Kamloops. Creativity in the Open. Out in the open. The Wilderness stretches as far as the eye can see, and there is water in the valley, snow on the distant mountains, etched clouds above, and wonderful smiles to surround us on the TRU (Thompson Rivers University) campus here in Canada. It was an opportunity to push boundaries and explore. My appetite for learning is large and this was a feast.
The convergence of beautiful surroundings, people, thought, has been magic over the past few days during the Creativity in the Open event, organised by Tanya Dorey. It has been a privilege to share so much with these people. It started as a conversation at an online meeting between academics from diverse fields – a curriculum designer, a biologist, a philosopher, and a musician. It was our ‘play-date’ where we could talk and snatch a precious few moments to know one another better than text-base interactions allow. (there’s a story connecting that meeting to the event that just happened, and that will be in the collaborative magazine Kintsugim issue coming out in about a week)
There is an inherent joy for me, in being at a place and an event where creativity is valued, welcomed, and fostered. I knew that I came bringing something that would be new for people – playing instruments and giving them the tools to make some recognisable sounds in a short space of time. Working together in different ways than the everyday desk environment provides, and using a different medium to convey creativity – sound. I would be pushing people, but there were also opportunities for people to push me. Read more
Friday afternoon I walked into an exam room with my cello, with the other students, to play in front of the Head of Music and the Head of Chamber Music. What on earth did I agree to??! I wasn’t really having an assessment, but I had agreed to perform for a final year pianist as his soloist so that he could be assessed on accompanying. Do you know how long it has been since I have been in a formal performance assessment situation? -not a concert but an exam? The final recital for my MMus at the Royal College in London was in 1997. That’s before some of my undergraduates were even born! When’s the last time you took a test with your students? On the spot, in front of them? and were assessed by other faculty?
I did do a simulated assessment where I turned the tables at a concert in 2012. I was playing a concerto with the orchestra and I offered everyone in the audience the chance to assess me, using the same forms as we use for the students. That was scary, but… this was different. There was no other audience, and really I felt a different sort of pressure. It wasn’t like a normal recital. With a normal recital or concert planning would be in place months before, and certainly the week of the event, I would do everything I could to clear the schedule so I could concentrate and rest. As there have been so many other demands on my time, any preparation for this was really focused (that’s a polite word for squeezed) into a very small space of time. Isn’t that what it’s like to be a student though? Finals time is crunch time, even if you are well prepared. You are required to spin several plates at once, keep them in the air, and deliver well on all counts.
If you put it into perspective: What if a teacher was coming up to several deadlines that coincided, like submitting an article, revising a grant proposal, preparing for the normal lectures, and coordinating a visit from an external speaker from abroad. Ideally we would like to plan these things not to coincide, but when they do, it is crunch time and even when very prepared, there is still a sense of ‘this is it’ and the balance of tasks gets pushed around. That’s how I felt with this student. I was aware that his grade was at least partly dependent on my not messing up, and that meant I needed to prepare. Two days before the exam I was to be found practising at 12:30 in the morning. Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day.
The assessment came and went and it was fine. I did ok, and my accompanist accompanied away. I felt safe, and that’s the point. I was still nervous and wishing I had an extra 20 hours to practise that solo part, but beside playing the part, the overall experience really taught me a lot.
Firstly we should all have to experience being on the other side of the assessment table, exposing our craft or knowledge, whether practical, presentation, or essay writing to our teaching peers, bosses, and students. The students should see us do this. I need to be as good as my word. I need to be able to do what I ask them to do.
Second, I have a huge respect for those who accompany regularly. I know it is different to being a soloist, but there is a great responsibility to support, be reliable, be prepared, and the amount of preparation and commitment from accompanying personnel is often completely unseen. People just see someone turn up and do the job. Hats off to you. It is a jolly important job and I’m grateful to those who have supported me.
And after that assessment I had the biggest headache – mostly from only eating cheese and crackers for the best part of 24 hours and not drinking nearly enough water, but also from the rush of relief at having done it- and they weren’t even assessing me! …oh the perils of crunch time. Balancing plates is tricky, and sometimes taking care of ourselves is one of the first things to go. So many good lessons. …and when I do it again, I’m going to think and plan differently – or at least drink water and sleep!
Music everywhere. Cellos everywhere. Smiles, laughter, learning, good work, new strings, new learning. It is difficult to sum up what a magnificent weekend has just happened with 25 amazing cellists: students, professionals, teachers, children, parents – so many walks of life. There was incredible generosity to support from so many different angles- from a private donor, to three string companies each supporting us with strings, one sponsoring one of the workshops, and then there were the parents and teachers. We had cello cake and cupcakes! Oh my goodness… and the teacher who sat with the youngest students throughout the whole weekend to make sure they didn’t get lost.
Have a little look into what we got up to:
The recordings are taken with my phone as rehearsals went on (you can even hear me counting in the background…) and the music over the last few photos was recorded at the concert – by me, with my phone, while conducting. It was at that moment I thought – oh drat! I could have made a good recording with the zoom recorder in my bag… the bag over there… It’s tricky to get all the planning right when you are planner, orchestrator, director, and deliverer, and if the recording was the only thing that slipped, well that’s pretty good for me.
This last piece was composed by the gal singing, and I had talked to her and said we had a cello orchestra, so why not write out a string accompaniment? She made it easy, and that was great. We did not, however, get to rehearsing it. So only a very few (the youngest members) had heard it before we performed it. The thing is, it is a lovely song – about ‘our perfect world’ and the lyrics say – I’m dreaming of our perfect world, and you’re there… come, take my hand… – It is 100% positive. When we played it, the orchestra could be relatively together and in tune, despite not having played it – and it was a lollipop at the concert, not the main works, so perfection wasn’t the aim for this one – it was about the experience. But, because it was easy, people had enough spare attention to enjoy, look around, and soak it in. I had no score, only the parts, so I was looking at the players the whole time, and something magic happened. One by one, they began to smile at me. It wasn’t everyone, but about 5 just grinned, and I thought, This, this is why we make music, why we teach, what it really means to learn.
Ok, I get sentimental, and I admit to being very optimistic and enthusiastic, and it is without apology. I was moved by those smiles, and by the support of people – parents, partners, babies (yes we really did have a 2 month old baby at the Cello Weekend), and unseen supporters (Thank you Charles!). Thank you to everyone who attended and who made this weekend possible. To the University for the use of the Chapel, to the string companies: D’Addario, Jargar, and Larsen, and to the players. You are truly amazing.
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:
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!
Our 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.
Next 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:
Finally 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!
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 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 archive.org (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….
UNLESS IT RELATES TO YOU PERSONALLY.
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.
This is a critical post about performing. I take you inside my mind to illustrate the good and the challenges of performance. Going from the practice room to the public platform is something that all musicians do. In school, at university, or with a teacher this is something that is trained into you and facilitated. There is performance class, there are opportunities to ‘air’ the music first, but what happens when you leave that environment and are on your own? Do you keep it going? Do you still push yourself? Few graduating musicians are likely to play the same concerti they prepared for their final recitals as recital material and certainly not as regular ‘gig’ material. And what of the learning opportunities? When you leave your teacher’s studio, there are no more regular performance classes, and depending on what you do there may not be any peers to play for….unless you create the opportunities. This is the story of the opportunity I created, my thought processes, and the results. I’m learning in public. (Featured image CC-BY-NC by C Steele) Read more
People have asked when I would post some performances… Here you are! This is a live performance of Gabriel’s Oboe played by me, on cello, Ian East, sax, and the Addison Jazz Choir, led by Jill Jarman. It was recorded in a concert. The piece was composed by Ennio Morriconie and was the theme of the film The Mission. I came across this recording and was pleased to have permission to post it.
I think there is a sense that all musicians wait until something is completely perfect to post or share it… that brings in a lot of fear and also would kind of stop most people sharing most things they play. I decided to posted this, and will work to record more things in the future and post them too.
That’s where my brain is at the moment. Every year I do a recital at the University and every year there is a moment when I wonder why why why? I don’t have to. Nobody requires me to, it’s not part of my job. But somehow I need to. It is very important to me to put myself through the paces, to learn and do the same as I require the students to do, but it’s a balancing act and it’s no more easy for me than it is for them or anyone. It takes time. I’ve started waking up early, going to bed late, even waking up after everyone else has gone to bed. I think the music just creeps into your blood.
Practise practise practise! (or practice in ‘Americanish’ as my children used to say)
I very much enjoy the process, the sound, and having something to say – a voice – where I don’t have to have words. If you asked me what the music means, I wouldn’t have words, but it is full of meaning. I’m happy to talk about that, but maybe another time. Read more
Many thanks to Fiona Harvey for live streaming our presentation at the RAISE (Researching, Advancing, and Inspiring Student Engagement) conference in Nottingham. My co-presenters Pete – a current final year student, and Jess – who just graduated, and I were very pleased to be invited to share a bit of our story. You can watch here:
(Fiona says the best bit starts at 17:55 – that’s where we perform some music!)
We would love to share our story, and what we did with you too. If you think we can spread quality and connection through music to you, your students, or your community – please get in touch.
This morning a friend shared this, page 155 from the Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano, (it comes right after the Culture of Terror section and before Alienation). (photo credit: Anji Gaspar-Milanovic) I haven’t read the book yet, but it is on order. The passage struck me for several reasons. First it made me think of a story told to me by Marjorie Garrigue, who was a pianist I stayed with during my summers at Meadowmount. In her youth she was a student of Rachmaninov, and she was 98 when I lived with her. I can’t remember if this was her story, or a story told by a teacher, or just a sort of musical parable- but it stuck with me, and here’s the short version:
Someone had an audition (maybe it was a performance?) and there were only a handful of people in the audience, but what the performer learned afterward was that one of those listening was a very influential musician himself and because he had prepared like it was the performance of his life and still performed, really performed, despite the small audience – that night a door opened because of the impact the performance had on those two or three audience members. – I hope it was a true story.
and so the page from Galeano’s book struck me.
It also made me reflect on my own conception of performance, and how that has shifted and continues to shift. Sometimes people judge the success of a performance on numbers – don’t all paths in society use metrics? It could be height, weight, salary, grades, views, or any number of measurables. Can you measure music’s connection with people? probably, but I would prefer not to have to label it in those terms.
Some of my most meaningful performances have been in the most unlikely spaces. This summer during the Musiquality adventure we played in a racquet ball court and then at Yosemite I played on a giant rock. The best bit of that was that it was all beyond convention. In school we are taught musical conventions, and yes, these are important. Rules, manners, heritage, culture, and tradition are all important in performance, but at the heart of it all still is the music and when the music comes first and is able to transcend the situation then there is something beyond words. This can happen in many different settings – including a traditional concert hall with people neatly tucked silently in rows.
I am certainly not against that. There is not only one way to have a meaningful performance.
Lately though, I have moved. My perspective has altered and I find I am willing to ‘play’ more in music making. That is something that wasn’t necessarily schooled into me – we spend so much time ‘working’ that there isn’t often time to play. As a late starter, I was always trying to catch up to the others … how many thousand hours had they practised more than me??… It would be foolish to dismiss the work, but the play is still somehow necessary and essential. I am pleased to be finding it and beginning to share it with others.
So on that rock, there was no concert hall and one little girl climbed right up next to me. The older students and adults assembled in a traditionally audience-shaped mass, but she didn’t know about that and just came by me.
And why not?
For me there is a great value in that connection, and it is a continual journey – really the Musiquality journey is all about bringing quality and connection through music. It is about participating in the process and being aware of your own perspective and how interaction changes, challenges, or enhances it.
I still have many many stories to share from the California adventure. One of the best ‘happenings’ was when I visited my grade school friend Anji, and upon arriving at her flat in LA, I noticed that her husband had a guitar… and within a few minutes we were playing. I had not met him before, and it was so lovely to play – to have a conversation – and a connection, and the audience of one was perfect. My only regret from that evening is that we didn’t record the other songs we played.
Like I said, I am on a journey. One year ago I was asked to just play (improvise) on a live-streamed skype call, and that was a big step forward for me. This year I am comfortable inviting others to play with me. The thing is – it’s catchy, this making music with people thing, and I don’t think we (I) do it nearly as much as we could or even should. I know I am typing now, but sometimes it is nice to talk without words too.
Music . . . was bestowed for the sake of harmony. And harmony, which has motions akin to the revolutions of the soul within us, was given by the muses … not as an aid to irrational pleasure (as is now supposed), but as an auxiliary to the inner revolution of the soul, when it has lost its harmony, to assist in restoring it to order and concord with itself.