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 (https://soundcloud.com/rob-cantor/shia-labeouf) 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…

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Grace Notes: A Skeleton BBC Orchestra in a Halloween Spooktacular

Every couple of years the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales take part in a collaboration. This involves students  getting to play alongside BBC NOW players and get a taste of what it’s like to work in a professional orchestra. The last project like this  was a part of the 2012 BBC Proms series, where the two combined orchestras performed Bernstein’s mass in the Royal Albert Hall. I wrote a blog post about that,  so it you’re interested, you can read about it here.

Last weekend, we got the opportunity to perform in a ‘Halloween Spooktacular’ in St David’s Hall, Cardiff. We arrived in Hoddinott Hall (part of Wales Millennium Centre where the BBC NOW rehearse) on Friday 24th October and were introduced to our BBC desk partners. Grant Llewellyn was conducting and it was great for the NYOW to be reunited with him, after he took us on a tour of Germany in 2013. The first day of rehearsal consisted of tutti (the full orchestra) until the last session. We got a chance to read through all the pieces (there were lots of shorter works, as it was a children’s concert) which included Harry Potter, Danse Macabre, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dr Who Theme and The Addams Family.  This gave us an overview of the concert and got us used to the massive sound and energy the BBC NOW produces. The last 2 hours of the day were sectional rehearsals. We were split up into our sections and tutored on some of the more tricky bits by the section principals. This was really helpful as we got a chance to go over things slowly and were given fingerings and other ideas to help us play. Harry Potter is surprisingly difficult (there must be thousands of notes in the string parts) so that took up a lot of our time.

On the Saturday morning, we started out with sectionals again. We covered some more of the tricky passages, but also focused on style and really working together as a section to blend and make a unified sound. For the rest of the day we had tutti, and made sure that all the difficult sections were fixed and any cuts in the music were sorted. It was interesting working in this way, because we covered a lot of music in a very short space of time. It helped me to learn how to manage my time better and will hopefully help me to practice more efficiently  in the future.

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Rehearsing at St David’s Hall in Cardiff (I do not own this photo)

Sunday was the day of the concert. We arrived at St David’s Hall at 11am and had a few hours to rehearse before the concert at 3pm. The rehearsal was mainly taken up with getting cues of when to start the pieces right, reacting to the lights (and the members of staff who were dressed up for some of the pieces!), covering a couple of the messy entries, and getting used to the acoustic in the hall. We then all donned our glow-in-the-dark skeleton tops and got ready for the concert.

The audience all entered in their fancy dress (both adults and children) and we were ready to begin. As the hall was full of children under 5, there was a lot of background noise (which is unusual as at classical concerts it’s normally a cardinal sin to make noise of any sort during a piece) but it added to the atmosphere  as you could tell they were enjoying it. In between the pieces, Grant was telling the audience about the different sections of the orchestra, the stories of the pieces and how we can use our instruments in different ways to make the ‘spooky’ sounds.

The kids seemed to react really well to the concert. They were dancing in the aisles (after Grant had encouraged them in Funeral March of a Marrionette) and singing along (the Harry Potter  and the Addams Family). A particular hit was the Stevie Wonder song Superstition performed by the principal flautist! However one of my friends in the audience did say that a little girl next to her got a bit scared by some of the monsters especially the devil in Danse Macabre! All of my ‘adult’ friends loved it too as it was such a feel-good concert.

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The end of the concert. (I do not own this photo)

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to take part in concerts like this as I gain so much experience and orchestral etiquette  from the other players. They are always fun events and both the BBC and NYOW players alike enjoy the concerts.

Next Monday I’ll be telling you about a quartet concert that I am taking part in next Friday in the Old Royal Naval Chapel. We’ll be playing Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet and Barber’s  Adagio. It’s at 13.05 if anyone is in the Greenwich area and free to come. Would be lovely to see some friendly faces!

Grace Notes: Music of the Week – October 24th

Hello and welcome back to Music of the Week! The return of ‘The Apprentice’ (a guilty pleasure) has influenced my first choice and a BBC prom I went to in the summer has influenced my second.

Prokofiev’s ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a wonderful piece. In the section ‘Montagues and Capulets’ the famous low brass oom-pahs and the unison string melody stepping over the top in a dotted rhythm is the section from the ballet that most people know. (Or signifies that Lord Sugar is coming back to BBC1.) However, I’d really like to talk about the whole piece. I’ve seen the ballet and last summer I played the second suite in a concert with YMSO and discovered some other beautiful passages.

The ballet was composed in 1935 and the ending was originally written so that it was happy, but he was persuaded that this would have been a step too far. It was written for the Kirov Ballet but because it was so tricky for the dancers it wasn’t performed for a few years (the premier was in Brno in 1938). Once the music had become popular he then wrote three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece based on the ballet themes. Aside from the ‘Montagues and Capulets’ theme (which is epic and so much fun to play), my other favourite movement from the suites is the ‘Death of Juliet’. It’s beautiful and has many moments of bittersweet passion and pain which could bring the audience to tears.

My other piece that I’d like to share is a collaboration between the string trio (two violins and a double bass) Time for Three and Joshua Radin (an American singer, songwriter and actor). It’s an acoustic song called ‘Everything’ll Be Alright’.

I first came across Time for Three at a BBC Prom. My brother is a huge fan of Aaron Copland and there was an ‘Americana’ prom last summer so I went with him to watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra play. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the second half as all it said on the website was ‘Brubeck’. I was in for a treat. The orchestra opened with ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’ by Dave Brubeck, which had been arranged by his son (Chris Brubeck) for orchestra. This was very exciting but short, so my brother and I were left wondering what was coming next in ‘Travels in Time for Three’ (by Chris Brubeck). I loved this piece. An American string trio walked out and they proceeded to amaze us with a virtuosic performance of what was essentially a jazzy concerto grosso. After this, I went home and found as many different videos as I could by Time for Three.

I was introduced to Joshua Radin by recommendation from one of my friends who emigrated to Canada when we were 16. We keep in contact through Skype, Facebook and email often share YouTube videos and songs. About a year ago, I was sent ‘Winter’ by Joshua Radin and that became one of my favourite songs.

On Monday I was browsing YouTube, came across a collaboration between these two, and I loved it. Even though there is only a string bass, two violins and a voice with guitar, it’s magical and haunting. I hope you like it as much as I do!

I’m looking forward to seeing you all on Monday, when I’ll be talking about a halloween concert I’m taking part in on Sunday with BBC NOW and NYOW.

*I do not own any of the above videos

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.