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?