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

 

Love of Life and the Living World

Love of Life and the Living World

By Indigo Star

Many of you will have heard of the incredible singer, songwriter, producer, DJ and actress Bjork. With around 4 Million records sold worldwide as of 2015, is it any wonder she is considered by many to be ” the most important and forward looking musician of her generation” and “one of the greatest women in music”?

Famed for her innovative approach to vocals and composition, her expansive career, which spans 4 decades has taken her audience on an immersive journey through a myriad of influences, genres and styles.

But here is where it gets really interesting.

Not only has her music reached the masses but her forward thinking approach has lead her to pioneer a new technological app along with an unchartered teaching approach that could change the way we engage and create using colour and sound as a combined tool…This app is called Biophilia – but more on that a little later.

Collaborating frequently with multidisciplinary artists and exploring the way music is visually represented Bjork continues to develop an ever-expanding platform for us to broaden our perceptions of music and inspire our imaginations.

 Her collaborations have extended to include scientists, environmentalists, artists, academics and technologists and it was these collaborations that culminated in the release of her extraordinary 2011 album “Biophilia” in which Bjork brings the multi sensory experience and expression of music to a whole new level.

This official video of one of the album tracks is breathtaking in it’s concept and delivery. In it Bjork creates an audiovisual landscape of our living nature…

click here

And with that let me bring you back to the app this wonderful artist has created…
Bjork teamed up with Producer and app designer Scott Snibbe to create and launch the innovative Biophilia App.

In the creators’ own words…

“Björk has collaborated with artists, designers, scientists, instrument makers, writers and software developers to create an extraordinary multimedia exploration of the universe and its physical forces, processes and structures – of which music is a part. Each in-app experience is inspired by and explores the relationships between musical structures and natural phenomena, from the atomic to the cosmic. You can use Biophilia to make and learn about music, to find out about natural phenomena, or to just enjoy Björk’s music.”

Using similar ideas to those explored within the app, the live performances of tracks from her Biophilia album incorporate giant science based installations, bringing science in its magnitude directly into the concert experience.

Check out this performance…
click here

Now, not only did she create the remarkable app but Bjork simultaneously initiated a groundbreaking education project across Iceland. In collaboration with The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and The Nordic Council of Ministers she set up a collaborative network of experts in music, science, technology and the arts to promote innovation in schools and encourage interesting music and its creation.

Bjork joined forces with the City of Reykjavik and the University of Iceland to launch the Biophilia Education Project which would roll out in selected schools over the course of 3 years.

In layman terms, it’s focus is to draw people away from their desks and invite them to delve into the depths of their imagination. 

With a fundamental ethos of Listen, Learn, Create this exceptional project, by encouraging simultaneous learning between multiple disciplines, encourages diversity and stimulates experimentation and growth in a more tangible way than many traditional teaching methods . They believe that giving students a new model of open-mindedness and uninhibited exploration creates potential for new discoveries that might otherwise have been missed.

What a woman!


Click the link below to see a guided tour of the app by Designer and executive Producer Scott Snibbe as he gives an introduction to utilising this amazing creative resource :
click here

Perhaps you could put this incredible tool to good use and start your own personal journey into sound science and the unlimited creative multimedia universe or perhaps trial this transformative education tool in a project or classroom of your own.

For more information, videos, downloadable teaching PDF’s and more visit the website:

 

Biophilia Education

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Sing The Rainbow…

Sing A Rainbow

By Indigo Star 9th March 2017

The Colour of Sound

Colour appears in music it time and time again, a perfect example can be found in the popular children’s classic ‘Sing A Rainbow’, we even have a whole genre of music called the Blues that often laments on the woeful human condition of sadness and emotional disarray. We use colour in language to describe strong feelings with terms such as ‘seeing red’ to denote anger, or ‘green with envy’ as the hue of jealousy.

Have you ever considered what sound and music might look like? Did you know that each sound has a corresponding colour and through mathematical science we can calculate the colour of sound and connect the plethora of frequencies visually and audibly perceivable to us.

So how does it work? I hear you ask. Well first you have to understand the fundamental nature of vibration that sound and colour share. Frequency is a measure we use for both and is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit in time. The sounds we hear are much lower frequency than the light we see and therefore sound and light vibrations are very different.

In the 17th century it was Isaac Newton that made the pioneering discovery that white light shone through a prism dispersed, separating into different wavelengths which produced the seven colours of the rainbow.

Light (colour) is formed of electromagnetic waves which are synchronised oscillations of electric and magnetic fields that radiate at the speed of light through a vacuum. This extensive range of continuous frequencies is known as the Electromagnetic Spectrum of which only a narrow band of wavelengths between 1014 & 1015 Hertz are actually visible to the human eye. Though light is a very fast moving wavelength, slow it down enough and it stops being visible and becomes audible.

Sound on the other hand causes air molecules to vibrate in moving compression waves which involves the two simple elements of pressure and time. These fundamental elements can be used to describe absolutely every sound we hear.

Some people are born with a rare condition called Synesthesia, found roughly in 1-4 percent of people. This trait causes them to experience a mixing of the senses which means they involuntarily see colour when look at particular letters, numbers and other symbols or in connection to the sounds that they hear. Many research studies have revealed how we might perceive sound as colour, such as the work of one of Russia’s most innovative and controversial early modern composers, Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) who developed a substantially atonal music system to which he associated colours with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale based on his own experience of synesthesia.

He developed a mapping system called “clavier à lumieères” (literally “keyboard with lights”) depicting sound pitch and colour correlation.

      Alexander Scriabins’ musical colour map   

Take a look at the link below to see a fine example of this when Ali Nikrang for Mozarteum Kultur GmbH wrote a program to visualizes a piano performance in realtime using the “colour theory” by Alexander Scriabin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES4rQQdnHrQ

The Sound of Colour

In more recent times the colour blind artist and musician Neil Harbisson has overcome his colour blindness by working alongside technologists including Peter Kese, a software developer from Kranj, Slovenia and more recently, Matias Lizana, a computer engineering student at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona. Together they have utilised modern technologies to create ‘The Eyeborg’ which used a webcam to detect light and a sound conversion computer program along with headphones to transmit the sound to his ears which was further developed to transmit the sound directly to his skull bone. Though this work Harbisson is now able to perceive a greater spectrum of colours and in turn paint what he hears by using the device as a source of inspiration which informs his painting.

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Sacred Sound

It’s not only in art and music that we find the colour sound combination to be of intrigue and usefulness. Therapists across many cultures have understood the power of sound in conjunction with colour because we are made up of electromagnetic vibrations and frequencies also. Even ancient civilisations used colour and sound as a form of healing practice through chanting to invoke colourful vibration to re-tune the body into balance which is still practised by many today. Often based around the perception of an energy point system within the body called Chakras, each correlating to one of the seven colours of the rainbow and a corresponding sound frequency. Our ancestors developed techniques such as chanting and mantras which would create resonance within the body believing it to have beneficial and restorative effects. Why not try it yourself?

Take a look at the diagram below, get comfortable and sit quietly for a few moments then take a deep and calming breath in and out, notice how you feel. Then begin to sing each of the notes in the corresponding vowel sound whilst visualising its given colour. How does it feel inside when you make each sound wave and imagine it in colour? When finished take notice of how you feel, is it a different when you began? You could write it down and try it a few times to see if you get different results each time.

   

What colour are you most attracted to right now?

Here are suggested qualities associated with the 7 colours of the chakra rainbow. If you would like to enhance those qualities within yourself, your life and your creativity, introduce them into your day through diet by eating coloured food, dressing in colour, singing the vowel while focussing on the corresponding chakra and colour.

Paint With Music

The exciting times we live in present myriad opportunities to access a wealth of information and resources which are becoming increasingly available to us.

Our ability to express ourselves freely and creatively expands in all directions as we continue to find new ways in which to perceive the world in which we live.

As we marvel at the world and express our perceptions, an inevitably fusion of multi mediums, beliefs, creative ideas, technologies and talent occurs in a perpetual spiral of discovery. One such artist who did exactly that is music composer Ólafur Arnalds with his composition Ljósið. Olafur collaborated with video artists to create an eloquently stunning and colourful visual representation of his music. Perhaps you could work with other artists too?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYIfiQlfaas

Explore for yourself by perhaps creating your own unique piece of musical art, this could be done by painting whilst listening to a particular song that inspires you, or perhaps write a piece of music based upon the colour sound charts below. Have fun creating your own new painting with music technique.

Good luck and enjoy the wonderful world of colour, light and sound!

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!

The Manchester academy is here!

Hello, Jess here and I’m very excited to announce that the Manchester Becky Dell Music Academy has arrived in 2017!

We’re up and running with two tutors at the moment and have already got our first set of students in the Worsley area.

I chose Worsley as the base for the Manchester academy because it’s where I grew up. Having the personal knowledge of the area has really helped with spreading the news of the academy. Worsley has the same feel to me as Blackheath/Greenwich – both picturesque towns a short distance from the heart of exciting musical cities. It’s an absolutely beautiful place to be based and we’re really lucky to be expanding our musical community up here.

We currently have tutors for piano, violin, woodwind and singing. These tutors are myself (Jess!) and Sophie Simpson.

Sophie is our violin and piano tutor and graduated from her masters at the RNCM in the summer. Since then she has been busy with exciting orchestral concerts and projects up and down the country as well as teaching jobs around the North West. She is a keen Historically Informed Performer – this means she studies how music was played hundreds of years ago to try and replicate it.

I am teaching woodwind, piano and singing alongside managing the academy back in my lovely hometown. Since moving from London in the summer, I have been studying my masters at the RNCM whilst exploring what the Manchester music scene has to offer, playing for musicals and in orchestras and playing music on the wards of the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

 

But we’re not stopping at two tutors!

I’m always on the lookout for new teachers to fit with the demand of lessons. Don’t see your instrument on our list? Let me know as I’m always hiring new and adventurous professional musicians to teach and inspire.

So, how can you help us?

Know someone in the Worsley area? Might they want music lessons? Are you part of a group that can help promote this new venture?

We want our current Blackheath/Greenwich community and all our other friends to spread the word so we can expand this new academy, so talk about the academy and share our facebook page. If you want any more information please email me on jess@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk

Here’s to exciting times ahead…

Music in the Oscars

by Jess

Last night was the biggest, most glamorous party in the cinematic calendar – the Oscars.

And what amazing films and performances we’ve had this year.  Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Fences, Jackie, Florence Foster Jenkins…. The list goes on with an even longer list of all the spectacular performances from the actors and actresses. A personal favourite of mine was La La Land – stylistic, slick and, best of all, MUSICAL!

Which leads me to the theme of this article.

Music in the Oscars.

Because, let’s face it – music makes a film! 

There are two awards for music at the Oscars. Best Original Score and Best Original Song.The Original Score is the music that is composed for the overall film, the incidental music that happens during the scenes to enhance the action, the mood and the characters’ emotions. It’s the music we take for granted – but we’d definitely notice if it wasn’t there!

But on this Monday morning, I want to introduce you to the Original Songs that were up for nominations. These were the songs that were written specifically for the film. Maybe you can have a listen during your coffee break, on the way home from work or even ask your tutor to play/sing it in a future lesson!

So sit back and have a listen to these five great songs:

  1. AUDITION (THE FOOLS WHO DREAM) from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

This is the one we’ve all heard on the La La Land trailer, as you see Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance away into the stars in a romantic, cliché Hollywood scene. Emma sings this song as part of an audition in the film. It’s so simply done with just her on screen, a plain back drop and one camera circling her face. Simple yet effective!

  1. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING from Trolls; Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

This was my soundtrack to the summer – ask my Dad, I even had a dance move every time it came on in the car on holiday! Didn’t Justin Timberlake come back with a bang with this one?! It’s a feel good, upbeat, dance number. If writing the song wasn’t enough, he also featured in the film… his voice, he hasn’t actually turned into a brightly coloured Troll as far as I’m aware.

  1. CITY OF STARS from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

We’re back to La La Land but this time we’ve got Ryan Gosling taking centre stage. His character played a struggling jazz pianist, going from job to job and it was only when he sat down at home that he played the music he really wanted to play. This was the song he always chose to perform for his pleasure. It was a recurring theme throughout the film, and I loved it!

  1. THE EMPTY CHAIR from Jim: The James Foley Story; Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

This makes a lovely contrast to the others featured on this year’s Oscar lists. Sting made a comeback this year writing it. It has a beautiful folk quality, Sting’s resonating voice along with  solo piano accompaniment. Hauntingly beautiful.

  1. HOW FAR I’LL GO from Moana; Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda 

Finally we finish with Disney! You can’t have an Oscars original song without Disney. The music was inspired by traditional South Pacific sounds alongside the classic Broadway musical songs. The combination makes it pretty gorgeous! Disney have given us another belter with this song, possibility not as epic as Let it Go, but it still stuck in my head for a long time after I watched the film.

I hope you have chance to listen to these great songs. Let’s keep celebrating all this exciting music.

Have a good Monday.

A Day in the Life of a Harry Potter Musician

A few months ago we were lucky enough to spend a little time in the company of a musician who has had what many young classical musicians might consider the epitome of a musical career. Oh, and he also happens to be one of our very own BDMA Grandads – Francis Saunders!

We spent a couple of hours with Francis hearing all about his musical education, his teachers, the exciting recording sessions and so much more.

Francis’ musical life begun as a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral School where he then began learning the cello, aged 9.

Between then and now, among many other things, he has studied cello with some of the greatest teachers, he has travelled the world, been one of the longest standing members (37 years!) of one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, the LSO, played on some of the most iconic movie soundtracks (including Harry Potter!) and been an important figure in education and outreach programmes.

We couldn’t resist asking him about what it was like to play on some of the most famous movie soundtracks…

Francis with composer John Williams

Francis with composer John Williams.

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We are desperate to ask you some questions about playing on the Harry Potter score! Tell us – how big was the orchestra?

Probably about 70 – 80… John Williams [the composer of the original film] conducted that session!

What was he like?

Everyone loved and respected him.

Any unusual instruments in that score?

Not as such but it was very percussion heavy. Some soundtracks do use less typical orchestral instruments like sax or recorder or cor anglais…

I’m always curious, do you ever get film scores in advance?

We do not, we get them on the day [of the recording]!

How long do you get to rehearse before recording?

Well, it depended on the conductor…but never very long.

How many takes would you do for the soundtracks?

Sometimes one take, sometimes more.

Apart from HP, what other soundtracks have you played on?

I’ve played on the Star Was films in 1978/79, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Indiana Jones: Raiders of The Last Ark.

Any particularly juicy cello parts?

Raiders was especially good.

And finally what advice would you give to your younger self, or an aspiring musician?

It’s jolly tough!  When I retired from the LSO, 200 people applied for my seat [he retired in 2007]. Keep improving and do as much studying as you can. Go to different people as they will offer and teach you different things. It’s also really important to be a team player and get on with people. Be organised and take your self and your work seriously and you will be fine.

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It is always a gift to meet any musician who has dedicated their whole life to their craft. We want to extend our warmest thanks and appreciation to Francis for taking the time to talk to us. He gave us such an inspiring insight into his world of being a high flying musician, a teacher, an orchestral player and so much more, most of which we couldn’t fit into this newsletter and wish we could have – rest assured it was magic to hear about.

Big Ben’s Bells are Taking a Little Break…

This blog is all about Bells. Big beautiful bonging bells! Both the Big Ben bell and the place it was created, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London.

Any keen listener of BBC Radio 4 will probably know of the impending bong deficit. This is because the Clock Tower at Westminster (the home of Big Ben and the other bells) is having a major three year refurbishment plan.

Of course, when you rely on the Bongs of Big Ben to start your live Radio show or TV programme, what do you do instead?

There was the story of the young girl who had very kindly offered to step in and do the bongs, and whilst we wait for the Bells to stop chiming (they are unsure when exactly within the three year restoration programme the bells will stop exactly, but they estimate the bongs will be out of action for a few months), here are some suggestions. This is a three minute audio clip on the subject from BBC Radio 4.

Photo from the BBC Archive.

Here are some facts about Big Ben, taken from www.bigbenfacts.co.uk

Who named Big Ben?

Londoners did. SUPPOSEDLY, the bell was going to be named Victoria after Queen Victoria, but Londoners started calling the bell “Big Ben” and the name stuck. (Giving nicknames is still a London custom – just think about “the Gherkin”!)

Where and when was Big Ben made?

Big Ben was cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in East London, on 10th April 1858. It took him two weeks to cool, and once he was ready, they transported him to Westminster on a horse drawn carriage. Londoners lined the route and cheered as the bell went past.

How much does Big Ben weigh?

He weighs about 13 and a half tons, about the same as a small elephant.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a great company with centuries of tradition, sadly struggling to survive in a modern world.

As a result of this, the company is closing May 2017. The site is being sold for flats (sigh) but they are still hopeful that the business might survive. So if you know anyone that might want a bell making business, tell them to get in touch with the current owners. I’ve been to visit Kathryn and Alan Hughes at the Bell Foundry and they are great people. I hope they find suitable buyers and keep one of the oldest businesses (it’s been going for 446 years) in the UK going…

Healthy Musicians

Healthy Musicians

by Jess

As a professional musician, I feel that I was told far too late about the importance of injury prevention and good posture. I was only made aware of it once I’d started my Bachelor degree and, as I went for a sports massage this afternoon to help the tension I’d acquired over years of playing, it occurred to me that we really should make our students and their parents aware of the importance of taking care of your body when you play.

When children start learning an instrument they are still growing. We want to make sure that playing an instrument has no effect on the development of the child but also that the child feels no pain as a result of playing.

If everything is at ease, the music will flow much more naturally!

So with this in mind, I want to share some tips for looking after your child’s posture and physical wellbeing whilst playing an instrument, but hopefully some of these ideas can be used throughout all areas of their life. The tips for sitting at the piano can be transferred to the computer and the heavy cases can also apply to heavy school bags!

Sitting at the piano

Sitting comfortably at the piano is so important, especially as the piano is so huge compared to the size of children. Your child should be sitting at a distance from the piano where their hands can reach comfortably. The chair or stool they sit on needs to be at a height where, similarly, the hands don’t stretch to reach the piano (if it’s too high there will be tension in the arms and if it’s too low the shoulders will start to droop.)

What you can do:

  • Make sure that you have a stool that is the correct height for your child. If you have multiple children learning piano then adjustable stools are fantastic. Otherwise think about improvising with cushions or books to get the right height. This also applies to drum kit players!
  • Every now and then check how they are sitting. Especially after school, tiredness can mean that shoulders will droop and necks will tense up – we want to avoid this! If you are aware of these things then you can just remind your child to sit up. Tell them they will be more comfortable!
  • Make sure your wrists don’t drop onto the piano, there should always be space for a mousie/tennis ball (delete as appropriate) to be underneath the hand.
  • Make sure there is a straight line from wrist to elbow and at a 90 degree angle. The elbow should never be higher or lower than the wrist ad there should not be any “chicken wings” – elbows moving up and down like doing a chicken impression!

Holding instruments

With instruments that we hold up, such as violins, woodwind and brass instruments, the main rule is BRING THE INSTRUMENT TO YOU. This means we don’t want to contort our body to fit the instrument but we want to stand in a comfortable position and the instrument fits into this posture.

What you can do:

  • If your child looks uncomfortable during practice, tell them to put the instrument down and “shake away” all the tension (a bit of silliness helps break up practice time too!) Then get them to stand in a comfortable posture and hand them back the instrument, making sure they don’t droop their shoulders or tilt their neck during this process.
  • Standing with both feet flat on the floor about a shoulder width apart will also really help (it’s impressive some of the one legged gymnastic stances I’ve seen!) This applies for singers as well; a good posture means breathing is a lot easier too.

Instrument sizes

I think we forget that some of the instruments are children our playing, are played by fully grown adults, and they often find them heavy! Some instruments have variable sizes which will help make playing easier and the instruments that are standard sizes often have straps that help smaller people to play them.

What you can do:

  • If your child plays a string instrument (violin, cello, guitar etc.) then you are lucky that the instruments come in smaller sizes. It is so important to ask the tutor for advice on what size your child should be playing on. Too big and fingers and arms will stretch unnaturally and too small we will start to get hunched shoulders.
  • Woodwind instruments are normally all standard sizes, so we have to find other alternatives. For flute players, there are flutes that have a bent round head joint to make the flute short and easier to reach the notes. For clarinets, saxes, oboes and bassoons it is important to get a really supportive neck strap. These are often ones that also go round the waist and shoulders so the weight of the instrument gets distributed evenly.
  • For brass players, there is a series of trombones called P-Bones that are made of plastic (and are brightly coloured!) meaning they are lighter for children to hold. These are also available in trumpets and horns. These are only suitable for young beginners, but there are a good starting point for slighter players, where weight of instrument is a problem.

Heavy cases

Lugging around heavy instrument cases is sometimes more detrimental to a working musician than a playing related injury. We fill our cases with mountains of sheet music, balancing the case on an already weak shoulder with a handbag resting on the other arm.

No wonder we get injured!

What you can do:

  • Make sure the case only contains the music needed for that lesson, don’t keep every piece they’ve ever played buried in the case. The grams gradually add up! So try to keep tabs on what books they are working on, check the notebook the tutor keeps for this information.
  • Try to buy a case with two straps if it needs to be carried on their back and that the straps aren’t too low on the child’s back. Low straps might look cool but they put so much unnecessary strain on the back!
  • If they take instruments to school, see if there is a storeroom they can keep their instruments in during the day. Especially for secondary school pupils, there is rarely much space to store things, so if the music teacher is aware they have an instrument to bring in, normally they will find a space to store it.

Hopefully you can apply some of these tips to your child’s practice routine. As ever, if you want to understand more about the instrument your child is learning then our tutors are always happy to answer your questions. We want a community of healthy and happy musicians so please come to us with any concerns or further questions.

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New Year, New MUSIC

by Jess

It’s the third week of January and we’ve all probably heard the phrase “New Year New Me” a fair few times by now. But at the Becky Dell Academy we’ve been thinking, what’s so good about making everything new? Why don’t we just revisit something, a hobby perhaps, that we have lost along the way?

Life becomes very focused on our daily activities. How many times have you heard the phrase:

“I used to <insert hobby here> but I just don’t have time anymore”?!

Well in 2017, we want to MAKE TIME!

What a crazy new year’s resolution that is.

But what we mean is, let’s take a small portion of our day and go back to a hobby that we sadly lost when life just got too hectic.

 

 

Obviously, our suggestion is MUSIC!

 

 

Whilst scrolling through twitter the other day, I came across an article from the BBC about adults picking up a musical instrument that they used to play when they were younger. And that was the inspiration for this blog:

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140709-never-too-late-to-learn?ocid=ww.social.link.twitter

It may seem a ridiculously scary and daunting prospect sitting down at the piano or picking up your instrument after 20 years of dust has settled. But it’s ok! That’s exactly what the writer of this article talks us through.

I won’t lie and say the technical difficulties have gone when you start learning again as an adult, but a deeper appreciation for the instrument and heightened determination to achieve something means that, actually, adult players learn surprisingly well.  Because you’re starting again out of your own choice, you motivate yourself to practice and push yourself to get to the next piece.

But in 2017, let’s bring back the music you left as a child purely for the JOY it brings! Music is such an emotive language, even if you find 10mins of your week to play, it can express the emotions you have been bottling up. A de-stress if you like!

And we all know that a de-stress once in a while is exactly what we need.

In the BBC article, British actor Samuel  West says,

“As an adult you’re much more knowledgeable about your own moods, so it becomes much more possible to use music as a way to express yourself….If I have a little piece I can play, I can listen to myself better, I can express myself better. That’s entirely a function of being older, and that’s a joy.”

So, the New Year challenge from the Becky Dell Music Academy is to dust down the trumpet, open up the piano lid, and find the sheet music in the bookshelf and PLAY! We are always happy to teach adult students so if you fancy learning as well as your child, or you know a friend who would like to start up playing again, then please contact us.

Happy playing!