All at Sea in the Southern Ocean: A HUMS Clarinettist in the Antarctic

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All at Sea in the Southern Ocean: A HUMS Clarinettist in the Antarctic

Category : Ensembles , Tours

Dad with clarinet in Antarctica

The following is an example of how desperate some in the Huntingdonshire Music School get when faced with band practice. Keith Nicholls works for the British Antarctic Survey based near Cambridge and every now and then we lose him as he heads down south to do scientific work at the other end of the world. Or so he claims – personally it looks like a thinly-disguised excuse to get away. Of course a photograph doesn’t actually prove that he’s practising! 😉

If anyone else has interesting pictures of where they practice or interesting or funny tales of practice sessions that they’d like to share please do so!

Anyway, the story according to Keith is:-

“Have you brought your oboe again, or whatever it is?”
“It’s a clarinet, and yes I have – a nice new one, a Yamaha”.
“Humph…perhaps this one’s in tune”.

I’m not sure the Chief Mate of the RRS Ernest Shackleton was too impressed with my clarinet practice sessions in 2007, the last time I was on board. But I’m told I should practice every day – lots of scales and arpeggios – so when I do my day job for the British Antarctic Survey on an oceanographic research ship in the Antarctic, the clarinet comes with me. Unfortunately, this cruise is a very busy one, and opportunities for practice have been few and far between, certainly not daily. And preferring to practice in solitude makes it especially difficult. I’ve sought out a laboratory that’s rarely occupied, and sneak off there for the odd twenty minutes or so as often as I can manage.

The cold isn’t an issue, as the ship is heated to a comfortable temperature, but it can be exciting chasing the music around the lab when we’re in rougher seas. Luckily, we spend most of our time in the depths of the sea ice, which completely suppresses the waves. The only problem then is the banging and crashing through the ice, which jolts and jars the ship in a much more disorientating way than the waves.

Music is important to everyone on board, yet there seem to be no other active musicians. At one of our Antarctic bases, Rothera, we have a lively music scene, with a home-grown band called Nunatak giving regular performances. In fact, they shot to fame when they featured in the Live Earth 2007 concert in July 2007 (Nunatek & Live Earth – British Antarctic Survey is a site well-worth visiting). However, I seem to be the solitary active musician on board this ship, though I’ve seen guitars secreted in cabins here and there, including the Captain’s.

Ah well, on with the practice. Mike, the Second Engineer pops his head into the lab. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. “I thought one of my engines had gone wrong”.


Posted by madmusician


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