On the first episode of this exciting new series, Conductor and Presenter David Brophy kicks off his instrumental challenge. We meet 3 personalities (Brent Pope, Maeve Higgins and John Murray) who have signed up for the journey and discover just how musical they really are. An emotional set of public auditions makes Dave's decisions of who to select very hard, but only 3 members of the public can join the show. Having just been introduced to the piano, cello and clarinet, our instrumentalists are shocked to discover they will be putting on a public performance in just 3 weeks. With nerves at breaking point, the performance proves too much for one of the team.
How Brent's been getting on with the clarinet : Brent admits this is the toughest challenge he's ever faced as he doesn't think he has any musical ability at all! He feels it's one thing to pick up a hurley or grab a surfboard and learn how to use them, but playing a clarinet is an entirely different story. There's so much to learn about breathing techniques before even attempting to make a sound. And then on top of that there's the business of learning how to read music, which Brent likens to learning Morse code! Although he regularly speaks at events in front of hundreds of people, he gets very nervous performing the clarinet in public - so he found the challenge to play in front of family and friends at Kilruddery House fairly daunting. But he likes the sound the clarinet makes, and is really determined to stick with it so that one day he might get to play his party piece at a barbeque!
How John's been getting on with the piano: John has been getting on great so far, to the point where he believes he will continue playing after the series and may even take exams in the subject! There have been times where he has felt frustrated with his progress and that he's getting nowhere, but then he realises what a huge amount he's learned in only a few weeks. He has also found practicing the piano at home to be very therapeutic, though is not quite sure the rest of the family would agree! John thinks tutor Brian is a tough task-master but a fantastic teacher, "it always makes perfect sense what we're being told to do."
How Jennifer's been getting on with the cello : Jennifer is really enjoying the lessons and the challenges so far. Initially she found it tricky to hold the bow properly when playing 'Happy Birthday' and thought she sounded like a strangled cat! With a baby due soon Jennifer knows she really has to put in the cello practice now before the new arrival. She feels Yue is a brilliant teacher, very patient, and he has even offered to go down to Cork to give her lessons when the baby arrives. She's quite scared about the prospect of playing at the wedding in Trim, and is trying not to think about it too much or she'll completely freak out!
On the second episode of Instrumental, our instrumentalists have been burning the midnight oil to master their cello, piano and clarinet. With the surprise departure of Maeve Higgins, Jen is about to get a new personality to partner with on the cello. This week our instrumentalists must perform the music for a wedding in Trim. And by wedding we mean from the moment the bride walks down the isle to the all important 'I Do's'. With all eyes on the bride, one bad slide of a bow and her dream day could be ruined, so our instrumentalists will need to pull it out of the bag this week.
How Manuela's been getting on with the cello
Manuela has only just started lessons and feels it will be a lot tougher for her than everyone else as they have already been at it for a few weeks. Also Italy has a completely different system for teaching music so that's another hurdle for her. She found her first lesson quite frustrating as she realised just how much work goes into playing an instrument and it looks a lot easier than it is, "my fingers really hurt and I've already developed a callus!" Manuela was delighted she didn't have to perform at the wedding, "I just sat back and watched the others, perfect!"
How Greg's been getting on with the clarinet
Greg is loving the clarinet and already says that he's going to keep it up long term and try to use it in his music. He's a very busy man and has a lot going on but thinks he has the stamina to keep going. Since lessons began he has learnt how to shape his mouth and position his fingers correctly, how to breathe properly using his diaphragm and has also covered scales and different ranges of notes. The morning of the wedding wasn't the easiest for Greg, "I'd come straight from performing at a festival so I was pretty wrecked, then when I started playing the reed in my clarinet split!" Also it was the first wedding Greg has ever been to. The afternoon went well, and Greg reckons the bridal party were just delighted to have Brent Pope at their wedding!
How Kathleen's been getting on with the piano
It's been tough going for Kathleen as she's missing her husband Nick terribly, but she's enjoying every minute of her musical journey. Kathleen has been finding it hard to read the notes while keeping an eye on the keys and her finger positioning all at the same time. Keeping in time with the metronome is also tricky enough. When learning how to play 'Danny Boy' she discovered it helps to practice in the dark! At the wedding Kathleen really felt the pressure as she was so afraid to make mistakes on someone else's big day. But she was happy enough with how it went in the end, and really enjoyed playing Canon in D as it's such a beautiful piece. Kathleen would love to be able to someday play like her tutor Brian, "his fingers skim across the keys like dragon-flies where as I'm more like an elephant banging on the keys!"
This week on Instrumental the budding musicians are starting to see progress, but with a solo with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra looming, David Brophy raises the bar as they must face a difficult crowd and busk in public.
Tonight's challenge is to play songs from the musicals live on stage with a theatre group. With Singers, Dancers and a rhythm section on stage, its all about timing and tuning, as one wrong note from our instrumentalists could bring the performance crashing down.
Manuela Spinelli performs with her cello for the very first time while Brent, John and Kathleen are really battling their performance demons
How Brent's been getting on:
Brent was happy enough with how he got on at the wedding in Trim. It could have gone horribly wrong and ruined the bride's big day but he ended strongly, and was even asked to sign a few autographs! However the challenge at the musical theatre in Athlone didn't go quite so well. The nerves got to him as he was sitting behind the curtain waiting to go on stage and he ended up hitting a few bum notes. "I can walk around the house and play but as soon as people are watching I lose track, I'm well out of my comfort zone. And the clarinet is such a delicate instrument, when you bite it bites you back!"
How John's been getting on
John was pleased with his performance at the wedding. "The focus was on the bride so that took a bit of pressure off. I was playing just as she was walking up the aisle so everyone was far more interested in the dress!" But he feels the theatre show was a bit of a disaster. "It was the first time I was doing a two-handed piece and the first time we had to accompany professional musicians. I just had a complete blank." However he had fun chatting to people at the busking challenge, "there was a great buzz and I'd say it'd be my highlight so far."
How Manuela's been getting on:
Unlike John, Manuela didn't have much fun in Blanchardstown. "I hated the busking, I could barely play and I think I made all the customers run away!" But performing the Blues Brothers at the musical theatre was a far more positive experience. "At first I was really cocky but then the rehearsals went badly so I got really frustrated." But after a team talk from tutor Yue, Manuela felt a big change in her attitude, "I was getting stressed about performing well as I'm too much of a perfectionist, but now I know it's all about enjoying what you're doing." She felt really upbeat after going on stage and that she'd nailed the performance.
In show 4 of Instrumental, David Brophy wants to focus on getting his instrumentalists prepared for performing live. With only 3 weeks to their concert with the RTE Concert Orchestra in the National Concert Hall, they really need to learn how to get it right in one take. This is where it gets very daunting for our budding musicians, as they have 2 challenges this week. Firstly, they will be performing Bill Whelan's specially commissioned title track live on radio.There are no second chances once the red light is pressed. If that isnt challenging enough they will also be playing 'Fields of Athenry' to a 45,000 strong crowd on the Aviva screens, at the Ireland:Germany world cup qualifier.
How Jen's been getting on:
Jen was really happy with how she got on at the wedding as she felt she got her timing just right and the couple involved were so relaxed and chilled out on their big day. She wasn't able to do the busking challenge as she was dealing with a challenge of her own – giving birth to her third child! Baby Ben is getting on well, "his two brothers can't get enough of him, they're always on top of the pram!" And Jen also got a thoughtful present from tutors Brian and Yue who put together a CD of orchestral pieces for the new arrival, "it's beautiful, and it helps him sleep so I play it all the time." The next team task at the musical theatre was only ten days after the birth but Jen was determined to make it. Understandably she hadn't got much practice in but she was delighted just to get through the full piece. She also introduced Ben to the other instrumentalists, "everyone had a hold of him, it was just like pass the parcel!"
How Kathleen's been getting on:
Kathleen enjoyed the confidence workshop and had a great laugh when Greg had to pretend to be her "he had me down to a tee, even the way he was holding his hands!" But the busking challenge afterwards was not quite so much fun. Kathleen hadn't been able to practice much as she'd hurt her hand which didn't help with her performance. And while she didn't mind gathering the money there's no way she'd want a repeat of this, "I've done some pretty extreme things for charity like jumping out of a plane and shaving my head but I'd do them again any day over busking in a shopping centre!"
Husband Nick's surprise visit home left Kathleen completely stunned. "My head was in a totally different place as I was worried about the radio performance the next day, then when I started to play and he came up behind me I was gob smacked." The pair spent a lovely few days together and had a family get-together in her son's house in Cobh where they had an early Christmas dinner. "We had our turkey and ham, and my son Kenny had the decorations up and he was wearing his Christmas jumper, even the dogs were wearing their jumpers!"
How Greg's been getting on:
Greg was one of the only instrumentalists who actually enjoyed the busking challenge! He got a kick out of performing in the centre and was delighted to be able to raise money and awareness for charity. He performed a duet with Brent and David also played along with them. "You're better off just getting stuck in to these things and not take it too seriously." At the musical theatre Greg avoided looking at the audience until the end as he didn't want to know how many people were there watching him!
He also got on well in the radio studio, "I was delighted for myself and Brent that we gave a good account of ourselves." However Greg found rehearsing for The Fields Of Athenry tough going, "it was hard to learn a piece in such a short time and it was a long day of performing, we were all pretty drained by the end of it." But he was delighted to be given a birthday cake at the end of the day!
How John's been getting on:
John was not a happy man after his radio performance! "I practiced so much I could do the piece in my sleep, then I lost the plot on the day. It's disappointing as I know I could have done better." However the listeners seemed to like it as John got quite a few positive emails and texts. Messages have also been coming in over the past few weeks from those who had auditioned for the show to say the series has really encouraged them to get playing and learn from the online tutorials. John had a much better time recording The Fields Of Athenry. "We had to make sure our version would be good enough quality for the Aviva and it was our first time performing as an ensemble. But we acquitted ourselves well, I think it was my best performance!"
How Jen's been getting on:
It's been much more difficult for Jen to fit in any cello practice since Ben was born as she's always on the clock for feeding time. But her mum has been a big help looking after the baby when Jen has her lessons with Yue. And she says any spare second she gets to practice is a pleasure, "it's never a chore, it's my time out." Jen was disappointed with how the live radio performance went. "I was really prepared and I knew it when I went in. Then I was grand at the start but when the orchestra came in I lost track and lost my timing." Jen felt she'd really let Yue down but a pep talk with him helped her focus on the positive, "there's always going to be parts you don't get. And when I rang home they said I'd sounded fine!"
How Brent's been getting on:
Brent is really starting to see some progress after all the practice he's put in. He was pleased with both his radio performance and The Fields Of Athenry recording for The Aviva. "It's a sporting song and it means a lot at cup finals, it's like an adopted sporting national anthem. The group came together well, it wasn't too bad at all." He also really enjoyed the conducting challenge. "It was so funny, I loved it, though I didn't think the orchestra would pay much attention to an ex-rugby player waving his arms around!" Brent is also looking forward to rehearsing with the orchestra at the National Concert Hall, "It will be great to have my day with them, that'll be a dream come true."
For Kathleen, the overall experience has been hugely positive. "It's been amazing, I'm so honoured that David saw the potential in me and chose me for the show." She got a great reaction from family and friends to her performance at the National Concert Hall though she admits she didn't think she'd get through it. She's sad it's over and has to get back to normal life "I haven't done a grocery shop in months and the house is falling apart!" And Kathleen's also become quite the celebrity with strangers stopping her on the street asking if she's the woman off the show on telly! She's going to keep up the piano lessons as she feels she couldn't give it up now after coming so far, "Sydney Opera House here I come!"
"It's been such a journey" says Brent of his time on the show. On the day of the performance at the National Concert Hall he had to miss some rehearsal time as there was a rugby match he was commentating on, but this turned out to be a good thing as it kept his mind occupied and the nerves at bay. "It was nerve-wracking waiting for my turn backstage and my fingers were jittery when I started but I finished strong." After all the hard work over the past few months Brent is going to take a break from the clarinet but he intends to take more lessons in the future. "It's the hardest thing I've ever done as I was so out of my comfort zone but I stuck with it and didn't chicken out." He's delighted he can now whip out the clarinet at Christmas parties and may even record 'Brent's Greatest Hits' some day!
John was really pleased with how things went at the final concert. "You're nervous for the first thirty seconds but the tutors have drilled into us to enjoy it. The National Concert Hall inspired me, and I felt a terrific sense of achievement after." He's progressed so much since he started and can now play with two hands, use the foot peddle, and keep up with the orchestra. He spent every spare minute practicing and it was worth it, "It's one of the best things I've ever done and the buzz was immense." In fact John is so keen to keep going he's already contacted a piano teacher and arranged lessons for next week!
The final performance was quite overwhelming for Greg, and different from all the other challenges as this time he was performing a track he wrote himself. "There was so much to take in, and I had the added excitement and pressure as it was my own piece." He also felt a sense of pride about what he'd composed. He thought the atmosphere in the venue was fantastic and was thrilled when they got a standing ovation from the audience! As for the future, Greg has written a few songs featuring the clarinet for his next album and is already planning to take on a new instrument, this time it's the saxophone! "Being on the show has given me the confidence to pick up any instrument, to keep pushing myself and expanding my range. The lessons were brilliant, it was such a worthwhile experience and I'll take some great memories with me."
Manuela has just about recovered from playing at the National Concert Hall! "My mind and body are so exhausted, there was such a high level of tension and concentration, I couldn't even remember my performance the next day! Before I went on stage I was as nervous as the time I did my first conference with Trap. But I got through it and I really enjoyed it and we got an amazing reaction from the audience." What Manuela relished most of all was the teamwork involved. "It was really such a team effort, we were all winners at the end of it." And she's already missing her cello, "I was so sad giving it back, I am now cello-less!" She definitely wants to keep it up though and is going shopping for a new cello with Yue next week!
For Jen it wasn't all about the final performance, it was more about her journey getting there. "I was so happy I had got this far. I was a bag of nerves before I went on stage but then I relaxed into it and I didn't want it to end! It was such an amazing experience and the orchestra were fabulous." She was also delighted to see her nursing friends in the audience who travelled up to Dublin to surprise her. Jen is also very grateful to her family, "I couldn't have done the show without them - my husband, my parents and my aunt were all so supportive." She too is feeling the loss of her cello, "I'm missing it desperately already, so sad it's not in the room anymore. But I've been looking for one online and maybe Santa will be good to me!" Going forward she wants to go back to basics and learn at her own pace, "I'll make sure I don't leave it too long to get back to it as that's what happened when I was learning the piano, I won't make that mistake again." Overall Jen says she loved every bit of her experience, "it was brilliant, the best thing I ever did."