Day 156 – March 5th – Lambs

Lambing has started at Elmsted Court Farm! This evening, we all went out to the barn behind our dairy, and there were already several new arrivals. The lambs ranged from active and bouncy to sleepy little bundles who looked a bit bemused by their new world. Andy was amazingly calm and jovial, telling us all about the process and answering my reams of questions. We saw two ewes give birth, immediately setting to work to clean up their offspring. The lambs are amazing – often up and on their feet in a matter of minutes, and with voices to match. The barn was full of bleating, though mostly the sheep getting excited about the thought of food. Once the lambs are born, Andy puts them and their mother into a private pen for a bit so they can spend time together, and so the ewes seemed quite relaxed. I’ll definitely be back for a visit soon!

We had another chamber music rehearsal this evening, and things are starting to sound quite good. As I said the other day, our ensemble intonation has improved a lot , but we still need to work on settling into a tempo straight away and then maintaining it through the entire piece. We’ve been making sure that there is a lot of dynamic contrast to make the music really exciting…hopefully Trevor approves.

I promise a proper reflection on Julie’s class in the coming days, but for now need to head for bed. I’m off to London tomorrow to hear a piccolo masterclass, and will need to be up early.

Day 141 – February 18th – Le Merle Noir

Today was a reminder that there are wildly different ideas about music, both its interpretation and how we share it with others.

As I mentioned yesterday, the repertoire piece today was Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir, and I was genuinely surprised at some of Trevor’s ideas on the piece. He started off with some valid comments about my attention to rhythms in the opening cadenza, were I was taking a bit too much liberty with semiquavers in relation to the quicker note values. However, I was surprised how quickly Trevor conceived of the cadenzas – there was very little room in his interpretation for space in the musical line, and the cutting that I’d been trying to avoid yesterday was actually quite well thought-of. Rather, Trevor wanted expression through loud and soft playing.

The presque lent, tendre section was where our ideas differed the most. I’ve always tried to match the piano tone here, playing quite a stark, clean line. It’s been suggested a few times that I play it senza vibratio, which I don’t like, but I also don’t think of it as overly romantic or anything. Trevor, however, said it was a “big romantic tune” and made me do some quite big crescendos and diminuendos. It made for a very different piece. The final section, vif, was pronounced “almost there”, I just needed to aim for tighter grace notes and really clear articulation even when notes are repeated. Overall, though, it felt like everything had to be played very fast.

After the playing part of class, we has a general skills session on the topic of chamber music. Once again, I was a little surprised. Rather than talk about creative ideas for chamber playing, Trevor wanted to talk about the easiest ways to form a chamber group for the greatest variety of repertoire, and I felt that the conclusions he reached were a little one-sided. The logic was that too many players is too hard to organise, so wind quintets aren’t a good idea and neither are bigger groups. Suggestions of flute and guitar were greeted with some rather scathing comments of guitar players, and flute and percussion was considered “too boring” (I feel like this was only in reference to flute and marimba though). Flute, viola and harp has a “limited repertoire” (I bit my tongue here), as does anything including voice. So the conclusion was that the best chamber group to form is either flute, oboe and piano or flute, cello and piano, as that has the broadest range of standard repertoire. It might also be a good idea for befriend a string quartet in case they need a guest to play some flute quartets occasionally.

On one level, fair enough, it was practical advice for forming a core group with some staying power. On the other, where is the sense of adventure in that? We certainly shouldn’t all be going and playing 18th and 19th century repertoire in trios with oboes, cellos and pianos, because everyone will be utterly sick of it! Alongside that, we need musicians that are willing to be a lot more daring, to drum up the numbers to play new works, exciting works, and works that are going to define our generation of composers in the future. We also need people that are prepared to go delving into archives, breathing new life into chamber works from the past for more obscure combinations. I think diversity of music is such an important thing, and that was what was missing from today’s discussion. I didn’t dare mention Pierrot ensembles!

On the bright side, and to sum up a long post; I did learn a lot from today’s class even if I didn’t quite agree with everything I heard. This evening I made sweet potato and sage risotto with some of the others, and on our evening walk the dark sky was bursting with stars.

Day 107 – January 15th – Back to Class

Though we started a little later than usual, it was back to class today now that Trevor’s on the mend. Having had the extra few days to practise, I was quite confident that I could present something a bit more polished than usual. I’d also taken some more time to focus on my recurring weak spots – dynamics and sloppy dotted rhythms in particular. Overall, my playing was quite good, dare I say a step up from previous weeks. In a nutshell, the feedback was:

Moyse 25, no. 4 – Good expression, good dynamics, but accompanying line wasn’t always even when oscillating between C and D.

Moyse 25, no. 5 – I’d tried to learn the notes to play quickly, rather than thinking about “following each note with the lips”. Back on the menu for next week, along with its partner study no.9.

Moyse 25, no. 6 and 7 – In character and expressive, though a little on the slow side. When I get faster, I need to remember to accent the first part of the beat rather than the triplet in no. 6.

Andersen no. 11 – A few wrong notes here and there, but expressive and even. A little more diminuendo on the last semiquaver of each beat would be good, but at least I wasn’t cutting them!

Altès no. 16 – Expressive, with a particularly good cadenza. I need to watch my trills, which were too fast for the character of the piece, and make sure that my crotchets in the opening melody “disappear into the silence” like a lifted violin note.

Altès no. 17 – Fine, though could have been faster (yes, I know I need to learn to tongue faster – doesn’t everyone?!)

Moyse 50 Variations – Having spent a lot of time on these this week, Trevor seemed much happier about how I was getting along with them. After a few outings, no. 5 was finally passed (jump for joy!), and nos. 9 and 11 were “perfect”. No. 10 was a little harder, and it took a few goes for me to make the difference between the melody line and accompanying parts big enough. I need to keep remembering that for everyone else to hear a big dynamic contrast I have to be making a really huge, supernatural-feeling difference between the loudest and softest notes. Finally, no. 12 was “a bit unstable” and is back on for next week.

I was rather hoping for a bit of chamber music this evening but nobody else seemed terribly interested, so I’ve spent the time working on my new website. Though it’s nowhere near complete, it might be worth taking a look!

Day 80 – December 19th – Rehearsals

This afternoon was taken up with rehearsals for our concert tomorrow. The weather was lovely for our walk to Trevor’s – I can’t believe it’s still up around 10 degrees – and we were introduced to Mr (Robert/Richard?!) Scott who will be playing piano with us. All in all Trevor was rather jovial, and though there were still a few criticisms of our playing he seemed to think the performance would go rather well. I enjoyed the rehearsal, we’ve come to play well together and the jazz pieces are particularly good fun. I just need to remember to be expressive and less strict with rhythm in the beginning of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. 

As for the rest of the day, there seems to be a bit of a feeling of Christmas holidays already. I did a few hours of practice this morning, and am finally feeling that Boehm’s No. 1 from Twelve Studies is coming from memory. The lesson here is almost a silly one, but worth reminding myself of. I know that I don’t have as good an aural memory as some, and had been really struggling to memorise this study despite our playing it regularly in warm-ups. However, once I took the time to sit down and write the chord pattern under each bar, it’s all of a sudden coming easier. Though I wouldn’t have struggled to identify the arpeggios verbally at any time, the act of writing them out has made the whole structure so much clearer, and then hey presto I can almost play it from memory. Something important to keep in mind, as Trevor is going to keep pushing us to play increasingly difficult scale and arpeggio exercises after Christmas!

View down our road at 4pm!

View down our road at 4pm!

Though I’m not totally sure we will be asked for studies in class on Monday, I’m now into the final lap of Moyse’s 24 Melodic Studies, and am preparing no. 22, 23 and 24. I’d played all of them for someone at some point before coming to study with Trevor, but really feel that I’ve learned a lot from preparing them for him each week. They really are the studies when it comes to phrasing, melody and fundamental musical skills, and I still don’t feel that I’ve mastered most of them yet! Once these are done, we’ll be moving on to the 25 Melodic Studies, which I’m sure will continue to reinforce many of the same things. However, I need to remember to revisit this book regularly as well. There are still a lot of things I can learn from practising them, and I need to keep remembering to be my own best teacher and listening observantly and critically to my playing.