Grace Notes: Flö

I was talking to a friend recently and we were discussing how much we enjoyed playing chamber music, and getting the chance to explore different repertoire. So we came up with the idea of starting a duo to play at weddings or functions and also to do concerts, meaning we get to play the fun ‘wedding pieces’ but also explore other things that might not be quite so standard. I play the violin and my friend (Ellie) plays the flute, so we started looking into repertoire that worked for that combination. It turned out that there’s a lot out there, and flute duo and violin duo pieces would work as well.

After that we made a few quick videos and recordings, and put together a website and Flö was created! We have plans to do a few concerts in the summer, hopefully with some new repertoire written specially for us.

Flö Profile Picture

I’m really looking forward to see where we can take it, and I’m very excited to learn some new, different, repertoire too!


Grace Notes: Buying a violin

Over the last few years, I’ve started to notice that my violin hasn’t always been able to do everything that I was trying to play. This summer I eventually decided (with some encouragement and help from my parents) to begin to look for a new violin.

I was home for just over two months and so we ended up going to a lot of violin shops in a pretty short place of time. I owe a big thanks to my dad especially, for all the driving and listening to endless violins. Everyone who worked in all of the various shops were great and really helpful, especially as when we started looking I had no idea what I wanted except something ‘louder’. The more violins I tried, the better idea I had of what I actually wanted, so by the end I had gotten pretty good at knowing when a particular violin wasn’t for me.

I am really happy with the instrument I’ve ended up with, and hopefully I won’t have to go through buying another instrument for a long while. But, if or when I have to do it again, there are a few key things that I’ve learnt:

1. It doesn’t matter if you don’t immediately know what you want, the more you try the more you will learn.

2. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t like a particular violin, even if you think you should. So long as you are polite and just say that that one isn’t for you, you’ll be fine.

3. The best way to really know if the violin is for you is to take it home and try it in a familiar space, so you already know what the acoustics will be like.

4. You don’t have to play pieces to test it, sometimes just playing long loud and quiet sounds really exposes what the instrument is like.

5. Don’t be scared to really play out in the shop. No-one is going to judge you if you miss a few shifts or play slightly out of tune.

6. I found it helpful to keep going back to my own violin, as then I could really get some perspective on how much better the one I was playing on was.

7. Ask questions and find out as much as you can, because then you’ll be able to ask for something similar in the next place you look.

8. I found it really helpful having another pair of ears (my Dad) listening as I was trying them. It was really interesting and helpful to get his opinion about what the instrument sounded like when it wasn’t directly under your ear.

9. Just because a violin is slightly cheaper than the range you were thinking of, doesn’t mean that it’s less good.

After about two months of trying violins, Dad and I were in Scotland, staying with my grandparents before a hiking trip. We decided to have a day in Edinburgh and made a quick visit to Stringers just to see what they had. As it turned out they had a number of violins by a Scottish maker Paul Bowers, one of which I was very taken with. I ended up borrowing it and taking it back to Cardiff, and after another few trial weeks decided I loved it and bought it.


My new violin!

Having had three weeks back in Sweden playing on it every day I’m still very pleased with it. The difference it makes is astounding and I couldn’t be happier.

Grace Notes: Crochet or quarter note?

Over the course of my life so far I have done a lot of orchestral playing with people from all over the world. And, seeing as my course is an international one, all of the rehearsals here are taken in English, so for me I haven’t noticed any real difference between orchestral projects here and back in the UK. There is one thing however, that sometimes makes rehearsals very difficult, and that is the naming of the note values.

In the UK, a four beat note is called a semibreve, a two beat note is called a minim, a one beat note is called a crotchet….. and this continues. Here’s a diagram to explain it better.

uk note values.png

I have grown up calling notes these and referring to these names without even thinking in rehearsals. Here however, I have to get used to the other naming method.

In the rest of the world they call a four beat note a whole note, a two beat note a half note, a one beat note a quarter note, and so on. Here’s another diagram.

us note values.png

It makes an awful lot of sense! But I’m really struggling to get my head round it in the spur of the moment.

For example in a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago I was banging on about ‘quavers’ and was getting a lot of blank stares. I realised this was because the others in the room hadn’t got any idea what I meant by talking about ‘quavers’ (I should have said an eighth note).

So now I’m really trying to make an effort to talk in half notes and quarter notes, rather than minims and crotchets…. But it does mean that every time I want to say a note name I have to mentally go ‘so a whole note is a semibreve, so a minim is a half note, so a crotchet is a quarter note….’ until I get to the note value I need…..

I definitely need some practice!

Grace Notes: Christmas in Sweden

Most years I manage to get home for Christmas by about the 15th of December. Usually at least a week before the day itself. I then help with the decorations in Cardiff and get all excited and ‘Christmassy’ at home. This year however is a little different. My flight isn’t until December 22nd, so I won’t actually get home to Cardiff until that evening. Therefore, I had to get into the mood here, in Sweden.

This was actually a pretty easy thing to do because, as with most things, Sweden is great at Christmas. Firstly there are the lights. It was starting to get dark by about 3pm most days and this would normally get me down, but there were so many lights and sparkles around, a part of me looked forward to the dark just so I could see everything lit up!

On my walk to school I pass the theme park ‘Liseberg’ and they have huge decorations at Christmas and a market and shops to get you in the mood. The centre of town is also festooned and looks stunning, as the lights are all so tasteful. One of my favourite things I saw this year were trees with their branches individually wound with fairy lights, illuminating them completely. It looks beautiful!

Another thing to make you smile is the singing Christmas tree. This is situated near the tram stop Kungsportsplatsen and is a Christmas tree shaped choir stall where local choirs go up and sing a set of Christmas tunes. It’s so cheesy, but I love it!

In the UK at Christmas we have a lot of lights, but it was a little different here. In almost every window there were some candles or a hanging star light, bringing this magic to the darkness.

Aside from the decorations I also enjoyed the food at christmas, particularly the pepparkakor and glögg.
So although it’s been different, I have definitely got the Christmas spirit in Sweden, but I’m looking forward to heading back to Cardiff for the actual day!


Grace Notes: Believe it or not, I have a degree!

Last week I left Gothenburg for the first time since arriving in August and flew back to London for my graduation. I was really excited to go back and see my family and friends, and it was made so much better without my violin as my hand luggage!

The day started off well (as in I managed to be up and awake at 4am so I could get to the airport on time), and everything was going smoothly until we boarded the plane. There was fog at Gatwick and so we were stuck on the runway at Gothenburg Airport for two hours!

I finally made it to London and spent the rest of the day darting round seeing friends before meeting my parents for an evening meal.

The day of graduation itself was lovely. We were very lucky that it wasn’t raining! Like children, we were very excited to wear all the robes and I definitely felt a little bit like Harry Potter in them! The ceremony was nice (aside from the panic just before you walk onstage to graduate that you’re going to trip over in your heels and regret not wearing sensible flat shoes…..) and it was great to see our whole year being back together again.

What felt like thousands of photos were taken and then my old flatmates and our families got to go for a quick pub meal.

Then suddenly it was time to go again and I was rushing back to Gatwick and back to Gothenburg!

Grace Notes: How music helped me to settle in

I have been living in Sweden for just over two months and I’m now feeling pretty settled and normal, almost like I belong here. Even the language is becoming less of a mystery, and I’m starting to pick up bits and bobs of conversations in Swedish, although I have little to no chance of being able to form a reply yet…

However, I found the first few weeks here hard. Some days would be fine, but others I’d feel very far away from everything and a little lost. This was often because I’d seen a post on Facebook or Instagram from a friend back home doing something that had I not moved, I would be doing too.

Lodging in a flat means that I spend a fair amount of time on my own, and while most of the time I find it refreshing (and it’s nice to be able to put on pjs at 6pm and not be judged), sometimes I wasn’t able to shut off my brain completely and I’d get myself worrying over nothing and then stress out and not be able to get anything done.

The one thing that I found really made it easier though was listening to music. Every day I have a half an hour walk into faculty and I listen to my iPod the whole way. I don’t listen to things I am studying or pieces we are about to play in a concert, but tunes that I know really well and associate happy memories with. It also gave me a chance to really appreciate the beautiful scenery around me and watch the seasons change, without my mind being clouded with things I need to do, or was missing out on.


Walking home in the summer evening


Watching the colours change into autumn


One of the first frosts (it got down to -4, but I’m told it’ll get much colder….)

For me these included tracks like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by David Bowie, ‘Can You Forgive Her’ by the Pet Shop Boys, ‘Ballad of the Great Eastern’ by Sting, or ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd. These songs change on a daily basis, but if I was to choose a few things to listen to now, it would be the above tracks.

By giving myself that half an hour or so to and from college to shut off, let my mind wander and just get lost in the music, really helped to keep me from going crazy.

Even though I now feel pretty much at home here, I still have my walk and my music every morning and most evenings, and I really enjoy just being able to escape and let my mind wander wherever it chooses.

Grace Notes: Initial reactions to living in a new country

On 23rd August I was up at 2am and dropped off (very kindly by my dad) at the National Express stop in Cardiff. From here I was taken to Gatwick where I got on my plane to Gothenburg. I arrived just after midday and was already exhausted.

I was really lucky and my landlord offered to pick me up from the airport and give me a lift to where I would be living. It’s really strange choosing somewhere to live without never having seeing it, but I had nothing to worry about as the flat I’m now living in is lovely, as are the couple I live with.

From talking to to friends who have done similar things and moved far away they have all said that there will be a big ‘wobble’ moment.

Mine came when everything was unpacked and I sat down on my bed thinking ‘what now?’…. I knew no-one, I didn’t know the area, it was already too late to go exploring and I couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk to my family or friends. There was this overwhelming feeling of loneliness and my brain was screaming at me saying what a huge mistake this was coming out here. I might have shed a tear or two, but after I got that out of my system and Skyped to vent my uncertainty, I felt so much better and the rest of the settling in process was relatively easy.

I then started exploring. A few things that initially stumped me a bit was trying to work out the currency (roughly 10 SEK is £1), the tram network (sometimes the tram stop is not where you expect it to be….), driving on the right side of the road, finding porridge oats (they are called havre gryn if you too can’t find them….), and realising that most cheese comes in kg blocks….

My first week in Sweden was mostly made up of meetings and getting to know my way round. Finding your way through a city without google maps is something I haven’t had to do in a long while!

However after a few days of fending for myself my parents arrived for a visit and then I could enjoy Gothenburg like a tourist for a few days before term started.