Monday, 30 October 2017

A domestic few days away preparing for next week..........Yorkshire Song School !

I just had a lovely, if fleeting visit to Sussex to see the family, and most enjoyable it was too. I flew on the early morning plane to Gatwick after a 3am start, knowing that my grandchildren would be up and ready to go by the time I arrived in Arundel. I of course, would be wilting a little after travelling, but they always give me a boost of energy ! We chilled for an hour or so, then lunched in Chichester before my first experience of an iMax cinema showing ! Thor - Ragnorak was the dish of the day, and I was terrified that stuff was coming right for me before the actual film started. The children were hysterical as I tried to cover my face from the flying letters and pictures hurling themselves at me quite possibly at 100 miles per hour ! It was quite an experience I can tell you. I was in sensory overload the best part of the day !

We had a light supper then watched another movie, during which I fell gently to sleep ! I awoke and was ushered off to bed after my long, long day ! The following morning I still felt as if I was seeing Vikings at war, and flailing hammers but after a good cooked breakfast the children and I transferred to my daughter's car to be whisked off to Chichester for a shopping trip ! Much ready cash later we arrived back at home and then went to view a house which they are trying to buy. A delightful old cottage in Graffham which needs everything doing to it inside but has a wonderfully quirky layout and a huge tract of land with a stream at the bottom of the garden. The cost of houses these days is enough to bring on a heart attack, and I hope they can find a way to do it. Young folk have a very hard time trying to own a home these days.......

I flew back to Inverness on the last flight on Saturday, went shopping to Tesco then drove back to Paradise, arriving around 1am. There were so many deer, large and magnificent stags owning the road and staring me down. It is a magical journey late at night when there is no other traffic, the pines are sparkling with dew or early frost and the moon is on the water. 

I spent Sunday recovering  and preparing for my week to come. Next Saturday I and the ladies are off to Littlebeck near Whitby for a week of singing with my friends from the north of England. I am looking forward to it very much and hoping to hear some fine singing. My lot are ready for the starting gun ! It will be a feast of repertoire and a real treat. So in reality, this last weekend was a lovely song free rest before the game on next week !

K has just sent me this - a picture of things to come ? I hope not ! It is positively terrifying !

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Dido and Aeneas begins in earnest......

We had a Dido and Aeneas mini rehearsal today ! My Belinda is M who played Patience in the last show, and she is now away at boarding school so comes home for weekends and half terms which is when she can have a lesson ! I can get my Dido and Aeneas on a Saturday afternoon after they have finished work, so we set to with a will and cracked some of the tricky conversational passages ! 

The style is very far from Gilbert and Sullivan or Britten and it is a big challenge for my young singers. They will do it brilliantly in the end, but a Purcell style is, at first hearing, quite tough to grasp. The recit passages, which are recit and yet are not as they are 'in time' so to speak need some explaining ! Also the text is very tricky, i.e. ' See, upon my spear a monsters head lies bleeding, with tushes more than Venus' huntsman ever tear' !! Now there is a sentence and a half ! My youngsters are utterly fantastic and once these archaic words are translated into modern parlance they take off and sing with a will!

We got halfway through which gave the three principals plenty of work to do, and retired to the living room to discuss such important things as Greek style dresses, colour schemes for 'good' and 'evil', and how unusual this opera is in that evil triumphs.

It is such beautiful music, and when it is soaked in their bones they will love it as much as I do. Such word painting and such wonderfully sad melodies, and the most poignant final chorus....

'With drooping wings ye cupids come, and scatter roses on her tomb. Soft and gentle is her heart. Keep here keep watch and never, never part'


A beautiful rendition of the final chorus, directed by Anna Pope with whom I taught for many years at the JRAM.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

I take my hat off to the lady who worked her socks off !

I have a few new pupils this term and they are now settling down into the routine of lessons and practise. Two of these are a mother and daughter L and C. Mum is an asthma sufferer and this obviously impacts directly upon her breathing. I have taught a number of asthmatics in my life ranging from serious and life threatening brittle asthma to less complicated and intermittent lighter sufferers. Singing can be a real plus for this illness, we aim to combine excellent posture with open and free airways and low abdominal breathing - all of these elements help the asthmatic a good deal.

Last week I taught the first seeds of abdominal, low intake of breath to L hoping that it would be the beginning of her breathing journey. She had real difficulty in even reaching the bottom of a simple scale as her ability to control the air column was very impaired. When we breath too high in the chest we are relying upon all the parts of the airway which are most seriously impacted by asthma - so if one can slow down and lower the intake to the abdomen we almost bypass the tricky area. 

L came back yesterday and I was stunned. She could sing down a scale and have air left at the end, and this never wavered as she sang different vowels and rose in key ! She told me that she had really worked very hard to master this during the week - and clearly she had ! It was a small miracle and we were both delighted and proud of this huge achievement! It is always such a pleasure when something so important falls into place - I generally don't expect it to happen in a week however, so this was a huge milestone for her.

I tell all my pupils that learning to breathe is a 10 year journey, well maybe I am wrong........and perhaps with the added benefit of helping a physical difficulty we can move mountains if we throw everything we have at it !

I told her she claimed the prize for my 'most improved pupil of the week'. Well done that lady I take my hat off to you !

A shorter day today because it is the school half term here in Paradise, so many of the children are on holiday. The adults love their lessons so much ( Ha Ha) they want to carry on through the holiday weeks, which is great since we have much happening this term before we reach Christmas. Wednesday is my last teaching day and it also incorporates Teatime, when the stalwart ladies take an hour out and sit, drink tea, coffee, herbal stuff and even plain hot water, and eat delicious baking by E. it is a lovely part of the week and winds me down gently. Today E is not coming so we may have to make do with the drinks only ! Oh no !

My days off are quite empty this week, which is much appreciated after the last hectic week. I will have to do housework however - how inconsiderate of my young pupil weekly cleaner to be on holiday !! 

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Bach is King and other things.......

Another teaching week done, the time just flies by.......and all that we have to accomplish in the next 8 weeks seems like Ben Nevis. I know, however, that it will come and it will happen, and life will go on.

Lots of folk, young and not so young have been laid low with bad throats and aches and pains, this time of year is very hard, I think it is the change of weather and air pressure or maybe the winter is a cumen in  rather than Summer is a cumen in!! The weather has been wild, windy and wet so even going from house to car was a wet experience.

There is some great repertoire happening for those with voices including the magnificent Buss und Reu from the Matthew Passion by Bach. N is going to use this for one of her audition pieces. At the RAM one must sing an aria with recitative and this covers all the bases. She adores it, it shows a very solid and excellent technique, and is an aria and recit ! Good audition material is vital - it must show all your strengths and none of your weaknesses, must be well known so one can almost go on to auto pilot when the nerves kick in, and must be very varied. I have always had something of a talent for picking audition rep - I can't bake or play tennis but I can choose a programme to make the panel sit up a bit. Fingers crossed for this year's candidate !

Today it was a disaster of bad throats and pale faces until S came along at 4pm and bounced into the music room like a Labrador puppy ! It was a breath of fresh air which was such a vocal lift after all the illness! S is a very talented 'tiny' she sings full pelt but never shouting, and with the most monumental enthusiasm. She is taking her Initial Singing Exam in November and I feel sure she will uplift any examiner who has a heart and half a brain ! 

L is taking her Grade 4 piano this term  as well and she was also fit and well for her lesson, and having done a good deal of practise I think we are very close to being over the 'wall' so to speak ! She has a real facility for the piano and if we can do better at the aural tests I think she should do very well.

I am pretty full diary wise over my free days, but all nice things - coffee, dinner and an Indian meal, a day shopping in Inverness and maybe more ( that I can't remember as I write).  Anyhow I am looking forward to my time off and have written my shopping list for Saturday !

Well done everyone this week, and to those who are not 100% - get better !

Saturday, 30 September 2017

An All New Baritone !

What excitement ! I had a delighted and utterly thrilled young man for his lesson yesterday ! J, who travels from Cromarty to Paradise every other week for a lesson is now 13 going on 14 and his voice has broken. In his lesson three weeks ago it was most definitely on the way down, but yesterday I have the most scrumptious baby baritone with a range of about 11/12th ! He was always a boy Alto in terms of quality of sound and his voice was quite breathy and heavy. It was a difficult treble voice to handle ! He has persevered and persevered even with all the trickiness of his youthful voice and now has sailed straight into a completely non breathy and easy to use baritone voice !

I think he is walking on air, or at least singing on air ! The range has already stretched from a good C # below middle C to the E above middle C which is quite remarkable in the time. So this meant straight away he could be given 'proper' male songs with a bit of humour and strength. I gave him the jolly 'Man is for Woman Made' by Purcell with all its fun lyrics, and the timeless 'Sea Fever' - what joy this was, and his 45 minutes flew by in a flurry of loud and healthy singing and many smiles and chuckles ! 

It is always such a worry as well as an excitement when a treble voice is breaking - a mysterious journey with an unknown world at the end of that journey. The really thrilling thing is that I am pretty sure that J will not have to take any break from his singing - now that is unusual !

I cannot wait to see where this road takes us.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017


The travel home was long but not particularly difficult, the docking times and plane times did not match up too well so we had quite long waits, but in the comfort of the lovely No 1 Gatwick Lounge which makes it eminently bearable ! 

I unpacked when I got home at 2.30am, knowing that I had two full days of teaching to do before any free time, so yesterday I was all ready to start with nothing to face on Thursday which is a day off !

It was a good day and my new students L and C had worked like billyo whilst I had been away. I can see they will both be a great addition to our company in every way. C is 12 and shows all the right physical abilities for singing technique so with her, L and J we will have a lovely trio of early teens ! 

Another adult J, whom I have taught intermittently for some while now came after the newbies, and was delighted to tell me that she had finally managed to attend the ladies Friday afternoon session ! I was over the moon as I know these get together are so vital to each persons confidence in performing, and she really needed to bite the bullet and go. I must say I suspect she was an immediate convert to those 'fun fridays' as she was fairly bubbling with pleasure. These sessions are the low stress equivalent to the Performing Class sessions we had at the academy. Times when the students could perform to each other, offer constructive criticism as well as praise for progress made, all the while in the safety of the institution without the judicial ears of a panel, judge or talent scout. It is so very important to build confidence this way - the more times we perform, the easier it becomes !

N had a great Dido lesson, as well as discussion over references for conservatoire and whether doing a flash Grade 8 was a good idea ! Yes, we decided, it probably was - so as half the pieces she already knows, we will take Grade 8 in Late November !

Young F and H delighted me as ever, especially since there had been some excellent practise done during my holiday, this means lessons sail by with beams and smiles and best of all, sticky gold stars  ! Finally S came as enthusiastic and smiley as ever, having learnt her Black Swan aria perfectly. She is such a tremendous young actress, behaving in a deranged manner is not a problem at all ! A forgot to come Agh.............she texted and said she thought I was not back ! I gave her a gentle kick about perhaps reading my teaching website a little more often ! Oh dear !

It was a long day for a person heavily travelled and with little sleep, but kindly I and K had accepted my request to not come so I could finish a little earlier - I fact I was upstairs and ready for bed by 8.35pm, eyes closing before I hit the pillow !

It was a glorious warm and sunny autumnal day to welcome me back to reality, work and life. It does make is so much easier, and again this morning the gold shafts of sun are all over hedges and trees. Gretel has returned to her bed after two weeks of being with S, her home of real dog walks and workouts,  we are both the better for our breaks.

The sunny lane with the beginning of autumn colours

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Sailing back to Blighty

Two quiet sea days are now very much welcomed after such a fantastically energetic and inspiring holiday. I feel the need to wind down and relax to prepare for the rest of a very very busy term ahead. 

We have a big concert in November so rehearsals will start for that in a few weeks, and I must also begin to think about some music rehearsals for my youth group performance of Dido and Aeneas in February - it sounds a long way off but the time will fly and it will be upon us.

There is also a week in Yorkshire working with the Renaissance ladies which I know will be challenging as well as interesting, the more advanced the singer, the more challenging the work. Exams are looming too, with a few high grades and a number of starters, obviously the repertoire for these baby exams is simple and uncomplicated, but one never knows what might happen with an under 8 on the day, so I always feel as if they are being very much nursed along to ensure the whole thing is a very positive experience.

So we are sailing past Denmark as I write, the only way I know this on what seems like open sea is when my phone pings and BT tells me that I am using data in……..Estonia, Denmark, Sweden or Timbuktu! Fortunately nowadays they have agreements with telephone companies, so infact I just use my normal contract amount and don't come home to a bill the size of Aberdeen !

The sailing day revels do not really appeal to Kate and myself, although the late night buffet last night was a triumph of artistry and culinary wizardry but having just finished late sitting dinner we were not really ready for more splendid food.

There was a langoustine mountain, a huge chocolate dragon, a butternut squash waterfall, a butter mermaid pouring cream from a jug and sugar sculptures which would have graced the Tsar’s table in the Winter Palace. It was a sight to behold, and we found out that the ice carving man was also fully employed carving fruits and vegetables during cruises - that was his ‘real’ job ! How astonishing.


Off for a good coffee and a relax. The sun has appeared so it may be possible to sit up on a high deck which would be lovely. 

Signing off from the Baltic Adventure, it has been a cracking experience. Over and out.

Sailing under the Danish bridge which joins the mainland to the largest of the islands. The bridge is 6.6 km long.

Then in the middle of the night, out into the North Sea and homewards.

A domestic few days away preparing for next week..........Yorkshire Song School !

I just had a lovely, if fleeting visit to Sussex to see the family, and most enjoyable it was too. I flew on the early morning plane to Gatw...