In 2011 Yamaha Music Europe GmbH UK will be running two major projects involving the wonderful Yamaha Silent Strings. These are skeleton electric violins, violas, cellos and double basses and are to their acoustic strings counterparts what the electric guitar is to the acoustic guitar.
One project is with the Hallé Orchestra, based in Manchester, which will run a live performance workshop programme with schools in Oldham and Burnley over the first half of 2011. This project will involve an electric string quintet - two violins, viola, cello and double bass - with backline amplification and digital effects pedals, to control the sound and create something that is distinct from the acoustic sound.
The projects will involve performance from young string players as well as from members of the Hallé, with works specially written by the Hallé's Steve Pickett and Yamaha's Bill C Martin.
A second project is a national electric strings composing project, in partnership with the Bournemouth Orchestras and a string quartet made up of players from their their contemporary ensemble, Kokoro. The competition, whose details will be announced in Spring 2011, aims to encourage composers between 16 and 23 to explore the creative and sonic possibilities of electric strings. Yamaha's Bill C Martin, decribed the idea of the project as "the R&D for tomorrow's classical music. We want people to approach this with a sense of excitement, danger, creativity, humour, risk, and a general awareness of how cool and exciting it is when they are exploring something genuinely new!"
The project is also designed to re-stimulate the enthusiasm of any string players whose interest may be waning a little. But rather than wanting them all to sell their acoustic instruments and play electric ones instead, the idea is to broaden and extend their opportunities and reportoire.
With contemporary classical music remaining a difficult-to-teach part of the music curriculum, particularly in terms of its perceived inaccessibility, this project will provide participants and their teachers with ways of thinking about and approaching new music, which go way beyond one's initial emotional responses - ie whether one likes the music or not. Instead judgement is suspended in order to give composers and performers the chance to truly explore new ideas before value judgements close the idea down.
From the video entries, six finalists will be selected, whose compositions will be performed by Kokoro in early 2012. A distinguished judging panel will then choose two winners, who will receive Yamaha prizes and second performance by Kokoro.
More details will follow on the Yamaha Education Info website in early 2011.
Yamaha is famous for its keyboards, pianos, brass, woodwind and music technology. But not many people know that Yamaha has produced violins, violas, cellos and basses for some years now. Our pride and joy probably lies in the 'Silent Strings'. These are electric stringed instruments which not only look and sound wonderful but, as Sarah Drury (Head of Strings at Sherborne School) has written in a past issue of YES, they have remotivated her mid-teen boys who suddenly find that string playing is 'cool' again and are joining friends in rock, folk and jazz bands, as an extension of their classical performing activities.
The 'Silent' strings were designed originally to overcome a noise problem when practising. The instruments themselves, being skeleton instruments, make almost no sound. Instead they contain electronics that re-create something close to the acoustic sound, when listening on headphones. Great idea, but they also make fantastic performance instruments in their own right, and this is what's really firing up the imaginations of performers, teachers and learners alike all across the UK.
we have lots going on to help us champion the use of the Silent Strings in this way, icnluding an exciting composing project with the Bournemouth Orchestras, under the guidance of music technology specialist, Andrew Kitchenham, this Autumn, where GCSE groups from two schools will work on new music for electric strings. Watch this space for updates.
Also, Jonathan Price, of the Manchester Camerata, has been running a community project in the north-west, taking the Bach Cello Suites to outdoor audiences, using the Yamaha Silent Cello. More recently we've teamed up with talented young cellist, Barney Morse-Brown - a graduate of the Royal Welsh College and of the Royal College of Music. Barney specialised in classical and Baroque cello but is now working with major folk scene artists, like Eliza Carthy, as well as his own group, Duotone andwith the Kate Garratt Band. Barney appeared with Eliza Carthy on TV's 'Later With Jools Holland' late in 2008, using the Silent Cello. He's a stunning and energetic performer and we're planning to work with Barney on workshops and demonstrations.
Top jazz double bassist, Malcolm Creese, prefers to use the Silent Bass in his live gigs, because it overcomes the problems of feedback often associated with amplifying a double bass. He tells us the sound is much more controllable and, if any of you caught his gigs with Acoustic Triangle in cathedrals around the UK in 2008, you'll agree that it does sound beautiful.
This year we are working with West Sussex Music Service, bringing some Silent Strings to support their workshops with primary string players. Again more of that later. If you know of anyone using Silent Strings in an educational setting please let us know and we'll feature them here.