Grace Notes: Putting together a CoLab Ceilidh

Every year in Trinity Laban, there are two weeks where timetables are suspended and anything could happen… This fortnight is called CoLab. There are over 100 projects taking place over the two weeks ranging from a Ceilidh band, Bollywood Brass, Strictly Come Dancing and a project where anything and everything was allowed – except talking.

My project was the Ceilidh band. We first met last Monday. Once our mentor, Steve Blake, had arrived we talked through what we wanted out of the project. We were originally performing on the Thursday night Pub Crawl, with an impromptu Ceilidh in Greenwich Market, but due to a Hollywood blockbuster filming there we were moved to the Friday night showcase at Creekside. This was, in fact, far better for us. Not only did we have another day to rehearse but the performance space was bigger (it also wasn’t cobbled so there were no injuries should people got too carried away…..).


The band in rehearsal.

We learnt all of our music by ear, very similar to what I do in my Jazz lessons, which meant the performance could be far freer as we weren’t tied to the page. Steve taught us a few of his sets, and we also shared our own tunes when he wasn’t there. We went about learning them with a ‘looping’ method. This involved the person teaching the tune slowly playing short passages over and over while everybody else listened and gradually joined in until we could all play it. This continued until the entire tune was learnt. I found it a great way to memorise things and I’m definitely going to use it again in the future (I know for a fact it worked because I’m still singing all the jig and reel sets and the performance was over 4 days ago!)

Rather than starting the tunes with a well-rehearsed and conducted introduction, the violinist (either myself or Steve) would just play a short solo introduction. In an actual Ceilidh this gets everyone’s attention (dancers and musicians) and prepares us for the movements to start. I found that doing the introduction was an art in itself as you need to play loudly enough to be heard, but also need to have a very clear perfect cadence (or clear ending) to show exactly when the dance will begin. One person in the group is also in charge of watching the dancers and deciding how many times we play each tune through (there are 2/3 per set) and calling out or making some sort of signal that it’s time to change the track.

My favourite dance was a jig set taught by Steve. There were only two tunes, but the first was played in two different keys (G and D major) before moving onto the second tune. The first tune was just called ‘Jigg’ and the second was called ‘Tom Jones’. Here is Steve playing it with one of his bands.

The performance was great fun. We crafted an introduction to grab everyone’s attention, starting with a slow introduction before jumping into a fast march. We then moved onto the first dance with Joe Townsend calling. He called two dances, and then a 4th year singer called the third because he wanted to dance ‘Strip the Willow’ (this involved lots of spinning your partners and was great to watch!). After playing these three dances and a few filler pieces to give the dancers a rest, our set was over and we were exhausted.


During the Ceilidh at Creekside


Playing for the dancers at Creekside


The band, exhausted after our performance!

Overall it was a great week and I feel like I learnt lots about how to approach folk music and how to be a part of a Ceilidh band. After spending a week playing this sort of music, it’s increased my love of folk and made me determined to keep expanding my knowledge of this genre and finding people to play it with.

If you happen to be in the Greenwich area check out the CoLab events to see if there’s anything that takes your interest. All of the projects are exciting and different and you might discover something you never thought you were a fan of!


Grace Notes: Music of the week – Shia Surprise!

I’m afraid that today’s  post is going to be a tad surreal. The song I’m sharing with you is very  strange in its own right, but when combined with a string quartet, a couple of choirs and contemporary dance it gets a whole lot stranger.

The song ‘Shia LaBeouf’ was written by Rob Cantor in 2012 and is his imaginings of meeting the blood-soaked cannibal actor Shia LaBeouf in the woods (this is a work of fiction I hasten to add – he is not a cannibal). It became very popular, thanks to social media, and lots of remixes and videos for the song have been created.

Recently , however, Rob Cantor released a music video himself called ‘Shia LaBeouf Live’ which has been orchestrated with choirs and more instrumentalists added. There are also a group of contemporary dancers some of whom don a giant ‘Shia LaBeouf’ head towards the end of the song. The video ends with a lone audience member clapping and as the camera pans round, it is revealed to be Shia himself.

Although this is a strange and pretty creepy song I really like it. The lyrics are just fantastic.

Running for your life (From Shia Labeouf.)
He’s brandishing a knife. (It’s Shia Labeouf.)
Lurking in the shadows, Hollywood superstar Shia Labeouf.
Living in the woods, (Shia Labeouf.)
Killing for sport, (Shia Labeouf.)
Eating all the bodies, actual, cannibal Shia Labeouf.

My favourite line is: Wait! He isn’t dead! Shia Surprise!                          

The way that Rob has written this song is seriously creepy. The old style sound of the voice and the whispers do evoke a sense of fear. The original is great ( but I feel that the atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the strings and the voices. It adds another level of creepy.  All this combined with the comedy means you’re left with a very bizarre mix of emotions at the end

I hope you enjoy this song! After writing this I’m going to have it stuck in my head for days! Looking forward to seeing you on Monday for a blog post that couldn’t be more different…

Grace Notes: Music of the week – October 17th

Hello and welcome back to my Music of the Week blog. I wasn’t sure what to choose this week as I’ve been pretty busy and so have just been listening to whatever is on the radio in the morning. Today, however, two tracks jumped out at me. I hope you enjoy them too!

The first piece is ‘Night on a Bare Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky, arranged by Rimsky Korsakov in this version (There are many other arrangements as well as the original tone poem. If you’re interested in finding out more, I’ve included a link here).

In the original printed edition of the Rimsky Korsakov arrangement, the description of the work says “Subterranean sounds of non-human voices. Appearance of the spirits of darkness, followed by that of Chernobog. Glorification of Chernobog and Black Service.  Sabbath. At the height of the sabbath, the distant ringing of a village church bell is heard; it disperses the spirits of darkness. Morning.” You can really hear the ghouls coming out, through the oscillating of the strings, the shrieks of the woodwind and the low and ominous brass chords. Listen out for the bell at the end and the retreat of the monsters.

I’m preparing to play this in a concert on October 26th (a Halloween-themed concert with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales) and have been loving  practicing bits of it again. It brings back memories of when I first played it in my county High Schools Orchestra when I was about 14 and I’m having fun remembering hearing it for the first time. Hope you enjoy this spooky piece as a premonition for Halloween in a couple of weeks!

The second track is Taylor Swift’s latest song called ‘Shake It Off’ (and could not be more different!). This is a big change to her normal country style (which I also love) and is so catchy! The music video is also great and really fun to watch. This has quickly made it onto our ‘getting ready’  playlist in the flat, which we use whenever we are all preening to go out to an event in the evening (so obviously a big honour to make the playlist…). I hope you like this song and have a little dance to brighten up your evening!

I’m looking forward to seeing you all again for my next blog post on Monday. It’ll be about a concert I took part in last night with Orchestra Vitae in St Johns’s Smith Square where there were over 170 performers playing a program including the amazing Requiem by Stephen Montague.