Inspired by a guest post on performance anxiety written by a friend from my piano Meetup group, I am launching a new occasional series of guest posts called Advice to Myself.
The articles are aimed at pianists and musicians in general and will offer practical, supportive and inspiring advice on aspects such as managing anxiety, preparing for performance, practising, repertoire, teaching, music exams, avoiding injury and more. The advice of others who are experiencing similar issues and challenges can be very helpful, and I hope these articles will also create a forum for discussion of the many issues which face musicians, amateur and professional.
Articles can include images, links, video and sound clips.
If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact me
Classic FM, the UK’s most popular classical music station, is releasing a new, free podcast aimed at introducing children to classical music in a fun and accessible way. The 10-episode series is narrated by the bestselling children’s author and TV personality David Walliams.
Launching on Monday 4th February, each episode will take listeners on a weird and wonderful journey into the world of classical music. As well as discovering what some of the greatest composers such as Mozart and Beethoven were really like, Walliams travels inside a piano, investigates the strangest instruments on the planet, and meets the mavericks and divas who took the classical music world by storm. Having sold more than 25 million children’s books, Walliams’ sense of humour, fun and enthusiasm make him the perfect host of the podcast.
Aimed at children aged 7 to 12 years old, as well as their families, David Walliams’ Marvellous Musical Podcast has been created by Classic FM to demonstrate that classical music is as relevant to young people as it is to adults. Currently 680,000 under-25-year-olds tune in to Classic FM each week and in November last year, the station launched the third series of its popular programme dedicated entirely to video game music.
David Walliams said: “I’m incredibly happy to be working with Classic FM on a brand new venture, bringing the fascinating stories and the works of iconic composers to life, through fun and insightful storytelling. It’s wonderful to be able to bring a whole genre of music to a new generation of children, whilst getting the rest of the family listening and enjoying at the same time.”
Classic FM’s managing editor Sam Jackson said: “At Classic FM, we have always passionately believed that classical music is for all – young, old, and everyone in between. That’s why we’re excited to launch David Walliams’ Marvellous Musical Podcast. As a father of four young children myself, I think it’s the perfect way to introduce the next generation to classical music – not to mention adults, too. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s cheeky and we know it will attract many new listeners to enjoy what we at Classic FM proudly declare to be the world’s greatest music.”
The launch of the podcast coincides with the new podcasts feature in the Global Player app. The Global Player is Global’s entertainment hub, which allows listeners worldwide to enjoy all Global’s radio brands, Heart, Capital, Smooth, Classic FM, Radio X, LBC, Capital XTRA and Gold, all in one place. A catalogue of 1,500 premium podcasts from a wide variety of publishers including the BBC will be available curated by the audio industry experts at Global. The new section features premium podcasts across a range of categories including Business, Technology and Sport, suggesting new podcasts for listeners based on their interests.
David Walliams’ Marvellous Musical Podcast is available to download from the Global Player and other major podcast platforms from Monday 4th February. Listen to the trailer and subscribe to the podcast now to hear the first episode as soon as it’s released.
(Source: press release)
Does a mentor necessarily have to be a teacher? Of course not. A mentor is someone who offers guidance, support and inspiration, someone we might turn to for advice. Last night, I learnt that someone I regarded as a mentor, and also a friend, had died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family.
I first met Linda Kelly, and her husband Laurence (for whom I worked as a PA for 15 years until I moved out of London) in 2003. At that time, I was rather in awe of her – a published and highly-regarded author, she was doing something I aspired to. During the time I worked for Laurence, Linda completed three books – not slim volumes but carefully-researched tomes whose text sparkled with knowledge, intelligence and good humour.
My office was on the top floor of Laurence and Linda’s house in Notting Hill and her study was across the landing from where I worked. I learnt a lot about being a writer from observing Linda. She clearly had a routine and was at her desk every morning. In addition, it was quite evident that writing was an incredibly significant part of her life (along with her family and friends), and also a place to escape to. She felt that writing also provided an important contrast to family life and running a house, but I don’t think she ever regarded it as something exceptional or special – it was just something that she “did”.
When I started writing this blog and reviewing concerts, she would regularly read my articles and reviews, offering positive commentary on my writing. On my weekly visits to the house, she would always find time to come and chat to me, asking after my family, my son’s progress as a fledgling chef, and my own musical and writerly endeavours. Her view was that it was important to have an outlet, a place to go to, to escape – not necessarily to escape from the exigencies of everyday life, but rather a place where one could exercise and pursue one’s creativity. (In fact, she had experienced a number of complicated family health issues before and during the time I worked for her and Laurence, and I wonder if writing was also a form of therapy for her.) She was very generous and supportive of my writing, and also my musical activities and accomplishments, and to have that endorsement from someone whom I respected as a celebrated professional writer and also a friend was incredibly important to me. In addition, when my husband had to go into hospital in April 2017 for complex cardiac surgery, she simply hugged me and said nothing else – she knew that platitudes like “he’s in good hands” or “he’s in the right place” were not that helpful. Her senstivity combined with a pragmatism and philosophical attitude to life (particularly in her last year when she was ill) was something to admire, and emulate.
As we resonate with a mentor, we make them our role model, tune into their special qualities, and draw these into ourselves so that we can utilise and be inspired or motivated by them. Linda’s support and kindness will continue to inspire and resonate with me as I remember her with great fondness and gratitude.
Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
I have a musical family and so my brother and I would hear music every day. I guess the music got into my soul and I started writing when I was at school from the age of about 12.
That said, I only started composing professionally in my mid-thirties. At that time I found that I really started to get satisfaction from creating music and particularly music that other people enjoy playing.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My parents warned me that the musician’s life is not easy! However, I’ve always enjoyed performing whether on piano, singing or on trumpet. It was a natural step for me to form, run and conduct a swing band at my school, and then two more bands when I went to Cambridge University.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
I think, probably like many people, I find the marketing aspect of writing (i.e. blowing one’s own trumpet!) to be a challenge. I guess it is constantly having to judge the best use of time and money in how to reach the right people with my music.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
It’s always a pleasure to write a new piece of music – and especially so as a special request. Coming up with an original, catchy and visual title can take time though.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
I perform regularly with very talented UK jazz musicians in a variety of ensembles. It’s highly satisfying to try and play up to their standard and I always get ideas for new pieces after my gigs.
Of which works are you most proud?
Gosh – that’s a tricky question! I’m particularly proud of my JukeBox book series which has taken a great deal of work and seems to be popular so far. If it comes down to a particular piece, then at the moment the duet ‘Little Green Men’ makes me smile.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I would say that it is a blend of jazz and other popular styles. As long as there is a melody and nice chord progressions, then I’m happy.
How do you work?
Ideally, I start with a title, perhaps from my growing list of potential candidates. Then I consult my spreadsheet of current compositions so that I try and avoid repeating the same combination of style, grade, key etc. I guess that’s my engineering background coming into play!
In reality, what tends to happen is that I get a melodic idea or rhythmic groove (often in the shower) and then try to find a title that works with it.
Either way, I’ll then sit down at the piano and experiment. Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t!
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Al Jarreau, Oscar Peterson, Prince, Jamie Cullum, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, James Taylor…
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
If I can write and record a piece of music, then listen to it weeks or months later and think, “that sounds good!”, then that to me is a success. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does.
Also, if I write a piece and someone, somewhere in the world plays that piece and enjoys it – then that is a success.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think it is essential to love the music you’re writing or performing right now at this moment. We all have hopes and dreams of what might be in the future, but it’s probably best not to cling to those too tightly.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Still gigging and writing most likely in the UK.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being aware of the present moment – for example, during a gig and being in ‘the flow’.
What is your most treasured possession?
Materially, my piano.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Reading, watching and learning.
What is your present state of mind?
It varies, but mostly happy!
Olly Wedgwood has been playing the piano, singing, composing and performing in public since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. It all kicked off at school, many years ago in 1986 when he won a music scholarship to Hampton School and started to write for his favourite instrument – the piano…
After four years of formal music training, Olly discovered Jazz and formed, conducted and managed the Hampton School 15-piece ‘Big Jazz and Blues Band’, also recruiting from the girls’ school next door ;). Hooked on jazz, he began to study jazz piano under top UK jazz pianist Roger Munns.
At Cambridge University, Olly performed in and directed ensembles ranging from pop and rock ‘n’ roll outfits, to jazz trios and big bands. He formed ‘Selwyn Jazz’ big band with his partner-in-crime, Jon Hooper, in 1993 and the band is still gigging to this day.
(Editors note: actually Olly studied an Engineering Degree, but he and his partner in crime, Jon Hooper, probably spent more time on the gig circuit than they did in the engineering lab…).
After University, Olly worked as an engineer and physics teacher by day, also conducting the Magdalen College School big band. By night, he gigged with various jazz and soul ensembles, both as a wedding pianist-vocalist and as a ‘front man’ wedding entertainer.
In 2004, he handed in his notice for his day job and went pro, playing frequently with the Oxford Jazz Quintet (one of Jamie Cullum’s previous ensembles). Olly now runs his Jazz Soul Boogie Band – an awesome wedding entertainment band on the professional gig circuit in the UK, performing a variety of music styles from jazz swing, Latin to funky 70s soul. Wherever Olly is playing, you’re guaranteed a great night’s music and dancing!
Also in 2004, Olly co-wrote ‘Wedgwood Blue’, a landmark piano collection which brings together the extraordinary talents of the Wedgwood family. Olly’s younger brother Sam Wedgwood is a talented singer/songwriter and their mother Pam Wedgwood is recognised around the world as one the UK’s most prolific and successful composers of popular repertoire for young instrumentalists.
Guest post by Nick Hely-Hutchinson
Did any composer, I wonder, understand – really understand – the true scope, range and possibilities of the soprano voice as well as Strauss?
That is quite a bold assertion when you consider the huge competition; but my guess is that it would find a high level of support among sopranos anyway, of which his wife, Pauline, was one. She was about as fine a personification of the ‘prima donna’ as you could expect to meet, and their marriage was volatile; but their mutual love of music probably accounts for Strauss’s exquisite compositions for the human voice.
I will not deter you now on his operatic output, of which there were fifteen, except to allude to a comment I once heard made by Kate Royal, a fine English soprano, to underline Strauss’s mastery. The last twenty minutes of his opera ‘Der Rosenkavalier‘ would never lose its slot in my Desert Island Discs, being filled with the most sublime mingling of female voices: Royal said something along the lines of, “It’s one of those moments when you just stand and sing” – nothing else required.
Today’s piece will detain you for less than two minutes, but its three brief verses are all very slightly different, and a couple of hearings will reveal its subtle musical development. Strauss wrote over 200 songs, and many of those originally written for voice and piano were later orchestrated. ‘Zueignung‘ (‘Devotion‘) is one such, but the version I have chosen is with the piano, here played so sensitively by the renowned Strauss interpreter, Wolfgang Sawallisch.
It is a little gem, composed in 1885, set to the words by the poet Hermann von Gilm. I remember seeing the American singer, Renee Fleming, perform Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs‘ at the proms a few years ago and mentally begging her to sing ‘Zueignung‘ as an encore. Never underestimate the power of wishful thinking! I have scrolled through a number of recordings, but it is the purity of Lucia Popp I cannot resist. The touching, pining, lyrics end with the lines ‘Heilig, heilig an’s Herz dir sank, Habe Dank.’ (Joy and bliss shall thy love impart.Thanks, sweet heart!)
There are some who argue that German is an unmusical language. It was Lady Bracknell, of all people, who, when commenting on a programme of songs in Oscar Wilde’s ‘Importance of Being Ernest‘ said ‘French songs I cannot possibly allow…but German sounds a thoroughly respectable language‘. A slightly tenuous link on the face of it, but the two men had more in common than you might expect: Strauss’s controversial opera ‘Salome‘ was based on a play by Wilde.
I hope you enjoy this, it is gorgeous.
Nick worked in the City of London for nearly 40 years, but his great love has always been classical music. The purpose of his blog, Manuscript Notes, is to introduce classical music in an unintimidating way to people who might not obviously be disposed towards it, following a surprise reaction to an opera by his son, “Hey, dad, this is really good!“. He is married with three adult children.
or Why I Don’t Like Karl Jenkins
Guest post by David Lake
A few weeks before Christmas, I sang Karl Jenkin’s “The Peacemakers” for our choir’s Remembrance Day concert. Whilst I applaud the pacifism, multi-culturalism and the secularism which Jenkins demonstrates and it passed BoS (that’s Bums-on-Seats – we sold out for the first time many-a-concert), the more I sang, the more I actively disliked the music.
Here’s my first problem. I find that the work is repetitive, simplistic and lacking a personal, “Jenkins” voice. Many times, he simply seems to appropriate an idiom – Celtic prayer? Let’s have a Bodhran and a lilting Irish melody. Words of the Dalai Lama? Ha! Tibetan bells and a couple of “eastern” sounding modes! Plus it is just turgid and dull to sing at times.
Now I’m no classical-music-or-bust person – I’ve been bopping along at WOMAD for decades and appreciate most musical styles and genres. And the best-of-the-best have been taking folk music and crafting it into other works for centuries (Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Ralph Vaughan Williams just-about-everything for example).
But here, there is very little in terms of development at all – most climaxes seem to be driven dynamically rather tonally and to be honest, very little happens beyond loud-soft-loud. Or vice-versa. And the repetition – again and again and again. Did I mention the repetition? “Adiemus” takes the prize there.
If I took a section of, say, Bruckner aside, I’m pretty sure most people would be able to correctly identify it in a few bars. Take a piece of Jenkins and you’re all at sea. Classical, new-age, cross-over, pop? Mozart, Vivaldi, Enya, the Gyuto Monks? It’s everywhere and nowhere baby…
I came out of the concert happy that we’d remembered the tragedy of war but musically bereft. The orchestra and choir performed to the very best of their abilities – we had put in the effort but personally, I got nothing out of it other than the joy of singing in a choir with my mates.
And now my second problem – the concert was deemed a success and much of the audience appeared to lap it up! This fact is made worse by every one of my much more learned musical friends agreeing with my point of view that this is essentially “un-music.”
We’ve a dichotomy here – when we next go begging for funding, the chief controllers-of-the-purse-strings are likely to point to this concert and say “You don’t need funding – you’ve reached your BoS nirvana and therefore the magic-money-tree does not need to produce for you. Simply go and do that again and your money worries are behind you.”
As a choir, what do we say? “Thank you – but we’d rather have some small, even brown leaves from the magic-money-tree to sing something we find more musically fulfilling and that challenges our audience more, even if there are fewer of them to be challenged.”
Who is the arbiter of artistic merit here? The musicians? The audience? The funding bodies?
What criteria defines “success” in music?
David is a research scientist, engineer, pianist, concert-goer and choral singer and sees the barriers between art and science as purely artificial and unhelpful. He is currently studying for his DipABRSM (piano) and a BA(Mus) whilst carrying on with the science-stuff in 5G mobile networks for the “day-job.”