A little something for Canada Day

I had a horn teacher who had the custom, on Canada Day, of taking his canoe out to the middle of the lake and playing “O Canada” on the horn.

I lack a boat, the nearest lake has rather a lot of traffic noise and I’m a bit disorganised. So instead, here is a recording of me playing “O Canada” on the serpent.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F18238039 O Canada by artsyhonker

FairTrade Fortnight and Metrical Psalmody in Stoke Newington

It’s FairTrade Fortnight, which means lots of tasty, guilt-free chocolate floating around, among other things. Others have laid out, far better than I can, the reasons for buying FairTrade when possible, so I won’t add much to that except to say that I don’t buy tea, coffee or chocolate at all if they aren’t FairTrade and I try to avoid non-FT sugar, cotton and bananas.

On Sunday, 13th March the London Gallery Quire will be leading music in a service at Manor Road United Reformed Church, 102 Manor Road, N16 5NU (map). The music is that which would have been sung, played, and heard in nonconformist chapels in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it’s well worth coming along to hear. I’ll be playing the serpent and even singing a bit. There’ll be a retiring collection in aid of the FairTrade Foundation and the Quire, and the service will be followed by a tasty “Fairtrade Supper”. Visions of chocolate-dipped bananas are floating in my head, but I bet they can come up with some pretty good main courses too.
I still haven’t constructed my new, improved serpent case so I think I might be stuck with buses, trains and the like for this one, rather than the snake on a bike method of instrument transport, but I’ll see how I’m feeling on the day.

Snake on a Bike! Snake on a Bike!

On Sunday I tried an experiment. Carefully, gingerly, I manoeuvred the serpent case onto the back of the bicycle, and used several bungee cords to secure it there. The plan was to then walk the bicycle to St Mary’s Wanstead, where the London Gallery Quire were providing music for Evensong. It seemed a better option than taking the Tube one stop, and a more comfortable one than walking with a heavy case on the end of my arm.

The whole set up seemed quite secure, though, so I decided to cycle instead. I was cautious at first, not wanting to take too many risks, but I do know the route to Wanstead quite well and the traffic on a Sunday afternoon is not exactly heavy. So off I went, like some sort of low-budget sequel to a certain film, and sure enough we got there all right. The journey back was in the dark but I have lots of lights (some would say I’m excessive in this, I prefer to think of it as “highly visible”, which is surely a good thing!), and I was feeling confident enough to take a detour to a friend’s house for a visit.
I didn’t take any pictures, so you’ll just have to imagine a great rectangular box with a red light on it sticking out off the back of the pannier rack. I’d definitely do the same again for short journeys — but I’m still not happy enough with the case to try this method for getting to and from Quire.

Travel time and time travel

This morning feels about a million years away! Really, I only had two main events today, but the day felt much longer.

I started with a Gregorian Chant workshop put on by RSCM EEL. I wouldn’t ordinarily have gone to something like that with such short notice — I got an e-mail about it on Thursday — but it was led by Nick Gale, director of music at St George’s RC Cathedral, and it was close to home at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Wanstead. Our first chant of the day was not Gregorian but Ambrosian chant, a setting of the Gloria. It dates from around 400 CE, and it was interesting to see how the later additions to the text of the gloria were clearly of a different musical pattern than the earlier text. There was also quite a lot of actual Gregorian chant, including some things that might be useful for Advent.

I enjoyed the workshop immensely. After that I was off to a Harvest Supper at St Mary’s Addington, where I was to play the serpent and the piano as part of the entertainments. The journey was quite horrific; I was kindly offered a lift by another workshop participant who lives near Addington, and as it had only taken him about 45 minutes to get to Wanstead in the morning I accepted. Unfortunately the southbound Blackwall Tunnel was closed and we spent about two hours on Blackwall Tunnel Approach. I couldn’t even get out and take public transport until after we’d cleared the start of the tunnel.

I got there in the end, though, and the entertainments hadn’t yet started. Phew! My piano playing was accompanying two friends singing “Misalliance” by Flanders and Swann. I was still a bit rattled after the journey and my hands were shaking badly, so I didn’t play as well as I might have, but we got through okay and the audience loved their singing — and acting! Later on was the serpent number. The choir had rehearsed “O God, my heart is fixed, ’tis bent”, a metrical setting of Psalm 57 vv7-11 from the London Gallery Quire book Your Voices Raise, but we hadn’t had a chance to play it together at all; it went well. The tune is “Lynn” by Uriah Davenport (1690-1784) and the words are from the New Version of Tate and Brady (1696). I had left my notes for the brief chat about the serpent and about West Gallery music at home, so forgot large parts of them; hopefully I didn’t baffle people too much. I closed that set with a brief rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” for reasons which I won’t go into here. I have found that, anachronistic as it might seem, some of the jazz standards work remarkably well on the serpent. Possibly it’s because I’m so accustomed to playing vocal basslines.

Then it was just the long journey home again… given the earlier transport problems, I accepted with some trepidation a lift as far as East Croydon station from a choir member, and though there were indeed some roadworks and a detour it was smooth driving all the way there. Then came the train, and the tube, and the rail replacement bus, and the walk home.

Dates for music I have sung/played today:
18th century
20th century

Types of transport I have used today:
private cars (not mine — I don’t drive!)
bus route 15
Docklands Light Railway (a sort of train)
London Overground (another sort of train)
Croydon Tramlink
British Rail
TfL rail replacement bus.

Clearly what I need is one of these:

No wonder the day felt long. It’s far past my bedtime now, though; I’ve got to get up in the morning to play the organ at church.


I’ve been on vacation for most of the past week, staying in a guesthouse in Mark, Somerset and cycling a lot.

I’m well aware that I have a shiny new job starting in September, and I didn’t want to miss too many days of practice. So I rang up the local vicar to ask if I could use the organ in Mark Church. I’m glad I did; it’s a lovely instrument in many ways and I spent a few hours on Wednesday morning playing, as well as a bit of time on Thursday. I don’t think the organ has the range of tone colour that the one at St Andrew’s has, and I’m accustomed to three manuals rather than two and a greater range of pedal stops, but the blowers were much quieter (probably on account of not being broken) and — this was exciting — all the notes work. It’s being kept in reasonably good tune, too.
Yesterday was back to work, of a sort — I was playing serpent with the London Gallery Quire at a wedding in the afternoon, and then again in the ceilidh band in the evening at the reception. The wedding itself was very long, with a range of liturgy and music that showed a fair portion of the breadth of the Church of England. After the wedding some Quire members had kindly arranged a lunch, which was very much appreciated, especially by those of us going on to play in the band. Playing the ceilidh was good fun — I’d like to do more of that sort of work — but it did mean I got home after 1am!
Today, then, is for tidying, laundry, all the post-holiday stuff, so that tomorrow I can settle into a working routine again without tripping over myself. That’s the plan, anyway…

Performance Collective Evening Concert

London Performance Collective
7.30pm Evening Concert
Tuesday 18th August

An Evening filled with music, wine and cake

* Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight of the Bumble Bee for bassoon and piano
* Otar Taktakishvili – Flute Sonata
* Handel – Sonata in G minor Op. 1 No. 6, violin and serpent
* Schumann – Fantasiestucke, Op. 12
* Beethoven – Trio – for flute, bassoon, and piano

Tickets: £10 (Conc. £6)

The Space (directions and map)

The London Performance Collective is a new ensemble which presents classical and modern music in new ways to help audiences to experience it afresh. We perform good music from all historical periods, but aim to present it in ways which open ears anew to its impact.

Results, moving on and settling in…

Where to start?

I got my degree. Specifically, I have been awarded a Bachelor of Music (Hons), Second Class Honours, Upper Division. In ordinary terms that’s known as a 2:1 in the British system.

I had a celebratory recital on 10th July. I’m listening to a recording now, to try and make a CD to hand on to someone who couldn’t be there. It’s interesting… a note in the Mozart that I had pegged as ‘always a bit sharp’ is flat in both the exam and the recital. Clearly I should have recorded more of my practising for troubleshooting purposes. Overall, the recital went well and I think I played better than in the exam, so I’m very glad I did it. Also, there’s little better than playing with friends and family for a large group of my friends and family.

I’ve also moved house. No more shall I wander along the Roman Road, at least not in order to get the bus to take me to Trinity in the mornings. The new house has a music room, which means I don’t actually need to leave to practise. I don’t need to book a room, either. This is most excellent. The house even came with a piano, which, although in need of some work, allows me to put off the expensive decision on buying one for myself, at least for a few more years.

So, I’ve been doing some practising, some small bits of composing, and rather a lot of packing and unpacking. In an unprecedented fit of being rather more organised than usual, most of my existing teaching schedule for the autumn is sorted out. I do need to find more students locally, but I also know it will take time to build up a class in this area.

The next few weeks bring a performance on 18th August (I’ll play serpent and Anna will play violin), a trip to deepest darkest Somerset to unwind for a few days, and rather a lot of unpacking. I also need to start doing some arranging and transcription of popular works for horn, violin and ‘cello, as it looks like a group of us are doing some of that. I also want to get going again on putting together a horn and organ concert, but I may need to wait a little longer and get some job applications out of the way, first. A website wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

In future summers I hope I’ll be able to have a longer rest in August, but as so much is in transition and there are so many new starts, this one is turning out to be mostly one where I keep my head down.

How about you?

Concert diary

Some more performances coming up!

Tomorrow lunchtime I’ll be singing at Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London W1K 2PA.

Friday 8th May, 1pm
King William Singers
directed by Hilary Campbell
present a lunchtime concert of contemporary choral music.


Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium
Brown o sapientia
Whitacre Water Night
Campbell the isle is full of noises
Whitacre Lux Aurumque
Weir Vertue
Campbell the hand that made us is divine

There will be a retiring collection for the CYM Library and for the Grosvenor Chapel Foundation.


On Sunday morning the London Gallery Quire will be singing Mattins at St Mary the Virgin Church in East Barnet. The service begins bright and early at 10am. I will be playing the serpent. I’m quite enjoying playing the serpent.

I haven’t thought further ahead than that just now. I think there are Wind Orchestra things coming up at some point.

The Garlickhythe Occasionals and the London Gallery Quire

Long time no post, I know! I’ve been working hard and learning a lot… and recently I’ve been having internet problems at home, which tends to scupper posting a bit.

I will be playing the serpent twice this weekend! Once will be with the Garlickhythe Occasionals, at a Ceilidh in Highgate on Saturday night.

For the more devoutly inclined, on Sunday at 6.30pm I’m playing with the London Gallery Quire at Choral Evensong in Dulwich at the Chapel of God’s Gift.

The week ahead, the year ahead.

It’s Monday, just barely. I’ve had a good couple of days of teaching, and got back to Trinity for the first time in 2009 today.

I have a lunchtime recital to play in next Wednesday, so most of my practising goals this week are related to making sure I’m in good form for that. This means lots of long, gentle warm-ups, lots of mental study of the pieces I’ll be playing and lots of playing through the pieces in their entirety, both to cement my memory and to keep my endurance up. This latter is quite important as I had a few days off playing last week.

The lunchtime recital on 14th January will be at St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road. Repertoire will be:

Dunhill: Cornucopia – Six Miniatures (horn and piano)
Butler: Hunding (unaccompanied horn)
Debussy: two of the Preludes for piano
Beethoven: Sonata Op. 17 (horn and piano)

I also need to get some programme notes sorted out, and make a poster to put up!

Most of tomorrow will be spent in sectional rehearsals for Wind Orchestra (which always reminds me of my teacher in Lethbridge, Dr Tom Staples, saying, “It’s a band, folks!”). This band is playing some of the usual Ralph Vaughan-Williams but also Messiaen and some other challenging works.

Other projects I’ll be working on this week include some last bits of planning and publicity for my Year 4 Project (I’m still waiting on date confirmation so not announcing anything just yet!), and writing a cadenza for the Gliere concerto which I’ll be playing in the Soloists Competition on 25th January. And I want to get things sorted out for teaching a horn scales class again: we had one session last term and it went well, but I can’t cover twelve keys (and their relative minors) in two hours and also teach thoroughly, so these need to happen on a weekly basis if they’re going to be of any use to anyone.

I’ve also been offered a serpent. No, not the infamous reptile that once got Eve into a spot of trouble, but the musical instrument. I have been singing with the London Gallery Quire for most of the last term and enjoyed it heartily; now it seems I will be their serpentist. More on this after I actually meet the instrument in question on Wednesday night! I have wanted a serpent for some time, you might even say I have been tempted by them, but before Sunday afternoon I did not get a chance to play one. Now I’ve played one for probably the better part of 45 minutes.

So, that’s the week ahead. I believe it’s also traditional, with the new cycle of the arbitrary Gregorian calendar we use to mark time in the West, to think and write of the year ahead.

The year ahead… well, the first half of it is a matter of trying to get this degree finished without too many catastrophes. The second half of it will be the transition from being a good-for-nothing student with hardly any free time to being a good-for-nothing musician with a bit more free time. I think they call it a “portfolio career” these days. For me, that means more teaching, hopefully some of it in schools and some of it privately, and trying to keep some performance (particularly chamber music) going, perhaps with organisations like Live Music Now. It means I’ll have time to learn things as and when I’m interested in learning them and have the spare brain cycles, rather than keeping to a set syllabus: I’m very, very glad I ended up at Trinity but I am looking forward to the freedom of dipping into one thing or another at my leisure and pleasure! I’ll also be moving house at some point this summer. I cannot keep a serpent and three horns in this flat indefinitely, and I want somewhere that I’ll be able to start teaching from home, and preferably a garden too. But really, for now, it’s a focus on academic work from now until around June, and after that I’ll relax, take some deep breaths, and see what happens.