Monday, 29 February 2016

Vocal Health Day

As I have mentioned in the past, here at LCM I am involved in a few extra curricular things, including BAPAM - this is a really interesting area of student life to be involved in as it means that I can help students with aspects of their course that aren't necessarily academic or day to day and this can be challenging in a way which forces me to step outside of my comfort zone and to put myself in someone else's shoes.

It also means discussing elements of performance based courses to see how we can make life easier for ourselves, whether we be singers, violinists or guitarists. One of the most recent projects that has been brought to fruition at popular request of students and teachers alike, was the vocal health day.

The vocal health day was led largely as a work shop with representatives from a vocal clinic in Lewisham, which was one of the first formed. To speak to us students, two specialists from the clinic (Sarah Harris and Nick Gibbins) assisted one of our teachers, Dane Chalfin, in informing us about everything and anything that we need to know in order to keep our singing in top form and our health at the same rate.

We began with some history of how the vocal cords have been observed and aided across time, including the instruments used to identify issues and how these came to be. One I found fascinating was the stroboscope which takes many pictures of the same area so that it can be observed almost like a short video (as with a flip book) because the human eye/brain merge pictures if they appear extremely similar. This invention first came about when taking many pictures of a horses movement pre-world war II to see if all four legs ever came fully off the ground at any one point.

Gibbins spoke to us of the dangers of a GP or an ENT missing a vocal problem because the issue is something only a specialist can look for, where a GP and ENT are only looking out for a major issue or illness. Someone at a vocal clinic however can link how one thing, e.g. vocal exercises, may have led to another issue, such as a cyst, and can help with this to ensure that a singer does not lose their voice. Seeing how cysts develop and work was, albeit it a little gross, a relief in some ways as it showed that no matter the problem it can usually be fixed with a professional judgement and rest.

This also goes for vocal nodules - which was an even bigger relief as so much fear surrounds this issue in the world of singing. Often, vocal nodules can be the diagnosis but when further investigation is carried out, it turns out to be instead a cyst of some kind. But we were told that more often than not, the cases are rare and not to be worried about. There are two kinds of nodules: soft and hard.

- If the nodules are hard then they can usually be cut straight off, as they have hardened on the outside of the vocal cords/ muscles surrounding them, and so are not difficult to find and remove.
- If the nodules are soft, this usually means there is instead bruising which could be due to too much vocal distortion or exercises which are perhaps not terribly good for the throat (such as extreme highs and lows)

Harris then spoke to us of different manners of speaking and how our regular speaking voice impacts on our singing voice. There were many different types, but the ones that stand out in my memory include 'creak' which can be something which creeps into a teenage voice to sound 'cool' due to the imitation of an American accent, which can frequently exhaust the vocal muscles and hence make it more difficult/ forced to sing, as is the case if a voice is too breathy or if the vocal cords have a space/ do not move correctly.

She also spoke to us of the importance of vocal warm downs, which was something I had never thought about in particular depth previously. Of course, we all know to warm up as in sports, but warming down is never spoken of and to hear how to do it was an excellent moment to become aware as now it can benefit us through the rest of our immediate studies. Warm downs should consist of getting back into the relaxed middle range of the voice, through adding a little creak (the frog sound) to bring our breathing down from the rafters. This has proved immensely useful so far.

One of the best things about the work shop was that after a talk about the benefits of the British voice association, we got to see a stroboscope in action with our teacher stepping forward to demonstrate how the vocal cords look when monitored in this way. We requested to see particular things and on the screen saw projected real vocal cords moving to show things such as distortion or vibrato, or how these can differ to a breathy singing voice etc.

This event was definitely one I hope students enjoyed enough for us to continue with similarly in the future, as it is not often that you get to experience first hand such professional thought, research and advice, and to gain answers to the questions that you feel can't be answered by anybody else. It also provided us with the need to know contacts if things do start to go wrong in our singing careers and we feel we might need further professional, specialist advice.

But most of all, for me individually, it was inspiring to be able to see all this information into the voice - it has come so much further than I ever could have imagined, especially through the past twenty or so years and to see it moving so rapidly in terms of discovery and theory is amazing. But the most inspiring thing was definitely seeing first hand the vocal cords - we work with them every day but for the first time we were actually able to see what it is we do. And it is nothing short of incredible - whether it be that Mozart aria or just the warm up to it.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click  Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The application process: Perspective of a first year

Laura Abbey 

Laura is currently a first year student at Leeds College of Music studying a BMus in classical music performance with cello. 

1. What is your favourite aspect of being a music undergraduate student so far?

The amount of different collaborations that I have had the chance to do with students across the college.

2. How has your playing developed so far? 

I am completely re-learning how to play the cello, but the way my technique has improved so far really shows in my playing. I am able to get a much better tone etc

3. Has the BMus course lived up to your expectations?

The theory side of things is much more difficult than I anticipated but the relevant support is all available.

4. What are you most looking forward to about next year and the rest of your degree?

Continuing to discover new repertoire and seeing what opportunities for performing arise.

5. What are some of your thoughts on the arts in general?

Music is one subject in which you never stop learning.

6. Do you have a favourite composer or a type of music you don't like? 

Since coming to university, I have broadened my horizons a lot more and I am learning to appreciate experimental music. However if I had to pick one it would be Elgar, largely due to his cello concerto and the swan.

I have to agree with you on that one - Elgar's cello concerto is amazing!

7. Relating back to the previous question, do you feel your classes develop your musical expectations and opinions in surprising ways?

I am playing repertoire that I would never really have attempted before and found myself to actually quite enjoy them.

8. How different do you feel music A level is to music undergraduate? 

It is a lot more demanding. Everything is in much more depth and you have to be organised and independent to keep track of rehearsals.

9. Any advice to music freshers for September 2016?

You get what you put in, you're only here once so make the most of it!

Thank-you for your comments!
If you have any further questions you would like to ask Laura, please feel free to get in touch with me and I will pass them on to her.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The New English Literature A Level - AQA and analysing poetry

As of September last year, AQA board of examiners introduced the new version of their English literature A level examination. For AS, as far as I can see, the criteria is much the same to what I studied and is incredibly similar. The only major differences is

A. The variety of poetry
We only studied two poets, Keats and Rossetti (others studied Auden) wrote on one in depth for two short essay questions and wrote one large essay (which we got the most marks from) on the three texts we studied alongside the poetry (namely Pride and Prejudice, The road and the other poet we hadn't answered the first question in depth on)

B. The course work
Which for us was based on two comedies - one old (Shakespeare, of course) and one new (Pinter)

C. The set texts
... But this is a subjective one, as everybody studied different texts across schools anyway.

This exam I prefer in some ways to the exam which I took, and it makes me wish I could go back and throw myself into this new qualification, because the variety is what makes it useful. By studying many poets, and modern poets at that, you have a mix of the old and the new meaning the canon will refresh and students will be produced with a fresh outlook.

As a subject. English literature is one of the most useful you can have. It encourages you to make connections across all boards and topics; to encounter new elements of new subjects, and to analyse all you see and do in your every day life which is a useful asset to get to grips with because when you do it is transferrable and can help you recognise language in many ways: whether that be analysing a copy of a score by Tchaikovsky or reading through a medical dictionary and trying to find out where the Latinate root of a word came from.

With exams fast approaching for all of you GCSE and A level students, but not for me this time (sorry!) I once too, was like you and now looking back, realise how useful it can be to have a variety of different analysis techniques to learn from, to compare and contrast with your own. So below please find an analysis of one of the first poems from the Anthology for English literature AS level this year - I hope it comes in useful:

Eat me - Patience Agbabi - Analysis

  • From a feminist perspective (e.g. I ate, I did what I was told) it seems the woman is quite passive to begin with and end with, but there is a period towards the middle of the poem where the persona seems to take action.

  • Her craving for ‘fast food’ is what keeps her in place (a beached whale, craving a wave) but by the end she has realised this need/greed is trapping her; ‘too fat to leave’

  • The language of the male is largely imperative - possessive, invasive, aggressive. So her only real form of escape is to kill him. He has appeased her with food, preparing her gradually and over time as poultry is prepared (deadline of her turning ‘40’, ‘poured oil down my throat’) But when he can no longer appease her, she reverse things making him the meal because ‘there was nothing left to eat’ 
  • This shows that for female power to endure and take the place of the previous male figure, she has to eradicate him via death. Otherwise, this power would not be absolute. 
  • Despite the frequent use of imperatives, it seems she reacts more when she is not being called names in abusive fashion. 
  • There is use of homophone - e.g. the word Juggernaut (something which destroys all, but also a word to describe a type of vehicle)
  • Fairytale illusion (the cake from Alice in Wonderland, the trapping of the boy in Hansel and Gretel) The cake idea (AIW) makes her grow to be giant like in the story - irony? 
  • Violent sounds via alliteration and anaphora (e.g. repetition of the word ‘too’ to accent growing sense of frustration)
  • Although a poem in a certain view to show female empowerment, it equally shows female disempowerment through her endurance of a long period of this treatment, her somewhat reluctance to reach the conclusion and use of humour, horror and disgust to create this.
  • Structure
    ABA rhyme scheme usually (last word of the first line rhymes with the last word of the last line in each of the 7 stanzas) but the structure is stricter and the beginning and end: the looser structure in the middle is what accents to us that her thought process changes/develops.

 Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! If you like, you can click  Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you!

Update: Half term and going back

Getting back to college after the half term is strange, as it feels like we never actually had any time off at all because of how fast it went. So being back is as much a challenge as some of the work load itself is. But in a good way generally.

During the break, outside of my work, I had such a great week! On the Monday, as I wrote last, we went to see the Bronte parsonage which is something I have always wanted to do and was so happy to finally be able to tick off my bucket-list. Reading up about the Bronte's has provided even more insight which has made the experience more valuable to me - learning about their inspirations, influences etc, makes the aspects of the place they lived make far more sense than just having a knowledge of their novels did.

It also meant spending time with family and friends which commuting and class work usually doesn't allow me to do perhaps as much as I would like to. So in short, cinema, baking and trips with my mum to walk the dog in the beach in the rain (way more fun than it sounds) ensued.

I have also been looking into the types of things that students are interested in and would like to know more on (please do keep your suggestions coming this way, I will try and answer as many as I can as quickly as possible) including some recipe articles and also some A level tutor based articles, where you'll be able to see useful resources such as analysis of poems etc.

Half term allowed the freedom to think about how fast this year is going past - and perhaps freedom in general is one of the biggest factors in relation to this as the freedom which did not exist in school is here provided in an abundance I still find it difficult to adjust to sometimes. Occasionally I get the feeling that I am on a visit from school to here, which is a rather surreal sense.

In musicology, we have been covering one of my preferred periods of music - namely English music in response to the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 1900's. This encompasses several composition giants, namely Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. Focusing largely upon nationalism, in a similar way to how we previously focused on impressionism, there will probably be more on this in a future post as it is simply too interesting to limit to a paragraph! Hearing some of the extracts of music though, I will say takes me straight back to the middle of the Lake district - my favourite place to be out of any other, so it is fair to say that their music completes it's aim of transporting us to such places and evoking emotions in us which we might otherwise not notice in response to another piece.

Below is a short extract from another composer, Butterworth, to demonstrate this idea of emotive music which makes use of the English countryside which provided inspiration all around it:

No performance classes have been lined up for me this week so far, which makes me relieved that I sang through pieces before the reading week/half term break. Because as much as I enjoy performing, it is it's hardest and most nerve wracking when you are surrounded by your peers or in more jargon based language, 'competition'. It isn't so much the hot house environment which so many speak about here, more just the compelling aspect of wanting to do well and to provide something which gets your viewers thinking as much as something they produce makes you think.

But this doesn't mean I haven't been practicing of course! There aren't nearly enough hours in the day for me to learn all of the pieces that I want to learn, nor enough time to perfect each of them on each instrument also. But whilst there is a wealth of music and an abundance of time, an on-going future full of music, what do I have to complain on other than that there is too much I want to do opposed to too little?

Not all of my other classes have resumed by this date, but will over the next few days (so there will be many more surprise encounters with new music) I am sure. In critical listening, one of our tasks is do analysis of an opera aria so I am looking forward to this. The class was particularly enjoyable as we got to listen to Jonas Kauffman singing in Tosca, which is great - especially when your teacher proves to be a fan and starts to analyse his 'passacaglia'

Jonas Kauffman is kind of a legend. In fact not kind of at all, he is. He was the first German Tenor to sing the lead of Rule Britannia at the BBC proms last year, and his work constantly tops classical charts. His family grew up in the East of Germany when the Berlin wall went up (forming the GDR) meaning his father knew how difficult it could be to get a job if the circumstances were not ideal.

 For this reason, although Kauffman grew up with music and singing in church choirs, he ended up achieving a degree in mathematics before he pursued further his musical career. I wish I could have the same level of commitment and motivation as him! Many singers actually pursue a different degree before their music degree due to the fact that the voice (especially the female) does not mature straightaway and so it is silly to do a music course when you cannot fully use what you are being taught straightaway. To a large extent I agree - it would more useful to have musical training once the voice is fully matured and it is easier to access everything you are capable of opposed to only a quartet of it. But time and singers usually don't work well together - we are far too impatient!

Soon I have my last class of the day, one of our fortnightly seminars, so I will have to be off to go over my notes on copyright and to print off the structure for our next assignment (a survival guide on how to succeed in a particular part of the industry)

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! If you like, you can click  Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Simplifying Sheet Music

If you haven't been reading sheet music forever, or if you are new to reading music, it can be a little intimidating to look at all those dots and just begin to play. So it can be useful to know how to simplify sheet music - at least whilst you are first starting to learn something. It can also be useful to know a few tips for sight-reading and learning how to put all your skills in context at once.

1. Get to know how to read and follow sheet music by picking a piece that you already know. 
- Try something popular that you have known for a while, such as the opening for Fur Elise.- Play the piece with the music and watch the progressions - see how they fit together.
- Circle the sections that you think you know well enough to begin playing/ putting into practice and highlight in a different colour the sections you think you will really need to focus on. -
Listen to the music on it's own and try to picture the sheet music in your head.

2. Annotate your sheet music.
 After you have listened to the piece and are confident in how the piece sounds altogether, make sure that you label finger patterns for particularly tricky passages.

- This means looking at things you have figured out how to play a certain way and making a note of it.
- You may have your own method, but the typical taught process is that the thumb on either hand is 1 and the little finger is 5. If you label up this information on your sheet music, then you won't forget it when you are practicing again a few days later (though muscle memory will eventually set in and remember this for you the more you practice)
- Don't feel you need to label everything - just label up the information that you think it is most important to have a note of.

3. Begin with simple pieces and work your way up.
- If you are a beginner in your instrument (this article is written with piano in mind), pick out something which is a little simpler than that which you eventually wish to play. You'll work your way up as you perfect your technique.

- If you go to your local music shop or look online, there are bound to be lots of collections of short songs or pieces with information included to help you get to grips with the basics.
- If you work your way up from the foundation, then you will have a strong sight reading skill level and this is incredibly important if you want to go on to study your instrument professionally, particularly in the classical industry.

4. Label chords.
- This can be the most useful way to simplify sheet music for instruments such as guitar and piano, even other instruments at times (e.g. a long flute arpeggio - it can be useful to just know the key and to bear this in mind instead of trying to learn each of the notes individually)

- This will also be useful for your level of analysis. Use a keyboard and a chord chart which you can write out yourself, in order to pick out each of the chords
- As you previously would have linked your technical notes with the sheet music, now write underneath the passages you feel are most important the chordal progressions.
- This is an easy and quick way to simplify your piece and learn the basics of it before working on to take the piece to the next best level.

5. Remember that practice makes perfect!
- This information can be a lot to absorb and some of it works better for others than it may do for you. A lot of the approach in music is about you and finding out what works best for you in your practice. Only time will reveal that.
- Work hard - if you put thought and dedication into your work, you will provide yourself the motivation to succeed and will soon find the results you seek.
- Record your efforts so that you can see how you are progressing. No progress is evident straight away and the process is never really obvious to you in the moment if you are the one practicing.
-There will be good days and bad days. Some days, like with sport, you will not be able to remember things as well as you would another. Pace your practice with the music so that you can come back to it and not feel afraid or angry - these two things kill focus and motivation.
- Keep at it - it is all about repetition and practice. Make sure you do the recommended portion of practice on your instrument every day (lots of this information is online, but for a none body based instrument, anything apart from vocals, they recommend 4 - 6 hours a day professional/ student practice)
- Practice your sight reading skills beyond this piece you want to simplify. If you do a bit of sight reading of a new piece you have never heard every day, you will start to apply these skills by second nature and will not really need to focus in on anything else than on the music.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click  Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Visting Brontë Land

Some times in life you take an opportunity that comes out of no where, which leads you to experiencing the things that you most want to experience. And today was one such encounter which led to a wonderful day. As you know, this year is the beginning of the Bronte Bicentenary, starting with that of Charlotte Bronte and so what better time to visit the Bronte parsonage, where the family lived, thought and wrote, than today. This was definitely something to tick of my bucket list and the best way to kick start the half term break! I mean - hard working/ constant study mode reading week of course...

The rooms in which the family lived are well preserved, but time has worn them and things are not exactly as they were originally, mainly due to Charlotte's changing of some of the rooms when she lived there throughout her marriage in her later years.

As a family, even now after all this time we can see their quirks: Emily's shyness and love for poetry, Anne's shadowing from her older siblings, Charlotte's frustration at being unable to pursue the writing she cherished due to her gender in their society, and their father's determination to see that they secured a place in the world. Also of interest, his name was Patrick and he was born on St. Patrick's day! The home reflects these traits now, with the museum plastering the words of the writers around the parsonage in order for us to think perhaps how they might - to see on the window the words 'not a sparrow nor a linnet' and to go back to those pages of well loved poetry that would have been imagined from there.

Seeing the place they learned and lived also allowed me to put much of what I knew into context - it is easy to picture Heathcliff on those wild, heather filled moors, and it is golden to sit in the sun by the church and hear the wind whistle through everything. The smallest daffodil becomes the great burst of inspiration that led these women to write.

Their quirks were also evident in the little projects they amused themselves with - miniature handwriting, sometimes so illegible certain works have not yet been published, in books they sewed together to chronicle tales of worlds they imagined beyond childhood and into adulthood, bringing them much joy. And even if we do not completely understand all of their childhood stories, some of the miniature volumes have gone missing, we can still be moved by the poetry they contain which is some of their most popular.

Being in the parsonage made me suddenly feel overwhelmed with a compassion for the characters of each of the family members, but especially the figure of Emily who I never really felt attached to before. It is much easier to be entranced by the works of Jane Eyre and Villette by her sister Charlotte, the friendlier of the two, even years on. Yet in the moorland, in the house, you can just picture this suppressed figure writing works we now praise, which were then rejected and termed as too eccentric... especially Wuthering heights. And despite this she wrote anyway, producing some of the best work of all whilst maintaining the manners and musical ability expected of young gentlewomen of the age.

The writing desks were the things that were most magical to see - just think, a paint stained, letter filled, portable physical version of their minds where they wrote their hearts! :

Most of the desks' contents was the same as how they left it, so we see the watercolours they left behind, the diary extracts and manuscripts half finished and even the miniature wax seals they would have marked their letters with in Victorian postage format!

The village works very much with the parsonage, with the church, the cemetery, the school room etc with the village having old shops, including book shops filled with second hand leather bound Bronte collections, soap shops which hand craft the oddest creations, bakeries filled with delicious cream cake and even a pub named 'Wuthering Height's' which made me so happy for some odd reason! 

Overall, a splendid day - and everything that I hoped for! Travelling back over the moors, I imagined myself a Bronte and wrote many poetry attempts - because ending with a cliche is the only way to end!

Thank you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for December 2015 - this news made me very happy! 

If you like, you can click  
Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Cosi Fan Tutti - Mozart, Dvorak and more!

So for someone who was only meant to be singing for around an hour of practice time today, I am doing a lot better than I thought I would - precisely three hours! This morning in the performance class I was a victim (just kidding!) performing Die Forelle for pretty much the first time and so it was a little nerve wracking to just get up on stage and take the piece to this new level after learning it from a music stand these past two weeks. The German is not tremendously difficult, but when faced with nerves, a bit of a sore throat and a large crowd, it can seem the most complex task in the world. But then again, that is part of being a performer and overcoming the element of nerves etc, is what we are doing at music college.

It was more useful than I thought it would be to perform it in such an unsuspecting way - not having the initial time to get nervous, having to fully listen and co-operate with the pianist in order to maintain ensemble, and most importantly having to guess what my character would be feeling and figuring out how to shape that so that it would be obvious to a none German speaking crowd.

In the feed back I have realised that this is one of the biggest elements I need to work with and I am very grateful to have the perspective of three different teachers in this class who are all very different. Especially as they all have conflicting views as it means that when they all give the same feedback, you know to take this forward and work with it because it is not at all a coincidence. In my case, this is working with developing a more adult sound - more contrast between light and dark colour.

In Die Forelle this tone can be created by showing contrast between the differing sections: namely the chirpy. easy going first section in contrast to the middle section where the fisherman catches his prey. When working with this piece over the past hour or so, I have written in how my character would be feeling, which is something I think has proved useful. So for my first verse, I can now remember that I am feeling happy and at peace alongside the German libretto, and for the middle section angry at the fisherman, and ending quite sad about the fate of the unfortunate trout/fish in question.

The rest of the day has proved equally fruitful (e.g. individual practice and accompanist session) but has also been quite fun! This evening I went to see Mozart's Cosi fan tutti with some friends. The staging of Opera North is always of an exceptional standard but this was something else entirely! As a favourite opera of mine, I hope that doesn't make me sound incredibly biased...

For those of you haven't yet seen this masterpiece, I strongly urge you to see if it is on in an area near you at the moment, as I know it is currently being performed in Leeds and also Manchester at RNCM. The opera is in the genre of Opera Buffa, which is basically comical opera. In this particular piece, the two lovers decide to test their girlfriends faithfulness by pretending to leave and disguising themselves as other men. As you can imagine, it is not necessarily the most realistic story line and is quite similar to a midsummer night's dream. I won't give any spoilers away... you'll just have to trust me and go and see it (the costume and set design were also a really interesting way of creating an interpretation!)

Working on the Mozart Benedictus and then going to see this performance has gotten me into a Mozart state of mind as it were, and I find myself comparing his works and trying to see his traits in each. As a highly intelligent fellow, you can see how he transfers themes (such as orchestral symbolism) and also uses traits of genre in order to imitate another composers style without ever actually changing from his own. There is just something about Mozart that is distinctly his, without any explanation being necessary.

On a final note, I have really been enjoying Halle rehearsals at the moment, as we have been working on some new content (aside from the Stravinsky and .co) which is the Moravian duets for high voices. This year to celebrate Dvorak's anniversary (I am not quite sure how many years, 175?) there are lots of concerts going on and we are currently working on these and the Angel's chorus for one of his operas (can you guess which?)

The Moravian duets are beautiful because of their simplicity and easiness - they are in some ways cliche, whilst still making us want to listen on or to listen out for new information. In short, they are the works that are at the very heart of classical music which we fall in love with and come back to again and again without fail. But more on this and those concerts in the upcoming months.

Thank you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for January 2015 - this news made me very happy! 

If you like, you can click  
Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Modernism and Satie

In musicology we are currently learning about modernism, including music that is considered part of impressionism (a begrudging title) which we have begun to incorporate also in harmony classes (learning how to use devices to provide, say, chromatic colouring) and critical listening (lots of Debussy!) Yet musicology class is where I have really begun to question the whole genre and what it is that I do and do not like about it.

The impressionist art ^ is some of my favourite works to admire in every gallery I visit. Monet is usually the top of my list and it only gets better and better. So why, then, all of this fuss about the music being no where near as impressive as the impressionist gallery work we flock to, opposed to switching off the Schoenberg and co. as soon as it comes on the radio? (Which I've never actually heard it do)

I think that one of the biggest issues with modernism is that people hear one or two pieces and use that to stereotype all of the content under that label, rather like we link subconsciously the typical soprano with a loud, dramatic, Wagnerian opera. And yet the more I listen to the music of the modernist and impressionist periods, the more I begin to realise just how close minded and ignorant I have been thus far to perhaps one of the most unique and fascinating periods of musical creation.

Firstly we discussed Wagner and Verdi, and how their opera led to the concept of turning away from the concept of being seen at the opera (e.g. to make an aristocrat seem cultured and further aristocratic) just for being seen at the opera, and transforming it into an opportunity from which we gain heightened drama and emotions from the musical content performed. For Wagner, this was through changing even the set up of the stage - think of a typical cinema set up: you have the theatre Wagner designed. No one can really see one another's face and hence, all focus is entirely on reflection and what is going on on the stage: a completely flat surface, in theory, from which to create an experience.

Verdi on the other hand, did not want to behave as radically as Wagner. Our professor described it as Revolution Vs. Development as, where Wagner attempted to take all previous structure and completely disown it in the process of creating something new/better, Verdi was simply pushing the boundaries as far as he could. In this way, he reminds me strongly of Beethoven: both figures who were definitely writers of their time and label, but who at the same time had moments where they glimpsed an entirely different future and process for where music was going in the continuation of it's development.

Moving on from the two similar operatic wizards, we have Strauss - who has been described to us as an accidental modernist. In his opera Salome which is far too gruesome for my tastes, there is a chord created which I think was subtitled the 'disgust' chord, which is chromatically coloured in a way that means it doesn't really resolve, much like the 'Tristan' chord that Wagner created. In these moments, there is no firm sense of tone, which heightens the drama and places the value of this over the music.

There are of course no clear links between every composer, or period of evolving music and how it came to be. But there are clear connections between them that show us how something might have begun to take shape into something else. Hence those that we perhaps link most with impressionism (cough cough Debussy) came to be.

But the reason for this whole explanation, besides briefly being about what you will learn on this area in music history once you reach degree level at LCoM, is to bring you to my new discovery: Satie.

 You probably, at this stage, only know him from his Gymnopodie (pieces) which are used to advertise most things... but he has so much more to offer than this. In his music you can hear everything, from minimalism, to atonalism, to tonalism, to emphasis on mode over time signature, or key signature forgotten and it is just such incredible stuff:

I think what I was most prejudiced about was my dislike for atonalism in modernism, which is largely incorporated by the giants of Stravinsky and Schoenberg who I do not get along with the large majority of the time. But realising that modernism does not just equal atonality has completely changed by entire perspective. And perhaps it could be the same for you. So urge you, reader, to keep an open mind when experiencing and learning about these things as it makes so much difference. It has completely changed every perspective and opinion I held of this genre.
Thank-you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for December 2015 - this news made me very happy! Please do keep up your suggestions and questions - it is great to see all of your ideas and to help the best I can.

If you like, you can click  
Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank-you!

Music Theory - Going Beyond Grade 5

Once you have done your grade 5 theory, you will be relieved! You will see that shiny ABRSM certificate and think 'Thank goodness that is over and done with!' Or at least some of you will - the rest will think instead 'Great, what theory can I do next?'

There are many questions you might have in relation to this, as I did once my theory exam was over a few years ago and I knew I could finally continue progressing with practical grades because the theory wall that had previously existed now did not prove a boundary any longer. And yet, although not the biggest fan of notation and despite my attempts (many, many continued attempts) a rather tragic composer, I decided to look deeper into the depths and realms of harmony.

What is beyond grade 5 theory?

There is a never ending world of harmony and analysis beyond the grade 5 paper. Maybe you are interested in musicology, a path where the world of music will never close it's doors of wealth to you and you can analyse any passage of music you come across, with the help of your music degree, GCSE or A level. Perhaps you will use it to listen in more detail to the music in the world around you and feel it enhances your listening ability...

But in the short term answer, which is probably what you are seeking here, the theory grades do go on although none of those grades will ever really be necessary again unless you want to gain the theory qualifications in place of a degree or, also previously mentioned, to enhance your degree and personal records.

As with practical examinations, there are 8 graded theory papers by ABRSM although with practical examination you can also do Diplomas.

Is grade 6 theory more difficult than grade 5?

I would say that grade 6 theory is pretty much all of grades 1 - 5 in difficulty as it is such a big leap from Grade 5. There is no real transition. But don't let this scare you: Although there is less explanation in the work books, there will be plenty of books to help you (and I recommend reading these many times and highlighting all the bits you think are either helpful or important to the exercises)

If you have a teacher to help you or the correct texts, grade 6 is not a massive shift. I think the reason it feels so scary to delve from grade 5 to grade 6 is purely because for the first time, you encompass all the previous knowledge and some new knowledge into exercises - so the exercise isn't asking you to focus on just rhythm, or isolating a melody and asking you to focus on that. Instead an exercise will be asking you to write a figured bass line, where you will need to know where, when, why and how the rhythm, tempo, key signature, modulation and cadence need to go.

If you break the exercises down into chunks as you did previously and work at the rate that is best for you, then it soon becomes evident that the theory grades are not as difficult as you thought, they are just a lot more detailed than they have been prior.

Make sure you do lots of practice papers!

Is it worth doing more theory grades beyond grade 5?

Going beyond grade 5 theory is a valuable asset to you and your list of qualifications no matter what it is you choose to do. But it is not mandatory - theory and notation is an area of music which, in terms of analysis and learning it in depth detail, only suits a select few in the musical world. So it is an individual choice.

If you wish to pursue music without an undergraduate degree, or would like to wait a few years before pursuing your music degree, then I highly recommend that you complete all of the theory and practical grades with some form of diploma at the ends (e.g. the London college system or ABRSM) purely so that you can keep up to scratch and understand clearly what you are talking about. It is also useful to have a high knowledge of theory in the undergraduate level any way, as the theory classes start at grade 8 standard and are then still quite difficult to understand!

But if you do pursue the degree path, it can be that you feel you have enough notation in class to compensate for the theory levels beyond the class room. If you are pursuing some form of composition degree though, it is a must! - purely because how else would you find all those interesting chords you could use opposed to the typical 1c-v-1?

As with practical playing, even if you do not pursue the individually graded system, you will still be learning new things about music all the time as it is something that stays with you and will be in constant use, especially if you continue on with it to higher education. Plus, if not useful necessarily in the academic side, just remember the highlights of reading and practicing music in general:

Thank-you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for December 2015 - this news made me very happy!

If you like, you can click  
Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank-you!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ode to a Mountain Song

At the moment here in Manchester, there is an interesting collaboration going on between some of the local orchestras (including the giants such as the BBC Philharmonic and the Halle, alongside student ensembles such as RNCM Brass Band) and the poetry and written works of the some of the most prominent English writers of the past several hundred years. These concerts combine the music with the written works to create a performance that is overall quite unforgettable - dedicated to capturing the aspects of time passed and of the changing view of the world around us.

The first concert was yesterday evening and as soon as I heard about this project I wanted to go because it includes concerts, such as that of yesterday, entirely dedicated to some of my favourite places and work combined: In this instance, music which created sketches and pictures in the mind of the audience of the Peak district - the Pennine way as I remember it.

When that music first began with Hadley's unpublished Kinderscout I was lost - so easily it was that I found myself back in 2012 hiking up the rocky surface of that majestic place. It is a dark place, and it's beauty is in it's contrast which the music captured poignantly. I could see the trees growing out of the sides of jutting cliff edges, and the river splashing hastily over the sharp rocks. I could see the sky, neither grey nor blue, neither anything until sunset when it filled the whole place with dark edges surrounded by golden light. That is the stuff that is now not only my reality but the stuff of my memories and hearing music such as that is like going home.

It also featured Vaughan-William's The Lark Ascending which is one of my all time favourite pieces of music and was played by a soloist who won BBC young musician at only 12 years old back in 2002! There are no words to describe it as a piece, so I will not do the injustice of slaughtering your good opinion of it, but I will say that I have never heard the piece live and could not think of a better version to have heard it live from for the first time.

Other pieces of music featured some Delius based on Romeo and Juliet (except the German folk legend, opposed to the well known British) and Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony with a small post concert featuring an interesting orchestral experiment based around the music of the Rolling Stones! This mix of music was truly a fun one, as well as admirable, with the conductor possessing an infectious energy that passed all around the concert hall.

In terms of acoustic, the Bridgewater is one of the best places for it - it rivals some of the best known concert halls in the world for the sound it creates and for the diversity of musicians and projects it welcomes to it's majestic halls.

Coming home from the outside world, in any format, always makes me wish that I too could be that lark - free to pass from tree to tree in this world with not a care, and to admire everything by being a part of it. Not having to fill my windows with flowers, but being amongst them - though it does make the place look nice, I must admit, to have flowers indoors whilst working - more cheerful at least:

This year is so far proving an exciting one - I find myself pushed to the limits of my own capability and reaching out to the world around me for inspiration to be creative and to find new interests to balance out my old favourites. The new experiences outside of my comfort zone have so far proven to be the real means of memorable moments - the things I can perceive myself looking back on fondly in old age, or passing on one day to a future student to encourage them to find their own path throughout the world.

My new years resolutions are going well so far! I have: 

- Read 31 of my proposed 100 books
- Seen 4 of my proposed 100 movies 
- Sight read and practiced languages every day

And I would also like to add:

- Learn a new sport
- Hike more frequently 
To my new years resolution list for 2016. 

Let's keep it up guys! We are officially two months almost done in this promising, fresh new year. 

Thank-you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for December 2015 - this news made me very happy! Please do keep up your suggestions and questions - it is great to see all of your ideas and to help the best I can.

If you like, you can click  Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank-you!

Friday, 5 February 2016

On Schedules and Practice

Keeping a schedule at university can prove difficult in that your classes, although likely to be at the same time every week, aren't the whole 9 to 5 thing we have been used to correlating our activities to for the past years of education that have co-existed with our day to day life. For this reason, it can be difficult to enter into a regular, efficient and progress filled schedule as if we only have one class one day, it can feel like the rest of the day is 'free' when, in actuality, all free time is possible study time (it is just not immediately obvious) Of course, if you have to schedule in practice to your time table on a regular basis, especially instrumentalists who need 4 - 6 hours of practice a day, it can be even more difficult to get into the useful habits of a regular schedule.

That is one way to look at it - but the positives of being at music college are that if you are motivated, the need to practice will get you into those habits pretty quickly as practice rooms can be hard to book. For those who are not at music college, you probably have more volume in the essay department than we do, so use the hours to schedule in extra essay writing practice/drafting, standard text book revision + reading and also create a project for yourself that is and is not related to your course so that you have something to fuel you through the most difficult hours. For example, if I know that I need to do a good 2 hours of practice in one day and 2 hours of academic class, then I schedule something to do in between all that and the train journeys - some days being able to go out for a walk between the class is that fuel, and other days it is getting lunch from the station or going to the library to pick out some new classic titles to befriend.

On a Friday, my schedule looks like this:

6:30 - Wake up + breakfast
7:30 - Train journey
9:20 - Arrive at university
10:00 - Ensemble class
11:30 - Lunch
12:00 - Harmony class
13:00 - Practice hour
14:00 - Revision, planning and drafting hour
15:00 - Language diction class
16:00 - Leave college
16:44 - Train ride home
18:45 - Arrive home, Dinner time
19:00 - Piano, cello and violin practice, with fifteen minutes more vocal practice or guitar
          - Sight reading practice
20:00 - Short story writing
20:30 - Language + memory practice ]
21:00 - Free time
22:00 - Reading
22:30 - Bed

Things will not always go to plan or like clockwork when it comes to your schedule, no matter how efficient or good willed you are in your organisation, but having one to work around is useful as it means you can keep things neat and tidy: tick off the tasks accomplished as you go through them in your head and transfer what doesn't get done today until tomorrow. However, if you are anything like me in tackling your work load, I think you will agree that having the challenge and pressure of a list of things to do and when to do them can mean you feel motivated and anxious (in a positive way) to get things done. For me the reward on a Friday is the few hours of projects outside of class (such as writing and language practice) that allow me to think outside of the box and be even more prosperous and excited about being creative in my individual specialised study during class hours. But the rewards change on a daily basis - for example Grease Live was my reward a few days ago (such a good production of the show - really enjoyed the one take scenery etc and the acting was spectacular, really like V. Hudgen's portrayal of Betty Rizzo)

Your schedules will be different to mine, or perhaps similar, but seeing an example can often help you to realise that structuring and using your time to full advantage is not the most difficult task you will have to deal with - it should prove fun to be able to choose what you do with your days and to monitor the progress you make. For musicians and singers, I can give you a tip in relation to practice in that you should try making a record of your practice hours and what you do in those hours, so that you can see how much you have achieved over the past few weeks, days, etc and feel more confident and further proud at your exceptional achievements. Also, for any degree, try recording important lessons so that you have backup if you lose your lecture notes. Recording lectures can be useful for scheduling as it means you can listen back to them when travelling (e.g. on the train) and you don't have to be anxious or worried about the fact that you might be losing time.

So Keep organised and make sure that you continue to maintain that motivation that makes you so unique and important a student. If you keep going at a well thought out pace and work as is best for you, then you will work wonders in often very short periods of time. In the photos above, you can see some of the things that I make use of on a daily basis to keep cheery: a. My motivational quotes chalk board (it is a great thing to wake up in the morning too and to thank the past version of myself from yesterday for creating) b. My satchel (number gazillion and something...) helps me keep organised because otherwise it gets too heavy c. The library - which is the equivalent of Mary Poppin's bag for the gems you can find (e.g. Vaughan Williams song cycles you have never heard of) and finally the record collection - if there is something new to listen to, I will be getting through that harmony faster than you can say deadline - Happy Friday folks!
Thank-you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for December 2015 - this news made me very happy! Please do keep up your suggestions and questions - it is great to see all of your ideas and to help the best I can.

If you like, you can click  
Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank-you!


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Getting to know your area: Salford University

Getting to know the area you will be living in can be pretty intimidating - albeit it being a little easier nowadays thanks to public transport and the ever faithful Google maps. All the same, it is useful to know the area relatively well before freshers week so that you don't get too lost too easily. In relation to this, I have decided to write a series of posts exploring interesting areas near universities which might add a fun element of tourism to your research over the summer. Train and coach tickets aren't too expensive, so if you're up for an adventure, here are some places you can find in Salford that you might find interesting:

1. Salford museum and art gallery

As a child, I spent many a happy day here learning from the exhibition space about all manner of things - from paintings and sculptures made entirely out of recycled materials to the world wars and many other elements of British history. But nowadays, it is my familiar companion in all things art - here I spend hours of my summer holidays sketching the paintings, especially those which are swapped around every once in a while. Most recently they did a small exhibition of oil paintings based on Manchester (a stones throw down the road) and Salford through the ages which was really touching as it showed places that exist now that didn't and more so, vice versa. At the heart of the university, it's predominant feature is the preserved Victorian street or 'Lark hill place' where you can see into the shops and lives of the different classes as they would have existed in Victorian England - Enchanting and haunting in its precise nature, and completely free of charge to enter, you get a little bit of everything from this delightful museum. 

2. Media City

Where the BBC find themselves at home and where I ran into Mcfly in the Costa shop with some friends from orchestra once! Here you will often find concerts hosted by the BBC Philharmonic (occasionally featuring their partners and possibly my favourite choir to ever have participated in, the Manchester united foundation youth choir) but there are always all manner of events going on. When the Olympics were last around, they had an interactive sports exhibition and a small fun fair in the street outside, but they also have many events in order to raise charity, such as interactive Doctor who for Children in need. Plus, right outside Salford Quays, the canal outside often hosts charitable swimming events (which can also be a fun challenge to tick off your bucket list) which many participate in. 

3. The Lowry (mall and theatre)

Most recognisable for it's wacky architecture (a triangle and a circle) this is where some of the best days can be whiled away. The mall features popular shops and restaurants, alongside food markets outside in the square during the summer and great sales which is really useful if you are a student and need copies of books to annotate alongside your more expensive editions. It also contains a cinema, which is remarkably clean for a cinema! (I know this might sound obvious, but seriously... cleanest cinema I have ever experienced) The theatre hosts a variety of shows and ticket prices, most recently has been Shrek and Wicked but I have seen all sorts of performances there, including Ballets, youth productions and blood brothers. You can also see the work of Salfordian artist, L. S. Lowry who produced 'match stick men and match stick cats and dogs' and was one of the first artists we ever learnt about back in St. Peters primary school where I grew up. His paintings capture the city perfectly - could not recommend more. I'll put one of his pieces below: 

4. Imperial War Museum North

There is no more harrowing experience than war and it's history, yet the war museum manages to take this and in a respectable manner, make the history accessible. The exhibitions are often hosted with the assistance of the horrible histories companies based around their children's books. There is a permanent exhibition hall of the history through the ages, featuring stalls where you can hold and look at items such as an evacuees journal or a newspaper from 1939, and there is also a temporary exhibition hall which is currently a horrible histories account of the Blitz, but was previously a fantastic exhibition on animals who were heroes of war. In addition to this, there is a much artwork from and influenced on war events, and 'big pictures' every hour which project peoples stories and interviews on to the walls of the museum, essentially turning it into a form of old fashioned picture house. My favourite thing about this museum is how much you can learn from it in so little time, you will always encounter something new - such as the guitar a prisoner of war made out of a box and some metal string which is displayed beside the lift. 

5. Ordsall Hall 

A tudor house, even more splendid than the Leeds Templenewsam house, where you can have a tour around the place, spend the evening in the 'haunted house' and encounter first hand what life was like in Tudor England. There are concerts here too (we played some Handel here a while back) which can be delightfully true to the period, alongside school events, where children and students alike can learn not just about the history by ear and through the characters, but also by experiencing first hand - you can actually practice wearing some of the Tudor armour and learn how to hold a bow and arrow. Always a great day out! 

Thank-you for all your support and for voting me blogger of the month for December 2015 - this news made me very happy! Please do keep up your suggestions and questions - it is great to see all of your ideas and to help the best I can.

If you like, you can click  Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank-you!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

World Cancer (awareness/ prevention) day 2016

This is not an easy post for me to write about - nothing ever is when it is something that has affected you very personally and has been literally life changing, so I am not quite sure how to set about writing things. I'm writing as part of national cancer awareness/prevention day 2016 (February 4th) The principle reason for writing this, is to remind both myself and others that cancer is not something we are always as aware of as we should be - and that it is important we keep the conversation open, keep talking about it, in order to help as many people as we possibly can. So let me share my family's story with you.

This is me and my grand dad :

He has been practically a second father to me my whole life, with my parents both working full time and him caring for me whilst they were out. He taught me to do so many things - ride a bike, tie shoe laces, draw planets, aliens, dinosaurs. He encouraged my love of learning, of reading. We hiked together, all over the place, from discovering Robin Hood's cave at the top of Blackstone Edge (which Daniel Defoe described as 'desolate') to the lake district, where we followed Wainwright's path over the boulder field to the top of Scafell Peak. He was my best friend.

When I was 15, my grand dad got sick. He had been trying to lower his cholesterol for a long time, and had previous issues with stomach illnesses but the doctors didn't think this was anything important - until he became so ill he couldn't get out of bed and had to be taken into hospital. They did various tests, but nothing seemed to be an issue, which was obviously confusing as he wasn't getting any better. It took four months for them to find out his illness.

He was diagnosed with terminal cancer - which had spread mainly throughout the liver and stomach, causing fluid to build up in his lungs and abdomen. Because the cancer was rare, this was why it had taken so long for his diagnosis to be made and even if it had been recognised earlier, the cancer would still have been terminal as there is no real way to recover from this form of tumour although with other cancers, it can be possible to fight the disease. He began chemotherapy in order to keep the tumours benign for as long as possible - with the help of Christies and St. Anne's hospice, my grand dad lived as comfortably and happily as was possible for a further 18 months for which my family are so grateful and blessed to have been able to share with him.

On the 14th of April 2014, he passed away.

There is no possible way to describe the loss of a loved one, or the way their illness can impact upon you and your family. Suddenly you are aware that nothing will ever be quite the same and it takes a long time to grieve, to get used to the new normal and to recover.

One of the main reasons I wanted to share some of this story with you is because when he passed away, this was the week before my A level exams began and suddenly I couldn't concentrate or focus and was terrified of not passing my exams. And I am aware that sadly, there will be many students in the same situation this time of year too so I wanted to let you know - you are not alone, and there is help. The nurses at Macmillan and any of the hospices across the UK will be more than glad to talk to and support you through this difficult time, as will the staff at your sixth form. Through my head of year, I was able to get some consideration from the exam board due to the circumstances - nothing drastic, but enough comfort to help me walk into an exam room knowing that I wasn't just expected to get up after falling a long way without any help at all.

And most importantly, I want to tell you that you are so brave, so strong, for carrying on the way you do - hopefully you know that things will get better, even if they don't seem to be the best they could right now. Your A levels are important but they are not the end of the world, and right now your concentration should be on you and getting back on your feet.

In further light of cancer prevention day, I urge you to tell someone if you are worried about or want to know more about cancer and it's symptoms. Be aware of your body and of any changes that might be going on which you might be concerned about - get in touch with a GP straight away if so. The sooner you get checked out, the sooner your mind can be put to rest that it is nothing serious or the sooner you can be able to seek treatment and begin the road to recovery. Just because you don't smoke, or drink alcohol, doesn't mean that you are completely free from risk. Any body can get cancer - my grand dad was a very healthy man, who hiked frequently, ate a balanced diet, didn't smoke, drank rarely etc, and yet still he was diagnosed at the age of 62.

Some further resources and information can be found here: 
Macmillan -
St. Anne's Hospice -
Cancer awareness day 2016 -

Thank-you for listening to my experience . I hope it reassures you as I mentioned previously, that you are not alone and that the more people are aware of cancer, the sooner we are going to find a cure - together.