Star Trek Live, Royal Albert Hall

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Now there’s a thought. How would one go about producing Star Trek in a concert setting? In this case Star Trek – Into Darkness live, performed at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday. Thats easy…you play the film and get a live orchestra to play the music.

I wasn’t sure how this would work, and I was amazed at the result! The hall was packed for the performance, which was the final show of a 3 day residence. It was an interesting mix of people too; some were dressed as people often are for concerts at the RAH, smartly, there were people like myself, a bit more ‘smart/casual’, a lot of jeans and T’s and then there were the Trekkie’s in Star Fleet uniforms, some with pointy ears, carrying ‘Tri-corders’. Not that surprising perhaps, and fun to observe.

An enormous screen had been set up in front of the pipes of the famous organ which forms the usual backdrop to the stage, with the orchestra set up beneath it. The orchestra, the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and chorus, from Lucerne, Switzerland is one I’d not come a cross before and they were top notch. They seem to specialise in doing this kind of thing, having previously perfomed The Lord of the Rings with Howard Shore.

The music for this film, is composed by Hollywood film composer Michael Giacchino, and he was there on the night to set the scene, getting proceedings off to a good start by taking a selfie video with his iPhone and getting the capacity crowd to join in (for the benefit of his kids back in LA).

Orchestra getting ready to start...

The 21st Century Orchestra getting ready to start…

For the performance itself, the music was very much centre stage. It was good to have Giacchino involved on the night, which it gave his music a focus (and got the Trekkies quite excited), but then he handed over to Ludwig Wicki to get the show on the road.

The music starts gently, and quickly built as the the film joined in and rather than play the dialogue at a volume that would impinge too much on the music, subtitles were added so that punters could follow in the louder bits. As the evening progressed, I found myself torn between concentrating on the orchestra, who were superb and watching what is a very entertaining film. I found a happy medium though and loved the effect. As a film and home cinema buff, I would like to have had a bit more of the films actual sound effects and subwoofer slam, as their absence left a few holes in the soundstage at times, but you can’t have everything.

Action films of this type always provide a workout for the brass section of orchestras. Special mention has to go to the low brass section of the orchestra, consisting of 2 tenor and 2 bass trombones, and 2 tubas. Team, that was awesome! (Trombones: Pirmin Rohrer, Andreas Mattle, Daniel Ringgenberg and Anita Rohrer. Tubas: Markus Hauenstein, Remo Capra)

Even if you’re not into Star Trek, if you like great music played live, this would have hit the spot. Even my mate Howard, who suffered a Sci-Fi bypass at an early age would have enjoyed it!

So, Transports of Delight? Absolutely..! Music, movies and the USS Enterprise 1701! What’s not to like?

Er, Live Long and Prosper 😊

© Richard Debonnaire

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On Memorial Day, An Old Briefcase Reveals a Remarkable History

Remarkable!

Josh Stearns

Roughly fifteen years ago I found a nondescript briefcase in the basement of my mom’s house with a sticker just under the handle that read, “My War.” 

Inside the briefcase was an amazingly well-preserved archive of letters, military paperwork, newspaper clipping, sketches and photos from my grandfather’s service in World War II. At the time, I spent months pouring over the collection, and carefully scanned in every page. 

My grandfather, Al Atkins, was shot down over Germany in November of 1944. He was able to parachute to safety before being taken as a prisoner of war. The collection of his military papers includes the original Western Union telegrams his wife received when his plane was shot down and when he was confirmed as a prisoner of war. Those two are dated three months apart.

Imagine what his family must have felt during those three months. The immense weight of the…

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A blog about a dog…

Hi, my name is Richard and I’m a very reluctant dog owner…

Inspired by an article in Saturdays’ Times, I thought I’d share my story.

All my life, I’ve been a cat person, but my wife became allergic to cats after the kids were born, so when he died (Leo the cat that is) we decided not to get another pet. Too much of a tie…

Leo, our cat of 18 years.

Leo, our cat of 18 years. A sweeter natured animal it would be hard to find!

Shortly after this though, my daughters, who were 16 & 17 at the time, and tacitly supported by Debs, my wife, started a concerted campaign for another pet, something I said we wouldn’t do again. I’d grown to like not having to think about an animal and who will look after it whilst we’re away. What a fool.

Fast forward to Christmas 2013, and the pressure was really up. I’d been resisting all plea’s for another pet; Debs was allergic to cats, so I knew I was safe on that front, and as I’d always completely shut the door on having a dog, I was home free.

In April 2013, I started working with a colleague who is a life long dog lover, and owner of a boisterous Bedlington terrier. Many conversations were had, and as I’d always got on with dogs, we had quite a lot of discussions about mad mutts. Slowly, I guess I started to soften, without really noticing it.

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The boisterous Bedlington…Bingo

BUT NO! WAIT! I hear you say…”A dog is for life…” –  there is no going back, plus they smell! It might be a generalisation, but all dogs smell.

The pressure was kept up and I started to soften a bit more…”hmmm, it would be quite nice to have a bit of company around the house when I work from home” I’d started to think. Slippery slope…

The conversations continued, Debs using her wily ways, the girls backing her up. “No!” I say. “If” (and that is a key word here, as it is the point at which the crack in the armour of my petless rightiousness appeared), “IF we get a dog, it will need walking, feeding, looking after, blah blah blah…”.

“Yes” they cried, and we’ll do it all! You won’t have to do a thing! Foolish softy that I am, eventually, I caved. The decision was made and at lightening speed, a reputable breeder was identified (I have the feeling this was all lined up prior to my agreement!), a Poodle puppy chosen, and several weeks later, Juno arrived, to great excitement!

Juno, our Poodle puppy about a month after we got her. She'd grown a bit by this point.

Juno, our Poodle puppy a month after we got her. She’d grown a bit by this point.

However, what no one in our house had factored in (and I don’t include myself in that number as it wasn’t ‘my’ dog), was how much effort a puppy takes to look after! It’s a bit like have a baby again, only this time, it can run at breakneck speed, doesn’t wear a nappy, and can consequently cause poo/pee mayhem around the house. You cannot take your eyes off it for a second! If you do, you’ll need kitchen towel and Bust It! Also, arrangements have to be made for someone to look in on such a young dog when work has to recommence!

The girls spent a lot of time with her, but as I said, it’s hard work and so they gradually drifted off to ‘revise’ or ‘do homework’ or whatever teenage girls do, so Debs and I found we were doing most of the work.

With a new puppy, you can’t even take them out for walks until they’ve had their jabs, so you’re confined to home with a hyper, juvenile dog! Trying to work from home those first few weeks was practically impossible, and I had to actually travel to a local office to get any work done, and no decent telly was watched for some time.

Now some months have passed, Juno is still very lively, but much easier to handle. The girls are still ‘busy’, and to be fair to them, they are actually really busy revising for A Levels, but they do take their part in the walking and general looking after of Juno, but still manage to spend a lot of time somewhere the dog isn’t.

As for me, I have grown to like having Juno around; she does keep me company when I’m home working and she’s not too much trouble, plus walking her definitely has a beneficial affect on Debs and my health and wellbeing.

She is a funny, characterful dog who loves hurtling around the park with other dogs, giving as good as she gets, or snuffling around the woods over the road from our house when we take her out.

She’s become a part of the family, and whilst she is undoubtedly a tie for holidays etc., the benefits of having her probably outweigh those of not. I think…ask me again in a few months, but I think I may have fallen for her…(keep that to yourself though, eh? 😉)

Juno on May 24th fresh from her hair cut, and complete with bow's! (whats happening to me?)

Juno on May 24th fresh from her hair cut, and complete with bow’s! (whats happening to me?)

 

© Richard Debonnaire

If you’re not into trombones, don’t read on…

If you’ve read my profile, you’ll have noticed my reference to playing bass trombone. Well, I thought this would be a good place to share an article I wrote about 18 months ago for ‘The Trombonist’, the magazine of The British Trombone Society (BTS), about trombones & players in the Salvation Army. If you’re interested in banding, read on…if not, this is a really good place to stop and do something else!

R


 

I wonder what you think of when you hear a Salvation Army band in the High Street, perhaps around Christmas? You might think about the Salvation Army’s social work, or that it is a part of the church? Maybe it just makes you feel nostalgic or, “rather them than me” on a cold December day?

Salvation Army (or ‘SA’) bands have been around for many years; one of the first officially recognised Salvation Army Corps (i.e. centre) bands, was formed in Consett in 1879, and there are still many SA bands around the country, ranging in size and ability, although perhaps not found in the numbers they once were.

In the south of England, like most of the UK, SA bands are dotted around most major towns, and some are quite well known. Anyone interested in brass banding, has probably heard of Enfield Citadel Band, Hendon Band, Regent Hall Band, and although not a corps band, the International Staff Band*, which is the SA’s premier brass band in the UK, and is based in London.

A Salvation Army band is first and foremost a means to help spread the Gospel, and in striving to do that, they aim high in terms of quality, with each group counting amongst it’s membership real brass enthusiasts, as well as folk who simply enjoy being part of the group.

Playing in the 'Open-Air'

Playing in the ‘Open-Air’

Over the years the SA has produced many outstanding brass musicians; Denis Wick, Don Lusher, Maisie Ringham, Christopher Mowat, Dudley Bright, to name a few, as well as the likes of Philip Cobb, David Daws and Philip Smith (to name a few more!), but for the vast majority of us who consider ourselves to be keen amateurs, in addition to our spiritual aims, it is also a means to enjoy making brass band music, and the Salvation Army has a very rich heritage of this to draw upon.

In any brass (and I suspect orchestral) group, there can be little doubt that trombone players see themselves as a breed apart. There is something about the trombone that seems to attract some of the more outgoing and extrovert people to it, that encourages great music to be written for it, and of course associations to be formed to promote and celebrate the instrument! You don’t get that with many other musical instruments.

Extrovert and unruly…at least in Bromley…

And that sense of the extrovert, excitement and the feeling that we trombonists are somehow different (in the best possible sense), exists in the SA as much as anywhere else, and although I’m writing this from a south of England perspective, I know that there is a sense that an SA trombone club exists across the UK and indeed the rest of the world.

Every group of trombonists I’ve ever played with has always shared this sense of belonging, regardless of their level of ability. I play in Bromley Temple Salvation Army band, where there are presently six of us, although one is away studying at university. Three of the remaining five of us have played together for nearly 20 years and we like to play as a group whenever we can. It has been our pleasure to take part in various events, either as a trio, quartet, or part of a larger group.

As a section, in 2013 we had the pleasure of forming a trombone ensemble alongside Black Dyke Trombone Quartet to accompany Dudley Bright, we’ve performed as a trio in the afternoon service and open-air meeting at Chalk Farm Salvation Army and we were invited to play for visitors to the Olympic Mountain Bike event at Hadleigh Farm, in Essex. It’s on days like that you realise that not nearly enough trombone trios have been written!

Bromley Band Trombone, joined Black Dyke Trombone Quartet to accompany Dudley Bright

Bromley Band Trombone’s join Black Dyke Trombone Quartet to accompany Dudley Bright

But we’re not alone in this type of thing. Regent Hall band who I mentioned earlier, are another trombone section not averse to heading out on their own. Being based in Oxford Street in the heart of London’s West End, it is not unusual for them to play as a group to shoppers during Christmas carolling, and they have also performed programmes of their own in and around London. They are also unusual in that amongst their number, they include three professionals; a member of Her Majesty’s Irish Guards trombone section, principal Paul Hooper and Paul Johnson of the Coldstream Guards, as well as Dudley Bright, principal trombone of the LSO.

The trombone section in action in Bromley High Street

The trombone section in action in Bromley High Street

The trombone as an instrument is pretty unique, and competent players can achieve a very large musical and dynamic range, so it lends itself very well to playing in groups, as many parts can be covered, even more if you introduce the use of Alto and Contra-bass trombones (the Moravian Trombone Choir for example). I guess it is typical of the type of people that play the trombone that they like to form groups and it’s obviously not just SA players; Bones Apart, and Black Dyke Trombone Quartet being two further examples.

And it’s not as though this kind of ‘playing together’ behaviour isn’t encouraged either. The SA band music repertoire includes many trombone ensembles with band accompaniment. Ray Steadman-Allen’s “Wonders Begin when the Lord comes in” and “Trombone Vespers”, Stephen Bulla’s “Peace Like A River” and “The Cleansing Power” just to name two SA composers, none of which seeks to discourage feisty trombone sections; quite the opposite!

And who can forget Spiritual to the ‘Bone? This Salvationist jazz trombone ensemble from the USA, based on the Tutti’s Trombone model, released five very successful CD’s and toured the US, Europe and Australia in the 1990’s. Their recordings will have exposed many to possibly their first taste of SA music, which really brings us back to the primary purpose of SA music in general, whether brass, choral or contemporary; to proclaim the Gospel.

*Note: In fact there are a number of ‘Staff’ bands around the world: For info these are (apologies if I’ve missed anyone):

The bulk of this text was first published in Spring 2013 edition of ‘The Trombonist’.

Photos:
John Murray (iPhone 4s)
Brent Forrest (proper expensive camera)
Me (iPhone 5s)

© Richard Debonnaire

An unofficial Hire Car Review – BMW 330d M Sport

I mention in my profile that I get to travel around the country for work a fair bit, and I often hire a car to do it. These days, I don’t have a company vehicle, but it’s swings and roundabouts; I don’t get taxed on a company car, and hiring one I sometimes get a gem of a car that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to drive.

This week, I needed a car, and as usual ordered the standard Vauxhall/Opel Insignia from the company’s preferred supplier Enterprise. I ordered in the morning, and by lunchtime a car was delivered. Seemed I had an upgrade, as I was presented with a new, white BMW 330d M Sport Touring.

I’ve always had a certain view of BMW drivers and Beemers have never really floated my boat, although I have driven a few on short runs and thought they were nice to drive. Anyway, a couple of weeks back, I was told my hire car would be upgraded to a ‘premium’ model, and was delivered a BMW 320d. I actually found it lovely to drive, and with a fantastic in car system for Sat Nav, Bluetooth devices and nice easy iPod connections with excellent integration.

So on Wednesday I was quite pleased to see another BMW on the drive. On closer inspection I saw it was the 330d M Sport model, which was a surprise. I’ve never driven a car with such a large engine for any length of time, and the first thing I did was start it up and listen to the motor. Nothing like a 6 cylinder motor rumbling away (unless you hear an Audi RS 4‘s 4.2L V8 roaring away in the lane next to you!).

The 330d though looked amazing, and was really well equipped, and was the automatic model, complete with flappy paddles on the steering wheel. The interia was dark, with black leather upholstery, black trim with silver flashes and a black roof liner. I would have preferred a lighter more airy interia, but once I was on the road I didn’t think about that at all.

BMW 330d M Sport Touring

Parked over the road from my house. I like the lines of this car, more so than the saloon version. Elegant and purposeful looking.

The 3 series is a low car, and for me (with a dodgy right leg) was bit of struggle to get out of. But once in, I found the seats extremely comfortable and very adjustable, and plenty of available adjustment on the steering wheel too. There was also a lot of space for anyone in the back seats even with my seat as far back I usually need it

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(I was stationary on the M25 when I took this – just in case you were wondering)

To drive, the 330d was a delight. I was concerned that after the two days I was going  to use it, I would no longer have a licence as I thought the temptation to drive fast all the time would be too great, but I found that the engine was happy cruising along at legal speeds (and was equally happy just over the limit too – allegedly), and it just ate up the miles.

The 8 speed auto gearbox was superb. Smooth, and quick on the changes. The ride was very smooth I thought, and the 330 happily rode any bumps in the road, and was quiet too. There was some road noise obviously, but I thought it was pretty good. The steering was nice and sure and being rear wheel drive, the car had a nice small turning circle.

The in car systems were excellent with great A/C (although I’d like to have had a way to work it as one instead of driver/passenger settings – if it was there I didn’t find it!).The Sat Nav system is excellent, with a nice big screen (not the top of the range system either), clear and easy to see. The sound system is also really good, and the integration for the iPod couldn’t have been simpler. I particularly liked the iDrive controller, which for me is the best such input device for an in car entertainment/Sat Nav system I’ve come across.

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Sat Nav and A/C. the screen is very clear, and there are plenty of options for viewing the route, or POI information.

For me a car needs to be a pleasure to drive,  comfortable, have enough power to get one out of a situation, and all the in car entertainment and information systems need to be intuitive to use. The BMW systems are fantastic, easy to use and set up, and in the 330, I could connect two Bluetooth phones simultaneously and receive and make calls whilst both were connected. A real help to me.

So, I was hugely impressed with this car; it’s looks, quality, equipment, ride etc., but perhaps mostly with its fuel consumption. BMW drivers I’ve known have told me how good they are on fuel economy, and to be honest, I never really believed them, particularly when compared to one of my previous cars, a Toyota Prius, which I loved and from which I could get about 55-62 MPG from (depending how heavy my right foot was).

The BMW was a complete revelation! When I went to fill up the Beemer before it was picked up, I’d done 415 miles. It cost me £55. The trip computer said that I had averaged 49.5MPG, which I find staggering from a fairly big car with a 3.0 litre (albeit diesel) engine and this performance is largely down to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics system, which reclaims energy from the braking system.

I filled up my own car, a Ford Grand C-Max (2.0L diesel/auto) for about the same amount and with 115 less miles driven!

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I really liked this car. Better start saving for c. £40k one will cost new then…

 

© Richard Debonnaire