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.