Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Valerie McLean believes that people, collaboration and communication can achieve amazing things. Currently spending her days as an agile coach and mum of one.

The secret’s out – I’ve been a bass player all along!

This post is about music, but bear with me – it has a point!

I realised recently that the areas of my life are all aligning and I’m noticing one common theme. This is particularly true in my new found love of playing the bass clarinet. I’ve played the clarinet for about 20 years now – since I was still in primary school. I grew up in a musical household and decided to play the clarinet after attending one of the school concerts where my parents worked when I was about 8 or 9, as I saw the principal clarinet player of the concert band playing a solo and was just mesmerised. She then became my first teacher when I was in primary 6.

I enjoyed playing the clarinet through my school years, I had a good support structure with my parents able to help and my mum would accompany me for exams – we played as one it wasn’t two random people, we knew what each other was thinking.

When I left school, I left home, moving from Aberdeen shire to Glasgow, and didn’t play my clarinet for years. After I finished university I was asked if I wanted to join a band in Ayrshire – Stewarton Winds – and thought it would be great to play again. I soon rediscovered the joy of music and became one of the regular members of the clarinet team for 6 or 7 years.

There was only one issue. I found the music really hard – which is a good thing, I love a challenge – but there was something missing for me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then an opportunity opened up for me – playing the bass clarinet instead of the clarinet.

Me and the baritone saxophone player ready for action.

Me and the baritone saxophone player ready for action.

For those who don’t know the difference, the clarinet is one of the upper woodwind instruments, they get a lot of the melodies but also the decorative fast notes and runs, which makes it difficult and is great for a gorgeous effect in the piece as a whole. The bass clarinet plays more of the bass line, supports the band by keeping time and often playing longer pedal notes which support the sound of the band in the upper ranges.

This was a whole new challenge for me. First of all, it’s a much bigger instrument – which means it needs more puff, more lung capacity and more support from my breathing. But also finding my place amongst the lower instruments in the band, the supporting role was a shift for me.

2 years in and I absolutely love it. I think I’ve been a bass player all my life and just never realised it. I’m reenergised, feel more confident and less stressed about all the quick notes (although I still get them from time to time). I’ve found that spark that I felt I’d been missing.

So bringing it back to my point – I’m beginning to notice the similarities between my musical life and my professional life. The reasons why I like this new role in the bass section so much.

Being a Scrum Master means playing that supporting role, it’s the servant leader. You lead but support. I love my job, so it makes sense that I’d love a similar role in a band. I keep time and support from the lower end of the musical score, with the odd moment to shine with a solo. The spotlight isn’t on me, it’s on my team. My role in their success is helping them to succeed.

It’s been a revelation.

Well done for making it to the end of my slightly random post about the slightly random thoughts in my head!

If you want to know more about Stewarton Winds, we’re online and on facebook. We also just won a gold plus award at the Scottish Concert Band Festival, you will find a few of our performances over the years on their youtube channel.

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