Grace Notes: Welcome to 2016!

Hello, and welcome to 2016! I can’t believe how fast 2015 went and how much happened! I played my last concerts with both my county youth orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, I began the final year of my degree, saw the last Middle Earth film, a new Welsh dinosaur was discovered and I fell in love with Budapest while on holiday there.

I’m going to try and get back into posting on here more frequently. I feel like the last term got away from me a little! I have lots going on now too, but hopefully lots to write about as well. Next week I have my orchestral excerpt exam, and after that a number of projects (both in and out of Trinity Laban) and concerts. One of the most exciting things is happening on February 6th. My brother and I are putting on a concert in St Peter’s College Chapel in Oxford, featuring the Bach violin and oboe double concerto. I’ll be posting more information about it soon, along with talking about some of the music I listened to, and got given over the Christmas period (at least that’s the plan!).


Grace Notes: NYOW 2015 – Hereford Cathedral

The first time I ever played in Hereford cathedral was in my first year in NYOW, seven years ago, as part of the Three Choirs Festival. I was excited to play in such an amazing place and the concert didn’t disappoint. Performing Mahler’s first symphony to a full house was an experience I’ll never forget.

I remember it being a boiling hot day and as we waited around for the concert to start (the changing rooms were in a school which was unbearably warm) we sat outside the cathedral on the grass eating ice cream and relaxing.

This is my third performance in Hereford Cathedral and every time the NYOW has visited it’s need a beautiful sunny day and this year was no different. The programs however, are polar opposites. As I’ve said previously the main piece in the program is the Rite of Spring. I love this piece, but I was a tad dubious how well it would come across in the cathedral, due to the booming acoustics.

I needn’t have worried. Although you couldn’t trust your ears with all of the echos bouncing around, the audience was full and I thought that the performance was exciting, even if there were a few bits where the ensemble rocked.


The 'nash' rehearsing in Hereford Cathedral (I do not own this photo)

The audience seemed to love it and were very complimentary afterwards.

It’s now the last day of NYOW 2015, we’re currently on the coach driving to Cardiff, and I’m not quite sure how to feel. I’m obviously very sad that it’s all over and I’m at a slight loss as to how I’ll spend my summer next year, but at the same time I’m really looking forward to the Cardiff concert tonight in St David’s Hall. It’s going to be an amazing way to finish off the last seven years as a member of the NYOW.

Grace Notes: NYOW 2015 – One down…

Last night we had our first concert in the space we’ve been rehearsing in all week in Lampeter. Everyone was a little on edge and excited as it was our first one, so it wasn’t perfect, but the energy felt great! We’re currently travelling to Bangor for our next one this evening and I’m really excited as I haven’t been to this hall since my first year in 2009.

I feel the whole programme has really come together since Paul Daniel arrived to conduct on Friday. The pieces now make a lot more sense to me and I’m starting to feel like I’m able to get my teeth into them, rather than skating around, trying to play some of the right notes in the right place… I have grown to really enjoy playing Rite of Spring (I have to admit that I wasn’t 100% keen on it when I had my first listen) and I think it’s my favourite piece in the programme (and one of my favourites I’ve ever played on the NYOW)!


The first rehearsl with Paul Daniel (I do not own this image)

After playing in Bangor this evening, we’re heading to Aberystwyth tomorrow to listen to the composers concert, before on to Hereford on Thursday. I’m really looking forward to this concert as it’ll nice to be be back playing at the Three Choirs festival there.

Grace Notes: NYOW 2015 – The first day

So, we have had one full day of the course. It started with registration, where we get given the essential information and then we split off into our welfare groups (who we meet with every morning to discuss the upcoming days events and if there are any problems, it’s a chance to voice them) for a few more pointers on what to expect.


The boot of the car packed with all our stuff for the tour! Can't believe this is the last time I'll make the journey to Lampeter!

After that, we headed off to our first sctional rehearsal. I’m in the first violins who are tutored by Adrian Dunn. We mainly worked on some of the trickier passages and working out all the different time signatures and beats so that we could survive in the full orchestra rehearsal later!

The evening session was with everybody. We played through two of the three pieces (the Schmitt and the Stravinsky Rite of Spring. Both are very rhythmic in places and I found that playing on all the right off-beats far more challenging than the actual notes!!


My view of the orchestra during a full rehearsal.

In the evenings there are various activities involved (such as fancy dress mentioned here) and the event tonight was a few small ice breakers within our welfare groups. It gave us a chance to meet new members, and once they were over we were able to relax and have a catch up with (or get to know) the other members of the orchestra.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into rehearsals today! Hopefully I’ll be able to get me head around a few more of the complicated rhythms….

Grace Notes: The beginning of the end.

On Saturday I had my last concert as a member of Cardiff County and Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra. After seven years it feels strange to no longer be a part of it, but it also nicely marks the point where I’m technically no longer a ‘youth’ and I feel strangely free (although I can sense this ‘freedom’ starting to feel scary when I have to start thinking about life after college…..!). We ended the concert with Symphonie Fantastique and I can’t think of a more epic (for want of a better word) way to go.


My deskie Morven Graham and I waiting for our final concert. We’ve been sat next to each other for nearly seven years and it’s strange to think we may not desk partners in orchestra for a very long time!

I’m currently on my way to my final NYOW course. It’s strange to think that this will be that last time we load up the car and drive along the wiggly roads to Lampeter. I have spent the last seven summers of my life there and it’ll be strange to not spend any more time there. Over the next two weeks I’m going to be doing a number of short posts about the course. I’ll be talking about what we’re up to, the music, differences between this and previous years and how I feel about this being my last year as a ‘youth’.

Grace Notes: How to survive playing in the summer heatwave.

If you’re in the UK, you may have noticed that we had a little heatwave a couple of weeks ago. I would have loved to be outside enjoying the sunshine, but instead I was stuck inside from 2.30-10.30pm every day doing the Trinity Laban Opera. Not only was I missing the sun, but I was in a dark windowless room, which about 30 stage lights pointing in all directions nicely heating up the place. It was almost unbearable! So in case you ever end up in a situation like that, I decided to write down some tips of how to survive playing in hot conditions.

  • Dress sensibly. I wrote a whole post on concert dress here, but you have to be sensible when it comes to dressing smartly in the heat. We had to wear floor length black (which I think looks the smartest), but that doesn’t have to mean a super thick concert dress. Go for something like a one-layer maxi skirt that is cooling and loose. Comfort should come first rather than wearing than your brand new skin-tight jumpsuit and the performance suffering because you’re so uncomfortable.
  • Drink lots and lots! I have a really bad habit of not drinking enough water throughout the day, but I make a point of making myself drink if it’s hot. It’s even more important if you’re having to concentrate for a performance that you don’t find yourself getting all faint and woozy, so drink as much as you can and if you’re allowed take a bottle of water on stage with you and drink in your rests!
  • Try not to dwell on it. People all around you will be complaining about the heat, but the more you think about it, the worse you’ll feel. Try and focus on the performance, and get lost in the music, not bogged down by the heat.
  • Don’t count time passing. You won’t (or shouldn’t) have your phone on stage with you, but if you wear a watch, or there is a clock in the room, don’t watch every second. As the saying goes ‘a watched pot never boils’, so the more you can restrain yourself from wanting to look at the time, the faster the performance will feel and the sooner you can get out into the fresh air.

The NYOW in action in Berlin! (I don’t own this image)

Hopefully if you ever get stuck playing a concert in a stupidly high temperature, these tips may help. I’m currently back in Cardiff preparing for my last ever NYOW course which starts in less than a week! I still can’t quite believe that my time with the orchestra is nearly over!

Grace Notes: Summer Projects

Over the next couple of months I have a few exciting projects coming up. I am have the final courses and concerts with both my county youth orchestra (CCVGYO), and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, which have been a part of my life for seven years! The CCVGYO concert is at Hoddinott Hall on July 18th, and the NYOW concerts are listed here. Keep an eye on my events page for all of these and more!

What I wanted to talk about is the upcoming Trinity Laban opera (A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Britten). We started rehearsals on Monday and have our first run through with the singers this evening. I played this 5 years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe and I’m really excited to revisit this piece as it holds some amazing memories for me. I’m looking forward to working with the singers tonight as I think the production will really start to take shape, and I can’t wait to see the set!

Another reason I’m excited to be in this production is that one of my best friends has a lead role (she’s playing Helena) and we finally get to be in a project together. With her being a singer, and me a violinist we rarely get put in college projects together, so this is particularly exciting!


Midsummer Night’s Dream promotional material (I do not own this image)

The performances are at Blackheath Halls from 1st– 4th July so if you’re around the area I’d check it out. It’s going to be an amazing production.