Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

To cry or not to cry August 29, 2010

How emotional do we/can we/ should we get at concerts?

Classical music is emotive, but there is this problem that you are meant to go through an inner psychological journey, rather than outwardly expressing this journey.

This may not be helped by our British culture. Imagine a stranger wailing on your shoulder at a concert. You just wouldn’t know what to do!

  1. Do you offer a hankie?
  2. Reprimand them and tell them to keep a stiff upper lip?
  3. Or do you ignore them and hope the problem will go away?

I found myself at the Prom on Sunday night where Sir John Eliot Gardiner was conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Greig’s Piano Concerto was simply beautiful and I constantly struggled to hold back my tears. To be fair I was feeling emotional before I entered the concert hall, but none-the-less the music augmented this feeling.

I was in a quandary: to cry or not to cry? Was is socially inappropriate? Will people think I am silly for crying or a fool for letting my emotions run so array?

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Late Night Prom looks outside the ‘closed classical box’ August 27, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 10:03 am
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Last night I went to the coolest Prom yet! Jamie Cullum with his four piece band joined the Heritage orchestra for what turned out to be cross between a civilised concert and hot and steamy jig.  

The audience was predominantly composed of 20-35 somethings (especially in the packed promming arena) but I was impressed by the number of ‘oldies’ who braved the concert. While the Proms aims to introduce newcomers to classical music, last night I think it actually introduced many to jazz. Due to my sheltered ways, I’ve certainly never been to anything like this and it was eye opening to see of the mixing board on stage and the staged drama, which included two fishermen at the start of the set. Not only did Jamie draw in a predominantly younger audience, but he pulled in a packed auditorium (which can’t be said for all the late night proms).

However, the audience’s classical background was evident in the polite twitters in response to Jamie Cullum’s performance antics. It must have been a bit of a shock to some to see so much exuberance on stage. Jamie frequently got up to dance at the front, stood on the piano and even did a flying run across the stage. Towards the end Jamie had charmed the audience and had everyone clapping and singing along, the arena had turned into a jumping pit and people were even dancing in the boxes!   

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A musical retelling of ‘On the way Home’ August 26, 2010

Filed under: 1A: extending my arts practice — concerttuning @ 5:33 pm
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On the way home.MP3 by Alice Hyland.

This recording was taken while performing the story, ‘On the way home’ to my parents. While it is no means perfect, it is a starting point from which to expand.

It quotes a number of famous tunes:

  • Claire’s ‘sad music’ = Early French Song by Tchaikovsky
  • female friends = The Trout by Schubert
  • male friends = Kontretanz by Beethoven
  • wolf = wolf theme from Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev
  • crocodile = ‘never smile at a crocodile’ theme tune from Disney’s Peter Pan
  • Dragon = ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from Opera by Wagner
  • Happy music = The Trout by Schubert

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My first audience member aged 3 August 25, 2010

I had the fantastic opportunity to test-drive my musical storytelling on my 3 ½ year old nephew. The story that I was working on was one of his favourite books, so I hoped it would be appropriate for his age. The day before I had brought my cello out and showed him how it worked and even let him have a go. I first tried playing it to him just after we got back from a long walk and he was playing with his new racing track. However, when I got to introducing the ‘big, bad wolf’ I was told, ‘Alice, can you stop playing your cello now, it too loud’.

I little deflated, I gave it another attempt the following day, asking whether he wanted to hear the story if I didn’t play so loud. I started by putting my mute on, but after a few notes he told me to take it off! Much to my relief he stayed engaged for a full 20 minutes, and even played a part in telling the story.

I sat on the sofa while he sat on the floor with the story book on my music stand, so that it was clearly visible. He alternated from lying on a blanket and listening, to standing up to look at the story book when prompted and even got up really close looking at my cello.

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Experimenting with story books and music

I visited my parents house for a week and took the opportunity to go through all my old cello music. I found a great book with lots of well know tunes arranged for cello.

Having the idea that I wanted to involved the audience, I enlisted my Dad’s help to see if we could make up a story together. I chose a piece by random and playing through each phrase asking him questions such as who do you think the story is about and what did he then do? However, this did not produce the results I wanted, as as Dad pointed out he did not have a child’s imagination and there wasn’t enough contrast in the piece. Though we made up a piece about Pinocho not going to school, I knew I had to rethink my strategy.

The original plan was to add words to a classical piece, but after hearing an account of how an animateur combined stories and music, I scrapped my original idea and decided to start with the story and work the music around this. Consequently, I delved into our old children’s books to find some good stories for inspiration.

I selected some books that had lots of repetition and a clear structure, so that there were plenty of opportunities to repeat tunes. Some particular favourites were ‘On the way home’ and ‘Peace at Last’ by Jill Murphy, as well as a recent book, ‘Room in a Broom’ by Julia Donaldson. Another story to look at would be the ‘Gruffalo’. These books all have several contrasting characters, as well as a repetitious structure.

I then experimented added tunes to characters as well as creating sound effects with my cello until I had something resembling a story interrupted with short musical interludes.

 

BBC Proms Inspire Day August 4, 2010

Filed under: 1B: volunteering/training/shadowing — concerttuning @ 11:01 am
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I volunteered at BBC Proms Inspire day on 2 August. The participants were teenagers who had entered the BBC Proms Young Composer Competition who travel from as far as Scotland to come to the young composers’ day.

I helped on the day by directing and instructing the participants at the BBC studio, participating during the workshop and helping the stage moves during the concert at the Royal College of Music.

The day was led by composer, Stephen and four musicians. When entering the Hall the young composers were thrown amidst an improvised composition where they participated by ringing their mobile phones when they saw a sign with the month of their birthday. This was then followed by an exercise where they sang happy birthday as slow as possible out of sync. This produced some beautiful harmonies.

Then followed a number of composition workshops, introducing them to the workshop musicians as well as composition techniques. They evaluated their work as they went along and all got a chance to participate. The day culminated in an experimental composition called ‘Poldergeese’ with the 100+ young musicians. This was made up of various pieces of material which were then combined and ordered by the conductor. I got to play the tam tam!

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BBC Proms Family orchestra

I went to observe and help at the BBC Proms family orchestra workshop on Saturday 31 July. The workshop was themed on Sonheim to link in with the evening’s Prom in celebration of Sondheim’s 80th Birthday. The idea was to bring people of all ages and abilities to play together.

I helped by signing the families in when they arrived, handing out the BBC Proms 2010 badges as well as distributing and collecting the evaluation forms. I also joined in with the percussion session during the workshop.

Sat in their instrumental families, each section was lead by a BBC musician and assisted by a music student while Lincoln, the workshop leader conducted. We were taught a number of well know tunes from works that influenced Sondheim as well as creating different sound effects. We slowly built up over the course of 2hrs the sections for our final performance without the aid of any notated music. However, it was easily memorable due to the verbal instructions from the conductor as well as the pictorial or programmatic nature of the music.

I was impressed at how attentive the families were and that they didn’t play their instruments when the musicians were talking.