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...