Recently I have been thinking about the relationship between the audience and the artist, and how this continues to develop and vary as a result of the ever-changing Covid-19 pandemic. I feel that the present situation isn’t likely to revert rapidly, so I have entered a new phase of thinking that is encouraging me to research, reflect, and explore new opportunities. In the quest to find inspiration for new projects and ideas. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on the question: What will the future conversations be like between the artist/s and the audience?

As an opera singer, I get a real buzz from performing live in front of a Theatre audience or the thrill of the more intimate immersive productions that I have been involved with. I love the immediacy of contact between the listener, whether that is through a moment of eye contact, a shared smile or inducing a chuckle. Even the odd distracted audience member can give you a nudge of energy that influences the performance. There is of course the special sound that occurs as a collection of hands come together to express a feeling of gratitude. Clapping bursts the atmosphere to remind you that you are sharing the space with a group of supportive people, who are willing to come on a journey with you. During a time whilst gathering in groups is restricted, how do I dream up ideas that allow for the experience of a live performance, whilst maintaining people’s safety.

To get a better understanding of what it is like to be a member of the audience during the current restrictions I decided to experience live performances that were on offer. Recently I watched two live performances, one in a socially distanced concert hall (A 60-minute recital held at Wigmore Hall, London) and the other from the comfort of my own home (An Operatic evening streamed from the Royal Opera House, London). Both events were performed live with a smaller socially distanced audience at the venue and attempted to encourage new-watchers from home.

I found that one of the positives of attending in person was that I had better focus. The audience sat quietly and encouraged me to soak up the music and devote my attention to the event at hand. I felt that collectively we created a supportive atmosphere for the music to be released into, and the artists (Gweneth Ann Rand, soprano and Simon Lepper, piano) took inspiring risks that provoked personal sensory reactions, such as the hair on my arms standing up.

However, in contrast, when George and I watched the Live-streaming from the Royal Opera House, we enjoyed a more relaxed viewing experience. I was able to wear my “Comfies” and sip a cup of tea during the performance. Our view of the performance for the ticket price of £10.00 was fantastic. Cameras flicked between close-ups to extravagant wide shots that took in the set-designs and auditorium. The only way to achieve this during a live performance would be to run around the auditorium chasing empty seats during the event. I think I would prefer to sit calmly, and not be short of breath. It was interesting that we both wanted to discuss what we were seeing and share our immediate thoughts. Usually, this conversation would be saved for an interval or the trip back home, as you don’t want to disrupt the performers or your fellow listeners. So, this was an enjoyable aspect of having a private viewing. 

There is nothing quite like having a live audience, however, I am very aware that I need to look to the future and find solutions. In the coming year as an independent opera singer, I may need to create my own performance opportunities and not just wait for them to arise. I believe it is the Artist’s duty to adapt to the times and find the best way to communicate their message. With this in mind, which method of sharing art has resonated best with you so far? What would you like to see more of? What do you think hasn’t been explored yet? I want to hear your ideas and be inspired.

My Wonderful Whacky Wall

October 18, 2020 — 83 Comments

I am very lucky to have such supportive parents, in particular, I have a mum who has inspired me throughout my formative years and encouraged me to become the person I am today. For her birthday this year, I wanted to give her a gift, that would enable her to freely express herself through art on a bigger canvas than she is used to. So, I organised for my Mum and my family to help me to paint an abstract wall mural in my living room. A bold and brave move – but totally worth it!

I have always enjoyed art, it stimulates my imagination. A white wall screams to me for a more vibrant colour. In the past, I would have achieved this with framed textile art that I made so this was a whole new direction for me.

The reason for this idea was that my Mum and I have a keen hobby of sharing images we’ve seen on Pinterest with one another. As a result of this conversation style, we found some fantastic wall murals that you can buy from an Etsy artist and then stick onto your walls at home.

However, my purse strings are a little tight this year and I thought why not try to do this myself. I enjoyed painting and drawing in high school. But the joy of the idea came from the initial conversation with my Mum and I knew she would get such a kick from going for it and the adventure of doing it in my home.

The thought process was – let’s try it, if it doesn’t look good, I’ll just paint it white again! George was up for it and I thought what’s the worst that could happen? I started a Pinterest board, collecting ideas for a colour scheme, tips, and tricks for how to paint a mural, and inspirational images. This provided me with some practical knowledge so that minor mistakes could be avoided. To keep the costs down I bought tester paint pots with my Mum, I wanted her to be involved with the colour scheme. At first, I hid the surprise from her by saying that I was just testing out colours for the walls, and I wanted her advice.

Then the physical part of the project began. The date was set, as I knew my family was coming to London to celebrate my Mum’s and my brother Matt’s birthday in August. I prepped the walls, moved the furniture, stuck a dust sheet down, and had the paintbrushes ready to go.

My Mum was really excited and we began the project, just the two of us, one afternoon during her visit. We split the wall into three sections using masking tape and then followed our instincts and went for it. We had so much fun on day one, that I thought why don’t we all get stuck in so I invited the whole family around.

This encouraged an abstract design because I wanted everyone to feel comfortable at giving it ago. Whether that was painting their own design or just colouring in a triangle. As the weekend came to an end, I was left with a really colourful wall but it didn’t feel congruent. I loved that each shape reminded me of the different people who painted it, but I wanted there to be overall harmony.

At first, I worried as there were little bits I didn’t like (eek – apologies Family), but I reminded myself it was an expression, a process to spend time together, to create a memory. I took these into my stride and loved how they inspired me to chop and change the design into something more harmonious. To be honest, I learned a lot from this experience, it has helped me find the beauty in someone else’s ideas and add my own personality into the mix to create something special. I hope that I can develop this idea within my own personal singing practice.

Before I came up with the final look, I took pictures of the wall as it was and then drew over the design using my iPad. I tried out several different ideas, sending them to my Mum for her input until one struck me with enough confidence to paint it.

Here is the finished look! I am really happy with the final result and I think it adds a little bit of my personality to my home in a beautiful way, every day it makes us smile. The icing on the cake is that my Mum sees it every time we FaceTime and it always makes her smile too.

There is a fantastic quote by Degas: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” So I would love to know what you see and take from my magical wall. Let me know in the comments below.

Cover Art

October 11, 2020 — 77 Comments

I have spent the last couple of weeks reviewing your comments and suggestions regarding the photographs to be used in the Artwork for our upcoming album of songs that we performed from our balcony during the first 16 weeks of the pandemic here in the U.K.  It has been really useful to me and George to get your opinions which have helped us to narrow down our focus and work towards the final selection. 

Having the combined experience of so many contributors has made the task so much easier.  The concerts we performed were our contribution to our local community and through the use of streaming software, I found that we could share the experience with you, my friends, and supporters here on my blog.  It somehow seemed fitting that you should also be involved in the finalisation of this project, this shared experience, and I want to thank you all for being so supportive through what has been a particularly troublesome time for so many people.

Having listened to your suggestions I chose the three photographs that seemed to encompass as many of the points raised as possible.  Finding the best crop, making sure the verticals were correct, that the image included the balcony, and hopefully still shows the enjoyment we got from performing each week.

So here are the final photographs.  I have added the typography and tried different positions and backgrounds. Take a good look over each one, let me know your thoughts and together I hope we can pick the final image that I can send off with our tracks for publication before next week’s post.

Picture No. 1
Picture No.2
Picture No.3
Picture No.4
Picture No.5
Picture No.6
Picture No.7

Tristan and Isolde

October 4, 2020 — 36 Comments

Ahh! – What a treat to be surrounded by the wonderful sensations of live music as a listener again. On Saturday George and I excitedly attended the inaugural performance held by The London Opera Company at The Warehouse in Waterloo, London. There we heard a chamber concert performance of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. This particular opera is around 5 hours long, split into three acts. A stamina test for both the ear and the buttocks. With this in mind, I was wondering how the company would put on the performance safely under the current pandemic.

Before the performance:

The company smartly decided to have electronic tickets to remove the need for ticket stubs to be collected upon entry. Along with the online ticket, we were provided with a few instructions to make our participation as safe as possible for ourselves, the combined group of spectators, and the performers. We were given a period of time, at which we could enter the theatre to take our seats. For example, George and I were given 14:45-15:00. By splitting the entry of the audience members into groups, it meant that foot traffic was moderated and allowed for safe social distancing. Audience members were encouraged to wear masks upon entry and during the performance.

The seating area was split into seating arrangements of 1 and 2 people. The clusters of seats were evenly scattered across the floor into eight rows (A-H), with perhaps a total of around 30 audience members. The audience looked like stars in the night sky, all fizzing with pre-show excitement building to a wonderful atmosphere ready for the performance to begin.

During the Performance:

Tristan and Isolde is an orchestral passion, and can usually require a large number of instrumentalists to perform alongside the singers. This particular performance was an arrangement written for Piano, Violin, and Cello. Jonathan Musgrave (Piano), James Widden (Violin), and Alison Holford (Cello). I really enjoyed listening to this musical adaptation as it showcased some very intimate moments, such as the dazzling love duet in Act Two between Tristan (Brian Smith Walters) and Isolde (Cara McHardy). This musical ensemble certainly got my brain ticking, as George regularly performs in a piano trio with the Chloe Trio. Perhaps in the future, we could be inspired to put on an opera accompanied by a small ensemble too!

After the instrumental introduction, the singers soon began to enter the stage. They would appear to sing their musical parts, explore and progress the story from strategically placed music stands. These were spaced to allow for safety but the chemistry fizzed between Isolde and Tristan despite the 2-3 meters distance. There was no physical contact between singers, no props or scenery. The company did provide a translation, which was clearly projected onto a screen alongside the performance. This helped immensely with an understanding of the story and the intricacies of the musical motifs and melodies.

It was great to see my friends from previous productions take to the stage. I’ve worked with Jonathan Cooke at the RCS, Jonathan Musgrave and Brian Smith Walters on Candide, and Louis Hurst on Much Ado About Nothing. It was exciting to hear such dramatic voices come together to create a vibrant collective, which sent shivers down my spine.

I was really excited that this musical event was allowed to happen and it has been a joy to see more musical spectacles emerge in the UK over the last few months. I hope that these safety measures can allow more to happen and that I can return to the stage soon!

Extra CD Image Ideas

September 27, 2020 — 41 Comments

This week I have some additional photographs that I would like your feedback on.

The amazing photographs taken by Tugce Nelson that we shared with you two weeks ago were well received and the top three from comments received across my social media were :

I was so happy with these pictures that I had printed copies made which now proudly hang in our home. However, it was suggested by several people that maybe we should use a picture for the album artwork that in some way linked back to our balcony concerts.

Recently Lloyd Dobbie, the photographer who we booked to take our wedding photographs suggested he come over for a trial run. The shoot went well and both George and I felt relaxed and settled into the fun of the day. When we looked through his shots we thought that some of the pictures that he took might also work as possible choices for our album artwork as they also included our balcony. I have included the shots below and a cropped square version to show how each of the pictures may look as album artwork.

I would love to hear what you think of the three pictures that George and I selected.

Original Shot
Cropped Version
Original Shot
Cropped Image
Original Shot
Cropped Image

We are in the process of finalising the tracks and the order they are to appear on the album and then once the artwork is agreed we should be able to set a release date.

Beyond the obvious joy that singing can provide, it also brings with it many other benefits one of which is the confidence to perform.  This confidence can help you in so many ways, such as when you have to speak in public, meet new people, or in an interview. I have always loved singing, ever since I can remember and I am very lucky that my parents encouraged me to enjoy making music and express myself through the arts. From the age of six I was able to attend dance lessons, stagecoach (a Saturday school for group teaching of drama, singing, and dancing), paint, draw, and I especially loved my singing lessons.

This week I was able to pass on my love for singing to my new students, as I began my job as a 1-2-1 Singing teacher at a Primary School, following all the protocols put in place during the pandemic. At the moment I visit the school one day a week and teach a few pupils, aged between 6-11 (So Tiny!). This is wonderful as I can stay on top of my own practise and work as a professional singer alongside my aim to establish a love for singing and to improve the self-confidence of my students.

During my preparations over the summer, I have really enjoyed reading “Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults” by Jenevora Williams. This book really appealed to me as the scientific studies and Williams’ personal experiences of teaching are accompanied by witty illustrations to illuminate the main points. As a visual learner, this really helped me to lock into the information about the abilities and limitations of young singers. Williams splits the chapters to follow the various stages of young people’s lives. This built on the experience that I gained from the teaching modules that I completed at the RCS, Glasgow, and the RCM, London.  Enabling me to make lesson plans and plan personalised 10-week courses that reflect each individual student’s abilities based on their age and gender. I hope that I can live up to great teachers that have inspired me and pass on my passion for singing.

I am currently exploring sheet music anthologies for young voices and I would love to hear from you what songs you remember singing when you were younger? Nursery Rhymes, folk songs, musical theatre, choral hymns. You name it! Or if you have favourite songs you sang to your children. I want to grow my repertoire list and it would be amazing to include songs from all over the world and different cultures.

I am so sad that the garden concert that I was booked to sing in with George yesterday was canceled last week due to the new COVID restrictions. Fingers crossed the infection rate will start to come down again soon.

I thought you might like to see a small clip of me singing for my Aunty Marjorie when I was six. ( Thanks Dad 🙂 )

CD Cover Art Ideas

September 13, 2020 — 66 Comments

With the songs recorded for our album and the mastering well underway, it is time to start thinking of imagery and typography for the cd cover art. We wanted to try and connect the cover art visually with our experiences performing for our friends and neighbours.

By performing live music each week we hoped that in some small way we were able to contribute to the well being of our community, here at home and online. Keeping spirits high at a time when people’s lives were so disrupted and full of uncertainty, stuck indoors at home with little to look forward to.

It is so hard to whittle the pictures down and we still have some to review. So I wanted to share with you some of the images that we have shortlisted so far. I would love to get your feedback to help us narrow down the final selection.

These pictures were taken by our lovely neighbour Tugce Nelson who kindly offered to help out when she heard what we wanted to do. We were so grateful to her and I hope that you like them. I also wondered if it was imporatnt to feature the Balcony in the cover art or not?

I could do with your suggestions for Typography too, there are so many different typefaces to choose from and it is important to choose one that is in keeping with our message, how people all over the world came together as a community under such difficult circumstances.

Getting it done!

September 6, 2020 — 74 Comments

After creating a homemade vocal booth, it was now time to get to work and make a plan of action. George and I sat down and thought about what repertoire we would like to include. We wanted the songs to be a mix of pieces we performed in the Balcony Concerts as well as a couple of new songs to keep your listening ears entertained and refreshed. We asked neighbours and friends for their favourites and re-visited the videos, which have now become fond memories until we collected a posy of songs.

Under ordinary circumstances, we would visit a recording studio and perform the pieces in the same room and capture the result. However, this time I was surrounded by walls of hot pink, satin throws and connected to George’s piano playing through a pair of headphones. At times our combined sound felt a little contrived as we were unable to see each other. Our thoughts were slightly delayed and we found that we were both trying to follow each other rather than share who is leading the dance of the music. I hadn’t quite considered how integral the peripheral vision that I use on stage and in rehearsal is for telling a story with natural quirks and emotions. So, to connect with George in a spontaneous manner we decided to use Facetime! We were able to do this, as we both use iPads for score reading. I personally use an app called ‘forScore’, as it is really easy to use and has a lot of score editing features. (And as someone who adores an organised bookshelf, it removes the need to have endless photocopies of music filling draws and cupboards in our home – haha). I would dial George’s number and once our call was connected, we would both mute ourselves and do the necessary finger swipes across the glass so that we could see the music and a little video of the other person in the corner. The result was marvelous. We could see each other breathing, gestures of intent to begin phrases or change the pace of the music, facial expressions that captured the emotions of the text, and much more. It was also comforting to see George on the screen, and know that he was there to support me as I took musical risks inspired by my instinctual whimsy.

The advantage of using the Presonus 44VSL when recording (see last week’s post), is that it comes with a virtual mixer. This software allows me to add temporary reverb to my voice that I would hear immediately in my headphones whilst recording.  This means that I can sing with the freedom and the instincts that I would have in a larger space, such as a concert hall. When performing in these circumstances, your singing and how you produce the sound is directly influenced by how much sound you hear back, due to it bouncing from the walls. This gives you an idea of how the sound is perceived in the space around you by your listeners. Without this added reverb during the recording process, the blankets would soak up all my sound and to my ear, the voice would feel like it was lacking resonance and the spinning quality that leads to good projection. As a result, my mind would primarily focus on how to make them sound more resonant rather than being in the moment and able to sing driven by instincts and imagination. Therefore, this virtual mixer was a happy perk provided by the Audio-box, and it improved my experience during the recording process.

Next week I will discuss how we edited and reviewed the tracks that we recorded. I would love to hear how you have used Facetime and Video calling at the moment, whether it is for its intended purpose of staying in touch with your loved ones or for an activity that you would usually do in person.

The Sound of Silence.

August 30, 2020 — 75 Comments

A good recording isn’t just about having the right kind of microphone, although it does play an important part. Getting the right sound depends greatly on the acoustic of the room that you are recording in. Once we cracked the set up that would give us the best chances for a great recording we began trialing and recording some initial takes. Upon listening back, we realised that the microphones were picking up reflected sound of the voice bouncing off the walls in our home studio. This caused the recordings to sound boomy and the overall balance felt at odds with what we wanted to achieve.

We realised that we needed to find a way to soundproof the room and absorb some of the reflected sound. We knew from our shared experience of recording in professional studios that they manage this challenge through the use of carefully placed acoustic panels, curtains, and carpet. When done correctly this can absorb sound and provide a dry acoustic needed for recording. But how on earth do you soundproof a room during Lockdown using only household items?

Luckily before we were housebound, George alongside his brother created some homemade acoustic panels during his last trip to Romania. These were originally intended to absorb sound so that the noise pollution to our neighbours was lessened. They are made from fabric, plywood, and mineral wool. I’ll share with you the method they undertook. After deciding what size you want the panels to be, we chose 25cm2, Step One is to create a wooden frame which is as deep as your pieces of mineral wool. Step Two is to cut the mineral wool so that it fits snuggly inside the frame.

SIDE NOTE: please make sure that you are using gloves when handling mineral wool as it has small bits of fiberglass that can scratch the skin. We bought 50cm x 100cm piece of mineral wool, which was enough for all four frames. Step Three is to measure out your fabric so that it covers the front and the sides of the frame, with a bit of extra material so that it can be secured to the back. Step Four is to secure your fabric to the frame using your method of choice, George used nails but staples or a strong glue would also suffice. Step 5, once you are happy with the position of the fabric, place a square of plywood, a little smaller than the frame, on to the back for a clean finish. This piece of plywood can be attached with nails, staple gun or glue. An Ikea hack if you do not have access to saw or spare plywood, would be to use a RIBBA frame from Ikea without the glass. I think these will be perfect as they are about the right thickness and you will not need to worry about endless measuring as they will all be uniform. Hooray for symmetry! If we make more in the future I will try this method and make an instruction video.

So back to Sound Proofing the room! We stuck these panels above the keyboard as that is where my voice would normally hit when practicing. However, we didn’t make enough of them to cover the entire wall of the studio. This meant that we had to improvise and create a little vocal booth.

We had the perfect space in mind, as the entrance to our home studio forms a little square alcove. We wanted to enclose this space and so our minds began-a-turning. I personally love having small spaces well organised and in our utility closet, we made use of Telescopic Garment Racks so that we can hang our clean clothes above the washer/dryer. One afternoon we decided to take the racks down and create a scaffolding effect to aid the vocal booth. We hung a suspension rail above the door, from which we hung one blanket. Then we assembled two vertical poles, which supported a horizontal rail, from which we hung a thicker throw. Between the two assembled structures we carefully balanced a spare rail and a final blanket. Each blanket was secured using bulldog clips and hairdresser sectioning clips.

Voila! The booth was born.

Move The Slider To See Me Working

Out of excitement we began recording and found that the difference was tremendous. The voice no longer sounded like it was recorded in a bathroom and the balance was clean and had clarity. We were really thrilled!

Next Week we will share with you the next step of process – THE RECORDINGS, which I will title “Getting it done!”

Microphone … MicroNoNo

August 23, 2020 — 84 Comments

After turning our balcony into a stage, George and I began thinking about turning our music room into a home recording studio, with the aspiration to record an album during the lockdown.

We wanted the repertoire to be inspired by the balcony concerts so that we can have a keepsake of the experience. We also hoped that it might be a way to generate some income.

I want to share with you our experience as it feels like a family CD that you are all part of. So this week we can take you through how we turned our music room into a pop-up recording studio.

We first began experimenting with recording at home when I was asked to collaborate with Waterperry Opera Festival. The task was to record Maria Bertram’s vocal line for ‘Landscape Gardening’, a scene from Dove’s Mansfield Park. At first, I tried recording it on my phone, and the standard of the recording was.. ok.. but the voice sounded a bit brittle, so to restore the warmth in the voice we experimented with using an external microphone connected to the phone through a Zoom H4n acting as a sounds interface. Both the microphone and Zoom were borrowed from our friends Robert Hodes and Maya Brandenberger who run the Johanna Stifftung (Foundation), and who have supported George throughout his musical career.

The results were great because the recording quality was much better and we didn’t have to worry about aligning the sound in post-production. The voice sounded warmer and richer.

Here is the piece that I recorded
And here is the finished compilation video created by Waterperry Opera Festival as part of their online Opera Gala

This is when I was struck with the idea of trying to record a CD from home.

Our next step was to record the piano and the voice at the same time using the same method but this proposed new challenges as the more sensitive microphone was picking up clicking sounds from the keys being pressed and the quality of the piano playing through the inbuilt speakers didn’t match the sound of the acoustic voice in the room.

So we investigated whether we could record the two instruments separately but simultaneously perform. This would allow the voice to be recorded through the microphone and the piano to be recorded electronically through a direct connection to our zoom interface and then in the computer. Despite this providing a better sound recording of the piano, this setup doesn’t allow for recording both voice and piano at the same time, as we needed three input channels and our zoom interface only had 2. Think of it like trying to charge three phones but your travel plug has only two USB ports.

So we decided to invest in a second-hand sound interface – an AudioBox 44VSL, which solved our input problem, Horray!! So now we had the equipment to record. But we had to think about how to combine this with being conscientious neighbours under lockdown circumstances. Haha. Tune in next week to learn about the next stage and how we conquered the challenge of soundproofing our room.