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A long and winding road

A conversation is something I relish, not chit-chat, not pleasantries, but a real conversation. I began my journey on this road slowly, because I read slowly, and actually I hear voices when I read – so a conversational book is completely perfect. My post about it is going to be notes, just because. The quotes below are things that struck me. When I was younger I used to buy two copies of books and sometimes cut out fantastic quotes. I remember both the top of p.105 of Sartre’s Being and nothingness, and p.84 of Great Expectations. That probably tells you something about me.

I found out about this book club about We make the road by walking  by Myles Horton and Paulo Friere in a very round-a-bout way and decided to have a read and join in. I purposefully did not read any posts before drafting this one. Bryan Alexander is the man at the centre of the book club, and you can read his first post about it. I didn’t want spoilers as I haven’t read the book before. Saying that, after I wrote this, I then looked at half a dozen posts and thought how lovely it was that people have all sorts of insights. I have notes and resonances, and glimpses. I will have more time to write after next week, and then may develop some of the themes and will certainly comment on other’s writing, if belatedly. Time is relative and flexible, I hope. Here we go: Read more

An ode to my teacher

My teacher saw in me

what I

could not see

in myself.

Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder for how many people does this ring true?


Why did someone see something in me, and why couldn’t I have that vision myself? Is it something in our culture? Something with upbringing? Some factor… gender, schooling, money? Or something internal -the ability to see possibility over weakness? Isn’t a child told ‘no’ thousands of times in their first years of life? I’m a thinker and will always wonder.

Regardless of why, it still holds true:1312969901_9b1d83f026_z

My teacher saw in me

what I

could not see

in myself,

and I am grateful.

Read more

Picture the sound… #MUS654

One of the elusive topics in music learning and teaching is expression and meaning. How can we work in one medium (sound) and have to explain it in another (words?)? Often the intention of the teacher and the experience of the student can be so far apart, and we may never know it. This week I got creative and a bit silly and set my class loose with the project of picturing the sound. Really – I gave them all sorts of dried pulses, pasta, rice, seeds, nuts, bits of cotton wool, cake decorations, big sheets of paper and asked them to create the picture they heard as people performed to them. This sort of invitation is usually met with two different reactions, often in close succession, excitement followed by a tentativeness and doubt.

Oh WoW!

and then…

but I don’t know what to do?

Read more

Expression, improvising, and the audience with Will Wallace #MUS654

I like to broaden the #MUS654 content each time I revisit these topics, and so here’s something completely new. Will Wallace has kindly spoken to me about his musical experiences and practices. Will is Director at Christ Church College Choir at Oxford, where he is also Senior Organ Scholar. During the half-hour interview he discusses improvising, dissecting how he learned to improvise, and points out some of the challenges he faces as an organist. How does he utilise the different sonorities available on the instrument? How does he achieve sound that fits the setting? Does he adapt if he is playing within a church service or for a certain group of people? What are the limits of musical expression?

Will takes us through an example of what he might do, talking through his thought processes as he demonstrates. It is fascinating. And, if you, like me, have never played the organ, please don’t skip this. I find that listening to other musicians explain about their craft, especially as Will does, in such a clear and approachable manner, is always enlightening and gives me ideas and inspiration for my own playing and teaching.

Many classically trained teachers and performers shy away from improvising, and the mere mention of it downright frightens some people. I challenge you to watch, listen, and see if you can apply even a small bit of what Will shares to your own instrument. If you have any comments, please share them below, or via Twitter using the #MUS564 hashtag, or on your own blog. It would be a pleasure to hear what you think.

In conversation with Will Wallace:

The video begins with Will testing out the instrument. Organists don’t bring their own instrument with them of course… I left that bit in so you could see – these are some of the behind-the-scenes ‘musician’ things that we don’t normally have the chance to see and have explained… and our conversation begins at about 45 seconds. Enjoy.

Remember on Armistice Day

This is an important day. We must remember, and for those of us who were not there:

we must learn. 

I will tell two stories here.  Firstly, I am reminded of leaving America to come live in England. Even though I thought we spoke the same language, there was so much I didn’t understand. Culture, history, different values, meanings, and traditions. It was a powerful lesson for me to learn that there was a universe of understanding that I did not yet have. I’ll tell the story…

When I moved down to the South Coast of England after my master’s degree in London, I used to enjoy going to my fiancé’s grandfather’s house a couple of villages away to visit with him and talk over a glass of sherry – it broke up the day’s cello practice, and he was a truly lovely man. A gentleman wise beyond words. We would sit at his old pine table Read more

Romantic composers and conductors: #CClasses

Join us this week as we talk to a composer, conductor, and then listen to what notable Romantic composers and conductors had to say about thier experiences in the 1800s. This is our last official session in this semester’s Connecting Classes project. I say official, because this session where we tweet our notes is part of a research project that focuses on three session, so the project will end, but the methods… Well, we will keep using them as we continue to learn and meet as a class throughout the semester.

This week you are invited to listen in with us this Friday and tweet comments, notes, and questions. We will be listening live at 10:30 am GMT, and I very much hope that will be the start of an ongoing conversation. Whether you join in with the live discussion, or you listen later, share your thoughts on Twitter by using the hashtags #MUL316 and #cclasses .

I have prepared three audio files (~18 min in total):

  • We begin by examining a conductor’s approach to Romantic music and the orchestra in an interview with conductor Christopher Slater (4 min 35)

  • And move to a compilation about the Romantic composers on conducting and approaching the music. You will see that I have used as many actual quotes as I could, and these are represented by other voices. 🙂 (8 min 47)

  • To an interview with composer and conductor Adam Swayne about his own approach to the score and conducting as a composer. (4 min 43)

I would like to thank the many volunteers who read the words of composers and their friends to help make the audio more engaging and easier to follow. References used to source quotes in the second audio file are listed below…

5528712669_0e0f77d1c5_zImage above, CC BY-NC by James Savage, Featured image CC BY-NC by Penn State

  • Bamberger, C. (Ed.). (1965). The conductor’s art. McGraw-Hill.
  • Biba, O. (1979). Schubert’s Position in Viennese Musical Life. 19th-century Music3(2), 106-113.
  • Komorn, M., & Strunk, W. O. (1933). Brahms, Choral Conductor. The Musical Quarterly19(2), 151-157.
  • Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 10:47 (1839)
  • Wagner, R. (1887). On conducting. W. Reeves.
  • Walker, A. (1987). Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848-1861. Cornell University Press.

Romanticism: It’s happening! #CClasses

This is session two of three in this round of the Connecting Classes project. What’s happening here is a different sort of teaching where actually you control the pace, and how and when you pause, reflect, and interact with both the content and with others. For this class, we have core lectures like many classes, but we do various things alongside this project as well. I record/archive all my lectures so that students can look back for a particular reference or find a bit of analysis that they might have missed or not quite taken in during the class. We use of an interactive reading list, so they can click straight through to the university’s subscription material and have the references I’ve used at their fingertips. This Connecting Classes project is one more way to engage, and for me it is possibly the most fun.

The idea (for those of you not in the room) is that we, who are in the room will all be listening and commenting on the three interviews below. We will use our own devices to listen. That means the room will look odd to a passer-by. They might peep in and see a room full of silent people with headphones on who are tapping into computers or their phones. I promise we are all on task! As we listen, we take notes and all our comments, ideas, questions, are typed and shared as Tweets. The tiny detail that makes this useful and a pedagogical tool is that we TAG our notes with both the project hashtag and the class hashtag:

#CClasses #MUL316

The beauty is that you (who could be across the world) are also welcome to join in when and where ever you can. The value of using Twitter is that anyone can join in, and with the tags, we can add your comments to our group notes. The live event is happening today, 4 Nov. 2016 at 11 am GMT, so you will see lots of activity then…

Let’s get to it!

Today we are listening to three interview with professional musicians on the topic of Romantic Music. They total 30 mins, and I suggest you give yourself an hour to listen and comment. If you can look on Twitter for the hashtag #MUL316 you will see other people’s comments too and maybe you can reply to someone – you may have the answer they are looking for! Enjoy!

  • 25961d_6941cf070a1542ae927abe640afaa362-jpg_srz_325_257_85_22_0-50_1-20_0Our first musician is Katherine Schultz, a cellist from Portland, Oregon. She speaks to us about practising and approaching this music in the following 10 mins. of audio.

  • 2bii-j-plowright-photo-2-reduced-for-web-page1Next Jonathan Plowright, concert pianist and Head of Keyboard at the University of Chichester, speaks about understanding and context within this music. He himself is preparing to record the complete piano music of Brahms:

  • 0lb7vgkcFinally we hear from a vocalist. So much of the great Romantic music literature is for voice. Mezzo-soprano and Head of Voice at the University of Chichester, Susan Legg (@susanlegg) takes us through the first song in a song cycle Frauenliebe und-leben by Schumann, identifying key features and explaining how the voice and piano work together with the words. She finishes the interview by performing the song. Beautiful!

I am hugely grateful to our musicians for allowing me to interview them, and for their willingness to share their expertise and knowledge with us.

Please keep listening and adding comments. This is meant to be a catalyst for further discussions and is by no means limited to the 11am time slot. If you tag them #CClasses and #MUL36 I will be able to find them and add them to the story! (I will share that via this website, so the public can see)


Join us next week as we hear from composers and conductors on their views about having their music performed and performing the music of others (relating of course to Romantic composers!). I am telling you the topic in case anyone would like to do some prep homework and come up with a spectacular reference to the views of a known or unknown Romantic composer on this topic for our discussion next time!


Featured image CC BY-NC by Smackfu

Romanticism comes to life with #cclasses

I am genuinely very very excited for this Friday’s session in my Romanticism lecture. Really. In it we’re joined by three distinguished guests who each bring Romantic music to life through their experience, understanding, and advice. Three perspectives by hugely respected professionals. wow.

It will all make sense on Friday.

For now, just mark your calendar for Friday 4 Nov. 11am GMT. Whether you are a performing musician or not – this is something that especially musicians, but anyone interested in learning, connection, and personal perspective will find fascinating.

Join us on Friday as we listen to

  • Portland-based cellist Katherine Schultz take us through aspects of preparation and practising.
  • UK concert pianist Jonathan Plowright discusses interpretation.
  • UK mezzo soprano Susan Legg takes us on an in-depth exploration of the first song of Schubert’s Frauenliebe und-leben, and finishes her interview with a glorious impromptu performance of the song.

They each bring the topics we have been studying to life. I interviewed them all – Today I conducted the final interview and am in the process of uploading the audio to (now) all ready for Friday’s session.

If you cannot join us exactly at 11 am (for example if you live in America and you might be sleeping!), it is perfectly ok to listen later and still join in our twitter conversation. Just tag your tweet with #CClasses and #MUL316 . People will tweet back and I genuinely look forward to the conversation unfolding.

I created this content because of the research project Connecting Classes, but it has become much more a way of learning and teaching for me than a ‘project’. The other day it dawned on me just what is possible with this Connecting Classes project. As a common theme in all connecting classes session, there is some sort of pre-recorded content that the live class focuses on during the session. They engage with it and tweet their notes. (We will be using the project tag #CClasses and our class tag #MUL316 ) In the original version by Jonathan Worth, he used audio content, but others have used video, and I don’t see why a text couldn’t be used – these things are made to be sprouted, riffed on, and remixed. Last semester, I created my own content (with the help of the students) and we used the pre-recorded aspect of the project as a springboard for what we were studying, to focus discussions and to lead us to external connections and resources, but also to connect to our individual interests.

That connection is key in my view.

Take our class for example. In this historical period, Romanticism, there is SO much variation and such a sheer volume of music. One composer wrote 600 songs and another wrote an opera that literally takes close to 24 hours to perform. As a teacher I know it is important to study a topic and all around the topic. How important it is to understand the application of the topic, and digest the topic, and then put that knowledge to use – but sometimes it all takes years to realise and internalise, and it can be hard going as an undergraduate. Sometimes, just sometimes, (just saying), studying the music of bygone times is not the most thrilling aspect of a young performer’s education….


and oh my goodness, this does!!!

As a student it can be difficult to study the music of an instrument you do not play, read, and analyse, and somehow have it inspire and move you. I want to be inspired and I want my students to be inspired. Textbooks aren’t always the most inspirational, but people and stories, now I love them. Please don’t get me wrong – I am not skimping on the content one bit, and I am a big advocate of research, journal articles, and primary source information. In fact the short interviews that we will listen to Friday morning will supplement and point to further resources and inspire people to make connections. Perhaps it will lead listeners to have an ‘a-ha’ moment of really find meaning in the detail and the process….

Mark your diary. This Friday, 11 am. I will post the content here and will tweet the links. I promise you are in for a treat. You will find beauty, simplicity, and wonderful musical insight.

I am very grateful for the generosity of my guests.


 image CC BY-NC-SA by philHendley

Featured imageCC-BY by Alan Kuruz