Pachelbel Can Can Can

By Maxine Kwok Adams  -  14 October 2016

What does a classical musician do day in day out? Well for me being in the LSO means I spend most days comfortably surrounded by up to ninety musicians onstage or in the recording studio reading off sheet music that's just been composed for say a film, or symphonies that were composed perhaps hundreds of years ago that I may have played dozens of times. I engage my brain and my muscles, and after years of training they happily do their thing without too much worry. 

There are days however where you are pulled brusquely out of your comfort zone and thrust into a somewhat unfamiliar position. Rather as if you are happily ensconced in a polite game of whist with the cast of Downton Abbey and suddenly find yourself playing Twister with cannibals. 

Last week the lovely people down at Classic FM had teamed up with all the other Global radio partners for the amazing charity Make Some Noise which funds small projects for young people across the UK. There were many money-raising ideas such as "Dress loud day" (situation normal then) and the "Midsomerly Murders" play narrated by Stephen Fry that can be purchased as a CD or as a download.  I was asked if I could possibly help out with Classic FM's six-hour Pachelbel Canon marathon to which I replied that I'd be more than happy to (visualising an orchestra with people dipping in and out to perform the famous work).

On arrival at Global HQ I began to suspect things were not quite as I might have envisaged when I discovered a small corner set up for live music which looked rather cosier than I had expected. Quick introductions were made - the Young British composer Thomas Hewitt-Jones  was brandishing a cello and a huge smile. Classic FM artist Ji Liu and I instantly recognised each other as we had previously communicated through Twitter (isn't social media fantastic?). Ji got comfortable at the keyboard, Thomas took a chair and I wondered when the other dozens of people were turning up and where they were going to stand.. As it was, five minutes later the cameras were rolling for a live stream through Facebook and I was winging my way through the Pachebel having not played it for, and I'm not exaggerating, decades.. As I squinted at the copy on the piano and made some of it up, (sorry Pachelbel) I was glad I had been playing the violin solidly for days.

One time through and our trio and the lovely peeps at Classic FM realised this wasn't going to get the punters staying tuned in so we quickly got hold of some popular song books (with some dodgy arrangements that we soon realised weren't working for us) and thought of another angle. From the get go it was obvious Thomas was stand-out amazing at improvisation as he listed off pieces to play and created seamless counter melodies. Ji was gamely downloading the music we called out at him on his phone and sight-reading like a demon.  I was at this point feeling somewhat of a fraud having not played these pieces (Monti's Czardas I had last performed at the age of thirteen - obviously I don't count accompanying the incredible Roby Lakatos in the LSO as performing it!) for a considerable amount of years and then trying to remember how they went made my brain go into complete overdrive. I breathed a sigh of relief when Elgar's Salut d'Amour was suggested but then the only copy Ji could download was in a different key and I couldn't see the phone screen anyway, so it was rather like rubbing my tummy and patting my head. 

As the day went on and I became more comfortable I realised the project was about having fun and raising loads of money for charity so I figured the odd wrong harmony or note wasn't the end of the world. It was just giving the audience who tuned in something fun to watch, and inspire them to donate. At one point Rebecca Hardwick, who had just dropped in to see a friend, gamely sung the most exquisite Gershwin "Summertime". We even riffed some chords with Myleene Klass around a Michael Buble song so that he'd have music to walk in to as he did a round of the Global offices amidst cheers. 

By this time the whole "buskathon" idea was gathering momentum and we were treated to singing by the choral scholars of St. George's Bloomsbury and even the "Game of thrones" theme got a look in performed on the violin with an amazing one man band electronic set up.  (I want one!) We were able to print music for "Cameron's Lament" which Thomas had composed one night after much speculation about what the ex-PM was humming as he walked into 10 Downing Street and he woke to find it had gone viral.The highlight of the day was surely presenter Aled Jones singing his iconic "Walking in the air" accompanied by station producer Sam Jackson with improvised violin, cello and trumpet backing (thanks Phil Pursglove for seeing all the Twitter action and adding brass support). 

If you've gamely stayed with me, we now reach the reason I chose to blog about this day and my failings and insecurities for the world to see. You may think you are labelled in a certain way in classical music. It doesn't matter how long you have been playing, in what format or the genre of music, you can and have to be versatile. That's what Friday's charity event taught me. If someone had told me I'd be improvising or performing from memory for an audience pieces I hadn't seen in decades I'd have run a mile. As it was, I had the most amazing time with the Classic FM team and particularly with the immensely talented musicians Thomas and Ji. I was taken out of my comfort zone and found that whilst it took me a while to settle, I enjoyed it and ended up realising there were other aspects of music I could enjoy and the barriers I had raised for myself didn't have to be there. Music doesn't have to be sanitised and perfect for it to be enjoyable. Just having fun is a great start! 

Ps. If you haven't donated already please do so NOW! Oh and dress loud every day, it makes people smile.

About Maxine Kwok Adams

Fashion correspondent and violinist of the London Symphony Orchestra

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