Daily Prompt: Strike a Chord

Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us a story about your experience or relationship with an instrument of your choice.

As those of you visiting won’t know, I am a music student. I play the Cello, Piano and a bit of Bass Guitar. For content purposes, I won’t go on about them, but another instrument that has captured my heart of late – the French Horn.

The French horn is a beautiful instrument. Not only can is sound brassy, and perform a number of fanfares including the brilliant off-stage fanfare in Strauss’ ‘Alpine Symphony‘, but can produce the most sweet, lulling tones which carry you away in the stuff of dreams. It can blend very well with other sections of the orchestra – a particular favourite combination of mine is horn and strings – as well as come out of the texture. I have a few horn players a friends (they’re handy to have around for non-horn-playing horn-lovers like myself), and I’ve played in orchestras with them several times.

I’m always amazed at what horn players are put through in an orchestra – we played a new piece of music in an orchestra recently where the horn section screamed at the top of their range for extensive amounts of time (the composer clearly had no idea what these poor people had to go through) – since then, we have been reissued parts where the string section now plays their parts following many complaints about exhausted lips. God damn brass players…

This is the horn solo from Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, 3rd Movement. This particular recording, done by the legendary Berlin Philharmonic, showcases the extraordinary range of tones that the horn can have.

Next is this extract of the Berlin Phil. performing Dvorak Symphony No. 8 with conductor, Claudio Abbado. This is a showcase for horns cutting through the texture of the orchestra, in this case with crazy trills that you can see as the horn players lift up their instruments!

So yes, the horn is a favourite of mine at the moment, I hope you see why.

On another matter, I am attending sixteen concerts in August as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, where I will be hearing outstanding ensembles such as The Sixteen and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform in the Usher Hall. Since I’m going to so many concerts it was suggested to me that I write a review on them. So that’s what I plan to do during August – and they will all be posted up here on the blog!

Other chords a-striking:

Summer’s Near: Let’s Get Down to Music

Hello everyone – apologies for being so late. This is my first post in around 57 days! I’ve been very busy with school work etc., however now that things have died down I can write a bit and share some more of my favourite music and talk about some things that I’ve been getting up to.

So this is Beethoven’s A Major Sonata for Cello and Piano, performed by no other than Jacqueline Du Pre and Daniel Barenboim. It’s a piece that I’m working on over the summer, along with the 1st movement of Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata. I hope you enjoy it – I’m not going to write anything on this piece yet until I’ve played it more and understand it more – and enjoy the calmness of the opening!

It’s June – nearly the end of term for us – and summer is tantalizingly close. My friends and I are feeling trapped in our claustrophobic society of musicians, and our even smaller friend group. What do we feel is the cure? *HOLIDAYS* Usually I feel like planning holidays kind of defeats the purpose – they’re supposed to be stress free and easy-going – however this time, I have pretty much booked out my holidays, promising myself that I will do certain things.

Thing number one is a family holiday to Paris. Family holidays, to me, have bad connotations; when I think of family holidays, I remember the many years where my mother, brother and I would travel around Europe and Scandinavia, and my brother would then act-up and make the holiday an absolute misery. Now, seven or eight years later, my mother and I can speak far more French than back then; however my brother, fifteen months my junior, I feel will act-up still. Maybe it’s just an association I make with my brother, and it’s unfair to expect that kind of childish behaviour from him, yet I cannot imagine family holidays going smoothly at all!

Number two thing to do is the second of two orchestral courses I’m doing with the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland (NYOS). I love orchestral courses – orchestral playing is invaluable, and you get to play some amazing music. That being said, these courses are a big commitment financially and physically, and a whole week of intense music-making takes its toll on your other work.

Thing number three is composition I must do over the summer for when I get back at school in September. Next year, we have to write several pieces that get recorded and sent away for examination. I set my marker high as I felt like my teacher expects me to produce increasingly good work. After conversing with my friend who studies composition more seriously than I, and who is a fellow cellist, he challenged my to writing a concerto-form piece for solo instrument and chamber orchestra, as he had done the year before. Of course, I had to take up the opportunity; however, we write in completely different styles – I write in a traditional, Romantic style and he writes in a contemporary, boundary-pushing style. As he suggested that I do this I thought that maybe I could combine the two and do a kind of Neo-Romantic concerto (abomination). I think that it will be a good exercise at the very least, and I look forward to doing it!

Number four thing to do is the general music making and practising I must do. During the holidays I hope to do some concerts with my friend, who is a flautist, up north near where she lives. Hopefully this will helped quench my thirst for travelling and freedom – it was the French composer Debussy who thought that inspiration could not come without travelling to different places regularly (I’m pretty sure I read that in an essay recently). In addition to this, I have new repertoire to learn over summer, including the Beethoven I shared, and my teacher is certainly keeping me busy.

I think that I’ve been in Edinburgh for too long – although it’s a bright, bubbly and interesting place I feel bored and restricted by it. Perhaps I need to travel a bit and spend time in a new place: it can only be good for me.

Ooh I do like a bit of Fauré

Hey everyone! Sorry for not blogging for absolutely weeks however I was busy in orchestral rehearsals for the last two weeks and I had little time for anything else. Recently I have listened to far too many Russian, hearty, gutsy and loud symphonies and orchestral works. I have resorted to my quieter, more conservative choral music. One of the composers I was listening to was C. V. Stanford, an extremely underated Romantic choral composer, and whose work, Bluebird, I am pretty sure I have shared on this blog already, however if not here it is again:

This is actually one of my favourite pieces of music and is certainly my favourite piece of choral music. I find it so serene and peaceful, complete with amazingly simple imagery of a lake (I always imagine it at dawn – with mist hanging over) and bluebirds. Stanford was predominantly a religous choral writer, writing for the church services and for organs, however this text that he sets is quite refreshing after hearing a lot of Christian texts that he put to music.

The second composer I was listening to again more recently was Gabriel Fauré, the 19th Century French music genius (at least I think so!). Most have heard something by Fauré in their lifetime, perhaps without knowing so, and his work Cantique de Jean Racine is a sublime masterpiece, one of his most famous:

This is very much a religious piece of music, telling of the grace of god, etc. Fauré had a strong belief in the afterlife, something recognised by his famous Requiem. This piece was written when he was just twenty years old, and is quite a masterpiece. I hope you enjoy these treats and I promise to get back into writing some bigger posts soon!

If you want to read up on Fauré then visit this Classic FM page: http://www.classicfm.com/composers/faure/

Daily Prompt: Linger

Tell us about times in which you linger — when you don’t want an event, or a day to end. What is it you love about these times? Why do you wish you could linger forever?

What a wonderfully relevant DP today! I was talking with the 1st Violinist in our Schubert Quintet today and our tutor had told him that we were to leave the first movement of the Schubert String Quintet and move onto the second movement which we want to also perform, rather daringly, from memory.

The second movement has possibly has the highest moment of harmonic and emotional ecstasy in the entire piece – quite amazing writing just as we already expect from playing the third and first movements. So here it is, or at least a part of it as the video does not cover all of the movement (if you’d like to listen to the rest either follow the instructions on the video or listen to other recordings):

In the second movement there is a moment of stillness, chords lingering in the air, creating atmosphere and tension. In music, atmosphere can often be created by lingering in still moments of the music. For example, in Jan Sandström’s ‘Det är en ros utsprungen‘, which I’ve shared on the blog before as it is one of my all time favourite pieces, the original music by Praetorius has been slowed down – it now lingers – and the soloists singing the words are accompanied by a humming chorus which, even when the chords of the soloists change, do not alter their chord for ages. This adds to all the atmosphere, and that’s why I really like the piece:

Sometimes there is a chord, or chord progression, with specific arrangements of parts and notes that make such moments utterly beautiful, creating a perfect atmosphere. Sometimes even the deathly silence that lingers after a huge, loud section of music is the most atmospheric. ‘Lingering’ in music is so important, especially for manipulating emotions of players and the audience. When there are such moments that you love you do wish that you could stay there forever, never running out of breath or bow, until the moment whereby it becomes too painful to carry on. It really shows how amazing music is in truth.

Before I end, I would just like to invite anyone interested in guest blogging on the blog to have a look at my Guest Blogging page – I would be very interested to hear from you! Thanks!

Other lingering people:

  1. A Night At Billy Bronco’s | The Jittery Goat
  2. Daily Prompt: Linger- What Makes a Life Worth Living For | Journeyman
  3. The Last | Kate Murray
  4. A Monday free of an alarm call is wonderful, isn’t it? | thoughtsofrkh
  5. DP Daily Prompt: Linger | Sabethville
  6. Daily Prompt: Linger | The WordPress C(h)ronicle
  7. S. Thomas Summers: Writing with Some Ink and a Hammer | There Be Leprechauns
  8. Shared Lullabies: An Adult Who Wants to Stay Just a Little Bit Longer in Her Parents’ Bed | Kosher Adobo
  9. linger | yi-ching lin photography
  10. after that first bite, | y
  11. When Do I Stay Awhile? | Cass’s Useless Opinions
  12. Daily Prompt: Linger | seikaiha’s blah-blah-blah
  13. Hardships will not deter me from getting closer to my love | Outreach
  14. My pre-game Pre-Game | The Bohemian Rock Star’s “Untitled Project”
  15. Daily prompt: Linger | The Wandering Poet
  16. A Love Affair With Southern Italy | AS I PLEASE
  17. Home Sweet Home | Views Splash!
  18. Step by step | Le Drake Noir
  19. Daily Prompt: Linger | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  20. Linger Longer… | Hope* the happy hugger
  21. Never fly solo | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  22. If ever | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  23. Love for lingering, drumming | Journey of a Culture Carrier
  24. Lingering longer | Sue’s Trifles
  25. The Trouble with Lingering | Wise Woman in Training
  26. Daily Prompt: Linger « cognitive reflection
  27. I see stars | littlegirlstory
  28. Linger At The Beach | Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  29. Lingering, all day today | sixty, single and surviving
  30. Linger | forgottenmeadows

Schubert Sick Leave – Competition Adventures

Lo – I have returned! Apologies for the absence of posts in the last couple of weeks. I always forget how busy March is every year. My excuse for not blogging is that I have had lots of concerts and rehearsals in the last fortnight. The only reason that I am blogging today is that I am at home, off sick, exhausted. Though all the concerts to do have not been done yet, I have until Monday until rehearsals get back into full swing, so this seemed like a good opportunity to catch up on rest and cure illnesses.

Last night our Schubert Quintet competed in a Chamber Music competition. We did the 3rd movement of the Schubert String Quintet in C Major – the Scherzo -, just a few hours after a few of us had competed in a Solo recital class. The leader of our Quintet won the recital class – he certainly deserved it as his musicality is fantastic and his technique is exquisite – and we all were very proud of him as we walked to the next competition venue. We grabbed some food on the way, ate, and then started rehearsing (again) – two whole hours before the competition started!

We practised in a small chapel, did plenty of intonation exercises, and went over beginnings and endings of sections of the piece. Before long, the competition started, and we went into the main hall of the church – a grand, ornamented, wonderous place in all honesty. After the first group performed we grabbed our instruments, which we had perfectly tuned beforehand, handed the score of the Schubert to the Adjudicators, and set up.

Doing chamber music from memory is unconventional to say the least, and when we placed our stands to the sides of the stage we got some chuckles from the audience. There was only one piano stool (cellists tend to prefer sitting on an adjustible piano stool as opposed to a chair) so I had to sit on a chair which, in truth, was far too low for me to sit on. We checked our strings for tuning. We were all out of tune ever so slightly. This really took us by surprise, however we tuned fairly quickly, checked everyone was okay and calm, then played.

The performance was a bit shaky, even though everyone said it was a fantastic performance, and there were a couple of memory slips from a couple of us; however the music went on regardless and seemingly these mistakes were undetectable. We received enough applause for three bows, and then the Adjudicators came up to our group and said “We’re speechless”. It was very exciting – we really didn’t think that we were that good!

After they had asked us a few questions, such as “Where do you study?”, “How long have you been playing together?” and “Will you be doing all fifty-five minutes of the piece by memory?”, we sat down and watched the last group (there were only three groups as the other six had withdrawn!) perform. In all honesty, this trio of musicians were outstanding. They played this practically unknown “Fantasy Trio” for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. They were all post-grad music students, and their performance was very refined indeed.

In the end, the trio and our Quintet were both given an “Outstanding” mark by the Adjudicators, however the trio received the medal. We all agreed that our performance was far from perfect. In truth, little things can throw you off your game. In this case, the surprise of our instruments being out of tune after we had tuned them was probably the thing was distracted us. That being said, my advice to all musicians performing chamber music is this:

Always remember that you are playing music.

Music is expressive art at the height of its glory.

In the end, everyone has to express themselves when playing music.

Feel the connection with your fellow musicians.

There is a known phenomenon amongst musicians:

When you cut out all your visual senses,

(Which take a lot of energy from the brain),

Your other senses take over, and are heightened,

If you can feel this all the time you have entered a whole different realm of music-making,

And I assure you that you will never feel the same about music again.

End-of-week Music-making

Hello everyone! Today I have had a really amazing day, possibly the best I’ve had all year. I had a Schubert String Quintet rehearsal from 12.30-7.30pm today. By the end, we said that we could have gone on for twice that.

It was really sunny today in Edinburgh – quite extraordinarily so actually. We were slow to start the rehearsal, so we properly started at about 1pm in the Chapel which is amazing to play chamber music in. Because we knew we had ages to rehearse, we decided to take loads of time to do intonation warm-ups as a group, and we did scales in C and Db Major (the two main key signatures of the Schubert String Quintet), whole tones scales in both of those keys, and then chordal whole tone scales (which are fantastic to warm up with).

We rehearsed mainly the 3rd movement, as we have a lunchtime concert and a competition in which we are playing the 3rd movement; however we did also play the 1st movement (ah, the joys). Anyways, we had plenty of breaks, lots of fun, and it was generally amazing!

The part I must tell you about is what happened in the final two hours of the rehearsal. We were doing the 3rd movement – the Scherzo (lively, fast and upbeat) and the Trio (slower, relaxed, sad but utterly gorgeous) – and a friend of ours who is doing the 1st movement came in to listen to our rehearsal. We decided to do both the lunchtime concert and the competition by memory, which is quite unconventional for chamber music; however this gives us an even better connection with each other which is ultimately what chamber music is all about.

When our friend had left we asked her to switch the lights off, and we played in total darkness, starting with the gorgeous Trio. We were so in our own world. With our eyes closed, we felt this “sixth sense” that is, in truth, possibly the most phenomenal thing about playing chamber music in the dark, and all of our entries that we would have usually looked at each other for were perfectly together! We were so into the music, we ended up going onto the Scherzo for the second time (it comes back to it after the Trio) and finished the piece, with only a few memory slips.

All in all, it was fantastic, and these “Schubert Saturdays” will certainly be happening again soon.

Out-and-About of Shape, with Schubert

I haven’t been for a run in weeks! If I don’t run, I start to feel very self-conscious about my weight as I don’t do any other exercise other than walking everywhere. I’m not fat – in fact I’m quite tall and skinny – however it’s just the whole self-confidence aspect that’s causing me problems right now. Unfortunately I don’t have suitable running shoes at the moment as my previous ones have lost the spring in the sole from use. It’s quite funny as most of my friends think I’m crazy in that I like running the most out of any kind of exercise or sport (although I love tennis as well).

I’m generally not a sporty person, mainly because I don’t like the competitive aspect of it. I hate conflict and disputes. Running, on the other hand, can easily be both, and I go running to free my mind and relax myself. When I go running with friends, it’s a nice time too, primarily because of the laughs we have as one of our number starts complaining about getting out of breath.

Recently I started swimming again, although I have bad knees sometimes which means that it’s painful to kick in the water repeatedly. I like swimming lengths on days when I can (i.e. when I don’t have knee pain); however because I’m out of practice I get tired more easily than I previously would. This may seem a stupid thing to be worried about but it’s had a knock-on effect on my confidence, because when I go swimming with my friends I see them zooming up and down the pool and it makes me feel so a) useless and b) unfit. However, I was initially confused about why this was as well, because I’ve got good stamina for running and I barely get out of breath. Confusing…

So, my two goals for these next couple of weeks are:

  1. Get new trainers for running – vital that I get back to running regularly to maintain my confidence, relaxed mood, concentration capacity and fitness
  2. Stop worrying in the mean time!

Now for the music part of the post…

On Saturday I have a long day of rehearsals, which are actually completely voluntary and have been made just within ourselves. I have a band rehearsal from 10am till 12pm, in a new rehearsal space which is exciting! Then, after half an hour for lunch, I have several hours of Schubert String Quintet with four friends!

Ah, Schubert String Quintet – how amazing you are! If you’re not familiar with the Schubert String Quintet in C Major, you can find it here. It is, in all seriousness, a fantastic piece, so please listen if you’re at all interested!

I was talking to one of my best friends today (she plays 2nd Violin in our Schubert Quintet), and how she found the 1st Violinist, Violist and 1st Cellist (not me – I’m playing 2nd in this particular quintet) overwhelming. She is the only lady in the quintet, and is also the second youngest (after me – the youngest), so I can understand how she could feel overwhelmed. It’s also because of the intensity of the dedication that these three guys have to the piece – it’s always in the forefront of their minds. For us two, the Schubert String Quintet is perfection, however we love it – we’re not obsessed with it.

Sometimes in Schubert rehearsals I too feel overwhelmed. The other three guys take the lead of each rehearsal, ultimately making a larger impact on the decisions we make as a group. I contribute often, and my cello tutor is also our chamber music tutor for the Schubert Quintet, so I have been taught in such a way that means that my teacher and I have similar tastes in style. This means that when she comes in to guide the rehearsal once a week, contributions I make tend to be what she ould say. Theoretically this should save us a lot of time, doing things that sound better in advance; however the three guys also have different natural tastes, which means that they won’t initially think of a different way of doing it, even if my suggestions may ultimately sound better.

Goals in the next couple of weeks regarding Schubert are:

  1. See what I can do to make 2nd Violin’s and my suggestions more influential within rehearsals
  2. Gain a mini-score of the whole piece, and go through it with possible interpretations
  3. REMAIN CALM IN THE MEANWHILE

As always I hope you all have a nice evening!