A while ago, my friend, Calum, created a list of six-word advertisements in the style of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word Baby Shoes story. With his permission, I’ve created an illustration of my favourite of the ads, clearly written by a set of goblins and so blatantly conspicuous that it could only lure other equally-gullible goblins. I hope you like it.
I was recently invited to play the piano for an art exhibition at Skypark business centre in Glasgow! How did it happen? Well…
If you remember, a wee while ago, I played keyboard for the Milngavie-based Henry Ford Band on their debut album, The Angry Young Man. That album’s available to listen to on Spotify, by the way, and to purchase on iTunes and Amazon music. At some point I believe there will be a CD released, although I’ve yet to hear further details about this.
Anyway, a couple of local artists, Carla Faulkner and Seana Doherty, were looking for a pianist to play a baby grand piano at the opening of their new exhibition and Geoff Foord, the Henry Ford bassist, suggested that I might be interested, and gave them my details.
Happily, I was available that evening, and since the artists were perfectly willing to give me free rein choosing the music, I felt that this was a feasible task and amazing opportunity. I selected a collection of twenty-or-so Pamela Wedgwood pieces: mostly New Age, smooth jazz background music with a few more upbeat jazzy numbers thrown in, for contrast. They are all pieces I already knew and regularly play for fun, so didn’t require too much preparation, the most difficult being Grade 6 level.
The day (Thursday 31st Jan) arrived, and I was excited. After university finished for the day, I walked along to the Skypark – and, thanks to Google Maps, I only got lost once! The foyer was beautifully decorated with Carla and Seana’s artwork, and the baby grand was lovely. Having had less experience playing grand pianos than uprights, I always find I need to adjust my playing for them. The keys on grand pianos tend to have more resistance and the sound comes from further away, making the instrument trickier to play fast and it is slightly harder for me, as the player, to hear the music in a noisy area. But the grand piano also gives a fuller sound and (as another less relevant point in its favour) is easier to record because you just have to set up microphones at the holes in the soundboard.
I played for almost the entire three hours of the exhibition, with a ten-minute break midway though to warm up away from the door (it was snowing outside!) and eat one of the delicious cupcakes that were provided. Even although I knew the pieces well, playing in a public setting is very different from playing at home. I tried to retain my concentration, but kept getting distracted by the action in the room – it’s probably just psychological, but I felt that any time a person came over to view the pictures behind me, I had to concentrate more to avoid making mistakes. There were also some little children at the event who were excited by the piano, which was adorable!
I did discover that my playing stamina has deteriorated slightly since I finished practicing for piano exams. Where before I was able to play non-stop for five hours, on Thursday only playing for three was pretty much my limit. A couple of songs before the end, I was finding my eyes were struggling to focus on the music and when I got home I fell asleep almost instantly.
That said, even although the playing was intense, it was an amazing opportunity that I really enjoyed. I’ve always fancied the idea of playing background music; I love it when there’s a pianist at restaurants, it makes me want to join in! Having now had the opportunity to try it out, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the endurance of those players; but I’d also like to play in a similar setting again at some point. The event coordinator at Skypark did ask for my details, so we’ll see if anything comes of that, I guess.
All in all, the experience was super fun and a really great night. Thanks to Carla and Seana for inviting me, and to Geoff for advocating for me in the first place. I’ll leave you with a Pam Wedgwood piece I recorded earlier. Enjoy!
I know I’m cheating with this one, since I recorded it several years ago, but I’m running out of time and, when questioned about what she wanted her carol to be, my sister Jenny immediately responded that she wanted Away in a Manger – both the American and British versions. She did offer an alternative when I told her I’d already created that, but here we are less than a week before Christmas, with nothing recorded, so, here you go Jenny! Your first choice.
I have decided to post a few Christmas videos throughout advent, dedicated to each of the people closest to me. This one is for my mother, whose favourite advent carol is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
[First published on Snark [music] Notes on 5/01/2016]
PETER MAXWELL DAVIES: Resurrection
In Peter Maxwell’s Davies’s short avant-garde opera, Resurrection (1987), a mute child is indoctrinated by our evil modern society, with weird reprocussions.
A mute child, played by a larger-than-life-sized mannequin, is being indoctrinated by various authority figures, including family, teachers, a vicar and a doctor.
My, what a terrible world we do live in(!)
Intermittent ‘alchemical dances’, in which a rock band accompanies a cat who transforms into a dragon, represent the omnipresent commercialism (rock bands, television, advertisements etc.) that we are constantly bombarded with in the modern world.
“but I WANT a cat that can turn itself into a dragon while awesome rock music plays in the background…”
The action passes between the indoctrinating authority figures and the rock-band accompanied dragon-cat.
Still struggling to see how a dragon-cat with its own rock band is a bad thing…
Eventually, the mannequin-child’s head explodes.
Oh. Well, okay then. Apparently, the awesomness of such a concept is just too much for one mannequin-child to process.
(Although, I expect Peter Maxwell Davies wants you to believe the mannequin-child went insane due to being stretched too thinly between all the different ideologies that it is expected to follow… or something.)
The mannequin-child has been taken to an operating theatre to be cured of its ‘anti-social tendencies’.
I see what they did there – an opera set in an OPERAting theatre! Very good… please tell me this pun was the reason that this entire work even exists.
More stock characters attempt to fix the mannequin-child, including a capatilist, a trade-unionist, a rabbi, more Christian ministers, a politician and a gospel-preacher.
Tell me, Peter Maxwell Davies, is there anyone in a powerful role who you do trust? I mean, kudos for sticking it to the man and all but… evil indoctrinating trade-unionists?!
The new stock characters remove the mannequin-child’s brain, heart and genitals…
…and replace each with a sanitised, ‘safer’ substitute.
I don’t think I even WANT to know what those would be… Okay, Peter Maxwell Davies, you’ve made your point. Now I’m scared and I want to go home.
The unhappy, now-indoctrinated mannequin-child, having been forcefully stripped of all of its individuality, rebels and guns down the operators and the audience using a machine gun.
Not a REAL machine gun, obviously… It isn’t a real machine gun, is it, Peter Maxwell Davies? ‘Cause, I mean, I’m seriously a little concerned about your mental stability at this point.
The mannequin-child disappears…
Oh, good… I think?
…and in its place the Antichrist rises theatrically from a tomb amidst a flashing disco light show!
End of opera.
Moral of the story: modern day commercialism is a BAD THING.
BETTER MORAL OF THE STORY: avant-garde is weird.
…Now, where can I buy a dragon-cat?
RICHARD WAGNER: Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold
In the first part of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold (1852), the unthinking actions of a Dwarf, a God and some Giants spark events that will eventually lead to the apocalypse.
Overture: Fast, flowing cellos represent river Rhine.
Rhine maidens guard magic gold that grants ultimate power.
Why does that gold exist? Why has it not been destroyed? There’s not even been any singing yet, and it’s clear things are gonna go badly, badly wrong!!!
Alberich the dwarf wants the gold.
(TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY: Denounce love, get gold.)
Alberich denounces love in order to get gold:
“Thus I curse love”.
Nope, totally don’t see how this could possibly go wrong.
Fashions gold into a ring.
Wotan (Odin) has commissioned giants to build a huge castle (Valhalla).
He offers his wife’s sister as payment to the giants.
Wotan’s wife intervenes.
Wotan, put Freia down. You cannot sell the Goddess of Love to some random Giants…
Giants still want to be paid, so Wotan then tricks Alberich into turning himself into a toad.
No, Alberich! Don’t turn yourself into a toad! Wotan’s gonna steal your…
Wotan steals Alberich’s ring.
Understandably, Alberich is a bit miffed, so he placed a curse on the ring!
Curse: anyone who owns the ring will be blinded by its power!
Wotan gives ring to giants.
Wotan? What are you doing? WOTAN! STAHP!!!
Giants fight over ring, one dies.
Well done, Wotan. Well done.
[SPOILER WARNING: You’ve just triggered the apocalypse]
Moral of the story: greed and power-hungriness are bad.
BETTER MORAL OF THE STORY: Never hang around with Norse Gods.
Earlier this month, I was in Edinburgh to review Company Wayne MacGregor’s production, Autobiography, for Bachtrack. This post isn’t about that. Rather, it’s about an incident that took place earlier that day, where I, by chance, got the opportunity to meet my favourite living children’s author, Theresa Breslin, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
A little backstory. I’ve loved Theresa Breslin’s books since I was in primary school. I enjoyed the Dream Master series because it reminded me of E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton and Edgar Eager. Her book Remembrance taught me about pacifism during the First World War. I learned about how awful dyslexia was for children in the past from Whispers In the Graveyard. And, although Marcus Sedgewick is a writer I also enjoy, I’m still slightly disappointed that the Booktrust Teenage Prize opted for his book, My Swordhand Is Singing, over Breslin’s The Medici Seal…
(although, at least the Booktrust had the decency to choose a more than halfway decent book as its winner, unlike SOME competitions I could name *cough*Carnegie*cough*…seriously, Just In Case was the actual worst.)
My point is I’ve been a Theresa Breslin fan for a while, so when, a couple of years ago, I saw that she was signing books at the Edinburgh Book Festival on a day that I happened to be there, you’d have thought I’d jump at the opportunity to meet her and get a book signed. And, I almost did, I swear… but I chickened out. It felt too weird for a 20-odd year old to be standing in line alongside a bunch of kids to get a book signed by a children’s author.
And then I forever felt bad about not having met Theresa Breslin when I had the chance. I was even lamenting about it to one of my work colleagues less than a month ago.
But then, earlier this month, I was in Edinburgh for a Bachtrack review, and I had time to burn. So my best friend Calum and I went to the book festival, where Theresa Breslin, coincidentally, was signing books again. Would you hate me if I told you I almost chickened out a second time? I am, undoubtedly, my own worst enemy.
But I didn’t chicken out, because Calum was there and he convinced me to go through with it. I was still a little nervous, but I bought a copy of Spy for the Queen of Scots and waited in a fairly short line.
And, unsurprisingly, Theresa Breslin was super nice. She asked whether I’d been at the talk that she and Holly Webb had given earlier that day… which I hadn’t. I managed to babble something about just having seen she was signing books and that I’d really liked her when I was wee. I didn’t say that she was still one of my favourite authors and that the last time I read one of her books was this year. That would have been weird.
The meeting was a blur. She signed and dedicated the book to me, and then it was over. I was in a slight state of shock for about fifteen minutes after the signing and I kept asking Calum whether it had gone okay and checking I hadn’t made a fool of myself. I think it’s the most fan-girly I’ve ever been in my entire life. (Oh my gosh, what would happen if I, in some weird turn of unlikely events, were to meet Julie Andrews?! Would I faint? Or cry? Or cry and then faint?!)
All things considered, although I was nervous, it could have gone a lot worse. And now I have a book signed by Theresa Breslin, which I am extremely ecstatic about! I’ve even wrapped the book in some laminate casing to keep it nice. And it was an awesome extra add-on to a fun day out with my friend and then a not-so-fun dance show in the evening. And two out of three ain’t bad – I count that as a really good day!