#1: Charlotte Woolley

In the first of a series of blogs from different members of the orchestra, Charlotte Woolley gives us some insight into what it was like to emerge from the back row and take centre stage as the soloist in our most recent concert (Sunday 3rd December, 2017).

I was extraordinarily lucky to be a soloist with SELO in 2017. Not only was it a privilege to perform one of my favourite pieces – Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto – but as one of the early founding members of the orchestra it was doubly special to play it with an orchestra that I have been part of since its earliest days.

Preparing for my solo performance started in early Spring 2017, as I reacquainted myself with the piece. I had performed the concerto once before whilst at university, but that felt a long time ago!

The concerto’s popularity with audiences is, I think, in part due to the pleasing balance of techniques Finzi requires from the clarinet player: from long sustained legato melodies to fast and flashy fingerwork. These changes in tempo and character  provide a great deal for the audience to be interested in and, as a clarinettist, the technique required needs many hours of practice to get “under the fingers”. However, Finzi’s empathy with the clarinet and how he writes for the instrument makes it a really enjoyable way to spend hours after work and at the weekend.

One of the most intimidating parts of my preparation for the performance was to go back to lessons with professional teachers. Having not had a music lesson since leaving school I was surprised at just how nervous I was to expose my playing to a teacher again, and have myself (and every note I played!) examined under a microscope.

Learning to play an instrument is like driving a car – you spend hours learning how to pass your test or exam with perfect technique and then spend the next decades finding short cuts and sloppy work arounds to save time, which would never bear scrutiny under the original test or exam you took!

I am very pleased that I conquered my nerves and went through the door of several teachers, as their passion for the piece really rubbed off on me and inspired me to work harder to get more meaning and emotion into my interpretation of the piece.

Having done it, I would highly recommend lessons as an adult to any amateur player. They’re incredibly valuable and definitely worth overcoming the nerves.

The orchestral parts for the piece are complex and don’t make a lot of sense for the orchestral players without the solo part, so I was very pleased to be able to prepare the piece with the orchestra over several rehearsals; the support of the orchestra was absolutely overwhelming.

The orchestra was founded by friends and as it has grown, it has retained its friendly and extremely loyal vibe amongst players, which, when you’re standing on your own at the front on concert day, is a great comfort indeed!

The rehearsals were a great deal of fun, and it was great to see the orchestra understand and enjoy the piece more and more as we worked on it together. The quality of playing that the orchestra delivered on concert day was more than I could ever have asked for, and the whole experience was a genuine privilege.