Circles and Lines

As we prepared for our recent concert for


, we started musing about ensemble disposition. Normally, we follow the convention of standing in a horseshoe-shape, deep or shallow depending on the space and acoustic of the venue. But recently Robert our bassoonist discovered several references to bands playing in a closed circle, such as Wilhelm Wieprecht, who recalled that in 1804:

"When I heard [the band] play the Overture to Mozart's Figaro in a closed circle, there came into my heart the firm decision that I would dedicate myself from now on to military music'...

We thought we might try this for this concert, in the magnificent space of St-Mary-at-Hill, with the audience seating set out also in a circle surrounding us:

When it came to the crunch, an event following our concert prohibited us changing the layout of the space. So instead, we tried something totally different: playing standing in a line.

The result was fascinating. Because we had no visual contact with each other, we found ourselves listening in a different and far more active way than normal. Where we might normally nominate one player to lead an entry, we instead had to be aware of each other's breath and led together. Ensemble was, if anything, better and easier, because we simply relied on the momentum of the music to time entries and silences. And best of all, because we were playing to the audience rather than to each other, the imperative to perform and sell our individual lines was all the more pressing.

There were some minor issues – it was difficult for the horns and second clarinet to hear each other from opposite ends of the line – but it's definitely an experiment we'll try again soon...