Category Archives: Classical Music

Review of Dundee lunchtime concert with Audrey Innes on 8th March

I forgot to post the rather nice review that was published in the Dundee Courier after Audrey and I played at Dundee University Chaplaincy on Friday 8th March. Here it is:

Friday’s lunchtime concert in the University chaplaincy promised much, and delivered even more. It was given by the duo of Jessica Wyatt on viola with Audrey Innes at the piano.

Composed in 1849, when technical improvements had made the French horn an instrument with new possibilities, Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro is a delightful work, the second part of which is full of joyous whoops referring back to the horn’s hunting origins. It has often been adapted for other instruments, and, perhaps surprisingly, it seems to suit the viola perfectly. The sound is completely different, perhaps without the effervescence of the horn version, but with a rich sound more akin to later compositions of Brahms.

The performance by the two artists brought out all the extra lyricism encouraged by the use of a stringed instrument and the slower pace.

Paul Hindemith, like many composers, fell out of fashion after his death. Even after half a century performances of his music are rare. The fact that much of it is attractively lyrical told against him when modernism was the fashion. He played a number of instruments to a high standard, and led the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra until war service. But he seems to have had a particular affection for the viola, switching to that instrument when he returned to civilian life after the First World War.

His Viola Sonata, composed in 1919, is a superbly demanding piece, full of seriously testing music for both players, and it received a thoroughly enjoyable performance here.

Stephen Fraser





Music changing lives III: music therapy for profound and multiple learning disabilities

If you have a spare ten minutes and would like to see the difference music can make to some of our society’s hardest to reach individuals, then watch this incredibly moving video:

Most of us will encounter someone with severe and disabling learning difficulties at some point in our lives, and some of us are in day to day contact with them. The approach used in the film – using ‘communication passports’ to document each individual’s unique modes of communication – is an ingenious idea for those who work with people with severe disabilities and one which I feel should become more widely known and used.

An organisation that works with disabled people to make music is Drake Music Scotland, which I visited a few months ago to see what they do and how they overcome the difficulties of making music when someone has disabilities like limited motor control. They have a number of very cool adaptive technologies, including a squidgy cube called the Skoog that responds to touch, a beam of light that produces sounds when it is broken (called Soundbeam) and a space age headband that reads your brainwaves to produce music (which I didn’t see in action).

In the comments on the video, someone suggests this approach should be used for the treatment of older people as well. I agree, and think that the arts have an enormous role to play in the care and enjoyment of the vunerable in our society. At the moment, I am working on a concept which involves providing support and befriending as well as a creative activity, such as music or art, for older and isolated people in the community. This is still in the very early planning stages, so I’ll post more about it as the project progresses.

Concert of Seven Last Words by Haydn, 7.30pm on Sunday 17th March in Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews

On  Sunday 17th March at 7.30pm in Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews, St Patrick’s Ensemble will perform The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross by Joseph Haydn. The work is a moving reflection on the ‘Seven Last Words’ and will be performed in Haydn’s own arrangement for string quartet. The movements will be interspersed with readings of the ‘Words’ and spoken reflections.

st andrews poster















The quartet will consist of Paul Livingston and Daniel Rainey, violins, Jessica Wyatt, viola, and Robert Anderson, cello – all outstanding young players who have studied in Scotland as well and internationally. Based in Glasgow, the St Patrick’s Ensemble has performed throughout Scotland, including performances of the Vivaldi Four Seasons at the Usher Hall, and an evening of chamber music by James MacMillan at Glasgow University, introduced by the composer.

This promises to be a reflective and moving concert in a beautiful and atmospheric church, ideal for the Easter season. Tickets are priced at £10 (£8 concessions) and will be available at the door. Please encourage friends and relatives to attend!

Lunchtime concerts in St Andrews on 27th Feb and Dundee on 8th March

Lately I’ve been working really hard preparing for a couple of lunchtime recitals that are coming up soon. As before, I’m playing with Audrey Innes, a pianist who teaches at St Andrews Music Centre and with whom I have played for a number of years – I hesitate to call her my duo partner, as she regularly plays with many others and is in high demand.

Anyway, this time we’re playing a programme of Schumann’s beautifully lyrical Adagio and Allegro (originally written for horn), paired with the fiery and powerful viola sonata Op 11 No 4 by Hindemith (himself a viola player). These are both highly romantic works, with the Schumann written in 1849 and the Hindemith in 1919 but displaying many backward looking features as well as forward looking ones such as whole tone scales.

This is the first time that I am doing more than one recital of the same programme – I don’t want to call it a series, as it is only 2 concerts, but still! It is also the first time that I will have one of my concerts recorded professionally – the father of one of my pupils is a recording engineer, and he has kindly offered to bring some of his students over to record the St Andrews concert, which is very exciting but a little nerve wracking!

Here are the details of the 2 concerts:

St Andrews

Weds 27th Feb at 1.10pm (not 1.15pm as it used to be) in the Younger Hall, North St, St Andrews- details here although the start time is wrong


Friday 8th March at 1.20pm in Dundee University Chaplaincy – details here

Hope to see you at one of them!

2013 projects

I still can’t believe we’re in 2013! It all sounds so space age…

I’ve started my new job and it’s going well – I am learning a lot about obesity and literature searching, and I have discovered the joys of Endnote and never having to write out a reference again! Academics and essay writers take note: Endnote or a similar referencing manager (there are free ones) will save you literally hours  of tedious referencing and bibliography writing. (I sound like they are paying me to advertise them, which they are not!) Anyway, I think I will really enjoy my work at the medical school, even though it is quite weird being a ‘staff’ member where I used to be a student (I’m now in a different dept though, so not as weird).

One of the brilliant things about my job is that it it so flexible, which allows me to continue teaching and playing in stuff while still doing the work I need to do. This year, I have resolved to do more playing, especially chamber music, so with that in mind I have arranged a trio with some friends which I hope will work out really nicely. Other things I am doing this year are:

  • I will start going to the baroque orchestra at the St Andrews Music Centre, run by my good friend and amazing cellist Claire Garabedian; I think I will get to borrow a baroque bow which will be fun!
  • I’ll continue helping out at StAFCO (St Andrews and Fife Community Orchestra), taking occasional sectionals
  • I have two lunchtime concerts coming up in February and March, both with experienced pianist Audrey Innes who I have played many a concert with! For both concerts, we are playing a programme consisting of Hindemith viola sonata Op 11 No 4 which is very romantic and fantastical as well as being incredibly dramatic and a huge piece to play, combined with a short piece by Frank Bridge (also a viola player) and Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro (originally a horn piece), a real gem of a piece. The concert in St Andrews is Weds Feb 27th at 1.10pm in the Younger Hall (note 5 mins earlier start time), and the concert in Dundee is on Friday 8th March at 1.20pm in the University Chaplaincy.
  • Along with a friend, we are trying to organise concerts in St Andrews and at a stately home near Broughty Ferry of Haydn’s Seven Last Words for string quartet, to coincide with Lent. Hopefully we can confirm these soon.
  • Of course, I’ll continue with my teaching. I’ve got a new pupil (an adult learner interested in fiddle) starting on friday!

Monty is still being incredibly sweet – he’s dozing on my lap, purring contentedly. His latest trick is to attack packets of loo roll, creating a large amount of mess and very holey loo roll, but he seems to think he is saving us from a terrible tissue monster…

Kittens, jobs and what I’ve learnt from teaching so far…

Hello, and sorry this blog has been so sadly neglected for so long. But it’s a new year, and with it I have resolved to do more creative things such as writing and playing, so I hope I can keep this up!

A few important things have happened since I last blogged… Firstly, I finally managed to persuade Alex into us getting a kitten (from cats protection in Dundee), and we’ve had him since the end of September. His name is Monty, and he’s an incredibly sweet and handsome tabby who manages to get into all kinds of scrapes and has bags of character. We call him alternately ‘the tabby terror’, ‘monty the monster’ and ‘the cutest thing my eyes have ever seen’! He loves climbing things, especially doors, the christmas tree and bookshelves, knocking things off and drinking water from my glass… Daft as a brush.

Who, me?

See what I mean? This one was taken when he was quite young (we got him at 10 weeks), and the one below is quite recent – he’s now a ‘mature’ (ha!) kitten of 5 and a half months.


Secondly, I’ve managed to land a part time job in St Andrews, which is great. It’s not music related, as it’s a research assistant position in the medical school, but it will be using some of the skills I learnt in my anthropology degree which will be good, and it is only half time so I’ll still have time for music things and teaching. It is looking into doctor and nurses’ attitudes to obesity and how obesity is managed in primary care, so it should be pretty interesting and is of course highly relevant to what is happening in society at the moment.

Anyway, amid all that and Christmas and New Year, I have been doing a fair bit of teaching. I entered two girls for grade exams (grade 1 and grade 2 violin)  in Dec and they both got pretty high distinctions of 134 and 135 (130 out of 150 is a distinction) – I was so proud of them and what they achieved! It was lovely and really gave me a boost, when I had been feeling quite unconfident. Looking back on last year, I’d like to share what I have learnt from my teaching, both positive and negative:

  • Children often behave better when their parents aren’t in the room. I”ve had tears and tantrums, but mostly only when the parent is present. I think it is easier for them to concentrate when their parents aren’t there as they are forced to think about what I’m saying.
  • Beginners are much harder to teach than someone who has already learnt the basics. There is a fairly limited range of things to say to someone who is taking their first steps on a string instrument, and it is a pretty difficult thing for a young child to learn as it involves so much co-ordination and concentration. When someone has progressed beyond holding the instrument and bow correctly and making a decent sound, then it is much easier to start talking about musical things and subtler points of technique.
  • For a child, 40-45 minutes is the optimal length of a lesson (shorter for a younger child of about 8). Shorter than this, it is difficult to get anything done by the time they have fetched and got out their instrument and music etc (especially when I teach at the child’s house – they are often still eating or watching TV when I arrive), I have tuned their violin and we’ve caught up a bit. Longer than this and they start to lose concentration and start getting tired. In 40 minutes you feel as if you can really get into something without overwhelming the child with all you’ve said.
  • If you have planned, say, an hour’s lesson, don’t think that it will actually *take* an hour, unless you cut the lesson short (see above). Parents will often want (sometimes a quite detailed) account of the lesson, what the child needs to practice and how they are doing – and even if the lesson itself is only an hour, by the time you have chatted to the parents on the way in and debriefed them on the way out, it is often an hour and 10 minutes at least (especially if you are visiting someone’s house). If a pupil is late or if I am late I will always give them the full time, even if this makes me late for the next person.
  • Issues that beginners often have or things they find hard include:
  • the bow hold, especially bending the thumb on the bow – this seems to be a common problem, and is particularly hard for double-jointed kids. There are aids you can buy to help solve this, but I haven’t tried them yet.
  • Tuning is always an issue – at the moment, I am divided between not using markers on the fingerboard as it helps them memorise the hand shapes, and using them so that they always play in tune… I think it varies child by child as to how quickly they pick up what ‘in tune’ is and how good their ear is.
  • Having the left thumb vertically too far up the neck of the violin and the palm hugging the neck, and therefore making it difficult to stretch for 4th fingers and shift. My first teacher called this ‘squashing the hamster’ – imagine there is a hamster on the palm of your left hand, and squashing your palm against the neck of the violin will squish the hamster!
  • If you teach at home, make sure your environment is conduicive to teaching. Make sure there is enough space, so the child doesn’t bang their instrument on something, and make sure the area is free of potentially distracting objects that the child will want to talk about (it is difficult having Monty, as he is distracting when in the same room, but shutting him in another room results in pathetic mewing and various bangs and crashes which are mildly off putting to say the least!)

I’d love to hear stories from other teachers of successes or what they find difficult. I’ve been looking for courses on string teaching, but not found anything suitable, so if anyone has any ideas then please please let me know!

Lastly, if you made it this far, here’s a fascinating article about a conductor who took his orchestra to North Korea.

Happy New Year! 2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.