Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Surviving Concert Season

Singers, especially, seem prone to get ill when we most need to be in good health for performing. There is no direct solution to the problem, afterall getting ill is just something that happens from time to time, but there are ways that you can keep yourself as healthy as possible throughout the busy concert seasons (namely summer and christmas) and these are some of those I have found the most useful and successful:

1. Don't practice too much
Especially if you already have rehearsals that day - do the rehearsal (and a warm up) but don't feel you have to do all that much individual practice that day if you feel you really pushed yourself in a rehearsal. If you push yourself in rehearsals too much, then by the day/s of the concert, you are going to be so tired that the sound will probably be worse than what it would be had you practiced with less focus. Of course, maintain a focus throughout rehearsals, but if you are too tired after rehearsing for long periods of times, then let the conductor know and don't sing to as much of an extent as you usually would, especially if rehearsals are frequent and on a regular basis as they usually are at this busy time of year. It is better to relax now and save your voice, opposed to losing your voice in the long run.

2. Listen opposed to performing
This goes with what I said previously, if you feel you have worked too hard in a rehearsal relax a little and focus more on what is being said, continuing to take notes in your score, observe changes in orchestration and so on. This can also be said of outside of rehearsals. If you want to get the maximum amount of work done outside of rehearsals, for individual practice purposes, try listening to the piece and following your score at the same time - this can be useful for passages you are unsure of and also means not having to continue singing for a longer period of time. If you really must sing outside of rehearsals and performances when you are particularly busy, try to limit it to short amounts of time balanced throughout the day, with plenty of breaks in between to rest.

3. Drink plenty of water
In a heat wave particularly, you are going to need to be hydrated! Take plenty of water to rehearsals with you as well as continuing to drink plenty at home during your individual practice. Also, if you feel the need to clear your throat, opposed to coughing (which causes more harm than good) have a sip of water. This will keep your throat from being sore and will also prevent any damage. You can make water more exciting by trying flavoured waters, or by adding ice. 

4. Get enough sleep
Like with water, sleep is crucial to you being up to the challenge by being in the best health you can possibly be. Obviously you are going to be busy over the next few weeks, but you come before any of those rehearsals, so make sure you are getting at least 8 hours sleep and are eating properly. When you begin missing out on hours of rest and eating, your immune system is rapidly going to deteriorate and you will be more susceptible to illness, particularly small colds, which can be the worst thing during summer rehearsals.

5. Keep a schedule
Being busy is enough on its' own, so make sure you also keep it organised. You can do this by keeping a schedule of everything you need to do, maintaining it in the format of a diary most preferably as this way you will be able to see times and dates in chronological order. Look over any schedules you recieve in advance and compare with your others and your time table before you accept things. This way you can notify others if you have rehearsal clashes and will not be available for specific things. Use your schedule to also make sure you are getting enough rest and so on, it is your best chance of making sure you don't get too stressed. 
6. Don't be afraid to say you're too busy!
Sometimes it is going to be inevitable that you have to say no to performances - especially when things overlap, as it isn't fair on you or others if you miss a large number of rehearsals. Remember that you can not be in a million places at once - and that is ok! No matter how amazing a performance looks or incredible an experience would be, you have to priorities and find out which performances are going to be possible opportunities for you. If you say yes to everything, this is when problems start to arise, clashes begin to become a recurrent thing and you will be so stressed the work you produce will not be of the quality that it usually would be. So don't be afraid to say you are too busy, because out of all of this, you come first!

Good luck!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Update - Grade 8 Singing Exam

So today was the day that I had been anticipating not just most of this year, like the rest of my exams, but for pretty much my entire musical education: My grade 8 vocal exam. And because of this I arrived approximately one hour early, even after getting off the bus at a later stop and walking around for a while. Because I hate being late, I always end up doing that and walking around for a while with nothing to do. The place of the exam wasn't all that far from where I live, but the traffic is something you can never predict, so I figured it better to be early. I was so early that my accompanist hadn't arrived and so I was worrying that she wasn't going to show up!

The place was fairly nice, light and open which was great as an echo-y acoustic is my favourite - it makes reaching the high notes so much easier and at grade 8 the high notes are the highlight of every piece, so it is key to get them right. The examiner too was friendly, and so the atmosphere was not really that of an exam, but more that of one of my old singing lessons. I ran the pieces in order that being:

List A - Ridente La Calma (Mozart)
List B - Now sleeps the crimson petal (Quilter)
List C - Du bist die ruh (Schubert)
List D - Green Finch and Linnet Bird (Sondheim)
Unaccompanied - Amazing Grace

The pieces went fairly well, better than they had in rehearsals, with most things being in their place, particularly for the Schubert which was in time to the best extent it could be (something which shocked me, as this was not the case when I performed it for my AS recordings last year! I wish I had saved it for A2...) After the pieces, it was time for the sight singing element of the exam.

Sight singing was something which I wasn't very good at a year ago, but have improved in a lot throughout my sixth form education, especially due to being part of choirs such as HYC which require sight singing on a regular basis - pretty much every single rehearsal. At first it was tedious to learn such a skill, but I am so thankful and lucky to have it. Without it my education would not have progressed as quickly as it has and I would not have been doing my grade 8 today. The piece was fairly simple - which I wasn't expecting as the piece they gave me for grade 5 was much more difficult. They usually test particular keys, and todays was in 6/8 in the key of F minor - so fairly simple, as long as you focus on the seventh. Catching sight of my surname (Stevenson) He must have chosen the piece on purpose as the libretto was by none other than the writer Robert Louis Stevenson...

After that were the other aural exercises, the first of which was one in which I had to sing the bottom part of a two part melody whilst he played the main melody on the piano. This also was not too difficult, with the time signature being a nice 3/8, though I can't remember the key. The modulation exercises were the most difficult ones, the one where you have to name the chords, the others (one passage major, one minor) were only short and hence marginally easier - I think they went to the subdominant and Dominant keys. The last exercise was my favourite - you have to comment as you wish on a short extract (which is like a page long and you only hear once) It was such a stereotypical piece from the classical period that I couldn't help but smile like a Cheshire cat.

So overall, hopefully, the exam went ok. At least I think so... I have the same feeling about it as I did for my A level exams. So here's hoping. Hope your exams went well too!

Good luck!

Film Music

If the classical composers we talked about previously were alive today, no doubt they would be involved in film music, one of the newest forms of music which is only just over 100 years old, if that. Like jazz, it is something that has evolved with the times. Films do occasionally use classical pieces of old opposed to having neo-classical pieces composed, but it depends on the type of film and what it needs to incorporate in a soundtrack. Soundtracks are equally as important as the acting because it helps evoke the emotion that a director and a composer want to incorporate into a scene, meaning there are often high levels of communication when it comes to working out how to do so. Some of the best film soundtracks and composers to listen to are:

1. Howard Shore - Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit
The music which creates a world so different to the one we are in currently is difficult to define. But Shore has done an excellent job on the Lord of the Rings films. The music is instantly recognisable, suitable to the characters and expressive of their emotions and sounds historically accurate too, with there being a focus on woodwind/pipe music, if you listen carefully. Shore also depicts much of the natural aspect of the setting, adding the believability of much of the story line.

2. Henry Mancini - Breakfast at Tiffanys
For Hollywood at its' finest there is no better place to start, The tracks being smooth, graceful, flowing and lyrical - built to capture that nostalgia that runs throughout the film. Although the original contains acoustic tracks, there are orchestral arrangements of things such as 'moon river' which are spectacular to listen to and allowed music to take on more of a pop music stance than an orchestral in the role of film.

3. Anything by Disney (Literally...)
With composers including Menken and Newman, the music from the golden age of disney is something which goes hand in hand with the golden age of Hollywood. The tracks are some of the most well known, just look at how many people know things such as 'whistle while you work', 'part of your world', 'beauty and the beast' - the list goes on, alongside the background music which is perhaps paid slightly less attention (but not much, there are still regular performances and arrangements of much of it) Disney has a good mix of instrumental and vocal music.

4. John Williams - Harry Potter, Home Alone, Jurassic Park
Little needs to be said when talking about Williams, for his repertoire says it all. Composing for some of the most famous directors and writers of all time, Williams is one of the best known and well loved film composers. Like Shore, he created music which creates a new world for both Jurassic Park and Harry Potter, those themes now being now by many across the world. The signature VII and V7 chords which Williams uses in his music has also been perfect for films set in this world, such as Home Alone, where the music is remniscient, nostalgic and heart warming.

5. Stephen Sondheim - Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods
Although mainly a musical theatre composer, Sondheim worked closely with both Burton and Disney on the adaptations of his musicals in order to achieve a sound both were happy with. In this incident, the composer has become so popular that there has been demand for his music to be made into a film. The result is spectacular, with the orchestra being heard equally as well as the voice in a way which would perhaps not have been all that possible on the stage.

Other film composers whose work is crucial to the development of this genre include Elfman, Zimmer, Shostakovich, Bernstein and Eno - the list is endless.

What's interesting about the Classical era?

The music of this era took a step forward from the Baroque era and began to work with larger orchestras, although chamber ensembles were still very popular for written music. Although music still played a part in the church, many composers were now looking for Patrons, and hence sought out those who could provide money for their compositions and studies. Places such as Vienna. In the parlours and salons of the wealthy, piano duels of sort would take place, with improvisation and virtuosity being valued in performers - a composer had to be both a brilliant creative genius and an expert in his instrument, usually piano or violin (In the case of Mozart, both) However, being a composer was not a full time job, it had to be mixed with different work in order to survive (unlike today) This meant many composers took to requests - the piano was becoming easier to gain access to for middle class families, so many composers would create easy pieces to print + sell, or teach.

Some interesting things to know:

1. When was the Classical period?
Picks up straight where the Baroque period left off in around 1750 until 1850 (although the end of this period is one which is much less clear) Of all the periods of music (there being four main ones) this contains some of the most popular pieces of all time, such as the queen of the night aria and symphony. 1 (Beethoven) the pieces which are still being used today as film music. This time period also contains some of the most famous composers of all time.

2. What are the characteristics of the Classical Period?
If you are doing your grade 6 music theory then you probably know by now that in some questions you are presented with a skeleton score and asked who is most likely to have composed the piece based on its' characteristics. Some of the attributes of the Classical are:
- Simple Harmonic progressions
- Emphasis on melody 
- Phrasing balanced (similar emphasis on this)
- Contrasting ideas for first and second subject (the second usually being more lyrical than the first)
- More use of homophonic texture than the contrapuntal Baroque
- Still some use of figured bass and Counterpoint

3. What type of orchestration was used?
There is usually use of A2 (doubled instruments) where two instruments play the same part in order to make it louder. This was usually the case for the instruments where there were less people involved, such as the woodwind and the brass. For example, two horns might play the same part with occasional splits where they both play different notes, and perhaps move in thirds or sixths (the two most popular progressions) This would be the same for any other instrument playing with a partner, whether it be flute, oboe, or clarinet. The woodwind had much more a focus now in orchestras, particularly due to Mozart. However, although pieces were now in an orchestra much closer to the one we have today, it always depended on the piece - the composer didn't have to write to include a flute or a harp if he didn't want to. Now the main melody was passed around the orchestra, although still led in a homophonic texture by sections such as the woodwind and the strings. The sections were also much more defined now - brass, strings and woodwind, with some percussion.

4. How were the pieces structured?
The symphony, outside short pieces, song cycles and the Baroque styles I mentioned in the previous article, was the most popular of all composition styles. It consisted of four movements, the first of which was usually written in sonata form. Sonata form incorporates three main stages (as the Baroque incorporated dances) which can be added to with forms of subtitles (e.g second subject and first subject, sections of the development, an introduction or a coda to each section) these sections are the Exposition in which most of the main motivic content is introduced, the Development in which these ideas are developed and transformed - explored in new ways and the Recapitulation, which is largely a repeat of the content from the exposition, with some modification which is usually in that the main melody is now in a different section of the orchestra, or an idea has been presented in the format it took in the development section opposed to the format that it contained in the exposition when we first came across it - yet we are usually still able to recognise it. The concerto was also popular during this time, and was usually written for a solo instrument and orchestra.

5. What are some of the best classical pieces to begin with, when listening for the first time?
1. Mozart Symphony 41
2. Beethoven symphony 1, 5 and 9
3. Holst - Mars, the bringer of war
4. Rossini - Barber of Seville
5. Mozart - the Magic flute

6. How did Opera evolve in this time?
Opera retained its comic element and focus on myths and legend for a story line, but now there began to be incorporated more detail, such as an oveture before the opera and an interlude. Operas were much longer, not counting its' sister form, the operetta. Characters were often open to be played by either man or woman, although some parts were more confined in that they were too high or too low. Opera also began to focus more on the element of tragedy now, which is why some of the best arias are often sung on topics of great sadness.

7. Why was the Classical so important, as a period of time, for music?
It allowed the ideas which the Baroque had introduced, as had the medieval style of music, to be developed and pushed to their very limits in order to create new content which was constantly popular. It also coupled the idea of virtuosity with that of being an amateur - everyone wanted to be able to play and compose, much like now everyone does but for reasons usually more in relation to pop or rock music. It also standardised ideas of tuning (now the same as what we have today) and incorporated more places for musicians in orchestras. As a period of time, it gave the most reason to be a musician as it was a relatively interesting job and meant that you could be involved in more than one aspect, opposed to being a Kappellmeister in the Baroque period and being confined to composing only oratorios.

8. How is Classical continuing to be popular today?
The BBC proms which are soon to begin are one of the best places to find out more about the understands of people who have chosen to pursue this area of music as their career. This time period, from the 1800's onwards, is the common practice period you will learn about in university. Some of the leading classical performers are pianists such as Daniel Barenboim (also a conductor) Violinst Tasmin Little and other figures including, Hilary Hahn, Nicola Benedetti, Stephen Hough, Alisa Weilerstein and so on. The list is endless. The best thing about classical music is that it is something which can always be interpreted differently - as all great art can meaning that there is no end to what we are capable of learning from it and of what we can teach others from it.

9. When composing a neo-classical piece based on this style, what are some features to focus on?
Focus on the features previously listed, but also remember that classical pieces are notoriously difficult to compose. Mozart famously said that he never asked any one to write a symphony when asked by someone how to write one. Mozart told this person that he should start with something similar if he found he had to ask about it. The main thing to remember is to have focus on melody, so begin by composing that and then work around it. Make sure to keep your chord progressions. It might be better to start not with a symphony, but perhaps a string quartet in sonata form or a concerto, perhaps for violin and piano reduction score.

10. Who do you think was the most important Classical composer and why?
This is a question that has no answer, not even in my opinion. Although Mozart and Beethoven are both incredible composers in their own right, I think that their material is often so admired that those who composed who were less popular remained less popular. One of my favourite composers from this time period is Schubert, who overlaps like Beethoven into the Romantic period. The best thing is, that all of these composers admired one another and worked on their work bearing in mind that they were pushing the boundaries of their relative counterparts. They were also popular more or less one after another in their life times, and this means that much of their music has survived, opposed to the earlier periods where much less music has been found in its original format and is much more questionable. There is no question when it comes to the sheer amount, and the quality of that amount, which these composers introduced.

Visits to Paris

At New year, I visited Paris with my family and found it such a beautiful place. As a person studying French, I found it really useful to get to know more about the culture and to see the places up close that I had read about only in my history books. Here are some of the things that I found out whilst on my trip:

1. The Eiffel Tower
To be at the top of the Eiffel tower on New year was incredible - like being in a movie. And on the topic of movies, did you know that directors usually film from the second floor of the Eiffel tower opposed to the very top third floor? This is because the top view is so high up that all of Paris and the ground below seems to take on a spherical trait, which is quite overwhelming. This is the view from the top floor:

2.D'orsay (the Orsay Museum)
Walking into here was a little like walking into the museum from that movie, Night at the museum, because there were just hundreds of unusual statues and paintings on display. The museum itself, or gallery if you want to be more specific, used to be a train station originally, but closed and was transformed into its' current state. Some of the most significant paintings here are those of Van Gogh. Per year, there are around 3 million visitors to the gallery, and the queues were huge for many of the attractions, but especially here. The paintings/statues are mixed together, but there is some organisation - symbolism is kept together, classical pieces are kept together, and so on. The symbol of the train station lives on in the huge clock which stands in the centre of the entrance hall.

3. The Louvre
Photographs weren't permitted in here in many places, other than the catacombs, so the photos that I do have are mainly from there and of the outside architecture. To see each of the 35,000 pieces of art contained inside the Louvre, if you took a minute to look at each, it would take you roughly 25 days of none stop looking 24 hours. So we didn't get to see everything... but we got to see a large amount. The glass pyramid where you enter is so warm, because of the sun hitting directly through glass, but the rest of the gallery is largely quite cool. And of course we saw the Mona Lisa - shockingly small as it is, it has its' own wall and rightly so. Seeing the piece is so very different to hearing about it. Some people were so overwhelmed they were crying. Some of the pieces I liked most from here, depicted the gallery itself and showed people from hundreds of years ago planning how to build the place.

4. Cafes 
There was one every couple of foot steps, which meant we were always pretty hydrated. With an allergy, I was surprised how easy it was to communicate (speaking French helped) but there was actually more I could eat in Paris than back here at home, in terms of allergies and what food contains. Plus some of them were really pretty and summery, even in winter, with motorcycles like this one parked in rows at the side.

5. The Pantheon - Visiting Victor Hugo, Rosseau and Marie Curie
Many of the most important figures from French history are buried here. There is something eery about the place - the first floor is beautifully painted and decorated, almost churchlike. But descending down spiral staircases to the crypts is spooky. It was also extremely touching and moving - like with the Mona Lisa, many were weeping, out of awe.

6. The river Seine 
On our first few days, the river was frozen over but just before we left, the water was moving freely enough for us to go on a boat down the river and get to know in more detail about areas of Paris that we saw on our way around. I imagine the best time for this would probably be summer or autumn, but all the same, the river catches the very heart of the city.

 7. The food
Was so delicious, I just have to mention it again! This was the breakfast we were greeted with on our first morning - it looked like a painting!

8. Notredame
After reading the Hunchback of Notredame, this was on the top of my list for places to visit and we visited here first. The architecture, music, candles, everything here, is completely beautiful in a surreal and otherworldly way. For me, this was the highlight of the entire trip - to see the place which Hugo's novel saved.

Bon Voyage!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

What's interesting about the Baroque era?

With a particular style to the sort of pieces composed, the Baroque era is one in which music was largely church based (as this was where the large majority of music was needed, in the forms of a mass or in the form of celebrations) Some of the most well known composers are Vivaldi and Bach, with their pieces including works such as the four seasons, the well tempered Klavier and the cello suites. Of course, there are many other composers and well known pieces from this era in time, so what is so interesting about the Baroque?

Some interesting things to know:

1. When was the Baroque period?
According to most historians, the Baroque began the 16th century and ended in around 1750. The name comes largely from the term used for the architecture and art work that was being created at the time in places such as Rome and Germany. If you look at this, you can see how the music fits slightly together. Churches are often very detailed, but light and open, with art work covering the walls and ceiling. Baroque music is not exactly a period of time however, it is a style/genre of music more than anything.

2. What are characteristics of the Baroque style?
If you are doing your grade 6 music theory then you probably know by now that in some questions you are presented with a skeleton score and asked who is most likely to have composed the piece based on its' characteristics. Some of the attributes of the Baroque are:
- Four part writing for voice/ instruments
- Virtuosic solo writing (largely for instruments such as violin)
- Lots of ornamentation (especially mordents, trills etc.)
- No pedal on the piano (this had not yet evolved - it is linked with the romantic period)
- Religious message (the lyrics are usually prayers or poetry)
- Sequence (especially in Vivaldi and Bach's music)
- Complexity (Music by those such as Scarlatti is notoriously difficult to play + very quick)
- Polyphony (Lots of different melodies working together at the same time)

3. What type of orchestration was used?
Orchestration was usually quite simple - not the large orchestras we use today, nor as experimental. The rules of composing and performing music were as strict as the rules of society which determined dress code and behaviour around one another (from the powdered wigs to the buckled shoes) Orchestration was mainly a chamber set up - usually including strings (which were the most composed for) some woodwind (there was less of a focus here, although still a lot of compositions for solo woodwind instruments) some brass (mainly horns) a harp perhaps and a harpsichord - this usually played basso continue or figured bass, which consisted of a continuous bass line with a melody improvised over it by the pianist. Music usually incorporated small solos or was based around a solo and had strong contrast in dynamics which emphasised how a sequence had changed or modulated in the next passage. 

4. How were pieces structured / what were the main structures for pieces?
There were two main structures with sub-structures coming under these headings, those being concertos which were either for soloist and accompaniment or the concerto grosso which had a lot more tutti writing, or Orchestral suites which were written by those such as Haydn, Purcell and Bach (most popularly) and were split into sections often based on a dance. The fashionable dances were mainly French and German, so the dances are named things such as a gavotte or courante. Each of these dances had specific characteristics also, such as being written in a minor key, or a particular time signature. The concerto grosso and orchestral suites were a large step away from the sonata form that became popular for the symphonies in the classical era, but were a large step towards this structure ever existing. This is evident in the music of those such as Haydn, who was distinctly a classical composer but still composed some of his best works for chamber orchestras/ensembles.

5. What are some of the best pieces of Baroque music to begin with, when listening for the first time?
1. Handel's 'water music' (First performed in England in Oxford)
2. Cello suite no. 1 in G major (Bach)
3. Vivaldi's four seasons (Particularly spring and autumn)
4. Dido and Aeneas - Purcell (this is an opera - see Dido's lament, also known as 'when I am laid in Earth)
5. Handel's Messiah (an oratorio [religious piece of work] particularly the Hallelujah Chorus)

6.  How did Opera evolve during this time?
Opera was quite light hearted and comic, not full of the tragedies it began to recognise in the 1800's. Popular operas were written by those such as Purcell. Opera began in Italy in the 1600's and the first opera house was opened in Venice sometime in the 1630's. Operas at first were based largely on things such as Greek myths and legends (e.g. Orpheus and Eurydice) and so were written with epic scores to match, even if the orchestras were not as large as those of the later eras. The comic element makes Baroque operas some of the most loveable in my opinion, and the arias are so beautifully written that they are a joy to sing. This work is what I like to spend my time over spring and summer doing. 

7. Why was the Baroque so important, as a period in time, for music?
As part of the age of enlightenment, music was becoming more accessible to the people and so it wasn't just written for church, it was written so that people would want to hear it and sing it and perform it, whether it be inside church or outside of it. The structures, orchestration and so on, were all constantly developing, leading into the classical era. The cello was reformed in its role, some of its' most important content being composed in these years, and many instruments were being created in this time too. The instruments then, although similar to the ones we know now, are ancestors and hence different. For example, violins then didn't have a chin rest, and the strings were often made out of animal gut instead of metal, and the tuning of instruments was also different to what it is now. When Baroque music is performed in the present day, pitch and tuning are often adjusted to make a performance more historically accurate.

8. How is Baroque continuing to be popular today?
Figures such as Pablo Casals (1900's) and Yo Yo Ma are cellists, who continue to be popular performers in relation to Bach. Their recordings are some of the most famous, but new recordings are constantly becoming available. There are also performers such as Glenn Gould (Brandenberg concertos) and Cecilia Bartoli (one of my favourite singers) who have captured old music in a way that makes it constantly seem like it was composed just this morning over coffee, or as if it is just something they wanted to get off their mind, as a passing thought. These natural performers are the biggest reason the music is still so popular.

9. When composing a neo-classical piece based on the Baroque, what are features which could be incorporated to make the piece sound more realistic? 
Pay attention to the detail as much as possible, do this by practicing your listening, listening to Baroque pieces and going over and over harmony exercises such as Bach chorales to make sure that your composition will have less mistakes as you go along. Pay attention to the structures and orchestrations noted earlier and also, don't be afraid to put your own thoughts into the music. Baroque in the modern day sounds a lot different to what it used to do, so it is perfectly natural for you to have different ideas on things such as what type of melody to use or what type of instruments. Make what you are composing fitting to both you and the era, not just one.

10. Who do you think was the most influential Baroque composer and why?
I think J. S. Bach was the most influential composer in that he is one of the composers who thought up and created some of the most popular works that I was first introduced to. Plus, his work is so stereotypical of the period that, upon hearing it, I cannot help but associate the era with him in my thoughts. One of my favourite books of all time is called ' the cello suites ' by Eric Siblin and in it Siblin recounts the story of Bach, that as a boy his hands were so tiny he was able to reach into a cupboard to take out the sheetmusic his older brother would not let him borrow. By candle light, he copied it out and then put the original back until one day he had his own copy. He sat down at the piano and began to play, causing his brother to be so angry that he took the music away. No one knows if the story is true, it has been so long that stories have been altered and details lost - little is known for sure on Bach and this intrigue is one of the things which makes him so interesting a character, alongside claims that some of his most popular works (such as the  C major prelude from the well tempered Klavier) were composed by his wife. But the passion for performing, learning and composition that the story of the secret music shows is something which makes his music, to me, some of the most important. It has a lot that we can learn from as both performers and people.

Happy listening!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Life at University - Allergies

Having allergies can be a real pain, especially when you are away from home for the first time - at least that's how I have always felt when travelling. It makes things slightly more difficult when away from home for a few days, for a few weeks, so the next few years are something that so far seem unimaginably different - having an allergy alone is going to be very different to being in a house where the allergy is just something we work around. Obviously there are different allergies and different levels to which those allergies exist. With me, I have a fairly bad anaphylactic allergy to peanuts, whilst I am also mildly allergic to tuna (and un-food related, paracetamol) which means that I swell up to the size of a balloon roughly two seconds after a bit of peanut the size of a full stop has so much has touched my tongue. It also makes me quite sick just to be near someone who is eating anything with peanuts in, such as M and M's. But having an allergy, although difficult in itself, can be made easier - you just have to get used to living with it. I had my first allergic reaction on new years eve when I was 5 - so I have had my whole life to get used to adjusting to it. These are some things that might help if, like me, you are moving away from home for the first time and need a little help on getting to used to living in a new place and handling the allergy you have:

1. Continuing to check foods
Although by now you probably have a number of foods or brands which you eat on a regular basis, continue to check the packaging when you go shopping. If your parents have previously been the people checking foods, then they probably did this too. Packaging is always changing, so keep looking over to make sure things are alright. If they start making a new brand, the ingredients being handled in a factory could change and this might affect you. Supermarkets usually offer a list of the foods they stock which are suited to that dietary requirement. These are really handy to have, so don't be afraid to ask.

2. Check foods before you eat them in public (buffets) 
Checking food when out is also important. Sometimes, something might seem harmless but could be made in the same oil as something else. The chef of a restaurant is usually pretty sure on what they are recommending, but if you know the place in advance double check. And if you have never been to a place before, it might be a good idea to get in touch with them or check their website to find out more about the type of food they serve. Like I said previously, don't be afraid to ask about what is going to be in the food you are eating - there is no reason to feel uncomfortable, although it can feel odd if the allergy is something you have only just discovered and are trying to get used to.

3. Label the food you have in your flat
If there are particular foods you have got where you live that you don't want any one else to touch, make sure that you either label them with an explanation or tell your room mates clearly that it is dangerous for you to share particular foods and that you need your space in this element. It might sound weird, but it is something that can really make a difference, particularly in your level of comfort when it comes to eating around others which can be difficult enough without the need of being suspicious that there is something wrong with what you are eating. This shouldn't be too much of a problem with frozen foods.

4. Carry your epi-pen at all times
This one is probably speaking the obvious, but always always always try and have your epi pen around. If something goes wrong you are going to need this straight away, or the swelling could get to a point which will suffocate you before an ambulance can arrive. Keep a regular update on whether these are in date (there is usually a date on the box, or the solution appears discoloured) If you don't want to carry them in the prescribed box, there are now plastic tubes available to keep them in so that they are easier to transport. Usually I keep several where ever I am living and carry one with me at all times.You can get new epi pens when you need them if you are registered with a doctor who knows your situation and can prescribe them.

5. Emergency bracelets
These are actually really handy and subtle. It is a bracelet you can order with a dog tag of sorts which you can put your name, allergy and emergency contact onto. The tags are replaceable and fairly cheap, with the bracelets available in all different kinds so that there are options for all ages and it can be something that doesn't necessarily get commented on all the time. It might not sound like much, but it could be a life saver if you are found unconscious due to a reaction and have no identification papers. 

6. Register with a Doctor in the area
Like with carrying an epi-pen, register with a doctor near where you live. Even if you live relatively near to your old doctor, if there is an emergency of any kind and you need to go to the doctors or hospital, you need to get transported to the nearest one. This will also make getting your epi-pens renewed much easier during term time if you are away from home.

7. Also carry prescribed piriton
With your epi-pen you will be prescribed with that allergy medication Piriton, which is used with many allergies, including hay fever and nut allergies. If you have a mild reaction, then this can help relieve the symptoms without having to use the epi-pen, which should only be used if the reaction is causing serious symptoms such as swelling, particularly in areas such as the throat, which might make it difficult to breathe. Piriton is equally as important as your epi pen, and is much easier to transport. The prescription tag with your name on will also be attached to this, making it easier to carry when travelling, especially in airports where everything needs authentication/ID.

8. Take your own food/ the packed lunch option
When travelling, try to take some of your own food, this can be useful if you know you are going out to dinner with friends to a place where you can't eat the food. If you make up a meal to take with you, then you are able to eat with everyone else without having to worry.

9. Explain to your room mates the situation
As mentioned previously in 3, talk to your room mates as soon as you can to let them know the whole situation and how serious it is. Usually, people are really understanding and helpful with the situation and can be really supportive. Also inform them of your emergency medication, just in case you should never need their help, and perhaps keep your emergency contacts in a place where they are accessible.

10. Stay aware + training lessons
Even if you think you know everything there is to know about the allergy/allergies and how to use your medication, there is no harm in going to a training lesson once in a while - these are usually held on a regular basis for staff and there are sure to be lots of people with allergies around your university just like you. So stay aware of the situation and everything should be fine and go according to plan. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Getting to know your area (Oxford)

When considering university and where to go, as a singer, if you aren't interested in conservatoires then there is always the option of continuing your singing by auditioning for a choral scholarship. Many universities offer this, and some of the most popular and competitive are those of Oxford and Cambridge. When visiting Oxford, it amazed me how beautiful a place it was both in the work it produced and in the surroundings. Some of the things I found most interesting on my trip, as a prospective student at the time, were:

1. Christchurch Cathedral
The choirs here are mostly based around the traditional repertoire that you would hear in a similar situation a hundred years ago easily. The whole place has a grand air about it, one that you imagine long before you actually get there. The harmony we heard was not only amazing but benefited by a fitting acoustic. The organ there too, it is one of the best to listen to if you want to hear something that will leave you with goose bumps. The gothic architecture combined with this makes it an experience you will not soon forget.

2. The lectures (Merton)
As part of our visit, we really got to see what the life of an Oxford student is like. There weren't many music students, but we did get meet some of those studying English who told us a little more on things like choral scholarships. For lectures you could either stay at Merton and hear about things more art/language based or go and study sciences in another building. The lecture room we were in was so open - there were windows everywhere and the walls were bright green like the trees we could see, so it felt like being outside. The lecture was only heightened in its' interest/content levels by the free biscuit factor - of course I'm joking! The lectures covered many different things, one of my favourites was on riddles in language and how people who study English as a second language cannot entirely understand the jokes and slang the first time they read texts such as Pride and Prejudice. It was surprising to find that students studying business also had such a broad musical knowledge - one of the business students was actually on a gap year, but still came in to do lectures such as the one we heard, and he played cello. It is enlightening to hear what such talented young people have to say and its kind of jaw dropping too, to discover how quickly you can retain so much information.

3. Blackwell's
There's one pretty much everywhere, as with all book shops, but here every area of literature has its own three floor shop! I'm not kidding... there is literally a street of Blackwell shops my favourite being the music of course. After nearly buying ten different Mozart scores and realising even one would be too heavy to carry round all day, I ended up buying a Mozart/Vivaldi duck who now lives on my desk.

4. The Great Hall (Christchurch) 
Another place that leaves you awestruck is here - especially when you are part of the privileged group who get to sit at the head of the hall at the table where figures such as the queen and staff of course, sit but students usually are not permitted. There were huge paintings of figures from Charles Dodgson to Henry VIII, and we were able to admire all of this over tea (what other beverage?) There is also hidden panel and stair case which descends so drastically that it inspired the rabbit hole in Alice in wonderland.

5. Exhibition on music notation
This was in the Christchurch library, and showed some ancient texts with the first music notation ever thought of. It is odd to see such squiggles transformed now into neat minims and semiquavers. It was also weirdly sentimental to see the things you have been studying in the beginning before things got too harmonically difficult. This is something that was particularly special to me. The exhibition was held in the old part of the library (there is a newer part as well as an art gallery of sorts) In the photo I have attached, you can see the plaster casts of scientific instruments and musical instruments combined to show the link between the two. These were placed around the old library, which had rows of books so tall that you need a ladder to reach the vast majority.

6. The opportunity to read books older than my parents
We were lucky enough to be shown around the colleges in Oxford by Professor Chapman, who went to the same highschool as me, back when it went by a different name many years ago. Not only did he have a profound knowledge of history and languages, but he also had an extensive collection of books such as the one below. This book is written in both Latin and Greek and is over 200 years old and there was what looked like a tear through the page. He explained to us that this was not actually a tear but a burn - the ink used to write someones name on the page was so acidic that, like many texts over time, the ink has burnt through the page. This book is also bound in a substance made from dried pig skin, I think, which is revolting, but how things used to be bound before things such as plastics were widely available.

7. The Transport
Tour buses aside, there is nothing lovelier than a place which still values the bicycle. It is so much prettier than the cars stuck in a traffic jam. I have literally around 50 pictures of bicycles for no apparent reason, other than it made me happy to see so many people valuing them.

8. The influence on Alice in Wonderland (one of my favourite books)
I mentioned previously the stairwell which inspired Alice's descent down the rabbit hole, but Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) studied theology and maths at Christchurch and we got to see many of the places which inspired him, including a pub where he, Milne (who wrote Winnie the Pooh) and Tolkien (Lord of the rings) used to meet up and discuss their work together. His portrait also hangs with all the others greats in the great hall.

9. The Harry Potter references 
Look familiar?

10. The museums
There is so much you can learn at Oxford, whether you are visiting or are a student, so make the most of it while you are there. The museums pop up every where, whether it be in the format of a library, part of one of the colleges or on topics such as maths and science - you can even see a chalk board written on by Einstein when he visited England.

Happy Travelling!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Getting to know your area (London)

This is the second place I have looked at a little in terms of university, other than places such as Manchester and Leeds. London is such a fascinating place, full of history, so when I went for auditions there last December, I made sure to check out all the tourist type things that seem as much part of Freshers week as getting to know people.

1. St. Paul's cathedral 
By far one of the best acoustics you will ever hear - this is choral music at it's finest and one of the things I was most excited to see in reality upon arriving, despite being exhausted from the drive which ended up being nearly six hours (straight from school...) The summer school, or rather winter school, which was going on at the time produced such a beautiful sound, which went perfectly with the artwork and architecture that make up such a grand building. Stepping inside places like this always makes me feel as though I have gone back so many years in history, and that is always a sign of promise.

2. The monument to the great fire of London 
This was something I had learnt about in primary school and then read about recently from those anniversary books Penguin published, one of which contained extracts from the diary of Pepys, who recorded the great fire of London. Both a haunting tale and one we can learn from, this is an event which is one of London's most famous and one which as a new Londoner, it may be good to visit and respect.

3. Experience the underground
Transport is important, and in London it is also probably the busiest place during rush hour that you are ever going to see. Getting to grips with transport is something which you need to adjust to and as quickly as possible, before the crowds start to get too big. One of the most popular ways of transport is the Underground - don't be too daunted, but also try to go with someone who knows their way around the city the first time, so that you don't get too lost.

4. The London Eye
Like the Manchester Wheel, what better way to see the city than from a birds eye view? Not the best place to go if you are scared of heights, but wonderful nevertheless. It can be a little surreal to see how big the city is and how it sprawls so much like a map and yet nothing like one. This may also be better to book tickets for online, as usually the queues are relatively long.

5. The Houses of Parliament
With a reputation that precedes it, you can be a politics fan or just an architecture fan for this to be something you'll enjoy. It is also an area that has so much British history behind it's walls if you care to learn more about that aspect of London.

6. Big Ben
The ever ongoing debate of whether the name refers to the bell inside the tower, the tower itself or both, is something which belongs to this tall clock tower. Significant to all events, this is the place where the British mark the new year all across the UK (whether by physical presence or a cable connection)

7. The Household Cavalry Museum
To match the tourist element given by both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, here you can learn more about the Horse Guards and more on the Queens Guard.

8. Royal Festival Hall
Here you can witness performers at their best, whether they be orchestras or soloists - see what tickets are available and grab a seat for a performance that suits you, whether it be classical, pop or music premiering for the first time.

9. Novelty Movie Statues 
Need I say more?

10. Guildhall School of Music and Drama 
And finally, Guildhall is not only a great place to study but also a provider of some of the best lunchtime entertainment you will come across. Lunchtime concerts are a great chance to hear something new, or to maybe gain access to music you wouldn't usually listen to. So if you want something new, there is no better place to start, musically speaking. Also try the other music colleges, such as the Royal College, around London.

Happy Travelling!

Another general update

The end of June and the rest of July is going to be particularly busy for me - this is both good and bad. Good because it means that I have lots to share with you and talk about, lots to experience (and that is never a bad thing) But there is bad in that it might mean my posts are not as frequent - though hopefully this will not happen if there is WiFi/internet connection where I am going. If not, then there be times when there is more to read than at others - hopefully this will provide something of interest.

This time of year is always particularly busy for me as a performer. As it is my last year of sixth form, it is also a year which is full of a lot of lasts - saying goodbye to people I have worked with a lot over a lot of my education. It marks the end of an era in that now I am on my way to being more than just a student who studies music as hobby and in their free time, to being a student who studies music all the time - and as exciting as that is, part of me is putting on the rose coloured spectacles which make you start to miss things you never thought you would, like the maths classes you never enjoyed, or the sports days which you tried to avoid. All the same, many of the concerts I am in (although lasts) have super exciting content. One concert is my last with college, which features the Jungle Book (a film I have only recently encountered!!) and another takes up the whole weekend and features more difficult things, like Mars from the planets and Night on a bare/bald mountain (Mussorgsky) Then of course there is the tour with the Halle Youth Choir, which I am very excited to tell you more about as it draws nearer the time, and then a friend is visiting from Austria for a few weeks and we are even going to visit Ireland at some point, where I have never been before.

All these opportunities have made me start to look back at the things I have already, things I have achieved or maybe just experience in my day to day life that won't be the same forever. Things like going for walks with my family and the dogs, the important things that create memories of evenings that look like this:

Being grateful for these things is something I am trying to be
a lot more at the moment, because sometimes I don't feel
I make enough of the simpler things around me and those are
the things I know I am most going to miss.

On a lighter and brighter note (sorry for my rather nostalgic monologue/soliloquy there) my grade 8 vocal exam is coming up - this one I am so excited to finally do. How odd... excited for an exam! It doesn't seem something humanly possible! But now that the other exams are over, it is something I can focus on completely. I had a rehearsal a few days ago with the accompanist, and it went much better than I originally thought it would - particularly with stuff like the Sondheim and the Mozart - two pieces I thought were going to be much harder to put together from an ensemble perspective, but ended up not taking up all that much time at all. The exam is at the beginning of The Busiest Week of the Year (aka next week) but I have no clue when those exam results will get back to me - but here's hoping all goes well as long as I keep practicing and going over the translations.

If there is content you want to hear more about from me, please do feel free to let me know - afterall, I am here to try and help as much as possible, as well as to tell you about my experiences (which you might find useful too) If you do like the content you read here, blogger of the year will soon be upon us and I would really appreciate if you took the time to vote for me. If you would like to do so, you can do so here:
And if you provide your email address, you could be in with a chance of winning some shopping vouchers, which I'm sure will come in useful over the summer (books to read, films to watch)

Talk to you all soon!


Finding the right singing teacher

This is something that I have gone through on a regular basis throughout much of my existence and it can be rather tiring and time consuming. Firstly, because there are so many teachers and it takes a lot of time to research and make a short list and secondly because you want a teacher who is right for you, but you don't want to end up with a teacher who isn't right for you just because you didn't want to let them down. These are ten things I consider when looking for a good singing teacher:

1. Clarity in communication
The first and most important thing that I have found is to have a teacher who is clear without being condescending - someone who is able to express their exact idea when describing what it is they want you to do and how you can go about doing it. Whether this be a warm exercise or the trill at the end of green finch and linnet bird, you want to be able to be precise in your work and have a teacher who can help you fix those details by being as clear as possible in their outlining of what it is you need to do. As for the whole condescending thing, it is pretty difficult to learn with and from someone if you feel they are talking down to you too much - you should feel like you are on even footing, even if there are things you don't know. There should definitely be equal respect, and they should not make you feel uncomfortable for things such as your manner of expression.

2. How Observant are they?
This is linked to, and part of, many of the other features. It is most evident when after you have performed a piece, as this is when a teacher will have the opportunity to comment on what they thought needed work. Look at how much depth they were able to go into with the piece, especially if it is one they have not really heard much of before, and ask them to perhaps bar numbers. This is a test of attentiveness at times. You want them to be learning as much as you are, to the point where your learning can perhaps even benefit one another and lead to better quality work on both of your behalves throughout your lessons.

3. Efficiency 
What did you get done in that lesson? How much of it did you spend talking or discussing things and if so, what did you end up talking about? Obviously quality of a lesson comes over quantity, but the work you are doing should be moving some where - even if it is a piece that takes time. You want to be getting done the work you planned for a lesson and you want a teacher who can see your potential and hence push you to what you are capable of every lesson you have.

4. Organisation 
Not the most important skill in the world, but it is useful. What I mean does not only branch off into the field of sheet music filing, but also into the more important aspect of communication (email, phone, etc) being able to let you know when lessons might be cancelled, Keeping a clear record of your payments, having emergency contact numbers, and so on. In addition to those necessities which you want your teacher to have as near to hand as possible at all times, your teacher should organise lessons, or help you to organise them, to maximise their efficiency. If they don't suggest it, you yourself could state that you would like to keep a practice diary of what you do each lesson and ask them to help you structure each lesson so that pieces get clear work and amounts of time. Some teachers will do this without having to be asked, but others find it easier to ask you to find work, especially as you are getting older, and to work through much of it individually before class, and then they will be able to help you work on things in detail. Either way, have an idea of what you want lessons to contain each time you have one, especially if they are not as frequent as they could be, so that you get through the work you want to get through and can progress at a quicker rate.

5. Knowledge and ability
If you are above grade five standard and the teacher is only capable of teaching up to grade five, not that there is anything wrong with that, it is better to find a more specialist teacher for the area you are considering pursuing. Teachers in high-schools tend to go up to this grade 5 standard and have general knowledge of most types of music, as a high-school environment is one where students have a diverse interest in what they want to do (pop, jazz, musical theatre, rock) and so if you want a more specialist teacher, look for students at your local university offering teaching who are studying classical (if you want classical) or even private tutors in your area. A specialist teacher is useful in many ways, particularly in that they have usually taken a path similar to the one you have chosen, and also in that they can suggest material which they think might work well for you.

6. Voice type
Do you want a teacher with the same vocal type as you, or a different vocal type? Both can be useful to have as teachers because they can provide with you completely different perspectives being from different sides on the singing spectrum (a metaphor so to speak) If you are in sixth form, it is more likely that the teachers will be mixed, so you will get an opportunity to work with many vocal types (perhaps, as not all are the same) If you have a teacher of the same voice type, they have probably had similar experience and can recommend pieces they may have done for auditions at your age. If you want to experiment with your voice, you could try pieces that are transposed from one voice type to another.

7. Experience
Do you want a teacher who has been a performer or someone who has little performance experience, but is perhaps a student in teaching? Teachers are of all ages, students or those with doctorates, so this is something you will probably encounter as part of your choosing process. This does not necessarily affect your teaching completely, but it important when considering the fact that your teacher may be able to help you become part of youth music groups (if a student at a conservatoire) or may know more about your chosen career path (especially if they were part of an opera company you may want to be part of) Some teachers have also been teaching longer than others, and this can add to many of the factors and their quality from this list (though keep an open mind, as this is not always necessary)

8. Distance
How near to your home/ school are they and will this affect how often you can have lessons? If lessons are in school, you can try to get them once a week, for either an hour or half an hour meaning you will be able to get there fairly easily. Likewise if lessons take place on a weekend fairly near to where you live. Bear in mind that if you live in Manchester and you get vocal lessons in London, this will mean you cannot necessarily have lessons all that often. If you do want lessons so far away, I recommend finding two vocal teachers - one who is near to where you are and who can reach maybe every two weeks and a teacher further away for a longer amount time maybe once a month. This all adds to the overall cost - and singing lessons alone are never cheap.

9. Cost (including distance)
See prior - find a singing teacher and one who you can see on a regular basis, by making sure that all ground is covered including cost. The quality of the teacher should come first, but in many scenarios, you may not be able to afford this teachers tuition as often as you might like. So it is important to find lessons which you will not struggle to pay for on a regular basis, or to find lessons where there is scholarship/bursary (etc) which may be able to help you in your education.

10. Are they a teacher/performer/person in general, you would aspire to be like?
As important as all of these factors are, the decision is up to you. Find some one who you feel will help you achieve whatever it is you want to succeed in or feel that you could achieve with their tutelage. At the end of the day, it will be you putting in all the hours, time, practice, and they are only there for a small portion of it - so you need their advice to be useful. My advice is to go with your gut instinct as much as possible - if you find a teacher with a good record, and many of the things you are looking for, but not necessarily everything from this list, then try a lesson with them. You'll never know until you start work, so it is best to try and begin what it is you want to study as soon as possible.

All the best of luck!

Monday, 22 June 2015

The value of masterclasses

There are all kinds of masterclasses offered throughout the UK across the year, mainly the academic. Although the majority are usually targetted at specific audiences, such as university students, there are usually masterclasses which offer some audience, particularly if the performer involved is fairly popular. With the new academic year almost upon us, it seemed worthwhile discussing why masterclasses are such a unique and exciting experience to have:

1. Performance
If there is a piece you haven't got to perform in a while or have never performed and you get involved in a masterclass, then you will have experience to perform in front of your peers and get used to performing this piece on stage. This is especially useful in terms of expression - if you feel you haven't got to grips with a character you are performing as, say Despina from Cosi fan tutte, then performing on stage can give you the adrenaline and encouragement you need to really perform as the character and bring out aspects of their personality which the piece highlights. For instrumentalists, try not to be dragged into the music stand - look away from the dots and up at the audience or the leader/lecturer. Performing is more than just playing and this is especially evident in a more intimidating environment, such as a masterclass with a performer you may look up to. More performance experience, especially if you feel you need more confidence and practice as a performer, is never a bad thing and should hence be welcomed.

2. Ensemble skills 
The environment in which a masterclass takes place usually leaves the performer and accompanist on stage with the person leading the masterclass, or with the leader sitting quite close to the staged space. This means that there is a real need for communication between the performer and, usually, the pianist. This is particularly evident in more difficult passages where the accompaniment may be of a more complex pattern and the performer needs to focus more, or if there is a pause which the performer is leading and needs to lead the accompanist through (e.g. if there is a bar of rest before the music continues) After you are able to express the character of a piece properly, try and connect with the accompanist/s to add a sense of together-ness a successful piece needs. 

3. In depth perspective of a piece
Listening to other people go through their pieces as well as listening to the advice given on your own, means that many pieces are only heard all the way through once and then the rest of the time is used to break down the piece into different segments where special attention is shown towards many phrases. This allows technique to be explored in more detail and can make the difference between something be ok to listen to and exceptional to listen to. Going bar by bar can be dreary, but don't let it be. Masterclasses encourage the practice of extreme detail and it is this which can lead to a piece being something which is much easier to perform - by making detail a habit, it is something that will occur naturally under pressure and make mistakes less likely.

4. The view of your peers
Other people will be able to watch the masterclass, many of those in the audience will be participants in the same situation as yourself and will probably be just as nervous to get on stage and perform. After you have performed and at the end of your part in the class, there will probably be questions and comments on your performance or on the advice given towards it. This can allow you to think about answering others questions and hence answering your own - a valuable skill to possess. If you are able to judge your performance and recommend not only yourself but others, you are beginning to recognise good and bad habits. And also bear in mind that your peers are your competitors in a way, as well as your class mates - from them you can learn as much as you can teach them, which is something worthwhile remembering.

5. The view of the leader of the masterclass / the main performer 
Having the knowledge of an experienced, successful or popular musician from your field can be one of the most life changing things as well as one of the most useful. Not all musicians are great teachers, but by learning more on how they would perform a piece and taking to heart what their approach would be can result in you being able to recognise when they are giving useful advice on technique or practice ideas that might suit you (e.g. translating text after you have sight read a piece for the first time, or finding more valuable resources for pronunciation) It is also an excellent way to build discussion - if you don't agree with some advice they have given you then tell them so, you want to sound like you not be echoing the voices and styles of someone else, no matter how great they be. If you let them know your opinion, you can build successful advice on the piece together. This is more beneficial than agreeing with every piece of advice given, especially if you do not feel it is going to benefit you or the piece individually.

6. Notes on other pieces
Being in an environment of mixed performers, which is true whether you are in a room with people of the same field (most likely) or not, will introduce you to thousands of different performance techniques, expressions and ideas. It also means you get to hear their interpretations of other pieces, pieces you may or may not have heard. Having notes on such performances can be useful reference for your future education and classes, so it is useful to ask questions of both the performer and lead musician and make note of them for a later date. As previously mentioned, these classes are as much about you learning from others as they are about you learning from a person individually. Masterclasses are popular because they are a shared experience - one where it is possible to take turns being in the lime light. Learning through another person can be a bit of break if you have only ever been learning through your own capabilities.

7. Hearing new repertoire
As said in 6, having notes on pieces you might consider performing is useful for your future education. But in this environment there are likely to be pieces you enjoy but have never considered or heard of before. Masterclasses can be eyeopening in that they allow you to do research without really leaving your seat. A wealth of material from lots of people is a library that all of you can make use of and refer to, particularly if there is something a piece you begin to recognise throughout the class that you hadn't really thought about before that makes you want to try something similar. If you don't know where to look for new material, a place of shared material can be a good place to start, especially if it is a place where said material will be observed in great amounts of detail.

8. Getting to know the style of your peers
Because at university/ a conservatoire you are expected to work in some form of ensemble, or you may just want to put together a small group of performers such as a chamber choir, it is important to know what type of performer you are looking for in particular and also to perhaps know where to start looking for people who are interested in a similar style or know how to perform well in a certain style. By observing peers in masterclasses, you give yourself the advantage of getting to know people and their voice/instruments in a way you might not in other classes. It is also easy to approach other people who are going through the same experience, opposed to not knowing some one and wanting to approach them about performance opportunity. 

9. Comparing your own performance
You can learn as much from others as they can learn from you. By comparing your performance, you may learn more on your own technique and style from how another person develops and is educated in the performance they have given. It will also reveal things that you do well, alongside those you do badly, by showing such similar traits in others and perhaps providing the advice for you, as well as they, to deal with such traits.

10. A challenge
Masterclasses can be a scary place in how intimidating they are, but once you get into the habit of performing and listening and developing opinions on all of the previous, the experience will be much more of an enjoyable, useful and exciting one. The point of the classes are to challenge you to rise to what you are capable of in a competitive atmosphere, as well as encouraging you to develop individually and take something from the experience which will continue to challenge you; which will encourage you to continue to make progress and grow in your capabilities as a performer.

Happy performing!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Getting ready to go to University

Now that the summer is upon us, time is already running out before results day and essentially going to university itself. And during that time, there are tasks I need to undertake, as do many of you, before I move out. That list is built up of many things, such as:

1. Getting a checklist of things I need to remember
Writing this has meant having to prioritise, otherwise I will end up showing up far from home without the necessary things such as clean towels and a tooth brush etc. This list will be different for each of us, other than basic necessities, as each place of residence will inform you of the things you need to take. Unite students (the ones who deal with a lot of the accommodation issues and provide the help lines) also provide the option of things such as extra packages - you can arrange to have clean bedding provided for you, or kitchen things left for you before you arrive (of course, these supplies are new and it means taking less with you, but it will cost you more) Also remember to take some groceries with you for when you arrive - the first few days you're there will be difficult enough without having a million other small tasks to manage.

2. Doing the reading and listening
If your college has provided you with a list of the work they would like you to show up having done in September, it is better that you try and acquire the said resources and do this work gradually over the summer so that you have some background knowledge of different aspects of the course so that many classes will not be too overwhelming. In terms of resources, the central library or local library should have many of the books you will need and if not, can acquire them by ordering them from elsewhere. But just like ordering these books offline, it takes time for them to arrive and considering how long many of the books are, it is better to order/acquire them as soon as you can so that you can retain the most information possible from the texts you are reading.

3. Sorting through old things
This links closely with 1. Like I said there, you need to prioritise with the things you are taking. Bear in mind, you will have a small space in the shared kitchen and your own room, which is unlikely to be the same amount of space that you had at home purely to there being so many people. So use what time you have to sort through your old things and get rid of the things that you don't need any more. You could split your old things, which you don't wish to keep, into categories such as things to throw away and things to donate to charity. Be logical when sorting through old things and remember that they aren't built to last forever - this will help you overcome that sentimental aspect of your mind that wants you to keep everything.

4. Be organised
All of the above are separate categories but are connected in that they need organising, structuring much like an essay plan. Being organised means you need to know the stages to each thing you intend to do: it is no good trying to pack all of your things without a suitcase, so the first thing that you need to do is make sure you get a suitcase. Such things might seem obvious, but it is surprising how rushing about doing so many things at once can get in the way of your usually logical thoughts.

5. Get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet
Stay as healthy as possible to keep your strength up - I think we are all going to need it! Not only is the work going to be much more difficult than it has been prior but it is also a new environment, one away from home, meaning that there is emotional preparation too. No matter how excited all of us are, moving away from home is something new that will take time to become accustomed to and as a result it is likely we are all going to feel a little overwhelmed, sad or nostalgic for our old places of education and for home. It is going to take a while to get used to the new situation, which is why it is much better to be prepared opposed to jumping in at the deep end.

6. Budget management
This is something you are going to have to do all year, but the first few weeks (pre - fresher's and fresher's week itself) are probably going to be the most expensive out of all the weeks of the year, purely because there are so many activities set up for socialising that it is easy to get carried away and sign up for too much and then end up spending too much as a result. So try if possible to keep a budget - this will maybe limit you to how many events you can go to and what type of activities you can do, but your future self can only be grateful if you end up being able to save a little money which can later help out with things such as food supplies, or maybe pay for a train home at some stage. On that note, most universities offer deals (on several events together) or wrist bands for Fresher's week, which will allow you to pay less and still be able to go to something, or allow you access to pretty much everything. This is something you should look into nearer the time, as things such as this, extra work and move in days are usually sent via the post or email after your exam results have been received and it is definite that you are going.

7. Student finance
In relation to your accommodation, the majority of this should be sorted out in advance (other than a definite move in day) And it is better if it is sorted out before you get there because that way, you will be less stressed out about the whole situation. There are different methods of paying for your accommodation which includes paying in instalments (whether it be 4 or 9) so think about how you are going to be managing your finance before you write down and inform the place of residence with this information. They will provide you with a list of payments which you will then have to pay on particular dates. If a date is before you move in, such as at the end of August (you will usually move in early - mid September) and it is unlikely that your student finance will already be in your bank account by this time (they usually require you to have had some evidence of attendance before they pay into your bank account). Hence, it is better to try and have the money for your first payment already in your bank account ready for the first payment, particularly as the first is generally the cheapest of the instalments.

8. Transport for getting there (on the day) / help
Make sure that you are able to manage alone before you arrange to actually go alone (if this is something that you want to do) This means both literally and in a sense of, is this something you want to do on your own? If you have a lot of boxes, suitcases (and so on) you will be probably struggle on your own so try to find someone who can go with you, such as a parent or a friend. And look for the best manner of transport to do this - carrying a lot of boxes on the train is probably not the best manner of getting to your new university. Opt not necessarily for the cheaper option this first time but for the most practical way.

9. Transport on a regular basis
If you need transport to your college/university on a regular basis, look at the offers for different transport and decide which is best for you. Many bus services offer week long offers or month long offers for different prices, so there is sure to be a bus service, or bus services, which get you relatively near to college and provide a reasonable offer in relation to money that will suit you. If the college isn't too far from where you are living (e.g. halls of residence) then this is probably not that much of an issue (you can always walk) There are also options which keep you and the environment healthy - namely cycling, which lots of people are choosing to do at the moment. If you do choose to cycle, make sure that you keep your bicycle in reasonable shape and know the rules of roads etc - this will avoid trouble in the long run.

10. When to go home/ how much is this going to cost?
One of the biggest things that students want to think about before they live is how far away they are going and how this is going to affect not only where they are staying but how often it means that they can go home or meet up with their family. Again, bus tickets and train tickets usually have offers, if going home at the weekend is something you want to do. But bear in mind time also - is it worth travelling a long way home to stay for a few hours, only to have to travel twice as long back to university? Of course you will miss your family and friends, but you also have to be practical. If going home every weekend is not an option, you can always email, Skype, etc. You could maybe aim to go home at the half term or occasional holidays, this way you will have several weeks at home with your family before you have to travel back, making it much more worthwhile a journey, especially if being at home for a short time only makes you more home sick.

This list obviously does not cover everything, and something need to have a little more detail in their summaries, so I will try to talk more about these things in the future after results days have been, because obviously they affect all of this and will have an impact on everything. However, I hope that this has been useful in what preparation that you can do now before results day, and may we all have the best of luck in our results at the beginning of August. I'm sure the hard work we have put in is going to pay off!

Hope you're all having a good summer!