Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Concert reminder; London miscellany

The London Gallery Quire presents a

Christmas Concert
of West Gallery Music
as sung during the Georgian period (1720-1850)

Wednesday 10th December
6.30pm for 7.00pm.
Tickets - £5 on the door

An opportunity to see inside the oldest German church in England
St George's German Lutheran Church
55 Alie Street, London E1 8EB
Aldgate East tube station - exit Leman Street

In other entirely unsurprising news, I have been madly busy. More on that when I don't have to leave ten minutes ago...

Also, the other night on the Tube I heard Russian throat-singing. How cool is that? I have come to expect random singing drunks on public transport, but they don't often sing something so specialist, or so well as this particular vodka-pickled individual.

Remember the East London Cockney Awkestra I posted about, ages ago? They do have a website now, as none other than the esteemed Professor Eel himself dropped by to point out.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The performance project that put Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Elgar's Enigma Variations is over; we recorded the last notes yesterday. It was going so well that we actually finished a full half-hour early. It was going so well that if they'd asked me to stay an hour later, I gladly would have done so! I think I enjoyed that project more than any other orchestral project in which I've been involved during my time at Trinity. I certainly learned a huge amount, which is why I'm here in the first place.

Now that I have a bit more time, I'm working on my arranging coursework (due 4th December), my Year 4 Project (Watch This Space! More News Soon!), my improvisation coursework (due sometime in January) and quite a bit of playing. I'm playing in a lunchtime recital at St. John on Bethnal Green Church on Wednesday, 14th January; on 25th January I'm playing in the Soloists' Competition at Trinity, and on 11th February the Lichtental Trio is playing the Brahms Horn Trio in a lunchtime concert at Southwark Cathedral. Of course there is also an exam to prepare for, and various other bits and pieces, and a whole pile of horn and organ repertoire that I ordered ages ago arrived this morning so there is that to look through as well. Classes are finished for the term but as I've often pointed out, discretionary time and free time are not the same thing and I remain extremely busy.

The next time I'll be performing in public, though, is with the London Gallery Quire on 10th December. Our Christmas Concert is at St George's German Lutheran Church, 55 Alie St, Aldgate E1 8EB, 6.30 for 7.00pm. Tickets are £5 on the door. I'll mostly be singing, but there is one piece where I may play the horn if they'll let me. I've very much enjoyed rehearsing with the choir and I hope I am able to continue in the spring and summer terms when my academic workload will be increased.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Concert tomorrow

It's been a while since I've updated, I've been madly busy for the last several weeks. I'm hoping to get writing again soon.

In the meantime, do come to the concert tomorrow:
Trinity College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Edward Gardner

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring
Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme, Op.36

Thursday 20 November, 7.30pm
Blackheath Halls
£10 (£7 concessions)

Trinity College of Music welcomes for the first time the celebrated conductor Edward Gardner to lead its Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Perhaps not obvious bed-fellows, the music has been specially chosen as part of a major collaboration between Trinity College of Music and BP, for whose centenary film the Symphony Orchestra will be recording the soundtrack.

Depicting the birth of the company quite literally from the earth to its establishment as one of Britain’s giant corporations the music will accompany a major film written and directed by BAFTA/Emmy award-winning screenwriter, novelist and playwright Nigel Williams.

To book please ring the Blackheath Halls Box Office on 020 8463 0100 or online at or drop in person to 23 Lee Road, Blackheath, London SE3 9RQ.

(I've stolen the text from the TCM website.)

Monday, 6 October 2008

Monday again...

...and I'm having "one of those days". I woke up with my head full of a bad cold, dithered around far too long before leaving the flat, only to get to Trinity and find no practise rooms until later in the day than I'd planned to stay, and my arranging class cancelled.

I don't want to cancel my teaching, but if my voice continues to get worse and my general feeling of wooziness does not abate, I will have to. It's just a cold and it will run its course, but I'm unlikely to teach well in this state.

I have a meeting here at 2pm, after which I need to get going if I'm teaching this evening. In the meantime I am keeping my fluid intake up and trying to get some deskwork done.

One of the more difficult issues about being a freelancer in any field is managing the huge amount of discretionary time available. As a music student I have about eight and a half hours of actual classes per week. This week I only have six hours of rehearsal with other people planned, and my horn lesson. That still only comes to fifteen and a half contact hours. So, how do I spend my time?

If I'm not careful, the answer to that can be "looking at cat pictures on the internet." Let's re-phrase the question: How would I ideally spend my time?

The first and most important thing is that I practise every day. At the moment, that means 'every weekday': I do not have time to play the horn on Sundays when I am teaching all day long (though I do try to do some mouthpiece work), and I opt to take Saturdays as a rest day. Practising can eat anywhere from two to six hours in a day. In an ideal world I would get in at 8am every weekday to play for two hours, then schedule another session or two later in the day around other appointments. Happily, I do often manage the 8am session... what happens later depends on what else is going on. Ideally I'd be practising 24 hours a week.

I try to spend some time every day composing. This isn't as firm a habit for me as practising, sadly, and it gets dropped a lot. But in an ideal world, I'd spend an hour a day drawing dots on blank manuscript paper. There isn't a way to get better at this without doing it. Call it five hours a week.

For health reasons I have to spend around 45 minutes a day doing physio exercises. If I don't do them, I end up in pain, so they are really non-optional. I consider them part of my workday, partly because playing the horn brings with it certain physical challenges, and partly because of timing issues: there isn't really a sensible way for me to do the physio at home before I leave in the morning if I'm going to make my 8am practise slot, and leaving it for the evening, before I go to bed, also doesn't work well for me. Call that five hours a week, because by the time I've put away whatever else I'm doing it pretty much takes that long.

I do have to spend some time on deskwork: co-ordinating rehearsals and concerts is often easier by e-mail, and there is all the paperwork detritus of each project in which I participate, plus all the normal trappings of any life: banking, medical appointments and the like. I would get a lot less done if I didn't have internet access at home and at Trinity. I try to limit my workday internet time to around an hour a day, but what usually happens is that things pile up and then get done in one or two sessions over the course of the week... call it six hours a week.

Running various errands usually eats up an hour or two on some weekday, as well. I try to blog once a week. Call that three hours a week, which is probably skimpy, but I don't always manage to blog every week.

That's 43 hours a week of work to be done during discretionary time on weekdays, in my imaginary ideal world. It doesn't include meeting with people to discuss projects, ad-hoc conversations in hallways, travel to and from rehearsals, or lunch. It doesn't include cleaning out my locker or replacing the corks on my horn or other regular maintenance tasks. It doesn't include this week's 15.5 hours of contact-with-people non-discretionary classes and rehearsals. It doesn't include keepinp up with what other musicians are writing, finding new repertoire, listening to recordings, or attending concerts. It doesn't include the teaching I do on weekdays, or Aikido on Thursday evenings, or laundry, cooking and other life-maintenance tasks.

Back in reality, I try to get as much done as I can, and what does and doesn't happen is mostly the result of a process of attrition. If I actually did that much work on a regular basis I'd go slowly and quietly bonkers.

That is why I do not have time to look at cat pictures on the internet, and why sometimes, I do it anyway.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Horn class; concerts to attend

I'm behind on posting again, no surprise there then...

Horn class last Wednesday was good. Martin Owen came to run a session on note production: the basic message was to use air support, rather than the tongue, to start notes. This is less tiring than relying on the tongue and, practised over time, leads to better sound and better pitch control.

We spent most of the class playing through various ensemble pieces without tongue, and then with tongue, to feel the difference. It's quite difficult at first to play a row of staccato quavers with no tongue when you aren't used to doing so but soon enough we were away.

I'm a fan of this particular exercise, and should probably use it more in my own practising.

On Friday I played horn in the Greenwich Cultural Olympiad event. It was good fun, despite low light levels and a bit of a chill to the evening.

This week my horn teacher is playing in a concert at King's Place. I'm afraid I won't be able to make it to the 10.45am performance, part of the opening festival, due to academic commitments.

On Saturday night I will be attending a much different concert. Psallite: Stoke Newington Women's Choir, will be singing at Newington Green Unitarian Church. I very much liked the last concert I attended in that 300-year-old building and it's quite near home for me, so I'm trying to get to more events there.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

I had a good, if slightly busy, weekend.

Saturday I went to a concert: the London Gallery Quire were singing and playing at Newington Green Unitarian Church. That's only a short bus ride away from where I live so I went along to listen. I was pleased with what I heard: the performance was lively and enthusiastic, with all members of the quire clearly enjoying themselves. As they rehearse fortnightly and I've been itching to do some choral singing for some time now, I may have accidentally said I am interested in joining...

Sunday was teaching all day, as usual. I'm very glad I enjoy teaching as much as I do, I stayed up too late afterward talking to friends, which meant Monday was very tiring.

Yesterday I had a rehearsal with yet another new pianist. We played through some various bits and pieces by Lachner, and also some of the movements from Dunhill's Cornucopia. I'm hopeful that things will work out well, but feeling a bit cautious: I've had a number of experiences where pianists were enthusiastic at first but then found that they don't have a lot of time, and sadly chamber music always seems to be the first thing to go when people scale back on their commitments.

I also had my first horn lesson of the year yesterday. The good news is that I now have a slightly more coherent plan for how to approach the year. The bad challenging news is that much of the work needs to be done in the next few months: the idea is to learn the pieces for my final exam by December or January, then leave them to rest for a while before picking them up in time for the exam. Of course, the idea is also to complete my Year 4 Project in the same sort of timescale, and do the bulk of the work on various other projects this way.

Today is proving to be a slightly slow and sluggish day; I woke up with a cold and haven't really managed to get moving properly. I've ordered some music, and dealt with a few e-mails, and in a second I'm off to improv class and then horn class and after that is dinner with a friend, though I'll try to get an early night.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

First week of classes

Monday was good: it had the first Arranging class. We have a different lecturer for this module this year, and I'd been a little nervous about whether lessons would be as well-organised and straightforward as last year. I needn't have worried: the module leader (who taught us last year) has put together a little booklet for us that lays things out quite sensibly, and the lecturer seems to have similar ideas about how to plan and execute assignments. The first assignment is due rather soon--20th November--so we do have to hit the ground running. I'm glad to be back!

Also on Monday I had a brief rehearsal with a pianist for a concert last night, and some piano teaching to do. The day went quickly as a result.

Tuesday I had no classes, but I got a lot done in terms of practising and also inched forward a bit with getting some chamber music sorted out.

Wednesday was long.

I arrived at too-early-for-the-library-but-too-late-to-practise, so wandered around a bit. Then was the first class, which is basically a sort of support group for our Year Four Projects and the other aspects of the course which are in the same category. Yesterday's session was spent discussing an overview of the course structure and how all this fits into it, which was useful but did not lead to specific next-actions-to-take. After that I went and did some practising.

Afternoon brought Improvisation class. Last year I felt I floundered somewhat in this class, but again, there is a new lecturer this year. We each played a short improvisation, and we spoke a bit about focus and concentration and nerves. It was a very useful class and I'm thinking I will get a lot out of this module this year.

After that was horn class. Andy Fletcher (of the RPO, not this one) came to get us started; we discussed various elements of a good warm-up and specific tips for getting back into playing after a bit of time away. Then we worked on the Schumann Konzertstück, because there's nothing like talking about the importance of a gentle warm-up and then attempting to play an E above the staff! It was good fun, though, even if my own playing was rather patchy.

I left horn class a bit early to get ready for a concert I played in last night. The Head of Student Services at Trinity for the time I've been here is leaving to pursue a slightly different career path, and the Student Services department organised a bit of a going-away do. She has been a tremendous source of support and inspiration during my time here, so I jumped at the chance to play despite having fairly short notice. I was more nervous for that than I've been for a performance of any kind in quite some time, but it was a pleasure and an honour to be able to play for her before she leaves. It was also a pleasure to work with a new pianist, who did a wonderful job on very short notice.

Today: no classes, and no scheduled rehearsals. I came in later than normal, did some bits and pieces in the library, and have chatted of matters trifling and serious with various people... but I've also picked away at getting some more chamber music sorted out. I think the secret is to sit on the bench in the courtyard. It isn't as busy or noisy as the caff is and people are not usually so deep in conversations or lunch, which means it's a good opportunity to just grab them. I don't know how well it'll work when winter sets in, though!

Tomorrow: no classes, and no scheduled rehearsals! As I teach all day on Sundays I'm thinking I will try to use Friday afternoons for general life-maintenance tasks. In the morning, though, I need to choose a standard to use for my Arranging assignment, and do some serious planning of my year in terms of solo playing and just when I'm going to do this Year 4 Project.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Induction Week is over

Induction Week at Trinity is over. I'm all, er, inducted.

The course handbooks are on USB keys this year. This makes them easier to lose, but more useful in other ways as there's 900MB free on the things.

I'd grown rather accustomed to having the place mostly to myself over the summer. I'm not used to having to queue for a cup of tea, or actually seeing other students around. I'm sure it will settle down a bit in a few weeks as people fall into their regular routines.

I've been trying to talk to some of the new students a bit, but I keep coming over all shy.

Some of my interested-in-chamber-music people from earlier in the summer seem to have vanished into the woodwork. This is most annoying.

Just when I thought I was off the hook for orchestral extracts, the syllabus has changed again and I'll have to do some for a mid-year exam. I would mind this less if I actually had any intention of attempting to be an orchestral musician. As things currently stand, I don't. I don't intend to do orchestral auditions after I'm done at Trinity. If I go on to do post-graduate work somewhere, it will either be in arranging and composing or have a very strong chamber music and jazz focus... and it's extremely likely that I'll do that next academic year, because I need to spend some time not being poor for a while first, so even if I do change my mind I'll have time to do something about it. I'm not looking at getting an orchestral job to keep the bills paid, either: I'm well on the way to being able to support myself through teaching, which I love.

That said, I am doing a BMus degree. This is an undergraduate qualification that's meant to be well-rounded. For the average horn player, who maybe isn't quite sure what they want to do, that means orchestral extracts are going to be significant. I'm not your typical BMus student: teaching and performing music has been my main source of earned income since late 2003, and while that's been pretty near subsistence at times, I know I can do it. I have over a decade of teaching experience. I'm nearly 28. I didn't attend schools with strong orchestral programmes as a teenager, mostly because in North America we have wind bands instead.

So I'll learn the extracts, and play them to the best of my ability, and thank all that is good in the world that this is for a mid-year exam and will be out of my hair after that.

Speaking of 'not being poor for a while', the Student Loans Company (SLC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are playing a game. It's called "Silly Buggers". I will be making some mildly irate telephone calls on Monday to sort it all out, but in the meantime I am skinter than I had planned on being just at the moment.

This time last year I was still having trouble playing the horn for significant lengths of time, and I didn't know if I could handle being back in classes and rehearsals. Since then I've moved house twice, established a horn trio and a practice habit, put on a concert and improved my playing and my outlook considerably. I've had a lot of help and support from some truly amazing people, and I've come a long way.

I think this coming academic year is going to be one of my best.

Monday, 1 September 2008

September already!

What does September have in store? Flanders and Swann say mist and mud, enough to chill the blood, but I'm rather looking forward to this month.

Well, there's the concert a day after tomorrow. I'm really hoping we'll get some audience. I've been at a bit of a loss as to how to promote it efficiently: the location is pretty much ideal for someone who works in the Square Mile and has a bit of flexibility in working hours, as it really is just outside Bethnal Green tube, only five minutes from Bank on the Central Line. But, well, most of the people I knew who used to work in that area don't work there any more, they've gone further west or become self-employed, and getting people to come to a lunchtime concert if they have to travel fifteen or twenty minutes each way is a lot harder than if they have to travel five or ten minutes. I've put up a few posters locally, created a Faceborg event and sent some e-mails (though I must send a few more, I keep thinking of more people who might be able to make it), but it's hard to tell who will turn up of those who say they're interested. A lot of attendance at events like this boils down to how people feel on the day.

All that aside, I'm looking forward to playing. The lunchtime concert series at St. John on Bethnal Green is a new one, so new that we're the first performance. It may take a while to build up a regular audience, but at the same time if there isn't sufficient audience by the end of September then the series is unlikely to continue.

I start teaching on Sunday! I am very much looking forward to catching up with my students again after not seeing them for several weeks. As usual there are some scheduling wrinkles to be sorted out; I long for the day when I can teach from a fixed studio and have some of my students come to me, rather than my having to solve a version of the traveling salesman problem. Overall, though? Looking forward to teaching. In terms of what I'll be teaching, there will be two themes this month. For those students who want to play in exams this term there will be some decision-making over whether they are ready. This partly depends on whether they practised during the summer break, but it also depends on their progress in the first few weeks. For all my students there will be a certain amount of re-adjustment to having lessons again, especially if they've been unable to play the piano at all during the absence: it's easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged when one hasn't played for a few weeks, so there's a lot of expectation balancing on the part of teacher and student when things get going again.

That last bit has been a factor in my own playing the last few weeks as well. I was getting seriously tired before going away to Charterhouse, and it was very intense in and of itself as well. After that I went away to Somerset for a week of something completely different. Three weeks of getting up at least an hour later than I normally do left me struggling to get going in the mornings and it's only the last few days that I've started waking properly at 6am again. This might seem rather early, but that's what time I need to get up if I'm going to be at Trinity by 8am to practise. My 8am practise routine has been extremely useful over the last six months: it's partly that there are only a few of us regular early-birds about so it's easier to get a practise room then, but it has also become a very grounding, orienting part of my day. I have a fairly long warm-up routine (which I can shorten if necessary but don't like to), and sometimes I do the whole thing twice: the idea is to warm up until the instrument that is my body is doing the best it will do that day, behaving consistently, performing comfortably. That approach to warming up is one of the first lessons I had from Stephen Stirling and it has stuck with me. But I'm also finding that it isn't just my body that needs to warm up for the day: some days I get in and find that physically, things are working well, but mentally I need more preparation. Having a two-hour practise session at the beginning of the day really helps with that. My warm-up is not just an exercise but a meditation, and I can move on from that to whatever is going to put me in the best mindframe for getting good work done the rest of the day.

Of course, that's the other thing September holds: a new term at Trinity. I have new lecturers in Improvisation and in Arranging, which should be interesting. I'm keen to play a lot more chamber music this year and really September is the best time to sort this out: later on, people are simply too busy to think of taking on new projects. There is the Year 4 Project, which I keep saying I'll talk about here, to plan and work on. I'd like to actually enter the various competitions I'm eligible for as a horn player (not many! Two ensemble competitions and the soloists competition), and I'll need to start wrangling paperwork early. And the paperwork for everything else comes along too: NUS card, National Rail discount card, London Transport discount Oystercard, locker rental... the list goes on and on.

This post was brought to you by procrastination! I'm meant to be writing programme notes for the aforementioned concert. Guess what I'm doing tomorrow as soon as the library opens?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Concert; long time no post

It's been a while since I've written here. Since getting back from Somerset I've been gradually getting back into my practise routine, and planning some of my academic projects for this year. I need to spend more time on that latter and will likely document some of it here in the near future. In the meantime, though, a plug for a lunchtime concert!

St John on Bethnal Green
Lunchtime Concert

The Lichtental Trio

Anna Michel, violin
Ben Keohane, piano
Kathryn Rose, horn

Romanzen und Lieder, Op. 84
Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano, Op. 40

Wednesday 3rd September
St John on Bethnal Green
200 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 6HR

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Charterhouse International Music Festival

Since 22nd July I've been at the Charterhouse International Music Festival. I've been having quite a wonderful time!

The weather has been excellent so far, if perhaps a little warm for playing. Last night brought thunderstorms and today has been far more comfortable.

I'm enjoying lots of playing, and catching up on some much-needed sleep. The horn teacher has some useful things to say and I'm learning a fair amount from him and the other instructors, but I must also note that much of the benefit of being here is simply not having to deal with all the ordinary day-to-day chores for a while: the only transport to think about is a 15-minute walk across the grounds, and meals are all provided with no preparation or washing-up to do.

I am thinking a bit about how I might take some of the benefits of a situation like this and create a similar environment when I get back to London, if not while I'm at Trinity (as I seem to have managed to find a structure that roughly works) then certainly afterward. A period of intensive study for a few weeks every term might be do-able without letting too much of the life-maintenance stuff slide, if I prepare carefully beforehand.

It is quite a busy schedule, with a masterclass, three rehearsals and three concerts per day. So far the horn masterclasses have been with Michael Thompson, who I'd not met before getting here. Tomorrow he isn't going to be here, so we get Anthony Halstead instead.

Lots of playing! On the 23rd I played the Hindemith wind quintet, on the 24th I played the Reinecke trio (op. 188) for horn, oboe and piano. Today I played two movements of the Jenner trio for clarinet, horn and piano in the lunchtime concert, and the Ligeti Six Bagatelles in the evening concert. Tomorrow I'm due to play the Hindemith E-flat althorn sonata on the tenor cor in the 6pm concert and the Dvorak Serenade in the evening concert, but I'm also hoping to play some transcribed Brahms lieder in the masterclass; another student here helped me with some translations, since I only had the German with me.

Concert attendance is perhaps a bit sparse, but with three concerts a day this is understandable. Much as I'd like to attend all three concerts, I can't quite handle that and the rehearsing, so I settle for one or two.

I've been keeping a paper diary of specific thoughts on masterclasses, rehearsals and practise sessions and I'm finding it quite useful, but it runs to 23 pages so I'm not going to type it all in here. I do think I'm going to start keeping a similar logbook (with perhaps a bit more structure), because running through these things at the end of each day is a very good way to remind myself of the important points and also helps me plan the next day better. I'm not sure whether I'll do that in digital or deadtree format. Digital has a lot going for it in terms of ease of entry, but a paper diary can be carried with me and updated anywhere I happen to be, which could be good. I can see myself filling in details while I'm commuting home in the evening, for example, and that's much harder to do on a computer (I don't have a laptop cheap enough that I'm willing to use it on public transport).

Right, at the moment there is a queue for the computers so I'm going to go fill in aforementioned diary with today's events, then go and get some sleep. If I'm feeling particularly energetic I might try to get out to a field and watch some of the Perseid meteor shower, but I can probably catch more of that next week in Somerset.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Chamber music

Saturday's concert went well, I thought. The audience was quite small, mostly due rather rainy and unfriendly weather in the morning.

Playing in that particular space was interesting: I found the piano very loud and could hardly hear Anna on the violin but apparently three feet away the balance was good. I think we played reasonably well: not everything was technically perfect, but that isn't a realistic expectation at this point. Not everything was musically perfect either, but there were definitely some good moments. The audience was appreciative and this is always a welcome thing.

So far this week has been going a bit slowly. I had quite a tiring week last week: in addition to preparing for Saturday's performance I was dealing with broken glasses, a broken horn (nothing major: the pinky hook came unsoldered), and feeling generally quite tired. I managed to pick up a cold from somewhere and it has gone straight to my ears of all places so I'm not feeling amazing.

That said, I've been getting some good work done. Monday was understandably slow and I really had to push myself to get out of the flat in the morning at all, but the teaching component of it went well and by the end of the day I was feeling much better. Coming home to find out some of the repertoire I'm being asked to play at Charterhouse was certainly a highlight.

Tuesday I managed my distractabrain a bit better: I got somewhat ambushed by piano parts for various bits of chamber music, but this is no bad thing as having a high level of familiarity with these is only ever going to be an advantage. In total I practised for six hours. I also took various parts out of the library and attended a concert at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel in the evening.

Repertoire! I had just started to get to a point where I was feeling a bit stuck, a bit aimless in my practising... I really needed either a lesson (next one is scheduled for 18th July so still a little way off) or some intermediate goals to work on. There's nothing like being told, "Hey, come play this in two weeks" to get things started. It looks like the programme will be as follows:

23rd July
Hindemith Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet
Mozart Quintet for Piano and Winds
24th July
Reinecke Trio for piano, oboe and horn in A minor, opus 188
29th July
Ligeti Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet

The Hindemith I don't know well but I do have a recording of it; I've played the Mozart before though it was a few years ago. I know neither of those will be problematic, and roughly how much work I'll have to put in. I've actually been working on the Reinecke this year anyway, though in the end we didn't get past the first rehearsal due to schedule conflicts.

The Ligeti was an unknown to me, before yesterday. I was worried at first, because I don't always "get" Ligeti: some of what he writes I find deeply moving and beautiful, and some of it I guess I'm just not ready for yet. I'm not guaranteed, as I am with Bach or Mozart or Brahms, an instant idea of what to do with the music. Oh, Bach and Brahms and Mozart all require study for me to perform them effectively and really understand them, but I have a good grounding in the harmonic language used, so I always know where to start. Some more modern works simply leave me baffled.

This is actually quite important. For me, performance (and teaching to an extent but that's a different discussion) isn't about technical prowess so much as communicating to other people my ideas of what is good about a work. It's a sort of show-and-tell, where I have an opportunity to get up and, through playing, say,

"Listen to this! Isn't that bit neat? Isn't it amazing how sad these sounds can make you feel? Isn't the rhythm there fascinating, aren't those harmonies beautiful? Shiny! I love it! I hope you do, too!"

That's an amazing gift, a wonderful opportunity, and I can't do it if I don't love or at least like the piece I'm playing. I will never be able to use technical accomplishment to dazzle a listener into loving a piece of music, and even if I could, I'm not sure I'd want to. That doesn't mean that the technical aspect of musicianship isn't important: to communicate my ideas clearly requires physical preparation, to be fluent in the language of music requires a high level of proficiency and further refinements in that are always going to be possible. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, though, understanding and liking the music and being in a frame of mind to pass that on are absolutely essential.

I was pleased, then, to discover that the Ligeti Bagatelles are an instant match. Why did I not know of these before? They are gorgeous: playful lyrical by turns, rhythmical without detracting from some truly beautiful harmonies. It will be an honour to perform them, and I hope I can do them justice.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Getting ready...

Concert tomorrow, informal, 10.30am, St. John on Bethnal Green. As I haven't played a 'proper' self-organised concert in some time this is a good step back into performing. I've just been printing off some programme notes that Anna wrote, and starting to get a bit excited.

We did figure out a name for the trio, in the end: we're now the Lichtental Trio, after the part of the forest where Brahms was walking when the main theme of the trio came to him.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008


The International Music Score Library Project is back! Opening letter and dedication here.

I can hardly wait to get my teeth into this; I've spent far too much on sheet music that ought to be public domain, in the past few months.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Just another quick flypast post!

I'm playing movements from the Brahms Horn Trio on Saturday, 10.30am, at St. John on Bethnal Green. I'm very much looking forward to it. Whether we play the final movement or not does rather depend on how rehearsals go this week...

The summer is mostly flying by faster than I'd like it to. I'm starting to get some chamber music organised, but it's slow-going: the people who have responded to my e-mail plea are a pretty mixed bunch in terms of instrumentation and this makes it difficult to find music we can play without having to order it first. And of course there is the perennial problem of pianists, or lack of same: I did have one who responded but sadly haven't heard back from her since.

I had the valve levers on my horn replaced on Friday, along with some other servicing. I'm very pleased with the result. Of course, on Sunday when I went to get my horn out just before a concert the finger hook fell clean off and I had to re-attach it with gaffer tape. This meant it matches my glasses, also sporting gaffer tape after they fell apart in my hands while I was teaching on Sunday morning. (I already have an appointment with the optician for next week but am going to see if I can get it moved to tomorrow.)

Library closing so I've got to go and do some other work instead now!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

I'm still finding it difficult to carve out the time for posting here, I'm afraid.

My current daily schedule runs something like this:
7.00-8.00 The Joyous Commute (not actually too bad)
8.00-10.00 practising
10.00-10.30 check e-mail and put out any drastic fires found therein
10.30-11.00 physio
11.00-12.00 composing or arranging
12.00-13.00 lunch
13.00-14.00 errands (in practice this is actually a spare hour of slack which almost always gets filled because of one appointment or another)
14.00-16.00 library time: work on paperwork, planning, putting compositions into digital format and other bits and pieces
16.00-18.00 practising again
18.00-19.00 The Glorious Journey Home

Given that I often have rehearsals or various other appointments to fit into the day, this is somewhat flexible, but on an ideal day with nothing scheduled this is what happens. The items from 8.00 to 12.00 are important and must fit into any weekday.

The plan was to use some of the library time for writing and posting articles to this blog, but so far I've had enough other work to be getting on with that it simply hasn't happened.

In general I'm finding that having some structure, some routine in my day, is extremely favourable to this whole 'getting things done' plan.

My commute is going to get a bit less pleasant soon. The Docklands Light Railway is having extensive upgrade work done in order to build platforms long enough for three carriages instead of the existing two. For around two months from 30th June the service going under the river will be reduced to a single track, and to accomodate this trains will run every ten minutes instead of every three and a half: this has the potential to make them rather crowded. I can actually walk to Trinity from the point where my bus terminates (Crossharbour), using the foot tunnel. I do hope that Greenwich Council mends the lift at the south end of the tunnel, though, because my hips don't much like climbing that many stairs. In an ideal world I'd cycle the whole distance but I haven't taken the time yet to work out a sensible route and then test it when I'm not aiming to arrive at either end for a certain time.

With that I must away: bus in 15 minutes!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Nearly there...

Apologies for the recent radio silence. I've been very busy doing all sorts of things, some of which I do intend to document in the near future. I have a backlog of at least five posts waiting to be written, on topics as diverse as copyright issues, my Year 4 project, a local community performance venue I'm likely to end up helping out with, a shiny new instrument that isn't quite what I thought it was, general career planning and my basic practise template for the summer.

For now, in lieu of all that, I'm just going to note that this afternoon is my very last exam of this year. I am nervous but that's fairly normal. It's a three-hour-long group exam and I'm sure that once we've all settled in the nerves will be less prominent.

Monday, 9 June 2008


I appear to have purchased, on eBay, an old piston horn.

I had been wanting to do this in order to play the Dukas Villanelle in my final recital next year, but couldn't quite justify buying an instrument for one piece of music. I had a chat with my teacher about this at my lesson on Thursday, and as it happens, I don't have to buy the piston horn and only use it for piston horn pieces... I don't have to do that at all.

The plan is to have it altered so that the pistons can be removed entirely, making it a sort of convertible horn that can be a piston horn or a natural horn. Once it is a natural horn I will then have the wild goose chase of finding crooks for it, but there is a strong possibility I can get these made.

Also in that horn lesson we discussed what I'm doing over the summer and made up a sensible plan for getting some of it done. It's a while since I had a lesson where I didn't actually play a note, but this was definitely one of the better ones in that category. It will be quite a lot of work but I'm very much looking forward to it and have made good progress so far.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Exam Summary

Now I've had some time to recover, let's see how much I can remember of my exam...

The day was rather busy. I had paperwork to print out and as always, this took longer than I expected. I was also playing in someone's 4th-year Composition final: good music, but sadly under-rehearsed and the rehearsal did not go well at all due to missing personnel and rather more set-up than had been anticipated.

I got back to Trinity in plenty of time for the exam, though, and had a good warm-up. I was getting a bit jittery and ended up playing piano for part of the warm-up; I'm not sure when I got into the habit of doing this but it is helpful.

Walking into the exam, I realised I hadn't actually played an exam for two years, due to taking a year out last year. Oh, there was an exam for my re-entry into studies, but that was less formal somehow, less frightening; this was my first real exam since 2006. Walking into the examination room was perhaps not the best time to remember this.

It's always the breathing that seems to go first with nerves, and Friday was no exception. I tried to slow down, tried to take my time, but it wasn't wonderful. Overall, I think I could have played better.

Strauss 1, first movement, was the first thing to play. I don't think this went too badly. I did stuff up one of the high bits, which is extremely annoying as my high range is normally pretty reliable. My accompanist did take a tempo rather slower than we had taken before, and it's not an easy piece for me to push on, so I was unhappy with that aspect of things... but there's not much I could do about it at the time.

Next came orchestral excerpts. These were possibly the worst bit of the exam, in terms of how well I can play them compared to how well I did. The extracts were:

Beethoven 'Fidelio' overture, 2nd horn
C. Franck Symphony (er, D minor I think)
Strauss Till Eulenspiegel's Lustige Streiche
Weber 'Oberon' overture
Mahler Symphony No. 7

Beethoven was patchy, I ended up playing more heavily than I'd like to just to get the notes to come out. Ugh. Franck was okay but not brilliant; probably sounded strained and inflexible. Strauss was rusty and I kept taking the damn thing too fast which is not going to help. Weber was okay but pitch and tone probably too tentative. Mahler was quite strong, I thought: not sure if I got the right tempo, I may have been a little slow, but the notes were all there (even the low-ish G's at the end that have a tendency to come out all fluffy) and I played musically.

Next: sight-reading. I did very well on the F sight-reading, one or two rhythmic inaccuracies but nothing awful. I was starting to relax by then and I guess it showed. The transposition sight-reading was a deceptively simple-looking passage which they wanted in B flat basso, I took it faster than I could play it and made rather a dog's dinner of the thing. I feel slightly consoled by the fact that it is very much not hand-horn writing and there are few situations where I would be asked to sightread something like that in such a key.

Scales were next on the agenda. My low-range tone was not what I would have liked, but other than one or two minor slips I think I did well on scales, arpeggios and so on.

They asked me some questions about the various extracts. For some I was able to answer and even elaborate a bit, for some my mind went completely blank, despite having studied the information.

That's it: the whole exam. Later in the day I did end up catching up with one of the examiners, who was my old teacher. It was good to have a chat with him again, I'd not been in touch for far too long.

After that I went to a rehearsal in Maida Vale and proceeded to play rather poorly, mostly through being mentally tired and spaced out rather than for any physical reason.

Hopefully the good bits convinced the examination panel that I was nervous, rather than woefully underprepared, for the less-good bits: I'm not going to say here which is actually the case, of course. ;)

Mostly, I'm glad to have the exam over with. I did try not to cram for it but I also found that even the amount of preparation I did was quite time-consuming, and interfered with working on more important things. As I said in a text message to my teacher on Friday afternoon, I'm really looking forward to having the time to get some solid technical work done over the summer without the interruptions of Performance Department projects and an exam to worry about. I'll have some interruptions and deadlines this summer, but they'll be my interruptions and deadlines: a week playing chamber music at Charterhouse playing chamber music, hopefully some lunchtime recitals in August playing the Brahms horn trio, and if I'm lucky and brave some jazz jam sessions, somewhere in London. I can deal with that, I think.

For now? I've taken a few days off. I'm not playing again until Wednesday afternoon, to warm-up for a rehearsal Wednesday evening, and I'm not going in to Trinity until Thursday. I'm using the sudden onslaught of free time to do desperately exciting things like catching up on laundry and tidying my bedroom. If I'm very, very lucky I'll get some sewing done, but I don't hold out much hope at this point.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


It's been a particularly busy time recently. Classes and performance department rehearsals have stopped for the year, but there's still a lot to do.

I mentioned on Friday that I'd joined the tail end of an open-air concert. I didn't mention the horn lesson that morning, or the rehearsal of the Brahms horn trio with shiny new page-turner, or the coaching session. Nor did I mention that by hook or crook we managed to get a wind quintet together for the very last Arranging class of the year, so I got to hear my arrangement played by real alive players.

I've been getting along quite well with the Singer exercises, and am already noticing improvements in my playing as a result. It does take a fair old while to get through the ones I'm doing, though; I expect this time to shrink as I get more familiar with the exercises and also as my endurance increases (so I need fewer rests), but in the meantime it has been quite challenging to fit everything in.

Friday's horn lesson was a bit fraught, to be honest; too many orchestral excerpts to work on, not enough time, and I really wasn't playing my best. I've had better lessons. It was useful, though.

From there I went straight into Brahms rehearsal. This went well; Stephen Stirling was able to join us for some coaching in the second hour, and as usual it was amazing to have input from someone who knows so much about the piece and presents it so simply. We were working on the third movement, which is quite slow, so I'm afraid our page-turner didn't have much to do but it was still very good to have her there. Unfortunately we were stuck in a much-too-small room again, and it's very difficult to get the balance right in that situation. I'm hoping that after exams are done, we'll have more opportunity to rehearse in larger spaces.

Hearing others play my arrangement in class in the afternoon was very, very neat. They took the piece faster than I'd originally imagined it, but it worked better at that speed, I think, than it would have more slowly. There are still some things I'd like to change about the arrangement. I also renewed my dislike of Sibelius, the default style options are not wonderful for reading but I guess that just means I really need to concentrate this summer on learning LilyPond.

The long weekend was full of travel, practising and teaching.

Yesterday was another horn lesson; this one went much better than the previous one and I think I'm going to be okay in my exam this Friday. It won't be perfect, but I'm still not prepared to play a perfect exam at the cost of long-term progress.

This afternoon I have a Brahms rehearsal, then this evening a rehearsal with my accompanist followed by a rehearsal and mini-concert for a friend whose final I'm playing in this Friday. That will make for a long day. Tomorrow is quite a bit clearer, with nothing concrete except a physio appointment. Really, today is the last proper working-on-things day before my exam: tomorrow I will do a reasonable amount of playing, but I don't want to risk having a tired lip on Friday so I'll have to be quite gentle with myself.

Friday will be busy too; playing in my friend's final (not strenuous at all), then my own assessment, then I have time for a bite to eat before I head off to rehearse with a wind dectet I play in for a summer concert or two.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week I'm planning to take a break, stay home from Trinity and catch up on rest and various life-maintenance tasks. By Thursday I should be feeling sufficiently refreshed to start working on my summer plans, some of which are more exciting than others.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

East London Cockney Awkestra

Last night on my way to meet a friend for dinner I ran into the East London Cockney Awkestra, playing a free open-air concert at St. John on Bethnal Green. Delightful fun! Apparently they'd been playing since about 6.30 so I got there rather late, but I bought some pineapple juice and sat and listened for a bit, then got to talking and got my horn out. They were tired, I was hungry, so we packed up after not very long, but it was good to join in. If my horn were lighter and more portable I'd do this sort of thing more often. I still find myself wishing I could play the harmonica, for the simple reason that I could make it part of perma-carry and play whenever I liked.

Open-air concerts are good; open-air concerts so near to lots of vehicular traffic are rather unfortunate, as I don't think most people heard much of the banjo at all (though the clarinet cut through beautifully).

I can't find the East London Cockney Awkestra online at all. I'm not sure if they put together a group just for this event, if I'm looking for the wrong search terms, or if I've happened upon that rarest of rare things, a group without a web presence. I suppose if I want to find them again I'll have to get in touch with the church and see if they have contact details.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Exam Countdown Time

Only ten sleeps until my Performance Assessment. Only one weekend between me and it.

The weighting is 50% on one solo piece, to be performed from memory, and 50% on everything else (technical exercises, orchestral extracts, sightreading and transposition). In addition there is a Pass/Fail Technical Portfolio which must be handed in: this will include details, analysis and evaluation of what I've been working on this year.

I'm in pretty good shape with the solo piece. I'll be playing the first movement of Strauss 1. I need to find some more testosterone from somewhere, but the technical and musical challenges of the work are not overwhelming. My memory is absolutely fine, as it always has been; I'm very lucky to be a quick-study as far as memorisation is concerned. I have a rehearsal with the pianist this afternoon, and I don't anticipate problems.

Orchestral extracts are less secure. I do have a plan for studying these, and I'll spend most of this Friday's horn lesson on them.

Sight-reading and transposition are fair to middling; my sight-reading on the horn has always been strong, and my transposition at sight is adequate for most orchestral work, but I remember well my second-year technical exam where the sightreading and transposition piece was seriously challenging atonal music, which I couldn't have sung, let alone played accurately. There's no promise the same won't happen again, and I'd like to have more skill in this area than I currently do.

While I can bootstrap the orchestral extracts to an extent, the technical exercises and sightreading are simply not the sort of thing where cramming will work. At this point, I'm better off focusing on general playing skills than trying to worry about whether my B Major scale is perfect at a given speed. Ten days is long enough that doing a bit of sight-reading each day, a bit of transposition each day, and some serious work on the scales will help, but only after I've laid good groundwork with an excellent warm-up and a thorough work-out. If I do those things, then the technical exercises required by the assessment board will be representative of my general skill, which is how things should be. If I don't, then no amount of work on specific scales or arpeggios between now and the exam will mask the deficiencies in my playing.

With this in mind, today's horn lesson consisted almost entirely of going through the Singer book, discussing and choosing exercises for me to work on. Most of them are things we've discussed previously, they can seem a bit dry, and writing them out seems ridiculous given the simplicity and repetition of them... but having the book, having a structure on the page to follow instead of remembering what to do 'in my head', has already made a difference. I don't know why it's easier to play repeated long notes, gradually rising chromatically, when they're written out on the page than when I'm just reminding myself to play long tone exercises, but it is. Scales I don't tend to find I need written out (it isn't as if I don't know what the notes are), but I've always found it easier to practise them systematically when I have some sort of checklist in front of me. I suppose it just makes it easier to divide things into chunks in my head, to convince myself to do just to the end of the page before I have a break. My dependence on a written structure is something I'd do well to remember, though, and apply in all of my learning.

Monday, 19 May 2008

This weekend my Singer exercise book, Embouchure Building for French Horn, finally arrived. Also, I broke down and bought the tiniest metronome ever. I'm not entirely sure I like it. It... well, it squeaks. A beep or tick or tock would be so much nicer for someone as frightened of mice as I am. I'm sure I'll get used to it, though.

It will be interesting to see what these two tools do for my playing. I've been missing having a metronome quite a lot in recent weeks, and it's absolutely necessary for some of the Singer exercises.

That is all: it is early and I'm not meant to be online at this time of day (the internet is a TRAP, folks).

Friday, 16 May 2008

Here comes the weekend again...

I have been rather tired since Tuesday night's performance.

Yesterday was quite good. I made some progress in my practising, which is always encouraging. I rehearsed the Brahms trio, and played a bit of jazz with the pianist when we had to switch rooms. I got an assignment handed in and had a useful horn lesson.

Then I went home and made cookies, because I'd promised a dozen cookies each to players who could come and make up a wind quintet for arranging class this afternoon.

Today was similarly useful. More practising, which went well; a meeting with student services, some bits of paperwork (oh why is there always more paperwork?), a brief chat with Angela Myles Beeching regarding career-related things (I will very likely end up buying her book, Beyond Talent; I had a flip through the reference-only library copy yesterday and it seems like a useful thing to have on hand), and then off to arranging class with the cookies.

I do, so I'm told, make very good cookies. Sadly even this level of temptation was not enough to coax a clarinet player away from a masterclass with Gervase de Peyer, and rightfully so. Result? I have a lot of cookies to give away, and we'll have to record wind quintets next week instead... which means next week I'll be making cookies again.

My plans for tomorrow are to rest a lot. I've had to skip out of some social things to do this, but it's a little too close to exam time to let myself get run-down.

As much as I'd like to be writing a 'serious' blog with serious articles about serious subjects, this is very much turning into a personal diary. I do have some ideas for more intellectual content, particularly on the subject of copyright, but I've been quite short on the time and energy to develop them.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

TCM Soloists' Competition Final

Just got back from the Trinity College of Music Soloists' Competition final. I want to write up what I remember while it's fresh, so please excuse the late-night incoherence.

The programme was as follows:

Johannes Mnich, Piano
M Ravel - Piano Concerto in G major

Hari Eustice, Tenor Trombone
H Tomasi - Trombone Concerto

Tadasuke Lijima, Violin
J Brahms - Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77

All three candidates played extremely well.

I played 2nd horn in the Ravel and the Brahms, but did not play in the Tomasi, so it was extremely difficult for me to compare the various performances.

In both the Ravel and the Brahms, the tempo seemed to come slightly unglued at points. I didn't notice this in the Tomasi when I listened to it, but that could well be because I'm not as familiar with the piece. I thought Hari was not loud enough in some places; that or the orchestra was a bit too loud. In playing the Ravel I found it very difficult to hear the piano and strings, just because it's a different acoustic than the one we rehearsed in before this afternoon; the cor anglais solo was quite wonderful this evening, though. The Brahms had some major intonation problems in the wind section, probably due to the heat; I found it quite difficult to place some of my notes as a result.

The adjudicators had positive things to say about each performance, and limited themselves to one 'quibble' per soloist. The fault they found in the Ravel was that the second movement, which is achingly slow, was not lyrical enough in the piano. In the Brahms the complaint was that the violinist was not entirely drawing the orchestra into his performance, there didn't seem to be the same listening and awareness that was present in the other pieces. The imperfection in the Tomasi was the same one I had picked up when I listened to it: at times, more sound was needed from the trombone.

Having rehearsed with all three soloists, I think on a different night with slightly different circumstances any of the three of them could have won this competition. They are all fine musicians and they all worked extremely hard.

Tonight, though, Hari Eustice was the winner. Many congratulations to him!

Other notes:

The chairs at St. John's, Smith Square, are rather evil. The seats slope backward and the only way I could sit in them without getting backache was by perching on the very edge. Also, like almost all concert venues I've ever played in, there is not quite enough space for an entire orchestra to put their instrument cases and street clothes and assorted bits and pieces away during the performance. I'm not yet at the point where my concert dress packs flat into a pocket of my horn case but I'm getting closer and that is my eventual aim.

E. who was playing third horn in Brahms and first horn in Tomasi had a horrible time today with transport and various other things going wrong. He ended up missing most of the afternoon rehearsal, first by being late and then by having to go back to Greenwich to get his music for the Brahms.

It occurred to me that this might be one useful application of The Orchestra Musician's CD-ROM Library. They mostly market to people who need lots and lots of parts for learning orchestral extracts for exams and auditions, and they're a very good idea for that. But if any of us had had a copy of the third volume horn parts, then E. wouldn't have had to go back to Greenwich to get his music; we could have found an internet cafe with a printer and he'd have had his part again in however long that took. This is definitely faster!

Perhaps since the last two concerts I've been involved in have involved near scrapes with people, music or both not being in the right place at the right time, it would be a good idea to get the rest of those CDs (I have the first four or five, I think; they keep bringing out more!), and keep them with my horn music. Oh, there's plenty that isn't in those ten volumes and of course it's still always better to simply make sure that you, your music and all parts of your instrument (you don't want to know) are in the right place, but it can't hurt to have a little insurance.

While I have never been late for a concert, I have played in a concert without music. I was about 14 at the time, playing in the Mount Royal College Regional Senior Honour Band. We went up to Edmonton as guests of a concert band there, had a workshop at a school and then went on to play in a few music festival classes over the next day or so. I left my music behind at the school. I was too embarrassed and terrified to tell our conductor what I'd done, so I played all the music from memory. A few weeks later, she got the music in the post from the school we'd been at, and brought it to rehearsal for me. Words were had, not unkind ones, but I don't think I stopped blushing for quite some time.

That was then, and this is now; we'd worked on that concert band music every week for a few months, and I've always been quick at memory work. There is no way I would be happy to play either of the pieces I played tonight from memory, there simply hasn't been enough rehearsal time for me to gain that level of familiarity with them.

For my part, music I'm working on, in ensembles or as solo repertoire, lives in a music case that I attach to my horn case. If I don't have my horn with me, I have bigger problems than whether I can remember the part.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Come to the concert!

I'm playing 2nd horn in the Ravel and the Brahms in this concert tomorrow night. If nothing else it will give my low range a good workout.

Trinity College of Music Soloists' Competition - Final
Nicholas Cleobury conducts Trinity College of Music Symphony Orchestra as part of the 2008 Soloists' Competition Final. Three finalists compete for the College's most prestigious prize. This year's adjudicating panel will be chaired by Ralph Alwood.

This concert is dedicated to the memory of Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, a much loved supporter of the College and the wife of Trinity's former president Sir John Barbirolli.

Johannes Mnich, Piano
M Ravel - Piano Concerto in G major

Hari Eustice, Tenor Trombone
H Tomasi - Trombone Concerto

Tadasuke Lijima, Violin
J Brahms - Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77

7.00pm, Tuesday 13 May, St John's Smith Square, SW1P
Tickets available from St John's Smith Square
020 7222 1061 or

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Saturday: Link Round-Up

My electric metronome, inherited from my father and probably older than I am, finally died this year. I keep hoping I'll be able to resurrect it with a magnifying glass and a soldering iron, but honestly? I don't have the time, and ought to just buy a new one. I'm quite taken with this little device but need to decide whether it would be incredibly useful, or whether I'd just lose it. Meanwhile there is this online metronome, which Miss Music Nerd linked to, but most of the time I don't bring my computer along when I go to practise (too much to carry). What would actually be ideal is something similar made to run on my phone. It's about the only Java application I'd be willing to pay for. Any takers?

In reading about the use of EVS at the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, I started to think about how electronic voting systems could be used to create collaborative, audience-influenced music in real time or very near to it. The score would end up being something like a choose-your-own-adventure book, with not every path taken in every performance.

In a similar vein, CC Blog points at the Twitter Compilation Album. It basically does what it says on the tin. Listening to it is a little like listening as someone else flips through channels on a television or radio; there are some interesting textures and sounds but as soon as something grabs my attention and I want to hear more, it changes. Hm. Of course, it's possible I'm completely missing the point by not understanding Japanese.

In other news I've gleaned from Creative Commons, Magnatune has announced a subscription service. A DRM-free subscription service, that is. Long may it last, says I!

Erin of Fugue State writes positively about I Found My Horn, which I now very much want to read.

Other books I want to read:

Why yes, I am just a big hippie really. Why do you ask?

Friday, 9 May 2008

The rest of this week proceeded much as it started: lots of rehearsals, paperwork, and some classes.

Thursday morning I managed to get both the rehearsal venue and the rehearsal time wrong. Somewhat fortuitously, they cancelled each other out, so that when I arrived at the correct venue (expecting to be 15 minutes late because I went to the wrong place first), I was actually 75 minutes early. Thankfully, I had a book with me. I would have preferred to spend the time practising but one cannot have everything.

Thursday afternoon I chased some paperwork, then went home for a reasonably early night.

This morning I woke exceptionally early, which gave me an hour to walk around the park before I could start to practise. There was another Symphony Orchestra rehearsal and I went to the correct venue this time. Then more chasing of paperwork, then arranging class, then home.

Tomorrow I have some social things planned but nothing too strenuous; Sunday is teaching, as always, though it's looking like I'll have a quite extended break in the afternoon. I may try to re-schedule my evening students to fill the gap, or I may just take the break and enjoy the weather.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

It's been a busy week and it isn't even done yet.

Monday I was teaching, then wandered around a bit and found a silk sari for £5 in a charity shop. That prompted me to come home and do some simple sewing, so I now have two new sarongs (hey, I said it was simple), lovely and cool for the hot weather. I was absolutely shattered, unsurprising after my late night on Sunday.

Yesterday was a day of much rehearsing and some minor slaying of paperwork. I was still very tired and found it a struggle to concentrate well, but managed to have a reasonable day anyway.

The first two rehearsals were for the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, preparing for the final of the soloists competition. I'm playing 2nd horn in the Brahms violin concerto and the Ravel piano concerto, both gorgeous works. The rehearsals were productive but very poorly attended by some sections. The weather was glorious and I accidentally caught a slight sunburn eating my lunch on Blackheath. I was still feeling chilly when inside the Great Hall though. Maybe there's a passage to some sort of frozen netherworld under the stage.

The third rehearsal was Brahms horn trio. We finally got through the whole last movement... slowly. I would have liked to go faster but slow practise does pay off better in the end, and as my part is probably the easiest of the three I don't feel I get much say in when we get to play faster. B, the pianist, is definitely interested in trying to organise some recitals. It's looking like we'll try to play in some lunchtime concerts in August. Meantime we've got a couple of rehearsals booked for next week.

Today was good as well. I've just about recovered from my sleep deprivation exercise on Sunday night, in that I found it much easier to wake this morning, but was still flagging quite a bit mid-afternoon. But I practised, and got an assignment handed in, and went to improv class but hardly anyone turned up (probably because of aforementioned assignment as well as the truly beautiful weather), had some lunch and did some banking, and went to horn class.

Horn class today was excellent. We had Johannes HinterHolzer visiting from Austria; we'd all been instructed to learn Mozart's 4th horn concerto (K495) and be prepared to play it. For the first half we talked about horn stuff in general, as well as the first movement of Mozart 4. Then we took some tea and sunshine and returned to actually do some playing.

A bit of context: when I was busking on the London Underground I played all of Mozart 4 two or three times a day, four or five days a week, for a year and a half. After a certain point it doesn't really get any easier. I know the piece pretty well by now, and to be honest I didn't prepare as much as I might have for today's class. I learned an incredible amount despite both of these factors. Johannes is very precise in his ideas about what makes a line musical and what general phrasing techniques will give the desired effect; the result is that instead of saying, "Do it like this" and then demonstrating, he will demonstrate and then explain exactly what he did to achieve that result. He's also very clear about the more nitty-gritty techniques for producing a good, accurate sound on the horn, and has an amazing ear for rhythm (or perhaps I just need to spend more time with the metronome). His manner is combination of encouraging and demanding that really inspires students to do their best. I'd very happily take a few lessons with him next time he's in London, and I'm sure others who were there would also jump at the chance.

The result of all this is that I'm now ready to actually work on Mozart 4 properly again, although I'll leave it until after my performance exam. I consider this a small miracle given just how much I've played it.

I do miss busking, both on and off the Tube, to a certain extent. There were good days and bad days, as with anything, but there's something very encouraging about standing up in public to play music and having people give you money of their own free will. I had to stop busking in 2006 after injuring myself rather badly when I took a tumble down the stairs in my home. I don't think I'm physically up to getting back to it just yet. I also don't think I want to do it for 4-6 hours per day for more than about a month at a time, because it is physically and mentally incredibly taxing, but it would be good to have the option of doing a month a year or perhaps three pitches a week after I've finished my degree.

Monday, 5 May 2008


Today has been very, very long. I got up and taught and went on an impromptu picnic and taught some more and rehearsed and missed my last Northern Line tube toward home and messed about with night buses and ended up walking back from Bank with a semi-random person who turned out to be rather lovely.

I'd do it all again except it would be nice not to have the hour or so of messing around on night buses.

Unfortunately I have to get up again in a Very Small number of hours, so small it is smaller than the first non-prime. Tomorrow is going to be quite a challenge on that amount of sleep.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Show Must Go On

It goes without saying that one should always be on time for concerts if one is performing.

I usually aim for arriving at the concert venue and being ready to play 30 to 60 minutes early, and also add 50% onto my expected journey time. I've not yet been late for a performance.

At Sinfonia on Thursday night we had a problem. Our first horn player was stuck in traffic. This wasn't a huge problem for the Biber, because it has no horns in it.

The Vaughan Williams Folksong Suite does have four horn parts, but they are printed with 1st & 2nd on one set and 3rd & 4th on the other. Since we each had a copy of a part, all the parts were there. It is possible to cover most of the harmonies with three horns, because the work is quite heavily scored with lots of doubling. The third player jumped up to first; I played the third and fourth parts, alternating based on my own knowledge of the piece and the other parts. This is really not ideal but I doubt anyone in the audience noticed, except for the empty seat beside me.

The Mozart was going to be problematic, even though it has fewer horn parts. There was only one copy of the first horn part, and it was with our delayed first horn player. I hadn't been scheduled to play in that piece at all, though I believe I have performed it before. The first part and the second part are fairly similar, it's basically all octaves all the time except for a few bars in the last movement, but those few bars are fairly crucial. We had a very quick look at the score and decided that the thing to do would be to have the second player jump up to first (since he'd been rehearsing and knew what to expect), and let me sightread the second part.

Thankfully it didn't happen that way. We were in our seats and about to tune when our first horn player arrived, flustered and rushed but with her horn and her part. I must admit I was almost disappointed as it would have been fun flying by the seat of our pants like that, but it's probably for the best.

This is what happens when you are late for a performance: other people have to take big risks. That is why it is considered so awful. Every part really is crucial. And what would have happened if I did not know the Vaughan Williams so well, or if our first player had not made it in time for the Mozart and there were no other horn players available to try to cover the part?

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Is it any wonder I don't post much?

I've not been posting so much this past week; between having a cold, finishing up the last bits of moving house and trying to keep up with paperwork I've been short on computer time.

I've just come out of an information session with representatives of Impromptu Publishing, who publish Muso magazine. They will have a stall in the UNPLUGGED section of the forthcoming London International Music Show, and they wanted students to help out. There are two positions and six or seven of us turned up, and I figure as I can't do the Sunday due to teaching I'm unlikely to get hired, but it's a useful networking opportunity in any case. I might get some flyering work out of it, for example.

I hadn't previously been aware of the Muso website. It looks to be a reasonable resource. They have a sheet music shop which stocks scores from several different publishers, a small forum, and you can set up a profile and add media and so on. I think it could be interesting but will have to wait and see whether they have caught the true spirit of user-created content as described in Gin, Television and Social Surplus. So far? It's too small for me to tell, not that I claim to be some oracle of Whether Things Work Online.

Enough, enough links. What have I actually been up to?

Tuesday was busy: practising, Sinfonia rehearsal, lesson with Mark Bassey, Sinfonia rehearsal, trio rehearsal minus the pianist, which ended up being very short (because really? There's not much you can do with the Brahms horn trio without the piano there). By then I was feeling all lurgified again.

Wednesday was also busy, I got myself up and out early enough for a brief walk around the park, then it was practising followed by two meetings (one with my personal tutor, Douglas Finch, another Canadian in London, and one with the head of Student Services here at Trinity), class, and horn class. Except about a half hour before the start of horn class, my energy levels took a very swift dive, so I went home early and went to bed. Ugh. I do feel better for the extra sleep, but it's a shame to miss horn class with so few left in the year.

Today has been good so far. Again with the park, which was a cacophony of birdsong this morning. A short bit of practising, just a warm-up really, then up the hill to BlackDeath Blackheath for orchestra rehearsal, back down again for the information/recruitment session, and in a few minutes I'm off to vote in the mayoral elections. Silly me managed to lose my voting card but happily you can just turn up anyway; the system is rather open to fraud but I guess at least it gets people voting.

This evening there is the concert all these Sinfonia rehearsals have been held in preparation for: Biber, Vaughan Willians, Mozart and Schubert. The concert is in the Great Hall of Blackheath Halls, starts at 7.30pm and costs £10 (conc. £7).

No rest for the wicked, though, or even for the mildly impish such as myself. Tomorrow Symphony Orchestra rehearsals start for the TCM Soloists' Competition Final.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

I hab a code

Yesterday I didn't practise. I was far too coldified.

Today I still feel like death warmed over, but managed to drag my sorry self in to Trinity anyway and got a good hour in before 9.30. Yay!

I'm looking at repertoire for next year's final recital. It's going to be problematic, I think, because there is a 45-minute time limit, and I'd quite like to play more than 45 minutes' worth of music.

Some of the contenders:
Martin Butler, Hunding, about 4'33"
Mozart 2, around 20 minutes
Dukas, Villanelle, 6-ish minutes
A selection of Brahms lieder, transcribed for horn
Bach 'cello suite in C major BWV 1009, around 20 minutes

If I play both Mozart and Bach then I can play only one other piece, but that's a little sad. Playing Bach without the other movements is not great, though, and nor would I really like to do the same with Mozart. I guess if it comes to it I can choose one or two movements of the Bach and play them on their own; then everything else should fit, at least.

I wonder if I can apply to do an hour instead of 45 minutes. It would make life much easier.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Yesterday I played the Dukas Villanelle in horn class, on a piston horn in F. It was... interesting. The Besson piston horn that the College has for student use has a fairly large wrap and very awkward placement of the pistons themselves, so I'm glad I didn't play most sections more than once, because even what I did was making my left arm hurt. On the bright side, the horn itself is so much lighter than my ancient, modified Alex 104 that I didn't need to use the support stick at all and was able to play standing up.

On the whole, playing only on F horn is quite tiring, especially on that particular instrument which doesn't have an amazing high range. I'm definitely glad I spent a week playing the Villanelle on my own instrument using F fingerings. I didn't have a whole lot of trouble with changing from one fingering to another, probably because my own horn has the Slowest Valves in the West (I'm awaiting a quote from Paxman to have it fixed).

We also got to play with Vienna horns. Like the piston horn these are single horns in (one in F, one in Bflat) rather than double, so very much lighter to hold. The tone was rather amazing, as well.

So, now I'm considering playing the Dukas Villanelle on a piston horn for my final recital next year (but not on Trinity's Besson, that would be a recipe for left-hand RSI), and also considering whether I might get a single F horn again at some point just because they are just so lightweight. I'd really want something that doesn't interfere with my ability to play the Alex, for obvious reasons, so any horn shopping will involve quite a bit of looking around. And of course I still want a good natural horn, and while I'm at it I may as well get hold of a serpent. Perhaps after I graduate...

Practising this morning... ugh. I wasn't feeling terribly well. I don't know if it's something I ate, the feeling-icky bug that's been going around Trinity, or a particularly bumpy bus ride this morning, but I'm still feeling a bit delicate.

I did the only thing that one can do in such circumstances: play a bit, rest a bit, play a bit, rest a bit. I'm glad I did.

At 11am the Brahms trio (we still haven't a name) had a two-hour coaching session with Stephen Stirling. We seem to be on the right track technically and musically, at least in the first two movements. I still want to rehearse in a larger room at some point, but of course this is easier said than done.

I met briefly with J, a mentor for my Year 4 Project. I'm not yet ready to announce it here, because there are still many decisions to be made, but I think I've scaled it back to make it a little more manageable, at least.

Now? A little more paperwork, and then home to rest.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Thought for the day

Nothing new here, really, but it struck me again this morning as I was practising just how important it is to always listen, always make the best sound I possibly can when practising. It doesn't matter whether I'm playing scales or Bach, trying to make a lip trill work or doing range-stretching exercises, the most important thing is to use a good sound.

Now, that doesn't always mean the tone colour will be conventionally beautiful. There are times when it's appropriate to make an 'ugly' sound for effect. But it has to be on purpose... it should be for effect, not because I've stopped thinking about it.

I did tell you it was nothing new.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Miscellany and some good news

Yesterday was a day of many errands; I feel like I didn't get a lot done, but really it's just that the things I did get done were mostly not music-related so much as life-maintenance related. If there is anything that could convince me to try to earn more money than I need to survive, it's the prospect of being able to afford a personal assistant, even part-time.

Today I'm a little sleepy, but practising went well. The Villanelle isn't going to be perfect tomorrow, but it's going to be reasonably good. It's amazing how much more endurance it takes to play it on F-side only, I'm finding it quite tiring to play, but I'm sure in the long run that's good for me.

Since then I've been quietly productive in the library. I have a rehearsal later up at Blackheath, and if the weather holds I might eat lunch in the park on the way there.

Some very good news indeed: IMSLP is coming back! The International Music Score Library Project was a repository of more than 15,000 public domain musical scores. Universal Editions, in Austria, threatened to sue them over a legal difference in what constitutes public domain, with the result that the database had to be taken down as IMSLP was not in any financial position to take on a legal battle. I'm very, very glad that this resource is coming back.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

What's in a name?

We decided at Friday's rehearsal of the Brahms not to compete in the Cavatina Chamber Music Competition at Trinity. There were lots of reasons, but mostly it's just that we haven't quite got the final movement of the trio learned well enough to be able to play it confidently and convincingly. We'd rather take the time now to learn it properly, and perform better at a later date, than skim it now, learn it superficially, and have to undo that later to make a performance we can be proud of.

I am a little disappointed, I was looking forward to giving all those string quartets a run for their money, but I know that this is the right thing to do musically.

On the not-so-musical bright side, this means we have more time to think of a name for our little ensemble. "Triceratops" has been floated as it is a horn trio, but I think that would be more appropriate for a trio of horns, rather than a chamber trio with a horn in it. And I'm leaning toward trying to put together some sort of loosely-associated chamber group, because there's so much out there and not all of it is with the same instrumentation. It feels like all the good names have been taken, and what we're left with will be boring ("The Greenwich Chamber Group") or pretentious.

Ideas? Suggestions? Your answers on a postcard, please.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Another day, another rehearsal.

This morning saw me trudging up the hill to Blackheath to rehearse Schubert's 5th Symphony.

One thing I dislike about Blackheath Halls is that the place tends, like all big old draughty buildings, to be freezing inside. Today was no exception, and though it is spring and Not That Cold out, I made sure to dress warmly in velvet and cashmere.

Keeping my body a comfortable temperature is not as difficult as keeping my horn a sensible one, however. The cold hands from touching a giant heat-sink I don't mind too much, but the instrument does respond quite differently at different temperatures. For one thing, when it's cold the horn goes flat, as do many other instruments; but not everyone in the orchestra will be the same amount flat, and different people compensate in different ways (and sometimes in different directions), with the result that tuning becomes slightly nightmarish. I think the worst thing is that it's just not terribly responsive when it's cold. Moving from one note to the next seems far more difficult, and it's more tiring to play. Schubert's 5th has not quite enough playing in it for the instrument to stay properly warm. I'm thinking I'll have to blow air through it during the rests next time we rehearse at Blackheath.

Thankfully concerts at Blackheath are usually a sensible temperature. I'm not sure if it's because they put the heating on or because having an audience full of homeotherms is enough to make a difference.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Fearful Productivity

I have managed to slay many paperwork demons in the last two days. Hooray!

Yesterday's horn class with Roger Montgomery went well. It was a very standard sort of class, going through various extracts from the ballet and opera repertoire; the sort of thing that isn't in Probespiel.

Next week there will be a single F piston-valve horn and a Vienna horn, and we're going to go through various repertoire appropriate to those. I've said I'll work on the Dukas Villanelle and play it on the piston horn. This may have been foolish. I played through what I could remember of it this morning; the F fingerings did trip me up, but the fact that I haven't played the work for several years and don't always remember what key I'm in tripped me up more.

Brahms rehearsal on Tuesday went well, we got through the third movement and started on the final movement, and rehearsed the first two. It's several weeks since we had a chance to play together, so things were a little rusty in places, but overall I'm quite happy with how we're playing. We did a bit of jazz improv afterward, just for laughs. I'd like to do more of that, but it's another area where playing with people regularly is important, and it's hard enough trying to find rehearsal time already.

I'm still trying to find a pianist for the Reinecke trio. I'll be annoyed if we don't get to play it for lack of a willing pianist, but reality is like that. Perhaps I will have the chance to play it this summer at Charterhouse.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Back to work

Friday was indeed a lovely rest day. I sat around and ate too much toast and read some of a rather grim book by Ayn Rand.

Classes have re-started; this is the last stretch before exams. It's good to be back, but I'm already very busy.

Yesterday I didn't get much practise in at all, partly because of leaving home a bit late and partly because of problems on the Docklands Light Railway. I walked from Poplar to Greenwich, which took about an hour and left me too late to really do much before my first class. I did an hour later in the day, but it's never quite the same.

The class was quite straightforward, it's part of a series of classes dealing with the details of our Year 4 projects. I think I know now what I'll be doing for mine: watch this space for details!

This morning I did get a good solid two hours of practising in before a rehearsal. I'd thought today would be very busy, with rehearsals morning and afternoon and then the Brahms trio rehearsal at 6pm, but it turns out I wasn't needed for the afternoon rehearsal. This gives me a chance to catch up on some paperwork. I never seem to run out of paperwork. If I could afford a competent personal assistant I'd jump at the chance to have one, as paperwork isn't really something that I'm terribly fond of.

Teaching on Sunday and on Monday went well, I was in a great mood and I think my rest on Friday really helped. I've acquired an extra two hours of teaching per week, which is good news for financial reasons. The new students seem enthusiastic and capable, so there's nothing left for it now but to teach them and see what happens.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Day Off

Yesterday morning I was just feeling too sluggish to get going. I told myself I'd go in late, and then that turned into not-at-all. Oops. I've had a pretty restful morning, though, and I feel a lot better. I'm not feeling too guilty about it as yesterday and today are my last two weekdays before going back to classes and rehearsals and all the hectic scheduling that goes with them. I was planning to take today as a duvet day anyway.

There are quite a few things I could be getting on with...

But for today, I'm resting. So there.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


Well, I found somewhere to live, and have spent the past few days mostly panicking and trying to move.

It's gone far more smoothly than previous moves, although I'm not finished yet.

For perspective, in eight years in London I have lived in seven different dwellings, in four different boroughs. I probably do know people who have moved more than this, but I think most people I know have moved considerably less.

I'm still practising. I had another jazz lesson with Mark Bassey yesterday and it was wonderful. Lessons with him are always so much fun. We worked on 'Autumn Leaves' again and played around with ninth and eleventh extensions to dominant seventh chords.

I'm starting to feel very tired, too many late nights and early mornings. With the intention of getting some rest before classes start again on Monday, I hereby declare that this Friday shall be a Duvet Day: I will get some food in and I do not intend to stir from my bed until at least noon. I will read a book if I feel like it, maybe watch a film if I can be bothered, and be a general layabout. Saturday I have social plans and Sunday I am teaching, and then it's nose back to the grindstone with the full gamut of classes and rehearsals returning.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

I want my hour back...

I finally have a phone again, my own one, not a borrowed pay as you go one. It is purple and shiny and this makes me inordinately happy.

I haven't found somewhere to live yet. It would be easier if I were less picky about location, but for paperwork reasons I want to stay in Tower Hamlets, and for commute convenience reasons I want to stay near the Central Line, and this pretty solidly limits me to Bethnal Green and Mile End.

Practising continues to go reasonably well. The past two days I've been a bit late getting in, arriving 9am yesterday and 8.30am today. I blame Daylight Savings Time. I want my hour back! But as it's spring break there's no problem getting a practise room and I haven't had other committments in the morning to interfere, so in actual fact it isn't the end of the world not getting to Trinity bang on 8am.

I've been continuing with orchestral extracts and technical exercises, as well as various solo repertoire. I need to choose a solo for my exam on 30th May and start learning it, and find a pianist.

Chamber music is slow right now. The violinist playing in the Brahms horn trio with me is away for spring break, and so is the oboist playing in the Reinecke trio, so we haven't been rehearsing. Sadly the pianist for the Reinecke has pulled out, which is very disappointing as it will be quite difficult to find one at this time of year with everyone preparing for exams.

What I'd really like is a pianist with a similar interest in chamber music to work with on a regular basis. Perhaps I should start looking now to find one for next year...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Incoming: Weekend

Thinking up titles for these posts is getting difficult. On my personal journal it doesn't matter so much, but I'm trying to keep this blog at least a little bit professional.

This week I have been practising and doing paperwork, mostly. I found a part-time job to apply for, and did so. I don't know that I'll get it, but I think I'm in with a chance. I also dreamed up a job here in the Trinity library that I'm quite hopeful about but it does depend very much on whether funding is available, so I'm not sure it's going to happen either. In any case I've done lots of work on my both my CVs (what is the plural of 'curriculum vitae'?) and had a bit of practise at writing cover letters, all good to do.

I should be able to pick up my new phone tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. Of course, I'll need to hang on to my borrowed PAYG sim for a few days because of my temporary number being the one on my CV and job application. Ugh.

Practising is going well. I had made a very tidy chart of all the excerpts I need to learn for this year's final and the plan was to get copies of them all and put them in a big ring binder, but I was stalled at the 'get copies of them all' stage for ages. Since they are all in two books that I already have, I've just started at the beginning of the probespiel and will work my way through, and when I'm done that I'll start on the Mel Bay anthology. Sadly I can't find my Mel Bay at the moment but I'm sure it's in a box or a pile of music somewhere in my room, and I'll be at least a few weeks getting through the Probespiel anyway. Good things about starting at the front of the Probespiel: playing the Quoniam from the Bach B minor Mass, which is excellent. Bad things about starting at the front of the Probespiel: playing the Quoniam from the Bach B minor Mass, which is high and tiring. Good warm-ups are essential when working on repertoire like this.

The pianist I've been working with on the Brahms horn trio seems to have dropped off the face of the earth this week. I hope it's just that he hasn't got internet access or has gone home for a few days; getting hold of willing and capable pianists is not an easy task and it would be a shame to have to start over with someone new.

Degree-related paperwork continues slowly. Flathunting has been completely absent this week, which isn't so good. If I'm going to move I want to do the bulk of it before classes start again in two weeks. I've still only barely worked on any of my personal compositions or arrangements, though I've been thinking about them a little more now that I have some space in my head.

Plans for tomorrow: getting my website in order, picking up my phone from the DHL depot, and some social stuff.