christmas Carol (Suite)”! You should definitely go check it out and tell all your family, friends, enemies, acquaintances etc about it.

In the meantime, I’ll give you a short description of the DWFO. The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra is an online community of hundreds of musicians from around the world who love Doctor Who and Murray Gold’s music. The organisation was started by Stephen Willis (who currently arranges the music and puts together the final recording and video) and Robin LaPasha (co-ordinator). Members receive their sheetmusic by email and a ‘click-track’ that counts the beats so that each member can keep in time with each other when recording, despite being in different parts of the world. You can learn more about the DWFO from this video: http://youtu.be/2wjjHjbVW-4

However, the final product is simply one part of being in the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra. Through the private Facebook group, the DWFO has really become a community – or as Gabriella Patanè has said “a big big ‘family’ all around the world.” Here, people can ask question about the project, discuss with other instrumentalists/vocalists about problems specific to their instrument, share inspiring moments and motivate and encourage each other.

It’s certainly helped me! I am a young musician who has recently entered university with very little formal training in music. So of course, my first semester has been very challenging. I started to feel discouraged, wondering if I would ever reach the level that I wanted. However, alongside my work I was practising for my DWFO almost every day. And each time I listened to the clicktrack on my mp3 player and played along, I would be overwhelmed with emotion because it felt amazing to be part of something bigger and it reminded me why I decided to study music in the first place. So the DWFO means a lot to me and I am so excited to continue working with them for years to come!

Of course, you don’t need to be studying music at university to join the DWFO! There are many performers of varying levels in the orchestra. All you need to join is:

  • a musical instrument and/or voice
  • a microphone (many people just borrow one from friends)
  • a way of recording your audio performances to digital format (e.g. a laptop)
  • headphones/earphones (to listen to the click-track while performing)

Watch “A Christmas Carol (Suite)” here:

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Hearing Your Music Live: Young Composer Problems

Recently, I was watching a video promoting the “Panufnik Young Composers Scheme” with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was interesting to hear Lady Camilla Panufnik talk about her husband and her desire to give young composers the opportunity to play with a real, professional symphony orchestra. The participants also spoke about how exciting it was to work with a symphony orchestra. The emphasis really seemed to be on working with the orchestra.

As an orchestral composer today, it can be easy to hear your work performed through software but almost impossible to hear your work from real instruments, live. The software gets better and better every year, so that full compositions can sound as though they are played by real instruments. However, there is no human expression, even with ‘human playback’ tools and it never sounds truly real.

At university, for the first time I have got to hear most of my compositions performed live. This has been a wonderful experience. And not just because it sounds better (because often it doesn’t, with human error!). Through hearing my pieces with live instruments, I learn a lot more. By working with the instrumentalists, I can discover what works in a practical setting and what doesn’t. I can see the limitations of the instruments. I can find out what would be difficult for a beginner vs a professional performer. I can hear combinations of sounds in real life, learning more about balance, timbre and colour than I ever would from a computer version. All of these things are incredibly important for an instrumental composer, to understand the true realisation of their piece and to create the music that they really want.