Day 163 – March 12th – Lambs!

Spring in the woods

Spring in the woods

An extra day of grace due to cancelled class, I did a bit of relaxing and plenty of practice. In the afternoon I took myself off on a long walk down a path I haven’t explored before. It took me across the fields and through some lovely woodland, eventually joining up with the North Downs Way near Brabourne. Though I didn’t spot any daffodils (I think up on the hills it’s still a bit cold) but in the woods could see that things were starting to become very green.

On the way back I visited some of our farm’s lambs – suddenly there are so many! The oldest ones are already out in the field with their mums, and round in the barn there are pens full of them. With the window open, my practice has been accompanied by the call and answer of bleats for a few days now, but I was amazed to see just how quickly the numbers have multiplied. The lambs were gorgeous, white and fluffy with over-sized ears and feet. Most were full of energy, and already eagerly exploring both their new world and each other. For some of them, though, play was all a bit too much and a nap in the sun was more enticing.

DSCN6250I often find I have a really good practice day when class gets postponed, probably because all of a sudden the pressure is released and I can enjoy things a bit more. This morning, I returned to a technical exercise that has been frustrating me – Taffanel and Gaubert-style scales with mordants on the first and third semiquavers of the descents. I’m not sure whether it was the Altès mordant study I’ve been working on, or my greater relaxation, but the exercise has definitely improved. I’m playing it a lot faster, and most of the mordants are clean and correctly-placed – which just makes the errors more frustrating! If I slip up, I can feel my hands tense up in anticipation of another slip, exactly what I need not to do. Most of the problem areas are up in the third octave, where the trill fingerings aren’t second nature yet.

Lots of new families. The numbers are to match the ewes and lambs.

Lots of new families. The numbers are to match the ewes and lambs.

One of my big problems in class of late has been inconsistency of intonation. It’s something I need to fix, but also something that musicians aren’t terribly keen to talk about! Trevor isn’t being very helpful, just telling me to listen more rather than offering any suggestions for practice. While practicing with a tuner and recording myself (I’ve been doing both a couple of times a week) do help, I feel like this area of my playing has got worse since I’ve been here for two reasons. The first is that I’m now using a much bigger dynamic range and being more daring in my playing, rather than playing it safe. The second is that I’m rarely playing with other people, which I was doing a lot of this time last year.

I think one of the things I’m missing is that reference point of others to pitch off, and so have decided to do some practice with drones over the coming week rather than playing with a visual tuner. Rather than beating myself up about it, I need to work on finding a solution even when I’m not regularly playing chamber music.

Tomorrow we’re off up to London for the final Wibb masterclass of our stay, though I’ll try and go to a few more in the coming months if possible. Then it’s back to Hastingleigh for the final whist drive. Time does move on apace!

Bed time!

Bed time!

Day 73 – December 12th – Whist

Another late night and with it no desire to write a long post! We’re just back from the monthly whist drive, which was good fun. I didn’t do as well as last time (back in October), but did manage to come away with a packet of Sainsbury’s Turkish Delight Thins for getting the highest score in the first half of the evening. More importantly, though, I had a lovely time chatting with some of the other villagers, and supper there was a lovely treat!

The rest of the day wasn’t terribly productive – I did a few hours practice in the morning, though it felt like I was just showing myself how much work I have to do rather than really achieving much. One of my Altès studies for this week is all slurred octaves, and I need to remember not to cut the second note of the slur but to make it softer. Easy in theory, but whole strings of them at speed is rather doing my head in! In the afternoon we had a rehearsal for Tuesday’s concert, though I think it’s got to the point where everyone is mentally a sick of the repertoire. Hopefully our excitement will reignite in time for the concert itself.

Tomorrow we’re off bright and early to London – there’s a coach going from the village and it means we get a day there for £10 return. I’m looking forward to it; catching up with friends, Christmas shopping, hopefully some time for the National Gallery. I think it’ll be good for everyone to let off some steam.

Then hopefully I’ll find a bit of time to write about the Rachel Brown masterclass!

Day 51 – November 20th – Day Off

Sheep and a sunset from my run this afternoon.

Sheep and a sunset from my run this afternoon.

After a busy day yesterday, there seemed to be a general consensus that today was a day off, or a day off practising at least. Even at the best of times, I’m not good at doing total relaxation, and so still managed to fit in a long run, baking flapjack and doing some of my written project. This evening, we all snuggled up in the ‘old dairy’ for a session of knitting and sewing accompanied by some well-earned bottles of cider. It was great to have a day (the first in a while) that didn’t involve playing, and I have to credit the others for suggesting it. I would probably just have plowed on regardless! Hopefully the rest will make for some renewed vigor in practice tomorrow.

As for yesterday’s class with Juliet Edwards, I feel like I learned a lot from the experience and from working with her in such an environment. We had been preparing our pieces for a few weeks, but had mostly chosen works that we hadn’t studied or performed before. Mine was the first movement of Poulenc’s Sonata, and others prepared movements of the Burton Sonatina, Schumann’s Three Romances and Enescu’s Cantabile et Presto. Trevor warned us that Juliet would expect us to know the piano part very well, and I had spent quite a bit of time on it as a result. Some of the class struggled getting their work together with piano, and a lot of Juliet’s feedback was on rhythm and understanding why rhythmic integrity (and occasionally flexibility) was important.

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Somewhat hazy, but I’m still in love with these Kentish sunsets!

My main point was also on rhythm, as I’d decided to play the opening demi-semiquavers of the movement with quite a bit of rubato. Fine, said Juliet, if that was a conscious choice, but I need to do it in a way that allows me to arrive at the next bar in a clear tempo. We worked for a while on setting up the tempo, and arrived at an interpretation that involved slightly less rubato as a result! We also talked about the semiquaver rests in Poulenc’s score, which are almost like a comma in his phrases. Juliet asked me to take more time with them, allowing for some breathing space rather than always plowing on. I have to admit that, after so much pressure and criticism (mostly constructive) from Trevor in recent weeks, it was good to be told by Juliet that she thought me a good performer, and that I was communicating my musical ideas well. I really enjoyed playing with her, and it was good to get another opinion on how things are going!