Monthly Archives: April 2011

My end of course recital – more details

You are warmly invited to my end-of-course recital at 5.10pm on 20th May 2011, which counts towards the final grade for my Postgraduate Diploma in Viola Performance.

The programme will be:

Sonata in E flat Op 120 No. 2 (Johannes Brahms)

I. Allegro Amabile
II. Appassionato, ma non troppo Allegro
III. Andante con moto

Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (William Walton)

I. Andante Comodo

Concertstück for Viola and Piano (Georges Enesco)

With Hester Dickson, piano

Programme notes to follow (when I’ve actually written them…)

See the facebook event here

Documentation Project: preparing music for performance

Reflection on my Documentation Project Proposal

Hoffnungs cartoons: closer to reality than you might think!

I’ve been reading some of Sandy Hutchison’s¹ journal entries lately, and spurred on by the approaching deadline for all my Integrative Studies work (which is 13th May), I am trying to reflect on the process of taking a fresh, unlearnt piece and preparing it for the concert platform. This is the subject of my ‘Documentation Project’ described in the course literature as ‘a collection of materials derived from an aspect of your work this year’. I handed in a proposal for this before Christmas, so I can’t really remember what I said I was going to base it on exactly…

To refresh my memory, here’s the proposal I just dug out (if you can use that expression when searching through computer files!)


MMus Integrative Studies

Documentation Project Proposal 15.12.10

For my solo recital in May, I will be preparing Brahms Sonata in Eb Op. 120 No 1 for Viola and Piano. In order to prepare for this, I will have lessons on each movement of the piece with my teacher, have sessions with my pianist (Hester Dickson), and do private solo practice. I will also have some coaching from my teacher in my sessions with Hester, and perform some of the movements in performance classes. It is this variety of different preparation methods that I hope to document for my project, using sound recordings.

I will use the following to document the preparation process:

  • Recordings of my lessons on the piece
  • Recordings of sessions with Hester
  • Recordings of solo practice – eg successful practice and frustrations
  • Recordings of performance classes

Alongside these recordings which will be dated chronologically, I will write a brief commentary on the main issues raised by each recording or how each fits into my overall learning progression, and a broader reflection on my preparation process as shown by this material. Hopefully this will help me to identify and clarify the different ways in which I prepare a piece for performance, whether they are good or bad, and in the future use this to improve my preparation skills.


Aha, now I remember… I knew that it was focussed specifically on the Brahms but forgot the details.

Now, on reflection (if you’ll pardon the pun) and through experience of this year’s work, my focus in the proposal on one specific piece (ie Brahms Eb Sonata) was too narrow, as I now have decided that I want to document my approach to preparing pieces for performance as a whole, which means not homing in on one specific composer and using a variety of different pieces and performance situations (i.e.solo/chamber/orchestral). So through the terms I have been keeping photocopies of my viola scores and markings on them as they develop and my own experience as a player and performer has developed. It is this cumulative process of learning to ‘become better’ through preparation that I now wish to focus on.

The next step is for me to collect all the photocopies/pictures ²of pieces I have accumulated over the last 7 months, put them in some sort of coherent order and work out what each says about my approach to documenting my practice as a viola player.

Now, where did I put them all again?  😀

¹ The RSAMD’s Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow

² I find the easiest way to document something when I’m in a hurry is to take a photo of it; this works well with sheet music if the light is ok and you have the flash off

Mr Bean conducts

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while, but a series of unforseen events has prevented me from doing so (that sounds rather grand, but it really isn’t, it just involved a lot of unnecessary hassle and stress…)

Anyway, a more serious post will follow soon but in the meanwhile here’s something humorous to think about!

I was watching TV this evening (during the aforementioned event- see my facebook for more details if you want); Mr Bean happened to be on and one of my all time favourite moments happened to flash up (the pickpocket bit before he conducts is also incredible!)

This got me thinking in a semi-serious way: can modern conductors learn a thing or two from Mr Bean’s style and attitude?! 😛

I’d love to know which brass banded recorded the episode’s music and hear the stories from the players who took part!

Preparing Scottish tunes for my cousin William’s wedding

My cousin William recently asked me to play at his wedding in the Lake District this Saturday (9th april). I’ve been spending quite a lot of time preparing what to play, and I thought I’d take you through the process I’ve been through so that I can make it a bit easier the next time I have to do something like this!

Step 1: Decide on which broad category of music to play (eg classical/folk/popular)

I chose Scottish tunes as William met his fiance at Edinburgh university, and they are having a ceilidh at the reception, plus scottish fiddle tunes work well on the viola

Step 2: Choose specifics of music (eg which piece/tunes)

This took me a wee while, I must say…

Eventually I settled on traditional scottish airs, reels and strathspeys from a book I own called ‘Scottish Folk Tunes’ edited by Kevin McCrae and Neil Johnstone. However, all the tunes are written in Bass clef- an added complication when figuring out keys and how they fit together with other tunes on the viola, which uses alto clef! Good thing I play the cello too sometimes so can just about transpose/forget about the fact that I’m reading bass clef on the viola, which messes with my head slightly!

Step 3: Edit tunes to my own requirements: fingerings, bowings, slurs, dots and ornaments.

Like all traditional music, fiddle tunes are subject to constant interpretation by players and so one printed version may not be exactly the same as another printed version. This is mainly due to folk music being passed down from family to family via oral tradition – fiddlers and pipers simply learnt pieces by ear from their parents or contemporaries, and usually no one bothered to write them down, or in some cases couldn’t write them down as they were unable to read music or write notes on a stave.

In my case, the book I mentioned above is pretty good and is very well laid out and interpreted, so there wasn’t too much re-editing to do, just some ‘hooked’ bowings to work out and fingerings to write in.

Step 4: Figure out an order to play the tunes in which makes sense to me and the listener

I’ve changed my mind several times over this! It all depends on the speed of the tune (eg a slow air is obviously pretty relaxed in tempo, and a reel or strathspey is faster) and the keys and whether the modulation sounds ‘right’ to the listener’s ear. I’m not that practiced at this yet so I hope my ‘set’ is going to make musical sense on saturday 🙂

Here is the ‘finished version’ of my set:

1. Farewell to Whisky by Niel Gow (for those of you who know William, this is particularly appropriate 😀 )

2. Laird of Drumblair by J Scott Skinner

3. De’il Amang the Tailors – not sure, I think this is traditional

4. Auld Lang Syne – traditional tune used at Hogmanay

Encore if necessary – Spey in Spate by Scott Skinner