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: 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…..).

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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.

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During the Ceilidh at Creekside

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Playing for the dancers at Creekside

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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: Travelling back in time to a harpsichord and lute-filled weekend!

Last week a huge annual event took place in and around the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College (which houses Trinity Laban and Greenwich University). Yes, the Early Music Festival had returned. Once again, I was stewarding on the main desk and in the Chapel for some of the concerts. I always enjoy this three day festival because all of the staff are lovely and most of the customers are too. The EMF includes exhibitors (where you can buy anything from sheet music, to a clavichord, to an electric recorder), makers demonstrations and concerts (normally 3 or 4 a day in various locations). It’s very action-packed and there is always something going on.

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(I do not own this photo)

I’m lucky that as a student, I can work at this festival and get paid to see so many interesting exhibits and concerts. Every year we always grumble that the hours are long, it’s going to be cold and can we really cope with any more Baroque bagpipes. But, every year we enjoy seeing some of the same faces from previous years and watching some incredible performances. One of those moments was the final concert. It was Brecon Baroque, an ensemble created by the phenomenal baroque violinist Rachel Podger. They played a program of Bach, including Brandenburg 5 and some pieces  from ‘A Musical Offering’. I had never heard Bach played with such life and vigour, and this performance  gave me a new appreciation for the music. It’s going to help me change the way I play and practice the Bach solo sonata I am currently learning.

(This is not a recording from the concert, just an example of their playing. I don’t own this)

Overall the festival is a fun experience  but it doesn’t come without its challenges. There are always a few characters who can make our job as stewards challenging (for instance, people who ask  if they actually need a ticket if they’re only going in for 5 minutes, or complaining bitterly about the lack of a cloakroom which we have no control over, or huffing and puffing as we ask them to reshow their ticket when they come back after leaving for lunch) but overall the guests are nice and it’s always fun getting to talk to them. There was one lady in particular  who  was telling us all about how she loved the festival this year (and all of the other music she was interested in and the history of the site) and although she’d never been before she’d love to come back.

So if you’re free next November I’d seriously recommend a trip to Greenwich to visit this festival. Even if you’re not sure that early music is your ‘thing’, I can almost guarantee there will be something that will interest and amaze you. I’ll see you on Friday for my next post.