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.


Grace Notes: What next?… and some very exciting news!

So now my exam is over, I’ve been enjoying relaxing and having the time to go and watch some of my friends play in their final exams. Yesterday were the trombones, and today I saw my fellow violinist Horizon String Quartet and a fabulous percussion final. It’s been great to see the performances and celebrate their achievements with them.

Also, some very exciting (and completely non-musical) news has come out today. In Penarth in Wales, a new species of dinosaur has been discovered by Nick and Rob Hanigan. My Mum is a Palaeontologist at the National Museum of Wales and she has been helping to put together the exhibition around the new fossil which the brothers are donating to them.


A drawing of what scientists think the dinosaur would have looked like when alive. (I do not own this image)

I’m really excited to go and visit this exhibition on Friday (when I go back to Cardiff for the weekend) and it’s amazing that this sort of discovery has been made so close to home. Through my Mum’s job, and my brothers obsession with dinosaurs from a very young age (I have seen ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ an infinite number of times!), I have grown up surrounded by them (just facts I hasten to add, our house isn’t something like Jurassic park) and so now love them too (just ask any of my friends, they think I’m obsessed. My next sewing project is dinosaur themed as well…).

So if you happen to be in Cardiff between now and September, you should check out the National Museum of Wales in the centre of Cardiff. Not only has it got amazing natural history and art exhibitions, but you can experience this brand new discovery for yourself!

Grace Notes: Return to the Forbidden Planet

Last night, I went to the New Theatre in Cardiff and saw Return to the Forbidden Planet with my parents. Between us we have seen the musical 11 times! This was my third viewing and I was so excited to see it again! My Dad had seen the original on-stage version in Liverpool in the 80’s so we were very excited to see the 25th anniversary tour!


The poster for the tour (I do not own this image).

If you haven’t hears of it, Return to the Forbidden Planet is ‘Shakespeare’s lost Rock and Roll Musical’. It loosely follows the plot of The Tempest’, and the script is made up of Shakespeare quotes (with all other dialogue in the style of Shakespeare) punctuated by Rock and Roll songs (such as ‘Wipe Out’ and ‘Good Vibrations’).

This show is perfect for me! It’s totally ridiculous, nerdy, and hilarious! The songs are great, the plot zips along, and I love all of the sci-fi references!

The cast of this production was small (only 10) and they were also the band. The set was designed in such a way that the instruments were part of the ship, and hung off the walls so that one second the cast were the crew, and the next they were the band. The Captain played bass, Miranda played a trumpet solo and Cookie had the famous guitar solo in ‘She’s not there’ (including playing with his teeth!). You could also tell that the cast were having an amazing time, which in turn made us have a great time too. The excitement and fun was completely infectious.


The cast of Return to the Forbidden Planet (I do not own this image).

The Newscaster in this production was Brian May, obviously having a great time opening and closing each half. The costumes were all reminiscent of the film ‘The Forbidden Planet’, the Captain even had a pipe! We all got to ‘Reverse Polarity’ in order to save the ship and the attack of the ‘monster’ at the end of the first half was wonderfully cheesy as well!

This show stands up to watching over and over again. Each production I’ve seen has done something differently (Ariel the robot roller-skates, the costumes are reminiscent to Star Trek: Next Generation as well as the Captain being Bald and Derek the Weather is narrator…) so there is always something new to look forward to.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is one of the few shows that I’d make a special effort to see. You will be guaranteed a good night and will leave with a smile on your face! If you get the chance to see it, then go! This particular production is in Cardiff for the rest of this week, and then it moves onto Blackpool and Manchester. I cannot recommend it enough. And to end with the final words of the cast:

‘Live long and Prospero…’

Grace Notes: Technology Troubles

I haven’t got a lot of (any…) experience in dealing with music technology. I can use music computer programs, but ask me to mic up a drum kit, or mix a band, I’d be lost. The only piece of ‘kit’ I own is my electric violin. When I was about 6, I walked past a music shop in Cardiff and in the window was a bright blue electric violin. I asked my mum if I could have it so she said that if I got a distinction at Grade 8 I could have one (thinking I’d give up, or if I didn’t Grade 8 was years away) and I never let her forget it. So then after my Grade 8 exam we went shopping for electric violins and I got a silent Yamaha violin.

A Yamaha Silent Electric violin (I do not own this image)

A Yamaha Silent Electric violin (I do not own this image)

I used to play it with my dad (he was on electric guitar) before I moved to London and we had loads of fun messing round with effects and playing with the different sounds we could make. When I moved however I just took the violin, no lead or amp, and I now use it for silent practice in the flat. Last Sunday however, I did my first gig on it. We’ve all seen films where the band rock up to the stage or the recording studio and plug their gear in a go! It sounds great and nothing ever goes wrong (unless that a plot point ). In reality it’s very different. I’ve discovered this on the few occasions I’ve done gigs that involved a mixing desk, and the gig on Sunday was even harder because I was one of the people with a problematic instrument! We arrived at the rehearsal starting time and nothing had really been set up. Being completely out of my depth I could do nothing to help so just ended up waiting round for half an hour while cables are sorted. Then we finally got to go onto the stage. We did various sound checks and this took a while as you have to go round everyone individually, and then get us all balanced right so it sounds good for the audience (you can barely hear anything on stage, but I’ll get to that in a minute). As this was my first time doing an actual gig on my electric violin I (rather stupidly) hadn’t thought about how I was going to hear myself (my violin being ‘silent’ means its barely audible in an empty room, let alone next to a fully functioning band) and so when we first started rehearsing I was playing complete rubbish because I could hear nothing. This was solved however with a foldback monitor. This is basically a speaker that points towards the band so we can hear ourselves. However, this in itself created problems. I had to be turned up high enough to be able to hear myself over everybody, but no so loud that it became screechy and ear splitting for everyone else. After a few tries that was sorted and most of the time I knew what notes I was playing. It was still a weird sensation for me though because I’m used to hearing what I’m doing right under my ear, and it was disconcerting to have the sound coming from about a foot away! Once this was all finally sorted (about 4 hours later) we were ready for the gig. That went well, with only a few technical hitches (the foldback monitor not being on for the beginning of the second half, one of the mics not working, and the film cameras not recording one of the numbers) and it was suddenly finished and we were all packing away. In reality, amplified gigs are far more hassle than you might think. There’s all of the gear to be set up, and the high possibility that something will go wrong. That being said, I had great fun and I did enjoy getting to perform that sort of music. If I ever do something like that again however, I definitely need to practice on my electric more often, or invest in a pickup for my normal instrument! P.s. In my last blog I mentioned a concert that some of my friends from Trinity Laban were playing in (as part of GMT Brass Ensemble). The concert was amazing and it was great to be able to watch so many students from around the UK come together and perform. The GMT Brass Ensemble were also featured on ‘In Tune’ on BBC Radio 3 so have a listen on iPlayer if you’re interested!

Grace Notes: Photography tour of Cardiff

During the Christmas holidays I met up with one of my friends, Gez Charles, who is a school music teacher and photographer. She had kindly agreed to take some pictures of me with my violin, in and around Cardiff and although our first date got rained off, on December 30th we manage to get a beautifully sunny (yet freezing) day.

I wanted to have some high quality photos of myself for promotional use and as headshots for various things, including this blog! I like slightly more natural photos, not taken in a studio, and as Cardiff is so beautiful and has lots of interesting landscapes, we thought we should make the most of living in such a wonderful city.


One of the shots from Cardiff Bay

We started the day off in the bay, using areas around the Wales Millenium Centre and the docks before moving on. Later we took a few in Roath Park on a beautiful bridge. From the photos it looks like a warm summer day, but I can assure you it wasn’t! Gez was behind the camera well wrapped up the whole time and I was very jealous! Our final location for the day was in the wooded area around Castell Coch which was lovely, aside from having to dodge cars as they came along the road every now and then! I got some slightly strange looks standing there in my concert dress!


The beautiful ‘summer’ day in Roath Park

I have made a new page on my blog called ‘Gallery’ where you can see these photos. I love them and I’m so pleased that Gez agreed to take them for me. Here is a link to her website where you can check out some of her other photographs too.

I hope you like the new gallery page. I’m looking forward to seeing you all next week where I’ll be talking about some filming my quartet did last Sunday.

Grace Notes: Concert dress dilemma!

Getting the correct attire for a concert can be tricky, especially if you’ve never had to do the ‘all black’ orchestra dress before. From a very young age my county orchestras all instigated very strict concert dress rules, so I think I have a fairly good idea of how to dress appropriately. Here are a list of points that might help you if you have an upcoming gig and are having trouble with finding something to wear. (This is only really applicable to girls as I’ve not had much experience wearing a tux…)


The National Youth Orchestra of Wales in concert. Floor length black is required and we all look very smart!

  • DON’T wear a skirt that’s too short when in an orchestra. Try to keep it below the knee, and if any leg is showing, then wear black tights. It makes the ensemble look messy otherwise.
  • DON’T show any midriff or back if the dress is all black. It looks more like you’re going to a party and again, you won’t blend in with everyone else.
  • If the dress code is ‘long black’ then trousers should be fine (always check as some people get funny about this), just make sure they are smart ones and not jeans or leggings.
  • If ladies can wear coloured dresses then DO make an effort to show yourself off. In this case, (again, so long as it’s floor length) it’s more acceptable to show a discreet bit of flesh (shoulders, back etc) to make yourself look more ‘glam’.
  • DO make an effort. If you feel good in yourself, you’re likely to be more comfortable and so play better.
  • If it’s a quartet or small ensemble gig, then shorter dresses or skirts are acceptable, although (especially in the winter) I’d personally still wear tights! I constantly have pale skin, so at a gig I’d rather people were focussed on the playing, rather than my luminous white legs.
  • Heels or no heels? If you can walk in them, then go for it, your calves will look great! If however, like me, you have trouble walking in flat shoes I’d give it a miss. Tripping up on stage is never good (and yes, this has also happened to me.)!
  • Discreet jewellery is fine, just don’t go too mad! There will be other occasions for your huge sparkly earrings and chunky necklaces. Again, it looks like you’re on a night out, rather than playing a nice Beethoven symphony.
  • SMILE! Although this technically has nothing to do with clothing, you still wear a smile! When you stand up at the end, even if it couldn’t have gone any worse, smile and the audience will go away with a much better impression of you. Nothing is worse than a grumpy orchestra!

At a concert earlier this year.

I hope some of these points have been useful! I’ve found it helps to feel good about what you wear and in the end, it’ll improve yours and the audiences concert experience.

Grace Notes: Belting out ‘Zadok the Priest’…

Most concerts I do consist of orchestral music, usually large and occasionally with a guest soloist. I rarely have the chance to play with choirs so I particularly enjoyed this concert  because not only did I get  to play ‘Zadok the Priest’ (yes, you know the one) and other amazing works by Mozart and Handel, but I got  the chance to combine forces with a fantastic choir.

The concert was a collaboration between the National Youth Orchestra of Wales chamber orchestra (a smaller orchestra, so for example there are only 8 violins in total rather than the 32 you’d find in a symphony orchestra) and the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers . A small number of NYOW members were asked to perform in this concert in Llandaff Cathedral  with the choir, doing a programme of Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Mozart’s Coronation Mass in C.

The concert poster (I do not own this image)

The concert poster (I do not own this image)

The orchestra had a rehearsal on the Friday night to have a look through the music (there was little time to meet as we were coming from all over the UK. For me, this was a nice excuse to have a weekend at home in Cardiff!), but personally, nothing really fitted together until the choir joined us the following day. They had been rehearsing for a while for this concert and so sounded amazing.

I loved the music, but the highlight for me was playing ‘Zadok the Priest’. I had sung through it in a choir rehearsal years ago when I was at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department but playing in the orchestra, for me, was far better than singing. It starts with quiet semiquaver broken chords in the strings which gradually crescendo for about 22 bars until, when reaching the climax, the choir come crashing in. This is such a recognisable piece and you could tell the whole audience enjoyed listening. It was a great opener to the concert. I thought, after that high, the rest of the concert went well and we continued to bring a smile to people’s faces on a chilly Saturday night.

The Mozart was a short mass (only 25 minutes) but still was totally enthralling throughout the movements (it was my Dad’s favourite). I particularly liked the Credo because it was exciting to play (it’s almost all semiquavers for the violins) and had a beautiful slower middle section where the soloists got a chance to shine as the strings played descending chromatic passages.

I’m really lucky to have been involved in things like this over the years which differ from the larger works I usually do. For me, playing such brilliant choral music in a space like Llandaff Cathedral shows that you don’t need a huge orchestra, with unusual instruments and fancy electronics to create a beautiful and truly engaging experience.