September 2010

A Fiddly Composition!

September 28, 2010 09:35

 My love of folk music over the years has never gone away even though I don't play it as much now. Ever since I was young, I have loved listening to folk just simply because it is fun! Although I hardly play folk or 'fiddle' music these days, I am still in love with the over-all sound and feel of it.

I'm in my second year of my GCSE's (last compulsory year of high-school) and studying music, which of course, is my favourite subject! Throughout the whole of last year I have learnt an awful lot about not just composing, but writing music. 

So, today, as usual, I got my violin out in the music lesson and started playing around in order to develop my most recent composition which I hope to be an exam entry piece. And as I was playing, I had a funny urge to not stick to all the usual rules in music any more and just have fun! My piece, which I am writing to overlay a scene from BBC's 'Pride and Prejudice,'  took a rather unexpected folky turn! 

It was probably after a further 10 minutes of non-stop fiddling when I heard a rather strange hooting noise from behind me. But what was it? To my amazement, my teacher had only gone and got the accordion out! We played along together, occasionally shouting out a few whoops and hopping on one leg, and by God, it was fun! Everybody else had fun too, sometimes playing something on their own instruments or dancing around the room. 

On the bus home, I pulled out my good old manuscript and looked at the blank page. It had never crossed my mind at how seemingly complicated a folk piece could be to write down. But the truth is, it isn't! Folk music doesn't even need to be written on paper, it is improvisation. And even if it is written, it is only the skeleton of the piece - the person playing just fills in the rest! 

So why don't you have a go if you haven't tried recently? It might just become a new addiction! 

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From Quartet to Chamber Orchestra - A Search for New Pieces!

September 24, 2010 10:26

 Today, like any Friday, after school I went to 'orchestra practice.' It is just our small school string orchestra that has been going for quite some time. Four years ago, there were 21 in the string orchestra - 6 cellos, 4 violas, 5 second violins and 5 first violins. Two years ago, it was down to 2 cellos, a viola, 3 seconds and 4 firsts. This year, it was down to a mere one viola, 2 seconds and 2 firsts.  

It saddens me that there are no pupils from primary schools coming up who can play stringed instruments. It seems to have been a sudden surge of brass that has taken over our school instead. In the area I live in, string teachers are sparse. 

So, we decided to do something about our strings! Instead of abandoning the strings all together, we have added some woodwind, percussion and a piano or two. Today was our very first practice. And it was brilliant! Adding just one flute, a clarinet, a trumpet (brass, I know) and some percussion has brought our string (now chamber) orchestra back to life! 

Today we practised some 19th century music and it went fairly well! A new twist with the clarinet worked surprisingly good! 

Now is my hunt for some good music. If anybody has got any suggestions, please comment! Most music will do - even if it orchestral - we can see about possibly adapting it!

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A credit to the violists!

September 21, 2010 11:10

 So, after a long and hectic week or so, I can finally write some blog! 

Today, I tried the viola for the first ever time. When I saw it, and even picked the instrument up, I felt fairly confident - 'Oh, it can't be much different to the violin' I thought, but you see, even though to an extent I was right, I was also shocked at the subtle yet noticable differences in the viola in comparison with the violin. 

The viola I played wasn't much bigger than my violin - in fact, I'd say it was a mere 2 centimetres longer, or there abouts. Sure, the viola has 4 strings like a violin, it uses a bow and is even held in the same position. But that can be deceptive. You see, when I placed the bow on those strings and played, it struck me that the viola seemingly has a darker all round personality in its sound. It is rich, almost like the cello. That full-bodied sound, I have to say, is what supports the violins in an orchestra, it is what is needed in an orchestra, yet us violinists take all the credit! It seems unfair that a lot of the time, the viola is not recognised as well as the violin or the cello. It is the 'lost instrument' in my view. So next time when you play in an orchestra, spare a thought for the violas! 

As I was playing along, (using some of my previous and present pieces but playing that 5th lower) I realised the viola seems harder to keep in tune. Many people say it is a gift to have a violist who can play perfectly in tune.

Not only that, but vibrato, staccato and other techniques have to be accentuated to get the effect you are used to. I found I had to more vigorously move my finger on the string to get a good vibrato, whilst on the violin it seems almost effortless in comparison. 

As I played on the lower C string, I found the vibrations almost 'cutting' through into my jaw. It gave off an amazing almost buzz-like sound and that richness shone through all the way. These subtle and frequent differences all came together and gave the viola its own voice. They all added up and created a very new sound to what I am used to. 

I may have started off slightly naive about the viola, but by God, now I realise how much effort playing the viola can be. And how different it is, even though the anatomy is practically the same. You never know, I might go out and invest in my own viola one day soon! 

So, I have to say, I give full credit to the violists!  

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A Piece Of Music Has Its Own Story

September 9, 2010 09:21

 When you play a piece of music, what do you do? Are you like me and try to visualise a picture or a story? Or do you play just with the expression you know so well? 

Picturing a story in your head whilst playing music in my opinion is one of the best things to do. It helps people to connect with the piece and put their utmost feeling into it. 

A while after I first started playing the violin, my violin teacher, Mrs. Foad, once told me after a struggle to get my technique right, 'Think of baby elephants stomping along, make your bow like the baby elephants,' so, I did. And the result I got from that image transformed the piece. 

Another time, when I wanted to master doing a very quiet spiccato, she told me it had to be like a small child, tip-toeing along in the night because they don't want to get caught. 

These visualisations have helped me throughout my years of playing the violin. Whether it is scales and a spider creeping up the drain pipe, or the child from the spiccato, tip-toeing along, it all helps.  

When I moved on to do lessons with another teacher, Mrs. Scourse, I found out she did exactly the same. It isn't just technique that these images can be put to, but an actual piece of music too. I was once attempting to play the middle section of 'Sarabande in G Minor' by Karl Bohm, but I just could not master it correctly! So, with the right spirit, Mrs. Scourse looked at me and told me (quite seriously) 'Think of your friend's hamster dying... she is very upset... and the poor hamster...' 

At first I found this rather amusing, but soon put my mind to it and played the section with that thought in my head, and, what a difference! 

Even when you are listening to music, you can think up a scenario - maybe of a big jolly man walking down the street with a top hat, dressed in a suit.. when a gust of wind comes and blows his hat off and he falls over. It is just not the man's day... but then suddenly a good person approaches him with his hat, takes him under their wing and patches up the hole in the knee of his suit and he is all better again and just as jolly as before! 

These stories can be as bizarre or creative as you like, it is just about putting your mind to it. It now comes naturally to me - when I practise the violin, I can visualise these things and it will bring out expression without much effort - thinking about expression can quite often lead to muscle tension and frustration. Doing this can be much more relaxing.

Every time I listen to music, play a new piece, pick up an old piece or just go over my technique, I think of some new or old story each time to help me along! 

And do you know what? The thought of baby elephants stomping away will never leave my mind for as long as I live! 

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Our First Performance

September 7, 2010 14:14

 The first time I performed on stage in front of a big audience was well and truly nerve-wrecking. But I have to tell you now, it was worth it!!

It was when I was 11 and my brother, Jonathan, must have been 9 or 10 when we went out in front of an audience of around 2000 people. The reason we were there was for a school concert - our school grouped up with many other schools from the area to show off talents once a year. We were to perform right at the end, after the rest of the schools had shown off their young talent, and to be honest, we soon got a feeling that our duet, 'Stamping Dance' from 'The Lollipop Man' music book, was too simple and would not live up to the standard of the rest of the kids. Jonathan must have been around grade one or two and I was probably around grade three at that time.

 

I had acted and danced on stage before then many times, so was used to the atmosphere of electric, but my poor brother didn't know what to expect. Wide eyed, we both walked up to the front of the stage. Although I had performed in front of audiences of this size before, I had never had the courage to get up and play an instrument or make music. Reeling off a few lines from memory or remembering a ballet dance seemed easy compared to this, but the adrenaline kept me going. 

All went silent, the spotlight on the two small children standing on stage with their jazzy coloured violins (mine purple and my brother's bright electric blue). Every eye was on us, every bit of expectation burning into our minds. 

I nodded towards Jonathan to show him I was ready to play - he had the main tune on top and was the lead. It was almost like slow-motion - his bow was lifted to the string and then the sound of the A string rung out through the whole theatre. Then the second note, quickly after, as the first two notes were only semi-quavers. That was my queue to come in, overlapping his tune.

It was wonderful! Within seconds, the whole theatre of people were up and standing, stomping away and clapping to our fun and simple, yet very effective, duet! The vibrations from the audience shook the whole building and when we finished our duet, a huge wall of clapping sounds hit our ears! We had done it! Our first proper performance! And do you know what? It was the best feeling ever!

 

It just goes to show - doing something simple and easy can make people as wowed as doing some big concerto! So I would say to you - get your kids or your students out there to do their own simple duets! Or maybe even try one yourself! You never know what could happen! 

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Violin - a childhood dream

September 1, 2010 17:33

 It is my first time posting any sort of blog anywhere - never mind on this site! To be honest I haven't got a clue what to write really, but maybe it would be good to base my first post on the instrument I have learned to love over the past 7 years. 

As what I would call a young musician, I am pretty amazed at the changes I have gone through since the tender age of 8. I had wanted to start music myself, through my own interest, since early childhood. Neither of my parents are musical and never have been, and my brother seemed to take no interest in music at all at the age of 6 back then. But there was always something magical I felt when I listened to music, and especially when I took part. 

Since I can remember I have loved to take part in music lessons in school. It was fun for me to learn about instruments and make tunes on the good old xylophone back then! I would sit in front of the TV sometimes and watch the BBC Proms or other big events held in massive halls and see the orchestras play. I would be fascinated (and rather humoured) by the mad conductors dancing around the stage, waving their arms about in a rather disorderly fashion, trying to keep the orchestra in time. But all of that seemed wonderful, a fantasy in my young mind. 

As I watched these orchestras on the TV I realised there were 2 instruments that really stood out to me. I was probably about 6 when I mentioned for the first time that the French Horn appealed to me. But it wasn't just the French Horn - it was the violin too. The violin looked fun yet sophisticated, it looked sleek and beautiful and had a wonderful sound. My mum told me some people think the violin sounds like a human voice singing. It seemed wonderful in the eyes of a 6 year old. 

As I grew older I realised my passion for music. When I was 7 I started going to church and for the first time I could listen to music 'live'. The choral sounds and the many styles were attractive and soon I was getting myself involved with the church choir. The choir mistress first asked me to sing a note - I sang it back perfectly. Then I sang a tune back to her, once again, perfectly. I had found the loop I had been looking for and I was getting involved with proper music. And I must say, it was wonderful!

Now, how does all of this lead on to me playing the violin, you might be wondering? I was 9 years old and in year 4 of primary school when the school music teacher called me into her classroom one break time. She had brought together a group of children my age and was handing out letters. When I looked at it and read it, she had literally handed me an opportunity there and then to start learning an instrument! The only catch was money...

The choices were 4 things - the Piano, the Violin, the Flute or the Cello. Of course, my instincts drew me to the violin I had grown to love from the TV. I took the letter home to my parents and told them I wanted to play the violin. My parents are loving and caring and couldn't let the opportunity pass. I was later told that when I had first given them the letter they had been suspicious that the school was trying to make us give them money, but this soon was proven wrong!

When I gave the form back into the school the following week, my teacher came back at me with some bad news. 'I am afraid to say, Eloise, that all the places for violin lessons have been taken. You will have to learn the cello, flute or piano.'

Well, with those words ringing through my ears, my heart sank. But I was a determined child and in my usual manor I wanted my own way. I approached my head master who decided to let one more space be provided for me to learn the violin.

It was just before the Christmas of 2003 when we were given our instruments. I remember being so incredibly excited that day! When a hard, leather-coated shaped case was placed on the table in front of me, my heart skipped a beat. I was already in love before I opened it up to see the hidden jewel of an instrument inside. This was the first time I had ever seen a real violin. For the first time it was not in a picture or on the TV, it was not a sound on the radio or just a fantasy in my head. It was a real life physical thing. 

I opened the case up and looked at the violin. A nine year-old girl, about to start her dream, was brought almost to tears that day. And by God, I don't regret one bit of it. 

Music is the best thing that has ever happened to me in any way what so ever. It is easy for me to take it for granted, but in reality, I am lucky I have the gift to be able to pick up my instruments and just play. So I thank all the people who have given me the opportunity to learn music and I especially thank my parents, my first choir mistress and my first violin teacher! Thank you!

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