Catch up on the second performance week.
Tuesday 25th October began with warm ups and choir and then we caught up with some music literacy.
Wednesday saw us beginning a new piece in choir - Bach Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring. Lovely. The choir is sounding great now. More dynamics and tighter.
In the afternoon, we played Handel again in the classical strings group. Starting to come together too. Looking ahead to two performances next week.
Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning and Skills visited us this week and heard some of our choir practice. I was watching the civil servants at the back - a role I know very well after years working in the Scottish Government. They in turn were probably hoping the Minister would stick to the brief! It all went smoothly.
I spent some time reading the published views in response to consultation about the merger of Stevenson and Jewell and Esk Colleges. I was pretty disappointed in this document. The website gave the impression that this was a comprehensive summary of responses. As I said, I have worked in policy in central government and I have done numerous consultations. The document is not an analysis, or even a summary, of responses but seems a selective list of quotes. Hmmmm. I would expect, at the least, to see the number of responses received and the number that answered yes or no to the core question about whether the two colleges should be merged. I'd also expect all the responses to be made publicly available (unless people said they wished to remain anonymous). From memory I don't think this was an option. Perhaps there is more to come….
For anyone interested there seems support for the merger among Ministers. An extract from Holyrood magazine states:
"With a ten per cent reduction in their public funding this year and rising demand for places, colleges are surely under strain. And rationalisation appears to be the direction of travel. McClelland revealed at the event that more than 30 out of 41 colleges – 75 per cent – “have or are considering mergers, federations or very close collaborations”. Three of Glasgow’s colleges came together last year to form the City of Glasgow Colleges while two Edinburgh institutions are currently consulting on amalgamation. The minister welcomed these moves and warned that this is an area in which government “will have no option but to take a much closer interest”. The recently announced Griggs Review of college governance could take the issue a step further.But as merger creeps onto the agenda, what will that trend mean for the sector? Is it merely a cost-saving exercise, or are there genuine educational benefits to be gained?
The proposed merger between Stevenson College Edinburgh and Jewel & Esk College might serve as a good test case. After lengthy discussions, the two institutions have announced plans to come together by the summer of 2012.
For the full article follow this link. Also read an interesting Oral Parliamentary question tabled by Sarah Boyack earlier this month.
Wednesday night was a great night at the Tass. I play there most Wednesdays but last night was our special Oxjam night - a charity event we have every two years. There were a load of great musicians (people like Sandy Brechin on accordian and Gavin Pennycook on fiddle and nyckelharpa) as well as the session regulars. Gavin Pennycook played some of his Scottish and Irish tunes on the Nyckelharpa or Swedish fiddle as its sometimes known. There are probably only four or five in Scotland just now. Is odd as our music really lends itself to the instrument.
He has a great album out at the moment called Celtic Nyckelharpa. Click on the pic to buy.
I had a chat with him as I am interested in the nykelharpa given my love of Scandanavian music. We also plan to make one in the future and I wanted to ask if we could make contact to look at it more closely.
One of our session (Patty) comes from South America, and so many of the latin american community in Edinburgh joined us - which was great. We sang a few spanish songs.
Not heard how much was raised yet.
Thursday was Folk group which is seriously good fun. We have been working on the arrnagement and harmonies. I am really looking to forward to the next session. Then more practising before tomorrow (Friday 28th).
Baptism of fire into the second week. First we played in the folk group which was great - interesting bowing patterns. Then I popped into the singing workshop.
Then into the contemporary ensemble which I wanted to watch for a while. But Tommy kindly invited me to play too. I haven't played anything like this before and it was interesting. There is form to it and various meeting places in the piece but otherwise you are free to work through a number of sections of music which all fit together. I have played graphic scores before and it has a similar feel but slightly more structure to it.
Then into choir for the afternoon. We sang more of Amazing Grace and Londonderry Air.
After choir, into town for meeting at 5.30 pm. One of the things I do in my "spare" time is to sit on the Board of the Scots Music Group (as a volunteer non Executive Director). The Scots Music Group is a community-based charity located in Edinburgh. Our aim is to build music, dance and song based on Scots traditions into the community life of the city and beyond, thereby enhancing those communities and the lives of the individuals who participate.
To do this, we run classes, informal sessions, ceilidhs, workshops and social events. I have quite a lot of board experience from my past life as a policy civil servant. But this isn't essential to become a volunteer. There are lots of roles, for example from helping to organise ceilidhs, helping out in the office etc. You can join Scots music group as a member through the website and become involved. Good for networking and for your CV?
Went for a fiddle lesson on Monday. Used a shruti box which gives a drone to play against. Listening to Handel, Concerto Grosso no 5 D minor on Spotify.
Went out to the Tass (High Street, Edinburgh) on Wednesday night and played in our session there. Its a few weeks since I've been. Next week there is an Oxjam session on with a few good trad musicians coming to play and support the event. Why not pop along and sup? There will be a raffle and LOTS of playing. Here is the link to the Facebook Event page
Watched the excellent Transatlantic sessions today.
Playing the hardanger
Playing in the folk group on Tuesday. More great tunes, Billy Wilson's reel. Shetland bowing (or some people call it the Georgia shuffle) - one down three up with the one down on the back beat. You have to not think about it too much - its more of a feel. But Its easy to get into the wrong rhythm and bow down on the first beat!.
Then off down to Portobello to arrange some fiddle lessons - first one is next week. Then all the way back across town to to do some composing at a Logic session back at SCE.
On Wednesday, nothing on in SCE for me, but lots of practice at home and bought a CD (Loch Ness by Bruce MacGregor). More composing and exploring Logic and Sibelius. Decided I need a usb microphone. Also playing the hardanger which has sadly now gone back to its owner. It has spurred my partner Si on with the one he is making. Great - can't wait.
Thursday was another busy day. First I sang in the choir (alto part). I found out that I can actually stretch to soprano as well which is interesting. We are still on the blues theme we sang Amazing Grace but with a blues scale - a bit different and great fun. Then we sang the Londonderry Air (Danny Boy).
Next onto strings Group. We played Handel: Concerto Grosso Op.3 No. 5 In D Minor: III, IV and V. Sight reading classical music at Allegro is challenging for a traditional musician that plays by ear! Finally I went out to the Usher Hall in Edinburgh to see the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) and the wonderful soloist Viktoria Mullova playing Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Op 61. I was sitting in the circle and yet the violin she played had great projection. I am amazed at her skill and presence on stage.
The orchestra is conducted by Robin Ticciati and they also played an inspiring new piece by Martin Suckling, Storm, Rose, Tiger. I wonder is this is written in segments. Our contemporary ensemble work involved a selection of sections thay players could select and which would fit well enough together. But it was not prescriptive in terms of when to pay these or how long to loop them for. Players can move on when they wish. There are several "meeting" places where players wait for the rest of the orchestra and when everyone has caught up, the players one on to the next set of themes.
It would be interesting to know if this is how the SCO worked with this new piece or whether the orchestra has a full score and would play it the same each time. Oh to be so talented and successful and so young!
Friday evening - out to the trad session in Leslie's Bar.
More improvising, 36 bars in A and Bb blues scales last week. What is the blues scale? 1, 3b, 4, 5b,5 7b. The minor pentatonic will also work (which is basically the same as the blues scale but without the 5b). If you play these patterns over the chords (major chords) it should fit well. We have also been playing modes i.e changing the scale depending on the chords and flattening the 6th.
Learned a sort of blues rhythm/chop from Darol Anger and Richard Greene on YouTube - both great blues fiddlers. I've also been playing and listening to the Blue Reel by the wonderful late Oliver Shroer.
Read about the "blue devils" (basically being in a miserable and depressed state) in Oxford music online. Visited the local library and borrowed "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz and Blues". Its a great round up with internet links and unusually gives an A-Z of contemporary artists (post 2000).
Chord progressions in 12 bar blues are often I, IV, V progressions. We have also been exploring slightly more complex patterns based on II, V progressions - which gives more of a jazzy sound.
Started an intensive three week performance block today.
Volunteered for a workshop on singing this morning. Lots of us play other first instruments but fancied a go and there were also singers who maybe wanted to try something out of their own comfort zone. After that, I played my fiddle in a folk group with Jenn Butterworth from the Scottish Consevatoire. We were playing Bruce MacGregor's tune "The Road to Skye" from his excellent album Loch Ness. Its a great tune with a real groove and a bluegrass/country edge. Lots of opportunity to double stop and play harmonies.
More singing in the afternoon - this time performing. I sang the "Now Westlin' winds" by Robert Burns. Its a wonderful song protesting against the Autumn shoot which must have been quite a brave thing to do in Burns' day. That was interesting …. and a learning curve. Microphone technique - too close, too far - not easy! There were lots of great performances from people and all styles of music. We all had our challenges and had a great afternoon learning from each other.
Good question. A wide range of skills, knowledge and experience, and professionalism.
We can't all hope to have all of them. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and different personalities. But there are obviously some core skills that will make life easier as a blues musician if you have them.
Technical ability on your instrument, knowledge of the blues scales and modes to the point that those are internalised and you can play them at will. Good listening skills - to identify the changes in chord progressions and - especially if you play a melody instrument - great improvisation skills. I have been pracising this in class and at home. You tube has great resources, including blues recordings from all the greats, blues backing tracks and improvisation lessons and tips.
This means not just having the technical ability and theory but being creative, flexible and relating well to other musicians. This only comes with practice, practice and practice and needs discipline, organisation and commitment. You need to build your blues repertoire and knowledge of the blues so if someone asks you what you think of a blues style you can hold your own.
If gigging you need performance skills, the ability overcome nerves and to focus and, of course, reliability. Always be professional and on time, dress appropriately for the venue/audience be polite and polish introductions etc.
Do your research on styles, riffs, lyrics etc and be secure about what you intend to play - with some extras.
Pay attention to the business side too with business cards and your contact details. You never know who might be in the audience and want to employ you. Network if possible to build your profile and increase your chances of follow up work.
Have a good time - the blues is all about being steeped in the music.
One of the highlights of the year if you play traditional fiddle music in Edinburgh is the Scots Fiddle festival. Its not just for fiddlers! There are a host of workshops that other instruments can join, recitals, concerts and open stage. I'll be going to as many as humanly possible. Why not give a go? Follow this link to look at the programme.
A hardanger fiddle has landed with us recently. Unfortunately its not mine. I have it on loan from a friend for a few weeks. What's a hardanger? Its a traditional Norwegian fiddle from the Hardanger area which is similar to a violin but with distinctive and deep F holes and four or five sympathetic strings which run under the fingerboard. These resonate when the fiddle is played giving a great sound that is sort of spacey.
Try listening to the following Youtube video.
They are usually highly decorative with inlaid mother of pearl or bone in the fingerboard and rosing on the body. This one (see the pics below) was made by Sveinung Gjovland in 1956. It is stunning. It has a very thin front and thicker back. The bass bar is different from a violin and this particular fiddle has a very big sound for a hardanger. I have been playing it while I have the chance - not the first instrument that comes to mind for the blues though!
As I have developed my interest in playing the fiddle, my partner has developed a fascination for how they are made. He now teaches violin making to amateur makers.
We also started developing an interest in Scandanavian folk. So I take the opportunity to go to hardanger workshops when I can. One thing leads to another and we are in the middle of making a hardanger ourselves. Fingers crossed it turns out as well as this one!
It took us about three years to draw together the information and we have now developed our own plans. This traditional hardanger has given us some more ideas about to develop and finish ours.