Thursday, 31 December 2015

What to read in 2016




So now that the New Year is rolling in, you are all going to be hearing back pretty soon in relation to your offers and interviews etc. This can be scary, I remember only too well how nerve wracking it can be even if you have been given positive comments and reviews. So to make things a little lighter, on this side it is essays and exam weeks coming up, I thought to celebrate my shelf expansion, three book cases already full!, as you can see above, I would give you some of the reads I think might be either fun or useful, as they have been for me, for the next year when you return to sixth form, school or university:

1. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin 


I am probably one of the only unlucky few to have not seen this in the cinema recently which is devastating as I am a huge fan of Ireland and Irish literature. This beautiful book is one I read with the poetry of Oscar Wilde and just the wittiness of the writing, the complexity of both and the importance of silence to both (what isn't said reflecting more on mood/dynamic than what is) is just written in a stunning way. When I was studying Irish literature in sixth form, it struck me that a large element of the writing is identity and what identity is. In this book, that is a large element, but the writer manages to deal with so many other issues along the way such as life before the civil rights movement, life in America, what it is to be home sick and to miss home. As a university student around the same age as the main character, this book really hit home and I highly recommend it. Definitely one of the best books to be really focused in on towards the end of 2015. 

2. Berlioz - The memoirs 


My edition is one I treasure as I found it in an antique shop near where I live and it has full analysis of some sections and fun facts written in along the way by some one who was clearly a huge admirer of Berlioz. Me myself, I much prefer anything but Berlioz (apologies!) or at least I did until I read this. In music lectures we have been told about the importance of Berlioz because of his music, namely his importance in the shaping of the introduction of programme notes to help tell the tale of the music. In orchestras when we have played, usually, his symphonie Fantastique, we have been told of his exceptional ability to create sound. But what no one had told me until this point, and I wish they had, was that he was primarily trained (like Schumann) in something other than music. Trained originally in medicine, it took a lot for him to decide to pursue the career he loved. In the most passionate language, Berlioz captures life in Paris. He captures the littlest thing, like the noise of a carriage or a review he read in the newspaper. He rages about Mozart being played wrong at a premiere, he even quotes Macbeth. Reading a little behind the scenes has definitely intrigued me to know more about Berlioz the musician because Berlioz the writer is one heck of a guy.

3. Shakespeare - The sonnets


From my ramblings you've probably discovered by now that, yes, I am a Shakespeare fan. The more I analyse his work, the more I hear compositions filled with his poetry, the more I see performances and interpretations of Shakespeare the more I long for there to be new Shakespeare publications on shelves everywhere every day so that we might never run out of new Shakespeare to read! This edition is very special to me, more so than the Berlioz (though I suppose every book is special to me), because the sonnets were the first thing by Shakespeare I ever studied and they were what entranced me and guided me to continue reading his work. The thing with reading his sonnets is that, even more so than with the plays from the portfolio, you have to look beneath the surface because everything is not what it immediately might seem. The sun is never just the sun and believe me when I tell you that not a single line of Shakespeare was not deliberate. I recommend sonnet 116 (!!!) and 97.

4. Stasiland - Anna Funder


For all you budding history students, some of you lucky ducks will be studying post war Germany (great politics) and for those of you who aren't studying this area of history but would like to do degree level, or just really enjoy the subject as a hobby, I cannot express to you how useful and eye opening this book is to us in the modern day when this tragedy, which occurred not too long ago, is already starting to fade from the public eye. Funder goes so far into others experiences that she captures everything in the most majestic written manner possible - she is both gracious and considerate, well communicated, concise, expressive, clear. After reading this, I approached my studies with a whole new enthusiasm because her awareness of the importance of the issues which occurred in war time and post war Germany is one which you cannot get in the same format from a text book. Her level of detail is something well beyond what you have to learn, but it is a more humane way to learn it - by listening to how other people actually experienced those things, opposed to statistics and purely unbiased evidence for essays, and by seeing how it continues to impact through history today. It reminds us why history itself is so important to us as people. 


5. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Another fiction book, also set in Germany, and I don't have too much to say directly about this book because I believe it is one that tells itself so to tell anything would kind of destroy the purpose. What I will tell you is that this benefitted me in two ways: firstly in my academic A level studies (history and literature, more so the latter) and secondly, it opened my mind to new types of creativity. This is, like with Funder, a whole new level to story telling, fiction or non-fiction. Zusak narrates the story from the point of death, something I had never read (though of course there are hundreds of programme notes which state what music is depicting, occasionally this character but rarely) and it is just so... poignant. Like the silences in Brooklyn, silence too here plays a part, but it is more the suspense and the beauty of a thing you thought was a thing that could happen and not be part human too. To see a personified version of death, something which many texts hold as far a distance away as possible, was intriguing and really drew me further into the story than it would have done if say Liesel had been the one to tell it. 

6. How to be a heroine - Samantha Ellis

When people say 'don't judge a book by it's cover' I really do try to listen but occasionally have a moment of weakness in which I will see a pretty book on the shelf and just think 'that looks good' and end up at the counter with it. This one did not disappoint. Going back through fairytales and the like, Ellis tells us her experience with growing up and how her views on the equality of women were fed by the works she read and how that is beginning to change now as she gets older and re-reads some of those favourites such as The little mermaid by H. C. Andersen and pride and prejudice. Obviously those are two very different stories, but it is fascinating to see how they impacted in similar ways on the same person : to see how her views have developed now. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always affectionate for her favourites, Ellis takes feminism beyond being feminism and discusses it as an individual who has found it hard to find her place in society. For every literature student, there isn't a better place to start than with a simply structured, chocolate and coffee suited read like this one.

7. Benny Lewis - Fluent in three months

Learning languages can be a pain at times because no matter how many times you write out verbs or adjectives or nouns or even the basic grammar principles you are never going to just speak the language in ten minutes which I think is what we all have set up in our minds when we actually begin doing something such as this. Lewis is like Ellis in that he takes something we think is a difficult topic, hard to broach, and breaks it down into this lovely clean style where can see exactly what we need to do, how to go about it and doesn't condescend us in the process (which I think can be a thing with any kind of how -to book) Perhaps not as useful if you are already fairly fluent, but definitely useful to someone returning to a language or who wants to try something new. Keep an open mind and you will find that many of the ideas he puts forward are useful in the long run (e.g. keeping a pocket translation book favoured over google translate)

8. Danny Wallace - Charlotte Street

With the Ellis I picked the book up because I was intrigued by the cover. This one caught my attention because of the name. A. I have never heard of a book named after a street before and B. because it had my name and this made me want to know how it was being used. This one saved me from boredom on a rainy train on the way to school and I have re-read it many times. Because Wallace is even wittier than Wilde - or maybe he is the modern day equivalent. There were moments when I laughed out loud and got some strange looks and there were moments when I found myself sniffling (I had something in my eye, of course...) but I found I couldn't wait for the way home every day so that I could find out what happened next to each of the characters. Spoiler alert, Charlotte street plays a part, but not a character though it might sound like one. If you want a book to help you relax during your studies, this one should do the job.

9. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

Another one mainly aimed at literature students or people being college/university. Moving away from home is hard and it does affect your relationships with other people, both those you have known for a long time and those you are just meeting and this obviously impacts on you too. We do not always stay the same person right from the cradle to now. We change constantly, evolving into different versions of ourselves who are each capable of amazing things. And this book will remind you of that, as it did me. Paired with Brooklyn, this is a lighter, more modern dealing of university - what it is to be homesick and to miss your family and how to deal with things such as difficult classes or bad grades. It is also another funny one (I have a thing for collecting witty books by witty writers) with some touching moments and you will want to read it all in one sitting, which is exactly what I was doing this time last year. There is also another book you can find after reading this one which is called 'Carry on' based on the story that is being written by a character throughout (It will make more sense if you read it)

10. Anything by the Brontes 



2016 marks the beginning of the celebration of the bicentenary of the Bronte siblings - four in total, with 2016 celebrating Charlotte (Jane Eyre, Villette) 2017 Branwell (their brother) then their father, then Anne, then Emily. I am very excited for this, because it means there are going to be lots of interesting books being published about their lives and ideas, and also new editions of all of their novels (I hope this includes Penguin!) This year I read Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre and getting through everything they published is a current aim. I also love Emily's poetry, which captures so wonderfully the moors and how she saw the world. The best time to get involved with this incredible family if you haven't already! I have attached an interesting debate above which features Austen vs. Emily which I found really gripping and will hopefully prove useful to you too - let me know your thoughts in the comments. I am hoping to visit the parsonage in Haworth sometime over the following year as from my research I can see that it is such an inviting place and I just really want to experience it first hand. On a final note - Lost in Austen (not related to the Bronte's directly but please, watch it!!!) 

11. The cello suites - Eric Siblin



As a music student I loved this book because it made classical music accessible to those who are none musical which might be what draws you to it.  Siblin is that remarkable journalist you come across who becomes so committed to his craft that he begins learning the cello so that he can further understand the minds of those such as Casals and Bach who made so much music that we still love and hold dear to us today. Split so that the structure of a cello suite equals chapters depicting both of these figures as well as the writers own research and opinions, thoughts on the process of his research and how it is impacting on him. This is the musical equivalent of Stasiland and something that allowed me to really invest in my passion for music when I was deciding what to do at degree level. This book will be one I probably re-read many times throughout the rest of my life because I have never found something that can capture things from analysis to the life of Bach, something we know so little on, in so much clarity whilst also being able to almost photograph through the level of detail the colour of the sunlight on the day a thought was made or an experience occurred. To me this book is equally about music as it is about living and being alive. 

Some other similar recommendations based on the ones listed above:

12. Quiet - Susan Cairns (for those of you who are studying literature)
13. Virginia Woolf - A room of ones own (links well to read after 'how to be a heroine')
14. Thomas Hardy - Woman much missed (Penguin pocket editions, 80p - beautifully told)
15. Ovid - Metamorphoses (Works well for classic history students - amazing!)

And finally...

16. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson (my book of the year 2015)


The first book I ever read, and one I will never ever grow tired of. This is the epitome of everything I would ever want to write as an aspiring writer. Alice was there when I tied my first shoe, when I first learned to ride a bike and that there a solar system and that poetry can be written in a sad manner or a happy manner. Alice has been the reason why I wanted to thirst always for an education and an open mind to allow me to maintain creativity. And in 2015, Alice turned 150 years old which is so odd because it still sounds so fresh and so quick of the page. There have been many interpretations this year, and I am very lucky to have received lots more Alice related things and wonderland related things as Christmas gifts for my collection. I encourage you to love wonderland and to return to it time and time again as I do - especially with the new film coming out in 2016, it is a nice way to round off the anniversary year after so many new ideas and the musical (wonder.land) I am excited to see he progress Alice makes in the years to come. 

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Hallé Christmas Concerts 2015



So... It's been a busy and emotional weekend. The last Halle Christmas I will be a part of unless I continue on to adult choir (which I think I might consider auditioning for after my degree, perhaps) There were several years eyes on the last evening, all of us who wish we could just stay forever. Last Christmas we were recording for the carols album which will hopefully be released next year.

On the first day of the concerts, we had rehearsals with the orchestra and children's choir but the last day was two concerts - which included many motivic surprises as well as five horn players dressed in inflatable Santa suits and the children's choir singing gobbledegook the turkey! You know it's getting to the festive time of year when the reindeer antlers and Santa hats are out, but also when the descents are coupled with that odd second to last verse structure that seems to make no sense. My favourite piece we did would have to be the version of Britten's hymn to the Virgin which we sang with the adult choir. Such a beautiful simple piece that Britten composed when he was at school and only 17! 



Spending time over Christmas in rehearsals is never a bad thing when you get to spend it with your friends! The soprano section had a thing for fairy lights this year so you couldn't miss us from a mile off. There were some funny costumes too - an Elvis, a turkey, a cellist who was a Christmas tree! Like I said - wish it never had to end. I am very lucky to have such amazing friends and teachers and having the holidays around really makes that twice as obvious to me. I wish that I could always be this grateful.


I hope you all have a merry Christmas and a happy new year - I am sure the next year has a lot in store for all of us and I cannot wait to share it with all of you. Until which time, here's to the Kings Carol Christmas concert and dogs playing with wrapping paper!

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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Update: Xaverian reunion

So this evening was the reunion at my old sixth form... it was odd to be back in a place where I used to spend every day for two years. In my head, I guess I haven't been away for two long, but going back the small differences are already very obvious. It was great to see so many of my friends and to hear about their stories from university, or from apprenticeships or the jobs they have begun. It is also strange to think how far we have come in two years and how A levels have impacted on us each so differently. To hear about what life is like in places such as Oxford, Nottingham, Durham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and so many other places, was rather overwhelming. It makes me want to study in a thousand different places and learn many millions of different things (which I do intend to do, as much as time will allow me)


It doesn't feel like two years since that transition to sixth form... in some ways, university feels like a project we are working on for sixth form. And part of me will always feel that Xaverian is home. This is what I mean about those rose coloured glasses that hind sight can give... we forget about the stress of deadlines and of encroaching exams. Instead we remember all of the good things in one happy moment. We remember laughing with our friends, or reading a good book from the library, or the day that you get to watch a movie in the graphics department cinema (#thejunglebook!) But hopefully, I don't forget the bad times, as overcoming those challenges led to all the good stuff, and all the happy memories I have of the past two years. It has been such an amazing adventure that I would love to just go back and do all over again. You will be surprised how quickly the time will fly past... and before you know it, you're moving on to new places again.

But before I get too nostalgic... some of my friends from lower sixth (who are now uppersixth) and friends who are still helping out at the college have had so many achievements, especially in the music department. Due to an interview, I unfortunately couldn't make the Christmas concert yesterday (But I missed out! Jurassic park and star wars from the orchestra!) but I have heard plenty of five star reviews from staff and students alike. Plus, today they played at the Lowry for the new star wars movie - I am so proud of them, and only wish I could have been there to lend my support!


So... yes - it has been an incredibly nostalgic day, a real walk down memory lane which has reminded me of what exactly it is I want to achieve and why. These people will never cease to inspire me, and I know I have so much still to learn from them. But for now, I'm happy to see my A level certificates and have a moment of peace!

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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Finding out how to get there

You may have noticed at this point, as I did last year, that although you can get a lot of information out of open days, out of talking with teachers and students and sixth forms etc., it is often difficult to find out just how you can to get to where you want to be. Obviously the future is a difficult thing to master - it constantly evades us and shifts in stone: just when it might be easier for everything to just be set in one place, it carries on moving. So why is it that talking to students who are there now, it seems almost impossible for us to get answers out of them in relation to how they get there, how they created a personal statement and what they found the most difficult. The main reason is because of the rose coloured glasses that hind sight and progress can easily shape. Although all of us students do go through the same things, it can be very hard to look back at things and see them completely as they were because we have come so much further since then and our thoughts and ideologies no longer work the same as they might have done at the time when a memory was made.


This can be frustrating - how do we plan a personal statement in the right way? How did they so easily decide on the fact that physics was the right thing for them to be studying after they so nearly applied for a degree in music? So many questions. The important thing to bear in mind is, that there is no single straight path. The way to any given thing or place is not the same for everyone. Some of the most successful people in their fields came across their success by accident - an example being Pavarotti, who was originally training in sports before he decided on becoming a singer. Likewise, the currently popular Jonas Kaufmann who's father lived in East Germany at a time when the wall existed and things were extremely difficult - this influenced Jonas' education by being his son and as a result, he studied music as a hobby with his primary aim to be to get a degree in mathematics, which he did. It is not always gold and glamour, though when you see the finished or current state of affairs that belong to another individual it can be very easy to associate that with them as a person - to assume that because they are who they are they found things very easy : this is not necessarily true. It is just the way things appear.

One thing I have found useful in finding out how to get there, is to remember that that path is full of many things and is sometimes difficult to keep track of. Especially if you are multi-potentialist and interested in learning and doing many things:



This is a very long winded way of saying, that there is no direct path to any where and the main thing you can aim to do in your path to success is try and inspire a chain reaction. The connections you make are as important as the tasks you learn, because some day a friend might be working on a project and think of you. Or maybe, you will think of them when you are making a movie and need a composer, or when you are writing a book and need an editor. Your classes too, attending even one can make a difference in what you know and how you think about something - from the literary canon to Schoenberg's twelve tone system.

The path to the future 'there' is not something you will just be aiming to now, it is something everyone is always aspiring towards because it does not really exist. It is a figment of our creation that we use as our motivation to keep going. And that might seem useless phrased as a metaphor but it is your brains best ally right now. Because A levels lead to grades, and grades lead on to things like university, and that leads on to projects and experiences which will shape you for jobs and potential opportunities. So keep track of your own river and see how quickly it meanders - soon you will realise how difficult it is to give a simple answer when some one asks you how 'you got to be where you are' The day some one asks, you know you have made it too.

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Monday, 14 December 2015

Working on arrangements + compositions

When you're working on gcse or A level music, you work with composition - coming up with original ideas which are based on things which have previously inspired you and made you think. For the most part, the composition is your response and your way of showing that you are continuing to think beyond what it is you have learnt. In many ways, it can seem silly to be taught and graded in composition as it is very much about personal expression - when we listen to music by the great composers, their fingerprint is there. The same goes for arrangements - a good arranger will leave a completely original concept to a well known piece that wasn't there before, which transforms it into something barely recognisable. But how can we ensure we do this? 

1. Have an idea 

Things won't always just flow into your head - Rome wasn't built in a day and, no matter what the myths say, neither was Beethovens first symphony. Begin with a basic idea where you think about the inspiration for what you are going to do and decide how to implement that. Are you going to be writing a piece based on a fairytale? Maybe you have motifs which you are going to develop subtly throughout before the big return in the recap? Maybe you have a sonata form with some extra things thrown in to keep the audience on their toes, and this reflects a character? The more you plan, the more details you have, the easier it will be for your brain to start making connections from words to ideas to sounds. Just having a key can be the key to taking your idea and making a melody. If you plan first your idea and the structure, move from there on to the melody and build the harmony up around it. Start with the skeletal basics before you dare to continue onward on the composition quest or it can turn into a swamp pretty quickly - I say this from experience: keep organised and clearly focused - avoid treacle at all cost. 

2. Rhythms 

Can be equally as effective as your structure. I find it useful to integrate this into my plan and skeletal structure. If you are writing your own composition, decide on a time signature and stick with it (except for one bar changes to lighten a scherzo or to aid more swiftly the development) from your time signature draw up 5 to 10 (at least) small rhythmic ideas (maybe a triplet or a dotted minim followed by two quavers - it can be as simple as that) label these motifs with different things and repeat them throughout to reveal the significance of specific things such as love for something or hatred for something - think of your musicology lessons and how you analyse there and try to analyse yourself, as then you will be able to allow yourself to make those repetitions without feeling it is too much of a restatement. As for your arrangements - this really does depend on the type of piece you are arranging - try not to alter the main melody lines rhythm too drastically (this is what people will recognise) I have found the key is is changing the rhythms of the accompaniment as this changes the Entire appeal and mood of a piece. For example - thing of a slow ballad instead being swung, perhaps with a reggae best instead and a section where the tonality is changed. Explore the different effects that rhythm can have, as it is a very subtle way to make a difference. 

3. Genre 

This is kind of connected to what I mentioned previously at the end of rhythm - take attributes from one thing that is completely different to what you have chosen for your arrangement. Try classical if it is pop or vice versa. Experiment with these so you can get a taste of each before you decide on one. As for your individual composition, if you haven't been given the style, decide on one when you decide on the structure. Stick to one at first and use this to write the piece - e.g. Baroque, you can use lots of ornamentation and different pitching, structured like a dance, Romantic - you can use pedal on piano, lots of dissonance Etc. 

4. Fusion 

Once you have mastered writing for one genre and set structured style attempt combining things. This can complicate things a little more but it also makes it even more fun. If you have ever heard the funk version of Beethoven 5 you'll understand what I mean... All this means is using features from two different styles to make a merging and a new style of sorts - maybe you combine blues and free jazz, maybe you combine baroque and romantic. Anything is a possibility if you are dedicated enough to stick with it and see it out to the end with daily work or at least work on a fairly regular basis. 

5. Your mark 

You want your piece to contain a little bit of you, because that is why we as humans feel the need to create things. We capture ourselves in them, like a horcrux of sorts. This is something I cannot teach you to do because it is unique to every person. My gift is being obsessed with the time signature 6/8 (just kidding) if you keep up practice and get past he point where your work has errors, you will be able to take your almost finished drafts and make them more personal in the way you see fit, whether dynamics or structure. Whatever you do, give it time - it will come and you will be able to hear the difference, as will your audience. 

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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Update: Busking and Fundraising

Today I went busking with the Halle youth choir in Manchester and was overwhelmed with, not only the fun of it all and the Christmas spirit only ten different renditions of a carol can bring, but the pure kindness and generosity of other people. Being part of the Halle youth choir has changed my life completely ... Reading music was something I struggled with when I first began my studies and without HYC my sightreading skills would not be to the standard that they are today, nor would I have had the experience to learn so much about the industry and what it means to be a musician - things which influenced largely my decision to continue onto to degree level music. The Halle is a charitable organisation, meaning that busking and fundraising is important to the continuing of the incredible music making and teaching. 

The reason I was so humbled by people's generosity today in their listening and donating to us was because that means we can give back to the charity which has given us such a fantastic musical education, one of the best, without asking us for huge membership fees or costs we cannot afford. To come from a background in which I had little music education and to have reached this level is something I have to thank them largely for, and as a result, today was quite moving. 


Overall, this update of sorts is an extra one after yesterday and it is only very small in terms of words. But in terms of content I would like you to take away with you this:

Every experience you have ever had has led to you being who you are, so don't forget your roots or where you came from as you progress. Our gratitude and our realisation of how far we have come by showing that gratitude is our greatest ability to express our thanks and our progress. I hope that organisations such as the Halle continue to educate and inspire young musicians to continue on with their desires to be successful performers, composers, musicologists - and that It gives them the confidence to allow themself the chance to make it happen. 

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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Update: Post 100, Viva Voce's and Christmas Holidays

On the 12th day of Christmas - I realised that this is the 100th post I have written for UCAS, which came as a bit of a shock because it feels like way less in terms of what I have written so far than that. But it makes me happy that it has gotten to this many posts because it means I have been doing what I set out to do - documenting the adventure of applying and studying music at university and also providing as much help and advice as I can to you guys by doing so - hopefully, it has been of use (and continues to be so)

The last day went really well - got through the repertoire for exams pretty fast (which is a good sign) and no one seems to terrified about the prospect of January being so near which is also a good sign. So, fingers crossed, the exams are going to go ok as long as we don't stop practicing everything over the holidays. In harmony class, we were learning about this principal which was mainly discussed by those such as Schoenberg. The theory goes beyond enharmonic equivalents to explain why and how chords can be further connected (whether relatively closely or not) by other keys - in fact 5 regions worth of keys and chords (not the usual six we would think of in Western/ classical - traditional harmony) This method is viewed as outdated by many conservatoires and Leeds college of music is one of the few places in the UK to still teach it which I am quite glad of as, although I can understand why people might interpret it as old fashioned, all harmony is technically old fashioned - including basic notation and it is important that we understand it in as much depth as possible so that we can realise fully why and how composers thought the way they did in the past when they were putting together string quartets and Lieder songs and symphonies. Our analysis of some Beethoven in the class revealed this too me more clearly as it enabled me to able to see that in Vagrant harmony, v - I are the only chords used throughout one whole movement of part of one of his string quartets! This might seem basic, but it took a while to understand and figure out as Schoenberg's principal was applied - so it was V-I in say the tonic minor dominant key and then back to the tonic and then in the mediant minor etc - so it wasn't staying in one key, it was moving around one key to add colour and never really settling on a main tonality. Fascinating stuff!

After classes were over, I travelled back to Manchester where I am to rehearse and work (for most of) the next three weeks or so for Christmas holidays! Today has been my first day off in a while which was great - to see a few friends, family, and go for a walk in the rain at the lake - there is no greater way to spend the first day of the holidays! (I'm rather a fan of polka dot wellingtons too!) The coldness is hopefully a sure sign of snow! :


Tomorrow is Halle rehearsals, we had rehearsal during the week as well (which meant lots of train journeys!) but it was great to get into the Christmas spirit with my fellow choir friends, and sing close knit harmony in a circle (as seen below!) Tomorrow we are doing some singing for charity before the rehearsal, which I am quite looking forward to as we will be doing some of the best carols - like Holst's setting of Rossetti's 'in the bleak midwinter' 


I thought I would also go over viva voce's for those you who might be doing technical exams or any form of exam in which you are requested to do this, as I know there were a few people who were a little confused about this prospect at college. Basically, a viva voce is an interview in which you will be asked to analyse something by being asked questions from an examiner or teacher. In my grade 8 ABRSM singing exam, these questions were more like one question : analyse the piece you heard by dividing it into sections, stating it's form, structure, tonality, character etc. Whereas the Viva Voce for my technical exam in January has just been clarified as something to see how we think about our progress and practice - so asking us to analyse how we have improved, what we have worked on, why we find that and continue to find that useful etc. This is something I have realised the importance of in my singing lesson this week, as I was able to pick up on my own mistakes which I couldn't do in the first week of classes because my training until that point had not enabled to do this for every mistake - now my practice is much more efficient because I can pick up on those differences and tidy things up much more quickly to make diction or clarity more clean and precise. This has been especially hard to learn to do as, as a singer, I am constantly inside the sound I am making and never hear myself unless it is on a recording so it can be really difficult to know whether the mistake is just something you are hearing and the sound is actually fine, or if the sound is one which is not appealing to everyone else but might sound fine to you in your head. 


From the pictures above, you can see something from the very beginning of my year and the end of my semester and year 2015... it makes me very nostalgic (as I often seem to get in relation to education these days) to see how far I have come since that UCAS application and the friends I have made on that journey. I have mentioned friendship quite a lot in this update, and that is because I realise just how grateful I am for them right now and how much I have learnt and continue to learn from them as people - to add to my long list of inspirations - they are all included. definitely! It has been one heck of a year... here is to it continuing on in the creative chaos of 2016!

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Friday, 11 December 2015

Making the most of an open day + FAQ's

Whilst continuing to apply and consider your options, it is important to also continue looking. Just because you have sent off your application doesn't mean your work is completely done when it comes down to university in general. You still have time to really open up your outlook by furthering your knowledge on what places are like up close and personal. Plus, it means a fair bit of travelling to new places and possibilities which can, afterall, be no bad thing. In fact, I found it very fun to be able to see new places and meet students from many different backgrounds as it made me feel more connected and less ignorant to how different subjects and education systems work which is what education is all about - being versatile, open minded, and willing to rid the world of as much ignorance towards as many things as possible because that is how discoveries are best made - when people keep their brains wide open (to quote vaguely from bridge to Terabithia)

When browsing through the internet, I came across this - some of the top questions that students ask at university open days:

http://university.which.co.uk/advice/open-days/top-questions-to-ask-at-a-university-open-day

These questions are all pretty valid, and many I now wish I had asked myself (some I just didn't think of) Being prepared for open days is important as I realised myself through experiencing them. Sometimes universities can be so overwhelming in the amount of content being thrown at you all at once that you might forget to ask for more detail on the things you want to know, or clarification of things you have heard but might not be too sure on. One of the biggest questions that proved an issue later on for me over the summer was 'is there any work you can give me to be getting on with?' Because I am on a practical course, there wasn't really much in terms of reading, but I was able to later get in touch with my current harmony teacher via email, who sent me a really long listening list which I am still working my way through. Music students, a heads up - the more you listen to, the more you will become accustomed to understanding how harmonic devices work. I can also not recommend more the book 'Harmony' by Walter Piston. My book was second hand and is fully analysed which has been unbelievably useful! But I digress... My point is, make a list in advance of the things you want to know, read up on the places and use this as a guide line of sorts so that no void is left unturned and you are completely prepared. And if the questions do evade you on the day itself (It is't a test with flash cards afterall) then you can always email them - some one at the college is bound to reply within a few days time, happy to help - as long as it isn't over Christmas break, as colleges tend to be on skeletal staff or closed during these times (but the rest of the year, things are very clock work and efficient at most places, I have found)

As for Leeds college of music, I thought I would answer the student questions for you in case you had any queries. If you have an questions you want to email to me, you can reach me at charlottestevensonucas@gmail.com

FAQ student questions to an LCM student:

1. What are the best and worst things about your university subject?

As a student who selected performance, I struggle quite a lot with notation. Those of you who can or have learnt to study music at a later age will know what I mean when I say it is like learning another language. But the college is very patient about this, which is fantastic because it means I can keep on track and beyond that - there are lots of videos on Space (our VLE) which help us in our free time if we might not have time for a catch up class, and the teachers are also more than happy to answer questions if you email them. Some of the best things about my subject so far has been the performance aspect and also the collaborative aspect. I really enjoy combining these so that all the things in my one to one tutorials can be put into practice in other performance classes where the focus is on how we look visually when we portray a character in an aria, and also allow us to mix technicalities with ensemble skill when we work in groups. It has been really challenging, but the critique is built in a way which only encourages you to work harder and get your tasks accomplished quicker if anything. Working with likeminded people has been fascinating, because I have never been surrounded by so much music and so many hard-working musicians before.

2. How have you found the teaching and facilities etc. so far?

As previously mentioned, the teachers are very patient and usually quite clear - their real focus seems to be on us as students and wanting to encourage that student voice on a whole instead of quietening it. There is a very big space for discussion on most issues, which I have realised more fully as a student representative for the classical pathway and as a BAPAM representative also. Practice rooms can be quite difficult to get hold of but this is normal, as so many people study at the college. If anything, this makes you think in a more organised and logical way so that you know to book a room in advance if you know you are going to need a room to practice in with a piano come technical assessment week. The pianos and amps (etc) are of such great quality - every room is fully equipped and the people at the desk down stairs are more than happy to help you find any instruments should you need spares or a different kind (e.g. you might play tenor saxophone, but need to work a bit on baritone for a class) Kind of linked to teaching, there are also a lot of resources online as previously mentioned, but there are constantly new things to be involved with to not only widen your knowledge and skill practice, but to introduce you to collaborations with people who will become not only your friends, but contacts who will help you and who you will also help in the future as your careers progress.

3. Are some of the halls of residence worse or better than others?

Currently I am looking into this. I live in the halls above college which are quite good - though they can get a little noisy (but this is the same with any student hall of residence, to be honest) the facilities are cleaned and the staff friendly, and I am lucky to have flat mates who are also equally as friendly. These halls are only open to first years, but I do know that there is also another UNITE property across town called the plaza,as well as assorted houses and flats in places such as Mill street and St. Peters street which are also not too far from college (it is quite near the city centre, though there is no real city centre - it is all very close knit)

4. What is the town/city like?

As a city, I like Leeds because it varies so differently from other places ­ there are aspects of all cultures, of all backgrounds, whilst still maintaining in a fresh format that history it possesses: in details such as the architecture and the beautiful countryside it works hard to preserve without impacting on the modern feel of the place overall. As a music student, I feel I get to see a lot more of Leeds than many students do, which makes it feel a lot more like home ­ being able to meet people who are studying science, ballet, how to play the clarinet, literature, law ­ there is a wealth of knowledge right at your finger tips, supported by museums, theatres etc. I love having that privilege because this is not present in a lot of bigger cities due to the sheer size ­ here there is a real sense of friendliness and hence community.



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Thursday, 10 December 2015

How do A levels impact on your university education?

When choosing your GCSE's, you might think of how they impact on what it is exactly, that you can study when you apply and get into sixth form. Similarly, you may now be at the stage where you are considering how your A level's will impact on what degree you do and as a result, trying to figure out what you should study when you do get to sixth form so that you have as many options as possible in your second year when it comes to deciding on university and getting a degree.

When I was in sixth form, I began with four A levels - English literature, English language, music and Modern History. These were the same subjects I had studied for my extra options at GCSE and all are subjects I still enjoy now. However, due to my grand dad being terminally ill whilst I was at sixth form, the stress of having four A level's got to be too much in terms of work load, and so I stopped English language and carried on with the other 3. I got ABB overall at the end of the two years, with one of the highest marks in England for my first year exam, with full marks on that (still don't actually believe that... but apparently it is true) Choosing these three subjects was really great for me as an individual because, they were classes which I enjoyed both in and out of school. When I was at home, I enjoyed reading frequently, not just the set texts, and with history - what we learned in class always made me think up more questions that would get me to go looking for my own answers. These are the sure signs that you have picked the right topics.


It is hard to pick A levels... no matter your interests, you are still bound to become interested in other topics which you aren't studying, or maybe you will even start to feel bored of a topic - these are just signs that you are a thinker: specialising is difficult to get used to with how open and balanced our education has been up to this stage so we are bound to want to think about other things other than just the subjects we have chosen. The key thing, as mentioned previously, is to make sure the subjects you have picked are ones that will interest you even when they might at times frustrate you and ones that will allow you the option of continuing on to university, if you want to.

When I look back at my A level choices now, I wouldn't change what I have studied. Though I do wish that I had also studied a science and a language. French and German are languages which I am very interested in and would have tied in quite well with history, English or music because these subjects are all largely based on culture. Biology is my favourite of the sciences, mainly due to the study of plants - when I was younger I remember for quite a while I was torn between marine biology and music because those were two subjects which fascinated me (I still find myself answering 'everything' when people ask me what I want to be when I am older) But as I said, these are subjects which still intrigue me and which I still learnt/learn about despite studying three completely different subjects at A level.

To let you in on the subjects a little, I have attached a few resources below in relation to each of the subjects which I studied which might interest you to look into them a little more and consider them before you decide on your A levels towards the end and beginning of next year.

English Literature:

Allows you to read an analyse texts with your thoughts and opinions being one of the key elements. In my first year we studied comedy (including one of my all time favourite texts, Pride and Prejudice) and in my second year we studied the gothic (including one of my least favourite texts, Wuthering Heights - we did get to study Shakespeare though, who is possibly one of the biggest reasons I chose this subject) If you are a fan of reading many texts and discussing a variety of different themes from Feminism to Marxism to why Sylvia Plath isn't talking about herself as Sylvia Plath directly in all of her poems, then this is a subject you will greatly enjoy and get a lot out of. It can make you consider the wackiest things, or realise some of the most blatantly obvious things - like why our literary canon is dominated by mainly European texts:


Modern History:

Can really prove useful if you want something similar to but not directly government and politics or ancient history (both end up tied in a little, that was the way with my teachers) In my first year we studied American history and British government (I had a particular interest in the suffragettes and the fight for women's equality) and in my second year we studied 500 years of Russian history and Germany after the second world war. The second year topics were ones I hadn't thought much on in the past but came to absolutely love by the end of the year, especially the German history module. But beyond these subjects, I continued to maintain a passion for c.17th history and the Victorians - two periods of history which have proved particularly popular with other students too. In fact, these are (according to the Guardian) some of the most popular history topics:

http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/gallery/2014/aug/13/top-10-most-popular-history-topics-alevel-students

Music:

This was the A level that meant the most to me as I had worked the hardest to achieve it and it was the thing I was fully committed to from the age of 12 in terms of getting into a conservatoire and training to be a professional classical singer. Some aspects of the course I found challenging, such as listening and dictating intervals and composing pieces for string quartet and solo violin with piano, but overall this course was one which I felt was well balanced, with marks in composition (theory), a listening paper, essays to show analytical skill of scores, and a performance aspect (with up to two instruments including your principal study) The new AQA A level is in fact equally as well written, if not even better written, than the previous. We got to study Beethovens first symphony (which has become forever stuck in my head in terms of the bassoon part - and I actually went to see this played by Joshua Bell at the Bridgewater hall when I was studying it and he signed by CD!!!) fiddler on the roof, Oliver, the history of jazz (which enlightened me greatly) and Shostakovich symphony number 5 - the first piece of orchestral music I ever really loved (it was kind of like coming full circle) Obviously the training proved invaluable because those skills were what enabled me to get to the standard of degree level with scholarship, but the thing I value most from this course is that I was very lucky to have a teacher and friends who were eager to learn about music and to discuss and debate it and as a result, these are people who go on to teach me new things about what I do every day. I would never have been able to progress to this point and continue to progress without them and I am immensely grateful. In the hopes that you will see the wonder of it, I have enclosed my favourite movement of the magnificent third movement of Shostakovich symphony number 5: the reason I have my scholarship, because I mentioned it in my personal statement and was asked to sing it in my audition here at LCM.


So if there is one thing you take away from reading this about choosing your A levels - let it be that you should choose what you do for you and for no one else. The next two years of your life are going to be an intense battle, I am not going to lie, between your brain and the exams - but work hard and you will make it through and you will feel twice as strong for it. Make sure that the choices you make aren't just for the names, or the significance, but because they make you happy and make you want to learn. In the long run, that is all that matters.

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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Who inspires you?

No matter what course you are studying, there are people who inspire you. Perhaps in the subject, perhaps in a hobby, perhaps they simply inspire you to be and to live and breathe. There are many people I find influence me and the way I think - what's going in the news some times being the obvious one. But there are people from history and also fictional characters who also influence me a lot.

Today I met one of my 'heroes' of sorts from the film industry. You might know him as Nicholas Dodd:


Aka: the guy who is responsible for orchestrating some of the James Bond movies, the time travellers wife and most importantly, the score for the Chronicles of Narnia (my absolute favourite sound track of all time) And today he was in college giving a master class. I was absolutely devastated that I couldn't stay for the whole thing (due to needing to get a train to Halle rehearsals) but at the same time, in the half an hour I was able to attend of his class, I learnt a lot - he talks in a way that makes you want to at least try to become a composer and conductor, with such infectious enthusiasm.

Students and teachers contributed many questions. You might have noticed that frequently with these celebrity type figures, we never really know the story of how they got to be where they are now, at least not in depth - it all seems rather magical and impossible still. But Dodd answered clearly about the things he believed responsible for his early career taking off the way it did. He said he had never even considered film, that he had only ever been conducting prior and after leaving the university he was at in London his first step had been to start an orchestra to practice his conducting and use it as a professional platform and this ended up guiding him in the Hollywood direction, where some of his friends were experimenting with electron music and synth's the way that he was. He spoke very bluntly when he told us he was lucky - that synths back then were waiting to go into the lime light because it was something new: that we don't have that luxury now, when everything is made up largely of synthetic sound and sampling - there just aren't as many jobs as we might need in all industries, especially music. But unlike many other teachers who have taught us about the 'reality' of working as a professional musician, he was insistent on the fact that you must keep trying and you must persist if you love doing something, because you will succeed. He actually said 'you will always succeed'. He also told us that 'you haven't made it into Hollywood if you haven't been booted off a film' which made everyone laugh. The genuine humanity with which he talked about these problems, and about the fun he has had on his own journey to becoming a professional orchestrator (the advice he gave so freely to us all) made me admire him as a professional figure all the more because he still seems very down to earth and hopefully, if I am ever half as successful as he has been, I will be able to carry on as myself the way that he has done - because that wit, and that character, he carries across so well into the music he helps create.

But the best moment of course, had to be when he showed us how he put together music at the piano (chords and clashes to increase drama) followed by some of the original movie clips (prior to the release of the original movies) from Narnia, with the logic tracks up next to it so that we could see how each part of the orchestra was recorded, edited and put together to create the sound we got that matched up to the movements in the scene of the picture/movie. It was the moment where the ship is in a storm in the Dawn treader and Edmund turns into the dragon (because it is always Edmund getting into trouble...) and there is this beautiful moment with the cellos - and he was explaining to us how they strengthened the sound of the cellos in that section because the higher range in the cello at that moment was very expressive and by bringing it to the forefront of the orchestral sound, it created a very emotional piece of content that was more effective in its' impact upon the audience - because those are the moments that move us (kind of like how they say it is the major keys in Schubert that show us how masterful he was, because they move us to tears more so than the minor keys)

Dodd isn't the only person who inspires me - though meeting him and learning about his experiences today was possibly the best thing! Like I said, there are all different people from various walks of life who I find influencing my thoughts, actions and decisions. There is not time enough in the world to list all of them, but below I have added a clip I think you might find inspiring too - it is Nelson Mandela talking about his experience of reading Anne Frank's diary when he was imprisoned and the impact that her words had on him. Although a sad topic, I feel it is important that we continue to be inspired by these people. Nelson Mandela changed the world and continues to do so, in a similar but entirely different way to the way that Anne Frank does. And both of them go on living in their words and actions long after they are gone from this world.


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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

What singing lessons are really for

When I first started singing lessons I was eleven years old. Through those lessons I learnt a variety of skills, such as breathing, which became second nature with the amount of time we studied them. You just begging to implement these skills into whatever it is - whether it be rock, pop, jazz or classical. Most of them are birds of a feather - you'll find you need the same grounding technique wise in order for these things to work at all. I didn't actually have a teacher for a good six months before my exam because my grand dad was terminally ill so we couldn't afford a teacher. And yet I still managed to get a distinction in my grade 8 without the help of a teacher - so how is it, then, that singing lessons do help us and continue to help us as we progress through our vocal education? What exactly do they do? 

1. Language skills 
Without being a native speaker, it is highly unlikely that you are going to pronounce everything properly without some significant work. In your singing lessons you will be provided with the connection to books which can give you better translation of the text and hence a better understanding which will allow you to energise the poems you sing. The translation within a text is not to be trusted! It is usually extremely poetic and the license will mar your understanding of the significance of particular words. Although there is a lot of time and patience which goes into learning IPA and consonants and all that jazz, that stuff allows you the space to think about character and interpretation so that you can gradually improve the quality of what you are doing over time. It is why singers can end up working on a piece for years and still learn new things about their presentation and how they want to create the impression of a piece. Once you have language, you have the key to any door in any piece. The four things that I have been told by previous teachers to help with text/diction is: 1. Speak it 2. Speak it in rhythm 3. Speak it in pitched rhythm (sliding - not quite singing) 4. Sing in accurate pitch, rhythm, dynamic etc. My teacher explained that although this is time consuming it is some of the most vital work that you can do. 

2. A second opinion and another ear
When you listen, you're inside the sound. Something which might be working technically might not sound good to you inside that sound but outside of it, it might be the best sound you have ever made and just what an audience is looking for. Plus, the teacher can listen and apply their thoughts to help you get used to making the better sound. Being in a comfortable situation where you can alter things is much better than stressing yourself out by trying to make yourself understand things you don't really, and ending up embarrassing yourself as a result. The best example of getting a second opinion is a master-class situation, like the master-class led by Joyce Didonato (one of my favourite singers) below:



3. Access to knowledge 
Your teachers have had the whole adventure of gathering the wisdom that they have now on recordings, pieces, composers, technique, and they pass it onto you in different ways. They can give you ideas to think about, talk with you about your interpretation and debate previous recordings or performance they might have seen - experience is everything and considering you have probably not had too much of it at this point, it can't hurt to hear what someone else has experienced and hear what they have to say. They may also be able to refer you to further places of help, not just books, but to connections to people who could help your further in your progression, such as speech therapy, other singing teachers, master classes or performances which might help the way you think about something and provide you with a perfect level of the example of what you should be aiming to achieve in the end. 

4. Technique 
This one is the one I remember as 'behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes' because technique is rolling it's eyes when it is your interpretation and characterisation that gets the credit - none of that would exist without technique as the foundation and preparation of all those other building blocks. In a nut shell - the technique you use is your mechanics, so breathing, supporting from your diaphragm, good posture, pronunciation, diction, energy, gesture - all of those boring things you can't wait to never have to do again. But these things are going to be helping you every moment of your career so it is better to get there asap. Don't run before you can walk! And also, don't lose patience with yourself - it takes time for everyone to learn, but you wouldn't have to go through the torture of it all if it wasn't worth it. 

5. Support 
Because sometimes it is just nice to have someone else confirm what you already did know or thought you knew. and a singing teacher will become a friend to an extent, because you will be working with them with your voice - in my opinion, the most vulnerable instrument because it is you making it and not the wooden sound box or the strings of a violin. Not the reed of a clarinet. You. And the main thing a singing lesson and a good teacher should help you with is your confidence, your stage presence and your contentment with everything that you can achieve as an individual. If you are able to recognise when you have done good work, creating new goals based on this without getting yourself too down by comparing yourself to someone else fifty years your senior, then you're probably on the right tracks. 

Now, I'd better be off to catch my train to get back to college or I'll be late for my much anticipated dinner - so, for now, I'll leave you on that note! 


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Monday, 7 December 2015

Time management and assessments

Yesterday I discussed Erasmus and studying abroad for a year during your degree. Whereas today I will be discussing the parts of your degree before that - the whole area of your study that is made up of time, efficient time usage and how you can use both of these to the best degree possible so that you can get your assessments to fill out in terms of their potential. I figured with Christmas coming up, now was a particularly good point to discuss this as with January deadlines, work does need to be getting done over Christmas.

These are the ways which work for me personally when I am using time to get an assignment done to the best of my advantage:

1. Schedule

Plan out a schedule that doesn't bombard your head full of things to an extent that you can no longer think straight. Around your other classes, place an hour or so every day where you can get some extra work done, whether this be working on new elements of the course or revising the old to ensure you have got everything 100% in your mind. As for holidays, be particularly strict with your use of schedule here because this is when you are going to need it most. I have three exams in my first work back and lots of deadlines so I am definitely going to need to have my schedule ready and in a place that I can see it every day.

2. Extra hours

As previously mentioned, you won't get through the whole year, let alone your assignments, without extra hours. These extra hours are the time when your brain can get used to digesting and absorbing everything you are trying to get through. The reason I recommend these extra hours now is: because you still have enough time now to get them in without burning yourself out. Take it from some one who has been there and done that... cramming the night before or the few minutes before an exam is not the best way to study at all. Not only does it make you stressed and upset, but it takes all the fun and useful traits of learning away. By cramming information into your head at top speed you won't remember information for much longer after the exam is over, which is why you should want to be learning in the first place. Information might seem boring at the time, but if you are going to need it (which at degree level or A level you most likely are) try to retain it. I learn't my lesson after the first attempt at cramming in year 9 for a French test, and ever since I have tried to be prepared as possible. Perhaps this is most evident from the fact that I can still remember that Flavnoids have some connection with the plant Agrobacterium Tumafaciens (Year 9 Biology)

3. Well rounded research

It isn't about how much you study the text book, or the poetry, or the syllabus - it isn't even always about how much you cater for the mark scheme (Or maybe it is...) I have found it is about how much you love a subject and about the lengths you are willing to go to learn about something. For me, the learning which has most benefited me in preparing for university has been that which I did without even realising. Well rounded research is made up of the balance of three kinds of research: that set by your teachers, that which you do consciously to broaden your knowledge and that which you do purely by accident - reading, retaining information from films or discussions or debates. Try and make your research fun by finding things that really interest you and making them into personal projects. One of the times I learn the most about music was when I bought a huge box of second hand books on composers and just read them over the summer between high school and sixth form. Thanks to those books, I got the foundation in harmony and knowledge of the common musical practice period which would benefit me from my first week onwards at degree level for musicology.

4. Proof reading 

Assignment wise, this is something you can take your time with - but you can also use it as practice for exams. When proof reading in exams be as subtle, efficient and quick as you possibly can to save time - but still aim to leave yourself a good five minutes at least to read over what you have written at the end. Although only a small percentage of marks will go towards your grammar and punctuation, it is a really valuable skill to have if you can read through something and register what and why you are reading and if it works - this skill is useful in every day life too, particularly if you need to do something such as send professional sounding emails fairly quickly. But if you do practice this speedier version of proof reading on your assignments, do it towards the beginning before you are reading through for the last few times. And get a friend or family member to look over it to - their eyes might find the things you missed. One of the best pieces of advice given to me from learning skills in sixth form was that you should leave the assignment for 24 hours after you have finished your final draft before you proof read it again so that your mind approaches it with a new sense of consciousness and awareness and can approach that piece as your family or friend might do if they were reading it.

5. Do you enjoy reading/studying it?

Final tip - academic language doesn't have to make anything boring! When you read it, aim for it to be that rare thing that not only fits all the criteria and ticks all the boxes, but which makes your mind satisfied - make it sound like your favourite authors (not in the sense of plagiarism, but in the sense of sounding how you want to sound as a writer) and make it fit the criteria that you hold personally too. You want your work to be more than something you get marked on, you want it to be something that you are proud of either way because you know you have done your absolute best!

Here is a really interesting video on how someone else studies, and how they have found studying at Oxford has impacted on their learning and methods of retaining information:


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Sunday, 6 December 2015

Travelling, study and Erasmus

Travelling is an important part of studying and developing in every day life. It allows you the opportunity to not only see other places and learn more about them, but to give yourself the opportunity to pick up skills which might help you in the job market (such as languages) and to embrace a new culture - which can be one of the biggest challenges in terms of education, and is hence one of the best reasons to make this part of your degree path.

You might have heard of Erasmus. This is a programme which helps students to get a placement in another country for a year. This is often why courses are four years long - because the university might be able to offer you the opportunity for this year abroad. Not all universities have it, LCM does not have this programme (although it does support it's students if they wish to study in another country after their degree) but the majority now do or are looking into taking it into their places of learning.


This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, as am I planning to do further studies in possibly Germany or France - these are languages I study every day. I have realised how much of a factor this will be in living and studying some where else, as although many places do speak English it is not always viewed as polite if it is the secondary language of a place.

If this is the type of thing you are planning to do with one of your years at university, or perhaps you are planning to go on a general trip to help you prepare for something via language and culture skills, here are some tips I have come up with after open days at universities in Paris:

1. Practice for an hour every day

Saving up is one thing to worry about, but so is practicing the language itself. Without at least an hour of practice a day, you are very likely to quickly forget skills - despite perhaps spending a whole day originally learning something like a tense. Practice every day in various manners, so that you have well rounded speaking, reading and listening skills. Think in the language as constantly as possible throughout that time, and use many methods. You don't have to stick to just the pen and paper thing - you can branch out and see what works: phrase books, websites with advice, flash cards and (particularly useful when travelling) apps such as Duolingo.

2. Immerse yourself (e.g. film)

It isn't just about practice either, it is about being confident in the language when you do use it. Fluency is not being able to speak in extremely complex ways - it is merely being able to have an average conversation using Spanish or French etc. Don't forget - on a regular basis, we cannot remember half of the English words, or words we want to use, in our first language. Immerse yourself by using your practice to remember a variety of words to broaden your vocabulary (at this moment, you have around 40,000 words of your first language spinning around in your head) and also by pretending you were where ever it is your are aiming to go. If you practice and then don't try to think about how to adapt those language skills into day to day activities, you will struggle to apply them once you do arrive in the place. Do this by using fun methods - everyone knows films such as Les choristes or Amelie if they have studied French, because films like these add quirky ideas and lots of ideas into one film that will make you think and translate and comprehend and respond all at once. This can be overwhelming (hence all of the and's!) But it is key to improving confidence because you will start to hear things so repetitively your brain will make them second nature and will use them more freely and less self consciously.

3. Learn about the history

This is both an immersion task and a preparation task (you can do this in the language itself or your first language) Culture is not just language, it is people - and the quickest way to that culture and that people is through learning about it's history. It is why, afterall, we have tourists: people go to Berlin to see things such as the Brandenburg gate and the remains of the Berlin wall, people go to Paris to see the Louvre museum and Notredame cathedral, the Eiffel tower - these trade marks have stories and they can be the most fascinating things that allow you to feel the patriotism and the emotions of the people who live there. When I first started learning French, I read many fictional books in English, such as the hunchback of Notredame, Les miserables and also the phantom of the opera - quite famous books written a significant while ago. Although fictional, I learn quite a lot about the opera scene in France and also about the revolution. There were many history books too, but by reading these novels in English and then in French, I had a better understanding of the events and could internalise the information and digest the different in the translation - see how much the story transformed purely because of slang and language traits. It is so fascinating too, to pick apart a text and put it back together - a puzzle of sorts.

4. Labels 

Another immersion tip really that I use, but it is one that I think can be really helpful. Basically, all you need is a pencil and some post it notes. Put them on any thing and everything you want to remember the name of. If you want to remember that a book is a 'livre' then label it. If you want to remember what is in your glass, label it 'L'eau' etc. Forcing your brain to acknowledge these titles frequently will soon get the words into your more confident speech practice.

5. Keep motivated 

And a final, perhaps more obvious, aspect of preparing language and readying yourself for that next step to an Erasmus exchange - Don't let your motivation slip! No, no even for a second. This means keeping your practice scheduled so that you have a minimum amount every day and continuing to work hard at it, even when it frustrates you most. Even then! Because a language is just like a plant that needs watering on a regular basis - if you forget to water it, it will take a long time to get it back to how it was. When you do get frustrated, let it fuel you to work even harder. As I remind myself in those times - Rome wasn't built in a day, so neither will the language skills I need from foundation upwards - we have to keep building. The best experiences in life are the ones we have to work for - so make it count, and you can guarantee that you will have an amazing opportunity in your future!

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