Guest Post: Sonia Allori – My part in Planted Symphony

We are pleased to welcome Sonia Allori to the blog today, sharing her experience of being part of the Planted Symphony team during the process of recording through Covid.

Sonia holds two glasses up to her face, like eyesI was really intrigued when asked to play clarinet as part of Planted Symphony as I loved the sound of the project. At its heart is music, nature, and story and it seemed so timely, like a gentle force encouraging us all back outside after all these months of pandemic and lockdowns.

Usually with a project such as this one, the musicians would meet in person, rehearse the music, and become an ensemble for a while as we recorded the music.

However, the music was recorded back in Spring, and we couldn’t meet and play in person yet due to Covid restrictions.

What followed was something unexpected as we all worked together to record in isolation. The instrumental parts were all recorded separately, so I worried that you wouldn’t get a sense of togetherness in the music as we hadn’t worked as an ensemble. But somehow, we managed to sculpt a process to allow us to perform “alone but together”.

Planted Symphony is a beautifully gentle and poignant story which unfurls and evolves through a series of sections. Before we each recorded our parts the musicians met online in a Zoom session to listen together through all the sections of music.

A child in the park runs through long grass, where silk flowers have been installed in bright colours

Creative Captioning

I’m deaf and hear little detail of the audio, so we had a wonderful creative captioner who captioned not only when folks were speaking, but also when the music played giving rich text descriptions of the music. It was great to take this time to spend going through the music together in this virtual Zoom room, even though we couldn’t physically be in the same room. In the captions I read everyone’s thoughts and feelings and descriptions of the music, and this really helped to build an aural picture of the work in my mind.

Haptic Metronome

For the recording, hearing musicians could listen to the mock-up tracks and hear the ticking or beating of a metronome to give a sense of the flow and beat of each section.

As a deaf musician I had to find another way to follow the beat to record the music “in time” and chanced upon a haptic metronome app which I could download to my Apple Watch (other smart watches are of course available ……… Heheheheheheh!).

In simple terms, haptics take sound and convert them into vibrations and so – in using this app – I could feel the beat of the music through vibrations on my wrist from the smart watch.

It was tricky, but I had lots and lots of support from the team and was able to successfully work through all the sections to record my parts.

I missed the nuance I gain from in-person rehearsals and performances, the confidence and togetherness that a conductor instils and those infinitesimal non-verbal gestures and communications from fellow musicians that all help us to bind together in the music in ensemble playing. But we did it!!!!!

sunflowers made of African print fabric installed in a park

The Clarinet Part

I played clarinet and bass clarinet in the score.

In “Welcome to our garden” (the first movement of Planted Symphony) the clarinet begins with a gently undulating theme which is quickly joined by the cello to give a rich pastoral feel. My aim in the recording was to capture a calm and peaceful mood.

“Potions” (the second movement of Planted Symphony) has an altogether more mysterious atmosphere and when the clarinet adds to the vocal line, I felt like it needed to be almost like a chant with dance-like undertones!

“Something is happening” (movement 3) has the listener feeling a little unsettled and the clarinet has insistent interjections into the texture.

In each of the movements the listener enters a very particular sound world, and the ensemble is used in different ways together to help the listener to navigate through the story. The clarinet has a wonderfully flexible role in the ensemble, sometimes at the forefront almost as a sonic narrator and at other times adding rhythmic tension or calming melodic vibes.

I happened to have a beautiful new wooden Buffet bass clarinet that I was just getting to grips with during the recording and it generates the most peculiar sound vibrations through my wheelchair and into my body. All very cosmic!

Listening together

People on a bench listen to Planted Symphony, there are silk flowers around them in the park

At the conclusion of the rehearsal process all the musicians met online to listen to all the recorded sections together.

We again had a wonderful creative captioner and I was able to gain a sense of it all through the myriad text descriptions from everyone’s thoughts and opinions on what they were hearing. We talked movingly about the legacy of Lucy and of her music which had been the beginning source for the Planted Symphony score.

Sonia Allori

Planted Symphony was commissioned and developed by Drake Music, in partnership with Arts & Gardens. It is produced and presented by Drake Music.

Planted Symphony is supported by Arts Council England, Sonos Foundation and Foyle Foundation. The wearable technology is kindly loaned by Subpac.  

Additional support comes from The Ironmongers’ Company, Bruce Wake Charitable Trust, Michael Tippett Musical Foundation, RVW Trust and kind donations made in memory of Lucy Hale. 

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