To everything there is a season.

In May 2000 I moved to London. To Hendon, precisely. My plan was to teach music and convert to Judaism and, eventually, marry the boy I was chasing. I was nineteen.

I don’t remember how long after moving there I got my first piano student in the area, but it wasn’t a desperately long time. She was a lovely older lady who’d been on a “singing for the brain” course and wanted to study the piano in order to keep her mind nimble.

From then on, I always had students in Hendon and Finchley. Most were children, but there were various grown-ups too. It got to the point where I couldn’t fit them all in on weekday evenings and started teaching some on Sunday mornings. When I went to Trinity this turned out to be a good thing: I kept going back on Sundays to teach, spending the weekdays doing (okay, avoiding) my academic work and Saturday as a day off. At one point I was teaching for nine hours on a Sunday, which was helpful, if tiring. Most of the teaching was in the morning — I started at 8am — or in the evening, after football and other activities had ended, and this left me with long afternoons. I often spent the time outside, reading or walking around, though if the weather was miserable I might head to Brent Cross instead or just take refuge in a coffee shop for a while. There was a period of time when I had friends living nearby so I would go to visit them, sometimes just falling asleep on the sofa for a while, and on one memorable occasion sticking my very broken glasses together with bits of wire and tape.

In my later years at Trinity I started becoming interested in Christianity again, which is perhaps a topic for another post. But it was in Hendon on those long Sunday afternoons that I had time to read and think about this, and it was at St Mary’s Hendon that I found I could go to Evensong most weeks.

When I finished my degree I had to decide whether to move back to Hendon, stay in Bethnal Green or go elsewhere entirely. Marrying the boy I’d been chasing was no longer on the cards, and by then it was clear that Orthodox Judaism was not the right path for me. I chose Leytonstone for a variety of reasons.

I also decided that I couldn’t be having with working on Sunday mornings any more (well, that didn’t last long!). So my students, many of whom by now were the “we’d really rather have lessons on Sundays” crowd, were asked to switch to weekdays… and since then I’ve been going to Hendon and Finchley on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most of my students there are Jewish and in a strange way, teaching them has allowed me to keep Jewish practice, and interfaith issues, in my mind even while I’m now so involved in Christian worship, though besides knowing when the holidays are, ensuring exams aren’t on Saturdays and teaching the odd bit of folk repertoire it hasn’t been a major part of teaching, of course.

I knew this wouldn’t be a sustainable strategy in the longer-term so I decided to take on no new families, letting the hours in North London taper off. The plan was that I’d gradually gain students in Leytonstone and the transition would be fairly smooth.

That didn’t quite work out. At the beginning of this year, I was commuting nine hours per week to do three hours of teaching. I wasn’t gathering much of a class of students more locally, mostly because Mondays and Tuesdays were completely unavailable. I tried cycling, but found it just as exhausting as the Tube and with no great saving in time. I tried finding other things to do locally, spending Monday afternoon in the library in Finchley. Eventually I had to admit that I was tired enough that I wasn’t teaching as well as I know I can. So, this January, I gave my students one term’s notice.

Today I taught my last lesson in Hendon, and walked back through Sunny Hill Park. It’s been sad, these last few weeks, saying goodbye. One of the reasons I hung on so long was that I do genuinely like teaching, and I am very fond of all of my students. A half hour a week over a few years is a long time to spend with anyone in one-on-one situations and these families have been a significant part of my life. The students themselves have been a joy and a privilege to teach, through the difficult bits and the happiness (or just relief) at exam results and school performances. I was teaching only five at the end, but over the years there have been nearly forty students, and I have learned from each and every one of them, and I will miss them. If you’re a former student, or a parent of one, and you’re reading this: THANK YOU.

I suppose North London will still be there, but it feels strange that I no longer have any reason to go.


Finding the right words

One of the things I didn’t have much time to do while I was doing my music degree was write music.

The majority of my composing so far has been choral work. It isn’t a particularly vast majority, a handful of songs and anthems really. Sometime soon I’ll get more of it up on a website.

Usually, I find a text that, on some level, seems to speak to me, and then set it, and then it sits in a drawer until I get it onto the computer, and then it doesn’t get any further (really need to get that website sorted). But sometimes I have a specific occasion or person to write for, and need to find the right words.

At that point I really struggle. My knowledge of English poetry, particularly English poetry that is in the public domain, is rather poor. There’s an awful lot of it to get through and I’ll never manage to read it all. At one time I might have written the words myself, but it’s been a long time since I wrote any poetry and I don’t think I would be able to write something acceptable these days.

I’m dealing with this problem now. I keep going to the few poetry books I have and reading through them, searching for the right poem. The result? I bookmark tens or hundreds of pages as things I’d like to set someday but none of what I’ve found is appropriate for this particular project.

I think I probably need to do some sort of survey course in English poetry, or even choose a century per month and use my commuting time to get familiar with the major poets.

In the meantime, if you could have one text set as a choral work, what would it be?

Charterhouse International Music Festival

Since 22nd July I’ve been at the Charterhouse International Music Festival. I’ve been having quite a wonderful time!

The weather has been excellent so far, if perhaps a little warm for playing. Last night brought thunderstorms and today has been far more comfortable.

I’m enjoying lots of playing, and catching up on some much-needed sleep. The horn teacher has some useful things to say and I’m learning a fair amount from him and the other instructors, but I must also note that much of the benefit of being here is simply not having to deal with all the ordinary day-to-day chores for a while: the only transport to think about is a 15-minute walk across the grounds, and meals are all provided with no preparation or washing-up to do.

I am thinking a bit about how I might take some of the benefits of a situation like this and create a similar environment when I get back to London, if not while I’m at Trinity (as I seem to have managed to find a structure that roughly works) then certainly afterward. A period of intensive study for a few weeks every term might be do-able without letting too much of the life-maintenance stuff slide, if I prepare carefully beforehand.

It is quite a busy schedule, with a masterclass, three rehearsals and three concerts per day. So far the horn masterclasses have been with Michael Thompson, who I’d not met before getting here. Tomorrow he isn’t going to be here, so we get Anthony Halstead instead.

Lots of playing! On the 23rd I played the Hindemith wind quintet, on the 24th I played the Reinecke trio (op. 188) for horn, oboe and piano. Today I played two movements of the Jenner trio for clarinet, horn and piano in the lunchtime concert, and the Ligeti Six Bagatelles in the evening concert. Tomorrow I’m due to play the Hindemith E-flat althorn sonata on the tenor cor in the 6pm concert and the Dvorak Serenade in the evening concert, but I’m also hoping to play some transcribed Brahms lieder in the masterclass; another student here helped me with some translations, since I only had the German with me.

Concert attendance is perhaps a bit sparse, but with three concerts a day this is understandable. Much as I’d like to attend all three concerts, I can’t quite handle that and the rehearsing, so I settle for one or two.

I’ve been keeping a paper diary of specific thoughts on masterclasses, rehearsals and practise sessions and I’m finding it quite useful, but it runs to 23 pages so I’m not going to type it all in here. I do think I’m going to start keeping a similar logbook (with perhaps a bit more structure), because running through these things at the end of each day is a very good way to remind myself of the important points and also helps me plan the next day better. I’m not sure whether I’ll do that in digital or deadtree format. Digital has a lot going for it in terms of ease of entry, but a paper diary can be carried with me and updated anywhere I happen to be, which could be good. I can see myself filling in details while I’m commuting home in the evening, for example, and that’s much harder to do on a computer (I don’t have a laptop cheap enough that I’m willing to use it on public transport).

Right, at the moment there is a queue for the computers so I’m going to go fill in aforementioned diary with today’s events, then go and get some sleep. If I’m feeling particularly energetic I might try to get out to a field and watch some of the Perseid meteor shower, but I can probably catch more of that next week in Somerset.