For Musicians From Musicians: Tutors, Mentors and why you need both

Tutors, Mentors and Why You Need Both

by the BDMA Tutors

TUTOR
noun
1. a person employed to instruct another in some branch or branches of learning, especially a private instructor.

MENTOR
noun
1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

What is the difference between tutor and mentor, and why do we need both as musicians?

From the dictionary definitions, we see that tutors focus on the learning aspect whilst mentors go more towards the side of guidance.

Obviously, when learning an instrument it is a must that a tutor teaches you the ins and outs of what you are playing. They need to cover the technique and the theory, the repertoire and the rules.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to play.

But if you talk to the majority of professional musicians and get them to reminisce on their past tutors, yes some might say

“My second teacher really sorted out my technique”

…but what is more likely to stick with them is how a tutor supported them or inspired them.

This is the mentor aspect of music teaching. Mentors are there to guide through difficult decisions, push you to the next level and inspire your creativity.

The combination of tutor and mentor is what pushes students to be the best they can be. With this in mind, we’ve had our tutors share some of their experiences.

 

Jess Tomlinson:

We know that music is so much more than learning the notes. So your teaching experience should represent this – learning the theory is important, but understanding the depth of music, being innovative and creative and finding constant inspiration is when music lessons move to the next level. My favourite teachers have been the ones that have thoroughly taught me the technique of the instrument but spent an equal about of time guiding me as a musician. This might have been telling me anecdotes, giving me life advice or asking how the rest of my studies were going, generally taking an interest in my whole musical life, not just when I had a clarinet in my hands. I want to replicate this with my teaching – music should be an experience that goes past just simply playing and I strive for my students to understand the whole picture, and love it.

 

Bryony Purdue:

I have never been someone to express myself through anger or particularly through silent treatment/sadness. It has always been through music and my first singing teacher, Lesley, made the link between personal and musical inextricable. To be able to do what we do and sing or play in front of people, we have to be so sure of ourselves as people as well as performers, otherwise it is all too easy for nerves and fear to get the better of us. We are all human and having encouragement and FUN when learning and performing is so important (whether it be to family in your living room or in front of lots of people.) Mentors bring out the human in us and give us enough confidence and self-assurance and tutors teach us the skill of our instrument. You need both to be able to fully enjoy the process and reap the limitless benefits of music.

 

Louise Balkwill:

I’ve found throughout my musical journey that it has been invaluable to have both tutors and mentors. For me, my tutors have helped me to develop the foundations; good technique, a comprehensive repertoire, harmonic knowledge and so on. As you develop, you select your tutors based on a problem-and-solution basis. But a mentor is someone who really inspires you and takes you under their wing – a kind of Harry Potter and his wand type, special relationship!

My first mentor was an incredible musician called Liane Carroll; the woman who inspired me to start singing. I found myself at her gig by chance, and was in awe from the moment she opened her mouth – so I followed her EVERYWHERE for a good year before approaching her. I went on one of her summer schools and she took a personal interest in my singing and my musical journey. She has since let me join her on stage at gigs and we make an effort to hang out whenever she is in town and we are both free. The inspiration, advice and support that she has bestowed upon me has become an important part of who I am, and I am very lucky indeed to have her as a mentor and friend.

There is nothing to say that a tutor cannot become a mentor. For example, I developed a great learning relationship with my History of Jazz tutor, Malcolm Earle-Smith, whilst at Trinity Laban. When I reached my final year, I really struggled, both emotionally and creatively. Malcolm went out of his way to support me and gave me all the help that I needed to stay inspired, finding innovative and new ways to teach me things that I was struggling with and encouraging me along the way. He has become an invaluable mentor and dear friend.

Introducing Our New Tutors!

Over the past few months as our academy has grown, we’ve been delighted to welcome seven wonderful new tutors to our happy team, six in London and one in Manchester. 

We can’t wait for you to meet them, so here’s a little online introduction… If this has whetted your appetite, do get in touch with us! 

Why not try a new instrument with our 4 lessons for £99 offer (in London)!

Contact louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire.

Bryony Purdue – BMus Hons – Singing and Piano, London.

Bryony has recently joined us as a singing and piano tutor. She has just graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance with a first class degree in classical singing, but is wonderfully diverse and sings all styles of music, capturing the hearts of audiences everywhere! She is also particularly gifted when it comes to tutoring younger students, with her bubbly personality and love for teaching. She is a big believer in keeping the fun alive when learning music!

“I have never been someone to express myself through anger or particularly through silent treatment/sadness. It has always been through music and my first singing teacher, Lesley, made the link between personal and musical inextricable. To be able to do what we do and sing or play in front of people, we have to be so sure of ourselves as people as well as performers, otherwise it is all too easy for nerves and fear to get the better of us. We are all human and having encouragement and FUN when learning and performing is so important (whether it be to family in your living room or in front of lots of people.)”

Check out her beautiful rendition of this Billie Holiday classic…

Fraser Bowles – BMus Hons, MMus – Cello and Piano, London.

Fraser has recently joined our London team as a cello and piano tutor. He has played with an impressive list of bands and ensembles…

“Although I love to play classical music, I’ve played with some pretty cool bands, too; Matt Emery, VLMV, Ben Laver, Taz Modi, Heather McClelland, and as a member of Parallax Orchesta; Eminem, Alter Bridge, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Bring Me The Horizon, Jennifer Ann, The Irrepressibles, dodie and Ardyn to name a few! I am also a founding member of the contemporary music group, Ret Frem. We are committed to the performance and promotion of music of exquisite craft by living composers – established, emerging or underrepresented.”

But hey, who needs a band when you can clone yourself and play four cellos at once!

Ian Sankey – BMus Hons – All Brass (Trumpet, Flugel, Trombone, Euphonium, French Horn, Tuba), London.

Ian is our newest member of the team, and has joined us with a rather incredible inventory of brass instruments, including a renaissance trombone called the sackbut!

“While at Guildhall I began playing the sackbut, which is the renaissance trombone, something I still enjoy to this day. Playing sackbut has taken me as far Toronto in Canada when a group of us joined forces with Girton College choir from Cambridge to record a CD of the music of Lassus out there.”

They’re very rare (and expensive!), but Ian has said that he’d be more than happy to let any of his new students have a go!

Have a listen to Ian playing Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story with Aeris Brass!

Joel Waters – Drums, London.

Meet Joel, our fabulous new drum tutor. He has already racked up an impressive teaching portfolio (he’s been teaching since the age of 15!) and has joined us recently to bring his drum expertise to your living rooms.

“Hi there! I’m Joel and I teach Drums. I have been teaching since I was fifteen and have been playing drums since I was five years old. Currently I am currently studying Jazz, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. I love all styles of music from heavy metal to classical and have worked with various different bands and artists across the UK. In my spare time I love to play table tennis and go running. My favourite cake has to be a good old Victoria sponge (especially with fondant roll up icing – I could eat that by itself!).”

Joel is incredibly diverse and can play all styles of music (check him out in the last video in this newsletter playing with one of Louise’s students, Tilda Hardy) and is a ninja with brushes!

Megan Thompson – Violin, piano, theory and beginner singing, Manchester

Megan has recently joined our team up in Manchester, teaching violin, piano, theory and beginner singing…

“I have enjoyed many orchestral and chamber music opportunities, playing in projects with the Hallé orchestra and Manchester Camerata. I also enjoy playing chamber music and doing session work, performing with touring groups in venues across the country including, Manchester Palace Theatre, Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre and Kings Theatre in Glasgow.”

Rob Griffin – BMus Hons – Woodwind and Piano, London

Rob has just joined us as a woodwind and piano teacher after achieving the highest mark in his year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – He was awarded the Trinity Laban Jazz Achievement Award in 2016!

Despite being rather brilliant, Rob is a fun and friendly chap who loves to teach students of all ages and stages.

Twm Dylan – BMus Hons, MMus – Guitar, Electric Bass, Double Bass, Piano, Singing, London.

Twm has recently finished his Master’s Degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and is now an official double bass master. But that’s not all – he is a multifaceted multi instrumentalist too!

Although he has only begun teaching for the Becky Dell Music Academy recently, he’s been a friend of the family for a long time and plays with our other tutors, Louise Balkwill, Llinos Emanuel, Joel Waters and Rob Griffin regularly. He’s also making quite a splash on the UK jazz scene with widely renowned band Maisha.

Check out this video of Twm playing the Billie Holiday heart melter “It’s Like Reaching For The Moon” with one of Louise’s students, Tilda Hardy, alongside two of our other new tutors, Rob (sax) and Joel (drums)!

Give them all a big, warm BDMA welcome!

Fancy learning with one of our amazing new tutors?

Why not try a new instrument with our 4 lessons for £99 offer (in London)!

Contact louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire.

From Becky and the Team x

Noteworthy People – Jóhann Jóhannsson

by Jess

For this edition of Noteworthy People, we want to celebrate the beautiful compositions of Jóhann Jóhannsson who sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago.

Jóhann Jóhannsson was an Icelandic composer renowned for his music for screen.  If you don’t know the name behind the soundtracks, you’ll definitely recognise the films he wrote music for….

Most recent box office hits include “The Theory of Everything”, “Sicario” and “Arrival”.

His writing style is particularly recognisable.

Unlike the catchy melodies of John Williams or the driving rhythms of Hans Zimmer, Jóhannsson is extremely effective with his use of blending interesting orchestral textures with electronics. His music creates an atmosphere rather than being obviously thematic and he experiments hugely with harmony.

When he does use melodies, they are often long and sweeping

…featuring lots of indulgent string writing or emotional piano lines!

His most notable film partnership was with director Denis Villeneuve, beginning their work together in 2013 for the film “Prisoners”. Leading on from this were the soundtracks for “Sicario” and “Arrival”, both scores being nominated for BAFTAs, Arrival nominated for a Golden Globe and Sicario nominated for an Oscar.

Not bad going!

“The Theory of Everything” (2014) was also another success for Jóhannsson, nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA, and winning the Golden Globe in 2015.

Have a listen to this section of music from near the end of the film and enjoy his beautiful string writing. Notice how he uses small cells of music in his compositions, repeating the short snippet of music but using different harmonies in the background. Once these snippets are layered and the textures are built up, the long lyrical string and piano melodies I mentioned above come in.

Film music wasn’t his only claim to fame and Jóhannsson also released several solo albums. The underlying conection with his albums is the tying together of traditional orchestral set-ups with electronics, often working with electronic music producers. The albums vary from music inspired for theatre to ambient pieces for string orchestras.

To see him live in action, check out this performance for KEXP with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. What is particularly great to see is that he performs the works with the group, playing piano and working some of the electronics.

Not many composers do that!

The interview also gives an insight into his composition process, with him talking about ideas he had or the briefs he got given.  My favourite piece of the set is called “The Drowned World” which is 30mins into the programme.

Finally, there is a lot to be said for the link between successful, high quality musicians and selflessness.

This anecdote from a fellow composer Olafur Arnalds really highlights this:

“My favorite Jóhann story is when he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother” and at some point realised that the film was better with no music at all.

He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realise the piece is better without you.
The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realise that it was redundant. So in my view, Mother still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence… deafening, genius silence.”

Make your next coffee break or work commute ultra-relaxing with this Jóhann Jóhannsson playlist on Spotify. Enjoy.

https://open.spotify.com/user/spotify/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX7JN1FkFRbX4?si=x-087M3gTWahV2-9kqFsQw

R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson 1969-2018

Music Advice: For Musicians From Musicians

by Jess and the team

We’re a couple of weeks into 2018 and it’s around this point where people are wondering how realistic their new year’s resolutions are. Rather than challenge myself to a resolution, I’m a big advocate of bettering what I already have.

With this in mind, it got me thinking…

How can we help our music students? 

How can they build on what they’ve learnt previously and better it in 2018? 

Is there a way to get more enjoyment out of the music? 

My thoughts then moved to our tutors – the list is getting quite long now! With them all being professional musicians, they’ve got an encyclopaedic knowledge and advice that can be passed onto to our students.

So, I asked them…

What is the best piece of musical advice you have been given……?

Becky Dell:

One of the best bits of advice I was given, as a performer, was from Jools Holland’s Manager (ooh er) and that when describing your band genre, pick three words to identify it, such as “Bluegrass, close-harmonies, up-tempo” or “thrash metal, dramatic, all-women” etc. 

I think we can get caught up with not wanting to label ourselves into a specific genre, but those two examples above are different enough to show you the difficulties a Bookings Manager has if you don’t let them know roughly what genre you are. It’s been great to see so many bands developing within the Academy recently, make sure you know your genre when approaching venues for gigs!

Louise Balkwill:

The best piece of advice that I have ever been given as a musician came from my biggest living inspiration, Liane Carroll, a most wonderful singer with more soul than you could possibly imagine. Although it sounds counterintuitive, her performance advice to me was to “Stop thinking so much! Just be honest and enjoy it.”; At the time I didn’t fully understand, but now I repeat it to myself on a daily basis. Overthinking can tear the fun out of performing, and if you’re not enjoying yourself, how do you expect your audience to?

 

Sophie Simpson:

In terms of musical advice, being told not to worry about what other musicians are doing, and to stay true to myself and my musical ideas. This has been helpful in preparing for auditions, and also if/when I worry what other people might think about my playing.

 

 

Meg Brookes:

I was once told that your brain can’t process two opposite emotions at once and that it connects certain emotions to physical impulses e.g smiling. The science is far more complex, of course, but in layman terms this means that if you smile you can trick your brain into thinking you are happy and excited. When I am most nervous, I smile as much as possible and before I know it I think those butterflies are excitement. You have the power to be in control of yourself and your nerves and the more you practice shifting your perspective on those pesky butterflies the more in control you are of any performance anxiety you might be having. The power is in your hands (and eating a banana always helps too)!

Jess Tomlinson:

 

The superhero pose! The pose that inflicts the feeling of power and control. When someone told me to stand like that before going on stage I thought they were barmy. But actually once I tried it, I realised that simply putting your hands on your hips and your legs slightly apart, making yourself a bigger person, really gives you a positive boost. Now I stand like that before every audition and concert, and my quintet even goes as far as group superhero poses before our gigs.

 

Jess Thayer:

Someone once gave me a great quote about worrying (in particular, worrying about upcoming auditions, exams or performances). ‘Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere.’  It really resonated with me. Then they said if you are fully prepared and have done everything you can, then you are ready! Preparation is the key! Coz when nerves kick in if you’re prepared then instinct, memory and all your hard work will prevail!

Glenda Allaway:

The best advice I’ve been given is to make beautiful memories.

It may seem like a strange one but music and life are intertwined and if your whole life becomes confined to the four walls of a practice room then your music will start to reflect that. Practice hard, yes. But never forget to live and infuse your music with your experiences!

Connor Roff:

Work and practice hard and don’t be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. In fact, make loads of mistakes, because the best way to learn is from our mistakes. Continue to go outside of your comfort zone because the moment you start to feel “comfortable” you’re probably not learning and therefore need to find a way to challenge yourself again.

 

Hayley Pope: 

A teacher of mine told me the best piece of advice:

“Always play for yourself, not for others”

 

 

 

Hopefully some of this advice resonates with you and can be used in your musical life. All the best for 2018.

Care for Country

We love getting our tutors to write blogs for us about their interests and expertise and so are very excited to share Connor’s thoughts on country music. Connor teaches piano, guitar, singing and songwriting at the London academies.

by Connor Roff

Country on the rise: Americana what?

I never liked Country.

I used to think it was cheesy, basic and all sounded the same.

Recently, after starting a new music project called Little Water with a friend of mine, I’ve been proven wrong. Somehow and completely accidentally, we created a sound with some dulcet country tones and I discovered Country is a broad genre with all sorts of cool complexities and little gems.

Country originated in the southern United States from folk and blues music in the early 1900’s. Working class Americans developed its beginnings and it moved from hillbilly music and barn dances to blue grass, country rock and country pop in the later 1980s.

Chris Carlisle (first generation country): 

Country music is on the rise, especially in the UK. This doesn’t just come down to the popularity of mainstream country style artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. There’s a lot of genre blending occurring now, hence why the popularity of “Country” is developing more and more traction.

You may have heard the word Americana tossed around a few times recently in the music world. According to americanamusic.org:

“Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”

In other words, a crossover of all sorts of genres, the first being country. Some classic examples of artists fitting into the Americana box include Neil Young, Jonny Cash and Tom Petty.

Some more current examples include Ryan Adams, The War on Drugs, Laura Marling, Ray LaMontagne, The Lumineers and so much more.

Here’s one of my new favourites called Chris Stapleton and his wife performing his song “Traveller” below. Go check out his two solo albums, they’re honest and cool: 

Meanwhile for some more traditional country sounds, check out rising UK duo The Shires and American acts Sam Hunt and Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves has pushed conventional country norms talking about same sex relationships and smoking marijuana: 

If you’re like me and you want to start exploring this diverse world more, London has some fantastic events to promote and support country music within the UK coming up.

Grab your cowboy hat and boots and head down to Americana Music Festival in Hackney London from 31st Jan-1st Feb in Hackney London from 31st Jan-1st Feb and C2C (Country to Country) Music Festival at The O2 in March.

I’ll be there with a whiskey in hand.

For more information about Connor’s new band “Little Water” follow them on social media:

Facebook: @littlewatermusic

Instagram: littlewatermusic

Noteworthy People – Sir Simon Rattle

by Jess

It’s time for our first “Noteworthy People” of the academic year and this half term we have chosen…

Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle is one of Britain’s most renowned and highly regarded conductors. He became recognised as an international artist whilst conducting the CBSO from 1980-98, before taking over as lead conductor of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002.

Now, the big news…

Simon Rattle is back in the UK!

He has taken over as musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra, Britain’s highest profile orchestra. And music lovers have high hopes for this new collaboration.

Taken from an article written by Erica Jeal for the Guardian:

“Teachers dream that his influence might fix the funding crisis in music education. Managers hope this rare household-name conductor will be a shot of adrenaline for the box office. Audiences want to hear that velvety Berlin Phil tone added to the LSO’s already dazzling palette, and the LSO players themselves know that he is likely to be listened to when he insists on good rehearsal time and conditions for his musicians.”

The LSO have celebrated this new era for the orchestra, as they call it, with a 10 day festival called “This Is Rattle”, consisting of talks, exhibitions, specially commissioned art works and of course, several concerts.

There is even a hastag!

#thisisrattle

Want to catch Rattle in action? He’s back conducting the LSO in December at the Barbican Centre for a concert of Bernstein (16th December) 

And to finish, a bit of light relief…. Some say the LSO/Rattle brand started back in 2012, with a famous fictional character to help….. Thank you Mr Bean!

Have a great week!

Jess

Noteworthy People – Imogen Heap

By Jess

We are bringing back one of our segments called “Noteworthy People” where we focus on an inspirational person and tell you about their work. This time it is…

Imogen Heap

In the music industry we are often told to have several “strings to our bow” – excuse the pun. And no one seems to fit into this more than the lovely Imogen Heap.

On Wikipedia, the first sentence of her biography says Imogen Heap, is an English singer-songwriter, composer, and engineer.”

That’s already three big things!  Sorry, ENGINEER…?! We will come to that later!

You might know her as a singer-songwriter for songs such as Hide and Seek, The Happy Song or Just For Now. She recently appeared in Ariana Grande’s charity concert One Love Manchester as one of Ariana’s role models and icons:  

 Then again you could have heard of her because she composed the music for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

West End composer, nominated for an Olivier award- not bad going!

Becky went to see the production (lucky thing) a couple of weeks ago (the tickets had been pinned above her computer for literally a year!) and was absolutely blown away by the whole production, saying the music really added to the magic.

But what struck me in the Wikipedia description was the word Engineer. So I browsed trusty Google and realised how amazing this woman actually is!

I found a Guardian article titled “Imogen Heap: saviour of the music industry?”  which describes how she’s created a pair of musical gloves that allow her to change and create sound with her hands.

They are called Mi.Mu gloves and they give her the freedom to improvise and use simple movements to sculpt her music. Hence her job title- musical engineer!

She decided she had to embrace the ever changing music industry rather than running to catch up with it. Her innovative invention is a massive step forward for exciting and engaging live performance of electronic music.

As ever with music, it’s better to watch and listen to really understand this concept, so here is her TED talk – grab yourself a coffee and watch how she has the audience (and the music!) in the palm of her hands!

 For more of an overview of her exciting career check out her BBC Music page – we’re big fans here at BDMA! 

Back to the Future for Classical Music

by Jess

Classical Music….

Out dated. Boring. For old people.

I DON’T THINK SO!

Unfortunately, these are however some of the typical stereotypes we often hear when talking about classical music. Those of us that love the music know this not to be true! But how do we convince the non-lovers?

It is a sad fact that the world of classical orchestral concerts is fading away and people don’t go to as many classical concerts as they used to. Which is why the orchestral world needs a rethink – how can we keep this fantastic music living on?

A classical orchestra concert typically consists of an overture, a concerto and then a symphony in the second half. This has been the structure for many years, and yes, it works for the audience that currently watch it. But as we know, that audience is getting smaller and smaller and we want to bring new listeners in.

So I thought I’d have a little delve into some of the ways orchestras have been trying to tackle the problem.

What exciting new concert programmes have they come up with?

Have they collaborated with non-classical artists?

Have they varied their repertoire?

The inspiration for this research started when I played in a concert with the Notting Hill Orchestra the other week, an entire concert dedicated to film music. Not necessarily your standard Classical rep but it was ACCESSIBLE to the audience and brought in a full house. The pieces were relatively short and easy to listen to but what struck me most was HOW the orchestra put on the show.

Yes, I say show because that is truly what it was.

The orchestra were sat traditionally in the middle of a beautiful, high ceilinged church with spot lights surrounding them. Alongside the music, there was a light show that complemented the storylines and action within the music. It made the whole event really exciting and a very visual and successful way of introducing people to an orchestra.

Any die hard Metallica fans would also know that they have used an orchestra. Heavy metal meets classical symphony orchestra?! 7

What?!

Back in 1999 they recorded “Symphony and Metallica” (or S&M) with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The bassist from the band, Cliff Burton, came up with the idea to “combine heavy metal with epic classical” (I love that classical is described as epic!) and actually a lot of inspiration for Metallica songs before this album he took from the work of Johann Sebastian Bach – who knew?

Back to the year 2017, the BBC Philharmonic orchestra (in Manchester) have been collaborating with Radio 1 Live Lounge to create a series called “Live Lounge Symphony” where they join forces with pop acts, adding the “epic classical” sound (I’m going to keep using epic!) to their famous chart topping songs. Last year it was with Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne!

Something else I’ve spotted in the concert halls recently is symphony orchestras playing film scores alongside the showing of the film. Just a few days ago the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played John Williams’ score for “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone” at the Royal Albert Hall. Imagine not only watching the film on a HD, 40-foot screen, but having the full spectacle of an orchestra at the forefront of the stage.

“an unforgettable experience for Harry Potter fans”

…and music fans!

Let’s hope we get more of these!

On the same theme as bringing a film to stage, orchestras have also been collaborating with actors and storytellers to bring famous children’s stories to life with live music. What a great way of heightening the imagination of young people as well as introducing them to the sound of the orchestra and the setting of the concert hall, with stories that they will know so well.

Finally, the one thing we have missing from the above collaborations and concerts is the use of traditional classical music repertoire.  

I’m happy to say that the concert programmers seem to be finding a way of broadening their audience for this too. Flicking through the Hallé Orchestra’s concert programme there are titles such as “Russian Spectacular” with music from Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and “Never Mind the Weather” with music by Gershwin.

I like the idea of a theme to a concert, with some pieces the audience will recognise and some new ones they will be introduced to. I feel it’s a non-daunting way of getting people to watch and listen to classical music.

Hopefully ideas like these will continue and classical music and symphony orchestras will stay in the concert hall for many years to come.

On tour with the Street Orchestra of London

by Sophie

I recently took part in a really exciting project called the Street Orchestra of London (SOL). I didn’t quite know what to expect before we began but I soon realised how friendly everyone was and that we were all equally excited about the week ahead. This was the second SOL tour so some people had done it before but every single one of them had returned because they had had so much fun the first time around.

Having now completed my first SOL tour I can honestly say it was one of the best weeks of my life.

Here’s why:

The mission statement of the SOL is to bring high quality, live music to everyone, anywhere for free. We aim to reach wider audiences, providing free public performances in a variety of locations. On this tour we played at London Bridge Station, a refugee centre in Dalston, Greenwich Park, the Hackney Showroom for an orchestral club night, the Migration Museum, Brighton Pier, Brighton Pavillion Gardens and most recently at the Sound Unbound festival at the Barbican Centre.

A standard day in the life of a SOL musician would include between 6-8 performances in different locations, some of which may be planned, some of which might be completely spontaneous. It’s all hands on deck and we can go from sitting on a coach to performing in just 10 minutes.

The theme for our tour was ‘migration’ and as such we chose our repertoire to reflect this.

For example, we included Dvorak’s New World Symphony which he wrote after he migrated from the Czech Republic as it now is, to America. Neil Armstrong even took a recording of the piece to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission!  We incorporated music from composers all around the world, such as Bernstein from America, Bach from Germany, Prokofiev from Russia. We also included two world premieres by young composers: Bandstand by Freya Waley-Cohen  and Toranj Aftab Darvishi. I learnt that ‘Toranj’ is the pattern commonly found on Persian rugs! Bandstand also featured members of the orchestra ‘migrating’ into and out of the audience. The repertoire was varied; we played jazz, pop, funk, classical, North African, West African, folk.

I don’t have a favourite as it was all so much fun, but one piece that sticks out particularly is Maghreb Mix which is a medley of North African tunes including some from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. This piece required us to play some quarter tones – often we would consider these notes to sound out of tune as they’re not notes used in most Western classical music, but when used in certain contexts and everyone does it together they can sound really cool.

Each concert featured a different selection of music, and lasted a different length of time. Volunteers from the orchestra put together a new programme for each concert, selected from our tour catalogue of 23 pieces.

Joining us on our tour was a very special man called Jean-Paul Samputu. He’s a Rwandan composer and singer and he wrote and sang a few of the African songs we played on tour. Normally in an orchestra we don’t have to sing, but in his pieces there was also lots of singing for us and we loved it! His pieces, including Simba, which means ‘Lion’, really have a feel good factor to them, and they’re inspiring as he wrote them after a very turbulent time in Rwanda’s history. Jean-Paul is known also as an ambassador for peace and travels the world giving talks on forgiveness –an inspirational man to have the privilege to tour with for a week.

We try to get the audience involved as much as possible and break down the traditional barriers often associated with a concert orchestra. We encourage our audiences to dance along, sing along, and even conduct along.

One of our pieces required a guest conductor aka a volunteer from the audience to lead us. Our first violinist gave them a 10 second masterclass in conducting before embarking on Offenbach’s Can Can and it usually surprised them when they realised just how much power you have when you’re holding a baton. Despite occasional disagreement between the brass and the string sections (brass usually won as they’re louder!), we did our best to follow our guest conductor and usually the audience clapped along, with some brave people even attempting the Can Can dance!

Some of our performances were planned in advance, and some were more spontaneous. Some of the guerrilla gigs included flashmobs in Ikea and B&Q in Croydon, at a market in Lewisham and at Greenwich Park where we joined a busker, much to his surprise! He loved it though: as we played the theme for Ski Sunday whilst wandering around, he joined in and even came to support us at our orchestral club night at the Hackney Showroom later that evening!

One of the best things about SOL is seeing people’s reactions. I will never forget the expression on one homeless man’s face in a refugee centre in Dalston when he heard us play for the first time. I’ve never seen music affect someone visibly so deeply before, and it moved many of us to tears. I feel so privileged to have been able to take part in a project that has moved people to tears and to dance, and affect so many people in such meaningful ways. It’s such a joy to be able to bring a smile to someone else’s face.

It is this that the Street Orchestra of London stands for, and this that we hope to continue doing through the power of music.

The only thing that could have made the tour any better would be if I’d managed to avoid having a seagull poo on my hand while I ate pizza by Brighton Pier…but then they do say that’s meant to be good luck…!

We will be on tour again in July 2017 – look out for us!

#streetorchestra

 

Time Travelling with Music

by Sophie Simpson

Hello! I’m Sophie, a violin and piano teacher for the Becky Dell Music Academy in the new Manchester branch.

I’m sure many of you are aware of how versatile stringed instruments are; as a violinist there are opportunities to play in a pop band, folk music, in an orchestra, a quartet, as a soloist, at a wedding…etc.

However, I’d like to talk specifically about a particular niche I have found myself being involved in within the performance world: historically informed performance or HIP for short.

The music world is a competitive one and it can be useful to find something different to help you to stand out. I fell into the HIP world sort of by accident, but quickly became hooked, though I continue to perform on the ‘modern’ violin too. It might sound dull at first but I promise it’s not! It’s great when you’re performing to know that you’re creating something that sounds the way audiences would have heard it hundreds of years ago – if you close your eyes you could almost travel back in time…

What is historically informed performance?

The idea with HIP is that the performance reflects academic and practical research into how the music might have been performed at the time it was written. This research can take many forms including analysing surviving letters, treaties or publications from the time, the music on the page, or the instruments themselves can give us clues.

There are even some instruments that are no longer in general use, such as the viola da spalla, which looks a bit like a small cello (or big violin!), but was played with a strap around the neck and in more of a guitar hold and has five strings.

Here is a link to a video of Sergey Malov playing some music by Bach on the viola da spalla: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-H6XAIwZKA

So what counts as historically informed performance?

Taken literally, this could encompass anything that happened in the past, even yesterday!

However, when musicians talk about HIP they tend to think of the Renaissance (c.1300-1600), Baroque (c.1600-1750), Classical (c.1750-1820) and Romantic (c.1820-1850), or even early 20th Century time periods. Early recordings from the 20th Century can be classed as a useful resource for research, though obviously there are no recordings from the Baroque or Classical eras!

As a violinist one of my specialisms within HIP is the Baroque era. How are Baroque instruments different to their modern counterparts?

Instruments have been constantly developing along with technical advances and to adapt to changing styles of composition; there was never one point in history when people woke up and said ‘we are no longer in the Baroque era, today marks the start of the Classical era and we must adapt our instruments accordingly’!

The Baroque and modern violins look relatively similar upon first glance. The shape and dimensions of the body are much the same as they have always been. You may have heard of violin maker or luthier Antonio Stradivari and even today many luthiers try to make copies of his violins.

However, there are some differences: the Baroque violin does not have a chinrest as this was not invented until around 1820 by Louis Spohr; neither did they have shoulder rests, but they may have used a piece of soft leather to make it more comfortable to hold; the strings were made of gut instead of metal as they are today; the angle of the neck was shallower on a baroque violin than a modern violin as the gut strings could not take the tension that comes from a steeper angle.

The bow was also different: the baroque bow is shorter and convex (frowning) in shape whereas the modern bow is concave (smiling) and longer, which makes it more powerful. I play on a replica baroque violin for my historically informed performances of music from the Baroque era. The baroque cello does not have a spike, but instead the cellist balances the cello between their legs.

Wind and brass instruments also differed as they were not able to make metal keys for them in the baroque era, so brass players had to tune notes with their lips only, and wind players had basic holes for their fingers cut into the wood. These instruments feel and sound quite different to their modern counterparts.

In the Baroque era, the piano hadn’t been invented, but they did have other keyboard instruments including the organ and harpsichord. The harpsicord is similar to the piano, except that the strings inside are plucked instead of hit, and there is no pedal so it sounds quite different.

One of the other main differences is pitch.

Today we usually label an ‘A’ (the note an orchestra will tune to) as 440 Hertz, but in the baroque era, their ‘A’ may have been higher or lower than how we hear it today. It varied according to where you lived in Europe and how the church organ was tuned. Because people were not able to travel as far and as frequently as we do today, there was no standardisation of pitch until much later on. Based on research, historically informed performances of works by Monteverdi are often at a higher pitch of A=465Hz and Bach is often played at a lower pitch of A=415Hz.  

This picture is one of the earliest known depictions of a violin.

It is artist Gaudenzio Ferrari’s Madonna of the Orange Tree, painted 1530. A cherub is seen playing a bowed instruments which clearly has the hallmarks of a violin.

I hope this has been an interesting introduction to the world of historically informed performance, and an eye opener to just one of many musical opportunities out there waiting for you!

Over the last few decades, there has been a boom in interest in HIP and there are now many groups and orchestras who perform in a historically informed manner, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Academy of Ancient Music. There are also several vocal groups who sing with a historically informed approach, including I fagiolini and Ex Cathedra.

Do look them up if you’re interested in finding out more!