It’s Piano Day… again!

Gosh, is it Piano Day again, already? Last year, I celebrated with this post about joining the Henry Ford Band. So much has happened since then!

I played keyboard with the Henry Ford Band, and they’ve released their album on Spotify, Amazon and iTunes! My acquaintance with the bassist then led to my being asked to play the piano for Carla and Seana’s art exhibition at Glasgow Skypark, which I really enjoyed and wrote about.

I’ve written four dance reviews with Bachtrack, and honed my skills at writing reviews that are less enthusiastically complimentary that many of my others. I do find writing negative reviews harder because I don’t like being mean, but I think it’s important to be able to critique constructively, so it’s a good skill to have practised. I don’t think I’m alone; I’m sure it’s a common challenge for many critics who value being fair and genuine.

I finally got around to actually sitting (and passing) the ABRSM Grade 8 piano exam, which makes applying for certain jobs considerably easier. Plus, it’s nice to have the official certificate – it’s very pretty!

I also went on a one-day course at the National Library, where I learned a bit about how the Library is organised and the features it offers. I saw all sorts of old manuscripts, including some medieval choir books, in which the monks had drawn funny faces to amuse the altar boys during long services. I also read some very cute correspondences between author Muriel Spark and her artist friend, Penelope Jardine. These two were such avid fans of a British TV soap drama that, whenever one of them had to miss an episode, the other would write a detailed description of the programme, including describing the advert breaks!

I’ve been back at university doing a Masters in Information and Library Studies (yesterday was the last day of teaching), and it’s been absolutely fantastic. I’ve made many new friends, learned all sorts of skills, and become a better person. Yesterday, as a fun, last-day exercise, we were asked to take what we’d learned from the course and, in groups, create a design for a library, assuming we had unlimited resources. My group decided to create the University of Mars Academic Library. It included anti-gravity elevators, a virtual reality holodeck, vacuum partitions to block sound waves and allow for quieter study areas, book-retrieval drones, lots of plant life for oxygenation and a scream-into-the-void balcony for finals week! It was a super fun activity, and I’m a little sad that the course is practically over (except a few final submissions and the summer dissertation).

University of Mars Library
“In the University of Mars Library, no-one can hear you scream”

As part of my Masters, I also completed a placement in the Music Library at the Edinburgh Central Library, where I was reclassifying their collection to follow Library of Congress subject fields. It was really fun, and I got the opportunity to attend a staff meeting and design a display for International Women’s Day. The reclassification project is very time consuming, and it wasn’t possible for me to do the full collection within my eleven-week placement. But, excitingly, they have agreed to keep me on to continue the project, so I get to continue gaining Music Library experience, which is totally awesome!

It seems a little surreal how many amazing experiences a single year can offer. I am excited to discover what the next year holds!

Piano at the Skypark: the Local Network

I was recently invited to play the piano for an art exhibition at Skypark business centre in Glasgow! How did it happen? Well…Kirsty Morgan playing white grand piano at Skypark

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!

Never Meet Your Heroes; You’ll Only Disappoint Them

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.

Spy For the Queen of Scots - dedicated page2 (3)
Look at the pretty title page!

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!

Piano Day… Apparently, it’s a Thing!

So, I just learned that today is the 88th day of the year, which can only mean one thing… today is Piano Day! Celebratory glissandi all round!

In all seriousness, though, I’d never heard of the day until I saw it mentioned on the ABRSM Facebook page. Doesn’t surprise me that it exists, though. If earlier this month we observed Pi Day and in May we’ll get to celebrate Star Wars Day, then why not have a Piano Day on equally tenuous grounds? There are 88 keys on a standard piano, Piano Day falls on the 88th day of the year; it’s not like we were using the 29th of March for any OTHER purposes

Besides, it gives me a good excuse for talking about a super cool and exciting piano-related thing that is going on in my life at the moment.

I’ve been working as a Cultural Assistant in museums and libraries in East Dunbartonshire since September. It was while I was on my first shift at the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie about a month ago that I met a lovely creative gentleman named Geoff Foord, who is a member of the Milngavie Art Club. More pertinently to this story, he is also a musician in a band, the Henry Ford Band, that he recently created with his friend, John Hendry.

We were small-talking at the front desk, and I mentioned that I play the piano. It was lovely to have a nice conversation on what was otherwise a fairly quiet weekday, but I didn’t expect anything grand to come of it.

Imagine my pleased surprise when, a few days ago, I received a very courteous email from Geoff, asking me whether I would like to play the piano to accompany the band on a few tracks of an album that they are recording! This isn’t like anything I have ever done before. Sure, I’ve accompanied live singing, both privately with friends for fun and more formally while at university, and I’ve recorded piano videos for YouTube using my phone, but to get the opportunity to play in a real recording studio for an established band would be a super amazing experience and, while undoubtedly will require work to make a good job of it, I expect it will also be a lot of fun.

Having talked to Geoff yesterday, it also transpires that, rather than being given sheet music to play from as I would have been used to, I will be given track demos to listen to and, with creative input from the band proper, will arrange an accompaniment around that. This will be a completely new playing adventure for me, but I think, also, it will be a very valuable experience and useful skill to learn and practise.

It’s still in the early stages, with regards to my participation, but I am really excited about this wonderful opportunity that has been offered to me. Provided everything goes well, and they like what I do, this will be great fun and really cool. I’m totally psyched!

If you like, you can have a wee listen to my current favourite song of theirs. I think it has a kind of Razorbills quality, which I really like:

The Henry Ford Band – Diet

“That’s a Quarter of a Century – Makes a Girl Think”

So, it was my twenty-fifth birthday this week. Thanks to everyone who wished me happy birthday – in person and via social medias.
The title of this post comes from Marilyn Monroe’s character in Some Like It Hot, where she talks about getting married. For the record, I currently have no intention of getting married, I just like the out-of-context quote, so I used it.
Aaaaaanyway, I’ve been planning this comic strip since I started this new blog, so I really hope you like it.Birthday Blues Comic Strip - with text

The Curious Incident of the Lens in the Nighttime

I want to tell you about my experience of using Nocturnal contact lenses. Although not the most fascinating subject in the world, I’m super infatuated with these new lenses, which (hopefully) will ensure that I will never have to wear glasses or daytime contact lenses for nearsightedness ever again.

The lenses are worn overnight, and during this time they flatten the front of the wearer’s eye, correcting the vision so that it’s basically 20/20. In the morning, the lenses are removed and the wearer can see perfectly without needing any corrective accessories during the day. (It sounds like witchcraft – awesome, convenient, slightly icky witchcraft.)

I find this lack of daytime vision-correction particularly fantastic because glasses are utterly infuriating. They steam up in sudden changes of temperature, and collect water droplets in the rain, both of which annoyingly obscure vision. Glasses are also really frustrating because they get pushed to a wonky angle when trying to lie down on your side to watch TV, use a laptop, or read. And don’t even get me started on trying to do exercise while wearing glasses – they get in the way, they’re uncomfortable, they can get knocked off, they are unreasonably irritating!

Regular contact lenses are considerably better than glasses, but I always found I was running out of lenses, and for me, they had a tendency to leave my eyes red, dry and sore after having worn them for a few days, which meant I was back to the irritation of glasses (mentioned, in excessive detail, above).

These Nocturnal lenses, however, are better still because in the interim between wearing them overnight, your eyes get an entire day to be out in the open, which means they don’t dry up as easily. You don’t have to worry about accidentally knocking out a lens if you rub your eye, and you never have to substitute a lens for glasses if they become uncomfortable during the day – because you’re not wearing anything (on your eyes)!

The Nocturnal lenses are also safer than laser eye surgery. Even if we discount the fact that any form of surgery comes with risks, the Nocturnal lenses also have the advantage that, unlike laser eye surgery, the process is completely reversible. So if, for some reason, the wearer decides they want to go back to using glasses to correct their vision, they merely need to stop using the Nocturnal lenses and their vision will deteriorate back to where it was when they started the process. (Why anyone would WANT to start using glasses again is utterly beyond me, but it’s nice to have the option, I guess?)

There are a few negative aspects to the Nocturnal lenses, as well. Firstly, the price. Although cheaper than laser eye surgery, in total the Nocturnal lens process costs £200 – that is, £50 for the fitting process and all subsequent aftercare appointments, and £150 for the lenses themselves. This is obviously a major expense, but from my perspective, if it can be afforded, it’s definitely worth the investment.

The only other aspect that is a potential turn off is that the Nocturnal lenses are “hard” lenses, which are considerably less comfortable than regular “soft” lenses that most people wear during the day. This means you CAN feel the lens when wearing them, however, within a few days I got used to the feeling, and the lenses are not uncomfortable when your eyes are closed – and, given they’re worn right when going to bed, closed eyes are kind of the natural state. They still allow you to see when your eyes are open; in fact, my optician, who has two young children, likes these lenses because they allow him to attend to the kids if they wake in the middle of the night without having to fumble for glasses.

On a personal note, being forced to maintain a regimented bedtime routine (with the lenses being inserted last thing before lying down to sleep) has actually really helped my sleeping patterns. Each night, I set up an audiobook to listen to on Audible and find it more comfortable to keep my eyes closed while listening. This means I get to sleep much faster than I would if I was more able to be distracted. It’s an unexpected additional bonus!

All in all, I am very happy with these Nocturnal lenses, and recommend them unreservedly (especially to those who loathe wearing glasses as much as I do). I hope this short description of my experiences is helpful to some people.

eye-spy
Eye Spy

What’s in a pun?

Kirsty’s Keyboard. That’s me, by the way: Kirsty Morgan. The keyboard part is a pun, on account of being the bit of the computer that I’ll be writing this blog with and also the type of instrument I play. I love playing the piano more than any other activity. I love it more than sleeping, more than chocolate, more than (and this is a big one) Diet Coke. I have a YouTube channel where I upload videos of me playing the piano. I’d love it if you’d like to check it out sometime. Let me know what you think.

It took me an unreasonably long time to come up with the pun, by the way. I like alliteration and playing the piano and, well, typing’s okay too, I guess. So it really ought to have been obvious. But… it wasn’t. Not to me, anyway. But we got there eventually and now I have a name for my new blog.

What will the blog be about? Mostly music-related content, I think. I am just about to finish a music degree at the University of Aberdeen, and I think it would be good to put my degree to use (at least in the unpaid online world). My long-term goal is to get into music journalism. I already write dance reviews for the website Bachtrack (here), which I think is a good start. But those are just dance reviews and I want to write about various sorts of music. So, that stuff will go on this blog.

I think I’ll also write some Lifestyle articles. I like reading, so I could write about books I’ve read (or listened to audiobooks of); and I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking recently (I got a Nordic cookbook for my Christmas last month) so I definitely want to share about that. And I think I’ll generally talk about other things that are going on in my life, too (provided they’re interesting enough, of course!).

My current plan is to write a post a week. It’s not like I especially have much else to do at the moment, except search for a job. Hopefully I can stick to that schedule… I will certainly try anyway!

I think that’s enough information to be getting on with for a first post. Hopefully this blog will be enjoyable for you to read and for me to write.

If you’ve gotten this far, then thanks! I look forward to writing more for you in the future.

In the meantime, bye for now,

Kirsty x