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...