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Music on Mountains!

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

What’s the strangest idea for a music concert that you’ve ever thought of? Concert in the bathroom? In a basement? Or perhaps in a treehouse? When the Three Peaks Project came to my attention, I knew that it would trump every idea for an outlandish concert!

The three peaks challenge tests any person’s endurance as it involves climbing the largest mountains in Scotland, England, and Wales. There is a combined total of 3064 metres in height and 23 miles of walking, not to mention the driving distance between locations. Oh, and the challenge is to do it all in 24 hours! It would be challenging for anyone; however, our project took it one step further with the idea of playing an instrumental concert at the top of each mountain!

Rob Roberts, who conceived of the project, is a composer in his final year at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. During the fourth year of study, each student devises their own imaginative musical project. Rob’s Three Peaks Project provided a unique combination of sport and music, challenging our band of intrepid bards to compose our own pieces during the adventure, not before.

Inspired by our surroundings, the movement of birds, and even the colours of our clothes, our musical pieces directly reflected our group’s experience. We also composed notes based on the number of people ahead and behind us on the ascent, and constructed melodies from musical letters that came up in conversation (e.g. climb gave us the pitches C and B). The compositional process enabled us all to become composers from the moment we started our trip.

The Adventure

We set off early in the morning from Birmingham in two coaches and it soon dawned on us how long the journey would take. It took an age to get into Scotland, but we felt our journey was making progress as we passed alongside the beautiful Loch Lomond. We arrived in the early evening and quickly marched up to the base of Ben Nevis and began our ascent. Lugging our instruments with us, our slow pace was hampered by snow before the summit. In the waning light and the driving snow, we made the choice to stop and play our concert at 1000 metres before descending in darkness.

Imagine coming down from the tallest mountain in the UK, coming off the path at midnight feeling hungry and exhausted. Then imagine finding the mental and physical strength to travel across the country again and climb the next peak of the challenge, Scafell Pike. Our ascent to the highest point in England was a trial, considering we’d only had a few hours of troubled sleep in an uncomfortable coach seat. Even though progress was slow, we made it to the summit where we played another piece composed along the way. As I descended, I felt the enormity of what was before us; the group discussed our schedule and concluded that we couldn’t make it to Snowden.

Heading back to Birmingham, I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment – we had run out of time and energy, but we had composed two remarkable pieces and tackled an adventure as a group.

The most obvious difficulty in completing the challenge was the physical exertion of climbing mountains with our instruments. Although we only completed two mountains, our legs were very much worse for wear. We’re clearly musicians rather than mountaineers; the timeframe of the challenge was too much for us, considering our composition and performing objectives.

Our plan to combine original music and trail-walking tested my creativity and resilience. I was struck by the link between music and sport, and how managing your mental state affects your physical state, your physical performance. Feeling like you can’t do something can have a snowball effect upon your odds of success – as you doubt your capabilities and hesitate to put your best foot forward. Having supposedly failed the three peaks challenge, I can still say that the experience was worth every blister. If you enjoy what you do, you can’t fail. I am already thinking about attempting the three peaks again!

What I’ve learnt from the experience is that by taking small, slow steps, it’s possible to achieve something incredibly worthwhile.

Arjun Jethwa

NB. This article was written for the Quench Arts newsletter as part of the Musical Connections Project. This article can be found on pages 3& 4 of the newsletter found here:

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