First a definition: A bum note is a note that is wrong by pitch, dynamics or timing. It includes the correct note but played in the wrong octave, too loud, not loud enough or at the wrong time not to mention the wrong pitch caused by ignoring the key signature or an accidental. Wrong timing means misreading/miscounting note or rest values. And in some cases it’s a beautiful note, dynamically perfect, in tune, but at the wrong time (an inadvertent solo). Or of course it’s the absence of a note when one is written.
I was congratulating a violinist on his performance in the orchestra at a recent Ashford Choral concert. Enjoying the moment, he joked that he had played every note of the Sibelius violin concerto – “at one time or another”. I was reminded that like him, I have perpetrated every type of bum note – “at one time or another”.
A couple of our concerts ago, Wes introduced the next piece as ‘sounding like fog horns on the Thames’. Harsh. It starts with low notes on horns and trombones to be played softly. Had they been marked forte, then we would have enjoyed them. Brass players generally like blowing loud raspberries. But soft ones are difficult. Inexplicably, the instruments don’t ‘speak’ instantly under these circumstances. Thus, during rehearsals, we often began with unpleasant noises. In fairness, they might have seemed to resemble fog horns – but only by uncharitable people with warped senses of humour. No, I’m not accusing Wes of being uncharitable, nor of having a warped sense of humour. Where he may have gone adrift is in imagining that there were fog horns on the Thames during the lifetime of the composer.
Any road up, after the gratuitously offensive introduction, both trombones and horns made ‘false starts’. Genuine bum notes. Wes called a halt to proceedings – hoping for a better start the second time around. Recalling that we had all watched athletics on TV and watched the fate of runners who made false starts, I raised my hand and asked ‘Shall I be disqualified if I make a second false start?’
Luckily, we’ll never know the answer. Poking fun at myself had raised a laugh from the audience and released the tension for everyone. Which is my point in this blog. The atmosphere at our rehearsals is light. We often cause bum notes, but they are treated with sympathy. We all know that everyone of us often makes a bummer and that it would be counterproductive if we started pointing the finger at each other.