Friday, 31 July 2015

Update: the third day of tour

This morning it was a relief to wake up from a good nights sleep instead of an hour. Upon getting up, it struck me that today is the last day of Halle tour for the year and this is overwhelmingly sad as it is happy a thing. So many adventures in so little time. 

After breakfast, we gathered our things and went to catch the tube - something Id never done before and was quite intimidated by - mainly by how quickly doors open/shut and those huge escalators that make you go dizzy because of how tall they go. There was also a strong fear of losing my travel ticket but it stuck with me in the end so all was well. 

We got the underground to a church where we were performing. Only small, but the acoustic was incredible. It reminded me a lot of a church we performed in in Manchester a while ago, one right on the outskirts and hence fairly small but still beautifully designed and crafted. 

After rehearsals, of our repertoire from the past 10 months, we left our things and went for a walk to see the national gallery - a place I missed out on on my last trip to London and was hence really glad to see today. 

The gallery itself was much too big to see all of in the little time we had, so me and my group of friends (who are all some of the best people you will ever meet) went for our favourites. They like the impressionists - as do I of course. But the piece I was most excited to see is called a portrait of marriage. The amount of detail captured is fascinating. I won't tell you every detail, though you should definitely read up on the theories, but he little details like the mirror which reflects you into the painting, and the fruit on the window or even the dog which represents friendship. This painting was introduced to me by my religious studies teacher near Christmas time, and I think that's one of the things I'm most grateful to sixth form about. 

Leaving the busy square and gallery, we headed towards the even busier Covent gardens covered market which was so lively and loud. You could tell we were on a choir tour - we felt the need to burst into song every ten minutes to harmonise pop songs in 6 parts. So like Pitch Perfect only way more fun in real life. 

Our concert at the church after that went well, with a pleasant audience who were glad to hear our Blake settings and Tudor polyphony. That repertoire repeated made me realise how easy and quick it is to forget all the progress you have made so definitely going to have to maintain that thought in relation to uni. Especially as I'm doing a performance degree... Let's hope exam results day goes well - not long now. 

But the real highlight of today and perhaps the entire trip, was Matilda the musical. Me and my friends have been fans since it was first released so finally seeing it was... A dream come true. Literally. Like almost as awesome as the proms but not quite entirely. We were singing along to all the songs even though our throats were sore from all the hard work we have been doing singing. The buzz on the way back to the hostel was so bright and cheerful. Definitely a great last night. Let's home tomorrow is a good last tomorrow - even though it will be horribly sad to say goodbye for the season to the friends I have made and to those who are leaving. But it's not really goodbye - it's just a see you later. And on that note, time for bed. Goodnight. 

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The second day of tour

As predicted, today has been equally if not more hectic than predicted. Despite a very late night, this morning we were up and out of the hostel early - yet we maintained an air of surprise at our own eagerness to get started with rehearsals. We are, after all, teenagers. Walking around London in the sunshine (another surprise) this area of it which I don't know especially, it was quite eye opening an experience. Here the history is not limited to just one part of the city but decorates all of it, from the walls, to the museums to the very street signs. 

Yet all that history did not prepare me or the childish excitement I felt on first seeing in reality the Royal Albert Hall; think birthdays, Christmases - the whole lot, as one thing. One cheesy cliche modulation if a moment and that is still not close enough to how happy and excited I felt. 

We saw the hall first in our rehearsals - it was surreal and odd to be in a place which is exactly as you've seen and dreamt it up in a million different way but never actually seen it in the real world. 

Rehearsals didn't take up all of our day though: we did get to do a little shopping and exploring. Although the natural history museum looked interesting with it's dinosaurs and coral reef exhibits, we ended up in the Victoria and Albert which was equally amazing. There are so many peculiar elements you cannot predict - some of them really small thing, like someone whistling 'oh wouldn't it be lovely' - things that just make the atmosphere a little more cheerful in addition to the sun. 

The prom itself was fairly late - about 7:30 (you can catch it on BBC iplayer - prom 17. I'm in the choir singing Sancta Civitas - for it's first performance at the proms: hooray for premieres!) but we had rehearsals during that time and dinner at trinity college. Was also pretty happy to get a copy of the program to keep which I didn't think I'd get due to performing. 

The concert itself I felt went really well and was perfected in it's ideology of dream come true by the fact there was a full house! Seeing that many people, it doesn't really seem real - like a screen with a projection of people on it. And that is exhilarating. We performed second, which meant my first performance in a a prom was also my first time watching/listening to a prom and I got to hear the Halle playing Debussys afternoon of a faun and Elgars second symphony (which was pretty amazing as they are two of my favourite composers) 

The walk home was long, and much quieter than the one there because we were all so tired. But when we got back, we still sat up for hours talking about if all. Finding it hard to sleep on the first evening was not a repeated problem - never fallen asleep so quickly! 

Something to tick off the bucket list - another thing to be proud of and to treasure. 

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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Update: the first day of tour

Today has been such a hectic day of travelling, but we have finally arrived in London after five hours on the coach! Currently we are basking in the relief of the fact that the hostel is not too far away. It was quite hard figuring out where we were meant to be staying... But after heavy weight lifting suitcases and singing a lot of karaoke on the way (we are indeed a choir after all) we are ready for dinner and bed. Tomorrow will be even more hectic, but it is a far more fun hectic than the coach journey we hope! I never realised how fun 'guess the musical' is until four hours into the journey here. 

Better be heading off, otherwise we won't be home till much later... Or at least it is home, for now at least. They have such colourful decorations that it is quite uplifting after our journey. They even have the times for every time zone (which will come in useful contacting friends on holiday over the next few days) :
So for today, we have arrived. And had a virtual rehearsal on the way. Now it is time to rest. But on a final note, in relation to Halle (more details on which prom we are in on the BBC proms website - look out for Sancta Civitas) I have got a place for next year, so when university begins it is going to be rather hectic... Here one day and gone the next kind of thing because of rehearsals...

Until tomorrow!

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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Update: Tour rehearsals

As I have perhaps mentioned previously the rehearsals have just begun for the Halle Youth Choir tour to London, where we will be singing at various different locations including the BBC proms which is terribly exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. The tour begins durin the week but currently our days are filled with very long rehearsals. This can be tiring at times but extremely fun none the less. The content we are tackling, especially the Sancta Civitas by Vaughan Williams, is such well written music, with not only beautiful melodies and harmony, but a background and story which the composer expresses so well.  Working intricately with a piece can reveal much on composers you didn't know much about before. Despite my love of English orchestral and choral music, Vaughan Williams was one such composer who I only really knew of through one piece prior to this - namely a personal favourite: the lark ascending (which finally made it to the top of the classic fm hall of fame this year!) 

I plan to continue to write as frequently as possible as usual, though maybe I won't be able to manage everyday if I don't have access to some sort of Internet. However, I'm sure there will be much to keep you updated on - so either way, there will be lots to write I am sure. But if you don't hear from me in a while, please do be patient - hearing your responses to my writing is always a pleasure and I look forward to writing all the more because of it. 

That's all there is to say really, or at least for now. Until next time, enjoy your summer and watch this space! 

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Gap years and travel

If you find that you don't want to go straight into university, that's alright too. There are lots of projects and volunteering opportunities available outside of university or you might be able to postpone the degree which you have been offered. When considering gap years and travel as an option, remember to consider: 

1. What will you do with that time? 
Although the time should be used on something, try and make yourself a plan of what to do across the year. If you want to apply to university the following year, make sure you are up to date with all of the details in relation to when where who and how all the things relating to applications, personal statements and so on are going. Use the year to do something different so that it will add to your experience and knowledge of the things you are considering studying and other things you would like to do. For example , if you want to travel, maybe you could find a charitable project to help whilst you travel, or do some sponsored work, all of which are incredible experiences and can change your life, by adding both to you as a person and your CV. Helping others is so rewarding, so please do consider this option - you won't regret it. 

2. Are you sure about what you want to study right now? 
If you aren't sure what you think you should be studying, then a gap year will give you time to look in more detail at the options, by going to places of apprenticeships, everyday work and regular universities , so that you have a fuller picture to work from than just the things you have read and heard of a place. Once you have this information, it still might be a difficult procedure to choose. But you will have the information to make a detailed and informed choice which is more likely to be one which makes you happy. 

3. Projects and volunteering 
Whilst looking at those options, have something else to do throughout the year. Outside of getting a job , you could also look at getting a job somewhere else in the world - volunteering allows you to help others, to see the world and to learn a little about yourself too. But if volunteering isn't for you - there are projects all across the world you can get involved in although with many you do have to apply. Look for projects which are exciting and different, once in a life time opportunities that you think will really help this summer and this year be something special that you'll remember and be glad of. 

4. Work experience
If you are going into a degree which requires work experience first then use the year wisely. Find out what you need to know and do specifically and then make a list and a timeline. Get applications in early and put in the hours you need to achieve what it is that you want. Once you have those hours built up, you will be more than ready for the adventure your degree course has in line for you. Work experience is also useful because you'll meet like minded people and be able to learn from their advice too, as well as your own and that of others. 

5. Travelling in general 
Being in education for a long time means that when you get to the leaving sixth form point, you have many different options to choose from. Look at all of them carefully. If you can only travel now, then use this year to do that before you apply. Life is too short to regret not doing things, so act on the things which you know are educated choices you are 100% committed to and nothing short of. Lots of my friends are travelling because they want to study a language at university and to be prepared for that they have gone to the place directly, e.g. Germany, to increase the amount of speaking they do every day and to immerse the modern culture and be completely sure it's what they want to do. 

6. Will it benefit you? 
If you are considering going into an area of study that is in relation to travelling, then taking a gap year to do something along those lines will be kind if like work experience and will be a viable asset to your CV. Gap years can have an impact on where and when you study though - after having time away from education, sometimes you can forget a lot of the useful information you knew at sixth form. But if you are not sure about what you want to do, really not sure, taking a gap year will give you time to think. Although university it great and lots of people want to take this path, don't allow that to pressure you into such a big decision. Let your brain work at it's own pace. 

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Language learning

For university, many people end up studying languages or working more frequently with a second language, especially for a postgraduate degree. If you think it is a possibility that you might want to study in a part of the world where another language is favoured over your first it is important to be confident in speaking and listening (etc) in the language which is used. Personally I study and speak on a regular basis around three languages (including my first) but it is not an easy feat to pick up this skill, especially not if you only have around a year or so to get that confidence in speaking which you'll need. This is some of the information I have found useful when studying languages that I thought might be of some use in gathering where to begin: 

1. Have a plan and a time line 
When you have decided on the language you are going to (or have to) learn the first thing you need to do is create a list of your aims. Things which are as simple as possible at first such as learn five words a week and then build this up as gradually as your time limit allows. By having timelines for your goals, you will be able to monitor your progress and apply enough pressure that you should hopefully work through them fairly quickly. There is no point in aiming too high as this will only disappoint you and set you off track. If you are able to correct small mistakes early on you will save yourself bad habits. And if you feel a little uncomfortable about starting off with things that might seem embarrassingly basic, just remember that those basics are perhaps the most important fundamentals of the entire language and will affect everything else you learn: the basics are the building blocks of all the other steps. 

2. Practice speaking, listening and reading 
Obviously you should practice each of these frequently and together as a combination as in everyday life, but you will also need to practice them separately so that you have a clear idea of which you are better at in comparison to others. If you are better at say the written aspect, then there is no sense in spending all of your time on all that. Although it is especially difficult at first, aim for the areas of the language you find scarier than others.  For me this is speaking - but there is no sense in me avoiding it as it is one of the main elements of a language, if not the entire point. If you spend longer and put more effort into the vulnerable areas of your language education you will quickly begin to progress and be just as good in those areas, if not better, than the one you first found yourself to be comfortable with. 

3. Learn about the culture 
One of the most interesting and fascinating things about language is the number of doors it will unlock. With language you cannot only know a place and a culture in the present day and it's future, but you will also be able to comprehend and know more on it's past. Whether this be music, cuisine, history, or media, find an aspect of the culture which interests you on a great level (that means the most to you) and research it as you study. I remember one of the first essays I ever wrote on French culture was about composers visiting and how they found the cities they visited then. And the funny thing is - I remembered pretty much all of the French I wrote from memory without needing my essay in front of me. If you're writing in a language you are unsure of about something you are sure of or passionate about, it is much easier to remember this. Your mind is the worlds best computer and filing device - it remembers things as long term memories, or is more likely to, if you gained particular knowledge at a time of heightened emotion. Which is why we sometimes remember moments of sadness or pain more frequently than moments of happiness - because we are happier or at least generally ok, more often than we are sad. 

4. Find the best way you learn 
As mentioned previously, you are likely to excell in one particular area of your learning. Although you shouldn't use this as an excuse to cling too closely to that aspect and avoid others, you can make use of it by focusin on it to remember things. If you know you remember things by writing them then write them out repeatedly so that it is stored in your mind ready to be spoken and then trying speaking it aloud in conversation. Find people who are willing to help you - the academic school route is not always the best way to learn, as I learnt from the famous words of the polyglot Benny Lewis. One way I found useful to learn was speaking - and the best place I found to practice speaking were the language centres in my city. People are so willing to help you if only you have the courage to ask - dont be too afraid to ask for help: learning a language is a sometimes scary and difficult thing. I don't think I would have been able to succeed at all without the help I gained from speaking to others. It really gave me the confidence to keep going and still does every day. 

5. Research for good resources 
There are books and audio tapes all over the place - the shops and the library, some resources are even free. Find resources which work for you - there is no sense in spending a lot of money on a course you know you will not be able to attend, or buying text books which are much too advance and complicated. Start with cheap resources, such as phrase books, and work forward. If you find there are other resources you think would be valuable , then perhaps inves in them. But until then, find things which work for you now and don't scare you away too much. 

6. Speak the language
Again, speaking is the whole point of learning a language. Don't be too afraid of things such as accent or pronunciation all of this can be fixed gradually and will come gradually. No one is entirely naturally gifted with language - none of us were born speaking our first language so we need to remember this. Making the first step and speaking break the ice and afte that, speaking will come to you much more easily. 

7. Work hard 
Don't let your initial motivation drop or it will. Keep it going by keeping interested, by researching, practicing and working hard on as regular a basis as possible. I practice for at least an hour every day and this is something you can do whether at home or on the bus. If it is something you really want , then you will do it - you will find time and you will succeed from the practice you put in. But it is a long road - if you don't maintain that motivation then you will not succeed to see the outcome. 

8. Be prepared 
Be prepared for that long road of language learning by making the most of it; by making it fun and realising how lucky you are to have this opportunity. Prepare yourself for hard work and go in with an open mind and passion for your subject and you will succeed in every expectation you have. 

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

University ensembles + further audtions at the conservatoire

You would think that after exam results, after your initial audition and all of those other things, by the time you get to university, it would be a fairly relaxed environment at first. But once you arrive at the conservatoire, there will be auditions for any other small ensembles you might want to be a part of. This will be arranged and scheduled (etc) with sign up sheets and the like, sometime usually during the first week of university, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled to be part of what you want to. Here are some of the things I will be considering in relation to this during fresher's week:

1. Pick out the ensembles you are interested in
Look for the groups which you most want to be a part of, which will hopefully be things which are useful in relation to the degree you have decided to study. The college may offer a newsletter with links and dates for the different groups' audition dates, but if not, try emailing the college to ask for information, or even ask if it would be possible to get in touch with past students or students currently involved to find out more before you apply. If there is one thing to remember, it is that you are going to be involved all year, so it is better to find out as much as you can now before you begin considering all of the different options - you can't after all, as lovely as it would be, be part of everything.

2. Make sure you go for the mandatory things
Of course you should always attend the rehearsals for the mandatory groups, which are usually things such as orchestra or choir. These activities are normally scheduled as classes, so they will be part of your general schedule any way, excusing the rehearsals which exist outside of college timetable nearer to the time of concert deadlines etc. Although these things are mandatory and designed to help you, other individual resources which you can sign up for will be equally useful so make sure you do invest your time in a few - even just one or two. Although not strictly 'mandatory' it should be mandatory to your personal interests to try and get involved with as much useful content as you possibly can. Keep an open mind.

3. Try new things
Alongside the useful + mandatory things, identify things you are interested in, especially if you came across things which you might not have been able to learn too much on before in your previous place of education. This could vary from world music, to the production element of music, to learning more about/ co-operating with other peoples degrees via their projects or even specific areas + genres of music, such as jazz (if you are studying classical) or pop maybe (if you are studying jazz) College/ University are all about complementing what you are already doing and also about learning new things; experiencing new things. Don't be afraid to get involved with new sub-areas involved within your chosen subject if you don't know much on them, research and practice is the only way to learn anything about anything, even if it can take time.

4. Look for things you are interested in
As previously mentioned, look for new things and the mandatory things but save space for what you are interested in. If you choose things which you are interested in, the time will fly by more quickly and you are more likely to enjoy the activities all through your entire time at college. Being interested is just as important, if not entirely equivalent, to how well you are going to do with a topic or subject.

5. Consider starting your own group
You can read more about this in my previous posts, but you should remember that this is also an option - and could also become the result of getting to know more people in the other groups you are involved in. Plan and think about it first though before you do put any ideas into action, and have a list of possible members for the group so that you can get in touch with everyone.

6. Remember to also consider time
And alongside all of this - don't work too hard! Hard work is crucial with anything, but you do need some time of your own. So make sure that your extra activities and auditions do not come at the cost of you losing important study time (etc) They should complement your work and you, not damage those things.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

University: Looking for a job

If, like me, you are starting university in September (hopefully results day goes well for us all!) upon arrival we are going to realise fully how much everything is going to cost and presumably this will be something we need to adjust to at first. One of the biggest things I can think would be of help would be to find a small part time job to help throughout the week. With rehearsals, this is going to be difficult as they are always changing every week but hopefully the college will be able to help me in this pursuit for work, and hopefully the student loan goes well with whatever it is a do end up doing for work. Knowing that there are many of you in the same boat as me, this is some information I have found useful so far when looking for a job so far:

1. Have an idea of availability/time 
Each of us will be studying a different degree and, as a result, we will all have vastly different time tables, some of which will be much busier and frequently changing in comparison to others. But despite this, we are all going to have a similar large work load which needs lots of time to complete. So we need to think about this when we are applying to places - there is no sense in applying for a full time job which is every day all day throughout the week because then you'll miss classes and there will be no point in having a job in this incident: afetrall, the job is meant to help with the costs of university, not chase you away from your studies. This is one of the things that can prohibit you from gaining a job whilst you are at home and not at your new university. It is useful to have the benefit of time and of applying early, but it can also be useful sometimes to wait until the first week of university (although it will be much busier) when you can get more advice from people at your chosen university and your colleagues on where is the best place to apply for work or what your timetable will be like and how this will affect where you can apply. 

2. Make a list of ideas
Take a look around the area, both literally and online, and use the information you find to make a list of places you think would be a possibility for applying for a job. Places such as supermarkets, larger shopping centres or even part time teaching or tutouring to people who are the same age as you and might need a little more help. Once you have the list of ideas, research and look into each of them, writing down any leads you have or any contact numbers/information which might be useful in your search. Go through the ideas in order of preference - this way you will hopefully get a job at one of the places you would most like to work, over one of the options which you don't really want to consider as seriously as the others.

3. Have an updated CV and copies
Before you begin applying any where, you are going to need an updated CV. Include your awards, credits and achievements from the past 2-3 years so that information isn't too old, including predicted A level results if you don't have them yet. Like with your personal statement, don't tell any tales when you are writing about your hobbies, interests and so on, because if you are in a meeting at a later stage and they ask you about this (and you know nothing about whatever it is you said) you will look rather foolish and this will impact on you getting a job. You should to the point, efficient and pleasant in your outlook through your CV - type it up at a slow pace so that it meets its' full potential and have someone read over it to proof read. Once your CV is updated, you can start to act on your ideas and resources. Carry copies around with you, just in case you should come across somewhere you would like to apply.

4. Think about transport
As with time for study, consider time and cost of transport - you don't want to be so far away that the two start to clash and you also don't want to be spending all of the money you need for help with bills and so on, to be going on your transport to get to the place. Look for transport which goes from near to where you are staying, and also look for a job that is relatively close anyway (although this is not always an option) When researching and shortlisting jobs, also try to research and predict how much travel costs will be overall and look/identify the cheapest means of transport which would be most useful.

5. Will it make you Happy? 
The final and most important thing in any scenario - will this be something which makes you Happy? It is going to be taking up a large amount of your time, so you don't want to begin work and regret it, or just work in a place because you have no other choice. You do have a choice, more so now than ever, so make the most of it. Don't just settle for a job because it is right next door or because it provides the most salary. Although these are two good factors, they mean nothing if they are the only incentive you have to go to work every day. You need the real thing - something that you can look forward to at least a little, or something that doesn't make the stress and pressure of your studies twice as bad. You need time to just breathe sometimes, so allow yourself a timetable to do that. I wish you the best of luck at this time of year - results day soon! We're almost there!

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Getting to know your area (Dublin)

Seeing your options before you decide one where it is you want to study is kind of an obvious choice. One of my choices initially was Trinity College Dublin - it just looked such an amazing place to study and was in an area where I had family who I wanted to get to know more. However, the more engrossed in the arts I became, the less this place seemed an option for me. But being there only proved what a fantastic resource and place of learning it is for many academic subjects, especially subjects such as literature and history (the place has so much information to offer and so many opportunities to add to those resources) If you are going to be studying here come September, some of the places I definitely recommend you visit at some point during your studies are:

1. Trinity College

Well, it's in the introduction really. Even if you aren't studying here, there are some viewing libraries and exhibitions on throughout the year which you might find useful or just plain interesting. The architecture is a beautiful mix of old and new, with some of the oldest architecture remniscient of Vienna and also modelled around different animals, so watch out for them as you look around. It is also home to one of the oldest libraries where there are copies of over a thousand books. And before you go to see the old library, check out the oldest books (perhaps) in the world: the book of Kells. One of the earliest works, this book was sent for safe keeping in the monasteries of Ireland during the Cromwellian wars. The book itself was written by many scribes and covers much of the new testament and gospels. Packed full with information on old languages and mysterious Celtic features, this is definitely a place which inspires and encourages thinking.

2. St. Patrick's Cathedral
A place to murmur a prayer, a place to think, or simply a place to wonder, this cathedral seems to tower so high it is actually touching the sky. One of my favourite elements about this place was the choral music I heard and also the grounds . The grounds are beautiful in summer time, the perfect place to sit and read up on the history of the city. Near to St. Stephens green, the cathedral is so at one with it's surroundings, it almost seems to have become part of the garden itself.

3. Beatty Library
One man managed to collect thousands of scripts, mainly based on history and religion from places such as Persia and China, and that was Mr. Beatty. In this library, the texts he managed to collect on his travels are preserved and kept on display to show what a valuable credit they have become to allowing us to understand places thousands of miles away from home. One of the most interesting and awe inspiring texts we witnessed in this library was an encyclopedia from China - one of the original 11,496 copies. Of those copies, only 400 now survive. They are one of a kind: a wikipedia on paper long before wikipedia ever existed. The remaining 400 copies are now scatted around the world - but the Beatty library has 3 of them. One on the production of paper, one o n bamboo and one on poetry.

4. The national museum
There are several places categorised under the branch of 'national' including the natural history museum, the national library, the archaeology museum and so on. All of them provide their own interesting information, but for more of the history of Ireland, head towards the last of the ones I mentioned. There are exhibits here which change throughout the year based on the medieval, the influential and much more. Being up close to things that you've read up on makes them seem much more real than any page of words ever could - that is evident when you visit these things, as it is when you visit anything with a background whether that be the Mona Lisa or the tower of London. Definitely a place to head on perhaps a rainier day, so that you can enjoy both the sights and the history to the fullest extent.
5. Dublin Castle

Near the heart of the city, this one isn't too difficult to find and is fairly well preserved despite some damage having occurred to the architecture in previous years. It was here that some of the royalty of Ireland resided and also where soliders were treated in a form of hospital throughout the world wars by changing one of the rooms to be of more use. Here you can find out more about the past, although many of the rooms are used in the present for royal banquets to those such as Queen Elizbeth II.

6. The houses of parliament 
Only open on certain days of the week and year, it is still worth a glimpse as the incredible houses of parliament when you are on your way to the national museum as they are next door neighbours! If you do want to visit here, there are guided tours, but it is better to call in and check a good date for you to visit first.

7. Temple Bar

Some of the oldest bars in Ireland here - with some jolly fiddle music easily heard as you walk down the cobble stone streets. There are markets here most weekends, though there was one on a Wednesday when I visited. There are also some little restaurants and cafes here which are easily the most delicious options for food - and at not too high a price either. They also say the fastest way to a places history is through it's food. And after you've dined, wander a little further down the road to see the national photo gallery - at the moment, their exhibit is based around giving credit to the forgotten soldiers of the world wars.

8. Molly Mallone 

The infamous statue... based on the semi real semi legendary figure who was said to have existed many years ago, preserved in the song which I probably don't have to mention for you to already have on loop in your mind!

9. The shops and main streets

Get to be a tourist here, by the best means possible: shopping! This is where tourists and inhabitants alike come together on market days and regular days to find the best of the best. Perhaps one of the friendliest environments to be in, especially with the music of singers and buskers threading through everything - makes it all seem rather like a permanent festival.

10. Christchurch cathedral and Dublinia 
Here you can learn more about the most ancient part of history, on which not all that much is known. These two are combined to inform you on the vikings and early Ireland up to the present day - a museum of sorts, but with a twist.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Update: Distinction, 100%, Translation and Dublin

Sorry for my absence the past few days, but I have been in lovely sunny Dublin, Ireland. My friend Laura is visiting from Austria and we decided to go to Dublin originally due to an exhibition there on Halloween which she wanted to learn more on a for an article she is writing for school. We left early Tuesday morning and got back quite late yesterday evening, which explains the lack of posts. Dublin was a surprisingly small city, or rather there were lots of big things very close together. The first day was all about exploring the centre of the city and what was there, whereas the second day was more relaxed and we just visited a few museums and churches on the outside of the city. My favourite place perhaps was the Trinity college library and the exhibit on the book of Kells... I'll tell you  more about the things we saw in the next addition to Get to know your area which will be based on Trinity College Dublin.

In other news, I am extremely excited to inform you that I have received a Distinction in my Grade 8 singing exam and could not be happier with this news (I actually was so worried that I wouldn't pass, I spent my whole last rehearsal at youth orchestra on Monday avoiding looking at the email which would tell me) The certificate arrived in the mail yesterday, a little creased, but this makes it no less wonderful!

And then along with this letter came a letter from college about achieving 100% attendance this year, meaning I received a small award. So many nice little things have been happening, and in addition to it all, the good weather seems to have travelled home with us and will hopefully stay a while.

Being away from home for such a short time still doesn't make the amount of culture and information absorbed feel like any less - if anything, it makes it feel overwhelmingly more. To learn about the entire history of a place from the prehistoric to the present can seem like not much at all if you learn it throughout your life over a long period of time, but to hear it all in one day is surreal.

Laura's visit has so far, including Dublin, been a good one, with visits to new places every day including places like the Trafford centre, the Manchester Art Gallery and various other historically significant places, as well as some of the newer additions to tourist maps. The best thing about her visit is finally getting to meet the person who has been a pen pal for the past few years and to get to travel with her too, as she is fascinated by travelling. Over the past four years I have post cards from her from almost everywhere in the major cities of the globe. It is amazing what good friends we have become through letter writing and now through her visit.

In a few days, she will return to Austria, so we are hoping to cook some traditional Austrian food before she leaves (which I will let you know more on) Last week we made a recipe made by my grandma for traditional Italian pasta which tasted incredible, so it will be fun to see if any of my other cooking skills have the same result (I am not the best chef in the world, only with carrot cake which is my specialty) As well as cooking, she has also been testing me on my German which has been rather hilarious! Especially this one word she keeps trying to get me to pronounce correctly which means Squirrel tail... I'm not even going to attempt to explain to you the pronunciation as it is difficult enough already to understand when someone is explaining it to you in person!

In a few days time after Laura has left, I will be off to London for the Halle Youth Choir tour to sing in the BBC proms (more on that soon) where we will be singing Vaughan Williams Sancta Civitas and also doing a spot of sight seeing (including finally getting to see Matilda the musical) But more on that when the time arrives. For now, I hope you have a wonderful day - I am off for a walk in the sunshine (make the most of it whilst it lasts) and perhaps also to read some more on Irish history.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Moving out - the final checklist

Over the past few weeks, I have been sorting through my things to make sure that I don't take a lot of old things which I won't use, to university with me. Moving is going to take a few hours, including the travel, and I want everything to fit in the car properly (and hence my new room) Sorting out things, I compiled a form of list of things which I need to take and how I'm going to organise them. So far, this is the list of categories I have found it useful to organise things into:

1. Clothes, a laundry basket and a suitcase (+ small change)
Have a laundry basket for your clothes which you can keep near the wardrobe, this way clothes will be clean on a more regular basis. Try to have one main day a week when you do your clothes washing and keep a change jar so that you can pay for the laundrette, unless you plan on bringing clothes home at the weekend to wash. As for packing clothes, keep everything in categories so that odd socks don't end up threaded between jumpers and shirts. Keep a large suitcase which you can use and then take any other clothes you might want which don't fit in another box or smaller suitcase. Remember that you are going to be there for the whole year, so if you can't go home during that time take both winter and summer clothes.

2. A duvet and pillows
The college flats or flats in general, don't usually provide a duvet and pillow, though they do provide mattresses and bed frame. Plus it can be quite comforting to have these items from home, if you are used to them or have sensitive skin. Take a few pillows, duvet and bed sheets and try to clean these as regularly as possible, though obviously they will not need cleaning on as regular a basis as your clothes and will also probably stake much longer to get dry, so bear that in mind. Maybe take a thinner spare blanket in case it is colder during winter. Unite students do offer packages for these though, if you'd rather pay a little more and have the things ready on your arrival.

3. Cooking utensils, cutlery and Co.
If you don't quite know what it is you'll need, or think you might forget something, Unite students do also offer the extra package, which you can pay for, of kitchen things being ready for you upon your arrival. If you are able to come home the first weekend (as I am hopefully going to be lucky enough to do) you may be able to take the basic things (such as plate, sauce pan, glasses, utensils) to see what is already provided - if there is something you don't have which you find you think you are going to need on a regular basis, such as more bowls or plates, you can always buy more of these or get more when you go home.

4. Important documents file (keep everything together)
Keep a file with all of your important documents inside - keep identification papers with student finance papers and exam certificates. If everything like this is kept together, and you know it is always kept in one place, it will be much harder for anything to go missing. This will also be useful in enrollment week when you will need all these papers together anyway in order to register - it means that you won't be unfortunate enough to forget anything. If you do need to use more than one file, just keep the files and notebooks together - there is safety in numbers afterall.

5. School book and required materials (including stationary)
Don't forget your required or requested materials, meaning the basic book and pen combination, as well as all of the books on your reading list, or equipment you need. Try and take a computer of some kind so that you have this valuable resource to work on whilst you are in your room or lectures, so that you don't have to spend too much time in the library. Keep these things in the bag you plan to use as a school bag perhaps, that way they have a place too (like the important documents file, or all the clothes in the suitcase) and things are much less likely to get mixed together or lost.

6. Chargers, extension cables, plugs...
For these kind of things (I am terrible with forgetting things so always do advanced planning and create a checklist) it can be useful to have some velcro ties to keep similar wires together in a neat formation and then to also place them in clear ziplock bags. This I do for chargers and plugs, so that they don't get tangled especially. I've also found it quite important to take extension cables as plug sockets are often quite widespread across a dorm room, and extension plug sockets mean there is no reason to unplug your laptop so you can have the lamp on at the same time. Sockets seem to be an issue everywhere nowadays...

7. Groceries (for the first few days)
Your student loan usually won't go into the bank for a few days (sometimes as long as a week) as the college needs to confirm your attendance on a regular basis in order for the money to go into your bank account. So make sure that as well as the change for the laundry, you take a fair amount of money for food as well as some basic groceries (such as milk, eggs and bread) Keeping stocked up on food is incredibly important - particularly in terms of breakfast. There is nothing more disappointing than not having anything to eat before a long lecture, so try not to let it happen!

8. Something to make you feel at home
Also remember the little things that will provide comfort and make you feel more at home. Nobody likes moving too much - it is all rather stressful. Perhaps take a childhood memory, like photographs, or something like this in order to make the space feel more like your space, because it is, afterall. The happier you are in your space, the more likely you are to want to do well there and to be happy during your work and lecture hours. The happier you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know.

Deciding on your A levels

Recently I have discussed the transition from GCSE to A level, and also what to consider when aiming for your degree - what to choose then, so I figured it was only fair to write about the in between stage which is, if anything, one of the more important aspects of the transition. The whole two years of sixth form is intense studying which in the end can be seen for how brief it really is, so it is important to make the most of it in the subjects you choose. When choosing your A levels, remember that they are probably going to affect what it is that you are able to apply for and study at university. When I was choosing my A levels, I knew that I wanted to study music and knew which subjects I needed to do and which others I wanted to choose because I already held an interest in them and had some level of knowledge maintained from GCSE level. Remember this when you are choosing, and choose wisely:

1. Find a college which has a good reputation
If you know your chosen field already, then you can look for a college which can boast a large number and wide range of highly specialised teachers and past students. Of course you will always do well if you work hard, no matter where you study, but it is helpful to be in the right kind of environment to provide motivation through information that will keep you on your toes and teachers who are able to provide you with further material to encourage you to ask the questions you want answers to. Inspiration is one of the biggest things that we can see as a recurrent figure in some of the inventors of the past - everyone from Darwin to Schubert had a good education and because of this was able to build on their thoughts from there, excelling all prior expectation.

2. Don't choose because of others
Don't just copy what your friends are doing, or choose a subject because you liked the teacher who taught you at GCSE - these two are some of the biggest problems. You will be in a new environment at college, and this is the first time you are going to be truly tested to see if you can stand on your own two feet. Choosing because of others will not work because we are all different. You have your own interests, even if you might be confused about some of them at the difficult time of A level - but you can learn more about these over the summer, by researching, reading and so on. You will unlock those interests as long as you look for them and you can always change the  A levels you have chosen in your first or second week if you decide you have made some kind of error in your choosing and would like to re consider. You can give yourself that chance, but don't be too afraid to do it. Independence is a great burden as well as an important responsibility to learn to take on and sixth form/ college is going to help you a lot with that.

3. Consider possibility
As well as choosing subjects you are interested in, and making sure you are choosing what you want to study and aren't just copying what your friends want to do, remember that you are human - it is only possible to do so much work. Being in such an intense work environment, it can at times be difficult to find that balance between your home/social life and your work life, but it is possible. The best approach is having a schedule which you can keep well organised, but also remembering how stressful exam time was and bearing that in mind when you choose your A levels. Find subjects which you feel you have enough time for - this means the number of them too. I only studied 3 A levels, although I initially wanted to choose 4, but this work load wasn't something I could cope with with everything else that was going on in my life, particularly as as well as music activities, my grandfather was very sick and I had to help my grandmother look after him. Not all cases are so extreme, but do consider time and work load when choosing your topics.

4. Taster/ Open days
Your chosen college or sixth form should be open to new prospective students for several different days throughout the academic year, especially nearer to or during summer. Some of these may be invitation days, meaning the college will approach you and extend an invitation, but if not, then you can look up their other open days and try and find one which you can attend. These days are really useful for looking at lots of subjects, as well as just the main few you are interested. On such days, prioritise seeing these subjects first before moving on to have a look around at others. Most highschools will authorise your absence for a few days if you inform them you would like to go to an open day, particularly if the college/university is quite faraway, so consider this by getting in touch with your highschool if necessary.

5. Ask Questions
Make sure you use open days, or the offered enquiry email, to ask all the questions you have (or at least the burning ones) before you decide definitely on what subjects you are definitely going to do and where you are going to study them. All of the staff will be more than happy to help you - so try not to be too scared or nervous when asking them. Getting answers is going to help you so much, so keep that in mind when you ask - it shows good initiative to have a little confidence the questions and ideas you have when you present them. And then if you do have questions later, you can ask them via email or even at the college when you begin - there will always be someone to help answer your questions, no matter the stage you are at in your A level studies. Careers teams and head of years can be especially helpful and reliable sources of information, as well as the sixth forms website itself (in terms of subject information)

6. Variety
There isn't going to be as much variety in your subjects at college, as it is about specialising in subjects you are interested in to prepare you for studying and specialising in just one, so don't lose sight of this information. If you want more variety, you can always try choosing an AS level you plan to drop at A2, such as a science or a language - something you are interested in and would work hard in, but which would offer you some variety from the subjects you plan to continue into your second year. It can also make your studies a little more separated, so that you don't feel you are constantly just sat in the library for no reason - your studies should make you happy from time to time, even if that seems impossible nearer to exam time.

7. Specialisation
As mentioned above, specialisation is going to become a big part of your studying, and it can seem pretty scary to go into so much depth about topics you previously knew nothing of. Don't be afraid of embracing this though - your teachers will be really helpful in helping you to separate this information, by splitting classes into 'blocks' of sorts. The information will be spread out across the year, so that you don't have too much information thrown at you too fast. And remember what I said earlier, don't be afraid to ask questions!

8. Are you looking forward to beginning college/sixth form?
Your choices should not just be because of what it is you want to study after your two years at sixth form are over, or what it is that you want to be when you are a 100% grown up. It should be about you and what makes you happy so don't forget that. I hope that, like myself, choosing your sixth form and A levels makes you both relieved and excited, with perhaps a pinch of nerves - but don't be afraid. Remember what Shakespeare once wrote: 'Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon 'em'.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. Hope the information was useful, and if you have any further questions which you think I might be able to help you with, please don't hesitate to ask. Choose wisely!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Deciding on your degree

Deciding on your degree is a big deal, it affects entirely what you are going to end up doing with your education and means you will be specializing in one thing. This means you need to choose something that is the 'road less travelled by' as Frost called it - when deciding on music, this was some of the information that I considered, which made me then and makes me now believe that I have made the right choice for my degree:

1. Don't choose something because it is easy
There are always going to be subjects you find easier than others, whether this means you prefer them to others or not. If the incident is that you believe you can do well a subject because you find it easy, don't choose this over something you prefer simply because you believe it will be easier for you to progress in. When choosing a subject, look at all the aspects of course, make sure that you are choosing something you enjoy which will also continue to challenge you and never allow you to get bored. This is a long term thing, so you don't want it to become something you will grow tired of.

2. Consider the effect on future employment
Don't focus on this too much, afterall you want to choose something which you will enjoy studying.  But do be aware of the effect it will have on your future employment, whether by looking at facts and figures online or simply talking to people you know have gone down a similar path. When I chose music, I was and am aware of the fact that it is quite difficult to make it as an individual solo performer, but I am quite willing (in fact it would be a dream) to become part of an opera company - this way you can work with both solo and chorus parts within an ensemble. Although we all want to be successful, there are different definitions to the word and to be successful is different for everyone.
So try and find a degree that will lead you towards work you would be happy to do.

3. Find out more on the course
Universities are usually open throughout much of the year, even outside open days, so there is always time and help to find out more without just re-reading a prospectus. Your sixth form will also be able to provide you with more information on some universities. Courses are different at each, even for the same thing, from the basics of the grades you need to get on to the course to the types of thing you learn. When considering a music degree, I had to consider whether I wanted the more academic option of music at a university of the more performance based aspect that a conservatoire could offer me and by choosing the second, I found a course that suited me because it focused on the performance element whilst also adding to the written element in areas such as composition and musicology/music history.

4. Look at other courses you might consider
Whilst looking through universities, see if they have courses which can combine subjects you enjoy, such as a double language degree that might combine learning Russian with French and perhaps have a placement year. Researching the degree you initially thought you want will always provide you with more options and you should look closely at those different options before making up your mind completely. In terms of courses, also consider grade boundaries and distance, two things that might play a part in deciding which college you go to.

5. Talk with your school careers team
 The careers team will be able to help provide you with all of the above information in a summarised format, providing you with links and contacts you can use yourself to find more out on the things that interest you. Also look out for things such as career days or college fairs going on in your school - usually there will be past students/alumni or people in that field of work who will come in to tell you about what it is they do after choosing the degree that they did.

6. Above all, Choose what you believe will make you happy!
All of this information is important to consider, but the main thing is that you are happy and feel you have made the right choice. If you feel nervous that is perfectly natural, but you shouldn't feel as though you regret or just don't want to do the thing you ended up choosing. The degree you choose should make you happy, and from time to time a little stressed, right from the very beginning - so keep looking until you feel that 100% right feeling about what it is and where it is you are aiming to be at the start of your next academic year and for the rest of the foreseeable future.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. 

Exam expectations

I am so incredibly nervous, but excited too, about the ever encroaching exam results day looming in August. The thing that worries me most is not achieving the grades which I need to get into university. Although I need three C's, these have become the new A grades that it seems impossible to reach even though I know that I have done all I could to revise - the revision notes and posters are still covering my walls until results day (it feels too much like a bad omen to take them down) Apparently this is similar for lots of us across the world studying for exams and waiting for our grades to be released at a later stage - it made me wonder why, so I did some research. There was an article I read which stated many of us are perfectionists, meaning we seek the best grades for ourselves and won't settle for anything less, which has been made much worse by a world that is twice as full in terms of population - we all want to do the best we can and sometimes that is a B, even though we might want A's. Although I would be perfectly happy with achieving C's, it would make me even happier to achieve better than this. Here is some information I have started to try and use to stay calm until results and to deal with my own exam expectations:

1. Don't picture the worst-case scenario
Think of your exam results as a stepping stone - they are not the be all and end all of everything you are going to accomplish in your entire life and there are options should things go worse than you had hoped. Work hard and aim high sure, but whilst bearing in mind that you need to stay relaxed because worrying won't get you anywhere. It is scientifically proven that should you go into an exam thinking positively you are 25% more likely to come out with a better grade than someone who goes in with the repeated attitude of 'I'm going to fail'

2. Remain calm and keep busy
If exams are occupying your mind, find something else to think about such as something to read, or a hobby, or even just going out with your friends. There are hundreds of things to do and see everyday, so try and make these the focus of your summer and you will have a much better time than dwelling on something you can do nothing about until results day. But should you think about exam results, remember the information from 1 about keeping calm and remaining as optimistic as you possibly can.

3. Be prepared for results day
Continue the above two tips until results day and also know what is going to happen when you get your A level results. Know that most peoples exam results will be sent by UCAS straight to the universities, so this isn't something you need to worry about and that if things do go wrong, you should have university information at hand right away so that you contact the university as soon as possible. And also go in with a positive attitude - things will be ok!

This is all that I can really say upon the subject of exams, being in the same place myself. It isn't something I'm spending too much time dwelling on - I am trying to keep as busy as possible. But I will keep you updated and notified on what I know when I know it. I hope we all have a great summer either way, because life is too short to live it any other way!

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Music GCSE - an introduction to music theory + notation

It is useful at Music GCSE, although it is a lot less theory based, to have some idea of the common rules and ideas that exist within music theory and music notation. Of course, ABRSM Grade 5 theory is GCSE standard - however some performers, particularly pop musicians who do not need to sight read as much as classical performers, do not feel as comfortable with the squiggles on the page that we call notation. So here are kind of the basics that you should know for the music listening exam:

1. What is a clef?
A clef determines whereabouts on the stave a note is and what the pitch is (whether it is high or low) The treble clef is used for the higher range/ upper range of notes and is the tall one of the pair. The middle C is on a ledger line below the bottom line of the stave. If you want to remember the notes that go on each of the lines you can remember this to help you: (going from the note on the top line) FEDCBAGFEDC. The bass clef is the smaller of the two and for the lower range of notes. You can remember, like with the treble clef, the new order of notes for this stave by remembering: AGFEDCBAG. Remember that, in music, notes only go from A to G, and then repeat. So this is why you can have a lower, middle and upper C and so on.

2. Ledger lines
Ledger lines are additional to the 5 lines and determine even higher notes than the middle range which the stave usually contains. This is also a useful way to remember whereabouts the notes are. I remember the place of the middle C on the keyboard. On the bass clef, this is one ledger line above the stave, but for the treble clef it is the reverse: it is the ledge line below the last line of the stave. Ledger lines allow players to continue reading music in one clef opposed to swapping and changing all the time, as this can make sight reading much more confusing.

3. Time signatures
These determine how fast or slow music will go. You learn several of these with each ABRSM grade, but for your listening exam at GCSE you should mainly know the time signatures of the piece (especially if there are any tricky ones like 6/8) but mainly you will be working with common time. This means 4/4, 2/4 and 3/4 (usually) As you can see, time signatures look a little like fractions. The top number tells us how many beats will be in a bar and the bottom what kind of note that is going to be. For example 3/4 (the common tempo for a waltz) the three tells us that there are going to be three beats in a bar and that they are going to be crotchet beats (because of the 4) so in 2/4 there are 2 crotchet beats in a bar and in 4/4 there are 4 crotchet beats in a bar.

4. Key Signatures
Most people learn these together collectively. You have major (happy) and minor (sad) keys, but you also have keys with flats (b) and sharps (#) so it might be best to begin, again, with the basics, before learning all of the keys and how they work together as the circle of fifths. Begin with the key of C major. A key signature comes after the clef but before the time signature and consists of several flats or sharps. Flats and sharps are the black keys on the piano and are each a semi tone (half a note) away from the white key before them. Natural keys are the white keys, which means they aren't flats or sharps and hence C major, because it has no flats or sharps, has nothing written for it's key signature. For comparison, lets take another simple key. The key of G major has one sharp - F# and so if you look between the clef and time signature of a piece in G major, you will see a # sign on the top line of the stave (if in treble clef) to show the key to the person reading/playing the music.

5. Expression/ tempo markings
There is usually one at the beginning of the piece to state what kind of style the piece will be in, or an expression to go with it. This is kind of a secondary step - something you should focus on after you know how to read the dots properly. Languages come in really useful here as often, Italian German or French terms are used. For example, a pretty typical tempo marking might be Andante, which means in a walking style. Or Cantabile, which means in a singing style. There are a whole list you learn for each grade, but start with some of the well known ones (such as andante, allegro, staccato, legato, etc)

6. Dynamics
These too are usually in another language, but you will mainly see them as symbols. Dynamics create contrast throughout the piece and are equally as important to the expression of a piece and its' character. Some of the basics / main dynamics you should know are:
- Crescendo (getting gradually louder <)
- Diminuendo (getting gradually quiet >)
- mf/mezzo forte (half loud or average volume)
- F/forte (loud)
- P/piano (quiet)
- FF/fortissimo (very loud)
-PP/pianissimo (very quiet)

Learning theory is something which takes a great deal of time, and you should focus on this as much as your playing in order to get the most from your musical education and practice. One can really enhance the other and this is something that I have found, despite always really struggling with the theory aspect. The more you practice, as is common with most things, the easier it will get. I recommend the AB guide to music (you can find this on the ABRSM website) and the work books for each grade which coincide and also Harmony by Walter Piston, if you know these basics already and would like to know some of the more complex ideas and rules that are part of the idea of harmony.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me on stuff like theory, GCSE music and notation, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. Thankyou so much for reading!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The EPQ - Where to start

When studying at sixth form, as I have mentioned previously, there is less variety in the content that you are studying because you are doing more specialist content which you are expected to have full focus on. One of the things which I did not do, but wish I had done after helping a friend with their projects, was an EPQ which allowed further independent study on a particular topic. An EPQ (or Extended Project Qualification) allows you to gain further UCAS points by being equivalent to half an A level and this is something you can do in your second year. If you are interested in doing an EPQ, here is some information I found useful when initially planning out ideas:

1. Find a Mentor
Find a teacher who can help you with areas of research you might have come to a dead end in or are struggling with. This might be the head of a subject at your school or even a teacher from outside of the college (e.g. from your old highschool) This person should not under any circumstances write your content for you or give you any direct information, but should be able to guide you in the right direction towards new resources, such as particular authors who are renowned in the field or documentaries with some useful content. This person will also be able to help you keep track of where your work is up to and how much progress you are making.

2. An idea
This probably should have come before the mentor - but we'll put it in joint first place: An idea. The root of any single creation is always an idea which begins with intensive planning. Before you settle on a precise idea or question to research and collect opinions and evidence on, write out a mind map or spider diagram with lots of the things in that subject and then narrow this down until you have around three or four good ideas that you would be happy to write about. Once you have shortlisted your ideas, plan them out with lists of pros and cons for each, and see which has the most content in the field for you to write about. For example, something like music and politics has hundreds of years worth of content to research and could be connected to the history and literary elements as well as the musical and political whereas something such as ancient music might be a little more difficult to look into if you dont know where or how to begin. Although you will have a mentor, choose something which both you and they know at least a significant amount on, otherwise you may become bored or disinterested in a subject and you can't allow this to happen as this work is something which last over the time period of a whole year.

3. Organisation
This is a word I feel I have mentioned a lot in most of my advice articles, but it is one which is important so maybe the emphasis is a good thing rather than a bad. Keep your plans and work dated and in order, in folders, note books or whatever works, so that when you have an update with your mentor or teacher you can show them precisely where you are up to and what you have found so far. This will help keep the project moving at a steady pace across the year and will also mean that:
A. It is more likely you will be able to have both quantity and quality in terms of your work and...
B. ... It is more likely that you will be done in time and that your mentor will be able to give you useful information each time you meet to discuss your progress.

4. Collecting evidence
With musicology, for example, think of the work as an inverted pyramid (an upside down pyramid) Start with a little content and begin to build the skeleton of the structure, and as time goes by, find out information about specific musicians who were important to the time or composers and their work. This means that you can add to the information as you go along, without feeling too pressured to find everything on one thing at once. So think of it like these pyramids and build on them over time. Rome wasn't built in a day and nor will your EPQ be! As for resources, look where ever you can, libraries, archives, the internet, so long as you keep a regular dated bibliography, particularly when it comes to articles on the internet - keep links and also make a note of the last time you accessed the page.

5. Regular updates
Meet with your mentor or teacher on a regular basis, so that they can make sure you are keeping up to date (though of course you will be if you do a little work each day) they may make suggestions on where they think it might be best to go next and will also provide useful tips and advice. They may also be able to mark some content and say when they think it is better that some aspects be left out because you haven't gone into enough detail or don't have enough time to go into more detail.

6. Consistent planning
Back towards the beginning of this page, you read about planning before you begin using spider diagrams and mind maps but the planning cannot stop there. Plan what you are going to do every time you set out to do some work and then tick things off as you go along. By planning consistently you will be keeping organised in the simplest way - with a few points which you need to do each day in a clear order and format. If you keep these plans, this should also help with finding resources by showing what and where you have looked already each day, saving you a lot of time.

7. Confidence in final planning
Towards the end of the course before your public presentation, it is easy to feel nervous and like you haven't done enough, even if you have given yourself the best chance possible and done everything you possibly could. So try to stay level headed and calm. Make some flashcards and go over them and try and memorise as much as possible so that instead of looking down at the cards you can look up and around the room at your audience - this will also make your pronunciation and speech much clearer, as it will not be directed to the ground or wall, and hence will gain you higher marks in communication. Also make a powerpoint, with the basic points from what you are saying and then add detail by speaking (not just reading out what is on the screen) You can add diagrams and specific pieces of information you think might be important. Treat it as you would any other exam, by getting enough rest, sleep and remaining as calm as possible.

8. Your final presentation
As stated above, try and stay calm. Think of the audience in a way which makes you most comfortable, whether as strangers or as friends, and communicate to them as normally, clearly and in as structured a manner as you are capable of. It might sound obvious, but if you have done the work in advance, the day won't be as stressful because you will be able to focus more on your communication if the information you have to communicate is already in your head ready to be shared.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, please do let me know. Hope the information was useful, Good luck!

The Evolution of Jazz

Second year at sixth form for music currently has a secondary study in a field such as chamber music or something like this. Our college studied jazz (some offer the option to choose) so I thought it might be useful to go through a little of the history of this genre, so you have a bit of information if you want to study this next year. As a relatively new genre, Jazz is a combination of lots of things, from the ancient African music that was sung during work, to the more modern Western classical music. This is one of the reasons jazz is so exciting - it is still evolving and, at just over perhaps a 100 years old, it could keep going in any direction.

A note before we continue - This is based on the work/ what I have learnt on the genre of jazz throughout this year and was specific, in terms of artists, to my sixth form and their music department, so these notes might be only so helpful. The artists and pieces discussed may not be the ones which you will study. Either way, I hope you find the content interesting, informative and useful.

1 - Ragtime and Joplin
Ragtime is largely led by the piano. The piano at this point had a rather percussive sound and wasn't taken terribly serious in this, what was rather, a lighthearted genre. Joplin developed pieces for piano so numerously that it is his name we link more closely than others. He believed that ragtime should never be played 'too fast' and was even trying to develop an opera based around the style. Some of his most famous pieces (Maple leaf rag, Eugenia and the entertainer) are stereotypical of the style in that they contain some of the following characteristics:

- Striding accompaniment in the bass line
- Episodic themes in the right hand melody
- Left hand mainly chordal with recurrent use of quavers
- Emphasis/accented beats on quavers 2 + 4
- Mainly a structure of ABABCD (or alternates, with perhaps an introduction)
- Simple harmony (the primary chords of I, IV and V
- Moving from the tonic to the dominant (usually subdominant) after the repeat of the first two themes before modulating back to the tonic for the final themes and ideas

2 - The Blues and Armstrong
There is a large connection here with gospel and spiritual music. Although there is an overlap in the time periods of ragtime and blues, the styles could not have been more different (despite there being links) Armstrong began his career singing on the streets and learnt the cornet/trumpet later, gaining much of his fame in Chicago. His style of playing was incredibly virtuosic, which is why much of the blues is not transcribed - it was all improvised and hence it is too difficult to capture all of it. His repetoire allowed him to play pieces such as Westend Blues and the St Louis blues, but he also played pieces he helped to arrange such as 'Hotter than that' which he played with his band, the Hot 5, featuring his wife (lil Hardin' Armstrong) and Kid Ory (trombone) Dodds (clarinet) and so on. Where ragtime had some element of notation and repetition 'on purpose', the blues is one form of jazz which emphasised that idea of not having a true definition or structure and to just be the product of getting together with a bunch of other talented people and putting skill to use through improvisation, to see what would occur as a result. Some of the characteristics of blues are:

- A fairly clear 12 bar structure (hence 12 bar blues - Miles Davis)
- Still simple harmony (I,IV and V)
- Strophic form (less episodic)
- Development of repeated ideas all the way through (sometimes unrecognisable)
- Call and response (what we call in the classical world 'antiphony')
- Modal (neither major nor minor but a combination of the two occasionally - though not all jazz is modal!)
- Heterophony (a texture which gives the illusion of collective improvisation even with a soloist)
- Solo and accompaniment (solos with band breaks)
- Also syncopation, stop time, use of blues notes (flattened 3rd, 5th and 7th's) and, of course, the introduction of scatting. Fun fact - Scatting was created by mistake when Armstrong dropped some lyrics whilst sight reading and carried on by making different sounds to the melody, creating a new form of vocal improvisation.

3 - Swing, big band and Ellington
 This is my preferred area of jazz, particularly the music of Glenn Miller (which I was particularly disappointed to not have had more time to study - but I recommend you go and listen to some of his work, it really makes you happy!) although we studied Ellington. Big band music took blues to a new level, and in a way, back a step. The virtuosity that Armstrong displayed was not present to the same extent ad much of the music was now again composed and notated - so musicians had to read from sheet music opposed to lead sheets. Some of the most popular big band tracks by Ellington include Clarinet Lament (written for the incredible Bigard) and Ko Ko. Some characteristics of Big band are:

- Bigger band (with new instruments such as saxophone and electric guitar)
- Further use of a walking bass line
- More complex harmonies
- Syncopated repeated riffs and themes
- Based on common or recognisable tunes (good for the dance hall)
- Still solo and accomp or heterophony (and some call and response.)

4 - Bebop, Parker and Gillespie 
With musicians like Parker (/composers and arrangers) like Gillespie, it is no wonder that be-bop is one of the favourites of many who study jazz. At this stage, artists had grown tired of the idea of swing and jazz being simplified for popularity or entertainment purposes. So they reclaimed the idea of an art form by making the music complex and in some incidences, literally turning their back on their audiences. Some characteristics of Bebop are:
- Complex melodies (sometimes way beyond virtuosic, into the incomprehensible)
- Borrowed chords progressions (e.g. Grooving high had the chord progression for whispering)
- Scalic developed ideas (still some use of motif)
- Use of intervals such as 9ths, 11ths and 13ths.
- Polyryhthmic and syncopated
- Rhythm (hence melody) became a background to harmony.

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more from me on stuff like rehearsals and jazz, Blogger of the year is coming up and I would really appreciate if you could vote for me - you can do so here and if you do vote, you could also be in with a chance of winning some vouchers! If you have any ideas or suggestions about what you would like to hear more on, do let me know. Thankyou so much for reading!