Terry Pack interview
How did the Trees project start?
“I bought an iMac about two years ago and I discovered that it came with a very natty program called Garageband so I started experimenting with a few ideas, just putting some demos together. And I was really attracted to the woodwind and the brass sounds so I started writing for woodwind and brass. And I found that I had quite a lot of material, within a few weeks so I then thought it would be a nice idea to get some people to play it. I experimented with the notator system in Garageband but I wasn’t able to get it to print out parts efficiently. So I bit the bullet and I bought Sibelius and struggled to learn how to use it but gradually got better at it. I discovered that I had to buy Logic because I couldn’t bounce straight out of Garageband. So I bought Logic, reworked the parts bounced them into Sibelius and set about trying to create scores that could then be played by people. At which point I asked for some help from David Beebee and his advice was pithy but a little bit like ‘good luck!’. I thought about doing an MA at Sussex [University]. The MA that Simon d’Souza had done but I wasn’t as impressed with it as he had been. And then it occurred to me to ask Mark Bassey. So about a year ago I started having occasional lessons with Mark on orchestration and arrangement. And also in the use of Sibelius. It reached a point about three months ago when he said to me ‘you’ve got three pieces pretty much ready to go. You need to get a group together to play them’.”
“The first rehearsal was about a month ago at The Verdict. I did a Monday and a Tuesday consecutively and then a third rehearsal on that same Tuesday night with the Studio 9 Orchestra so I played the three pieces with three completely different ensembles, except for a little bit of overlap in a little bit under 36 hours. I was reworking the parts as I went along, and spilling tea and coffee all over them, and having printer failure (and nearly having heart failure).”
“But the rehearsals went really well, and people expressed enough interest in the music for me to be emboldened to do it again. So I went away and reviewed the pieces and revised them, to iron out some of the problems and reconvened last week and the week before at The Verdict. The week before went sufficiently well for me to think that it was a good moment to ask you to come along and have a listen.”
“I’m encouraged by the responses of the musicians. I reworked the stuff after each rehearsal to make it easier, better, cleaner, tidier. It’s a lot of work but it’s very satisfying.”
What have you learnt the most from the whole experience?
“So far, I’ve learned that you shouldn’t give an alto saxophone a high F# as the first note, without checking first. I’ve learned that trying to do three completely different arrangements of the same piece because of different personnel is not practical. So what I’ve done is I’ve clipped my wings. All the original stuff was written for flutes, clarinets and not many saxophones. I came to the realisation that, although I know lots of people who double, it’s just not practical if you have to get a ‘dep’ in, that that ‘dep’ is unlikely to play the same combination as the player that you’d originally asked. So, I’ve rewritten the stuff for saxophones, more or less a straightforward big band sound but I’ve kept the arrangements for the more exotic woodwind on the back burner. So as time goes by and a group sort of elects itself, I’ll have a better idea of who’s available and I may well be looking at a woodwind section of five saxophones and four or five other players. Or eight people who double. So there’s lots of possible combinations. That’s the first thing that I’ve learned. I’ve also learned that you’ve got to write drum parts for some people but not for others. I’m still learning about writing keyboard parts – it’s so difficult. I’ve written for quartets and quintets for years and it’s never been a problem as I just give people chord sheets. But with a big band I feel like I’ve got to do more than that. It’s the same with the drums. And I’ve also discovered that I can’t quite play bass and conduct the band at the same time yet – so I’ve got a bass player in. But I think in the long run it might be better to have a conductor.”
How flexible do you think your compositions are?
“I’ve tried to build in quite a lot of freedom. But when you’re working on a machine, eight bars going by feels like an eternity. Eight bars of real players feels like nothing at all. I discovered this doing Palimpsest, that the introduction to the opening number was originally conceived of as being 16 bars. In the event it ended up being 64, because it needed more time to breath.”
“So what I’ve done with the big band stuff is I’ve tried not to overwrite it but I have overwritten it. And then I’ve underwritten it in places as well. So what I need to do is take out some of the writing, at times, and allow more space and then do a little bit more writing at other times, like backings for solos, for example.”
“There’s a great advantage of having the technology and recording facilities because Mike Guest recorded the first couple of rehearsals and I had the luxury of listening back to the arrangements and reacting to that. So I want it to be fairly flexible.”
So, where is it likely to go in the future?
“Well, the band has already got two gigs in the book. Well, four actually. Charlotte Glasson is running a festival in August at Dyke Road Park and she has offered me a slot. She’s playing in the band and she really likes the music. So there’s an incentive to write some more music. And Jack Kendon, who is playing trumpet in the band, has offered me a slot playing at The Lantern Fayre in early October. So I’ve got two gigs to work towards. Also, John at The Verdict (where we’ve been rehearsing) wants the band to play there regularly – once every six weeks or so. So that’s very good news. And Katie at The Round Georges where I’m rehearsing, she wants the band to play there too. So that’s potentially four gigs. Two fixed and two ongoing.”
“I’d like, in as much as this is possible to happen, a group of players to elect themselves as the band. So that people who really want to play in it do so. And contribute to it, in terms of compositions and arrangements, as well, and suggestions. There have been, notably, several faces – Paul Nieman, Charlotte and Jack who are pretty much omnipresent. Alice Hawkes, Tom Phelan and Dave Cottrell are all very involved. Milo Fell wants to be involved in playing percussion and he’s a great guy to have involved.”
“I’ve written for mallet instruments so I’ve got Neil Corrin, who plays with The Cloggz and might also play accordion with us, and Matt Hobson, who is better known as a kit player, has got a mallet and is interested in playing with us. There’s a very good saxophonist and flautist called Kate Hogg playing saxophone and we’ve also been joined by Brendan Kelly as well. Philippe Guyard and Andy Pickett have also been constant attendees.”
“Along with a lot of other people who have all been keen, I think a group will coalesce. I’m not a whip cracker so I don’t want anybody there who doesn’t want to be there. It has to be a group of friends who enjoy playing the music. And if that’s the case then the music will be better for it.”
For more about Terry Pack visit his website: www.terrypackbass.co.uk
Interview with Terry Pack conducted by Charlie Anderson.
Photo of Terry Pack by Rachel Zhang.