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: 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: A fusion of Welsh and Chinese music

For Christmas, I was given an album by The Gentle Good entitled ‘Y Bardd Anfarwol’ (the immortal bard). The Gentle Good is the stage name of Gareth Bonello, a Welsh songwriter who takes inspiration from the language and poetry of Wales to create beautiful music.

My Dad had spotted this album, thought it looked interesting and picked it up without ever hearing any of it before. When I read that it was bringing together elements from Welsh and Chinese music I was intrigued and when I played it on Boxing day I had no idea what to expect.


The album art (I do not own this image)

The album describes the life of the poet Li Bai during the Tang Dynasty who wrote around a thousand poems. We begin with him leaving home as a young man to look for a Taoist master in the mountains, travelling along the rivers in China while dealing with the loneliness of leaving his family behind. The poetry (and the music) follows his journey through mountainous landscapes, waterfalls of the Lou Mountain and the moon, a running theme throughout his poems. Then comes his failed career as a military strategist that forces him to travel further than he’d ever been before in exile. Time also comes into play as we see him accepting aging and then drowning as he (now a poet god) attempts to embrace the moon reflected in the water.

The album opens with the sounds of a busy street in China, before a traditional Chinese string instrument enters playing an improvisatory passage. About a minute in, the street fades out and a guitar playing a more conventional western rhythm enters with a flute and violin playing long held harmonies. After this first purely instrumental track called ‘Erddigan Chengdu’ the rest of the album follows with a mix of songs, in Welsh but with traditional Chinese harmony and instruments, and instrumental pieces. It’s a very beautiful and relaxing album that paints a magical picture of this poet’s journey.

(one of my favourite songs from the album)

If you look on ‘The Gentle Good’s website there is a link to their SoundCloud where you can listen to this whole album. Since Christmas, I have been listening to this album a lot, and it’s become one of my favourites. I thoroughly recommend it because it’s something different, but not so different that you feel like you can’t connect with the music. It’s an amazing fusion of cultures and I’d love to hear more like this in the future.

Grace Notes: The end of an era

*Apologies for the slight change in topic for this post… Middle Earth has been with me almost as long as music has, so please indulge me this once*

*SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t seen the final Hobbit film yet, stop reading now, and please come back after!*

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my Dad first read Lord of the Rings to me when I was about 6 or 7. Ever since then, I’ve read both LotR and the Hobbit for myself (for my 18th birthday my grandparents got me a beautiful 50th anniversary edition of LotR) countless times. I remember the Fellowship of the Ring coming out in cinemas (in 2001, so I was 7) and I wasn’t allowed to go and see it in case I got scared. I was very disappointed and cross that I wasn’t allowed in. I knew what happened after all! My brother and I were allowed to go and see The Two Towers the following year and from then on, we were hooked. Middle Earth dominated our fancy dress (I made my mum give me Legolas hair for parties a few times and my brother and I had Black Rider costumes…), room decorations (posters, and my brother has a beautiful map of Middle Earth on his wall), games (both computer – battle for Middle Earth was great, and board games- we may or may not have LotR Monopoly….), music (we own the soundtracks, some of the sheet music and I have played orchestral suites for the films) and tv. I am very into fantasy films and TV and I blame Tolkein entirely.


My Dad’s copy of The Hobbit, and my copy of The Lord of the Rings

Today marks the end of an era. After enjoying all of the LotR films (extended versions are mandatory in our house) and the releases of the Hobbit films, I have just got back from watching ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ at the cinema.


I don’t own this image

Part of me was dreading it, not because I wasn’t going to like it, but because as soon as the end credits rolled, that was the last brand new film set in Middle Earth I was going to get to see. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked Smaug (the dragon) and the way he grew fire in his belly and was a truly horrifying monster, but still showed emotion being voiced wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch. The battle scenes, as always, were terrific and there were some great moments aimed at people who had seen the Lord of the Rings a few times. I particularly liked the scene where Legolas FINALLY ran out of arrows! There were some very poignant moments, and I may or may not have shed a tear… The final song by Billy Boyd was lovely and a great full stop at the end of the tale. I’ve written a post about that here.

I’m turning 21 on Friday, and so finally have no excuse to call myself a ‘child’. This has been nicely marked by the end of the Hobbit. As Middle Earth no longer offers new adventures, I have to grow up, and what better age than 21 to do it (although I’m sure Father Christmas will bring the extended DVD of the third Hobbit for Christmas next year…).

If you haven’t ever seen any of the films then I envy you. A small part of me wishes I could watch from the beginning of the Hobbit trilogy all the way through to the Return of the King as a new viewer. What an epic saga that would be! I’d totally recommend going to see these films, and reading the books. It’s one of the things that evolved with me through a large portion of my life and I have become a huge fan. If you’ve never visited the world of Middle Earth, then please do! It has brought me almost endless enjoyment, and you never know, it may do the same for you too.

Grace Notes: Noel Nouvelet Nightmare!

It’s nearly Christmas, so I thought I’d tell you an amusing (and adorable….) festive story. I started learning my grade one pieces when I was about 6. I got the orange ABRSM book and my teacher played all of the pieces to me and I chose one piece from each of the three sections. The first piece was Noel Nouvelet. This was by far the hardest piece I had ever seen and it’s safe to say I never quite mastered it… (the recordings below are thankfully not of me playing… Grace in 2000 seemed constantly at odds with this lovely tune!)

I think the modal key threw me a tad. I hadn’t quite mastered major and minor yet and the new folky sound didn’t sit well with my little fingers. I also couldn’t quite deal with the sudden changes from quavers in crotchets and back again. It made me cry quite a lot…

I often practiced in the kitchen so that my dad could keep an eye on me and give me help with the tricky rhythms. This meant that my violin got splashed with bits of food fairly often, which was often commented on by my teacher! Even with the tears and the tuning, I still managed to get a merit in my exam, and I haven’t ever played the piece since…

Grace violin 2000

Me playing in a concert at Junior Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2000.

To get you in the Christmas mood for Thursday, I’d like to show you a couple of beautiful recordings of Noel Nouvelet (just because I can’t play it, doesn’t mean I don’t like it…).

The piece is a French folk carol, so here it is being sung by a female trio in a traditional style.

Here is a more formal version sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

(I don’t own any of the above videos)

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and I’ll see you in a week or two!

Grace Notes: Music of the Week – Arrival of the John Lewis Christmas Advert!

So it’s not Christmas yet. Yes, it’s getting colder, but I think the display of decorations in various shops and on streets is a tad premature. The one thing that doesn’t frustrate me , however, is the John Lewis Christmas Advert. Every year without fail it tugs at the heart strings and brings a tear to my eye. This one is no different.

It follows the story of a young boy and his penguin companion (called Monty) playing in the park, on the trampoline and making dens. After Monty sees a couple in love on the tv, he gets lonely and keeps looking longingly at other couples he sees out and about. In a heart-warming finale however the little boy gets Monty a girl penguin for Christmas! There’s then a view from the mothers perspective, and you see that the little boy actually has two cuddly toy penguins and the end shot shows the words ‘Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of’.

What helps to make this (and every previous advert) so emotional is the music. For the last few years they have used older songs but with modern artists and this year follows that same pattern. The song is ‘Real Love’ by John Lennon sung by Tom Odell who has a very smoky voice and really enhances the story. It begins with just voice accompanied by piano playing very simple chords. Towards the end of the song, some high strings join (to add an extra slice of poignancy) and then fade out so we’re left with voice and piano again. The song emphasises the simple pleasures of Christmas and draws the audience into  the story that is unfolding in front of them.

Thank you for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog! Also apologies for not posting a ‘Music of the Week’ blog last week. I was doing a lot of travelling and so listened to an awful lot of different music and didn’t feel that anything had really jumped out at me. I am looking forward to seeing you all on Monday for my next blog.

*I don’t own this video