My first time with a professional orchestra.

Back in October I found my stress levels rising, the spots breaking out, and the ability to sleep diminishing.  My boyfriend came home on several occasions to me crying in front of the Supervet in the evenings.  All this was due to one incredible, but nerve-wracking, weekend I was about to spend with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

The project was an opportunity for selected members of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales to join the orchestra in it’s annual collaboration.  Rehearsals started on Friday morning, and culminated in a wonderful Halloween themed family concert on Sunday afternoon in St David’s Hall, Cardiff.  Now you may think, “that doesn’t sound so bad?” “what’s wrong with her?” “get a grip girl” — and of course, the sane part of me was thinking about how wonderful this educational opportunity would be, and how who knows when I may next have the opportunity to rehearse with a professional orchestra!? But the irrational part of my brain had these three main issues in mind:

1. I am a clarinettist – This can be terrifying, normally in an orchestra there are only two to four of you, so if you make a mistake, people know who it was!

2. Radio broadcast – They really shouldn’t have told me that before the concert

3. How on earth can I possibly balance all my college and work commitments and play anything accurately to a standard my teachers would call “ok”!

4.  My teacher – I know I said I had three things in mind, but I wouldn’t accurately be describing myself as nervous if the things I was worried about didn’t spiral out a little… Anyhow, three days before my teacher informed me he would be one of the tutors and acting as guest principal clarinet!

(Now if the thought of spending the weekend with your teacher listening to all your mistakes doesn’t terrify you I don’t know what does!)

The clarinet section backstage! Left to right: John Cooper, Lydia Clough, Me!, Michael Whight

In the end listening back at the radio broadcast to the short simple clarinet solo from Gounod’s March of the Marionette, I think how silly I was. All the stress and for what? Being part of the orchestra wasn’t as terrifying as I wanted it to be, and I really wasn’t the only one making mistakes. Instead of worrying about what people thought of me I should have spent more time talking to the amazing people I had the honour of playing with. Fortunately I calmed down enough after the first couple of hours to really enjoy and appreciate what was happening around me, a great experience. I sincerely hope that wasn’t the last time I will perform with them.

Introducing the Risatina Quintet (again) – Photoshoot

Is it possible for me to pretend that the last few posts on my quintet never happened?  Do me a favour and suspend your disbelief as I re-introduce my chamber group…  Or maybe just give you a few updates.

1501769_1453181744902451_229605868959079113_nThe Risatina Quintet, as we are known, finally have pictures!

This is us on the left, taken in one of the rooms at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (music campus).  We didn’t get a professional photographer, in fact it was all a bit of a rush.  In a desperate bid to get posters and flyers for our upcoming charity fundraising tour for Mind, we agreed a day and time the five of us were all free, and desperately searched round for someone (ANYONE) good enough with a camera.

In the end we used my friend and flatmate Will, who bless him isn’t known especially for his skill with a camera, but he was free!  In the end he did a great job considering we did the whole lot in less than half an hour between classes and rehearsals.

A few of the other photos I like are posted here, and there are more on our Facebook page, but although they are amateur, and some of them a bit cheesy, we have finally reached the point where we are first stepping out in to the professional world of music, our first externally organised recitals, selling tickets, making posters, websites…  And it’s finally reached the time where we need something to represent us, and though like I said, the photos are not professional, they still speak words about us as a group.




We are finding our voice, who we are as a group.  The module I write this blog for is about learning how to create a brand for yourself, to “sell yourself” as one of our lecturers said.  I think we are on our way to finding that for ourselves, it won’t happen straight away, or maybe it has, but with the birth of our new website we are at least presentable and I think, just about ready for the outside world.

And for a final introduction—– here is the Risatina Quintet official website!!!

21 Candles – Come Sing and Dance

It has been three weeks since I last wrote a post.  A while, as in my head I planned to write at least one post per week.  But I delayed and delayed writing this, not really knowing how to start.  But here it is!  My Remembrance Sunday post come a little later than expected…

Two or so weeks ago, I did one of the most touching performances so far this year.  I had the honour of being asked to play with my mother’s cousin Gillian, a soprano, in a recital at Winchester Cathedral.  It was a remembrance recital, about loved ones, family in particular, that we have lost, not just fallen soldiers as was the timing of the recital being the day before Remembrance Sunday, but others.  This one in particular had great resonance and emotion in my family, and I was so frightened of getting it wrong, of playing wrong, not matching up to the professionals I was playing with.  David Harper, a renowned pianist and vocal coach was accompanying us, and there was nothing that scared me more than a professional musician who WASN’T family, or a college accompanist to do a “real” recital with.

For me this wasn’t really the problem that kept me nervous.  I was secretly worried about my cousin, and what she was thinking, how she was feeling about me playing and what she would feel if I turned out to be absolutely terrible, and not the aspiring professional/conservatoire student/amazing musician I like to think that other people see me as?

(How I think I look…)

“I am a genius!”

(How I actually look…)

Stop looking at me
Stop looking at me!

Getting more serious, there was a very special reason why this recital was important.  Gillian, my mother’s cousin, had a daughter Alice the same age as me, Alice would have been twenty one years old this year, the same age as me, had she not died due to illness as a child in 2001. The weight of this recital was not lost on me, I felt that I represented my family, and all the wonderful people that we have lost, the sadness of it, and how I in some way represented this person.  But it also represented the joys of life and everything we continue to enjoy together.

The music reflected this; together we played Schubert – Shepherd on the Rock, and the Mozart aria “Parto” from La clemenza di Tito, both beautiful pieces full of life and joy.  I then performed Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces for clarinet and piano, a solemn and yet joyful piece that means a lot to me, as I played it to both my grandfather as he was dying, and my great grandmother in her later years, as it was the first “proper” piece music I had learnt up to that point, I then played it at her funeral.  One of the hardest things I have ever done, but something I HAD to do for myself.  It was to them I dedicated the pieces in this performance.

During the performance, my cousin’s beautiful voice wavered once or twice, and I found myself getting wobbly at the touching readings, but for all those nerves that I had about playing in front of the people that mean most to me – my family – (for they made up the majority of the audience) I could never have wished it to go any way other than it did.  Was I nervous about mistakes? – YES.  Did I make mistakes? – OF COURSE!  Do I care about them now? – NO.  The most important thing about that recital was the people I was playing to, it wasn’t about me, and sometimes when we’re nervous, we forget that it’s the people watching you that matter.  We must remember the people watching, and to them mistakes don’t matter, for they disappear once they are made in music, because they will only remember the music.

For more information about Gillian, David and the recital go to Gillian’s blog here and have a read, and see some of the photos of the lovely if chilly space we were in.

– Soundcloud links to some of the songs performed by Gillian and David

This entry is dedicated to all of my family, and especially Gillian, who is a wonderful person and musician.  Thank you for letting me be a part of this.

How DO you pick a group name?

How do you pick a name for a chamber group? This week’s primary task is finally christening our wonderful wind quintet (which has been running for over a year now). However, the task is proving to be a difficult one.

The wind quintet I am in was formed last year from a mix of people I know from my year and the year above in college, and though I was their third choice of clarinettist for the group, I fitted in with the silly, fun-loving dynamic and we have since flourished. High marks in exams, feature concerts in the Royal Navel College Chapel on the way!!!! But wait… how can we have a concert for a chamber group which doesn’t really exist? – Without a name we are simply “that other quintet in college” which quite honestly is useless on a professional level.

Would any of YOU hire “that other quintet from that music college?” — Didn’t think so. So! After months of ignoring this issue and joking to each other about names – some of my suggestions included ‘the Bell Ends’ and ‘Passing Winds’ vulgar I know – but we finally sat down today and decided that it was time to seriously think about names, and we have given ourselves this Sunday as a deadline to decide. After a short discussion with our leader Ali and struggling to think of anything other than the negatives, we came up with some definite DON’TS for us:

1. Don’t pick something that already exists. – Do your research. Duh. And yes I might have made that mistake and had to do a quick back track…

2. Don’t spell anything wrong – Unless it’s deliberate, though be careful!

3. Nothing rude/Puns aren’t always cool. – Especially if you have to keep that name FOREVER, just remember that, this name is FOREVER, and once on the internet, always on the internet.

The best pun name for a chamber group I’ve seen is The Breaking Winds, a whole other thing entirely, they are funny, they do great arrangements….! Just see for yourself (I’M A FAN).

I believe that a lot of this is common sense, and people may agree or disagree, or even laugh at me for writing this down (see the nervous musician paranoia return?) but these are mistakes I have made in the past, and that I’ve watched other people make and regret.

All of this doesn’t really answer my question “How to pick a chamber group name?” but it has certainly made me feel better by writing it all down!  I will keep you updated in the near future with a name.

To hear the Breaking Winds bassoon quartet find them on youtube

The Masterclass

This is my first post, and for a while I have been thinking about what I might say… I am a clarinettist and a young one. I am in the third year of my degree, I’m 21, and I am always worrying, scared of the future, what it might or might not hold (having said that I am young, Karl Leister had his first job in an opera house at 19, and Stanley Drucker got his first orchestral position aged 17). As you may have guessed from the title, I am a little nervous, I am even nervous about this blog post! Will it be good enough? Will it be funny enough? Does it need to be funny? What if I say something wrong? Or even worse… what if people are bored?

Yesterday I watched a masterclass with the great Karl Leister, previously of the Berlin Philharmonic, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, and he had some wonderfully wise words to say to us about how to get to the top, or at least where we want to be in life. His words made me think, about my fears of mediocrity, and failure, when he asked us what WE wanted from life.

Some of Karl’s lovely quotes included some very nice technique analogies “Walk your fingers, like a cat, over the clarinet, not like an elephant!” & “Don’t polish the floor” and some good information on editions and never to play Schumann EVER on a B flat clarinet “It must be on the A!” (note to self: NEVER play Schumann on a Bb clarinet). Though despite his often humorous and very technical and wonderful insights on Schumann and Brahms he made me think about some of my own anxieties in relation to my music.

“If you want to get to the top, you have to practice, practice, practice…”

We all know that… right?

“…and if you are happy being somewhere in the middle, then ok.”


“OK” is the word that struck a chord in me. Am I happy with “OK”? Of course I don’t necessarily want to be the best clarinettist in the world, but I want to be the best I can be, and maybe I am starting to realise that part of the reason I am anxious, is because I am not really doing the right things to be the best for myself?  I am honest about the fact that I don’t practice enough, and whenever I think about it, the permanent knot in my stomach tightens a little, and it only gets better when I feel like I have done enough for myself to be better. Perhaps because the truth is, I’m not happy being the average of what I can be.  Maybe I DO want the best for myself, and I know what I need to do to get it, can I face it?

Congratulations to all of my musical co-students who performed yesterday in the masterclass with Karl Leister at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Well done!!!