Colab – Final day!

Today is the final day of rehearsals and in one hour we will be performing to what will hopefully be lots of people at Laban.  My love of 90s music combined with ragtime is extensive however it is marred by the disappointment that we don’t have as much content as we’d hoped for.  In previous projects work has been more intense, faster.  But ever the optimist I am putting my best bright green shoes on to do this and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.  I’m very proud to say that I have never had a bad project for CoLab in my four years and if the worst I come out with is less content than I wanted then I can’t complain much.  All there is left to do is breathe, relax, and tomorrow I can reflect on what I would have done better.  In the meanwhile, here are some final photos from today’s rehearsals…


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Colab Day 4 – Bring the 1990s to the 1890s

The day before the concert and though we started our arrangement of a 1990s pop song into a rag we haven’t finished it, here are some pictures from yesterday that I forgot to upload of some of our workings.  For comic value but also for rhythmic and harmonic reasons we chose I’m A Barbie Girl by Aqua and Mambo no. 5.  For those who missed out on the 90s here are also some links to the originals.  We initially wanted to work with current chart music but the harmonies and structures are SO simple that it is impossible to turn them into rags without making them completely unrecognisable.   Hence the 90s seemed like a fun, funny time to look back on our primary school days and hope people still remember these songs.


Today we also decided to write a new chorus to “I love a piano”.  Based on the other lyrics and written together we had a lot of fun with this.


The beautiful Taylor singing “I love a Piano” for us

Ragtime CoLab Day 3

Today we finally began work on our song “I love the Piano” by Irving Berlin.  Although it’s not strictly a traditional ragtime its very much in the popular style of the time and we just love its cheekiness.

Here’s the original recorded in 1916


And here’s a later version by Judy Garland, adapted for Easter Parade.  In our own version we want to keep the tongue in cheek feel.


Further rehearsal was done on the Paragon Rag fortunately with Malcolm’s input to give us tips on shape and accenting.


CoLab ragtime Day 2

A slow day today, we spent all day learning the Paragon Rag, what a slow day.  Hopefully the pace will pick up tomorrow, we still haven’t decided on what other pieces we’re going to play but “Serenade” by Scott Joplin and “I love the Piano” by Irving Berlin are all on the table.  Basically it turns out that ragtime though it is easy enough to understand it is not so easy to play rehearse or arrange…  It doesn’t help when rehearsals are slow to get started.  Tip: not everything has to be discussed in great detail or it will take an age to finish anything.

Colab begins…


Harry, Charlie and Louis while arranging the Paragon Rag for a group of 9

Today I start the glorious fortnight at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance that is Colab! The college is becoming well know for its fortnight of creative project making that has now been running annually for several years.  It is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new either with your instrument or without, it’s about broadening your creative horizons and discovering new skills and learning how to work with others on a level that other musical institutions do not teach.

Now in my fourth and final year at Trinity Laban I consider myself well versed in the weird and wonderful experience that Colab is.  My projects have ranged from semi-improvised film scoring to cabaret and Klezmer, this year I am set for a week of Ragtime tutored by jazz trombonist Malcolm Earle-Smith.

This morning Malcolm kicked off the day with a lecture about the history of ragtime taking us from its origins in military music to becoming the most popular music of the day.  Plans are underway though we have had run throughs of the Paragon Rag and discussion on how we are going to continue to arrange it to work for the group.  Apologies for dodgy sight-transposition and iffy notes!!!

Stage Fright for me is…

fear As part of my music college classes like in most music colleges I have top lay in front of other people. What’s the point in doing a degree in classical performance without getting up and actually performing? It’s true. And though I love performance (to the people that know and love me best I can be quite a dramatic personality) and performing music is what makes up my hopes and dreams for the future… I still get horrible stage fright.

There’s something incredible about the feeling of being nervous. The physical side effects of the chemical changes that go on in your brain for instance; the butterflies, the twitchiness (in my case), the palms of your hands sweating… People get varying degrees of these symptoms and the severity of your fear can make performance impossible. Yet can we truly perform an ecstatic awe-inspiring beautiful performance without it?

Author and journalist Sara Solovitch and her recent publication "Playing Scared"

Author and journalist Sara Solovitch and her recent publication “Playing Scared”

I suppose like anything it’s about balance. Too much of it and you’re in trouble; there are so many musicians around the world who give up their performing careers due to the fear. One amazing example of this is Sara Solovitch who gave up playing age 19 and found decades later that “while my (her) fingers could no longer fly across the keys, my fear was right where I’d left it”.  Her article in the Guardian newspaper discussed her experience of learning not to try and remove the fear, but to learn to cope with it, to use it to make her performances, utilising her fear in a different way, learning to ride it.

However not all are able to learn to work with it for all kinds of different reasons, I famously remember the day a tutor who will not be named advised us “not to rule out medication”  as a way to get through a particularly stressful performance.  Some people were extremely shocked by this, but you only have to google musicians and mental illness or musicians and addiction for piles of articles and scholarly papers to come up on the subject.   Though the exact figures are not known there are a number of musicians who use beta blockers to cope with the stress and anxiety of performance.  Some who do have found that though the physical symptoms of the anxiety have gone, the ability to care about your performance and connect with it emotionally have also diminished.  If you are interested in any of the things I have touched upon in this paragraph please take a look at the channel 4 documentary Addict’s Symphony which is all about musicians with addictions, many of the musicians have issues stemming from anxiety and stage fright.

So… if having too much performance anxiety can ruin your ability to perform but not enough adrenaline causes a potentially “deadened” performance then are we effectively screwed?  I don’t think so.  While just trying to “relax” may not be an effective piece of advice there are ways of I suppose ways to relax into the adrenaline.  As Sara Solovitch said in her article she finds that the best musicians ride their adrenaline.

For me the struggle has always been very concious.  I go between enjoying the feeling of anticipation and that “in the moment” sensation, to finding it impossible to keep the intrusive thoughts out of my head, the ones of failure, not being good enough.  Though logically I know this is ridiculous, I always worry about whether or not people are looking at my thighs…  Enough about my thighs! –  Another thing I have noticed about stage fright is that the more in control of my day to day life I feel, the more in control and able to enjoy my performance I become.  I don’t know how much of this is conscious or not, but I hope this is insightful to anyone struggling with performance anxiety or feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  It is possible to overcome performance anxiety and enjoy the elation of performance, however long it takes however you need to achieve it.

Coping at University With a Chronic Condition

As I’m all about sharing great articles and advice, I thought I’d share a really helpful blog that a friend of mine wrote.  She has a chronic condition called Hypothyroidism, and auto-immune disease that affects your metabolism causing you to feel chronically exhausted among many other unpleasant symptoms.  This blog shares her experiences of being in university with this and provides some really helpful practical tips on how to manage.

I don’t have a chronic condition like Hayley but I grew up with a parent with some very debilitating conditions and I understand how much of an impact they have on your life.  Please take a read of this lovely article and please share it with anyone you know going through something similar.

Hayleytompope – Coping at University With a Chronic Illness