Colab begins…

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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.

ipsHow to Prepare for Orchestral Work

Hi all!  I wanted to share something with you because I think it is an amazing concise list of how to prepare yourself for working in an orchestra.  Getting ready for this kind of work takes so much more than just learning notes and this list gives you the perfect structure.  I am NOT the author and I take no credit whatsoever for this article, it is just something a friend of mine sent me and something I think many musicians will find very helpful.  It was written with wind players in mind but I think that many other instrumentalists would benefit from some of the tips!

Please click on the link to access the document it is a word file, it is 100% safe, please let me know if it doesn’t work and I will fix it asap!  Thank you!!!

wind part preparation for orchestra

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!)

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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.

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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!!! http://therisatinaquintet.wix.com/

Posters

Part of the reason I started this blog, came from necessity.  As part of my degree, I have to create a blog, show a few skills, all about publicity.  Part of this requires that I create a poster of an event that I am taking part in, so I felt that the most apt of these was the most significant recital of my year that I blogged about last week.  The 21 Candles – Come Sing and Dance recital.

Below, is the actual artwork, beautifully designed by my cousin Jess, of Jessica April Art, and below that, is my own awful attempt at poster work.  Knowing full well that I am no artist!  I kept to one rule – KEEP IT SIMPLE – simple colour scheme, simple image, simple information… So it is nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been I hope! —- but if you happen to think that it was excellent, then feel free to contact me for a commission! (joke, please don’t) Thank you!

Come Sing and Dance PosterEA poster

Music and Laughter

Last week I talked about my quintet’s struggle to pick a name, and finally, after turning up to rehearsal last Sunday and – despite my list of what I thought were wonderful suggestions – we have decided to go with “the Risatina Quintet”.  SO! Without further a due I would like to announce that the Risatina Quintet is at last open for bookings!

“Laughter is the music of life”

A little history of the word might help to explain why we actually chose this word.  “Risatina” is an Italian word that means to giggle, something that we spend much of our time doing in rehearsals, and on balance, a much better name that “the Sussurators” (A suggestion of mine that I thought was extremely funny, susurration means whispering or rustling, something I didn’t actually know, but I thought it sounded really funny… anyway…) or “the Pipeau Quintet”.  These were of course not really as good as I had thought in my head, and although Risatina is not my idea of the perfect name, its meaning certainly reflects our group dynamic.  Though secretly I still really like the idea of the Susserators…

If you are at all interested a link to our sound cloud is below! And more, much more vibrant and interesting music will be on it’s way!

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.

“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!!!