Thursday, 26 May 2016

A quick note

The past few months have been hectic, busy, fun, crazy, quick, nervous, exciting, new, insightful, educational, and wonderful. But things haven't slowed down yet - they are about to get even better. But then again, I have talked about this in more detail in previous posts, so I won't expand too much on the previous year that has unfolded in so many ways I never could have imagined or expected it to.

This is just a quick note to let you know why I might be a little quieter on the blog front than usual over the next few days - this is because I am going to Austria! To see my friend Laura who has been my pen pal for the past few years and who visited Manchester last summer. Her English is so amazing - I wish that my skill in a foreign language was half so wonderful as her pronunciation!

Although nervous about a few things, namely travelling alone for the first time to a place I have never been before (especially figuring out how to work the trains) I am hoping that my German will be good enough to rely upon to at least get me to Vienna central station (Or should I say Bahnhof?) Genau!

But I promise to be back as soon as I can with plenty of fun stories and adventures to regale, which I am sure won't be too far away in the distant future, so watch this space! Tschuss for now!

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.

A letter to my 16 year old self

Dear Charlotte,

If you are reading this, then congratulations! Not only have you survived your GCSE's and A levels, but you've also survived the passage from almost adult to further almost-almost adulthood (technically adult, though that prospect still seems strange) I'm writing this letter to you because, I think there are a few things you should know, or at least that I wish I had known when I was 16.

Firstly, I know you might not think it now, but you're really going to miss high school. Although high school might seem dull and at times feel like it is never going to end, unfortunately it will - resulting in much nostalgia and the use of rose coloured glasses which will attempt to make maths lessons, PE class in the snow and double physics seem like a good idea when you and I both know that though those subjects are fun, they are not fun after two hours of revision. But outside of the exams, which in 2013 I am sure you are working very hard towards passing at this point, remember that you have this amazing group of friends who are going to be there for you through the next few years when things get really difficult. They will remind you every day why it is being you is so brilliant, and they will be the ones who make you feel that every day is worth everything.

And I can tell you now (from the not so distant future) that they are going to be your friends for life. That won't stop - so please stop worrying about that for now, and the exams too - the stress isn't the best means of success.

As for sixth form, this is going to be the most difficult and stressful two years of your life. Not really because of work on it's own, but because there are going to be a lot of things which will try and prevent you from succeeding - or rather lots of reasons you could take and use as excuses for not working as hard as I know you are capable of.

These range from the serious to the silly (e.g. I'll finish this mock exam once I have seen how much yoghurt it is possible for me to eat whilst watching an entire season of the big bang theory) But I am so proud of you, because although you would never admit it, you're quite strong actually. And you're going to keep doing the things you love and keeping up with the people who matter most, and in the end you're going to find that all of that difficult stuff helped you grow as a person and to work out just who it is you want to be.

And most importantly, at least it will seem for you this time last year, you're going to get into music college!

I'm happy to tell you that you will pass your exams with better grades than you ever expected and go to a college where people are about as mad about music as it gets - though you will still prove to be Elgar's number one fan (#celloconcerto) There are going to be so many adventures and terrible jokes and late night practice sessions, and even singing in some fancy Tudor costumes! But most importantly you're going to make friends, both at LCM and at HYC, who will add to your little family of people who matter and they are going to make your life even happier.

On a final note, I won't go into too much detail (because spoilers!) you are going to experience not only some amazing memories of education because of class, books, your friends: But you will also see so much of the world that you have always wanted to.

You'll see where Shakespeare and the Brontes were inspired to write, you will climb to the top of the Eiffel tower and stand looking up in awe at both Notredame and the Berlin wall - you will get to know on a personal level almost, these cities that seem so distant to you now.

 And you will experience so much music! If you think you know a lot about notation now - you have not yet experienced the wonder of harmony class at LCOM! Plus you'll hear Deutsch Oper and, heads up, waaaaay more Elgar! And Schubert, Schumann, Scarlatti, Vaughan Williams. And Nicola Benedetti and Joshua Bell! So just about, a bit of everything really!

You have a lot in store - so be prepared. But if there is one thing I wish I could tell you now - it is thank-you because you have put in the hard work that has allowed me to progress to here and to keep going. We are, after all it would seem, a good a team.

Talk soon, your second and slightly wiser self,


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.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A moment

On this page, I have spoken to you all about many of my experiences in education, plans for the future, hopes and ambitions. These things are important in all of our lives. But of course, we are made up of all of our experiences. Our inspirations, our colleagues, the strangers we interact with and befriend on a daily basis. So sometimes, such as today, I think that it is important to look back and be truly grateful for those who have inspired, encouraged and amazed us. In my case, I was very lucky to have had many figures in my life who have enabled me to create a life I have always dreamed of living. One of those people was Mr. Biddlestone, the head teacher of my former high school.

Today at a small memorial at St. Peters church, we celebrated the life of John Biddlestone who passed away suddenly last month.

When I remember Mr. Biddlestone, I remember an incredibly warm and creative individual who devoted his life to new ideas and to the progress of his students. Throughout my time at the Swinton high school, I cannot remember a single concert that he did not support. He always had a kind word for some one, and if you ever found yourself in trouble he would be the first to offer help. So it came as a tremendous shock to hear such sad news.

He inspired me in many ways - his love of English and of walking especially. I remember many conversations with him about the poetry in class when he would visit our lessons, and the world book days when his costume was usually that of the demon head master (a character who was a complete opposite to his own!) And through his work with the local rotary club - he would always invite me to sing if there were performances going on. To myself and my family he was and shall remain in our memories, a great friend.

It is difficult upon these occasions to know the words to say, for none seem to fully express the sadness of losing such a wonderful person. However I have found that today, listening to his friends and family speak of him and who he was, there is so much joy in our memories of him. And I know that now, through this difficult time, this is what we should remember of him - because joyful is a word which explains beautifully his attitude to everything in life.

Today when I take this moment to look back, I remember this in my memories of him and, despite my sadness, through this I find some comfort as I hope and am sure his family and friends also shall. Through this difficult time, let our thoughts be with them.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Staying inspired

In my last post, I talked about Dvorak, Angela Carter and Fairy-tales. All of these have a common thread, and that is inspiration (amongst motivation etc, but that isn't as catchy an opening gambit) When your exams are under way, it is easy to get into the habit of channelling all of your energy into just one area - your  subject knowledge. Yet once the exams are over, if you are anything like me, you find yourself floating in this space where time ceases to exist because there is nothing to do and days drag, your list of things to do gets smaller and more frequently left incomplete, and it seems like things will never resume the natural order.

But the secret to staying inspired is partly in routine, alongside finding activities to fill those days. As the famous poet Philip Larkin said:

What are days for?
Days are where we live.They come, they wake usTime and time over.They are to be happy in:Where can we live but days?Ah, solving that questionBrings the priest and the doctorIn their long coatsRunning over the fields.

Because those days are only so many for each of us, it is important we keep living them to the fullest. Yes, of course have a well earned rest after all your exams and school work is done for the academic year - make sure you re-charge. But make sure that you don't waste the time in which you had previously planned to do so much when it was all you could think about in that busy whirl wind of revision. 

Some things I have found useful are :

1. Learn a new skill

One of the best things about the world is just the sheer amount of knowledge, content and skill possessed in it. There are so many different ways of learning, but more so, so many things to learn. This means you can technically never be bored - hurrah! Make sure you pick something a little outside of your comfort zone, so that you really challenge yourself and learn a lot about something new. 

Despite one of my new years resolutions being to learn 10 new instruments (and having only, so far, learn three) I decided to go somewhere entirely new in the realm of ideas in order to gain some interesting new ability or other. Currently, that is proving to be baking - recipes mainly based around honey. A few years ago when my friend Marion visited from France, we made this amazing ginger and honey cake so I have been looking to create a similar new recipe of my own. It has surprised me so far how bad I am at making up my own recipes: I am far too dependent on a recipe book. But things are slowly progressing, so we'll see what odd creation I come up with next. 

2. Travel - be a tourist in your own town

The mind loves to wander. It is it's chief goal in life, as learnt from many a daydream about just sitting outside on a sunny day when confined to the prison of maths class. Yet travelling can some times be expensive, so travelling to new plays is not always possible. The idea of being a tourist in my own city never occurred to me, until a few days when I got off the train and decided to head in the opposite direction to my usual route. This resulted in me happily getting lost and needing to find my way back to the middle of Manchester and along the way, I got some fantastic views of the city and spotted some new places to go and explore. 

One place I had never really explored was the small public garden on the university street where the Alan Turin memorial is - namely the infamous Einstein-esque figure who solved the Enigma machine in World War II (for more on this, a good movie is the imitation game) Because the weather is so beautiful and the park is quite near to the canal, it was a really lovely day to head to this location and to just admire the statues and memorials built to take pride in the self, no matter our characteristics - we are all people, all equal. And this place was a refreshing reminder of that. 

To be a tourist in your own town, all you need to do is head in the opposite direction. You can of course make a plan of anywhere you might want to see and do some research - in fact, if there is one thing you take away from reading this post, I hope it is that you should always take either a map or a GPS of some kind with you if you don't want to end up half way between Manchester and Chester!  

3. Keep your brain active

One way I have been doing this is via an app on my phone called 'curiosity' which tells me five random new facts every day, like the one above. But keeping your mind open can be one of the most fun and diverse elements of every day life. 

We are always learning through every minute of lives, but we can enhance this with the activities we put into action every day. The above app helps improve general knowledge, but summer is also a great time to start some creative writing, or even just a journal to encourage you to have something interesting to record at the end of the day. Keeping up with the news, going to the public library or attending public lectures, going to museums or even watching a TED talk a week can help you keep thinking and maintain that high level of sophisticated thinking you have going on up in your brain. 

4. Read! 

One of the best things you can do, and also an element connected to the factor discussed previously, is to read, read, read! It will open you up to the entire world and all that is in it which means that you will be able to ....

5. Experience

Everything and anything, as much as you can. Take every positive opportunity that is offered you because you never quite know where the next adventure might lead you.

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

Monday, 23 May 2016

Dvorak: Cellos and fairy-tales!

At the beginning of the month, alongside my fellow Halle Youth Choir members, I performed the Moravian duets at the beginning of the Halle Dvorak festival. A perhaps lesser known composer in the swamp of the great Western classical composers (Mozart, Beethoven etc) we sometimes forget I think the sheer power and capability of the music that has evolved from other cultures. It is most powerful because it has it's own opinion and spin on every element of notation - from the inventive folk rhythms, to the sweeping melodies.

Singing in the first concert (alongside the overtures and the piano concerto) for the first time I experienced singing little known music for voice, and in English which is practically unheard of for this piece which is obviously originally written in Czech (though it was a bit of a relief to learn that we would not be learning the original text after the hard work put into the Chichester psalms...) Performing in another language is unique in itself, but taking your own language and using that to create a new interpretation allows you to cut through right to the heart of the music. I remember reading a quote once that really got this, which went along the lines of - If you speak to a man in a language he knows, it goes to his head but if you talk to him in his own language, it goes to his heart.

The Moravian duets were fairly light hearted pieces - we only sang four of the many he put together (some of his very first commissioned works) but these already spanned much of the idea of love, of nature, of fairy tale. The sound also remains very pure, so that even though these works were originally written for solo voices, they blend perfectly in a choral situation. In a way I wish they had been my very first piece of music ever learned because they remind me precisely why diving into this world of creativity was so refreshing and appealing to begin with.

Having experienced music that was both important and easy to listen to, I suddenly found myself with a thirst to know and learn all things Dvorak. So I of course used my student privileges to get tickets to every concert in the festival (excluding repeats of the same programmes - usually going for the last or first nights in those incidents)

My next experience of Dvorak was his most famous symphony - the ninth. The concert was performed under a particular company who posted a large screen over the orchestra displaying photos of scores, footage of America at the time when the new world was being composed, and photos of the composer himself. They even brought in actors who, throughout the first half, analysed and improvised ideas based on these figures from the past, with the orchestra throwing in quotes here and there to explain where certain ideas had come from. One moment was so ingenious that I almost fell off my seat for never having noticed it - he dictated the melodic bird song of American and English birds combining them together to create woodwind melodies heard throughout, but especially in the third movement. If there was any doubt in my mind about Dvorak being as great a tune composer as Schubert, this quickly quieted it. The second half then, was a full performance of the symphony and it moved me so much - I think this was because of the analysis. Having studied so intently and quickly the work for the previous hour and then witnessing this wonder brought to life, (at the hands of Sir Mark Elder who conducted without a score!) I found myself moved almost as much as the first time I heard Shostakovich five when I was first a teenager.

The ninth symphony was the second half of the concert I next went to - featuring a Slovanic dance but (most importantly) the famous cello concerto. This year of all years, as acknowledged by the awesome schedule for the BBC proms this year, is the year of the cello - forget the year of the monkey! Because I will soon be going to see my favourite cello work in July (Elgar!!!) I thought that it would be the next best thing to see both of these works in the same year. Although not as moving as the previous performance of the ninth symphony and despite not being part of my favourite cello pieces, this interpretation also left me in realisation of the genius that is Dvorak! His themes are incredible because they are so fleeting that by the time you think you have spotted one in it's original form, it threads on as a silk into the next. As minnows in a stream, there is not time enough to grasp it before you are hearing material that is suspiciously familiar and yet entirely new. And the voice of the cello never once wavers - when the soloist quietens, then the cello rings out still throughout the orchestral section.

St. Ludmilla on the last night was definitely the highlight for me - there are no words! Elgar was right when he said that he couldn't comprehend the skill Dvorak had with orchestration because no matter the low number of instruments playing at any given period, the texture is never thin. It always has this rich quality to it, buzzing with energy. But as I said - no words! it would take too much time, and right now I would like to talk to you about the second to last concert, the shortest of all of them (only an hour with no interval) which featured the tone poem of the golden spinning wheel.

The golden spinning wheel is a Cinderella - esque fairytale collected by the brothers Grimm - and it is rather a grim tale, so I won't go into the details right now (though you are welcome to read this tale in your own time if you enjoy traditional tales) We were spoken through this, and the screens would display the events going on on the screens either side of the stage. There is just something magical about the way it all came to life that even Angel Carter could not beat with her stories from the bloody chamber anthology. The spinning wheel itself, alongside each of their characters, have themes (such as declared brass motifs for the king) with the spinning wheel so cleverly being a spinning motif, rotating around an arpeggio that disrupts the stillness. There is conversation, good and evil, in a short piece only half an hour long, that is beyond the conversation presented in entire symphonies.

So now that the Dvorak festival is over, the next concert I have to look forward to is finally hearing the fabulous Nicola Benedetti at the beginning of next month. I thought I had missed out on this opportunity after not being able to make her concert last year, but it's official, the ticket is booked - eep!!

In other news, I am missing Berlin so much. Most of all I am missing the Apfelschorle and the train efficiency! Hopefully I will be able to return soon and be reunited with that incredible city. But for now, I will just keep remembering on repeat.

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

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Book challenge 2016

As some of you may know, one of my new years resolutions for 2016 was to read 100 books. Well it looks like I am fortunate enough to have the time to read quite a few more this year now that I have completed my aim of the initial 100! Although it sounds like a lot of books, it turns out that it isn't really all that much.

Books, reading and literature are all incredibly important elements to education at what ever stage you might be as they impact on your level of communication. Even when it comes to music and other forms of art, English is everywhere. It is the poetry in the libretto no matter the language, it is the programme note all the way through the romantic era, it is the inspiration behind every work great and small ever written.

Some of the texts I most enjoyed reading so far this year I have written a little about below. Some of them are new to the literary spectrum and book shops this year, whilst others have been out for quite a while (especially in the incident of anything included that is a classic!) But perhaps some of them might too catch your own eye and introduce you to a wealth of words and worlds and linguistic exploration.

1. The Bees - Carol Ann Duffy

One cannot have a passion for poetry in the city of Manchester without coming across our beloved Carol Ann Duffy. Poet laureate for a considerable length of time, Duffy is currently a head of English at Manchester Metropolitan university and is active in the annual Manchester literary festival.

I first experienced her work at GCSE when we had to analyse some of her poetry for our language exam and as a teenager who loved poetry, found myself thrown straight into the deep end of modern poetry. There is something extra musical about modern poetry in that it's rhythm is something you have to work to find as it is not always immediately evident.

This collection is one I have been savouring and saving to read until this summer after finding a particularly beautiful edition of the anthology. The poems centre around the theme of bees but also discuss many other themes, including moving memories of childhood and the illness of her mother. Having this personal aspect alongside the creative use of metaphor and structure means that the poems constantly evolve and re-shape themselves before you can quite catch where things are creating in the most striking imagery.

2. French Milk - Lucy Knisley

Part graphic novel, part memoir, part travel log, every time I read this I am back in the streets of Paris amongst some of my favourite places in the world. I coupled reading this with the YA novel Anna and the French kiss to get two different experiences of the place.

After graduating, Lucy and her mum went to Paris for a short while which was just longer than a holiday and whilst there, she discovers this whole other culture which she finds impacts on her thoughts. Of course she becomes obsessed with the fine cuisine, especially the milk that is still served in the old fashioned bottles. Half way between being a teenager and adult, I found this such a cliché but entirely empathised with it all at the same time too.

Her thoughts are portrayed through drawings and photographs to create a constant stream of thought which is bewildered, enlightened and constantly questioning of history and the future. Seeing how she coped with shifting from pupil to student to employee, was just like having a long conversation with a friend that makes you feel better about going ahead with your own plans even if the path is a little unclear. Reading this in the first year of university definitely had this affect.

3. A room of ones own - Virginia Woolf

All things Virginia Woolf... Yes please! Aside from Carol Ann Duffy, this is another writer I just wish I could be. Woolf had a view of the world unlike anything ever to exist because she was brave enough to speak out against social conventions whilst also remaining educated, civil and constantly the top of her field. 

In this short essay adapted from speeches she made in many lectures, Woolf discusses the concept of tradition and the role of women in modern society and why and how this affects women who become writers. But not only this, the circumstances which allow people to become writers, especially if they are women who at the time would not have been able to gain access to employment or further education unless they came from a fairly well off background. 

Luckily times are vastly changed now and women and men work as equals, but this book is still a huge reminder of history and the way we perceive the world. It also makes us question why we want to be writers or musicians or artists - it makes you realise that to be passionate in your field is the only way to be successful. Plus her writing is almost as poetic as Duffy's but in a manner that seems so effortless. I wish I could see the world as Woolf did because it seems to be a world where everything is just buzzing with life in every cell, in every particle and sound. What a world that is, and captured in these pages infinitely. 

4. A week at the airport - A Heathrow diary by A. D. Botton

This I discovered happily by accident just before my trip to Berlin and, even though not flying to Heathrow, it was a fun and insightful read. One of the reviews of this book was quite apt in it's praise of the author, stating that they thought Botton had 'never written a dull word in his life' I don't think anyone else could have brought to life an airport in a way that makes you not want to put a book about an airport down. 

Capturing the goodbyes and hellos, and every going on in an airport is what provides us with the stories about adventures and new beginnings. It is moving because it is the truth and it happens a hundred times every days. Seeing it in this much detail is overwhelming because I don't think anyone has ever managed to capture such poignant emotions so clearly despite them being so fleeting, rendering each word and page precious.

5. The man in the high castle

I won't say too much on this one or I'll give the plot away (especially as there is a new series on Amazon based on this at the moment) so all I'll say is if you like science fiction, alternate universes and historic fiction, you are going to really enjoy this book.

Fast paced, action packed and also quite a short read, it is ideal for long train journeys or rainy days. This was one of the books that got me through assignments a month back now. I would promise myself fifteen more pages for every hour of essay drafting done. I really need to get around to watching the series now though!


But of course, the challenge won't end there! Below are just a few of the books I have on my to be read list for this year that I can't wait to get around to! 

Also, on a final note for now, if you are looking for some good music or even just for a new reading playlist you should definitely check out some of the music by Jacob Collier (friends of mine are more than a little green over the super ear power going on in those tracks!) Below is one of the songs from the new album:

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, 19 May 2016

Exam 2: Ensemble exam

Well, that's a wrap guys! Close your scores, close your eyes, embrace the applause that will soon ensue and walk off stage.

^ That at least is how I think we all process the final exam or the final day of the entire year and that sensation is felt in every fibre of us even if in reality the corridor is silent and the only difference in the college building is that the library is no longer full and there are not too many people loitering outside the grand piano rooms. There also tend to be a lot more suitcases around to trip over.

Arriving for the exam, I think I was the calmest I had ever been for an exam because my group was prepared, the pieces were ones we could put a lot of character into so mistakes wouldn't be too much of an issue (hopefully) and we had set aside a whole hour so that we could go over the sections that seemed a bit trickier or edgier than we would like. It's been a series of fairly difficult pieces to put together mainly due to the fact that two of the set pieces were unaccompanied and usually led by me so I had to get used to the tempo. The pieces we were performing were:

- Benedictus in F major : Mozart
- Quartet from the second act of the opera Flight : Dove
- 2 Madrigals by 2 lesser known English composers (Just kidding, Morley and Tallis)

One of the best things about this exam has been finding pieces that would leave the examiner with something new also. One of our examiners was a member of staff who did not know much of the work by Jonathan Dove, or at least did not seem to know it well, so it was a real delight to be asked more about the piece and to get to show our characterisation of it. Getting to work on a piece from an opera for each of these exams has been an interesting experience because it stops just being choral or chamber music and becomes something living and breathing to a larger degree. If you don't know what I mean, listen to some contemporary opera and you'll get it - it sounds gross at first but if you stick with it for a while you get such a lot of satisfaction out of all the little details that make it up.

Once the exam was over, me and my friends decided to celebrate, because we missed out on helping our friend celebrate Norwegian Constitution day on the 17th of May! So we went shopping and talking and looking at the interesting food available currently in the Leeds food festival which is going on. Some of the cake we got to see in the shopping centre was amazing! It was designed to look like the buildings in the Leeds area such as the Corn exchange or the university buildings.

One of the best things about studying at LCoM has been the people I have met. My friends are some of the funniest, most incredible, intelligent and kind people I know and it is has been so much fun getting to work with them on musical projects and adventures throughout the year. The summer is going to be weird because I know I won't get to see them as often, especially with some of them living so far away. But we are going to write letters and emails and next year will be here soon, so hopefully things will stay pretty much the same just over a longer distance. And it will be good to see some of my old friends back home and get to spend more time in the splendid (yes I did just use the word splendid) city of Manchester. But for now, I think I'll just appreciate the time I don't have to spend practicing contemporary opera doing a bit of painting.

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

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Visiting Berlin

One place I have always wanted to visit in the whole world is one that is probably at the top of a bunch of peoples' lists of places to see in a life time. It isn't a particularly large city, it isn't the be all and end all of glamorous locations and if you looked at it from a distance, as with most places, you would probably think it nothing spectacular. But it is the most spectacular place - it is Berlin!

As a city, Berlin is an enigma within itself still trying to find a balance between it's traditional heritage and the modern day world. This can be seen in the presence of historical land marks and architecture which clashes with the modern day glass designs, as can be seen in the parliament building most clearly perhaps. This contrast creates a striking visual for the individual with the existence of the Berlin wall also clearly accented by these architectural differences.

In A level history, you learn about these figures and the places where they visited and enacted plans and political changes, but when you visit a place itself you gain something of a feeling of closeness, almost an interconnectedness, with a place or land mark. Being able to see the land and gain spacial awareness means that next time you hear about it or read about it you can imagine in your head the actual event without having to rely too heavily overall on your imagination. Being given this context, even though my A level exams were over a year ago now, makes me feel so lucky because it means my knowledge is set in my head by my own personal experience and not just statistical information recorded in a book.

We visited many of the popular tourist destinations which hold historical significance, such as the parliament buildings, the television tower, the Brandenberg gate, Hohenschonhausen, the sony building, Alexander and Potsdamer platz, the Holocaust memorial and parts of the remaining Berlin wall.

Exploring the city beyond these historical land marks however, opened the way for the new, the daring and the exciting. Through getting lost on many trains (known auf Deutsch as the S and U Bahn) I saw the heart of a city which is rich in culture and varied life. Learning German at school, and singing it every day, I do not think I realised how much of culture we cannot pick up automatically merely from learning a language nor how different a culture may be to our own. It's definitely a city for students because there is so much to learn and see. Also, it is such a green city and many students are believers in the want for a greener and more globally effective manner of running the city, meaning recycling and efficient public transport are crucial elements in day to day life.

One of the biggest elements which surprised me was the matter of food. Despite my many allergies, I was luckily still able to sample some fine German cuisine, namely Apfelschorle, which has been recently discovered by moi to be the long sought elixir of life! In Berlin, sparkling water is immensely popular, and this beverage is a mix of apple juice with sparkling water to create pure apple magic!

And, of course, Germany is one of the most infamous areas for music so I found myself exploring the ground that was so close to the foot steps of the famous composers and so close to the Rhein on which they would have travelled. 

Unfortunately, because it was a weekend, the Berlin Philharmonie did not have any concerts available which was frustrating mainly because there are free concerts every Tuesday so we only just missed out which is a shame (but there is always next time) However, we did get to experience two beautiful places instead, the first being the musical instrument museum, through which we were guided with a portable tour gadget which played different extracts for each of the musical instruments we encountered. Some of my favourites came from the collection of harpsichords, but mostly the giant organ. 

There were some instruments I had never even heard of, and the whole place was extremely warm and lit in a particular soft light so that the instruments would be preserved correctly. I liked being able to walk freely amongst these beautiful creations without them being roped off and distant, however it still made me feel kind of sad in a way that all these instruments made with the intention of creating and performing music were no longer being played on a daily basis as their creators intended. One of the best elements of this museum though, was the Bach portrait which (if you are a Bach fan) you will understand is kind of a big deal! 

But one of the biggest highlights of this trip for me was getting all dressed up to catch the train to the Deutsch Oper (it has it's own station!) to see the production of the opera Tosca there. Tosca is, in my opinion, a relatively short but also significantly stunning, opera. Hearing it in such a magnificent concert hall with a cast of top performers is something which is going to be hard to beat when going to see future performances of ant opera, and the evening is one which I will treasure always, but the whole trip in general really was one beyond my imagination and filled with new wonderful experiences which I shall never forget.

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, 12 May 2016

Exam 1 - Final recital of the year

^ The above picture aptly shows how I cheered myself on before a recital. In my family we have this tradition of always acting as though things have gone well before they have even occurred in the high hopes that his positivity will alter the course of action and lead things to the best possible end result. And to be perfectly honest... I think this worked to a successful degree (but of course, we will not fully know this until the end of this year of my degree #puns!)

So the day before my exam, I was nervous because although there are no strict obligatory rules against it, it is quite frowned upon in the world of vocalists in general if the score is needed in front of you when singing unless the content is either :

A. In strophic form (so you need the music simply to know where the verse goes to next, especially if it is in another language)
B. Or you are singing a solo in an oratorio... because literally, no one knows where to come in ever, particularly if it is contemporary.

The bad news was that I had two strophic songs in my relatively short scheduled 20 minutes of singing. One in English and the other in German. However, because of my dreadful ego and pride, I simply could not process the thought of having sheet music for two pieces when I had worked so hard to get everything off copy. I knew that it was mainly nerves that was making me forgetful and a little shaky, but all the same it was rather stressful singing through things I had already sung through a million times and finding myself with a blank mind.

After several hours of attempting to get the verses in the correct order and succeeding around twice with the three out of eight pieces, this seemed the best result under stressed circumstances. So I took a break from it, watched some Once upon a time and then went through the libretto once more before going to sleep (they say there is this urban myth about osmosis - you dream about and remember well whatever it is you were doing before you sleep) so I was hoping that this would give me a good 8 hours to process my German pronunciation without me having to be awake to make sure this process went along.

The train ride to Leeds on Wednesday seemed to take the longest it ever had, but upon arriving at college, I had left myself a good hour to practice and to get some water and have a really good warm up without being rushed. After my hour of assuring myself that the dream induced language practice had been successful,  I went for the accompanist rehearsal and then ... to the exam room.

One thing that I found such a relief was walking through the door into the recital room and realising three things all at the same time that are all kind of similar in a way:

1. The room was so much smaller than my nightmares had made out.
2. It was actually just a practice room, in fact the one that my ensemble class is in every week.
3. I had completely overreacted and this was going to be completely fine.

And it was. After that, it was plain sailing. All the way up to my exam, time had seemed to stop and drag, but it felt like letting my breath out after holding it in too long under the tonne of water at the deepest end of the pool. And it was a relief to breathe out and start, even if the Italian pieces weren't my best moment, even if I did stumble a little on one verse in one of the German pieces, I achieved what I wanted to achieve and all of my hard work had paid off.

Because I managed to perform the songs from memory I was able to put my higher level skills on display to a larger extent - using technique and using drama to enhance character and it made me feel so much more confident being able to impact on my own performance that way. Especially when it came to my last piece, Bist du bei mir- my absolute favourite. It felt like pure joy and freedom, even though the song itself has quite sad and melancholy connotations. I just remember thinking, this is why I love performing and this is the best fun ever - what a great form of examination! Which is perhaps geeky but also 100% true and I am unabashed in that it was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

So yes, the exam I was worried about was actually nothing to worry about and is now officially over! All I have left to do now is my ensemble exam next week and we have put so much time and work into that and there are the four of us, so I am not really stressed about that one. After the solo recital, I think I am actually looking forward to ensemble, especially as once that is done with I can finally meet up with all of my friends from college. It feels like we have not met up and sang to random musicals since Christmas! But then again, that's how this world works and though hard it is also full of rewarding experiences like our recitals.

If anything, I hope reading this makes you feel a little calmer about any upcoming auditions or performance exams. Know that you are in this for your love of the subject and think only of this - it is the Holy grail equivalent in music, and will allow you to enjoy and relax into your performing making it both something to be happy with and some thing to be proud of. Best of luck to you all!

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

Building a CV

Summer is a large space of time when we have the freedom as students to get a lot of work done beyond the school walls - this means gaining experience in areas like travelling and planning new adventures, but also in getting some experience in the work world and earning some money in the process which might allow us to have some extra support via savings for the next year.

In order to enter into the world of work, you first need a CV which is every students best friend and worst nightmare all saved in the format of one PDF or word document file. In this document you need to include information about yourself and your hobbies, your education, work experience and so on. But how should you include information and why?

1. Basic contact and personal information 

This pretty much goes without saying, but it is important that you make sure all of your contact details and personal information are clearly displayed at the top of your personal statement. Make sure that your details are as professional as possible, particularly when it comes to email addresses - make sure there are no silly nicknames which might make your possible future employer question whether or not you would be right for the role without first reading the rest of your statement to see what else you have to offer.

If you have a term time address and a home address, make sure you write this information accordingly so that it reaches you at the right time and, more importantly, in the right place. In terms of further contact, I find it quite useful to list two phone numbers when possible, listing my home phone number first and mobile second so that there isn't too much an issue with say my phone ringing in class.

2. Skills that you could bring the work place and work experience

This is separate from your education and qualifications mainly because much of the skill you will be able to bring to a place will be due to work experience or jobs elsewhere which you perhaps did not recieve an official qualifcation for. This can be literal skill such as being able to manage a till, use a spread sheet online or speak another language meaning a broader means of communicating with potential customers, but it also means things such as leadership qualities - do you enjoy working in a team? Are you able to work alone when necessary? Are you reliable?

You will of course need to word this quite well. Usually, I will write the skill in bold print and then beside it a short explantion in lower case print such as :

Leadership qualities - Although I enjoy working in a team, I am capable of possessing strong leadership qualities which allows me to take on designating tasks between my fellow workers. For instance, in my previous work as a volunteer at Oxfam, I was able to split tasks evenly based on the stronger attributes of my peers allowing work to be completed to a high standard in a more efficient amount of time.

3. Education and qualifications

The most valuable advice I ever received on writing my CV was to only go back, at the most, two years when writing about my education and qualifications - meaning you don't need to list all of those SAT exams from way back when before you even thought about going to high school. Definitely list all your GCSE's though, and if not the ones you think are most significant to the job. E.g. an A* in French if you are applying for an aupair job in the South of Paris.

List your highest qualification first and make sure to state whether or not you are still in full time education and how this will relate to your availability for work as this could affect your employability in relation to whatever position you are aiming for as, of course, your availability has to work not only for you but also for your potential future employer and the company in general.

4. Hobbies and interests 

In the section where you can talk a little about the person who you are beyond the qualifications and the education, make sure you don't try too hard to impress. As with writing a personal statement, finding a job is about finding a possession which works well for you and with your character allowing you to flourish in your surroundings, do well and gain some valuable experience. No one can achieve this by lying, and it will always look bad in an interview and massively impact on your chances if you get do get called up on it during the interview or later throughout your career.

So be honest - don't brag about reading Anna Karenina or a love for horticulture if you think it sounds impressive but cannot imagine anything more boring.

Rather use this space as a place to show how interesting you are - yes, perhaps connect certain elements of your hobbies and interests to the role you are applying for (e.g. you enjoy competitive swimming and are applying to be a life guard, but you might also like the structure and nautical terms used in boating) And make sure you don't do the cliche filler content type writing because that never ends well - write passionately about things you are passionate about!

5. Cover letters 

Finally, when using your CV remember to keep content significant to the job and position you are aiming for. As interesting as it is, there is no point discussing only your dance career and nothing else if you are applying for a job at a bakery or a super market where they will be more interested in your other skills and how they are heightened by your successful dancing.

Although cover letters give you a chance to add to your CV, try not to write anything that you haven't already included in your resume. Keep it efficient and concise - your name, a short sentence or two about why you would like to apply, alerting them that you have also attached your CV, politely urge them to contact you as soon as possible and proof read as much as possible before submitting.

Summer is a time for work, yes, but after the busy academic year, I think we are all going to be quite in need of a rest, so do make sure that you take this into consideration when applying. Yourself a breather from text books to get some fresh air - after all, it's been a lot sunnier lately! I wish you the best of luck in your exams, applications and summers.

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

Monday, 9 May 2016

Update: BBC Proms, Phantom of the opera and Lyme Park

Obviously with my final recitals of the year fast approaching (eek!) things are starting to feel a bit pressured and the stress is building... but to distract myself I have been trying to gain a balance between work and play, so to speak. Which means half of my life is spent practicing, a quarter on my family and the outside world and a quarter reserved solely for panicking. Yup... even the panic is organised... I'm probably exaggerating because in my heart of hearts, I know that I have done pretty much all of the major work I could do now and that the reason I am so anxious is because the time is starting to drag and I just want Wednesday morning to be here already so I can get things over and done with and stop worrying about them. Plus I am the first singer of the day... which is a bit daunting too.

Any who, away from the topic of exams for a moment. As you will know if you have been around the UCAS blogging site for a while, last year I performed in the BBC proms with the Halle youth choir which was incredible! One of the best experiences of my life and it was officially a year ago now, which feels very strange. We got to see half of the prom, the half we weren't in, but this was not quite what I had in mind for my first experience of the proms though of course it was an amazing experience in itself. It still left me wanting to experience from the audience perspective and not from behind the scenes, the BBC Proms. So this year, as my mum needed a little cheering up too, I decided to treat us to tickets to the first night of the proms to which I have always wanted to go.... Mainly because the first night this year has an amazing programme featuring, you guessed it, my favourite piece of music of all time... the Elgar cello concerto!! When I first found out I nearly screamed... and I have had the date of the tickets sales opening on my calendar since that day.

So Saturday morning I got up bright and early, ready at my computer, and it took forever because the virtual waiting room was full (how?) but I finally made it into the queue at number 8067 and after about half an hour was down to the 4050 th person in line. But then my wifi cut out... ten minutes later I was back in queue and back at 8000 and something... Luckily through the quick thinking of my fabulous mother, we managed to order tickets elsewhere online and now we are officially going to the BBC proms!

And of course we couldn't just leave it there either... so we are going to stay in London for another day and go to see Phantom of the opera too! This was the first musical I ever really experienced and was a big reason I actually got into classical singing even though this is more for the theatre than the opera house. But all the same, it seems a fitting time to go and relive some of the wonderful pieces and works that first inspired me to pursue this path as a vocalist and become a singer.

If you're a student in England, you will have no doubt noticed the fabulous weather that has just delighted May with it's presence. As some one who is incredibly pale, this is great as it means being able to go outside without needing an umbrella but it also means I have to put on so many layers of sun cream! And I still have a rather painful sun burn...

Because the last Halle concert of the season was on Thursday (we performed the Dvorak Moravian duets at the Bridgewater hall for the Dvorak festival, which is a rather exciting collection of concerts over the next few weeks, definitely check it out!) this meant my first rehearsal free Sunday fell on the first really hot day of May, so my family and I decided to go to Lyme park to see some of the history and heritage preserved by the national woodland trust and also the natural sets used in the BBC mini series version of the awesome Pride and Prejudice (note - I feel sometimes I use too many superlatives in these posts, but this is because there are so many amazing things in the world that I get a bit carried away sometimes)

It was such a beautiful place, especially the library and the gardens where there was the old orangerie - it seems the ideal place to live. There is so much history, to the house alone, not including all the portraits, furniture (including many fragile looking pianos) that dates back to the Tudors and Stuarts, maybe even beyond. I can't wait to visit again, especially when the gardens have finished blooming. I could get lost there for hours, especially when there is no exam stress to return to. Anyway... speaking of exam stress, better get back to doing some more practicing/memorising. Ta ta for now.

Update - 96 books read out of 100
currently reading: seasons based poetry, far from the madding crowd and a memoir of the life of Beatrix Potter

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

Essays: How to stop procrastinating!

With the last few weeks of May approaching us, you sixth formers and GCSE students will be nearing the end of your year long courses, especially your course work which I imagine will now, from my memory, be in the final final stages of final drafting (final use of the word final hopefully) Having only just rounded up my own assignments, and remembering my A2 literature draft on Irish play wrights, I remember all too well how easily one can be distracted by anything else if it means escaping the dreaded drafting process. So here are a few tips that might help your drafting to be done a little more quickly, especially considering things are twice as challenging now the summer seems to have officially arrived:

1. Plan out what you want to do 

Having a to do list can be hugely rewarding as it means that you can tick off the tasks completed and see just where you're at with everything allowing things to feel a little cooler and well organised than they perhaps really are. Fear not - you don't have to do the whole list in order and can add to/subtract from as much as is necessary. But having something to allow you to keep an idea sharp and not lost in the back of your panic can make things clearer when writing meaning that you don't have to think about a million things at once. Personally, I keep a huge A3 piece of paper above my desk listing what I need to do and find this helps:

2. Write out paragraphs separately and highlight what you want to change

When I produce an essay nowadays, chances are that 9 times out of 10 it is going to need to be submitted online which is something I fear as it seems to simple to just click a button after attaching a cover sheet to a file and having done with it. But apparently it really is that easy these days - the part of me that lives in the 50's and still writes letters to relatives (commonly resented as the hipster recess of my brain) resents this. So I make a compromise with myself.

After I have typed up a draft on line, I write out a lot of it on paper to help me see where I might want to make changes. Again, I usually do this on A3 paper instead of lined as it means I can write a large chunk of my essay in the middle of this huge blank creative space and just mind map and scribble all over it to get it to where it needs to be. Most of the time, I do this by creating a colour coded system.

In the above example, anything highlighted in orange is something that needs referencing later on, so I know to make a detailed note of all the information that needs to be contained in that reference somewhere on that page so I don't lose it by closing a tab on my computer and then never knowing what page of the Hoffman book I used. The blue in this incident is a signal that I am in dangerous ground and need more evidence for what I am saying because this information currently has no supporting factor to say it is real and not just me being biased because I really like their music. In this way, musicology is simultaneously harder than an English essay and equally as difficult as the 3,500 word essay I had to write on 500 years of Russian history... Mainly because I have to reference musical scores alongside books.

3. Proof read - a lot! 

Before I type up my work, I have usually written it out on paper but you can also print your drafts in order to this. Proof read immediately after writing and then leave it for a while before coming back to it and proof reading it a final time before you submit it because otherwise your eyes might miss things. You can never proof read too many times and in too many different ways! Being prepared to proof read your essay can make the difference between marked down and up for use of grammar or spelling. I find it useful to print the work after I think I am finished and going through with a red pen to find all the things that need fixing before I am in water safe enough to sign it off and be done with the dreaded deadlines.

4. Do the referencing first (and in as much detail as possible)

As a person who left referencing till last on my first essay, my advice is to get this over and done with first as this is the most tedious part of the process. Make sure that whilst you are researching and writing you keep a note book with you so that you can keep yourself updated on texts used, authors and editions. But most importantly page numbers!

References should be listed in alphabetical order where possible, but usually I list mine in order of when they were used throughout unless I am citing a text in my further reading, in which case it is easy to use alphabetised chronology.

5. Don't over do it! 

Most importantly, if you are reading this, you are probably panicking and want the secret answer to writing an essay that will flourish as a beacon of hope in your academic education. However, the important thing is to produce a piece of work you are proud of and you won't be able to succeed in doing this unless you keep as calm as you can and make sure you take breaks to eat properly and get enough sleep between everything. And also occasionally just doing things that make you behave as you always would out of exam season, like meeting with friends or sketching.

Stick to a schedule yes, but make sure you give yourself time away from the essay to breathe because you never know, those moments of rest might be when you have a break through about the balanced judgement in your concluding paragraph and have your very own eureka moment!

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