A few weeks ago I was asked to sub for Caroline, a flutist, in the Harmonie at Evron, since she was unable to make it to the concerts at the end of term. This was great fun, even though it blew a hole in my diary for the three weeks that followed, and gave me a fair bit of extra work to do learning the pieces.
I do like the concept of the Harmonie as a local wind band. It gives adults of all levels a chance to play and to socialise and it results in free concerts for the townspeople to go to. And I can't believe how many there are: there is a Harmonie in Evron, St Suzanne, Sablé sur Sarthe, Meslay du Maine, St Denis D'Orques, and those are just the ones I know about. It's as if, when I lived in England, there was one in Staines, Egham, Hounslow, Feltham, Chertsey, Shepperton, being the towns and villages that surrounded me there.
It is also great for the youngsters learning an instrument. As soon as you get to a reasonable level of competence (equivalent to grade 5, say) on your instrument, you are expected to play in the Harmonie. For example, Solène, my flute teacher tells me she was in her local Harmonie from the age of 9. If you can't play all the notes, no problem, you are just expected to make whatever contribution you can. And you get experience in playing in a group, in watching a conductor, and performing in public. It's also a tradition for professional musicians who have "made it" to drop in on their old Harmonie pals and play along from time to time. Fabulous!
The bedrock of the Evron Harmonie is the teachers from the music school (that is now classed as a conservatoire, in fact). I think that the music teachers for accordion, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, percussion, oboe, sax and guitar were all playing. (I might have missed some) This makes for excellent overall musical quality and is a confidence-booster for the students: if you have the same part as your teacher, and you are doing something different, you know to stop, correct, and restart, while the teacher "holds the fort".
I used my new recorder to record the concert on the Saturday evening, and used the resulting files as a play-along to practice some more before the last concert on Sunday. Very practical, useful and confidence-building. I will use that technique again. I'll see if I can post some audio tracks here for your listening delight, but meanwhile here's a pic. (If you know how to post an MP3 file, please do tell)