Sunday, 31 July 2016

Update: Finding Dory, Campus society and favourites

Finally, the Finding Dory UK release date is here! I was up bright and early to begin ritual Pixar release day activities: featuring a trip to the Disney store before the cinema and watching Finding Nemo the evening prior so that all details were fresh on my mind. In case you haven't seen the trailer yet, don't worry! The movie is only just out in England today so you have plenty of time to catch up on your Disney - no spoilers here, this is a spoiler free zone, but it is definitely already one of my favourite films.

As you all probably guessed from my frequent 'fan-girling', I am a big fan of anything Disney because it just makes me happy. Now that I am older, I am able to appreciate just how amazing these movies are, each being their own piece of art which takes years to make. This can be frustrating as it means waiting a while until the next instalment, but it also means getting to experience these fabulous films when they hit the big screen. I think one of the reasons Finding Dory was such an exciting upcoming project of Pixars' for me is because, before I had high hopes of becoming a musician, marine biology was something I was very interested in, in fact it's something that has been a big part of my summer in the format of a short course I undertook taught by the university of Tasmania. Pixar especially is one of my favourite branches of Disney, because they tend to get every aspect just as you would hope - from the colours of the reef, to the lighting (I've attached a fascinating TED talk on this) to the story line, and of course, the soundtrack is usually my favourite part and ends up being my ring tone, my alarm, my play list of choice. 

And on top of all that feel good stuff, is the even more fun element of the Pixar theory and discussing this with other fans. Sharing a project other people have made together is so special and important - this is something you definitely see at university when you find people who have like-minded interests and have seen not only some of the things you have, but have picked up on other details and ideas connected to these things that you otherwsie never would have thought of. These movies are the ones that taught me what it is to dream and to dare, and they still encourage me to do that on a regular basis - so no, I don't think I will ever be too grown up for a Disney movie or that times will ever be hard enough for one of these characters to not make me smile. 

On top of all the Pixar (!!!) Laika also have a movie out at the moment. You might know them from Coraline and Paranorman which were hugely exciting for people like me during art GCSE as they are all about thinking outside the box and being creative. Being claymation, a lot of what you see has been made from scratch, with each movement taking hours of footage because it is stop motion (photos being put together) So it's definitely a good first month of summer for the cinema (plus the BBC proms - feeling rather spoiled, but it's ok because this year has been full of hard work and this feels like a huge reward)

Post Dory celebrations were also a thing! Mum and me went into Manchester to see what Disney things we could find, and ended up back at the Disney store before a trip down to the weekend food markets (which look magical in the early evening/sunset with all the fairylights - definitely somewhere to check out if you're moving to Manchester for university) where there were some very creative stalls. There was this one with cupcakes made out of different popular things like Terrys' chocolate orange and party rings - they looked too good to eat! It makes me want to experiment with some similar ones (Maybe Disney themed ones though?)

Some of my other favourites this month have been: 

1. Books

Now almost at 130 books out of my targetted 100 books to read this year, there have been a fair few books this month that I have really enjoyed reading. At the moment I am working my way through the BBC's top 100 books in an attempt to keep my brain working at full speed and efficiency across the summer until it reaches September again and our reading lists go out (why is it the moment I am not busy I want to be busy again?) Yesterday I finished the classic To kill a mockingbird which is definitely something I wish I had read a long time ago, but am also glad to have had the opportunity to savour - though now I am kind of in a book hang over state where I have no idea how any book will ever come close to that level of amazing. This morning I started the famous novel by Maurier, Rebecca. So far it is proving to be a book based on intrigue, friendship and a house enshrouded in mystery - very true to the gothic style and stock characters in many ways, but at the same time a sprinkling of the secret garden and maybe even Jane Eyre - the natural imagery is very well written and the A level English literature part of me is itching to begin analysing some of it soon.

And without going into every book, another of my favourites this month has been a graphic novel (not usually my style but been getting quite interested in this genre recently) called An age of license which is part auto biography, telling the authors story of a busy month globe trotting. It makes me want to see all these places first hand - especially Norway!

Working my way through a precarious pile of books seems to be the way to go about things this days, because it means you can pick and choose what you feel like reading and don't have to be put off your daily hour of reading because you aren't too fond of whereabouts you are up to. Sometimes I take a break from heavier knowledge based books, such as 50 animals that changed the world, by reading some of my favourite poetry by Carol Ann Duffy or finding out how to change the world, and sometimes if I am feeling extra sappy, re-reading my very worn copy of Romeo and Juliet. 

I'm also really excited for the book clubs featuring on booktube/youtube at the moment as some are really focusing in on the classics, such as this one:

2. Classical music

With the BBC proms currently on going, there has been plenty for me to research and get interested in. So far, some of my highlights other than the Elgar, have been Faure's Requiem, and today's Mahler symphony 3. Of course the proms doesn't centre entirely on classical music, but it is definitely the best time of year for all of us students to get to listen to as much as possible, from our favourite pieces but things that we might never have heard before. Plus, must call at the jazz festival which is on in Manchester at the moment as I have heard very good things from the RNCM students who have been involved so far or who have attended some of the concerts so far.

As well as listening to some awe inspiring instrumentalists, and practicing my dictation with some of the more complex poly rhythms, there have been some really interesting lectures broadcast on the radio. They focus in on different topics, but it reminded me of one I heard last year which discussed the history and introduction of German Leider into music and repertoire. It's interesting to hear how composers have increased in significance across the years, especially those who are now so famous. For instance Schumann, who is known for his beautiful, lyrical melodies. A story was recounted which stated that at a gathering, someone complimented his wife Clara (a famous pianist) on her playing, and asked her husband (Robert Schumann, THE Robert Schumann) if he were a musician too! He attempted at one point to stretch his fingers so he would have a wider playing range, but ended up damaging his hands which meant his playing career (in those days, they would have needed to be talented musicians as well as composers - not just one or the other) was pretty much over.

On the first night of the proms, there was also a talk featuring Julian Lloyd Weber and the new head of the proms which discussed the concept of what makes a good acoustic and why. It talked about how architecture and atmosphere, alongside the history of a place, plays such a big part in why people want to hear concerts there, alongside the music and artists itself. Intriguing, because it gets you thinking (or at least with me it does) about how much I see this in my own experiences and those I have heard about from others.

3. Popular music

Recently Spotify playlists have become a big part of my life (usually I carry a small CD player so I can select some music for the day and listen to a whole album) There has been so much good music recommended to me and also the current artists around us are really getting into their sound. Here's some of my July playlist:

1. Sia - Cheap thrills
2. Phil Collins - Paradise
3. Adele - Send my love
4. Vaughan Williams - Sancta civitas
5. Nat King Cole - Love
6. Justin Timberlake - can't stop the feeling
7. Here comes the sun - Beatles
8. Dodie Clark - Little room

4. Languages 

Whenever I travel somewhere, I tend to get into the habit of picking up little traits from the language which I integrate into daily life as much as possible which always leads to me wanting to know more of these beautiful mechanisms that other people have as part of their speech and understanding of the world every day when they communicate with others. It's a wonderful thing to have so many languages, and it is also fascinating. When you go to university, you will be able to join language clubs or get to know students from other places around the globe, and this too can be another way you get interested in learning something.

So yes, as well as my standard Latin, French and German practice, I am now trying to pick up Dutch! It is proving quite useful so far as it acts in a certain way as almost double German practice because they are so similar. Something I am loving about Dutch though is, that it is a lot more of a lilting, musical sound than German which sounds quite strict, or French which can sometimes sound a little too nasal. For me, Dutch is so far proving interesting because speaking it makes me want to laugh a lot - it sounds so cheerful and this can never be a bad thing. Will update you on the progress soon!

5. Campus society

This is something I was alerted about through the student room - it's basically a website which connects university students, so that you can discuss your classes and lectures and at the beginning of the year, find out who you will be working with for the next year or so (which makes it even better a website for those who will be beginning their courses in September - highly recommended as I wish I had had something like this this, time last year!) It's a really cool place to get to know people, but also a great place to discuss anything from books to movies, to just finding out cool facts. It is something that might help you meet some of your future best friends over the next three years!

On a final final favourite note (so kind of 6 on this list?) How cute is my little teddy version of baby Dory??

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.

Friday, 29 July 2016

A year - Looking back

Below is the last post of mine which is to be featured in the school newspaper this year. And today, with the third years who have become some of my dear friends, graduating I thought it fitting to share this with you.

With the end of the year just around the corner, now is a time to start thinking of summer, the next year and (most importantly for many) graduation! After experiencing my first year here at Leeds College of Music, I've been looking back over the past months in order to reflect, and gain an idea of which direction I would like my studies to head in.

1. This year's Challenges

Over the past academic year, I have learned a lot about just what it means to be a music student. This has meant working hard to develop skills where I am not as efficient as I might be in others - namely harmony. Being a performer, I found that adapting to the this style of academic work was something which became fun with routine and analysis though difficult at first. It definitely enriched my knowledge of a variety of pieces. Particularly in instances such as the analysis we did in class on Stravinsky's 'Symphony of Psalms' as, learning at this level of detail enabled a better choral performance of this piece when working with the Halle Youth Choir and CBSO at around the same time.

2.  Creative projects

Creative projects were definitely a highlight, as it meant going into an entirely new situation outside of my comfort zone to learn about two areas I did not know much on - C.17th music and working with children in music. Working with people from across different pathways and year groups was hugely beneficial. It meant being able to see something from an entirely new perspective, which was crucial to our planning process. It meant that working on writing a nursery rhyme for young children or working out the role of music in Shakespeare's theatre became engaging and significant on a new level, because it meant simultaneously learning to communicate and work as a team in order to express our ideas in the best way possible. It also meant making new friends who I have been able to work with on other projects outside of class, e.g. for a duet or composition.

3. Extracurricular activities

These definitely added to my education across the year. Working with the part song choir, chamber choir and camerata meant gaining a lot of experience with playing and performing in an ensemble. This enhanced my listening ability massively which was hugely useful, not only in class, but especially in my final ensemble recital as my quartet worked on some particularly challenging contemporary work by Jonathan Dove. These activities also gave me something to look forward to at the end of every day.

4. The overall experience

There is no way to conclude when discussing to what extent we learned and developed as an individual across an entire year of learning and communicating with new people in a new place. But as a form of conclusion, I have learnt that the first year of university is difficult, it is challenging, it is stressful, it is funny, it is important - but most of all it is about discovering the interests you wish to develop and most importantly, it is about learning to adapt.

I wouldn't trade this first year for anything, because it has allowed me to become the person I am today, as cheesy and cliche as that may sound. It hasn't been exactly as I imagined but it has been, in many ways, even better. And as third years and postgraduates look forward to the gowns and degree scrolls presented on graduation day, I want to thank you and everyone at Leeds college of music for one of the best years of my life so far. Afterall, it is about the adventure not the destination when we look back.  And on a final note - here's to the class of 2016!

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, 28 July 2016

Favourite current classical musicians

We often talk about our favourite composers. The great immortals are household names, because everyone knows who Vivaldi is and can appreciate the importance of his work in the evolution of classical music and it's place in the world. We often talk for equally lengthy periods in terms of who our favourite performers are of the current date (referring also of course, to composers of this, our current, time period) But sometimes we miss that link between the fact that open interpretation and the engaging new perspective of today's performers is what is keeping the classical music we love, and all of those composers who have become our favourites, alive.

There are many musicians who I admire, but I often find myself too frequently thinking "well, this new recording is no where near as good as the original" Being in a critical listening class all year has got me into the habit of trying to re-assess my own judgements and opinions of recordings as, too often it is easy to dismiss something and say that it is missing the original point or not bearing in mind what the composer wanted to show case through the notes. Yet I think that too frequently we get in the habit of becoming a tad too protective and selective about music - much as with literature, perhaps there are not as many texts being translated as there should be because we are focused on the classics and their importance. All works are of significance and should be appreciated in their own right - for what they are. Not for what they are not, which is why I am trying to listen to as many new interpretations as possible at the moment.

So, without further ado, here are some of my favourite currently popular/ up and coming classical musicians, why it is I like what it is they are doing and also how I cam to hear their interpretations in the first place:

1. Sol Gabetta

A recent fan am I to the work of Sol Gabetta due to the recent introduction of myself to her incredible playing at the BBC proms (first night a few weeks ago when I travelled down to London with my mum) Previously I had been thinking that the only way to go from Elgar in Jacqueline du Pre's infamous interpretation was Alissa Weilerstein's award winning recording from the past few years - but Gabetta adds a version which is definitely worth a look into. As in the pre-proms discussion, Julian Lloyd Weber was completely right about the fact that she really adds her own individual twist to the piece, and connects with it in a way that makes it sound international - familiar and yet completely new. Her use of dynamics is something which has proven a secret weapon to her playing, along with her internal sense of musicality: Her voice is equally as beautiful as her cello playing and to see this look at some of her more contemporary work.

2. Ray Chen

Violinists are usually some of the most famous classical musicians, because it is an extremely versatile instrument that fits into pretty much ensemble and has the ability to project and cover a different range to the human voice in some occasions (but mainly, I think it is just the case of the different tone) Nicola Benedetti is practically the Madonna of everything violin, so naturally I was disappointed when she was too ill to play the last concert of hers I was meant to be seeing. However, definitely glad that she couldn't perform that evening in some ways as it meant that I got to hear the fabulous Ray Chen! Very similar in style but having his own interpretation and light hearted character, his is a style perfect for Baroque and early music. His Mozart was just as I had always hoped to hear it but never had. He recently played at the BBC proms (some more Mozart if I am not mistaken) so do try and check that out if his work sounds somewhat your style!

3. Sheku Kanneh-Mason 

Only an AS level student and already such an awe inspiring cellist, working with some of Shostakovich' most complicated and beautiful works. As you can see in this short clip of his winning performance, this BBC young musician  winner is already at the beginning of a big adventure to creating some works which will become definitive for our generation of young classical musicians. So excited to hear some of his new work soon.

4. Hillary Hahn

Playing from a young age, Hahn is one of those artists who never dulls but only shines brighter and brighter with each new project she prepares and presents to the world. Her work with Bach was some of my favourite from a young age, but recently I have become interested in many of her different ideals - of course her Bach is still getting better and better (anything in D minor in particular) but she is also working on collaborations , as you can see above, with equally talented and wonderful musicians of this 21st century period. Her work with Ives has introduced me too to a whole new composer who has become a regular feature in all of my playlists and even made a place in my musicology essays this year. 

5. Yo Yo Ma

No words - just check out his Bach cello suites and tell me that this guy isn't Casals' reincarnated! He simply has to be, because no one else can play it that well! He said in an interview that his secret was learning one bar of a piece from memory a day because this way you really internalise and know a piece as a friend. It begins to mean something to you, more to you in fact than just notation on a page.

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, 27 July 2016

What is sixth form like?

When I faced university, the new challenges and new aspects of an entirely new place took over and some how my brain completely erased the memories of only two years earlier, when I had been beginning sixth form with much the same feelings. It is strange to look back now and think that for both of these experiences, I must have been experiencing very similar things. But the thing is, when everyone around you is adjusting to the new situation as well it is often quite easy to adjust - and if not easy, it just happens so quickly that before you know it, your A levels are over and you're moving on to the next stage in your academic training. 

Manchester was definitely a fantastic city to study in. In fact, studying here meant having access to many interesting and valuable resources - from the John Rylands' library to the museum of natural history, or even the foreign language centres, and especially the central library with it's floor of musical manuscripts, biographies, letter collections and CD's. Studying in a city is what unlocks the wealth of its' culture. For the first time, you will feel like a city belongs to you in your experience and that is something which is extremely exciting about going to sixth form because, especially if you are studying somewhere you have lived in or near your whole life, you will find out new things about it. The history of it, the way the traffic moves or when the best time to go to the library is. It's definitely one of the best periods of time in your life, that stage between high-school and university.

My sixth form was one on the opposite side of the city from where I lived and had previously gone to high school, so one of the first things that I had to get used to was the fact that I was going to be travelling for long hours. For me, this was worth the journey every day because it was a place of education which suited me. There were extra classes and options that I would not have had access to had I remained in a local sixth form. With music especially, being in a place so different in learning style from what I was used to was an excellent challenge as it meant being thrown in right at the deep end and having to learn to pick up the mental skill to learn to (metaphorically of course) swim. The long hours were difficult to get through at first, but the more I studied, the more I remembered, which meant my drafts remained on my predicted grades and above, I had learned how to fit my schedule to include everything I needed and still managed to keep that balance between family, friends and study. 

One of the most FAQ from my friends younger siblings or other readers of my blog is, is it difficult to make friends? This is a tricky question to answer as we are all different and all interact in different ways. As I mentioned previously, all of you being in the same boat of being in a new place means that adapting is much quicker than it might otherwise be meaning you will soon know lots of people. The process of meeting and socialising is supported by your classes where there will be small ice breakers to get to know other people and there will also be plenty of extra curricular clubs based on the subjects you like. It is not necessarily difficult, it is just something that takes time, but the result is that you will meet people with the same interests as you who will become some of your best friends. 

Moving to a sixth form from high school was for me even more of a fresh start than I thought it would be as only one person from my former place of study ended up in my new place of study which meant there were easily over a 1000 people who I didn't know to get to know. I met some pretty amazing people with big dreams who were there to work hard in order to achieve their goals, and through them I learned equally as much as I learned from my classes. Interacting with all of these people meant that I  was not limited to just my A levels, but could interact with a whole world of new information. This was valuable in many ways, but mostly in how it developed my thought process. You will find that you pick up many peoples' opinions, thoughts and voices and these will definitely support you as you learn and grow, developing your own voice as an individual. You'd be surprised what you remember throughout your life, especially in terms of facts that your friends and acquaintances will provide you with whether that be about business, philosophy or art. 

Your schedule during sixth form is the key to unlocking success. When I talked about finding the balance between long days and travel, you might be wondering what I am talking about as sixth form days tend to be much freer than high school days - literally. Yes, you will get free blocks during your days. In fact some days I might only have had two classes. But I remember there was a sign in the learning skills room (where we were taught during our tutorials how to put together CV's or professional presentations) which said 'there is no such thing as a free lesson'. I agree very strongly with this. Time is valuable so make the most of it. If you use those free lessons to get in extra revision every day any day from the beginning, then you will not be worried come exam time - you will have that knowledge processed and fool proof in your brain ready to ace that test. 

That was just a little on sixth form, based on some of your FAQ's. If this is something you are curious about due to your own move to sixth form in September or if you would like more in relation to A2 year as well as AS, please do let me know in your comments and I will do my best to respond to as many of these as possible. For now - almost results day, so good luck everyone. I know you'll do great! 

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.

Keeping your dorm/university room organised + clean

When you arrive at university accommodation, you will most likely have large amounts of your stuff to sort through and find a place for, which can be challenging enough in itself. So it can be useful to have some ideas about how to organise your room and find a place for everything so that it not only starts off looking great, but reaches the end of year in a similar style too. Whether you have a single or a shared room, it's important and useful to keep organised so that you can find everything quickly and when you need it too - especially if you're in a rush and need your text books, or you want to get an hour at the pool before class and need to find your swimming bag. Some things I found useful were.

1. Storage boxes (sizes - varying)

Ikea, alongside most shops and supermarkets, stock quite a wide range of different boxes that you can keep your things in. This is useful because you can find one of pretty much any sense for what ever you might need. In my case, I used storage boxes largely for CD's, my bathroom stuff (e.g. extra tooth paste and tooth brushes) and a few under my bed so that when it was winter my summer things were not taking up too much wardrobe space, and in the hotter weather so that my winter things were out of the way. It's definitely really useful to be able to keep everything neat in one space, as it means that you don't end up with clothes everywhere or not knowing where to find specific things. Especially with desk space, it saved a lot of room when it came to CD's and books. It is also a chance to get creative, as you can find some with bright patterns or with matching colours.

2. Blu-tack (posters, photos or notes) and pins (bulletin boards)

As a person who needs things on walls in order to be able to concentrate (otherwise my mind starts trying to give the walls a make over) it can be really useful to bear in mind before you get to your college accommodation that there will be regular room checks and any marks left on the walls will impact on your depost. The good news is that you are usually provided with a bulletin board and on top of this, if you want any more posters on your walls or flash cards to help you revise, blu-tack does not leave a mark and means that you can be as imaginative with your space as possible. So make sure to remember some, alongside pins for your bulletin board as these are not usually provided. For me, I found it useful to pin important notes to the bulletin board (such as upcoming concert tickets I didn't want to lose or my Halle schedule so I knew which weekends to come home, a spare cleaning rota other than the one in the kitchen) and then to put my posters up (of course, I couldn't leave home without my precious Disney collection!) with blu-tack on the walls. When I took them down, there was no mark and my deposit was safe.

3. Hangers (for your closet) and maybe a shoe rack

I took hangers just in case (packed each one as I packed it's counterpart clothing piece) which was a relief as there were no hangers provided upon arrival. The wardrobe space was quite small as I mentioned, but there was plenty of room beneath my bed which meant I could use my storage boxes to move the winter clothes I didn't need at the end of the summer to there (with a spare box for hangers and any spares I had brought) and make the most of my wardrobe space separately. I left my shoes at the bottom of the closet, but I know that one of my friends' rooms was overflowing with shoes! So it might be a good idea to bring a shoe rack along, just so that not too much space is unnecessarily taken up.

4. Labels (for any food you keep in your shared kitchen space)

Previously spoken about in one of my blogs was the idea of living with an allergy at university and how this can impact on your day to day life - it is quite a difficult thing to keep control over but it is extremely important to, especially with a severe allergy, in order to keep you safe. Because there are only specific things I am able to eat, whether that be any thing from cereal or cake, I had to speak with my room mates before hand. They were relatively calm about this and kind too, but as the year went on it became more difficult for me to control what was going near my food due to how they were using the kitchen space. This was unfortunate, but was luckily resolved towards the end of my time in accommodation. But I did find it useful, as fellow allergy possessors and none-allergy sufferers also might, to keep little labels for my food and to keep it on a particular shelf or in a specific cupboard as it meant the likelihood of my food being taken or near other foods dangerous to me was significantly decreased. It was a relief to be able to see things how I had left them and to know that these labels made clear what it was and wasn't ok for my flat mates to take without asking.

5. Schedule (laundry, washing up, chore rota)

Living with other people for the first time, and on your own simultaneously, is extremely difficult to adjust too. Especially if, as was the case with me, you come from a very close family. The first few weeks are the most difficult (and with freshers going on at the same time, also some of the most fun) but once you get into the swing of things and get a routine down, it is quite comfortable to go about life this way. Schedules were essential to my individual settling in process. Firstly I began my getting an idea of how often I needed to be doing laundry. There are facilities on campus, so it is useful to know when they are freest or when they are most in demand so you can move around this. But one of the best things my flat mates and I put together was a chore rota - this was a massive relief as it meant we all knew our boundaries - doing our own washing up, knowing when it was who's turn to take the bin out etc. It saves a lot of arguments by just having a small rota in black and white somewhere where you can all always see it.

There are so many videos I watched on youtube before moving out, which got me really excited for being in a new space and getting to live and know my new flat mates. So if you want some more information, there is plenty out there. I've attached an example below which had quite a cool room layout:

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, 24 July 2016

Getting to know your area - York

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 York that you might find interesting:

1. York Minster

As far as gothic cathedrals go, this is perhaps one of the most impressive you could encounter, especially in terms of stained glass. The collection is one of the largest in the country, with some of it dating quite far back in history. Looking up and around at the beautiful architecture, it is very easy to get lost in imagining what it must have been like to walk in here many years ago and to look up at the same thing. The world has changed vastly, but this beautiful place has stayed much the same. You should definitely look into climbing the steps to the top if you have the time, as the view of the city is definitely its' best from there. 

A little more context on the stained glass windows: Large amounts of it date back to medieval times. In those days they used to use metal oxide to make the colouring in the pictures stay. Can you imagine how long it would have taken to have put each of those individual fragments together to make one big picture? 

2. The jazz scene

Image result for jazz

Music : York is good for two very different genres: Choral and jazz. The latter is definitely a lot of fun when you are visiting a new place, and as you know my recent trip to Amsterdam has got be a lot more interested in this genre, along with my friends interest in this. There are several small jazz clubs and cafes with live music pretty much every evening, but also little festivals throughout the year (especially summer) Leeds and York alike are definitely the place to head for this genre. In the past few weeks alone in York, there have been over 20 jazz concerts including the Kate Peters quartet.

3. Shopping 

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

4. The oldest street

It wouldn't be a trip to York without a visit to the oldest street - very Diagon alley esque so all of your Harry Potter fans should definitely head to here. Known as the Shambles, this area goes back several centuries making it one of the oldest in England. With cobbled streets and it's wooden architecture, it is not difficult to (as with the Minster) step through here and feel you have gone completely back in time with the world beyond it changing but leaving this place untouched. There are several little shops here of different variety to add to your shopping spree, some of my new favourites being the second hand book stores full of some pretty great poetry.

5. The history 

As you can see from the mention of several of these places, it is without doubt a city of heritage and history. It is one of the reasons so many tourists and students benefit from this place and continue to return to this friendly, warm area. There are plenty of museums, and the universities themselves, to provide talks and debates on different aspects of this, but you can also visit first hand the art galleries or the remains of castles. If you are interested in the Tudors (e.g. war of the roses) then this is a place where you will find lots of fascinating new information alongside the modern city surrounding that heart of heritage also.

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.

The music of Amsterdam - Sweelinck

As I mentioned in some of my previous posts, a favourite past time of mine is to look at the maps I have of places I have visited and to pick out a random place, to find a composer who wrote about that place or originated from there. This means that you can access a whole new world of music just by doing a little research. Some of my favourite pieces of all time, I discovered by complete accident - such as the Crucifixion by Barber or the lesser known works of Schubert, through connections with some of his peers (people who would attend his Schubertiads) though I haven't caught Fischer Dieskau out yet - he seems to have covered everything there was: He must have lived and breathed Schubert better than any of us!

Recently, I went on a trip to Amsterdam to see more of one of those places you read about and become entranced by because there is so much complexity to it's history and so many blank spaces that you wish you could fill in. Often times, those spaces in history will never, unfortunately, be filled with the answers we seek. But the good thing is that by visiting somewhere, we are able to gain more awareness and understanding of the way it works/operates and this means when we approach it's art or achievements, we are able to see better how they went about that and why that was the best place for this specific thing to occur.

After visiting the Netherlands, it came to my attention that I could not think of a single composer who came from this area, and this struck me as odd. Of course I know that classical music tends to be very centred, particularly around Western Europe (hence Western traditional/classical style) But this area is very much in Europe, so why is it that I couldn't think of any composer from there?

Well, after some research, let me introduce you to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (fantasia, played her by Glenn Gould - one of my favourite pianists for anything Bach-esque)

Sweelinck was a 16/17th century composer. Some things I found interesting about his life (from my earlier stages of research) were : 

1. His father was also an organist 

- but he died early in his sons life and so it is debatable what his education would have been like. Many of the great composers had fathers were great musicians, namely Mozart as a primary example whose father Leopold was a fantastic violinist - one of his books was still being taught in music colleges until recent years. At 15 Sweelinck began working at the old church, following in his fathers earlier foot steps. 

2. He lived in Amsterdam most likely all of his life: 

Which must mean that his surroundings, the very city itself, is to some extent captured in what he wrote. Although there is debate of him turning from the ideals of society in terms of style (not following what was popular in Germany or Italy) to create something solely for the Netherlands, to what extent can the city be captured in something considered a hymn?  And then this can venture on to what makes a piece expressive and why does it do this? One particular article I read which spurred these questions further was the question of what instrument should the music be played on? He himself was a master of the organ, but this does not necessarily mean his work, when performed today, will always be played on the organ - especially with the newfound/modern popularity of the piano or digital keyboard. 

3. His works were largely religious as he worked at the Oude Kerk where he was also buried.

Most works of early music (e.g. medieval, the Baroque period, whatever it is you categorise as the enlightenment or renaissance) were composed in relation to the church where Kapellmeister was the main job for composers to practice their organ/keyboard skills on a regular basis on top of composing new works, and possibly even teaching Latin. The reason I found this interesting was simply because this was a building we visited on our trip, and it is strange to think that feet away was the spot where he was buried and I did not even realise the significance of his name, his work and life to the city of Amsterdam. 

Listening to his pieces has been something of a triumph. Because of the search for it and also because it is genuinely some really good music! That polyphony could easily rival any of the great composers that have become household names. Forgive me if I am wrong, but his must be some of the first fugues for the organ - which means that when we listen to them, it is almost as though we are back in that city as it approaches it's golden age of trading and popularity, listening to something he wrote for the purpose of a particular building - which reaches back to yet another of the many questions : When he was composing, did he consider the specific instrument he was writing for? Did he design it with the architecture in mind? And also, How exactly did he go about composing? 

Because it was so long ago, it is difficult to find out much information about any figure from this time. Especially if, unlike Shakespeare, they are a lesser known figure who have not been as thoroughly researched as their more predominant counterparts from other areas of the world. We can never find the answers or truly know them, but the fun is in trying to guess and find them. With Sweelinck, the fun is in getting to know this mildly rebellious music, to imagine the days when he might once have wandered the streets of Amsterdam trying to come up with new ideas. And after all, that is why we are students - to take the information we have been offered, to push all boundaries for answers and to come up with our own theories and concepts. 

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.

Classical composers: The theme of nature

Recently, me and my mum travelled back to Williamson park which is a place we used to go when I was very small (but I don't remember it at all unfortunately, other than the photographs we have) With the sun being out and the world being in bloom, it just seemed like a good place to go. When we re-visit the places from our childhood, I think (at least for me) we have that moment where we look out at the world and think that this particular place we have returned to is so much bigger than we remember it being. Suddenly, we don't have to stand on our toes to reach the shelves. 

It's quite a big park, with a memorial building (where there was a very pretty wedding going on when we visited) that looks like Pemberly from pride and prejudice, elements of Tolkein's Shire (as currently, they have a play going on to tell the story of the Hobbit - wish we could have stayed for this!) and, the reason that we were there, the butterfly sanctuary. When I was about 8 years old, I had a bit of an obsession with butterflies though I don't know why. Maybe it was because I saw a documentary or something, but it just fascinated me that this tiny, detailed creature, with such a short life span could not only fly but feed in it's particular manner, go through metamorphosis etc. Think this faded from my memory so it wasn't something I remembered until I went back to that place. A friend of mine taught me the word lepidopterist, something part of one of their childhood memories, and it made me happy that we all have these hidden things in our minds that just pop up sometimes - almost as if our own minds were giving us a really good hug, the squishy kind. 

Seeing those beautiful wings up close is quite the thing to behold - it makes you realise why all those poems, and cliches, and pieces, exist with names like the ladybird (Schumann) or Butterfly etude (Chopin) In the photos above, you can see the blue emperor and owl butterflies which were two of my favourites which we came across. They would land ever so softly on your hand if you were very lucky, but you had to stay completely still which is easy as they are very light - lighter than a feather (literally)

After this trip, I started to think about the role of nature in inspiring composers to write. What is it about these sublime landscapes in particular that capture the imagination of so many people, both artistically and in any sense, so that they want to capture or pay homage to it.

One of my first thoughts was that, it is the one way we as humans can succeed in something without necessarily having to have the words in our language. Music is universal - Saint-saens in his carnival of the animals took the stereotypical traits of animals and made them a million times more obvious through the use of different textures and dynamics, most notably in the graceful Swan from his carnival of the animals. Although this is the favourite of many people, I think that my favourite has to be the aquarium, because it is such a short piece but also very complex. In it, the prevalent use of sevenths threading in and out in the harmony make something that sounds simultaneously (in my mind) like the soundtrack from Harry Potter (Williams' admitted this was a piece which inspired him a lot) and just water itself. All those different sounds going on at once - each note practically, resembling a different creature of the deep and with every crescendo or sequence, a new picture is presented.

Water is a difficult one to capture, I think. When I was writing the string quartet for my composition module in AS music, I very much wanted to create harmony that would work with my melody to make it sound like a river. But this proved really hard as, fluidity in music is essential yes, but its like hyper-fluidity in any piece depicting water - or just someone who has created something very effective despite it being simple. One piece which comes to mind straight away is Les Berceaux - a piece, coincidentally, by Gabriel Faure (most famous for his requiem) who was a close friend of Saint-saens.

Can you hear that simple impact of just having the gently lilting, simple sequence on the piano which creates the effect of a rocking boat (in this context) or waves? By putting this in a 6/8 time signature, immediately we get this stunning vision of not just water, but a stormy sea. When my teacher was working with me on this song at A2, I remember him asking me what I saw when I was singing it. The way I see it, it is around 3 or 4 oil paintings I've put together in my mind - in each, until the last, we get closer to the end of the harbour where the boat is docked, but by the time we reach the end of the dock, the boat is all the way in the distance, a mere dot on the horizon. The sea, for me, is that of a day out at Moorcambe a few days ago - something relentless and careless about that sea, that was almost unrecognisable because it was completely beyond my realm of understanding - that complexity is what I was referring to. How do composers capture that or make us see it? 

I don't have the answer to that question, but I do know that this will be something I continue to think a lot on and encourage you to also. It would make a wonderful essay question, don't you think? Some of my favourite pieces focus on natural phenomenon - from the mountains, to the sea, to the creatures of the woods - to even just the seasons as Vivaldi and Schubert were always so apt in getting precisely right from the key signature to the tempo changes. So on that note, I'll leave you with the Chopin I was thinking of as I looked up and around the butterfly house: 

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.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Update: Thoughts on travelling, Halle and the race for life

On the 17th of July 2016 I ran the 5k race for life in order to raise money for cancer research in memory of my grand dad, William Stevenson/G4KKI, who passed away in 2013 from terminal cancer.

After all the travelling and everything the past few months, I think this seemed a day that would never come - getting to run like that. In highschool I was a fan of running and swimming, but with A levels and moving on to my degree, practise hours became more about learning scales and new repertoire, opposed to running each morning and evening. And yet I did it! Managed to run the whole thing and complete it in 45 minutes - not too bad, but next year I would like to get it down to 30 minutes. This year I think the record was 20 minutes (very jealous!)

Other than this, I have been thinking a lot about the travelling I have done this year. It doesn't feel like much when I think about it but when looking back through journals, blog posts, letters from friends, it is clear that this year has been one filled with adventures so far - perhaps too many different ones to fully realise that so much has been fit into these seven months, if that makes sense? Travelling and seeing the world is definitely something I have always wanted to do, but never done too much of because life always seems too busy. But this year, for some reason, I got the opportunity to make up for that and see incredible places I had previously only read about. From them I learned so much. It got me to thinking about what I wrote a while ago about us all being life long learners - our own teachers, despite our education with many dedicated people who have such a passion for teaching - for sharing what they have learnt.

Seeing new things and being a part of them, makes me want to plan even more exploration of this little planet. Sometimes it can be silly things that inspires this too, like seeing the new Ice Age movie - even hearing a joke about space can sometimes make me want to go and find a book somewhere about that universe and to read it a while until I understand the concept of how stars are born and why.

Studying and learning are so closely intertwined as one term despite them being two separate ideas, that I think that on occasion we can all forget that learning is not necessarily studying something - it is not always writing things out until we cannot forget them, nor is it just memorising a page of information. It is internalising something and giving it a place of value in our minds and existence that means we gain new perspective, opinion and ideas. It means that yes, we hear the cadenza in that aria, but it means something to us because we know the composer added it at the last minute, almost by accident - it almost never existed at all, meaning what we might be listening to could be something entirely different. For me, context and the details of things is what makes them worthwhile to me so those are the things I focus on.

These are just some thoughts I wanted to put out there in the world, before I forget them, Right now my brain is brimming with not only plans and ideas, but also with happiness because (prepare for good news) I have managed to succeed in the audition process for a place in the Halle Youth Choir 2016/2017, meaning that my final year with them will begin in September. It is sad that this will be my final year, time passes too quickly, but I am excited to see where this year goes and to be involved in the wonderful Halle projects for another year with all the friends I have met and the tricky pieces we will soon be learning. But before that of course, tour!

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.