Programme

I was excited as the time approached for the evening’s performance, outside the church I could hear the gentle chatter of the audience as they started to arrive on what was a beautiful summer evening.

The lights dimmed and then the performance began.  It was a lovely venue to perform in and to see such a large audience made the evening even more special.

The instrumental accompaniment was provided by members of the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tom Newall and the beautiful melodies composed by Puccini and played by these gifted musicians filled the evening air.

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The evening progressed and the cast brought the characters to life as the story of Madama Butterfly unfolded to the delight of an enthusiastic audience.

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Following the dramatic final scene as Butterfly lay dying and Sharpless carried off Butterfly’s child the lights dimmed and audience rose to show their appreciation.  It was a wonderful evening and Bowdon Festival should be proud of their achievement in producing this beautiful opera and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

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Me With Jayne Wilson After The Performance

Then this afternoon I was back on the train to Glasgow to spend a few days there before travelling back to Manchester for the Greater Manchester Chief Constable’s Charity Ball on Friday 3rd July.  Then on Sunday I am off to Italy for 5 weeks on an opera summer school.  The school is to take place in a small town called Fiera di Primiero in Trentino region of Italy.

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Fiera di Primiero, Italy

I will be with a group of students that have been selected from all over the world to take part in a series of workshops and master-classes culminating with the performances of several operas during the local music festival.  I hope to build on my experiences from this year and to both develop existing skills and learn new ones.

Here Comes Summer

June 21, 2015 — 57 Comments

My third year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is over, it’s gone so fast.  This week I had the pleasure of being invited to take part in the ‘Young Classical Artists Summer School’ organised by Fife Youth Arts Hub. This was the first of its kind and I was very excited to be working on this pilot project.

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The week was led by professional artists and teachers: Judith Howarth, Gordon Wilson and Frances McCafferty, who were fabulous and very informative to work with. The rehearsals took place in the very friendly Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy. It was here that I received one-to-one coaching sessions with Judith daily and and group stage theatre workshops with Tina West, Acting and Performing Fife college and Tommy Small, BBC radio 2 Artist in Residence.

We also had the opportunity to signup to work with three wonderful repetiteurs Geoffrey Tanti, Beth Jerem and Alan Gibson. I had the pleasure to work with all three and they scrutinized my Italian pronunciation and musicality. Hard work but very fulfilling. Over the course of the five days I worked on a few Mozart arias and two scenes: one from Carmen and the other from La Traviata. For me, I found getting my mouth and tongue around the Italian words in the fast recit to be quite tricky, but the coaches were on hand to help break this challenge into easier bite-size tasks. I’ve learnt from their guidance; most importantly that something that seems quite daunting at first can in fact be approachable and achievable with the right mindset, hard-work, manageable goals and encouragement.

On Wednesday we went to Saint Andrews University and I performed in the masterclass along with fellow young artists from the workshop and three artists from Byre Opera who were performing that evening in a production of Gluck’s “Iphigenie In Taurus”. It was brilliant to observe singers in action as I could see elements of the advice I’d been given during sessions, such as whether I believed the acting and the decisions behind the intentions and whether this aided the progression of the story.

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I believe I have learnt a great deal from this course, and I hope it can turn into an annual event in which singers can gain experience of performance and improve their craft.

Just to conclude, as its Father’s Day I would love to send some kisses and cuddles to my Dad, and thank him for his unwavering support and guidance as I go on this journey to explore classical singing. He is my rock and similar to the advice Judith gave me in one of my singing lessons he always told me to be courageous, and to act on something even if you have little element of fear.

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Happy Sunday! XX. Here comes the summer :) :) :)

Madama Butterfly

June 14, 2015 — 48 Comments

I’m currently working on the score for the chorus of Madama Butterfly for a one night only production at the end of the month.  I have been asked to play the character La Zia and understudy for the role of Kate by my first classical singing Teacher, Jayne Wilson.

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I last performed with Jayne back in November 2013 when I was asked to take part in a fund raiser for the Bowdon Youth festival hosted by Edwina Currie, who commented in the Messenger newspaper :

There were also two stunning solos by soprano Charlotte Hoather and a duet with Jayne Wilson, artistic director of Bowdon Festival.

Jayne previously taught Charlotte. Edwina Currie said: “It was a pleasure for all of us – and especially to hear Jayne Wilson’s magnificent duet with Charlotte, after all the praises we’ve heard sung about her. That can’t be a one-off, we have to hear that again”.

Jayne is to play the role of Madama Butterfly in the opera which is to be performed at St Mary’s Church in Bowdon on the 27th June at 7:30 pm.

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St Mary’s Church, Bowdon © Copyright David Dixon

This beautiful opera by Giacomo Puccini ( 1858 – 1924 ) is based on a short novel John Luther Long.  The story takes us to Japan at the turn of the last century.

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Act 1

As the opera opens we finds ourselves in Nagasaki, Japan.  The year is 1904 and an American naval officer Benjamin Pinkerton seeks the help of a local marriage broker named Goro to locate a house to lease, a lease he was told would come with a pretty young Japanese wife.  Goro assured Pinkerton not to worry as both the lease on the house and the arranged marriage could be ended with just a month’s notice.

This suited the Naval officer as he could not wait to return home to America to marry a proper American wife. However the young Japanese girl had other ideas, seeing the arrangement as far more than a passing fancy.  In her excitement to be the best possible wife she converted to Christianity in a bid to please her new American husband to be.

Her name was CioCio-San which is the Japanese word for “Butterfly” and she was only 15 years of age. She was so happy as the date of the marriage ceremony approached, which was to take place in the house that Goro had found for them both to live in.  However her happiness is short lived as her Uncle, the Bonze, arrives at the house to condemn her religious conversion.  Her family turn their backs on her leaving the poor young girl devastated and ostracised. Her despair is broken as she sings a love duet with her new Husband in the home they are to live in.

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Act 2

Three years have past and we find Butterfly in the house waiting for Pinkerton’s return.  He had left her shortly after their marriage returning to America. Though Butterfly’s maid Suzuki tries to convince her that her husband will not be returning the advice falls on deaf ears.  Since Pinkerton’s departure Goro has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Butterfly to take a new husband. Butterfly is utterly convinced that one day her husband, Pinkerton will return and along with their child they will all be a family again.

The American Consul, Sharpless arrives at the house with a letter from Pinkerton along with the news that he is to return to Japan. But seeing her and knowing the letter’s contents he cannot bring himself to read it to her.  He beseeches her to marry one of her suitors, Prince Yamadori but Butterfly will not consider it at all.  She instead reveals to Sharpless that before Pinkerton left she had become pregnant and proudly shows her son to him.  She explains that she called her son “Trouble” who upon Pinkerton’s return she will rename “Joy”.  She pleads with Sharpless to tell Pinkerton of their beautiful son and he promises to tell him about the child.

As Pinkerton’s ship docks in the harbour Butterfly decorates the house displaying her overwhelming joy at the return of her husband.  Through the night she waits for Pinkerton to return to her and their son.

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Act 3

The morning arrives and Suzuki wakes as we see Butterfly finally succumbs to her exhaustion and falls asleep.  Sharpless, Pinkerton and his new American wife Kate arrive at the house.  Pinkerton has persuaded Kate to take in the child and raise it as their own but as they approach the house he sees the decorations and cannot face meeting Butterfly, he acknowledges his cowardice and leaves everyone to sort out the mess that he had created.  Butterfly finally sees the helplessness of her situation and reluctantly agrees to give up her child, but only if Pinkerton comes to collect their son himself.  The final scene is set Pinkerton is contacted and agrees to return to meet with Butterfly.  Butterfly in turn prepares her son to meet his father for the first time and readies him to leave to live with him. The tension builds as we see everything unfold before our eyes………

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But if you want to know how it ends you will have to go and watch it :)

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After a few busy days I’m very excited to tell the tale of my last day in Bergen. Sunday 31st May began with a masterclass in the morning, we all performed the two songs that we were going to be singing later that evening in the concert. It was fantastic to receive  advice from the teachers and scholars which helped us all to bring the songs to life. I was delighted to receive the compliment of good Norwegian pronunciation from specialist Wencke Ophaug during the masterclass. Watching the other workshop participants was lovely as I got to see the improvements made by the others over the past few days. It was delightful to work with such positive and hard-working people.

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Click On The Picture To See The Full Panorama

 

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We then had a break to re-energise ourselves and gather our things for the evening. I took my gold sparkly dress and George brought his DJ. We met the rest of the group at 4:15 pm outside the Grieg Hall and together we caught a coach to Troldhaugen. We arrived with the sun shining and at 5 o’clock a final rehearsal took place. But this rehearsal didn’t take place in a concert hall it took place in Grieg’s house. Now this was an extra special experience, George played Grieg’s piano and I stood where Nina would’ve sung. It felt like the music was coming home and we revelled in all the happy memories held within the walls of this beautiful house. It’s something I can’t quite explain in words, but I feel so privileged to have gained this opportunity and to take away such a marvellous memory. I also managed to press a note for myself. (A tuning ‘A’ to be precise hehe).

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Sadly we could not take any pictures inside to share with you but if this means that many more generations can see and feel what I had experienced, then I don’t mind and instead I urge you to visit this fabulous home for yourselves.

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After our seven minutes of rehearsal time George and I along with the other participants went downstairs to the maid’s quarters to get ready for the performance. I used some of this time to go and explore, I visited Grieg’s composition hut and it was here and at his piano, which I touched, that the music of ‘Haugtussa’ came to life. We also visited his and Nina’s graves which were carved into the mountains. It was quite spectacular and a beautiful resting place for them both, it felt quite an honour to be part of the history of this inspiring area of Bergen.

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We then got changed into our performance clothes so we could take some pictures outside of the house to make the most of the sunny day. However, it was when we returned downstairs that something occurred. I poured myself a cup of berry tea, but moments later, just after being freshly brewed,  in the crowded room as I turned the entire contents of the cup spilled down the front of my dress. At first I couldn’t feel it and I just panicked about the mess but then all of a sudden the hot liquid reached my leg and stuck to my tight dress soaking my thigh. People rushed to help me get to a rest room and take the dress off and finally after a painful struggle I was released from it to reveal a burnt thigh!  But in the words of Freddie Mercury, (I’m a huge fan along with my Mum and Dad) “the show must go on!”,  so after pouring a cold bottle of water all over my leg and rubbing some hand lotion on I put my dress back on, which was more like a wetsuit :) walked back upstairs and sung my heart out. Nothing was going to ruin this experience for me. Then promptly after finishing I retired to some comfy clothes to allow my skin some time to heal.

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After the performance we all mingled and took some photos and expressed our joy of such a fabulous experience. I must say that I have now left the workshop as a Grieg enthusiast and I hope to keep singing and sharing his music for a long time.

I must admit that figuring out how to dictate my notes into my iPad has been really helpful and made sharing my adventure so much easier, I can really recommend it.

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Today was a very exciting day indeed. From 9 o’clock till 1 o’clock we attended lectures held by guest speakers. The first lecture at 9 o’clock was taken by Arne Torp, a Norwegian professor from the University of Oslo. He spoke about the Norwegian language revival as artistic inspiration for Edvard Grieg. To begin with he pointed out the connection between the Scandinavian countries Norway Sweden and Denmark. He explained that for some time Denmark and Norway had a union, in which Denmark was the mothering country. This was because the higher classes spoke Danish. People learnt how to write in this language but often they spoke Bokmål, Norwegian Danish. Then when Norway became independent in 1814, the people of Norway wanted to speak a language connected to their own nationality, hence they began to speak Nynorsk, (Landsmål). In 1944 it reached its popularity peak as the language was then taught on the school curriculum. Torp continued his lecture on the subject of music as an element for building national identity. He explained Grieg’s involvement in these projects and how he chose poems in the new language Nynorsk in order to promote this change and support Norway’s identity. An example of this is his setting of Arne Garbourg’s Haugtussa.

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At 10 o’clock the lecture was led by Cheryl Christensen from the USA. The theme of the lecture was Grieg in the “world of unborn music” and his creative journey through the use of language in Haugtussa. This was a brilliant lecture because she incorporated live performances with musical examples from her research through the help of two American workshop participants. She spoke about the structural dissonances in Grieg’s Haugtussa. For example he only chose to set eight songs from the overall collection which spans over two volumes. In the story that Grieg chose to create the audience experience her transforming from a scared and fragile girl to a courageous young woman due to the experience of heartbreak.

Markéta Štefková a professor from Slovakia furthered this discussion through an in depth analysis of the musical motifs that occurred in Haugtussa. Sharon Lavery from the Juilliard School gave a lecture on the marriage of music and poetry in Grieg’s Haugtussa. She spoke about how as a singer we can choose how to modify and project the vowels and consonants in order to portray the meaning of the text. This was very interesting and tied in with the work that we were doing with the Norwegian specialists in the workshops hosted by the Grieg Academy.

Gregory Martin, gave a lecture on the midnight sun that occurs in Norway and how this affected Grieg’s desire to present a sense of timelessness in his music. Avrid Vollsnes a Norwegian professor ended the morning session by explaining about the old culture and society at the time when the poems were written. This was great to hear as it gave insight into how the character of Haugtussa was affected by her relationship to other townsmen and to nature around her.

In the afternoon George and I had a lesson with Audun Kayser, who is a very talented pianist. He worked on quite a few pieces with us and provoked us to question how we performed the music by offering a little guidance in juxtaposition whilst encouraging us to take risks and liberate ourselves within the music. It was a fabulous session and one that I will remember for a long time.

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At 5 o’clock we caught the coach to Troldhaugen.  It was here that we got to visit Grieg’s villa. It was his first permanent home after starting his married life with Nina Grieg. It was brilliant to see where he forged his ideas and created this magnificent pieces such as Haugtussa. We then went to a concert performed by the professors who led our vocal workshops at the Academy. This was both outstanding and at the same time very inspirational. Both duos had a real sense of connection and kept you engaged for the whole time you were there. Even though I do not speak Norwegian, Danish nor German I was able to follow the stories that they told through their fabulous performances. I hope that one day I can perform to a similar high standard it was truly breath-taking.

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To finish a wonderful day we had a delicious dinner at Spisestedet Troldhaugen and we chatted and told stories and anecdotes into the late evening. I’ll be very sad knowing that it will be my last workshop day here tomorrow. But I will make the most of time here by absorbing as much of the culture, knowledge and experiences as possible.

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Day three began with a practice slot in room 209 from 9 o’clock to 10 o’clock. We performed four of the songs that we prepared for the trip yesterday in our lesson with Solveig, so today we decided to work on a new piece from the Haugtussa cycle, Møte.  I had previously worked on the translation and pronunciation with my dear friend Martina whilst in Glasgow, so George and I decided to explore the musical ideas conjured up by the piece after yesterday’s inspiring open lessons.

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Then at 10 o’clock we then went to the opening of the conferences and lectures held by musicologists interested in Grieg’s works.  The Grieg Society started in 1996 and they held conferences by annually.  The Society now hold the conference sessions every four years with little projects and workshops in between. This conference was the first time that workshop and lectures had been combined.

This resulted in bringing musicologists and performing musicians together in close contact to discuss ideas and create a web of information which we can all draw from. This was the goal of the society and I believe they have succeeded.

The conference represents over 20 different countries. The theme for the conference was the vocal production of Grieg music, there are 180 different songs that Grieg wrote.  Einar Røttigen, a fabulous pianist and leader of the workshop, explained that his hopes for the conference were that we could all take away what we had learned from our experiences and share them with others.  His hope is that the conference will create a network of Grieg enthusiasts, who in turn will inspire people to learn,listen and perform these beautiful Norwegian songs.
Beryl Foster from the UK was the keynote speaker, and she led the very interesting lecture ‘Grieg The Dramatist.’   She went into great depth that about his music and his compositions for the voice. She explained that he was a master of subtle difference shifting the Bar line and the inclusion of the tritone to represent dramatic ideas. He also wanted to feature ideas brought from Norwegian folk music to give a flavour of this fabulous culture within his works.

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Then at 11 o’clock Jorma Daniel Lünenbürger, from Germany, gave a lecture on Grieg songs using German words, in context to German lieder. This was a very interesting talk, as he explained that Grieg went to Leipzig Conservatoire to study. Grieg decided that he wanted to compose in the German language and in the German manner. The basis of the lecture was to compare how the different famous composers such as Grieg, Schubert, Wolf, Franz and Reinecke ( Grieg’s teacher) all set poetry to music. However it was the ending quote that I found the most interesting! this lead me to wonder whether I can show the different nationalities more when I sing in different languages and whether this can colour my text and interpretation.

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At 12 o’clock George and I had a lesson with Turid Bakke Braut. We performed for her and worked in great depth on Møte. Together we explored the different options for phrasing the musical line in order to achieve a flowing thought. This was a very rewarding process as we delved into the musical depth of the peace. This resulted in a truly close connection to the poem and musical ideas.

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After a well-deserved lunch break we had an open panel discussion about performing Grieg songs with singers Njål Sparbo, Solveig Kringlebotn and pianists Einar Røttingen and Signe Bakke. This was especially interesting as the speakers explained their views on performing Grieg’s songs. The pianists recommended that the text must always have a sense of direction to enable the pianist to move and express the emotion of a harmonic progression.  Solveig explained her views in depth and they were so absorbing. She explained that Grieg wanted to write music that was sympathetic to the original intention of the poet . Njål encouraged us to take what had been discussed and incorporate it into our own performances. Einar recommended never to play different composers from the same era in the same way. This is because they should all be seen as sensitive and individual human beings who have their own stories to tell.
At 4 o’clock George and I then signed up to perform in the open masterclass, which was to be held in front of the musicologists and musicians together. There were seven participants overall and we performed fourth. Originally we decided to sing Ved Gjætle Bekken, but after connecting so strongly with Møte during the day we decided to take the risk of performing it because we wanted to gain as much insight and advice as possible. We performed the song in full and then we received great advice and input from multiple teachers and musicologists. This was brilliant as it allowed me to think about all the different options and alternatives that are available to a performer and it also gave me the confidence to make my own decisions on how I think the piece should be performed.

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After a quick bite to eat we met back up at 7 o’clock at Bergen public library it was here that we got the chance to see and touch Grieg’s original scores. This is a very exciting process is we could get a sense of the actual beginnings of the works, to experience the seed from which the music and ideas grew from.

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The Haugtussa Manuscript had a beautiful painting on it’s the front cover, sadly the artist is unknown. I went on to looking through the scores and I found that Grieg wrote the music in pen but the bar lines in pencil. Although it may seem like a simplistic thing to discover but it really spoke to me especially after all that I had learned today in the lectures. I wondered as I read through Grieg’s scores was this use of pencil intentional? Was there some glorious purpose behind it or maybe had his pen just run out of ink. We may never know.

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Then as the evening drew on we became enthralled as the library transformed into a bar as loads of people started to come in to meet and socialise. It was very different to our University library and created a fabulous atmosphere. Perhaps we don’t need to be quiet and libraries in the evening? It was lovely to spend some time with my fellow participants, share stories and discuss musical ideas.

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Tomorrow the conference is to be hosted by the musicologists and will be dominated by the Haugtussa cycle. I’m very excited to hear their ideas and take on their advice and information which I hope will help my performance of the work.

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Day two of my exciting adventure in Bergen. Today we had the pleasure of going to the Grieg Academy to begin our intensive course on Grieg song and Norwegian pronunciation.

In the morning we met with our friends: Kristiina Watt, Donal McHugh and Esther Knight who are also students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Together we left the hostel and arrived at the Grieg Academy at 9 o’clock in the morning. We went to the welcoming reception which was held in the Prøvesalen ( rehearsal hall ).

It was at the session that I met the other participants who had been invited to take part on the course and we all had to stand up and introduce ourselves. I’ll admit I always find this quite daunting, I never know what to say. When it was my turn I stood up fairly quickly announced that “I’m Charlotte Hoather”  and then promptly sat back down again. Thinking about this now, I maybe I should have said a funny fact about myself, or a joke, if any one has any advice please let me know! Haha

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Following the welcome meeting we were allocated a practice time slot between 9:30 till 11:00. George and I were shown to a lovely room, 322.  The room was very inspirational as it was filled with music and pictures to set the atmosphere along with two grand pianos. I was quite nervous in the morning, all of a sudden it hit me, I was in Bergen, Norway about to sing some beautiful Norwegian songs in front of leading specialists and performing artists. This is quite a daunting task! Before now I had not participated in any masterclasses in my own country and the enormity of the challenge hit me smack in the face. But luckily I had George with me, he was ever so positive and told me to smile and that I’d be fine. It was just a kick up the bum I needed and pretty soon I was back to my normal self.

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At 11 o’clock I went to an open lecture called ‘Troubleshooting Norwegian pronunciation in classical singing’ taken by Wencke Ophaug. I sat next to Tessa Romano and Mary Rose Norell, it was lovely to meet them they had travelled all the way from the USA and I had the pleasure to listen to them later this afternoon. The lecture discussed how Norwegian doesn’t have a standardised pronunciation and the problems that can occur due to this. It explained that this was because people can speak many dialects in the same city. As a singer I strive to be as accurate with the pronunciation as possible, so this was really interesting. I have studied IPA ( International Phonetic Alphabet ) at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland so I was familiar with most of the symbols that the lecturer was using apart from the odd few. I learnt so much from this talk, for example I found out that there is no voiced ‘S’ in Norwegian,  unlike English or German.

We then took a short break for lunch and we ate at the Grieg Academy canteen. I had an interesting sandwich, I’m not quite sure what was on it but it was very tasty! The staff are ever so friendly and the students that were taking us around the building were brilliant, so helpful and made you feel really welcome.

At 1 o’clock I had an open teaching session with Solevig Kringlebotn in the Prøvesalen. It was an incredible session, I performed four songs from the Haugtussa cycle, Det Syng, Veslemøy, Killingdans and Ved Gjætle Bekken.  Solevig was full of life and she provided me with so much help and encouragement during the session.  Later on I made a note of everything she said in my diary, lots to think about and work on.

For the rest of the afternoon I watched two of the open lessons, it was hard to decide who to listen to. For today George and I listened to lessons that included work from the Haugtussa cycle. Each duo and teacher had something different to say, and the interpretations were fabulous to watch.
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After that we nipped out for a quick bite to eat. We visited a fabulous café recommended by my lovely friend Martina called Godt Brød, here we had some delicious pastries and I got an English breakfast tea! It was a delightful place and they also did takeaway sandwiches to your choosing, I might be visiting this place again. :)

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To finish a very musical day we went to a concert at 5 o’clock performed by USA pianist Daniel Baer. He performed a wonderful program of Prokofiev, Barber and Grieg. It was both dramatic and powerful, his dynamics were crisp and clear. thoroughly enjoyed it.

I then went back to the hostel for a quick chill, wrote this on my iPad and now I’m going to go and find somewhere to eat.

Looking forward to tomorrow!