Friday, 30 June 2017

Patience dialogue and The King's Speech....

Dialogue is such a funny thing ! We had a rehearsal for all those chunks of speech in Patience which make almost no sense at all ! Words like Della Cruscan, Fra Angelican, jolly utter, so, so all but.......let us think of nothing at all........

There are hilarious references to cold gravy, the inner brotherhood and being a Narcissist. It really is the most 'barmy' of all the G&S Operas, and frankly, that is saying something ! They are all verging on the edges of madness.

We worked our way through the dialogue with a will and it was a very successful evening. Once the teenagers have actually deciphered the meaning of many words and phrases it zipped along with such wit and humour. The RP Victorian accents are coming along beautifully as well, and in many ways it almost speaks itself.

Last night I watched for the third time the film 'The King's Speech' with Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. It is such a wonderful portrayal of the despair of the stammering king. There is a short reference in the early part of the film where Lionel Logue makes the king sing, saying he will not stammer whilst singing - this is totally true, and I have, over the years watched the total joy and complete relief which is almost tangible, when a pupil who stammered could express themselves with freedom and ease when they sang.

I am no scientist but it must surely be to do with the brain being distracted or occupied with other messages when we sing, so the part of the brain or nervous system which causes the stammer is forgotten, or the stammer switch is flicked off ? I wonder if any speech therapist has written a paper on it !! 

Whatever the reason, it must feel like a miracle. Perhaps singing is a miracle too ?


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Saltburn Festival - a great weekend

We had a superb trip to Saltburn for the music festival in all sorts of ways ! The singers were magnificent - from the youngest to the oldest, the old hands and the first timers they made us all immensely proud. The sheer dedication, concentration and courage was quite wonderful. 

I think they also loved the feeling of camaraderie and support which they gave each other. I clearly remember as a teenaged singer myself that if we were at Blackpool festival as a group, we didn't care who won, as long as it was one of us - we went for the friendship and the 'crack' as it is called today ! 

This particular group were all routing for each other. How wonderful that is to see. 

The journey to North Yorkshire was sunny and easy, we stopped ( well my car that is) for lunch at Dobbies and a strong coffee elsewhere and arrived at a glowing and hot Saltburn by about 6.30pm. The town looked beautiful, a mix of manicured lawns and fully blossoming gardens and the Happy Valley woods where my parents and I picnicked in the Enid Blyton time of the 50's and 60's. 

We were blessed with lovely hosts in the town, although those of us who are Littlebeck regulars missed the magical beauty of that part of the national park ! However we stayed with such welcoming folk, everyone was made to feel totally at home.

The traditional Friday in Whitby had to be done and we were joined by Julia, of said Littlebeck who had returned from her holiday only moments before coming for lunch ! Trenchers was enjoyed by all, the massive fish and chips went down a treat, as well as my inevitable crab salad !

Festival day dawned hot and sunny with everyone eager to get going. Our accompanist Julia Kennard arrived and we embarked upon the day with a will. There were some brilliant performances from all the singers, first timers J, L and S absolutely excelled themselves, gaining confidence and strength with every class, and realistically one would not have thought for a moment that they had never competed before - I was so very proud of their courage which paid off in a big way bringing home trophies and certificates enough to paper the wall !

The older hands did very very well, N,E,A and S who are all at different ages and stages were tremendous. The performed out of their socks, and again brought home silver prizes and placings which made myself and Fiona, who teaches Eve as well, swell with pride. 

For me however, much as the prizes are so rewarding, it is the support they give each other and the utter lack of jealousy and competition which pleases me the most. That is a rare gift amongst young people these days. That is what will underpin their future, make any loss and criticism easier, and most importantly, make sure that as empathetic professionals will ensure they are employed again and again.

That bond and acceptance of others worth and talent is the real trophy of the festival. Let the pictures speak for themselves !





The inevitable fun picture !     


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The exams are all done, and what an exhausting day of playing it was ! The black dots were dancing in front of my eyes by the time I had finished. The results were fairly decent, everyone passed, but the examiner was a hard and quite ruthless marker. Not much positivity and lots of criticism......but we move on. He was clearly not a fan of developed and 'fat toned' female voices, so the boys and sopranos came off fairly u scathed but the mezzo's and alto's took a great deal of punishment ! As an adjudicator and an examiner in a past life I know the score, and rude you must never be either in word or black and white - our examiner seemed to bypass a couple of these sacred and totally correct rules. So much so that I am declining access to some of the mark sheets for some candidates. Nobody is going to shatter confidence in my lovely 'charm of goldfinches' !

K, P and myself had a very pleasant long lunch and coffee at our newest watering hole. Deli Gasta is a very good bistro in Broadford where they will make up a salad for one using a choice of almost everything on the buffet counter ! The crayfish and fresh crab are gorgeous, followed by (for me the diabetic) an illegal lemon and poppy seed muffin and strong flat white coffee, and I feel almost ready to face the world again !

We had a very good rehearsal last night, constructive, lively and great fun. There is something about this year's production which has meant the cast have gelled extremely well. They are a complete team, and the support around the hall is tangible. The youngsters are so vibrant and the older folk are the solid rock foundation of the show. I am enjoying it enormously. Now we need to tackle the ensembles and dialogue........Ouch !

One of my tough and strong girls who is playing Ella in Patience was a finisher, along with her family in a Tough Mudder weekend. I cannot believe she didn't break any bones or sprain every muscle in her body, and believe me I had warned her with much emphasis on ' we cannot do without you in the show !!' Well she did it and here is the proof, and the bruises !!



All is set for a long drive to Saltburn, the bags are almost packed and the car is cleaned a little ! I hope to stop at the usual watering holes - my favourite Costa just after the start of the M6 and possibly the Dobbies at Callendar prior to that......the thought of a trip around a big garden centre makes me very happy - that's how one knows one is getting old, well so my grandchildren tell me. 'Oh no Seanmhair, not another GARDEN centre, it's so boring......'

No it is not.....I firmly reply !


Friday, 16 June 2017

Saltburn, weather and a busy week to come......

It been a drizzly few days here in South Paradise, not cold just a little dismal. So I decided to put the stove on this morning, there is simply nothing like the comforting crackle and flame of a real fire, and I don't think I could ever live without it. There are two elements which add the the heartbeat of the home and they are the sight of a real live flame, and a small animal. I am so lucky to have both at the the moment, and I am sure it is these elements which make my house a warm and welcoming place. 

I have had two days off from teaching and am girding my musical loins for the next few weeks. There are ten exam candidates on Monday, then teaching and finally driving off into the sunrise for Saltburn Festival on Thursday. I am very honoured to be the President of the festival. I was invited two years ago and was utterly delighted to accept the position. It is a festival very close to my heart as my late father was the Chairman for about 20 years in the 70's and 80's. I had all my singing lessons in Saltburn from the age of 13 as White Cottage, Windsor Road was Middy's home. The other thing is I was actually born in a maternity home in Saltburn ! You can see then that this gorgeous little Victorian seaside town is very close to my heart. 

I am always delighted to take my Island students on this 10 hour trip and introduce them to where I spent my young days. It is a very beautiful part of the UK, brimming with post card villages in the dales and wide vistas over he moors and the sea. It is a hard few days with the driving and the actual festival but I love it.

This year some of the younger girls are going for the first time and will be experiencing a different world of singing. They are very excited about going and I am sure they will have a ball. The older singers are making what for a couple is their fourth or fifth time there, and they have infected the newbies by their anticipation and enthusiasm.

The EFT tapping definitely works and the shoulder pain is lessening - not gone but much easier. I am working on it each day and hoping to clear it up in the not too distant future. 

Saltburn nestled in the bay under the cliffs

A cosy glow in the stove ! ( dog has retired up to bed !)


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Exams, shopping and a big week ahead.....

The weekend brought a great day out in Inverness. It is over a two hour drive from Paradise so in ,any ways it feels as if one is having an adventure ! I love going with a long list of shopping with interesting and odd items which can't be sourced on Paradise itself ! My friend an I have a usual route including lunch at a great garden shop where the food is plentiful and excellent, and Howdens the shop is a very good place to visit !

I had E for an 'exam' lesson on Sunday. She and her mum and singing teacher travel from Mid Argyll for this lesson. E is taking her Intermediate Recital Certificate and, I have great hopes, will do extremely well. She is such a responsive girl who is a joy to teach - even on a Sunday ! Her programme is very well balanced between serious and dark and whimsical entertainment. She has a delicious voice, creamy, warm and vibrant. At 16 she shows immense talent and I suspect will succeed in which ever genre of performance she decides upon !

Monday brought the first day of the teaching week spinning around once more - time flies so fast most especially when big events are piling up. Next Monday is exam day, and with two grade 8's, two Advanced Recital Certificates, one Intermediate, two grade 5's and a lovely grade 1 it will be a heavy day of playing for me. Then I have two days teaching and rehearsing before we leave for Saltburn for the Music Festival on Thursday. I am trying not to think about it all, and enjoy a couple of days off at the end of this week to recharge for the mammoth time ahead. 

I have been trying som EFT tapping to help my frozen shoulder. I used it once before and found it definitely helped with pain. The essence of it, and you can google and see the simple technique, is tapping on points which are acupuncture places in a sequence. Oddly I find it helps kill the pain for awhile, and this time I am going to try and keep up the doing of it regularly and maybe loosen my shoulder once and for all. Anything is worth trying, and I am a great believer in homeopathy, yoga and other marginally wacky stuff !

What I am not a believer in is giving up stimulants - so I am off for my one vice - a strength 10 espresso !



Thursday, 8 June 2017

Caro Nome or Election 2017 - I know which I prefer !

It is Election Day in the UK so pretty soon I will be off to vote. Living in Scotland the lie of the land is different, we have one party who hold almost everywhere - rather like a dictatorship really - and the other parties have lots of following but because they are separate they simply cannot individually raise a majority to make the system much more even. Together the other parties could indeed rout the dictatorship but I suspect that it will never be thus in my lifetime.

On the actual Election Day it seems all rather quiet compared to the frenetic journey the last 50 days has been. I read that campaigning is not allowed, political talk in the polling station is also not allowed - but according to the BBC twitter stream, taking your dogs photo at the polling station is very much 'the thing' ! Therefore I may take Gretel to add her cuteness to the growing gallery of dogs at polling stations, all of whom I must say look seriously disinterested in the work of the day !

My lovely M had her lesson last night - she is a very very high coloratura soprano with warm tone even above top C. She is 16 now, but with her ability it is difficult to find repertoire which stretches her but does not overwhelm. She is at the moment working on the wonderful Verdi aria Caro Nome, which is Gilda's moment of singing about her love for Gualtier Malde. It is a wonderfully decorative and charming piece which needs a flexible and even tone from bottom B to top D, and the ability to sing evenly throughout the range. This young lady can do this with ease, enjoyment and total control. How can that be I regularly ask myself !! 

We did finish her lesson however with a visit from A who is playing Grosvenor alongside M's Patience and we blocked the moves for Grosvenor's somewhat lounge lizard first appearance ! They sound wonderful together, look gorgeous and will be fantastic. The crisis over the set is now going away, and four of our members have gamely taken over the dealings with it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart !

Here is the link to Dame Joan Sutherland whose performance of Caro Nome is definitive!


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Patience is on track !

We had a great rehearsal today, one of those long Sunday events, complete with cake, scones and tea ! Sweet stuff always takes the edge off a gruelling three hours singing. I took my little cavalier Gretel to the rehearsal today as it is a long and boring day for her to stay at home whilst I am working. She just LOVES it. Three hours of rushing around a huge hall where there is the distinct possibility of cake crumbs, low hanging biscuits in the hands of floor seated cast members, and the obvious attraction of all the folk she loves best in the world in one place, she was a totally blissed out little person ! She was completely in her element, and mostly very good and well behaved. When we finally arrived back at home she flopped on the sofa as if she had climbed K 2 without oxygen. I think if there were such a thing as a doggy pedometer it would have registered around 10 miles. She never stopped for the whole time except to filtch the odd delicacy at break time.

 This singing lark really interferes with tea time.......

We managed to get two thirds of the way through Finale Act 1 which means we are less than 6 or 7 minutes away from the end of the first half of the show. Patience has a rather short second half which is largely ensembles and solos - the usual formula of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, so in essence the bulk of the work is done. It needs much polishing, and our complicated setting requires much watching and developing but it is all coming together like a well oiled musical machine.

I have had the joy of a stage manager for the last two rehearsals. M, our last year's Strephon is back for the summer from her Chemical Engineering degree at Edinburgh University and is keen and happy to be that most valued of helping hands for a producer. She notes down moves, prop extras, reminders for tricky moments and most cherished of all, she will happily stand in front and direct moves for the cast whilst I play the piano. What a relief, and such a privilege to have that sort of help.

So what with the set being ensconced in the newly dry shed, the addition of a stage manager, and the general cheeriness and enthusiasm of a classy cast, at this moment in time dare I say, all is well ?

Keep calm and eat chocolate cake

I made Chicken Thai Green Curry in my Instant Pot last Friday and had it poured over my usual spread of Cauliflower and Broccoli florets for my supper. I was adventurous enough to add a little more lemon juice and extra coconut cream and boy was it good. How did I ever live without one of these digital miracles ? I know I am probably seeing it through rose tinted spectacles, mostly because I have never cooked much more than an egg on toast, but it has certainly been worth the financial investment, and I think my diabetes likes it too. I am eating totally fresh and simple ingredients cooked quickly so all the flavours remain in the food. I have been able to keep my sugar numbers between 6 and 7 for the last month. This is, you must understand, a major coup for a Type 2 who takes no medication, controlling the disease by diet alone. 

I would like to think that the last week of stress is melting a little and slowly seeping away.

Friday, 2 June 2017

A Barn Raising

Barn raising update ! What a group of wonderful workers - it took all of 45 mins with 9 folk - adults, children and me - and the place looked like a new pin. It was miraculous ! 

So now the set arrives this afternoon and the roof must be temporarily water proofed with tarpaulins until the re roofing can actually happen. That will be the next update. Ratchets and spanners standing by for the set erection. 

That's the bad bit !!!  


What a sterling group of chaps and ladies helped today. The barn has a temporary and waterproof inside roof and the set took three journeys with the trailer, and as I speak the men and Shauna are assembling half the set ......well actually everyone is too tired to do that now, and the midgies are awful so the days work is ended.


Thank goodness the sun shined down upon us......

More at some later date, I am off to the local Indian restaurant for a well deserved meal. I am fairly badly bitten, but feeling much less stressed about the whole thing. It is here, it is safe and we can now get on with it.

Bon appetit !


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Patience and a barn raising !

Another angst filled couple of days have just passed by.....well I hope they have passed, so to speak ! It sort of sounds rather doom and gloom filled, but we have had ongoing problems with our set for the show. Not the structure itself but more that we have lost our set builder and thus the place where it is stored. Large sets with panels of 8 x 4 need a large building in which to bolt it together, then nail and saw the extra bits required for each wildly different setting, and finally a place to paint the flats themselves. 

We advertised everywhere we could for a large and empty shed or barn, a spare bedroom, building site or chicken coop but nothing transpired. Not a soul in Paradise had a space going free. Then one of our members volunteered a temporary place for one show which was so kind and a life saver, but in essence only shelved the problem for another six months. The wailing and gnashing of teeth could be heard in Sunderland ! As I regularly said to my cast, 'no set, no show'.......

Then circumstances contrived to make our offered space a difficult option for the owners....the previously gnashed teeth were now fairly worn to stumps as you can imagine. My own large, and often rained in barn, became the option of last resort, but it needs a new corrugated roof otherwise any plywood set would be paper pulp in a nano second. The company made an executive decision to buy the roofing sheets, my lovely handyman who takes care of all those repair jobs which are needed on a regular basis in a two hundred year old house, has offered his time and hands to do the roofing job. 

Now all this is fine and dandy but the inside of the barn is of the upmarket pigsty style and decor and we have precisely 24 hours before another kind and helpful handyman has volunteered to pick it up on a trailer and deliver it to the barn in expectation of it being spick and span and squeaky clean ?!

The 'barn raising' starts at 7pm tonight with as many hands as I can muster, ladies with muscles, girls with a deal more enthusiasm that muscle, and S, our young tenor playing the Duke. I think my frozen shoulder exempts me from lifting, pushing and shoving, but I will provide tea, strength 10 Ristretto coffee, custard cream biscuits and other sweet meats for the evening !

Say a small prayer that we can get enough cleaning and packing to one end done so the set is safe, hopefully dry and with enough space in which to swing a paint brush !

Here it is now - you see the size of the job at hand. Oh my ! oh my !




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...