Thursday, December 4, 2008

LCDS: the second year

So the thing about walking through the wind tunnels that are the streets in the City, is that when you're carrying a bass it is kind of like para sailing.

That is neither here nor there- the London Contemporary Dance School project has begun again! I'm excited for this year, some of my favorite musicians from past projects (last year's LCDS and Globetown) are back again for this project and we're already having fun.

Interestingly, there is only one female choreographer, last year I think they were all female. The composers and choreographers have been having their initial meetings and showings of their work all this week. This afternoon they're deciding what the pairings will be for the collaboration. I'm happy to find that there is much more talk this year about how to use the instrumentalists in the dance space which would make us more visually integral to the performance. Last year there was only one piece that didn't involve the whole band playing in the back like it was a pit orchestra.

We warmed up together and moved about the space as an entire group to get the session started. Then the instrumentalists gradually picked up their instruments and began improvising. I moved diagonally across the room playing pizzicato on the bass (a not very subtle attempt to get the day started off with a "musicians can be dancers too" feeling) and then realized that what the music really called for at that moment was arco which meant that I had to walk all the way around the room back to the piano in order to get my bow. This I actually tried to do subtly, which didn't work as a couple of the dancers came and walked with me. So: success for the first thing I was trying to do!

We broke into three groups and were given half an hour to make a piece based on "boundaries" and the breaking of said boundaries. Since I had the largest instrument our group got to stay in the room we would be performing in. (The bass is actually fairly portable, but I'm not arguing.) We discussed briefly how many ways we could set up barriers to break such as having the audience sitting in a semi-circle and walking through them. There was a closet off to the side of the room that I really wanted to see if we could use since it was (I'm going to use the word indigenous even though that is sort of out of place, you know what I'm getting at though, right?) indigenous to the room and making things specifically for specific spaces is always fun to do.

Then the composer, Aaron asked me if I could play while the bass was in the we tried that out and decided that it would be easiest if we just used open strings, but we wanted a different feeling than Tonic Dominant Tonic Dominant over and over again so we de tuned my A string so that we had a tri tone double stop in the middle which meant that when we made an ostinato there was this lovely, gritty, funereal air to it.

So. Closet, semi circle audience, hoisted up bass, ostinato.

We started in the closet with the door closed and me playing. This was very quiet through the door which was brilliant because it meant that the door squeaking open was audible. Then Louis (the choreographer) started processing out while I continued playing and Aaron began lifting up the bass, still behind the, now open, closet door so that the audience still couldn't really see what was happening. Then we began processing across the room, causing the audience to scramble out of the way when it became clear that we were headed straight for them. (The bass was at this point nearly parallel to the floor, my right shoulder got very tired from bowing at that angle- directly out in front of me) We walked through the rest of the room and then out into the hallway where we continued for another 10 seconds or so.

Barriers broken: physical barrier of the audience, barrier of the various doors, using a dancer as something other than a dancer, preconception of how the bass could be played, and if we're looking at the dramatic feeling of the piece- the barrier between life and death. So deep. Aren't we cool?

There was more, but I have errands to run so that is all you get for now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Thanksgiving was wonderful. We had it at my flat and the kitchen is just perfectly sized for a bustling eight person party where everyone is helping to prepare the food and talking over each other and catching up and generally having a wonderful time.

The party came together rather last minute after many permutations of people, locations, and events. We ended up with nine people over the course of the evening- the old school dinner club folk and some new people as well. Meredith, my old flat mate; Tim, her boyfriend; Dave; Sarah who was visiting from America; “Other Tim”, Dave’s friend and new dinner club initiate; Jon; Latana; my friend Kanika whom I stayed with this summer; and myself.

Everyone brought various parts of the feast. We were too last minute to actually get a turkey to defrost, which is probably a good thing since we ate barely a quarter of what I did purchase which was a giant turkey leg and a couple of turkey breast roasts from the meat section at Morrissons (the very good grocery store a short bus ride away from the flat). Everyone showed up about an hour later than they said they would which worked out just fine because it meant that I had time to clean my room and the kitchen and make sure all the dishes were clean and ready to use and things like that.

Dave, Sarah, and Other Tim showed up with bags of vegetables, stuffing mix, and two bags of marshmallows which- for some reason- in England only come in mixed pink and white varieties which is unfortunate as the pink ones are strawberry flavored and gross as we discovered earlier this week when trying to introduce Dave to s’mores. Jon showed up shortly thereafter and was immediately sent back out into the cold to purchase various things that we kept discovering we didn’t actually need once he had already left the house. (This was an unfortunate pattern; I think we sent him out three times.) We had things boiling on every burner and three levels of things baking in the oven. It was a good thing the turkey wasn’t a real turkey as it was much flatter than would otherwise be the case and meant we had more room to shove other things in the oven like stuffing, cheese balls, parsnips, etc.

Meredith and Tim showed up with a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, the aforementioned cheese balls, and three pies made from scratch including two pumpkin pies that they had made from an actual pumpkin. I was very impressed.

Latana showed up right as the food was being laid out which was perfect timing on her part. We cleared off the side board and had platters, sauce pans, and casseroles full of food all over the kitchen. (Meat and veggie versions of everything.) People were serving across the table so that there was this lovely pattern of arms across the table which went nicely with fretwork’s consort music in the background.

The best part though, was that at the end after all the food and the pies and the ice cream everyone cleaned up! There was a giant assembly line of dishwashers, dish dryers, leftovers patrol, counter clearers, and one very special garbage man. It was brilliant, they even scrubbed the roasting pan-all while screaming/singing along to Ben Folds and Bruce Springsteen. Impromtu dance parties were clearly taking place.

All and all a brilliant success- everyone agreed the food was better this year and thought it was A-okay that we neglected to do hand turkeys.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


This is why London is so wonderful:
On Sunday I got a call from my friend Imogen asking if I wanted to go to a play that afternoon as they had an extra ticket. I wasn't doing anything and had, in fact, decided that my big project for the day would be laundry- so it was an easy decision to say yes even though Imogen never told me what the play was.

I arrived, in the pouring rain, at Leicester Square only 10 minutes before the play began. We hustled into the theatre, at which point I realized that it was the theatre on the corner across from the station that has had Kenneth Branagh's face plastered on it for the last couple of months. The theatre is the Wyndham and there is a year long residency there currently of the Donmar theatre company which is a subsidized theatre which means basically that they do extraordinary work, but you can actually afford to go. Nice, huh? They're doing four plays at the Wyndham this year starting with Kenneth Branagh in Ivanov, then Twelfth Night with Derek Jacobi, Madame de Sade with Judi Dench, and Hamlet with Jude Law.

So Ivanov is by Chekhov, my first Chekhov play. I was, by turns, laughing uproariously, gasping in shock, and tearing up. It is a much funnier play than it has any right to be considering it is about an incredibly depressed man and his dying wife. I was engaged and on the edge of my seat the whole time. The edge of my seat bit may have been a bit encouraged by the fact that we were at the very top of the theatre, but the actors did a good job of looking up from time to time so that we didn't just have to look at their hair. Gina McKee was also in the play (she was the dying wife) and oh my god she is an extraordinary actress. I spent the whole first half watching her and knowing that I recognized her voice but not being able to place it, which is why I bought a programme during the intermission.

So basically London is awesome because I can, randomly on a Sunday, go to the theatre and see extraordinary people and then go eat tasty Korean food in the smallest Chinatown ever and spend a total of £25.

improvisation research

The music therapy department is doing research on improvisation and I volunteered to help out with their information gathering by doing some free improv with a group of about 10 people for about 45 minutes three weeks ago, and then having an interview about my experience with it yesterday.

I still haven't totally figured out why they are doing this research (they were quiet about their reasons during the original playing, I think so as to not influence our opinions, but it is weird when you really don't know *why* you are doing something). I remember while we were playing getting frustrated that people weren't responding the way I expected them to and assuming at the time that that meant that people just weren't listening. Of course, afterwards I realized that really what that means in that the common language and musical vocabulary that we have in 9lives (my year group's band) doesn't translate to another random group of people. So, duh. But, oops.

Anyhow the interview was totally fun. I was stuck in right after one of the music therapy classes which meant that the room still had low lighting and a sort of calming air about it. They have their own lamps so that they don't have to use the fluorescent ones on the ceiling. I suggested that they get some faintly patterned wall hangings and pots of ivy too. The interview consisted of playing short, two minute clips from the third improvisation we did on the original day and then asking me what I remembered about that particular clip- like why I was playing whatever it was that I was playing and if that was influenced by others in the group and just sort of what I was thinking the whole time.

I had never thought about my thought process when improvising before so it was interesting to be presented those questions and then to try and answer them, particularly because the way in which they were being asked made it clear that the way that I think is by no means universal.

It turns out that when I am improvising in a group I am thinking about interactions. If someone has made some sort of musical statement is that something that I can go along with and bolster, or is it something that I want to cut across and contrast with? Is there space for a sound that I can make, is that sound necessary? So what I'm not thinking about is, for instance, what articulation am I going to use? I mean, I would think that- but that wouldn't be my primary motivation for playing at that moment. I use a particular articulation or dynamic or whatever because it is suggested to me by what other people in the group are doing.

Also, if I were to teach someone to improvise (say, in a school workshop or with the CYO kids) that is how I would present it: make a musical statement, listen to the rest of the people in the group, is there space for you to make another statement or go along with someone else? Do you hear a space or a lack in the sound that you can fill?

I was one of the last interviews and apparently everyone has said very different things about what they were doing. After the interviews are finished the people doing the research are going to transcribe the interviews and use this computer programme that finds themes- like certain words that get used again and again or frequently in conjunction with other words or phrases. I've asked to have a copy of the research when they're done and the man who interviewed me said that was a good idea and that he would check to see if they can do that. The research is being presented in February, so it is a pretty quick turn around.

The other thing that was really cool was that when listening to the recording of the session again, I realized that things that I had tried to make happen (at one point I was trying to introduce a pulse, because it had been pretty a-rhythmic up to that point) that I *didn't* think had worked actually totally had. So maybe it wasn't that other people weren't listening, it was that I wasn't... oops again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This is how awesome my day was

I woke up a little late, did some interneting before hopping on a bus and then the tube for a convoluted journey to Hyde Park for my friend's Ellie and Caz's lunchtime concert. I got there too early (! I was expecting to be late, so fast!) and so wandered around the park a bit. Then I went and listened to a saxophone and percussion recital. They did a very good job, I was impressed. I chatted with Ellie and Caz and Ed (composer) for a bit before deciding to go wander around the Serpentine in the brisk, leafy smelling air. Hopped on the tube back to school where I sat down in front of a computer to find as many recordings as I could find on YouTube of the songs I'm supposed to be learning for my singing lessons. Spent far too much time doing that before going to Waitrose to grab a sandwich and a bag of clementines. I managed to get to Waitrose right as they were marking down the sandwiches so I was able to get a nice one for 99p. Not bad at all. Then off to Creative Ensemble rehearsal where I passed out the clementines while we endeavored to continue work on a new piece for a performance on December 5th. It's chugging along and we in the rhythm section were having far too much fun, I'm really enjoying CE for the first time. Now a little blogging and off home- doesn't that sound like a lovely day?

Monday, November 17, 2008

CYO the return to London

I don't really have that much to say about this except that I finally arrived home- laden with my bass, my weekend bag, and my sleeping bag, to find a whirlwind of cleaning activity. I meant to help them out but was so overwhelmed that instead I walked in to my room, dropped everything on the floor, and fell asleep for three hours.

After which I helped to clean the oven. It sparkles now.

CYO the piece

So the circle piece is progressing along. We gained a new member- Cathy the clarinetist. Instead of weird pet stories, this time I made all the kids tell me about a weird medical deformity or a stupid human trick they could do. Why did I come up with this? I'm not really sure. But! Jenny (violin) can play the piano behind her back, which sounds kinda cool but not that weird until you find out that she can play it behind her back with her hands facing down because she is so amazingly (freakishly) double jointed. I was well impressed. Pretty much all of them are bizarrely double jointed- I felt left out.

This time we worked mostly in small groups- I put the wind players together to make some more circles and the strings together to make some backgrounds/chords. I think it went pretty well and will bring the recordings that I made with me back to Seattle come Christmas time. The challenge at this point is to make sure that the final piece ends up sounding like real music and not like random vignettes strung together without any real point. Or musical coherency. I think it will work because a bunch of the material that we've made will be brought back at the end (big red circle and heavy brown line) but we haven't actually played that part yet and we don't meet up again until February.

In spite of my concerns about the piece, it was way way too much fun and I really enjoy working with teenagers. I think 11+ is really my kind of age. The time went so quickly; we had two hour and a half sessions this time instead of four forty-five minute sessions and while that was useful in terms of getting in to the flow of things, it also disappeared instantly.

CYO the cottages

We had a lovely cottage this time around in Cornwall. The drive was quick and scenic and we drove by Stonehenge which was just about the most exciting thing ever. Especially for Emma who was literally bouncing in her seat. We stayed at Colesent Cottages ( and the blondies and I were in the Bull's House Cottage so you can go see what that looks like on their website.

After last time it was a pleasant shock how nice this place was. Everything was very thoughtfully laid out (like a dish scrubber and drying cloths right next to the kitchen sink) and they've done a really good job with space usage. We got in right after dark and built a fire while making dinner and watching BBC's "Children in Need" which is this giant fundraising variety show thingy that raises money for, well, children in need... basically charities that do things to help kids in the UK with medical issues or bullying or grief counseling; stuff like that.

Basically the show was full of popular TV shows doing things a bit differently. I don't really watch TV here because I don't have a TV, but in spite of that I thought everything was pretty funny. (While at the same time pretty confusing) My two favorites were MasterChef where they had these 10-12 year olds cooking incredibly fancy and impressive food. They were all adorably nerdy about food. And EastEnders which is a very long running British soap opera where they changed it to WestEnders and did songs from a bunch of WestEnd (Broadway) shows. I love me some singing and dancing.

On the drive to the school on Saturday we got a *little bit* lost and were driving slowly behind a lawnmower that mowed at a 90 degree angle so that the hedges got trimmed. We stopped at the intersection and were deliberating amongst ourselves about whether to turn left or right when this ruddy faced, white haired man climbed down from the tractor/lawn mower/hedge trimmer and came to help us with directions. He had the thickest Cornish accent *ever* and do you remember how excited Emma was about Stonehenge up at the top of the page? I was at least that excited about his accent, it was awesome!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bonfire night and wallets

Wednesday was bonfire night, and since I crapped out of seeing the fireworks with Dave last year I was honor bound to go see them this year. I met up with Dave and his friend Tim at Herne Hill in South London and we tromped through the mildly drizzly night to get a good place to see the fire works. We had hopped that they would be selling cotton candy/candy floss there, but were disappointed to find only pancake stands and vendors with glowing light sabers and (oddly) fluorescent, fuzzy bunny ears.

The sound track was a cycling set of John Williams tunes so we amused ourselves in the particularly nerdy fashion of figuring out which symphony he had ripped off for the various themes. That and singing along with the correct words when the opening of Carmina Burana came on. I love that.

The fireworks started a big late, but we could see various other displays going on around the city- eventually they got going and were buckets of fun. The final flourish had me watching the ground instead of the sky though because we were close enough to see the giant flames go up when they set the fireworks off. It was cool.

Last night (Thursday) I went to a show at the Bishopsgate Institute. The first band was HandMade with Manu Delago playing a set of three hang drums. If you don't know what they are (and you probably don't, they were only invented in 2001) you should get over to YouTube and search for hang drum or just Manu Delago- he's got a lot of videos up and the music is divine. The second half of the program was a bunch of GSMD leadership grads playing a 50 minute long piece based on principals of gamelan composition but played on cellos and flutes and other western instruments. It was pretty trance like and well done.

The only problem with last night was that I managed to leave my wallet on the bus. BUT! There are more good people in the world than bad so today I got a message on Facebook from the woman who has it- we haven't actually managed to get a hold of one another beyond that but I know that my wallet is safe and am very pleased about that.

Fresh and Fruity

Is the name of the vegetable stand/store right by my house/flat. It is brilliant and I am devoting an ENTIRE post to how much I love it. They're cheap and friendly and a month ago you could get and ENTIRE box of avocados for two pounds. Currently you can get an ENTIRE box of cherry tomatoes for £1.50. Which, I think you'll agree, is pretty sweet. And by box I mean, like, a flat. As in a box, not an apartment. Oh, this is getting confusing...

The best part is that everyone in the neighborhood shops there so you've got all the Hasidic Jews and then the Polish folk and the assorted people from African countries I'm not sure about as well as me-sitting there just loving the fact that the produce is all good and tasty and not limp and a bit moldy like you often find at the worst grocery store ever.* Also, they have the only orange juice from concentrate that I've ever actually enjoyed drinking- I think it is from Turkey.

And the carrots! My only complaint is that they don't sell everything else I might need (see: cheese) so I have to go to the worst grocery store ever** from time to time.

*The worst grocery store ever is the Somerfield up the road. Normally I really like Somerfields but this one frequently runs out of food. On, like, Wednesdays. Also they only ever have about four people working there total so even if there aren't many people in the store there will be giant, slow moving lines that take forever to get through.

**Did I mention the riding toy at the entrance that has the creepiest recording of children laughing? The entire store will be empty of people and the mechanical laughter will echo through the building...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Thanks for all the calls at 4:30am. I was in bed and a little too groggy to manage actually getting up and over to my phone- which really I probably should have done at some point seeing as how there were five calls/texts, but thanks! It was great knowing who had won at such an early hour!

This morning all of the morning free papers (probably all of the papers, really) had Obama's face plastered on them. I was getting skippy walking to work with a massive excited grin on my face. Man, I wish I could have been in Chicago last night...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I realized on the bus ride to class today that it would be a brilliant idea to bring Halloween candy to school-- so I nipped off to a Tesco Express but they didn't have any Halloween candy (oddly they did have many, many advent calendars). Instead I bought a box of assorted cadbury's mini bars which is basically the right thing, plus- for some reason all of the pictures of the types of chocolate inside had costumes on- close enough for me!

People were very happy to eat the chocolate, laughed at me for calling it "candy," and then ate some more chocolate. I ran into the 1st years at lunch time and passed it around there too. Amazing how popular chocolate can make you...

Things to catch up on

I've had a list in my notebook for a week about things about which I really must blog. But it's just been sitting there for ages... so here you go:

1. In improvisation class we have been working on chord progressions and becoming comfortable improvising over them. This can be quite intimidating, particularly if your bass keeps going out of tune so notes aren't really where you expect them to be... but on Tuesday I had a couple of eureka moments and actually sat down on the floor to scribble down thoughts during the middle of class.

Improvisation is about making a statement, having something to say and saying it with confidence-- even if it is in a structured improvisation. I've become comfortable with STATEMENTS in free improvisation where you can really screw up- but of course you can also say something in a structured environment. This had literally never occurred to me before. Also- there is communication between the soloist and the rhythm section; just like in free improvisation you can have a conversation, play off of each other, communicate something through the playing of the solo. I mean, duh. But a new duh.

2. Last Friday we had a day long class at the London Contemporary Dance School. I'm madly in love with that place. I'll tell you more in another post but what I want to tell you here is that after class (the school is by Euston and King's Cross) and before the Stockhausen concert Emma, Jo, Michael and I went to go find tasty vegetarian food. I lugged the bass quite a ways and was like "Michael! Where are you taking us?!" when we arrived at Ravi Shankar. I tried to tell them that my family had eaten here and they met my teacher/mentor but I hadn't really met my teacher/mentor yet and the story all got very convoluted except that I was able to get across that a smoking viol had been involved...

The waiters loved that the bass was there. They moved a table so that he (this bass is a he. I've never had a male bass before) could have a place to lean in the corner and then one of the waiters in particular kept coming by to ask more questions about it. It was cute.

3. This weekend Latana and Ella and I were all at home which is a bit of a rarity. We were cleaning the flat and got the storage space under the stairs all cleaned out and organized so that there is no longer I giant mound of stuff in front of it. Well done us. We also were giggly all day long and roamed about the flat doing a bit of yoga on the ground floor landing and eventually singing pop songs from the 30's and 50's at the piano in Latana's room. Have I mentioned that I have the best flatmates?

4. Last Saturday was Kate's friend Cos's birthday party to which I was invited. I wasn't really planning on going but then I got this manic phone call from Kate and Simon who it turned out were right outside our flat. They were a bit lost so borrowed my map and dragged me along to the party which turned out to be marvelous. Lots of Cos's friends in bands singing various odes, lots of bouncing around dancing and generally being a bit ridiculous. Much more fun than sitting at home.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Snow in London!

In October! What?!

I was heading to the bus stop after a long day of classes and a voice lesson and then a lecture when I discovered that it was snowing, in London, in October. Apparently this is the first time this has happened since 1934.

I love snow. It was sleeting at first which really just meant that everything was getting very wet and slippery and difficult to walk through the slush (much less cycle through it which is what Jon, who was walking with me, had to do). I took pictures with my phone of snow on glass awnings, snow covering the bus stop sign, snow on grass, and snow all over cars.

It was Diwali yesterday too so there were lights up all over Hackney which made for a *very* picturesque bus ride home.

This was the first time that Moises, my Spanish flat mate had ever seen snow...

This morning there were still patches on cars and bits of grass that were still in the shade.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Aus den Sieben Tagen

I went to a concert yesterday at Wilton's Music Hall which is this hidden, derelict hall right behind a primary school I did a workshop at. I hadn't realized it was still a usable building, but it is awfully pretty from the outside so I had taken a picture of it during the workshop. I was a bit surprised when I found the hall and realized that that was where the concert was. An organization called Cut and Splice (maybe it was a festival? Not sure) decided to perform all of the movements from Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen over the course of two days in that hall.

Do you know anything about Stockhausen? He died last year and is one of the most important figures in 20th/21st century Western Art music. My first encounters with his music happened at Peabody in my Music History IV course. We learned about his string quartet that includes four helicopters, which is pretty nuts.

As part of the History IV we could get extra credit for doing a performance of a 20th century piece in class. My friend Laura found the score for Aus den Sieben Tagen and decided that I should be part of the group that performed pieces from it. This was right up my alley as a couple of the pieces demand that you not practice or rehearse ahead of time- extra credit for making stuff up on the spot? You betcha! So that was my first encounter with Stockhausen and specifically playing Stockhausen.

The score is not particularly score like. There are no written notes, it is all text based and written with words. The instructions include things like- vibrate at the rhythm of your body. Vibrate at the rhythm of enlightenment. Vibrate at the rhythm of the universe. Alternate between them as quickly as you can. Imagine you have infinite time. So it's a little bit weird, and more than a little bit mystical. Stockhausen claimed that this music was not improvised, but rather intuited. In retrospect, performing a few movements from this work was actually my first experience with group improvisation (intuition. Whatever.) Which is pretty darn cool.

There is one movement in particular that has stuck with me since my first reading of the score and that is Gold Dust. In gold dust the ensemble has to be isolated in individual rooms for four days with the instructions to sleep as little as possible, eat nothing, drink as little as possible, and think as little as possible. The performance is meant to happen immediately after the ensemble emerge from their rooms. For obvious reasons this was not one of the movements that we performed for extra credit. However, since Cut & Splice were doing a complete performance they needed some people willing to perform it- which is where recently graduated composers come in handy...

I don't remember their names, but the two people who performed Gold Dust (on piano and guitar) are good friend's of Ella's. She had been worried about them for the entire four days they had been in isolation and so was on the edge of her seat when they arrived on stage.

I've never seen more a more bewildered performance or a sparser one. I think maybe only 12 notes were played over the course of five minutes. It was pretty extraordinary actually- because they were so present with what they were doing, and at the same time seemed to be almost wholly unaware of the audience. There was so much space but there was also so much happening in terms of their intensity in that space. When the lights came on again at the end of 5 minutes the pianist lifted his head (the first time either of them had looked up) and just looked so confused. They had to be helped off the stage. I saw them at the intermission and they seemed fine by that point though- so don't get too concerned on their behalfs. (behalves?)

The rest of the performance consisted of quite a lot of extended techniques and washes of mechanical sound. I had a headache after one movement performed by four bass clarinets and a tuba because it had been so high pitched and loud (think about that one for a second.) I think ultimately it was a very *interesting* performance, but not necessarily an enjoyable one. That being said I would certainly be up for seeing another ensemble's version.

I've been wondering if extended techniques are the fashionable vocabulary with which to realize these pieces. Because the thing is that I don't think the score really suggests extended techniques, though it does seem that straight forward jamming wouldn't really get to the heart of the matter either. Oh! You know what would be kind of a cool thing to try? Making a sample version where you find pieces that to you seem like they sound they vibrate at the rhythm of enlightenment or whatever and then stringing all of those together. I wonder what that would sound like...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Activities for you

We moved Creative Ensemble to today instead of Thursday this week and did some improvisation exersises. It turns out that I really like sitting with an idea or concept and trying it multiple times to really *experience* it before moving on to something else.

Here's a fun game:
*Get a group of people together (it will work with 2, but 3+ is better)

*Let everyone choose a very short sound (a sound with no duration) like a click or a tap or a clap,
whatever you want.

*Start the piece and let it go as long as it goes.

*Listen! Do you hear the rhythms coming out of the texture? What about melodies?


Emma put the lid of the piano down over and over again and I thought that worked very well. I tapped my tuning pegs with a pen. Medium loud is best, too quiet and it might get lost. Actually... super quiet sounds could be an interesting thing to play with-- are you listening enough to be able to work with large variations in volume and still make something coherent?

It's a great activity because you can't do it wrong. Because you can only make one sound and that sound is so short silence is built in and the only thing you can be concerned with is where you are going to put the sound. Does it sound like you should make your noise? Then put it in. How many times? With a pulse? Without any sort of pulse? Are you making a rhythm with someone else? Is it repeating? Can you start the piece over and make it completely different even though the super simple components haven't changed at all?

I could do this for hours. Or at least an hour.

Tuesday Goodness

Today was an open day for the school so there were prospective students all over the place. Our afternoon class today was an open workshop for the three people checking out the programme. Once again it was a very international bunch- South Korea, Columbia, and Japan.

John Miles led the workshop and I just love being in workshops that he leads because he is so high energy and excited about his material- it's nice having classes where everyone in the class is giggling.

We did some work based on an Indian rhythm that goes like this 1 12 123 1234 12345 1234 123 12 . It is the same rhythm that we used the first time I worked with John way back last year during a CPD (continuing professional development) workshop. In fact, not only was it the same rhythm, it was actually the same tune that we had made up with the kids too-- only it was very slightly different which meant I kept singing it wrong.

BUT! Eventually I was singing it correctly and playing the chords along with it on my bass and singing at the same time which I've never done before and was super excited about.

That is really the whole point of this entry. I sang and played at the same time, Yay!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

because I'm vain

Henrikke and Meredith and I went to the Columbia Road Flower market today, and it was gorgeous. Full of amazing flowers and cool antiques and remarkably sparkley cupcakes. (Seriously, can you eat glitter?) Henrikke is a demon with her camera and took bunches of lovely shots of everyone and everything in the market. This is my favorite one of me (see title).

We later had our first dinner party in our new house which was a rousing success. The food took a while to prepare, but everyone was lovely about that and the whole kitchen was giggling pretty much the entire time people were over.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Couple of things...

*I voted! It's all mailed in and everything because I take my civic duty *seriously.* I even voted for the judges who were running unopposed. Do you have your votor guide yet? Check out pg 86 & 87, all women for two pages straight! Neato.

*I have Christmas plane tickets! I'll be hanging out in Seattle from the 9th of December until the 7th of January. I'm flying direct on British Airways and I'm so extraordinarily pleased that I won't have to be switching planes. Such a treat.

*London has been doing a lot of road construction recently- mostly along the sides of roads where they have been ripping out Victorian sewers. Which cool! until you think about the fact that the sewers have been there since victorian times at which point gross... In anycase- I was waiting for a bus outside of Holborn yesterday and thought it was so cool that the big leafy trees were dropping their leaves in a particularly autumnal way and they were being flattened onto the road so that it looked like a giant flower pressing. Then I realized that the other side of the street wasn't a giant flower pressing at which point I realized that it was new asphalt and the leaves are now stuck there. I'm hoping they'll have been preserved in some way so that from now on you can go visit the leaf road at Holborn station. Wouldn't that be cool? Then when they have to rip out the 21st century sewers people will get all up in arms about the fact that they're ripping up an historic landmark.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A note regarding photos

I have taken photos- but currently they are trapped on the digital camera. I know that *somewhere* I've got a thingy that will attach to my laptop so that I can transfer the photos from the old school memory cards- but I can't find it. On the plus side: there are very few places it could be. On the negative side: I've already looked there.

So- pictures- I'm working on it! I want them back too!

MapMaking: the finish line

This weekend was spent in non-stop rehearsals for the MapMaking performance that finally happened at 8pm last night. A lot of time was spent sitting around and staring at the ceiling, but it all came together too- which is my favorite part of large productions like this one.

There were three sections: Indonesia/Water, Africa/Land, and South America/Air. The performance was about an hour long and flowed without interruption through all of the pieces. About half of the pieces were pre-recorded or electronic music. One piece had both electronic and live music- the film was tape footage of San Paolo that had been covered in whatever the chemicals that are found in acid rain are and then buried. The music was a tape recording of 9lives playing a samba song that was then also covered in acid and buried. The final piece began with the original, unmangled footage and the band singing and playing live and then slowly the footage was replaced by the acid eaten film and audio and we stopped playing.

The giraffe piece or "barrier" which is the piece that Kuku made that I worked on as well- went through many, many drafts. Last week (or the week before?) when we were at Toynbee hall I produced what I had been working on and was told by the various tutors that it was too heavy and dark for the video that Kuku had made- and actually- I can totally see that. Though given the instrumentation available (tuba, bass, cellos) it is understandable that it would be heavy. In any case I went back and reorchestrated it and tried again- but ultimately after much rigmarole it was decided that it was still too heavy and ponderous. So it was back to the drawing board and on Friday I presented the video to the group and started workshopping with them. I think we came up with some good material- but then they all decided that they were far too busy with their own pieces. Fair enough. But Oi.

Jorge, who hadn't had his own piece in the project due to his frequent Portuguese trips was enthusiastic about helping when I showed him the video Friday afternoon. At that point I was just so happy to have someone express interest that when he asked if I could manage to get a hold of a marimba I said yes. On Saturday- the day before the performance I brought Kuku in and worked with the tutor John Miles, Jorge, and Emma to see if we could come up with something. We based what eventually became the piece on Kuku's facial expressions: look of apprehensive confusion? Try something else. Smile? Sweet, it'll work. The piece was ultimately a marimba improvisation using both hands and mallets. It was pretty cool- but when Nell (the year supervisor) told me that it was well done and good job- I couldn't help but think I really hadn't had that much to do with it.

So here is what I will do next time I've got a collaboration with an artist, specifically for a video:

*listen to various pieces of music with the video and see what makes sense and works well in order to get and initial starting idea.
*Create samples to show the artist at multiple point during the process to make sure that they're happy with the direction you're taking it in.
*Double check again to make sure that they really are happy and aren't just shy about making their opinions known.
*Think about *all* of the instruments that are available, not just the ones that 9lives tends to lug around. (i.e, Caroline is a very good pianist, Jorge plays the organ, and everyone sings)
*Start talking about the musical concept either much earlier in the process or wait until the final video is complete. Don't make music for draft versions that won't bear any likeness to the final film.

I did communicate well with Kuku about her video. The film would not have been nearly as coherent and concise as it was without my input. Also, she was very happy with our working relationship- I listened well and did a good job of working with the language issues (Kuku is Taiwanese) which was useful during the final collaboration because it meant that we were used to communicating by that point and I knew how to translate John and Jorge's questions and statements another way so that Kuku would actually understand.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

CYO the journey

It took us eleven and a half hours to drive from London to Cornwall on Friday. We hit every patch of traffic possible. It was ridiculous. We were in a 17 seat van with all of the instruments and all nine of us. When we actually got to Cornwall it was pitch black and we discovered that what are called "Cornwall hedges" are actually granite walls with plants growing on them- because Cornwall is made of granite. We dropped the first group of people off at the first cottage at around 11:30pm and then took the van down the narrowest roads possible in the dark and stormy night. We took the wrong track at one point and ended up at a dead end with no way of turning around, so I hopped out the van, opened the gate and we turned around in a cow field before getting stuck on another gate and breaking it. Eventually we went down the right track and crossed a little ford where the water was riding because it was raining. We got to the cottage around half past twelve, killed hundreds of mosquitoes, and eventually crawled, freezing, into bed.

I thought it was all a grand adventure. Even the outdoor toilet.

The view the next morning was extraordinary- it turned out we had driven along the edge of a cliff- it was amazing.

Picture coming soon!

CYO the project

We're doing a new project with the Cornwall Youth Orchestra that started this weekend. The CYO rehearsal schedule is amazingly ridiculous. Because the students are spread throughout the entire region they meet up as a whole orchestra once a quarter somewhere in Cornwall (it changes every time. I had a couple of students right over the border from Devon who were fussy that the rehearsals had never been near them.) Then they have intense rehearsals for a weekend, like 9 am to 9pm Saturday and Sunday and apparently normally there are also Friday rehearsals but there weren't this time because it was the first of the new school year. During the weeks where not everyone is around to rehearse they have sectionals. So this weekend is string sectionals and then next weekend would be wind or brass I presume.

The kids all sleep in the rehearsal building. In this case because the rehearsals were in a school some of the classrooms were sleeping rooms and others, like the one I was in, said "no sleeping." Which is how I found out about this in the first place- because why would a math classroom have a sign that says no sleeping? Oh and the rehearsal schedule? Planned down to the minute and KEPT TO. Which is the amazing part. I've never seen a schedule like that that people actually followed. It was like the anti MapMaking project. (In that MapMaking can't keep to a schedule at ALL). (Seriously, at all.)

So the project itself is based on the paintings of Ben Nicholson who was a fairly important abstract modernist painter who lived in, and frequently painted Cornwall. So there is a retrospective being put on by the Tate that is currently travelling around and will be in Tate St. Ives in... January? (St. Ives is in Cornwall. See? It all begins to make sense.)

The orchestra has been divided into eight groups so that each of us get about six people to work with. Each of the group leaders chose a painting from the exhibition book. We’re meant to make a piece with the kids that relates to the painting and then in January will perform those pieces at the gallery. So that should be pretty cool.

My group is made up of six people: Sarah- oboist who has a kitten that chases its own tail; Peter- cellist who doesn’t have a funny animal story; Lizzie- oboist with two pet bunnies; Alyssa- violinist who was followed by a bull; Jenni- violinist who had some sort of interesting goat story; Lisa- violinist whose story I totally don’t remember; and Ellen- cellist with a cat that does back flips.

The painting that I chose is called “Six Circles” And it has...six circles. So I spent the prep time for the project trying desperately to figure out ways of representing circularity in music. Harder than you might think because music is such a linear art form. I came up with the idea of rounds, octatonic scales (based on a fully diminished 7th chord- neat because they can go *anywhere* which is think is sort of circular- or maybe more wheel spoke like), ternary beats (6/8 and 9/8 as opposed to 4/4 so the beat is divided “1 and a 2 and a” as opposed to “1 and 2 and”), and the idea of anacrusis or upbeat which to me sounds like the wind up to something continuing on- like a wheel rolling down a hill.

We decided as a group to use the painting itself as a score so that the various elements of it represent different musical ideas when read from top to bottom. We then played with the ternary beats which they had a bit of trouble really feeling so I pulled my dalcroze techniques out and had them running and skipping around the room. (Felt pretty pleased with myself at that one) and eventually made up rhythms that I had them use notes from the scale to make into melodies and then we layered those- at which point the whole group decided that really it sounded like the deep grooves in the painting rather than the circles....poo. So they get to figure out what sounds like circles now. They came up with what basically amounts to an ascending scale which I think is pretty linear- but hey. They like it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still shot from "Barrier"

by Hsin-Yi Ku and Casey Middaugh

This is KuKu's final design for the MapMaking project. The piece is about Acacia trees in Kenya. Fences were built around the trees in an effort to keep the Giraffes from eating the trees. Unfortunately, it turns out that the trees and the Giraffes have a symbiotic relationship and when the trees were isolated- they died.

But isn't the giraffe cute?!

Monday, September 22, 2008

My new room.

I spent all day Saturday finally getting my stuff from the Dalston flat. I’m not sure why no one has been there all week, but they’re never home so it took until Saturday for my schedule and their schedule to line up. Simon, Kate’s fiancée, kindly helped me move and drove my stuff the mile and a half from one property to the other. I have a lot of stuff, and while I feel a bit silly about that-I am also very pleased to have it back around me so that I can actually move into this room.

The room is oddly shaped: there is a bay window out the front of the building and the door is at an angle, so because of that the room is almost circular. From the entrance moving clockwise I’ve got the door, an oddly short wardrobe (Grammy’s blue dress crumples a bit at the hem when it is hanging it is so short), a green arm chair, my red Sons of the Never Wrong poster, Latana’s keyboard and one of the kitchen chairs with my bright yellow coat hanging there, an orange two seat couch, a set of drawers, a fireplace that doesn’t work with all of my books on the mantel and family photos blue tacked to the wall above it, my huge double bed with purple sheets and my red and orange comforter, and then a pile of my empty red luggage is right next to the door again. There is a lot of bright colored-ness going on. It feels homey. (What I neglected to mention is the giant pile of “what exactly is this?” stuff in the centre of the room…)

My room is a little too full of furniture right now. Latana and I need to talk about what to do with her keyboard. I’m happy to leave it in the room- but I think she wants more consistent access to it which makes perfect sense, but we haven’t had a chance to talk about it because I literally haven’t seen her in three days. I think she is working a lot at the Barbican. I love the couch and am SO pleased that it is in my room. It was important to me to have a place to lounge that isn’t my bed, and I was really hoping for an arm chair- but the couch is even better. It goes with my fire toned color scheme too…

The green chair however was just irritating me: It is a LaZboy type recliner that clearly hasn’t been able to close completely for years. So because the foot stool can’t close it took up far far far too much room. Especially with my random crap pile in the middle of the room. It was getting obnoxiously difficult to move (myself) around the room so I kept turning the chair on its side and trying to figure out what the mechanism was so that I could either take the foot stool off or fix it somehow. Instead of fixing it though, I just got really frustrated at the stupid giant chair- so when Sarah Titterington and Dave showed up for dinner Saturday evening I let Dave take a look at it and mess about. I didn’t notice what he was doing until it was almost all done –but he decided that the best way to deal with the chair was to put his back into it and bend the metal. So now the chair will *never* work properly, but it is normal sized now! Success!

Pictures will be forthcoming- I managed to break the battery casing on the new/old/stand-in camera and need to take it to be fixed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Other stuff to tell you

Remember the MapMaking project? The collaboration with students from the Royal College of Art, a multimedia concert focusing on Equator countries and climate change? Well, it isn't over yet. The performance will be in October and we have to have the final drafts of the films and the music done by the 1st of October as well as the titles for the pieces and little blurbs about them for the program.

Kuku, my partner, and I haven't seen each other since late June and I was having trouble getting a hold of her so was getting nervous about the whole thing. Fortunately we managed to meet up today- in the British Library no less! It totally didn't occur to me until today that the British Library is a brilliant place to study. I mean, I guess that is sort of a "no, duh" statement, but still. It hadn't occurred to me.

Kuku has completely changed the film. Again. And while I agree with her that it hangs together as a narrative better now, it also means that I need to completely change the feeling and tone of the music. Before the film had a lot of color and charming hand drawn characters that were cute, if a little confusing. Now it is full of 3D paper characters filmed in black and white... I can't have such stark music with a stark film. So I need to sit at a piano and figure something out. Which is actually kind of exciting, if daunting. Quick! Write something in a weekend!

Remember all those 3 session school workshops I was doing in July? They're back! Today I helped out Juliet and Jo at Shapla Primary school. Our song is about the rain forest and I wrote the cheeriest tune ever to these lyrics that the kids wrote last week:

People are cuttin' down trees, Animals are losin' their homes.
Lonely and lost with no food, will they survive or die?

It is a really inappropriately jaunty tune.

I kind of love it.

Fortunately the kids are less cheesy than I am and when they made up the tune for the last line they came up with something *much* classier than I did. I kept wanting to either soar up to a high note on "die" or, alternatively, stage whisper it... In spite of the kids classing it up, Juliet is still planning on making them step from side to side and/or shrug their shoulders in time to the beat.

My neighborhood

So, there are a *lot* of Hasidic Jews in my neighborhood and being the curious type- I thought I would read up a bit and learn more. Wikipedia supplies this little bit of information:

"The vast majority of Hasidic Jews live either in the United States or Israel but there exist large communities in Montreal, Britain (mostly in Stamford Hill) and Antwerp also. Hasidic Jews are known for having large families and as a result are experiencing tremendous growth."

My neighborhood is mentioned specifically! Also, the 'tremendous growth' bit explains all of the baby carriages and small boys in striped shirts riding around on bikes.

And this explains why all of the women pushing prams have suspiciously straight, dark brown hair:

"Sheitel (Yiddish: שייטל, sheytl, שייטלעך, sheytlekh or שייטלען, sheytlen; Hebrew: פאה נוכרית‎) is the Yiddish word for a wig or half-wig worn by Orthodox Jewish married women in order to conform with the requirement of Jewish Law to cover their hair."

In other non religious sect news- Peter dropped off my baroque bass today which I am very excited about. I pick up the rest of my stuff from storage on Saturday and then I can finally finish moving in! It will be grand. I still love my neighborhood, am starting to make headway on various goals for the year, and have been strutting around in my new yellow coat. It is lovely.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back in London

I have made it back to London in spite of an unexpected day long layover in Philadelphia. There were quite a number of us stuck at the airport and so the hotels filled up quickly, I was fortunate enough to get a room and then spent the next day wandering around the art museum and an Indian/Hare Krishna festival outside the museum. Yay, free Indian food!

I have moved (somewhat) into the new flat- pictures will be forthcoming. Need to figure out how to get my computer and the internet in the same place...My room is wonderful though. Because it is *technically* the living room I have a brand new, never been used, still had the plastic on it, bed. And it is lovely. I also still have a couch, and arm chair, Latana's piano, a wardrobe, two side tables, and some drawers in there. It has become a bit cramped and will be more so when I get the bass back on Wednesday. We'll have to work on some creative rearrangement.

Ella met me at King's Cross and helped get my bags on the bus which was very nice of her, nice to catch up as well. We unloaded the bags, wrote a list of all of the broken things in the flat, and then I had to run down to Sadlers Wells to see my birthday present to myself: Matthew Bourne's newest work- a ballet adaptation of Dorian Gray. It was pretty awesome, though I was less caught up in the story than I was when I saw his version of the Nutcracker. At Nutcracker! I was so caught up in the story that I forgot to watch the dancing in the second half because I was so angry that the Nutcracker didn't seem like he was going to end up with Clara and that just wasn't right. Bourne is an extraordinary story teller. It isn't like The Picture of Dorian Gray is an uncomplicated novel and to be able to tell the story without words, in a modern setting, and to use motions other than the stylized pointing that ballets tend to use is just extraordinary.

Today I've been rushing around signing things for various people and offices. I have to leave now to go to the Leadership student welcome time. It should be fun to get to meet the new first years!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


The first week of the Dalcroze course is nearly finished. There are about 30 people taking the course with 6-8 people in the advanced group and the rest in the beginning. The numbers are a bit variable because the groups are fluid and people move around a fair bit. We start in the morning with eurhythmics- which is movement with music. Then we do solfege- ear training and singing, lunch, and improvisation. Te last 45minutes of the day we are all together and do classroom examples or sample lesson plans.

I've been in the advanced group which has been alternately lovely and frustrating. Some times the advanced class has wandered off on tangents where we argue for ages about whether or not a certain chord/pitch/etc. really counts as one thing or if it would be this other thing and if so what other contexts you might see that in blah blah blah. I follow it- but only theoretically and I don't get excited about it.

That being said- today during improvisation I was totally giddy. The homework was to build a "secundo" or second part of a piano duet- so the chords below the melody. I spent about two hours playing around on the piano yesterday and *finally* have a practical and aural understanding of plagal cadences. I've really been working in my own practice time on making musical phrases and then figuring out away from the piano (and without intellectualizing it) where the music wants to go. It's been fantastic. Like I said, after how many years of schooling? I'm starting to have a practical understanding of how the music fits together and what all that means. Super exciting. I want more.

I love the solfege and ear training aspects of Dalcroze. It works so well for me and helps with learning things that I have always wanted to understand and struggled with. Ann Farber, the teacher that I've been working with the most- is a small, feisty, gray haired woman. When you don't understand what is going on- all of her intensity focuses on you and her voice gets louder. When I first encountered her at Longy I thought she was terrifying and mean, but by the end of those three weeks two years ago she was my favorite teacher and the main reason I came to this course in NYC. She's yelling at you- but in order to make sure that you really understand. And once you do? The biggest smile ever. She's awesome and makes me laugh. And she keeps choosing me to do the exercises that scare me to death. Isn't she sweet?

So- I'm writing lots of melodies, learning how the fit together, and mostly ignoring the lesson plans and classroom things because it turns out that that is the least interesting aspect of dalcroze eurhythmics for me. I'm not terribly interested in becoming a dalcroze teacher for small children- but I'm VERY interested in how their teaching process can help me with ear training, understanding phrases, general musicality, composition, musical structure, musical cohesion, and basically lots of compositional tools.

I'm having fun.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

News, News Everywhere!

1. We have a flat in London! It is in Stamford Hill, which is north of Stoke Newington. It is on a bunch of direct bus lines that take us straight to Moorgate, Liverpool St., or Old Street (which is to say- straight in to school). There are three bed rooms and a living room we are converting in to a bedroom, a large kitchen with enough space for a dining table (and a gas stove!), *two* bathrooms- one with a shower and the other with a tub, and a garden that we have sole access to. Pretty sweet, huh? It is a bit far out, but that is totally doable- we couldn't have possibly been able to afford anything this nice closer in. "We" in this case meaning Latana, Moises, myself, and my friend Ella who is now a second year composer. We still have some issues like bedroom division and actually getting all of the payment things sorted- but basically we're good to go. Move in date is August 30th. 

2. I'm in NYC! The flight was delayed all over the place- we sat on the runway in London for over an hour due to some sort of issue with the baggage. Not really sure what that was. Then, when we were in NY there was a massive thunderstorm and they wouldn't let us land until that had passes so we circled for an hour and then ran low on fuel so we landed outside of NY, refueled, and waited again until the weather was better around JFK. 

This delay could have been a total pain, but it actually turned out fine because I ended up having a long conversation with the person sitting next to me about the Leadership programme and what can be done with that sort of training. It turns out that this guy is actually very in to video manipulation so we started talking about all the crossover opportunities and interesting things that he has been keeping an eye on that I should really know about and just basically having a really loud animated conversation in the middle of the aisle. We were having a much better time than the poor pregnant woman two rows behind us who just kept throwing up... 

Currently I am staying at Liz (Kent) Berman's in-law's apartment in the Bronx. I need to figure out how to get in to Manhattan to start the course on Monday. I'll get that all sorted out soon. So far I have been watching the Olympics and sleeping- I have a very painful ear infection that I am trying to get rid of. Grr. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The world is very small

Remember back at Christmas when Andy and Nancy and I went to Cambridge? This is Jess- she was another person at the party. We had a really nice time talking to each other and I think were both glad that there was someone else near our age there.

In any case- it turns out that it is her room that I have been subletting these past two weeks in Dalston...

I found the place through my friend Imogen who is also from Cambridge. The house is being rented by her friend Kanika, I think they went to school together. When Kani was trying to find a fifth person to stay in the last bedroom she called up her friend Jess who decided that she wanted to live in London this year. So there we go- way way less than six degrees of separation in multiple directions.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Andy and Nancy!

My friend Ella and I just spent the day going to various estate agents around the city and finding out if they had any properties that might work for either of us. House hunting in this town is a massive pain. We did a lot of riding around in buses too- so we both have a better idea of what is out there, what the neighborhoods look like, and how they all fit together. That being said- we are both exhausted and didn't really find anything. 

Currently I am living in Dalston near Stoke Newington. I already liked the area because of all of the market stalls and 24hour Turkish restaurants and general interestingness of the area, but yesterday I took one of those city walk cards for Stoke Newington and discovered all sorts of things like Clissold park and Abney Park Cemetery which is a Victorian grave yard that was abandoned and so is now a nature preserve. It looks like the ravine with threes draped in ivy and blackberry bushes everywhere- but then in the undergrowth there are rows upon rows of headstones. Many times you can't really see the headstones, but they must be there because the ivy wouldn't grow like that otherwise. So now I am totally, irrevocably in love with the area. Today, however, I found out that it is probably out of my price range...cross your fingers for me, will you? Maybe something will come through. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


What a sublimely beautiful oratorio.

It had been quite a long time since I played with an orchestra (May, 2006) and longer still since I had played for an opera. I started out the week on a high playing wise because I had just had a lesson with Peter the night before I left for Norfolk so I was busy being excited about the bass "Oh, that's how I use the bow!" and the like. The first day of rehearsals was mostly sight reading and I have always enjoyed that part of the process of learning music- when everything is new and making mistakes is part of the game, when you're getting introduced to the music.

The orchestra was full of lovely people as well. Robert Houssart, the conductor and harpsichordist- is enthusiastic and fun. There were 5 violins: Emily from Boston; Marja from Finland via Cork, Ireland; Aiden and Naimh from Ireland; and Tim the 15 year old whose family I was staying with. We had one viola- Tom who has impressively mobile eyebrows; and two cellists- Harriet from the South of England, and Sara- our continuo cellist from Germany. So we were a right international bunch. Two oboeists (Sharon, England; Sian, Minnesota), a timpanist (Polly, Scotland), and a trumpet player (Will, England) all showed up later in the week. Oh, and David- the repititeur harpsichordist (he played for the singers during rehearsals).

Do you know what recitatives are? Wikipedia defines it as "a style of delivery (much used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas) in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech." Basically it is where all of the exposition happens in operas, because there isn't much space for it in the arias. They also, particularly in baroque music, are full clear cadences. So someone will sing a sentence, and then you have a big V-I and I don't know how to explain it other than that or singing it to you, but that doesn't really work on blogs...Right, so anyhow- the point of this is that through playing this music and all of the recitatives that we played and listened to- I now feel like I understand so much more of the theory that I learned in undergrad from a practical standpoint and I wish in some ways that either I could go back to those classes now, or I could have some how had this experience before (or during) those classes.

Same thing with styles of bowing and articulation- when playing baroque excerpts for orchestral excerpt class we would be told to play light, don't hit the last notes heavily, let go of the unimportant notes, know where the phrase is going and toss off those notes that are only passing. I never really got this- it was hard for me to hear out of context and really frustrating at the time. Now I am like, dude- we really should have been made to play baroque operas in small chamber orchestras, what a great learning opportunity that would have been.

That is me now. During the week however, I was constantly screwing up during rehearsals and playing out of tune and forgetting to look at key signatures and just generally feeling like my playing was not up to snuff. So I wasn't as pleased with the whole thing as I am now. Now I want to practice (me! I want to practice! Okay, so not a whole lot- but there are certain things that I would like to work up again and wouldn't it be lovely to play for fun? Without any sort of pressure?) because then if I get to go back again next year, I wouldn't freak out everytime Robert whipped his head around because I jumped an entrance or played a wrong note. To be fair, I was right next to him so he could hear me clearly, but his starting every time I messed up was not helpful.

Anyhow- enough of my angst about my playing: Handel sure knew how to write music. I don't think I have ever fallen in love with an opera/oratorio like I have with this one. It wasn't just the arias that would get stuck in my head; it is such a lovely work that I would get bits of recitative stuck in my head. 'O That I on Wings Could Rise', one of Theodora's arias. Lovely. And anything Irene sings. 'Wither, Princess, Do You Fly'. And most of the choruses.

It's a heartbreaking story too- the christians are all told to make a sacrifice to the Roman god Jove or be killed. Theodora, a christian princess and Irene, her group's pristess refuse. Instead of killing Theodora though- because shis such a prominent christian, she is setanced to be turned in to a whore. This, because she is so very virtuous is worse than death. Didymus, a Roman soldier is so overcome and impressed with her virtue that he goes to tr save her and convinces Theodora to switch places with him in her prison cell. Didymus is found out and sentenced to die for helping the prisoner to escape. Theodora is also now sentenced to die should she be found. Overjoyed that her virtue is still protected, Theodora races back to the palace to turn herself in. Both Didymus and Theodora argue that they should be killed in place of the other. In interest of fairness, they are both killed. The end.

Obviously this is a bit more nuanced in the actual opera.


Norfolk was amazing.

It was blissful weather most of the time and so I frequently went on bike rides around the area- one lane roads (no worries about which side to be on then!) through wheat fields and wild flowers with rabbits jumping out all the time and pheasants and hawks and butterflies and little boys on bikes who challenge you to races. Oh, and centuries old farm houses and a community pea patch that smelled like dill (you have to remember that I actually *like* dill, so this was nice.) And that was just the bike rides!

We put together an opera from scratch in 3 weeks. The instrumentalists were only there for the last week (or, in the case of Will our trumpeter- only the performances. Why did Handel only write trumpet into one movement of a 58 movement work?) and for the first couple of days we were rehearsing around 9 hours a day. So, a little bit in to the deep end after not playing hardly at all for most of the year.

The singers were from all over the place, but a the largest group of them were from DIT in Dublin. Dublin Institute of Technology School of Music and Drama. (Why does a school of technology have a conservatory? Same reason a university synonymous with medicine has a conservatory- the conservatories keep going bankrupt.) There were also a bunch of Australians and two other Americans- my accent was all over the place.

We were housed with various area families. I was with the Lakzo Schroeders- who are wonderful and have 5 children. The first night I was there was very cold; so the older members of the family (The parents Norbert and Tina and their eldest son Tim who played violin with the orchestra) and I sat by the fire in their 17th century living room and chatted about all sorts of things. This proved to be too tempting for the younger members of the family who had all already been put to bed- so one by one they tromped down the stairs with their wet, freshly bathed heads and curled up on their parents laps or on the rug in front of the fire. It was all ridiculously charming.

Everyone got very involved in the making of the costumes, sets, and props. Though mostly the costumes. We needed Roman armor (sawed off flower pots), various Roman lady outfits, christian peasant clothes, etc. All of the singers had at *least* one costume change and all of the costumes were made on site in a little house down the road from the church we were performing in. They were designed and made mostly by Gidon Saks (
who it turns out is quite a successful opera singer himself. Like, really successful. And he was making the costumes, 'cause he wanted to. Also, he is a total character and I adore him even though he was slagging off Seattle because he had bad experiences there with Seattle Opera and the Ring Cycle. The costume house was *tiny* by the way. Like, small enough that I could bump my head on the rafters. Gidon is definitely over 6' tall, so I'm not really sure how he survived. He also did a masterclass that I went and watched and was alternately inspired and rolling on the floor with laughter.

The performances took place in St. Mary, South Creake ( There is a roster on the wall of vicars for the congregation and it goes back to the 1100's. Cool, huh? I had never seen a church before that had both historic graveyards and a very current graveyard. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Robert Pilch (d.1879) and Susanna Collins (d.1798) as well as the George brothers (d. Oct. 1916, Nov. 1916, 1919). We had built a stage in the center of the church so that the opera was in the round. A little bit weird, but effective. We weren't allowed to have our final, ending party until everything was completely cleaned up and put away and the church put back to rights. We managed to complete this in an impressive hour and a quarter.

There was a wonderful community spirit throughout the whole place and I'm hoping to go back again either for the Easter concert of another of these operas that they do in the summer. It's a strange thing though- I've never heard of any other summer program that was entirely invitation only and depended so completely on who you know. Peter is the one who got this gig for me. Thanks, Peter!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On my way

Today has been a big day already and it is only just past noon.

For the rest of the summer my stuff, and sometimes my self- will be staying in Stoke Newington in a house that is being rented by friends of my friend Imogen. I am staying in a room on the top floor (3rd or 2nd depending on how you count it) and the people I've met who already live there are lovely. But mostly I'm excited not to be homeless and also to have somewhere to store *all my stuff.*

How did I get this much stuff? I came with three suitcases and now just moved with the aid of a van. Like, a proper van for transporting stuff- not a minivan which is called a "people carrier" here. Funny story that- I called up a taxi service yesterday, explained that I was moving all of my worldly possessions and could I hire a car? They said certainly and so at 11am this morning a people carrier showed up. Unfortunately- the driver took one look at all of my *stuff* and decided that his band new people carrier could not take it all. Which is reasonable and his prerogative- but still put me in a bit of a bind. So I called up the taxi service again and they said that they could send a van (two seats, lots of plywood covered storage area), but I could not ride with it. Since at this point I was getting panicky- I said Okay. I would ride the bus and hope my new housemates were nice people who would help unload the van before I got there.

Fortunately it all turned out peachy. The driver, Aaron, was lively and entertaining and helped me load all of my *stuff* and then let me ride in the van too. Because he's cool. He's from Sweden, but his mother is Jamaican and he grew up in Leeds where he played professional football for a while. His partner just got pregnant and their first child is due on Christmas eve- he's not sure about names but he really likes "Casey" and he asked if I minded if he put that on the list? I said absolutely, go for it.

I leave for King's Cross station in half an hour or so with my bass, my little red bag, my stool, my backpack, and another bag that I meant to leave at the sublet house but accidentally forgot. I'm taking all of this on the tube in order to get to the train station where I am meeting Lisa Hanson for lunch before getting on a train to Kings Lynn station in Norfolk where I will spend the week trying to remember how to play the bass.

I'm going to Norfolk for a week of Handel Opera. Well, technically an oratorio- Theadora. We're rehearsing all week and then performing next weekend. The singers and continuo players have already been there for a week. I have no idea what I'm getting in to. But it should be good- the food we get is apparently legendary.

Last night I went out to Walthamsthow for a lesson with Peter McCarthy. It was great to see him and catch up, and truly lovely to get to play his bass. Magnificent instrument. However, it was unsettling to realize just how very much I have forgotten. Yes, I have played bass this year- but it is a very different thing to be using a bass to make a riff on versus the much more nuanced playing that is needed for baroque and classical music. I'm pleased I had the lesson before the rehearsals begin, but I am more than a little nervous about this whole process now. That being said- before they had me, they had no bassist at all- so better me than nothing. And I'm not terrible. I do have a degree in this after all. I just haven't played in an orchestra in two years.

I am bringing my computer along with me, so hopefully I will be able to blog from out there. Obviously this is subject to what sort of Internet I can find- but at the very least I'll write some blogs and take photos to post when I get back on the 27th.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Bunches of new photos from the past month are now on flickr! Yay!

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I took my own sweet time writing about this one, huh? Thanks for your patience!

Basically- it went totally swimmingly. The three of us met up at 5:30 and took over the green room at Bishopsgate Institute to do some run throughs and basically just make sure that we knew what we were doing. I made sure we timed them all as well because I was massively paranoid that we were going to cut various sections short and end up with a 5 minute piece instead of 10. This was a totally valid fear as our first run clocked in at 6 minutes...

Fortunately we all relaxed and began to focus on things like dynamic change, the pace of the piece, and actually began listening to each other instead of just trying to remember what came next. We rehearsed for about an hour, brought all of the equipment downstairs, did a quick sound check to make sure that the balance between the instruments and the various amplification methods were working and then sat down to watch the start of the show.

There were six of us performing that evening. Kate, Jorge, Andreas, Heather, Nick, and myself. Kate's piece started off the evening and it was beautiful and well played and enjoyable to listen to. I had spent the whole day up until that point being really excited about the performance instead of nervous; but as soon as I heard Kate's piece I began to get nervous and stayed that way through most of the rest of the concert. Every one's pieces were interesting and engaging and it was a lovely concert.

During the intermission I went over and talked to Jo who said happy fourth of July and then did finger fireworks for me. She made the shapes with her hands and did a remarkably accurate vocal sound track to the fireworks. We decided our favorites were the swirly ones that have that really high pitched whine. I know this sounds weird, but it was totally cool and I left feeling like I really had seen a fireworks show. With all my favorite colors too.

Anyhow, back to the show- we were on last and I play the first notes of the piece. Thank god for vibrato- that way you can shake and not harm the music! It only took about 30 seconds to relax and start really enjoying what we were playing. By the penultimate section I was grinning hugely and putting my whole body into my playing.

We got a huge round of applause and I spent the rest of the night continuing to grin. Cos, Kate's bassist from her band The Rude Mechanicals came up afterwards and told me that my piece had been his favorite, that he was impressed with how well I managed to combine acoustic and electronic elements. I told him it was my first piece and he was shocked! Yay!!!

Unlike my Senior recital at Peabody where it took me months to be able to listen to the recording of my recital, I listened to this piece within 15 minutes of having played it. And then I listened to it again. And I've listened to it a couple of times since, because I still get a big kick out of it.

To celebrate I brought Dave and Gemma, and Jon and Ella back to our flat for some food where we then proceeded to play Boggle and Pit until 3:30 in the morning. It was super fun, and a verbal enough crowd that the competition in boggle was intense.

I am trying to figure out how to post the recording of the performance on the blog, but blogger doesn't host sound files, so I am exploring other hosts for that. In the meantime, if you would like to hear it, email me and I will see if I can get the file small enough to email back to you.

Moving Day

Today is the big move-out day for Sundial for most people. A few of us are staying until the end of next week for various reasons, myself because I still have a workshop to do on Monday and I'm not sure entirely where I will be sub-letting from yet-so this gives me an extra week to sit down and figure that out.

Moises and Meredith already left for Spain and America weeks ago, so it has just been Latana, Patrick, and me in the flat. Last night we were all boxing up our kitchen stuff and cleaning like mad. There have been horror story rumors floating around the building about how the facilities department totally makes stuff up in order to hold on to your deposit- so we were determined to give them nothing to complain about...

I hadn't totally wrapped my head around the fact that last night was the last night in flat nine. I got all of my stuff packed and moved in plenty of time though, which is saying something considering the last two times I have had to move. Driving across country last summer the only thing that managed to save me was huge, ridiculous amounts of help from Zane, Liz, and Miranda. Packing for London in September, I was at *least* 45 minutes late getting going for the airport and that was after literally staying up all night packing. So done and cleaned by 11am? I rock.

I haven't moved very far though, only to flat 11- which is across the hallway on the same floor in the same wing of Sundial. Unfortunately, whomever just moved out wasn't as inspired in their cleaning as we were. Also, flat 11 doesn't get cleaned until after the Guildhall people move out and real live paying customers come in. So I'm going to need to clean another room, because it is gross and used to be inhabited by a smoker. Oh well, just one week. At least I didn't have to move very far.

I am astonished by how much stuff I have managed to accumulate in one year. Part of it, of course, is the stuff that I kept having people bring over from America for me, but a lot of it is from my remarkable ability to attract pieces of paper. So much paper. And instruments. The bass, the djembe, the other bass, the amp, the bass stools that I have two of because they were sold in a pair...

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I've been trying so hard to load the video of the MapMaking rehearsal, but it will *not* finish loading, so I will try again tomorrow. Stay tuned....

Independent Practice Enquiry (IPE)

Our final project for the year- 10 minutes of music written/created/led by you. One of the very few things we are technically graded on and talked up a bunch, so we're all a bit nervous. Mine was supposed to be this cool cross arts improvisation collaboration thing. Remember when I wrote about that? Long story short- scheduling people was harrowing and impossible, so it has now changed completely. Now I am doing a piece based on MLK Jr's "On the Mountaintop" speech with my friends Dave and Jon. (Hi, Jon!)

We have been working on it for just over a week now (started last weekend) and because of our schedules have only had about two and half hours together to write the piece and rehearse it. I've spent most of this week panicking quietly- but we managed to have 15 minutes together today and ran the piece. We are still going to need to do some serious rehearsing the hour before the show starts, but we've pulled it together! We have a totally stable structure, it is going to be just about long enough (provided we don't cut any of the improvisations too short), and best of all- after tomorrow night it will be DONE. Which means I am practically DONE for the year. Which is awesome.

These pictures are from our rehearsal in my room which was cramped and hilarious, but I don't think you quite get the feel for the cramped hilarity from these photos. But trust me, it was impossible to move.

City of London Festival

Heather's IPE piece
9lives- check out the electric! (I'm so hip.)
Emma's beautiful IPE song about the 1666 fire of London.

9lives had a gig with the City of London festival yesterday. There is a bandstand in Finsbury Circus and we played for an hour in the early evening. We played the two songs that we have collaboratively written: Earth and "D" as well as a number of member's IPE (Independent Practice Enquiry) final project songs. The sound quality was a little weird because of the acoustics of the band stand and being outside- but man, we played well. Here are some pictures from the gig. No recording, sorry about that. But we are planning on getting into the recording studio at school early next year to do a demo and start up a myspace page for the band. Of course, that will mean that we need to have more than 20 minutes of music total....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Signage fun at work

The first picture is a shot of the other office's sign. It was in response to one of ours that said "we miss you." Theirs says "We miss you more! xx"

The second picture is of our window. Our signs say "Yay! Another Sign!" And "How long do you think we can keep this up?" No response yet, but I suspect that is because our font is a bit too small...

MapMaking at St. Luke's

St. Luke's is a converted church that the London Symphony Orchestra has turned into a fabulous (and high tech) concert and rehearsal space. It is where our Equator project will eventually be performed in October. On Friday we had our first "run through." Quotation marks are important because nearly all of the graphics are still drafts and the music is only beginning to be composed and so is also still in a nebulous stage. It was kind of silly to have such an intense showing day at this stage, but oh well. It was good to see where everyone has got to. Probably "everyone" should also be in quotes since a few artists refused to show their work.

In any case- more photos!

As a side note- I have spent the last month feeling awkward about how bad I have been sounding on the baroque bass- the sound quality has been just crap and it has been very difficult to get anything like a clear sound out of the instrument. Last night it occurred to me that I had my bow rehaired over spring break and probably it could use some rosin. The effect of the rosin was immediate and huge. Now I am embarrassed about how long it took me to figure that out...sheesh.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I spent the last week in rehearsals for various groups from the storytelling class. Storytelling is one of the 1st year actors' improvisation classes, and on Friday we had our showing for the other students and faculty in the drama department. There are two separate classes, each of whom split in to two for a total of four groups performing. They had spent the last two months choosing myths and then working on them with each other and musicians. Because of confusing scheduling I, at one point, was playing with three different groups. But then, because of more confusing scheduling, only ended up playing with two-which was probably a good thing.

It was fascinating watching them work together to develop the script, figure out casting, staging, and trying out various tactics to deal with difficult events in the stories- like how do you show a decapitation? A monkey jumping over an ocean? A baby born from a fire? A temple being built?

Over the course of the rehearsals they encountered the exact same issues with collaboration that we have been learning to deal with in the leadership course. Sometimes making all decisions democratically isn't the right way to go. How do you make sure that every one's ideas are voiced and heard as well as making sure that problems are being solved and work is being done? Not surprising that they faced the same issues, but still interesting to watch. Also some groups were much better at the beginning of the process and then flagged with the finishing touches, whereas others were ridiculously slow moving during the beginning rehearsals and then managed to pull of a marvelous performance.

Because of scheduling, the musicians were inconsistently available which meant that the music changed drastically at every rehearsal I went to because the personnel kept changing (you wouldn't approach dramatic music the same way with a bass and a drum that you would with a string quartet). All of the other musicians were part of the classical improvisation class and their professor came along to watch the rehearsals and offer suggestions. This was especially helpful one day when I was playing by myself- I was doing mostly sound effects and word painting and he was hollering out "something Major!" and then "heroic!" which pushed me then to create actual melodies which was a bit of an epiphany.

Anyhow- I took some pictures at the beginning of the show while everyone was finding seats and setting up. The performances took place in the gym where there are bars on the back of the room, a basketball hoop (oddly), and 5 ropes hanging from the ceiling. The circus class takes place there too, and I'm hoping to get involved with that class as well next year.