Thursday, 17 December 2009
Saturday, 14 November 2009
Back to Bach
It was a little strange being in the area again. Attending a concert in St Alfege church as a member of the public was a little odd but not hugely so, despite the fact that the last time I was there was for my final recital. It was good to hear the Trinity recorders play as I've been doing some playing with recorders myself recently after almost no contact with them for decades.
Stranger was going to the Old Royal Naval College Chapel and hearing Susan Sheppard play the first two Bach 'cello suites.
The Chapel, especially in my final year at Trinity, was somewhere I went to collect my thoughts, to sit in silence and regain some calm when the bustle and noise of a music college all got a bit much for me. I went just to sit and think at least as often as I attended concerts there, probably more. If the weather was good and I had time I'd go to the park, but if I only had a few minutes and it was pouring with rain I went to the Chapel.
The repertoire was even more significant, though. In autumn 2007 I returned to my studies after taking time out for injury and illness. It was still a bit touch and go whether I'd be able to continue. Playing for very long was painful and I knew it would take time and patience to regain my former endurance. For most of the autumn it was all I could do to keep up with various ensemble performances and I really wasn't keeping up with any personal practising.
Early in 2008 I realised that I needed to find a way to relate to the instrument again, to play music I love for the sake of playing it. It wasn't a very conscious process at the time, but somehow I fell into playing Bach again: the third 'cello suite, and the second and first which I had studied before. For around three months I played little else, or that's how I remember it now. I would turn up, do a warm-up, play some Bach. Here was something that would challenge me musically as well as technically, something that I could come back to day after day after day. Here was the spiritual sustenance I needed to learn, again and yet for the first time, to do the work of making music. My long-suffering teacher didn't scold me when I turned up lesson after lesson with yet more music written for an instrument neither of us play. He waited until I was ready to learn new repertoire, and in the meantime we worked on Bach. It worked.
That isn't the only time I've used Bach to get myself playing. When I was busking on the London Underground I also used to play Bach, and in some ways it was that, rather than the prospect of people literally throwing money at me, which got me out of the house on sluggish days. But that wasn't as profound as the transformation in 2008, not as necessary.
I've been struggling to practise the horn a little, lately; it seems I'm awfully busy, and much of my work right now is on other instruments. Yet lack of time alone doesn't explain it. Surely it was sensible to have a brief rest from horn playing after the end of my degree, but surely it is time to get past that, to move on, to keep playing. Something feels not quite right, something I know I need to play through rather than avoid, but which also makes me reluctant to start playing.
The recital in the Chapel yesterday, the juxtaposition of that repertoire and that space, reminded me that the Bach suites, for me, will always be partly about healing.
I think I know what I need to do differently.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
I composed an anthem; it was sung during a church service on 27th September. The sheet music is available here and a MIDI file here; I don't yet have a suitable recording. The piece is dedicated to Rev Dr Catherine Dowland-Pillinger, on the occasion of her ordination to the priesthood of the Church of England, and the church service was the first Eucharist at which she presided. I'm very grateful to the vicar, music director and choir at St Mary's, Addington for allowing me to contribute in this way.
Closer to home, I've been rehearsing with a couple of other ex-Trinity students. Between us we play an eclectic variety of instruments and it has been good fun finding and adapting repertoire to suit our sound. We'll be playing this Sunday at the launch of the Roots and Remembrance exhibition at St Andrew's Church, Colworth Road, London, E11 1JD. The launch begins at 11.30am, after the annual Rememberance Sunday service.
Also at St Andrew's, I've been learning a bit of how to play the organ. It's a lot of fun, this making notes with my feet, but really very difficult to co-ordinate with my hands! I've also been doing some singing in the choir there. We will be having a Lessons & Carols service on 13th December, and welcome anyone interested in singing in our Community Choir to join us for rehearsals on Friday nights from 7pm.
On December 9th will be the annual London Gallery Quire Christmas concert, held as last year at St George's German Lutheran Church, 55 Alie Street, London E1 8EB. Do arrive 6.30pm for the 7pm start; tickets are £5 on the door. As well as the rare treat of listening to West Gallery music this is a good chance to see the inside of the oldest German church in Britain.
I almost forgot to mention the London Performance Collective lunchtime concert at St John's Notting Hill at 1pm this coming Thursday, 12th November. This concert of "Known, Visible Music" will include works by Bassi, Piazzolla and Whitlock, as well as yours truly playing the Haydn Divertimento a tre for horn, violin and 'cello.
It would be great to see some familiar faces!
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Finding the right words
The majority of my composing so far has been choral work. It isn't a particularly vast majority, a handful of songs and anthems really. Sometime soon I'll get more of it up on a website.
Usually, I find a text that, on some level, seems to speak to me, and then set it, and then it sits in a drawer until I get it onto the computer, and then it doesn't get any further (really need to get that website sorted). But sometimes I have a specific occasion or person to write for, and need to find the right words.
At that point I really struggle. My knowledge of English poetry, particularly English poetry that is in the public domain, is rather poor. There's an awful lot of it to get through and I'll never manage to read it all. At one time I might have written the words myself, but it's been a long time since I wrote any poetry and I don't think I would be able to write something acceptable these days.
I'm dealing with this problem now. I keep going to the few poetry books I have and reading through them, searching for the right poem. The result? I bookmark tens or hundreds of pages as things I'd like to set someday but none of what I've found is appropriate for this particular project.
I think I probably need to do some sort of survey course in English poetry, or even choose a century per month and use my commuting time to get familiar with the major poets.
In the meantime, if you could have one text set as a choral work, what would it be?
Saturday, 15 August 2009
The internet is full of shiny.
Over at Vimeo there is a video of Bobby McFerrin demonstrating "The Power of the Pentatonic Scale". As someone says in the comments, I'm not convinced this demonstrates a whole lot about the power or universality of the pentatonic scale per se but it made me grin from ear to ear. What a wonderful, physical demonstration of the way humans relate spatial distance to differences in pitch.
Thirdly, over at RockOm there is an article about music and saving the world. I think this should be required reading for music students.
Saturday, 8 August 2009
Performance Collective Evening Concert
7.30pm Evening Concert
Tuesday 18th August
An Evening filled with music, wine and cake
* Rimsky-Korsakov - Flight of the Bumble Bee for bassoon and piano
* Otar Taktakishvili - Flute Sonata
* Handel - Sonata in G minor Op. 1 No. 6, violin and serpent
* Schumann - Fantasiestucke, Op. 12
* Beethoven - Trio - for flute, bassoon, and piano
Tickets: £10 (Conc. £6)
The Space (directions and map)
The London Performance Collective is a new ensemble which presents classical and modern music in new ways to help audiences to experience it afresh. We perform good music from all historical periods, but aim to present it in ways which open ears anew to its impact.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Results, moving on and settling in...
I got my degree. Specifically, I have been awarded a Bachelor of Music (Hons), Second Class Honours, Upper Division. In ordinary terms that's known as a 2:1 in the British system.
I had a celebratory recital on 10th July. I'm listening to a recording now, to try and make a CD to hand on to someone who couldn't be there. It's interesting... a note in the Mozart that I had pegged as 'always a bit sharp' is flat in both the exam and the recital. Clearly I should have recorded more of my practising for troubleshooting purposes. Overall, the recital went well and I think I played better than in the exam, so I'm very glad I did it. Also, there's little better than playing with friends and family for a large group of my friends and family.
I've also moved house. No more shall I wander along the Roman Road, at least not in order to get the bus to take me to Trinity in the mornings. The new house has a music room, which means I don't actually need to leave to practise. I don't need to book a room, either. This is most excellent. The house even came with a piano, which, although in need of some work, allows me to put off the expensive decision on buying one for myself, at least for a few more years.
So, I've been doing some practising, some small bits of composing, and rather a lot of packing and unpacking. In an unprecedented fit of being rather more organised than usual, most of my existing teaching schedule for the autumn is sorted out. I do need to find more students locally, but I also know it will take time to build up a class in this area.
The next few weeks bring a performance on 18th August (I'll play serpent and Anna will play violin), a trip to deepest darkest Somerset to unwind for a few days, and rather a lot of unpacking. I also need to start doing some arranging and transcription of popular works for horn, violin and 'cello, as it looks like a group of us are doing some of that. I also want to get going again on putting together a horn and organ concert, but I may need to wait a little longer and get some job applications out of the way, first. A website wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
In future summers I hope I'll be able to have a longer rest in August, but as so much is in transition and there are so many new starts, this one is turning out to be mostly one where I keep my head down.
How about you?
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
I have my end-of-degree recital on Tuesday next week. That's, er, a week from today.
Right now, it's all about the practising. And the programme notes... sadly I'm not allowed to have a ghost writer for my programme notes!
I'm hoping to get back to writing some more here when I have recovered from the recital.
Thursday, 7 May 2009
Tomorrow lunchtime I'll be singing at Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London W1K 2PA.
Friday 8th May, 1pm
King William Singers
directed by Hilary Campbell
present a lunchtime concert of contemporary choral music.
Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium
Brown o sapientia
Whitacre Water Night
Campbell the isle is full of noises
Whitacre Lux Aurumque
Campbell the hand that made us is divine
There will be a retiring collection for the CYM Library and for the Grosvenor Chapel Foundation.
On Sunday morning the London Gallery Quire will be singing Mattins at St Mary the Virgin Church in East Barnet. The service begins bright and early at 10am. I will be playing the serpent. I'm quite enjoying playing the serpent.
I haven't thought further ahead than that just now. I think there are Wind Orchestra things coming up at some point.
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Mozart KV 370b+371
Well, simply put, when I started learning the horn there were fewer known fragments of the work. Even now it can be difficult to get hold of. Some recordings I have seem to mis-label the first movement as being KV 307b instead of 370b. I've been able to find two published editions, reconstructed by two different people. The manuscript for 371, the Concert Rondo, was only completed in 1989 and previous editions are missing bits.
This morning I have been looking at the score of 370b in the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe Digital Mozart Edition, and comparing that to my Brietkopf edition, completed and edited by Robert D. Levin, which arrived in the post yesterday. In bar 67 I don't know that I agree with the scoring of the piano reduction; I would put a concert E in the bass and in the second half of the bar the horn plays a concert B-flat which is lower than any of the piano notes. This is easy enough to change, but it will have to be the piano part that changes. And in bar 128 there is a quaver-and-two-semi-quavers figure which is written as a triplet in the score. Not sure which I'll do there.
I'm still waiting for the Sikorski edition and the Birdalone edition to arrive. It will be interesting to compare them. I'd love a facsimile of the manuscript but I don't quite want to spend $125 on it.
Monday, 20 April 2009
The Garlickhythe Occasionals and the London Gallery Quire
I will be playing the serpent twice this weekend! Once will be with the Garlickhythe Occasionals, at a Ceilidh in Highgate on Saturday night.
For the more devoutly inclined, on Sunday at 6.30pm I'm playing with the London Gallery Quire at Choral Evensong in Dulwich at the Chapel of God's Gift.
Friday, 20 March 2009
Songs of Freedom
a choral exploration of law and liberty
20 March 2009, 8pm
St John On Bethnal Green
(right by Bethnal Green tube station)
200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA
Tickets are sold on a pay-what-you-will basis and the funds raised will go to support the Open Rights Group and the fund for building restoration at St John on Bethnal Green.
Saturday, 14 March 2009
London Alternative Copyright Choir
That's a nice theory, and an admirable goal. But in real life, things don't always work smoothly. There are several problems with the laws of copyright as they exist today, and with the business models that emerged around them in the 20th century.
In the music world one of the biggest problems is that of getting your music heard. It's not enough to write music and then leave it in a desk drawer where nobody will hear it, or not if you want to make a living. Before mass communications were around, the way to get your music heard was to perform it as much as possible and try to get your friends to do the same. The printing press and increasing literacy changed that a fair amount, but performance was still a very important factor. Audio recording and playback technology, paired with the broadcasting possibilities of radio and television, changed it profoundly. It was possible, if you could raise the funds, to have your music played to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people at once. It was possible to play your music once, twice, ten times until you got it nearly perfect, and then sell a duplicate of that nearly perfect recording without having to do it again. Word of mouth became less important than airtime.
High-quality recording equipment was still relatively expensive in the 20th century. To have a song recorded was simply beyond the means of most musicians. So a system emerged where publishers and recording companies would enter into a partnership with composers and performers. The creators of the music would give up some control over their work in exchange for money, and the recording companies would worry about the details of recording equipment and distribution of the finished product.
Again, this is alright in theory. But what happened in practise was this: recording technology got cheaper. Mass distribution got cheaper. Recording companies got better at marketing, and at making money. It was very difficult to get your music heard in the mass media unless you had a deal with a recording company, and very difficult to get a deal with a recording company at all, and even then you might not make much money unless your track was a hit. Depending on the details of the contract you might not make money even if your track was very successful. And the mass media was the only one where you were likely to make significant amounts of money. The widespread availability of cheap recorded music meant that live performances weren't so easy to fix any more. Copyright became something the recording companies would defend in order to preserve their profits, but which didn't necessarily benefit artists, and which actually reduced the average audience's access to a variety of music. If you wanted something different from the offerings of the mainstream media, you had to go out of your way to find it.
This, too, is changing: technology has moved on. The biggest change is that the mass media is becoming more and more audience-controlled. I'm writing this to post on a website; I'm willing to bet that many of the people reading it will have websites or blogs of their own. People are creating, for the sake of it. Some may get paid in advertising revenue or support themselves through other means, but many don't bother. Some of the best bloggers out there have day jobs. A significant portion of people are starting to question or outright ignore what the mainstream media says, whether that's in journalism or visual art or written fiction or music. The thresholds to mass broadcasting are much lower than they have been before, and a lot of us have something to say.
What that means, in practical terms, is that we're back to word-of-mouth again, but in a much different environment than the one where personal, face-to-face contact was the main form of communication. Word of mouth has gone global. And it's noisy.
For creators this has some interesting implications. Broadcasting is cheaper than it has ever been, but so is copy&paste. Artists who try to keep their copyrighted works out of the public domain have only limited success in doing so: do a Google image search for 'Gary Larson' if you don't believe me. Before the printing press if you wrote or told a story and someone stole it and claimed it as their own, there wasn't a lot you could do, but you could try to tell the same story more than they'd have a chance to, and probably still make some profit. Mass duplication makes that a technology race as well a social skills race, and ultimately the choice to say anything at all is also an acceptance of the risk that someone else might try to steal it.
The challenges for the music industry are similar to those for the written word; the technology is different, but not far behind. The technology that lets me record a music rehearsal at a reasonable quality and put it online, should I wish, costs less than a month's rent. The expertise required to do so really well is something I can learn. The equipment to create a CD-quality recording, isn't much more expensive than what I've got. But once it's out there, I have very little control: I can't easily dictate whether it is duplicated or not. I certainly can't afford legal fees against someone who attempts to profit from my own work. Participation is an act of trust.
We need new business models to deal with this environment.
We can lean toward more control, more stringent laws to prevent the theft and piracy of intellectual property. That way lies stifling bureaucracy and an endless arms race against what technology can do. And as shown, it doesn't always benefit artists or audiences. If I hear something I like I'm going to try to show my friends by whatever technology I have available; making that illegal doesn't benefit anyone.
Alternately we can tread the careful path toward increased openness and trust. We can build communities where intellectual property rights are respected, but not in a punitive manner: where people create for the sake of creating, not for the reward, but where reward is still possible.
The London Alternative Copyright Choir exists to explore some of the alternative business models available, at least as far as choral music is concerned. Our concert, "Songs of Freedom", will be this Friday, 20th March, at St John on Bethnal Green Church.
Friday, 23 January 2009
London Alternative Copyright Choir
We will be rehearsing on Thursday evenings from 7.30pm to 9.30pm on the following dates:
12th, 19th and 26th February
5th, 12th and 19th March.
Please note: no rehearsal 5th February!
The concert will be on 20th March at 8pm. Rehearsals and the concert are at St. John on Bethnal Green church, conveniently located at Bethnal Green tube station.
The website (still under construction, but it has the important details) is here:
The Google Group is here:
There is a poster which you could print out here:
So: Five Reasons Why You Should Sing With The London Alternative Copyright Choir!
1. It's only a small time commitment
Just one Thursday evening a week for eight weeks, and then a concert. A great way to try out the choir thing without committing to giving up an evening a week for the rest of your mortal life!
2. You will get to meet and spend time with shiny people!
Singing in a choir is a great way to meet new people, and to regularly see old friends.
3. Singing is great!
Singing is fun - and it's good for your well-being and mental health! Breathing to sing is physically relaxing, creating music with other people is one of those things which is amazing in ways that it's hard to put into words. Performing can be a buzz! (And it's legal, and you don't get a hangover).
4. You will get to learn some awesome music!
Purcell! He wrote the first opera in English! He wrote loads of music that was used as incidental music in contemporary productions of Shakespeare's plays! And now you can access his music for free on the internet! How cool is that?
Plus, we'll be doing some new music written specially for the choir. Honestly, there is nothing more exciting than getting to work on new music with the composer for the first performance - and amateur choirs are rarely able to do it, at least partly because commissioning fees are extremely expensive (after all, composers have to eat). We are lucky to be working with composers who believe that there are models which allow them to perform and spread their music differently, so that all sorts of groups have access to new music. Which leads neatly on to the big one:
5. The renegotiation of Intellectual Property Laws is one of the most important socio-political / legal debates of the Internet age.
This is about who has the power to profit from our music, our art, our ideas. This is about how we assign value. Some of you have already seen this debate go past, and already know how relevant it is to you. Some of you work with open source code. Open source music (and other forms of art) will have to work to a slightly different model, which we haven't quite got figured out yet.
Regardless of whether you see this like I do, I invite you to explore the Open Rights Group website, and think about why this is so important in an age when our methods for dissemination of ideas are becoming something new and unforeseen and glorious.
Great! I'm sold! Sign me up!
If you want to take part in the London Alternative Copyright Choir, see the website (still under construction) for more details: http://www.etla.org/krose/lacc/join.html or join the Google group at http://groups.google.co.uk/group/lac-choir
That all sounds amazing, but I don't have the time / don't live in London
There are still loads of ways you can help out!
1) Spread the word, and help us recruit singers! I'm sure you lot know musical geeks in London that aren't likely to be reading this. Let them know! Link to this post or point them at the website.
2) Come to the concert! It will be on the 20th of March, at St John on Bethnal Green, right by Bethnal Green Tube on the Central Line. Tickets will be sold on a 'pay what you think this will be worth' basis on the night, or you can get them in advance for a fiver. Details are on the website.
If you're feeling really enthusiastic, you can help publicise the concert nearer the time.
Monday, 5 January 2009
The week ahead, the year ahead.
I have a lunchtime recital to play in next Wednesday, so most of my practising goals this week are related to making sure I'm in good form for that. This means lots of long, gentle warm-ups, lots of mental study of the pieces I'll be playing and lots of playing through the pieces in their entirety, both to cement my memory and to keep my endurance up. This latter is quite important as I had a few days off playing last week.
The lunchtime recital on 14th January will be at St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road. Repertoire will be:
Dunhill: Cornucopia - Six Miniatures (horn and piano)
Butler: Hunding (unaccompanied horn)
Debussy: two of the Preludes for piano
Beethoven: Sonata Op. 17 (horn and piano)
I also need to get some programme notes sorted out, and make a poster to put up!
Most of tomorrow will be spent in sectional rehearsals for Wind Orchestra (which always reminds me of my teacher in Lethbridge, Dr Tom Staples, saying, "It's a band, folks!"). This band is playing some of the usual Ralph Vaughan-Williams but also Messiaen and some other challenging works.
Other projects I'll be working on this week include some last bits of planning and publicity for my Year 4 Project (I'm still waiting on date confirmation so not announcing anything just yet!), and writing a cadenza for the Gliere concerto which I'll be playing in the Soloists Competition on 25th January. And I want to get things sorted out for teaching a horn scales class again: we had one session last term and it went well, but I can't cover twelve keys (and their relative minors) in two hours and also teach thoroughly, so these need to happen on a weekly basis if they're going to be of any use to anyone.
I've also been offered a serpent. No, not the infamous reptile that once got Eve into a spot of trouble, but the musical instrument. I have been singing with the London Gallery Quire for most of the last term and enjoyed it heartily; now it seems I will be their serpentist. More on this after I actually meet the instrument in question on Wednesday night! I have wanted a serpent for some time, you might even say I have been tempted by them, but before Sunday afternoon I did not get a chance to play one. Now I've played one for probably the better part of 45 minutes.
So, that's the week ahead. I believe it's also traditional, with the new cycle of the arbitrary Gregorian calendar we use to mark time in the West, to think and write of the year ahead.
The year ahead... well, the first half of it is a matter of trying to get this degree finished without too many catastrophes. The second half of it will be the transition from being a good-for-nothing student with hardly any free time to being a good-for-nothing musician with a bit more free time. I think they call it a "portfolio career" these days. For me, that means more teaching, hopefully some of it in schools and some of it privately, and trying to keep some performance (particularly chamber music) going, perhaps with organisations like Live Music Now. It means I'll have time to learn things as and when I'm interested in learning them and have the spare brain cycles, rather than keeping to a set syllabus: I'm very, very glad I ended up at Trinity but I am looking forward to the freedom of dipping into one thing or another at my leisure and pleasure! I'll also be moving house at some point this summer. I cannot keep a serpent and three horns in this flat indefinitely, and I want somewhere that I'll be able to start teaching from home, and preferably a garden too. But really, for now, it's a focus on academic work from now until around June, and after that I'll relax, take some deep breaths, and see what happens.