Grace Notes: Surviving the stress

It’s exam season, so there are a lot of highly strung people round college at the moment! I never really notice when I get stressed. It just bottles itself up inside me and usually something silly happens (I forget my keys, ruin my dinner, etc), I have a meltdown (like the time I had all the problems on a coach back from Bristol. I wrote about it here) and it’s only then that I realise how stressed I am. This involves crying and hysterics and is generally embarrassing for myself and anyone around me. There’s not a lot I can do to stop this, but there are a few things I think really help post-breakdown to show me things in perspective and realise it’s not the end of the world.

  • I’ve talked about it before (here) and I find it such a great way to relax. Just doing lots of stretching and long breaths, and really focusing in on the different sensations as you do each position is so calming. Yoga With Adriene has an amazing routine specifically for stress, and this helped me loads after my latest meltdown.
  • Just have a chat. Chances are, they’re stressed about something too and you can vent to each other. They’ll also have an outsiders view and can maybe help you realise that just because you have an exam, doesn’t mean your life is going to end.
  • I personally find comfort eating helps. I’m not suggesting going overboard and scoffing on junk food 24/7, but some cake, cookies or ice cream can make you (at least temporarily) happier and might help you get through the stress. Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream is my personal favourite.

(I do not own this image)

  • This one especially if you’re stressed about stuff going on at Uni (exams, friends, house, boys, girls etc.). Sometimes going home, even for 1 night, can remove you from everything and help you to see the situation in a more rational way. I often find it hard to see things clearly when I’m stuck in the ‘Trinity bubble’.
  • Free time. Take a day off! One day of chilling won’t make or break your exam. If, like me, you’re doing music, maybe just listen to the repertoire you’re learning, or play some easy scales to keep your fingers moving, but nothing too intense. If it’s academic, then perhaps just read through your notes, and then leave them and go out and do something. Even if you move from your desk to the living room and end up watching tv all day, having a veg day could be exactly what your brain needs.

These are a few things that help me to step back, take a breath and be ready to start afresh the next day. I can’t wait until Thursday afternoon, when I’ll be exam-free and able to start my summer!


Grace Notes: The final push before my exam!

In just over a week I have my end of year exam. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’m playing Prokofiev 2nd Violin Concerto, 1st movement. The main hurdle I’m struggling with at the moment is how to take it to the next level. I’ve memorised it and can get to the end (albeit with a fair number of mistakes) but it’s not terribly interesting to listen to! So to help me bring out emotions and characters when I play the piece I decided to come up with a narritive. I thought I’d share that story with you and you can see for yourself if you think the piece really does portray what I see, or if I just have a weird brain!


(I do not own this image)


(The timings in this correspond to the video below. The video shows the whole concerto, but my story only goes up to the end of the first movement (the pizzicato chords). I’d definitely recommend listening to the rest of the concerto though as it’s an incredible piece!)

1:10 – 1:32 A male traveller is alone in a barren desert wasteland.
1:32 – 1:55 He turns and sees a great city become appear out of the dust.
1:55 – 2:17 He’s still alone (you can hear the opening ‘alone’ theme), but curiously heads towards the gates.
2:17 – 2:44 He enters the city and is immediately caught in the hustle and bustle of the market trading with people hurrying about their daily business.
2:44 – 3:08 Walking through the city, he leaves the crowds behind and comes across a tranquil garden.
3:08 – 4:02 In this garden, he sees a beautiful princess and falls madly in love.
4:02 – 4:55 He’s spotted spying on her by some guards however, and has to make a run for it.
4:55 – 5:27 After managing to lose the guards in the city’s back streets he finds himself in a secluded area and looks round warily, checking for danger.
5:27 – 5:50 He hears movement so he begins to run again (return of the fast passages).
5:50 – 6:23 He discovers that the movement was the guards who have found him, and the chase resumes.
6:23 – 6:55 He finally loses them for good, and in a peaceful moment visualises the princess in his mind as he wanders aimlessly through the city, lost in his dream.
6:55 – 7:20 The dream feels so real he almost believes it, but then it fades to nothing and he continues walking.
7:20 – 7:45 Along his walk, he comes across a stream and follows it as it winds through the city.
7:45 – 8:17 As the stream dwindles, he finds a set of steps leading to the top of the city wall and he decides to climb. He marvels at the city after reaching the top.
8:17 – 8:59 On the top of the wall he’s alone again (you can hear fragments of the opening).
8:59 – 9:45 Looking around he sees the hustle and bustle of the city below and spots some soldiers (bass drum) marching towards the gates.
9:45 – 10:18 He realises they are escorting the princes away and out of the city which saddens him (all of the harmonised lines in the ‘princess’ theme).
10:18 – 10:50 He fondly remembers, but knows that they’ll never be together.
10:50 – 11:24 In that moment of clarity he decides to continue on his journey and leave the city behind. On his way out he heads back through the market and the crowded streets and out of the gates.
11:24 – 11:54 Alone once more in the wasteland he turns back for one final look at the city.
11:54 – 12:08 He then turns his back on the city and lets it fade into a distant memory as he continues on his way.

(this is my favourite recording of the piece. She plays it with such passion and i can really feel all the emotion that’s being given out)


Did you think my story make sense? I find that visualising a piece as if it was a film really helps me. When I memorise I tend to play with my eyes shut (it stops me getting distracted and forgetting the notes) and if I create a mental film to go along with the notes I am able to get a bit more emotion across and really feel the passion in the music I’m playing.