Grace Notes: Crochet or quarter note?

Over the course of my life so far I have done a lot of orchestral playing with people from all over the world. And, seeing as my course is an international one, all of the rehearsals here are taken in English, so for me I haven’t noticed any real difference between orchestral projects here and back in the UK. There is one thing however, that sometimes makes rehearsals very difficult, and that is the naming of the note values.

In the UK, a four beat note is called a semibreve, a two beat note is called a minim, a one beat note is called a crotchet….. and this continues. Here’s a diagram to explain it better.

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I have grown up calling notes these and referring to these names without even thinking in rehearsals. Here however, I have to get used to the other naming method.

In the rest of the world they call a four beat note a whole note, a two beat note a half note, a one beat note a quarter note, and so on. Here’s another diagram.

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It makes an awful lot of sense! But I’m really struggling to get my head round it in the spur of the moment.

For example in a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago I was banging on about ‘quavers’ and was getting a lot of blank stares. I realised this was because the others in the room hadn’t got any idea what I meant by talking about ‘quavers’ (I should have said an eighth note).

So now I’m really trying to make an effort to talk in half notes and quarter notes, rather than minims and crotchets…. But it does mean that every time I want to say a note name I have to mentally go ‘so a whole note is a semibreve, so a minim is a half note, so a crotchet is a quarter note….’ until I get to the note value I need…..

I definitely need some practice!

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Grace Notes: The importance of orchestral excerpts

Every year at Trinity Laban, we have an orchestral excerpt exam in January. At first I didn’t really see the point, if I ever had to play these pieces I’d learn them when I got my part before rehearsals and learning little bits of them seemed pointless.

However, in the last few years I’ve auditioned for orchestras and schemes and had to play excerpts. And every single time these excerpts were ones that I’ve had to learn for my module at Trinity. This has saved hours of stress and panic every time. Instead of spending ages listening to and researching the pieces, I can just go to my excerpt folder and I have them, pre-researched, learnt and ready to go!

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I’m currently in the process of auditioning for Masters Programmes, and for one of them I have to play excerpts. I’m so glad that I’ve had to learn them before, because if I was learning them all from scratch, along with the two main pieces I have to play as well, I don’t think I’d cope.

So my advice is, make sure you learn your excerpts well because you never know when you’ll need them!

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.

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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 – 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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.
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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: The importance of growing up with classical music

I am currently in my final year of my county youth orchestra (Part of Cardiff County and the Vale of Glamorgan Music Service), and I have been a member of that particular ensemble for 7 years. I have been in these groups since I was 9 and I’ve grown up through the system. When I was younger there were so many different ensembles (4 orchestras, windbands and brass bands as well as 3 choirs and jazz ensembles, plus many more!) but sadly, due to funding cuts there are far fewer ensembles available to children, so fewer are involved getting to experience classical music (this is happening all over the UK, not just in Cardiff). This makes me sad because those groups have been a major part of my life and helped my grow into the person I am today. Musically they helped me no end as an ensemble player, but personally I grew more confident and the friends I made have been the ones that I’ve stayed close to.

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The Cardiff County and Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra on Tour in Italy

Although funding for the arts is being cut left, right and centre, there are a number of projects out there that are still encouraging children to take up music. One of these is the BBC ‘Ten Pieces’ program. This is led by BBC learning and BBC Performing Groups for primary school children aiming to open up the world of classical music to them (pieces range from Baroque to Contemporary) and allowing them to develop their own creative responses through various artistic mediums. The film of the ten pieces (featuring the BBC NOW and various celebratory presenters and actors) was first shown in autumn of 2014 at free cinema screenings for schools and will culminate in a celebratory finale in the summer of 2015 (with two proms and various concerts around the country using the BBC orchestras and choruses). The schools are encouraged to upload videos of their pupil’s creative responses to the film and share them on the BBC Ten Pieces website. The best ones will be chosen to appear in the BBC Proms Ten Pieces Concert in July 2015. This is such a great project and by taking the first step to getting children aware and taking part in classical music it may inspire them to take it further.

The film is still available on BBC iPlayer here if you fancy watching (which I’d thoroughly recommend). I was totally enthralled for the whole program and thought the filming of the orchestra and the sections with the actors melded together beautifully. It’s accessible to anyone, children and adults alike, and I think it can bring a whole new audience of all ages to classical music.

Trinity Laban also get students involved in getting children interested in music. We have a section of our course called ‘Engaging Audiences’. In this we look at ways in attract new audiences and get ourselves out into the big wide world there as musicians. In second year, our project was to create a short workshop for a class of children with activities to get them involved with music. The range of workshops varied hugely! My group did a ‘tour of the world through music’ and we got the children clapping and dancing to lots of different folk rhythms, another group did one about films, and getting the children to recognise and join in if they knew a theme. We also had groups which explored vibrations through the instruments (this involved the children touching instruments like the double bass and cello while they played to feel the sound vibrations), call and response patterns and different sections of the orchestra. From taking part in and observing all these workshops, you can tell that the children really enjoyed learning about music, but if the opportunities aren’t there, the interest will fade and it’ll become ‘dull and boring’ as they get older.

I think projects like this are so important. Many places no longer have to funding to spark an interest in classical music, let alone allow children to pursue it as far as I have. With projects like this it could really help some children to become more confident, explore new skills, become better at working with others. Most importantly however, it would introduce them to the world of classical music in such a way that they will want to learn more, rather than thinking it’s ‘uncool’, or ‘boring’. There’s so much more to classical music than sitting silently in a concert hall for three hours listening to a piece that was written hundreds of years ago. It’s such a diverse and vibrant art form, that there’s something to interest everyone and the world of skills that classical music opens up to children is invaluable.