Grace Notes: How music helped me to settle in

I have been living in Sweden for just over two months and I’m now feeling pretty settled and normal, almost like I belong here. Even the language is becoming less of a mystery, and I’m starting to pick up bits and bobs of conversations in Swedish, although I have little to no chance of being able to form a reply yet…

However, I found the first few weeks here hard. Some days would be fine, but others I’d feel very far away from everything and a little lost. This was often because I’d seen a post on Facebook or Instagram from a friend back home doing something that had I not moved, I would be doing too.

Lodging in a flat means that I spend a fair amount of time on my own, and while most of the time I find it refreshing (and it’s nice to be able to put on pjs at 6pm and not be judged), sometimes I wasn’t able to shut off my brain completely and I’d get myself worrying over nothing and then stress out and not be able to get anything done.

The one thing that I found really made it easier though was listening to music. Every day I have a half an hour walk into faculty and I listen to my iPod the whole way. I don’t listen to things I am studying or pieces we are about to play in a concert, but tunes that I know really well and associate happy memories with. It also gave me a chance to really appreciate the beautiful scenery around me and watch the seasons change, without my mind being clouded with things I need to do, or was missing out on.

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Walking home in the summer evening

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Watching the colours change into autumn

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One of the first frosts (it got down to -4, but I’m told it’ll get much colder….)

For me these included tracks like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by David Bowie, ‘Can You Forgive Her’ by the Pet Shop Boys, ‘Ballad of the Great Eastern’ by Sting, or ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd. These songs change on a daily basis, but if I was to choose a few things to listen to now, it would be the above tracks.

By giving myself that half an hour or so to and from college to shut off, let my mind wander and just get lost in the music, really helped to keep me from going crazy.

Even though I now feel pretty much at home here, I still have my walk and my music every morning and most evenings, and I really enjoy just being able to escape and let my mind wander wherever it chooses.

Grace Notes: Soundtrack to sewing

Over the Easter weekend, I was at home in Cardiff having a few quiet days off. I wanted a break from the craziness of London and decided that I should try and make something over the bank holiday (I’ve always been really into crafts). Inspired by ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ I decided to have a go at making a garment. I’ve spent the majority of the last three days in the dining room surrounded by scraps of fabric making a top. (I’m rather pleased with the end result if I do say so myself!)

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While I was sewing I’ve had music on in the background. Due to the fact I was sewing in my parents house, only their music was available to play. This however meant that I spent the weekend re-living the soundtrack to my childhood. Pink Floyd, Sting, Cerys Matthews, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen all made an appearance. When I was growing up I had rather strange tastes and mainly listened to music that my parents listened to, rarely stuff in the charts. On the plus side, I now have a very broad range of music that I like and know about, but there’s a rather large gap in my life where I don’t know any of the popular songs from the late 90’s, much to the horror of my friends!

Ever since I first listened to them, I’ve loved Pink Floyd. Their music is interesting and complex that you can listen again and again and notice new things every time. I particularly like the song ‘Echos’ as the tune and lyrics are beautifully haunting (when they eventually come in…!), but the introduction is great too! Those sonar bleeps and gradually fading in introduction ease you into (and out of) the song and leave you with an amazing sense of calm.

We have a collection of Sting’s greatest hits, which was great to have a sing along to, but my favourite Sting album is ‘The Last Ship’. I wrote a blog about it here. I also thoroughly enjoyed listening to David Bowie. I am probably one of the few people my age who knows all the words the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and David Bowie has been a permanent fixture on my iPod for a long time! I love listening to how his music develops as styles change. I have to say ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’ are possibly three of my favourite songs ever.

This weekend was just what I needed. After a crazy term, I had a chance to listen to some of my childhood albums, and learn a new skill! I enjoyed the sewing (and I’m super proud of the top I made) and it was great to revisit some of my favourite albums! I wonder if you had a similar soundtrack to your childhood as me?…

Grace Notes: Music of the Week – October 10th

Welcome back to Music of the Week. This week I’d like to share two more pieces of music that I have been enjoying.

The first piece is by  J.S. Bach and it is the first of his sonatas for solo violin. It’s in the key of G minor, giving it a very dark tone throughout. I am currently studying the Fugue movement (the second movement) with my teacher at Trinity, and I have previously played the other three as well. I find that Bach is very challenging to learn and perform because there are so many different ways to interpret the piece and often the listener (or worse examiner) will have a different idea of how it should be played to how you actually want to play it… That being said, I love how you can put your own take on this music and through studying and practice it becomes your own.

My favourite movement is the Adagio opening. It’s in G minor (which sits really nicely on the violin) and it’s full of beautiful chord patterns and improvisatory passages. The fugue is very complicated with all of the different voices weaving in and out of each other creating a beautiful flowing texture (it messes with your brain a little trying to play three voices with one hand!). The Siciliana is a lilting sea-like dance (originating from the island of Sicily ) followed by a fast and exciting Presto to end the whole sonata in a blaze of semiquavers.

Below is a version of this sonata by Ruggiero Ricci. This is the first recording I ever heard of solo Bach (my dad has an old LP of it) and it’s beautiful. Made even more impressive by the fact that it was done in a single take!

The second piece I want to share for  with you is something completely different. It is called ‘Ballad of the Great Eastern’ and if from Sting’s new album ‘The Last Ship’. The whole album is fantastic but this song particularly stuck with me because it’s so haunting (both in lyrics and melody). The album itself is inspired by a musical of the same name that Sting wrote the song for. It’s about a shipyard, drawing on his own experiences of growing up in Wallsend. Many of the songs from the album appear in the stage play, but a few have not been included such as the one below. I’d seriously recommend the whole album (the Deluxe version if you can get your hands on it) as I think the songs are all beautiful and manage to tell a story, without sounding too ‘musical’. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!