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.


Debussy Spraff

Hello again everyone! Recently I have rediscovered my love of Debussy, the 19th/20th Century French Composer. His work has always inspired me, however I thought I should write a bit about it!

To begin I present to you La Mer by Debussy:

La Mer is, arguably, Debussy’s version of a symphony, despite him famously (and openly) antagonising the genre. I borrowed a collection of essays on Debussy and his works from the Edinburgh Central Music Library, and one essay was on La Mer and what Debussy thought of the symphony. It’s regarded with different views, as Debussy has cleverly positioned La Mer between being a symphony and a message-symphony (a symphony whereby there is a greater picture or idea that the composer puts across), and hence why it is very hard to pin-point where exactly La Mer comes. The description to the video above says this about the piece:

La Mer” L.109, (The Sea), is an orchestral composition by Claude Debussy. It was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 on the English Channel coast in Eastbourne. The premiere was given by the Lamoureux Orchestra under the direction of Camille Chevillard on 15 October 1905 in Paris. “La Mer” is a composition of huge suggestion and subtlety in its rich depiction of the ocean, which combines unusual orchestration with daring impressionistic harmonies. The work has proven very influential, and its use of sensuous tonal colours and its orchestration methods have influenced many later film scores. While the structure of the work places it outside of both absolute music and programme music as those terms were understood in the early 20th century, it obviously uses descriptive devices to suggest wind, waves and the ambience of the sea. But structuring a piece around a nature subject without any literary or human element to it – neither people, nor mythology, nor ships are suggested in the piece – also was highly unusual at the time.
Debussy called his work “three symphonic sketches,” avoiding the loaded term symphony; yet the work is sometimes called a symphony; it consists of two powerful outer movements framing a lighter, faster piece which acts as a type of scherzo.
La Mer” is divided inot three movements:
1. “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (from dawn to midday on the sea);
2. “Jeux de vagues” (Play of the Waves);
3. “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (Dialogue of the wind and the sea).

I think that the piece is wonderful. I have listened to it many a time, and love it more and more each time I do. The sea is a very calming picture I think, but something so vast and powerful can also be quite intimidating. Such a thing that can manipulate emotion so incredibly will always be a great idea to put across in a piece – I love sailing and the water, yet even Debussy puts in a storm at the end of La Mer showing the pure, raw power of nature. Indeed he believed that music should be taken from nature, and more specifically the invisible components of nature.

Another piece by Debussy which I adore is Reflets dans l’eau, which is for solo piano:


This piece is once again about the water, and images on the water. The piano is also perfectly suited for a piece about water, because of its natural articulation as well as potential for big, sweeping arpeggios that Debussy, and later Ravel, loved to use.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy these two pieces, and please share your opinions on here!

Daily Prompt: Those Dishes Won’t Do Themselves (Unfortunately)

What’s the household task you most dislike doing? Why do you think that is — is it the task itself, or something more?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us HOME.

By household task, I hope one means ‘a task which is done within a household’. At home people put up with me playing on the piano (it’s crazy having a baby grand in a tiny flat, I know). It drives them up the wall sometimes. Shouting. The slamming of doors. All because I need to practise. Music feels like it’s the whole world around me. For example, I was walking through Princes St. Gardens today at around 8am, and I saw the first squirrels and rabbits I had seen since Autumn last year. There were noticeably more bird calls – some very elaborate ones could be heard.

This is what I mean by music being the world. Even though I’m not a massive fan of extremely contemporary music, contemporary composers use sounds and noises in their music. I find that bird-call can be surprisingly tuneful as well as noisy. Similarly, pitches of the whines of vehicle engines as they speed past you can also be tuneful. It breaks my heart sometimes when I have to be silent to let others work, I guess, because of how much it means to me. When there is silence I feel trapped in my own head. It’s true that there is music in silence – you can very easily hear music in your imagination. However, for someone like me who uses music as a means of communicating to people, it can feel restricting.

That’s the household task I hate the most. The silence of a working home.

Other homes:

    1. Daily Prompt: Those Dishes Won’t Do Themselves (Unfortunately) | Basically Beyond Basic

    1. Pipework | Perspectives on life, universe and everything

  1. The Travels of Zack | The Jittery Goat

Illness and ‘Home Blend’

Drat! I have been taken ill quite recently and have taken my third day off this week! I went back in yesterday and you forget how much work you have to catch up with after missing one day, let alone two (and now three!)!

I woke up at 6.45am this morning again, after having a night of restlessness and breaking out in sweats, and I realised that there is absolutely no point forcing yourself if you’re really ill – so I’m officially off for the day. However I did force myself to wake up at 9am just to make sure I don’t get out of the routine of waking up early. I just dread how much other work I’m going to have to catch up on! I will probably go in tomorrow on the beloved weekend to do so.

So I have to say that today has been quite nice – I have read some more of ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy Toole, as well as receiving a gift for all of us in the flat. This gift is a ceramic jar of Starbucks coffee grounds: ‘Medium/Moyenne, House Blend/Mélange Maison‘ as Starbucks put it. I have an unhealthy relationship with coffee. I know I do when I buy or receive a new brand of coffee grounds and smell them. Yes, that’s right. And now I don’t even think it’s for enjoying the smell, but for discerning whether it’s nice coffee or not! Trust me to be so ridiculous!

Now, what will I be doing today. Resting, reading, drawing, working, sleeping, drinking coffee, eating. Seems about the usual then. What really makes me sad however is that my cello isn’t in the flat so I can only play piano today! I wish I was as good at piano as cello, or even just a bit better. However today presents an opportunity for practising piano until my fingers bleed (instant reminder of Lex Luthor in ‘Smallville’). It’s just a shame that I live in a flat with people, because if I lived, say, in a field in the middle of nowhere, with no one, I could practise to death all night.

In the meanwhile, I will leave you with a piece of music that will cheer you up because it sounds so utterly ridiculous – a very fun piece indeed! It’s by French composer Darius Milhaud, and it’s called ‘Le boeuf sur le toit‘. I hope you find it entertaining!

Getting to know your Musical Self

Piano practice

I have realised that over the last few days I have been writing only Daily Prompt-related posts. Forgive me – I have been busy during the day, and could only write during my lunch-break. So, as many of you know, I am a music student, and I have been practising increasingly more over the last term. This because, as my teacher says, “it takes 10,000 hours to make a cellist” – so I’m always striving to put on more and more to my grand total of ‘numbers of hours practising’. It’s quite interesting now because, as a musician reading this might know, the more practice you do the more you learn about yourself.

I have a friend, a pianist, who has the wonderful gift of seeing colours when she plays. She practises all the time, and a lot of it in the dark. She does this for two reasons: to practice without watching her hands, feeling the weight of the keys and where they are positioned spatially; and also to see these colours more clearly. I can only imagine what it would be like to see colours whilst you’re playing! It could be one of two things I think – either that you see a flurry of colours that neatly mix and flow whilst you play, or that you see a blinding flurry of quickly changing colours that come one after the other.

Though I don’t know how long she has been able to see colours whilst she plays, or much about the colours she sees at all, I know that every person who “sees” music in this way “sees” it differently. I have shown this friend of mine videos of music that coordinate the notes to different colours on the screen, and she found it very annoying because it was not how she saw them at all.

I think every musician has his/her special features of musicality. For example, I have been told that I have a very good feel for Baroque music (Bach, Vivaldi, etc.) and the way it’s phrased and played. I have been told that I have a good and acute sense of pitch also (not perfect pitch at equal temperament, but relative pitch – for example if you play an A and an E, the E will be sharper if it’s in tune with the A, but if you play the same E with a G, the E will be too sharp), although this is practised and improved upon through practising scales and double-stop scales (scales where you play more than one note at the same time on two strings). It’s very important to explore your abilities as a musician, because then you can plan how much and what you are going to practise accordingly.

Today I was talking to another friend of mine who is also a cellist, and when I saw him he had just finished an hour and a half warm-up and was writing it down on paper! He said that he had been experimenting and had found that he was far more productive throughout the whole day if he did a substantial amount of warming up. Warming up is something I do on principle, usually half an hour straight after I wake up or after breakfast, to increase my productivity also, however not to this extent. My friend had done practically a whole physical workout to make sure that all his muscles in his neck, arms, hands, fingers, legs and back were all relaxed and ready to play. So I created my own, revised warm-up ‘regime’ for future practising this evening!

The significance of this however is that there is a plethora of things that you can know about your musical self, and how you best prepare for practising is just one of these things. Here are some ideas for things you should maybe investigate in the future:

  • How long you can practise for continually without a break. You could maybe see how long you can do this with and without a warm-up
  • How quickly you can memorize a passage of music. This is a memory thing – people with very analytical minds tend to be able to remember music faster
  • How good you are at sight-reading. Here in the UK, musicians are well-known to be comparatively good sight-readers to, say, musicians from Russia. It’s seen as a vital part of being a musician – the importance is shown, for example, in ABRSM grading exams, where you will be given a piece of sight-reading which will be marked and, in turn, will affect your overall score
  • What kind of lighting do you feel most comfortable practising in. I find that natural light is much better to practise in than yellow, artificial light, however I don’t like completely facing or turning away from the light source either – I prefer to sit with the window to either side of me

Knowing these things can help you prepare better and practise more efficiently. I shall be investigating too, and will be posting up what I discover along the way! Meanwhile, I will leave you will a piece of music: ‘Det är en ros utsprungen’ by Jan Sandström.

This is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. Swedish composer, Jan Sandström, uses Praetorius’ piece of the same name (well, the equivalent in German) and slows it down, as well as adding a ghostly choir part which consists of humming. It’s very much a Christmas piece and is often sung around that time, however I felt the need to post it tonight – you will definitely enjoy it. It’s not too long – just over four minutes – and for those who are going to bed, you can listen to this – it’s very relaxing indeed.

Daily Prompt: Happy Happy Joy Joy

Piano Playing

Picture Source

What does “happiness” look like to you?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us HAPPY.

 This will be short and sweet.

I love the feeling of absolute elation! The buzz, the exhilaration! Often when I go to see friends who live in Glasgow, and who I don’t usually get to see, I get really excited over the course of the journey there. Once I was going to a party that one of these friends was holding. It was around Hallowe’en so it was a Hallowe’en-themed party, however I obviously wasn’t going to take the train in full costume. This was a shame however – there was a surprising amount of people in costume the same night who were also going to Hallowe’en parties. There was a very good Edward Scissor-hands, and there was a couple of zombies too.

Despite not knowing anyone other than the guy holding the party and his girlfriend, my costume went down a hit. I went as a 70s rock star, however I was repeatedly called to as the ‘stoner’. I was quite pleased with the costume, complete with a massive, curly, black wig and an unmatching ginger moustache (the one that’s now attached to my lamp). It reminded me how much joy it gives me to entertain people – my friend asked me to play piano to entertain his guests so, reluctantly, I played a piece that he knew how to play too – ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum‘ by Debussy, which is a gorgeous piece it has to be said. Unfortunately this guy’s piano dates back to 1787, so he has to get it tuned lower to save the strings from breaking. This gave the piece a slightly darker feeling, but it was very enjoyable to play on still and I seemed to be entertaining all these people I had never met before.

Music, I have to say, probably gives me the most satisfaction, relief and happiness out of my ‘unholy trinity of creative output’. I once said in an audition after they had asked me “What is music to you?” that music is an emotional language, the only emotional language, and that gives me peace of mind at the worst and best of times. Nothing equates to the feeling of when I listen or play music when I’m feeling down – it’s utterly moving, often uplifting, and that makes me, to the uttermost extent, happy.

The First (ever) Sonnet

She sits at piano stool and plays a piece,

A Chopin Waltz, a piece she holds so dear indeed,

She plays in light, she studies hard at night,

and sleeps at 12 until next day springs bright.

When everything around may seem so dull

to her, she keeps a smile upon her face and gives

a hug to those who at the time are sad.

What thing may she have learnt, so wonderful

indeed, that through all sadness she can live

quite bright, when all she wants is her “good lad”.

When quiet hours come round once more, at last

she cries: She thinks of loved ones in the past.

Though she be nice to all us – gentle, kind –

she misses those held dear she left behind.