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.