Grace Notes: A night at the opera!

Last weekend my brother and I planned a trip to the opera. After a mad dash from both of us (he got stuck getting the coach our of Oxford and I was dashing across London after a gig), not to mention somehow getting lost on the way to the theatre, we made it to the London Coliseum to watch the ENO production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

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Waiting for the show to start

Both of us are huge Shostakovich fans and had been looking forward to this for ages! Safe to say we weren’t disappointed!

Having not heard the music before, I was slightly worried it would be hard to follow what was going on because of the complicated plot and multiple characters. I shouldn’t have worried. I became completely immersed in the moving, passionate and beautiful music which the action on the stage perfectly matched.

There were huge passages with no singing, and the the story was left to be told by movement on stage. The set was interesting but not so intricate that you were dazzled and drawn away from the subject of the the opera.
Both of us loved it, and would recommend it completely! It’s on at the London Coliseum until October 20th so if you get a chance, go!

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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.
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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: Stuck for something to do?

I just want to start by saying sorry for being late/infrequent with posts recently. It’s been mad in college and I haven’t been able to find the time to write! One of the reasons for this I mentioned in my last post. I have been working with a large group of people to put together the Trinity Laban opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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A taste of the theme of the opera… (I do not own this image)

Tonight is the opening night and I’m so excited for audiences to finally get to see it! We’ve had hours of rehearsals sweating away under lights and smoke, and the hot weather we’ve been having hasn’t exactly helped either! But it’s all come together and the first performance is 7pm at Blackheath Halls tonight.

Excitingly, tonight is sold out, but if you are interested in seeing it (which I’d recommend. It’s one of my favourite operas and I’m having a great time! But just a warning, I’d probably put an age rating of 12+ on it because of some of the content.) then check out the website and maybe get yourself a ticket.

It’s funny, witty, glam and has some amazing music. There isn’t a dull moment! If you happen to be in the area, you should definitely come along.

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!

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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.

Grace notes: ….and relax!

Last Thursday (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this a few times) I had my end of year exam. I’ve mentioned here that one of my big struggles this year has been with performance anxiety. I’ve been trying a few techniques to combat this and I really think they’ve worked! I managed to get through my exam without falling apart, forgetting my piece and letting every mistake get the better of me. Here is what helped me through.

1) Memorising. I knew my piece back to front, inside out and upside down. I was practicing from memory for a couple of months without using the music and so was used to not staring at the dots the whole time. This allowed me to be completely immersed in the piece and distance myself from the fact it was an exam (I also played with my eyes closed which really helped! Even though I may have looked a little silly…).

2) Visualisation. Every night before I went to sleep I ran my piece in my head. I imagined I was in my exam room and playing with my accompanist and tried to feel the ‘nerves’ of the performance. This is also a great technique to help you sleep… I definitely didn’t make it to the end of the piece every night!
I got this technique from a great YouTube channel called Clarinet Mentors, which have a few videos on how to manage performance anxiety which apply to all instruments, not just clarinets.

3) Listening. In the weeks leading up to my exam, I recorded myself playing the whole piece through every couple of days. This meant that I could listen back to it and hear for myself the good bits, and the bits I needed to work on. I could also listen to one from a few days before and hear the improvement, which is a great confidence boost!

Maybe if you’re struggling with nerves, or are stuck in a rut with learning your piece, these three techniques might help!

Also, apologies for being late on this post. I had a mini-holiday in Prague (we got back at 4am this morning), and that was the perfect post-exam treat! I’m totally relaxed now and ready to start up again with practice, lessons and learning my part for the college opera, ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream‘.

Grace notes: Musings from a music student

Hello and welcome to my first post. To sum me up: I’m a music student in London, I’m Welsh and I play the violin.

When I was four years old I first heard a violin played and decided that I wanted to learn – and despite a phase when I hoped I would get a letter from Hogwarts and become a wizard – it is all I have ever wanted to do.

The music I study is mainly classical but I enjoy listening and playing a variety of styles including folk, jazz, …. and even Abba. In this blog I would like to share some of the music I am listening to and hopefully introduce you to something new. I also want to relate the pieces to the places music has taken me.

My next post will involve a wedding on a barge and an unexpected playing of Beauty and the Beast! However before that I thought I’d share a couple of blogs I like : one musical, the other about a hobby of mine – baking!

The soprano Jennifer Rivera writes one of my favourite musical blogs. (http://jenniferrivera.squarespace.com/blog/month/july-2013) She is funny and shows another side to the opera world, making it feel more accessible to the non-musician. Her blog looks great and has introduced me to new operas.

Since becoming a student I have begun to enjoy baking and have always liked cake eating! I have discovered Edd Kimber’s blog, the winner of the first series of the Great British Bake-off (http://theboywhobakes.co.uk ) . He regularly posts lots of different types of recipes (mainly baking) and there are all sorts of interesting ideas. His recipes are very easy to follow with video how-to’s and lots of images of the various stages. I’m looking forward to trying out some more of his recipes, or persuade my brother to make them for me!

Hope you will visit again soon.