Lab Week with the K’in Ensemble

Digital Ambassador Elena Orsi talks us through her experience at this year’s Lab Week.

Last Friday, at the end of Lab Week, I played with the K’in Ensemble in probably one of the most fun performances I have ever participated in!

K’in Ensemble violinists

K’in Ensemble is a World-Music Fusion group of fourteen musicians who bring together different aspects of music and culture. With our multicultural backgrounds and diverse music experiences, we all collaborate to create compositions based on folk traditions from our respective countries, with Flamenco and Latin music at the roots and Jazz, Fusion, and World-Music influences. Thanks to Lab Week, we finally got the chance to get together for a total of 22 hours of rehearsal!

K’in Ensemble guitarsThis whole experience was so new, interesting, and eye-opening – as a classical musician I have often inadvertently “ignored” what goes into a show, and Lab Week gave us the perfect opportunity to put our project together, and to finally collaborate between the Popular and Classical course, which is something incredibly invaluable! It’s so important for us to be able to share and combine these two worlds that can sometimes seem poles apart but are actually so close to each other. The most beautiful part of playing with so many different and wonderful people is combining the ideas that derive from our unique experiences, and finding a way to make them work and create something unique.

Lab Week is a one-week period where, after submitting a proposal, you get the whole week to work on your project and perform it to an audience on the last day. As part of the programme, we had the great Jazz teacher Steve Berry as a tutor to help us along the way, and the last three days we had the privilege of working with a full tech team (sound and video); without them the whole show wouldn’t have been possible!

Our aim as a group was to make the show professional and fun, making sure people felt free to cheer and to dance (in fact, my feet hurt by the end of the concert because I couldn’t stop dancing on stage!). We spent the week workshopping and rehearsing pieces – some pieces were completely new, such as Bulerías, composed by our bassist Alejandro Urbina Días and our guitarist Maria Rocha, and Om Ritual, written by our composer and percussionist Emilio Yáñez Ruíz. This was one of the most overwhelming aspects as we only had a few days to perfect a piece from scratch; to add and modify anything we wanted to, to rehearse it, and to make sure that they sounded fun and that we could groove to them!

K’in Ensemble on stage

The sound team was essential for our setup: the ensemble is composed of rhythm section (bass, drums, percussion, keys, and two guitars), brass and wind section (flute, tenor sax, alto sax, clarinet, trumpet, and flugelhorn) and strings (three violins and a cello). We chose to set up in a semicircle so we could all see each other and communicate, an aspect of our performance that we deem essential, as a significant part of our music is improvised. Naturally, being a mix of electric and acoustic instruments – and some of us being so far away from each other – we had to mic most people up. We had monitors through which we could listen to each other, and most importantly we had Dom, who took care of adjusting the levels and making sure we could all hear everyone.

K’in Ensemble rhythm sectionAnother aspect that I found incredibly entertaining was getting to work with the lights – I love when music is combined with visual aspects, and it really added to the atmosphere.

The best and most terrifying aspect of the week was the fact that I took two solos – again, as a Classical musician, I have never been used to soloing, and doing so in front of incredible musicians (pop students and jazz musicians who have the experience already) and an audience was the most daunting part of the week. In the end, I realised that I played best when I got out of my head and allowed myself to dance and have fun!

The concert ended up being so much fun, and we were all really happy with our work. One of the things I appreciated the most was that Alejandro, the bassist and Flamenco guitarist, had been wanting to create this ensemble since first year – after many obstacles (not only Covid, but finding fourteen people who were all available!) it came together so well and we were really proud to have been part of it.

Overall it was such a great experience. I know we all had so much fun, and I think that came across to the audience. We are so grateful for everyone who came to listen, and even though I didn’t get to listen to other performances because of our rehearsal hours, all the students I spoke to said they were great and that they really enjoyed Lab Week. I can’t wait for next year’s!

K’in Ensemble group photo

Elena Orsi
BMus Violin

Photos: Ravi Nathwani

6 May 2022