Category Archives: RSAMD

Music Learning Live

Today I’m off to a big conference at the academy called ‘Music Learning Live’- see the programme here

The keynote is being given by Andrew Dixon, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland. I’m hoping to attend a session about Sistema Scotland, a project which has been started in Raploch, Stirling, which emulates El Sistema, a social programme in Venezuela which provides orchestral training for young people from poor backgrounds.


Walton by numbers

Today has been a fairly productive day – and by that, I mean a day devoted to practising and learning the Walton concerto. It’s strange that conceptions of ‘work’ can vary so widely: in academia, work means writing/research/reading (what I did for my undergrad degree, in social anthropology at the University of St Andrews), but in the music profession, ‘work’ means practising a piece, either on your own or in a group, or listening to it with a score, or working out fingerings or bowings, or teaching, or any other activity that musicians carry out on a daily basis. Writing and research comes into it, of course (I have to write programme notes for my recital in may, so I have been doing some online research on the Walton), but this is not the bread and butter of what musicians do. I am still getting used to this new conception of work, after 4 years of studying for a very theoretical degree – now I can say things like, ‘I’m off to do some work’, by which I mean viola practice, whereas when I was studying anthropology, my tutors would have frowned at me in vague confusion if I had told them I had to ‘work’ on a piece of music.

Anyway, here is a photo of my viola part of the walton, heavily scribbled on with fingerings/bowings/annotations. Today’s task was to firm up fingerings and bowings so that I can really drum home all the notes into my brain, and to help this, I have used a new way of writing my fingerings in – writing them in red for a shift. This means that my music is now covered in red pen (deliberately) as there are shifts all over the place and it helps focus my brain if I know where they are. I’m hoping this will help me when I practice – a kind of walton by numbers! Let’s hope it works…

Recording of Brahms 1st mvt

I have attempted to upload my recording of the performance class I did with hester (described in a post below) to a free upload site (as with free wordpress blogs they don’t allow you to upload mp3s unless you pay more, humph!), but I’m not altogether sure how it works so here goes!

Please comment below and tell me whether you can get it working! Thanks 🙂

Ho hum…

Well, this week has been quite mixed. It has been eventful, but also rather painful, as I seem to have developed a  very sore right shoulder/upper arm. This is not only unusual for me, as I very rarely get pain in my bowing arm, but very annoying, as I’m supposed to be performing in the viola challenge competition on Monday. I think it might be to do with my new, higher chinrest, which is making me use my bow arm in a slightly different way, meaning that I use different muscles… I had an Alexander technique lesson yesterday, and Isobel told me to rest the arm for at least a couple of days, as muscle injuries take about five days to start healing – does anyone know if this is right?

I also spoke to my teacher and postponed my lesson for this week, and Jane was very sympathetic about it and advised me not to worry about the competition.  The problem is, the piece is not only very difficult, it is also atonal and I’m only just beginning to make sense of it in musical terms, as I’ve either been too tired/stressed/painful to practice it. Part of me wants to play in the competition, and part of me just wants to give it a miss because it’s a silly piece anyway, and it’s just unnecessary stress, and I really don’t want to hurt myself any more than I have already.

Things I’ve done this week:

o   I’ve played in an exam – my flatmate Fiona is a third year vocal student at the academy and she wanted to perform Frank Bridge’s  beautiful ’Music When Soft Voices Die’ in her mid term recital. (Here is a youtube clip – I personally think our version was better!)

o   I’ve played in my first academy competition, the internal round of a quartet competition where the winner goes through to the external competition in London. In fact, we only played in front of Robert and another woman (no idea who she was) and it wasn’t public and felt more like an audition than a competition. However, I think we played our pieces (1st mvt of Ravel string quartet, 2nd mvt of Haydn op 64) the best we have ever played them so that’s great.

o   Decided that my assessment will be weighted 50% on a 50 minute chamber recital, not 25% on a new work (a collaboration with a composer) and 25% on the chamber recital. This means preparing an extra 20 mins of music, but now I’m working with an excellent group of masters students in my piano quartet this shouldn’t be a problem (we’re working on Dvorak piano quartet in D major at the moment)

I’ve also learnt a new piece of musical lingo- ‘toy toy toy’ is opera-speak for good luck (it’s bad luck to tell someone to break a leg in opera dressing rooms)!

Things I’ve missed or will miss:

  • My community music placement- my shoulder was just too painful and it was the same day as Fiona’s exam. It was Burns night so Alison and Liz did lots of Scottish songs eg Ally Bally, 3 Craws, Wee Willie Winkie and they played Scottish tunes on fiddle and flute.
  • My lesson with Jane (it was going to be tomorrow)
  • My session with Hester (ditto) – I need to go through the 3rd mvt of Brahms Eb with her

And of course I’ve missed my wonderful fiancé, Alex, who lives in Crail. I’ll see him this weekend though 🙂

New term, new challenges…

It’s the first week of my second term at the RSAMD, and I thought it would be good to write some of things I want to do this term and what’s already in my diary- it seems to be filling up fast…

Solo work

  • I need to arrange my 50 minute final recital (possibly for may?), including the following repertoire:
    • Brahms Eb Sonata – (mostly learnt apart from last movement, need to rehearse with Hester)
    • Bach Suite 5 in C minor (I know the Prelude and a few other movements roughly but it all needs work)
    • Enescu concertstucke (new and I need to learn)
    • Possibly Walton 1st mvt (I need to revise this)
  • I think I have to write programme notes so it would be good to start researching these pieces.
  • Continue working on my posture in Alexander Technique lessons, trying to become freer around my shoulders and neck when I play and eliminating the tension I hold there. I have just ordered a new SAS chinrest which is slighter higher than my old one, which should help me in this process, as I know that I have a long neck and my current setup is giving me some pain when I play for long periods. I will also work on strengthening my arms, shoulders and neck with exercise.
  • Work on my vibrato to get it even on all notes- practicing slow scales should help this. Patience is needed…

Chamber music:

  • There are some exciting developments here!  Following Robert Irvine’s suggestion, I asked my cellist friend Katarina whether her piano trio would be interested in forming a piano quartet with me, and when I met with them yesterday they seemed really keen which is great! We haven’t chosen repertoire yet but will look at Beethoven, Dvorak and Schumann next week to see which we want to work on.
  • I’m continuing to play in Zoe’s quartet and we are entering a competition this term with a Haydn quartet and possibly the Ravel one- to be decided.
  • Robert also suggested I form a trio with a harpist and flautist to work on Debussy’s Sonata for that combination of instruments. I need to contact the people he put me in touch with about this…

Concerts this term : Scottish Ensemble ‘Side by Side’ tour (8-14th Feb), MusicLab Birtwistle concert (to be confirmed -postponed from November), open day performance class (18th Jan), RSAMD chamber orchestra (25th March)

Competitions: I will be entering the Viola Challenge Prize competition, in which a new piece is commissioned and candidates have a limited time to prepare it without input from their teachers. Unfortunately the prize is only £15 (compared to other prizes at the academy, a very paltry sum!) I think I will also enter the concerto competition with the Walton Viola Concerto – the prelim is on 7th March so I’d better get on and learn it…..