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!).

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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: Thoughts about informed performance

One of our classes at Trinity Laban is called Informed Performer. Up until 4th year, the class is all about historically informed performance and we learn about various methodologies and how things were done in the days of Bach etc… This was fairly interesting, but playing Baroque music in a period style, on period instruments isn’t really my cup of tea.

Fourth year however provided a much more varied selection of topics and got me thinking about a few things.

In each class we were asked what we thought made a performance informed. Is it playing the piece how it would have been played in the style of the time it was written? Is it playing the piece being absolutely true to the notes on the page and doing exactly whats printed? Is it looking into what was happening in the composer’s life around then and allowing that information to trickle into the performance? Or is it to let your own personality shine through the work and you as an artist have the final say?

I honestly don’t have an answer for this. Personally I think it depends on the situation, such as who you’re playing to (for an extreme example if you have an audition for a period Baroque ensemble you shouldn’t turn up playing as if it were Wagner) and who you’re playing with.

As I’m learning a piece I try and listen to as many different recordings as I can, some old and some modern so as to get a more varied look at it. I also try to find out as much about the composers life at the time he wrote the piece as I can, and then what the playing fashions were. Once I have all that information I try and tie it all up together to create a performance.

It may not result in the world’s best performance (I’m still not 100% confident with solo performance) but at least I’ll have something to back up my musical choices and I’ll hopefully become a better all-round musician than just churning out the notes on the page.

If you are ever stuck with a piece and aren’t sure where to go with it, then maybe think about the above questions. You may discover something to take your interpretation to a whole new level!

Grace Notes: And so it begins….

I’ve just had my first day of my final year of Undergraduate study. It’s a really scary even if I’m studying for a Masters, I’ll still be a grown up and I’m not entirely ready for that sort of responsibility yet! I went to a few of the fresher’s events and felt so old! Can you see how much my flatmates and I have changed!?

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First year Boat Party ( 3 years ago).

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Summer Ball, just before the start of 4th year

It’s strange seeing another load of new students starting and watching them get their bearings around college. I remember feeling that lost as if it was yesterday and I can’t quite believe that it was four years ago for me! I do feel for them though as the Trinity Laban music department is a maze and it’s so easy to get lost, even if you’ve been there for years!

In the next week or so, I’ll be sending off my applications for Masters courses, and I’m in the middle of writing my personal statement. Writing down everything that I’ve done for the past three years makes me realise just how much time has passed and proud of how much I’ve actually done. I just wish I’d started writing it a tad earlier…. My advice for anyone thinking about applying, is to start early!!

This year I’m going to try and enjoy and get the most out of it. I want to be able to take part in as many things as I can and make the most of the opportunities I have at the moment. Because who knows what will be going on in a years’ time!

I hope you all have had a great start to September and if you’re new at school/college/university, then good luck! You’ll have an amazing time!

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.