Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peabody Times

It is so amazing and lovely to be back here. Getting from Dulles to Baltimore was a bit of a trial, but all things considered (three different forms of public transportation and four hours) it went very smoothly. I arrived at Penn station in Baltimore at about 9pm and Angela met me at the station which was wonderful of her. We then proceeded to talk for hours and hours and got right back in to our old pattern of "practicing" which involves one of us holding a bass and both of us talking each other's ears off.

It is fulfilling to come back to a place where you have been gone for a while but you still have lots of friends there. Audrey and I squealed and jumped up and down, the admissions office ladies gasped in a very satisfying way. It is interesting to see who remembers that they haven't seen me in a while but can't quite place me...

Everyone is so nice here! Peabody people are great. Even the new ones that I have been meeting are just sweethearts.

I made a list about a month ago of all of the things that I wanted to make sure that I did while I was in baltimore and I got over half of them done (or at least set up) yesterday. I was thinking that I wouldn't be able to get a hold of the Arceci's but then ran in to Mrs. Arceci on the street. I ran into ROBIN today (the most excited wonderful violist ever who doesn't even go to Peabody any longer. She's up at the top with the big grin), and Jason who won a Fulbright to Germany is in town for his final DMA lecture recital. I have been running in to so many people who have no reason to be here right now but are also so exactly the people that I am hoping to see.

Yesterday was a gorgeous clear blue skyed and summer tempratured day and I went for a bunch of walks with people, had breakfast with Angela, lunch with Zane, and dinner with Jacob. I had a meeting with Director Sharkey this morning, met his wife and chatted about all the cello students she has sent to GSMD, ran into Mark Cudek, have plans to play with consort on Wednesday, set up my day of Daniel tomorrow and on Sunday I even get to see the Charlton parents.

So basically I'm running boisterously around the school grinning at everyone and having a wonderful, wonderful time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

So, I realized that I missed Easter in London by, like, and hour- but it is still Easter in the US which makes the title apropos.

I spent all day today in various churches (except the hour or two when I watched the BBC version of Jane Eyre and then fell asleep). Latana was in a quartet at an Anglican church in Notting Hill this morning. Unfortunately it was very very cold, and, in fact: snowing. So it was less of a spring time celebration than usual. Pretty much everyone just kept their coats on during the service.

Latana sang very well, though the quartet was oddly matched in terms of voice types and so didn't blend well which irritated my overly educated sensibilities. It was really nice to finally hear Latana sing though. At the end of the service I went up and talked to the organist because the organ looked cool and I wanted to know more about it. This turned out to be a mistake as he then talked without taking a breath for over 20 minutes.

This evening Peter McCarthy had an Easter Vespers gig at St. Anne and St. Agnes- which is a Lutheran church in The City that didn't get bombed during WWII (which is impressive.) It's a charming space and they always have phenomenal music. Because it is so close to GSMD, students are frequently featured during their lunchtime concert series. The choir quintet for Peter's gig blended perfectly so I had a blissful time listening to them rehearse and then again during the service itself. It's always nice to see Peter- he is going to lend me a baroque bass to play with/on during the summer term. I'm looking forward to that.

Supper ended up being a giant dance party with various singers and myself and a large pot of rice.

Happy Easter!

(May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Easter(es) be white....)

9lives had a gig!

We played on the free stage at the Barbican before Ready, Steady, Blow! which was a large concert attended by many many many primary school children and performed by the Guildhall Symphonic Wind Band, the 1st year GSMD wind, brass, and percussion students, the Morpeth band from Globetown, and the something and Dagenham youth music something or rather...sorry to be so unhelpful with that one.

Anyhow- Tara's parents came to hear us play and I convinced them that a really good idea would be for them to take pictures for me. These are the best of the results. (I particularly like the one of me and Jo looking off into the distance together.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I have books!

And thank goodness the Barbican library is getting closed over Easter break for refurbishments- because that means we can check 16 books out instead of 12 and because I still have all of my sea shanty books that means I totally hit the limit.

Today I discovered the "arts" section of the library and oooh I'm going to have fun there. I was trying to be restrained though, so here is what I've got:

Impro: improvisation and the theatre- this was recommended on Mommy's other favorite blog ( and was the impetus behind discovering the arts section of the library. Silly me though, when I went to look for it I only memorized the first 3 digits of the call number so I had to look through the whole section...darn.

The Master of Movement- by Rudolf Laban- I got an introduction to Laban in conducting class at Peabody and thought it was so interesting that I still talk about it all the time- so good idea to actually read his book, yeah?

Laban's principles of dance and movement notation- this will almost certainly go straight over my head. Ah well, worth a try in any case.

Conversations with Choreographers- Could be interesting... I don't recognize any of the names, but again, worth a try.

Games for Actors and Non-Actors- I super like Open Call, but don't know how to set something up like that yet- I'm hoping this will be useful.

Some books that I left on the shelf include one about dancing with physically disabled people and some others that I wanted but don't remember now...

Off to go to a choir concert now, but I wanted to write and let you know what my reading list is!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Open Call take 2

Last Wednesday was the last open call of the term (maybe the year, the last officially scheduled Open Call) So what Christian did was he let us run it ourselves and oh was that a massive disaster.

There were tons of people, maybe 20? And there were plenty of ideas but no one stuck with any of them, and people weren't really listening or helping much, and there were always people just standing on the edges and the improv went on forever and it was tedious. Just tedious.

So it was a remarkably uncomfortable experience, but what is cool is that those of us who were involved have been seeking each other out to talk about it ever since. Talking about what would have made it better and how we could avoid those sorts of problems in the future. People weren't really playing to their strengths- there were two instruments out of cases for 20 people...and the musicians kept talking which meant it felt like an amateur, poorly done theatrical show with no plot.

The thing that I think is so amazing about musicians and actors getting together is how much can be communicated non-verbally. If you think about it words and speech are just this top layer of information that humans are passing around all the time. When I met Latana's mother she wouldn't let me speak English to her. Now, keeping in mind that I do not speak French it is either extraordinary how easily we understood one another or else it is totally to be expected. (Or a bit of both, we can go with a bit of both)

There is a core of us, I think about 10 people who are very eager to keep Open Call going next term. And now we know how NOT to run things, which is an invaluable lesson. On Thursday evening in the basement I was sitting with Latana catching up on emails when Matt, a flautist who had to leave early from Open Call, came and sat down- we talked for over an hour about how/why the free improv didn't work, what kinds of ground rules you need for that sort of thing (not much: just listen), how much of an impact a tiny bit of structure can have, how you can choose to go with the group or go against it but that in order to go against it there has to be something cohesive to cut through: if everyone is just going wildly nuts in the center of the room you can't cut that- you can only add to the cacophony.

I might be able to take a drama/improv class next term about storytelling. (The one this term was a circus, I'm sorry I missed being in a circus- next year?) Cross your fingers for me that scheduling works out- I'm really hoping it will.


Tomorrow I have the afternoon afternoon off! This is the first afternoon off in five weeks. Oi. That is not strictly true because I have had my weekends at least- I tend to use those to sleep.

Tomorrow morning we are performing in the foyer of the Barbican Center as a pre show for the "Ready Steady Blow!" concert. I'm not totally sure what Ready Steady Blow is, but it involves the Morpeth band from the Globetown project, the Symphonic band from GSMD, and I think some other people? I don't know. But in any case the 1st year leadership ensemble is finally having our premiere! We named ourselves 9lives which I think I told you before...(I keep forgetting that we have a name.)

We were originally going to play for half an hour so we have been scheduling all sorts of extra rehearsals in order to write a new piece- but then we got cut down to twenty minutes so we're back to playing the two pieces that we have already written. So we now have a tradition of writing a new piece and then getting it cut... but that is okay because we have rehearsed the other two a bunch and they're ready to perform.

The other pieces are "Earth" from the Globetown project and "D3" from last term. Since we've now rehearsed them so much we've realized that they are actually the same piece...they start out with a tuba solo, have a tune written by Nick, are basically a giant crescendo, have a dropping off point where it cuts out to a solo on electronics by Emma, they both have cello solos, etc.


But then I am done with Leadership things for the term! I still have the LCDS project and I need to do a little more work on the MapMaking project and then get ready for my Baltimore trip (Have I told you about this, yet? I'm visiting Baltimore for 12 days because Angela scheduled her senior recital so that I could come- how great is that?)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I am exceedingly busy

So on Thursday I had work/rehearsals straight from 9am-9pm and was late to a rehearsal because I had to eat a sandwich because I hadn't eaten anything that day. Oi. Then I was up until midnight working on my scholarship application. Friday was a bit less ridiculous, I actually had a lunch hour, an hour break, and I only rehearsed from 10am until 7pm. So not nearly as bad...

So the things that are taking up all my time are these:

*Work: they still make me tea and they always have cakes. It may not be a terribly stimulating job, but I do like the cakes.

*London Contemporary Dance Project: our dress rehearsal/performance is on Monday in the Music hall at GSMD. Our real performances will be in a week in a half at The Place which is the performing hall for the LCD School and they have proper lighting and all that so it will look cooler there. The rehearsals have been really interesting though- the ones on Thursday were in the largest room in the practice annex where I used to have percussion class with Neville way back in the first term. The ceiling is really low there so it was fairly amusing watching some of the tall dancers stretch my placing their hands on the ceiling. Not really conducive to high jumps...

The rehearsals today (Sunday) were in the music hall (and with costumes!) and that was nice because it was easier to watch the dancers and see what it was actually going to look like. There have been a bunch of scheduling issues though which means that over the past week there have been five different pianists. Not ideal, but it was nice to see some of the pianists that I've talked to before but don't see frequently.

I really like the other musicians our the little band. There is Pedro the Portuguese percussionist, Jose the (also Portuguese?) blond flautist (he can be pompous, but always has his heart in the right place and once I got enough sleep and food in me I discovered that he is actually hilarious even though at first I just sort of wanted to kick him.), Ellie the super cool saxophonist- I want to work with her some more I think she is really neat, Andreas the accordionist, and Naomi who is a very good pianist but clearly even busier than I am. We're a good bunch.

It has been nice to work with the dancers and choreographers but it has also been frustrating because the little glimpses that I see of the dances that I am playing for (3 of 5) look really good and I want to watch them! But I am playing and need to look intently at the music otherwise I will get horribly lost and they will have to stop dancing anyway.

*Composition class- I love and adore composition class. Fraser Trainer, the tutor for this particular little module, had had us writing backbones for pieces. A backbone is an element of a piece that is pre composed. It can be a couple of chords, a few rhythmic lines, a melodic shape, whatever. We have been writing two line rhythmic backbones. The assignment was to write a pair of rhythmic lines that went together and were between 5 and 8 bars long. Then we brought them to the group and had 20-30 minutes to put notes to the rhythms, arrange the ensemble, and create a structure that could be no more than 4 times around the backbone. So a very short piece of music- usually under two minutes when we were through. But even though they were short pieces they had to be fully thought out and realized.

Because they were rhythmic backbones the immediate reaction all of us had was to write something that was rhythmically interesting and/or complicated. I wrote one like that first and then I remembered that pretty much everything that the Baltimore Consort does is based on a backbone of sorts. The dance music of the renaissance was rarely (if ever, don't quote me on any of this) written out in an orchestrated or arranged sort of way. I know that Mark frequently has the renaissance ensemble at school do a whole piece made up of variations on an 8 bar melody. You can change the instrumentation, you can change the register, the ornamentation, the harmony, etc. And while frequently renaissance music is rhythmically interesting, a lot of time that is not where the interest comes from.

So I decided to run with that and I wrote a very simple pattern in 3 (6 8th notes, 3 quarter notes, one dotted half note- repeat.) for the top line and basically a drone for the bottom line. I found I was humming it to myself though so I drew a squiggle representing what shape the notes I was singing took. (A spiky little mountain range sort of squiggle)

When I got up to lead I made Emma chose the notes for the melody with no instruction other than the squiggle. I didn't want to determine what sort of key we were in or even what sort of mood-I just wanted to see what she would come up with while still following my mountain range squiggle. Heather and Tara- our cellists- have this odd ability to play exactly the same note without trying to- so I had them close their eyes and play the drone bit. They came up with a very pleasant harmony that was totally coincidental. Jo gets this great atmospheric sound from blowing through her tuba and then depressing the valves but without getting a pitch so it is this rattly/airy sound- so I had her do that intermittently and then I had Caroline and Kate do trills in thirds on their flute and oboe respectively.

It ended up sounding like a placid theme song for a vaguely threatening children's cartoon show from Korea. I was very proud of it.

*MapMaking project- we are finally getting started with this project in a practical sort of way. We have now had two sessions where all the the musicians involved (the 9 of us first year leadership students, a few composers, and a few assorted other instrumentalists) play together specifically works that the composers are trying out on us for the project. It has been sort of vaguely interesting- but at this point in the year and especially with all of the work that we have been doing with the composition class and our creative ensemble (Oh, we have a name now! We're "Nine Lives" 'cause there are nine of us, you know.) it is a little boring to just sit there and do whatever someone else tells you to do without having any sort of creative input.

The 9 of us (well slightly less than that due to illness and other engagements, but it was supposed to be all nine of us) went out for drinks on Saturday because we decided that we always work really hard with each other and that what we really needed was time just to hang out. Of course we ended up discussing what we've been working on and we've decided to stage a coup with the MapMaking project and bring our own ideas in because all of us (certainly me) are very interested in actually being involved creatively with this project as opposed to being essentially the hired band for other people's ideas. Just so not appealing any longer.

*Creative Ensemble- we, Nine Lives that is, keep volunteering ourselves for gigs that require us to write more material which requires us to create extra rehearsals for ourselves. This makes us busy and tired. What we're working on right now (a piece called "sixty-one") is based on a 60 beat cycle and variations therein. If you have 60 beats you can have units of 3,4,5, and 6 (I suppose also 10 and 20, but we're not dealing with that). So we are playing with that concept and working on making a piece that is much more static (especially dynamically) than what we usually write. Usually our pieces end up being a giant crescendo with lots of crunchy chords and while that can be neat- we're all getting a bit tired of it. So it has been fun to work in this other way but it does require a lot of counting, a lot of remembering, and just basically a lot of focus- because it you get off by one beat you can't get back on... (doo doo dooooo- sounds like a tag line for a horror movie about a renegade roller coaster)

Open Call

On Wednesday I finally got the opportunity to go to 'Open Call' which I have been hearing about and been dying to go to since I auditioned for Guildhall. Open Call is not a class or a performing group- it is a space for musicians and actors to get together and explore what happens. Open Call is run by Sean, the head of the Professional development department (what my program falls under) and Christian, the head of the drama department.

The format is different each time, but this past week what we did was each of the musicians (50/50 instrumentalists and singers) had to play/sing a piece of music or a fragment of a piece or an improvisation that meant something to them; and then everyone else in the room had to react.

I went first because I'm volunteery like that. I played a couple of phrases from the second movement of the Eccles Sonata which is very dancey and lively and baroque. I had everyone stand in a tight circle so that their shoulders were touching and played to them from outside of the circle. After a minute or so Christian came over and whispered to me that I should move into the circle, so I did. But keep in mind that this is a very small and close circle so my audience was right there. The next thing Christian told me to do was to make eye contact with the circle. People were very much of the mindset "I am being serious, this is serious" so they would just stare back with a totally straight face, either that or smile in an embarrassed sort of way because having someone play music to you while staring at you is a fairly intense experience. Then Christian had the circle start whispering to each other. I started faltering in my playing-I don't really get nervous for performances but oh my gosh that was awful. So now I sort of feel like I know how people who get a lot of stage fright feel.

One of the things that Christian pointed out after the first few of us had had our turns was that we were each allowing the audience/main group to remain solitary and independent- away from the group. I started out mine with every one's backs to me. The next singer started out with everyone sitting on their own somewhere in the room. He asked us to make it easier on ourselves- both from the audience point of view to be welcoming and engaged and the from the musician's point of view to be engaging- making sure that everyone is engaged and exploring how to do that. He pointed out that the audience wants to feel important and needed- like the performance couldn't happen without them.

As we went on we got more and more open to what was happening with the rest of the group. A cellist played and asked us to imaging that we were walking in a forest. We decided fairly quickly that we were no longer in the forest and (oh, all of this is non-verbal by the way) the music changed as well. Somehow at the very end of his turn all of us were on our hands and knees, aggressively rushing towards him. All of us. And it happened in an instant. The general consensus after that cellists turn was "well, that was intense."

A pianist played and we moved the piano around while he was playing. Christian pointed at the actors and said "text" so they started spouting Shakespeare. Well, Ashley did- Patrick started reciting a poem about silence which none of us really knew what to do with...

At the end of the evening (the class/session/whatever was supposed to last for two hours and instead lasted for nearly three. The building was closing up as we left) we split into two groups to write a short piece that had to involve everyone in the group and text. Hennrikke- my Norwegian oboe buddy started playing this totally schmaltzy theme from a movie I haven't seen so we decided to just embrace the cheese and make the piece as syrupy and ridiculous as possible. Patrick recited part of a famous poem that I really should have known but didn't about death and the rest of us improvised around Hennrikke's oboe line. We giggled as we rehearsed because it was just so ridiculous. Then the other group came back into the group and we played our piece for them and suddenly it was sincere and affecting and one of the other group got teary eyed...where on earth did that come from? We were trying to be over the top and somehow once the audience came in, even though we were playing what we had played only a moment before, the mood changed and we were all being honest with the material. It was extraordinary.

After Open Call Dave (of the dinner club) came over because he now lives far away from school and likes using my kitchen so we made dinner back at the flat and Patrick and Latana and Moises were all cooking too so we were all jumbled over each other on our little hob and Patrick and I were enthusiastically telling everyone about Open Call and Latana brought some soul music into the kitchen and we were all dancing around and singing and oh, I love my flatmates.

Since Wednesday those of us who were at Open Call have been running into each other around school and talking about how even if it doesn't get continued next term officially we should totally get together and keep it running ourselves. Because that is how awesome it was.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Happy Birthday Grandpa!

I have work/class straight until 9pm tonight, but if I have enough energy after that I will blog about Open Call yesterday (improvisation workshop with actors) and the MapMaking project and our end of the year performances.

If I don't have enough time and/or am asleep- well then at least now you've got a list of things to ask me questions about...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

An effort to make these posts somewhat shorter

I figure it is a good thing to break the screen up a bit when writing about a bunch of different things. So instead of putting all of Mommy's portion of the visit in one entry- I've broken it up in to two.

On Friday I had classes all day long and Mommy had a business meeting. We had the second composition class (which turns out to be more workshop skills and practice time, different from what I was expecting: but very useful and fun), a meeting about the MapMaking project, and a meeting about the Gambia trip. Also, I got one of my shots for The Gambia- no Hepatitis A or Typhoid for me! We ended up having dinner at this lovely Moroccan restaurant on Old Street where I proceeded to chatter away for about 2 hours. So that was nice. There was a dance party in the basement and Latana convinced both Mommy and I to show up- it was actually pretty fun, though I could have done without the fog machine.

Saturday found us on a boat to Greenwich. I now take everyone to Greenwich, this is mostly because it is beautiful and has tasty food in the market. We had a lovely time walking around the park (I love that park), eating sushi and Caribbean food, and gazing at London from the vantage point of a boat on the Thames. We got back to Central London around 6:30 and decided that we should really do something more with our day so we wandered over to the 1/2 price tickets booth and ended up going to a hip-hop dance version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest which was good, but not great. We also spent a lot of time discussing what specifically could have been done differently to make the production great.

Mothers' day: UK style

The US and the UK have different days for celebrating mother's day and for the UK that day is the 2nd of March. So for Mommy I decided that the best gift would be to accompany her to Heathrow and carry as many bags as possible. To be fair, I would have done this regardless- but isn't it handy to have it fit in so nicely with a holiday?

We had a very nice visit after she came back from Amsterdam. Latana was nice enough to loan me her air mattress- so in spite of having very little floor space due to a surplus of instruments and suitcases- both of us were able to stay in my flat at Sundial Court. The air mattress wasn't as bad as I had feared, but I think I need to invest in a second pillow...

Mommy arrived back in London on Thursday evening just in time to watch my first jazz/pizzicato technique lesson with Nathan and then Creative Ensemble. The lesson was fantastic and fun and I'm really looking forward to working with Nathan on our next couple of lessons before Easter break. In Creative Ensemble we worked on a riff exercise that involved each of us choosing three spaces to place a note in a cycle of 8 beats and then repeating that. What develops is a generally pretty funky, if a tonal, riff. Nathan then had us transpose up a minor third, up another minor third, down a semi tone, and back to the original. This was more than a little confusing but we rose to the task admirably.

After that Emma and I each had our turns to lead a short 45 minute workshop with material that we created. Emma worked a short 2 chord pattern and melody and it was nice. I like her aesthetic. I brought in a clip from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "On the Mountain Top" speech that I had transcribed.

I originally got interested in the speech when we were working on our Earth piece for the Globetown project. I was interested in how incredibly musical his voice and phrase structure was so I tried to figure out if I could accurately transcribe the pitches his voice was hitting in the speech. I chose a short section where he listed places in the world where people were rising up and fighting for freedom. The list centres around g#, a#, b, and sometimes d. Once you start listening for the pitches it becomes more and more difficult not to hear the entire 45minute long speech as a song. I wasn't totally sure what to do with the material- but I was certain that it was ripe for working with in some way.

I played the section of the speech for everyone and assigned a certain place name (Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Akra, Ghana; Memphis, Tennessee; etc.) to each musician. We listened to the clip a few times to make sure that everyone could play the inflections that MLK had used (and deliberated a bit about whether or not they agreed with the transcription I had come up with) Nathan kept the pulse on a shaker and we tried playing around with what order to have the place names come in. We ended up with a very short structure moving around the room in pairs and having a sort of chorus of everyone playing "Memphis, Tennessee" because that was the most rhythmic and fun to play. I'm sorry, I don't have a recording of it to play for you. But hopefully I'll get the opportunity to play around some more with the material- Kate was saying that she could see it becoming a fairly substantial piece involving video as well...

Anyhow- after all of that I think Mommy enjoyed herself but is still a bit perplexed about what exactly it is that we're doing here in Leadership town. Oh well, we're a bit perplexed at times too. It comes with the territory.