• As part of my course this year I have elected to take part in a Critical Writing course, where I am taught how to analyse performances and offer my opinion in a critical way.
• The teachers are very enthusiastic which makes the course seem very exciting.
• We discuss and write about dance, acting and music.

Samantha Quillish And Me after the concert

On Friday 17th October, I went to watch a concert with my friends Samantha Quillish and Chelsea Plaskitt and I thought I would use the opportunity to try and see if I could have a go at writing a piece for my module. This is my first attempt so I would love any feedback that you could give me :).


Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) : Haydn & Mahler
Glasgow City Halls
Charlotte Hoather

The evening started with the powerful and emotional performance of Howokawa’s Meditation. An incredible interpretation and dedication to the victims of the Tsunami on 11th March 2011, focusing on the children lost in the disaster. It included a ferocious duet from violins who appeared to embody demons, their bows striking and hair whipping, which created a visual element to the piece. However the energetic music was interrupted by deathly silent pauses and animalistic sounds created using modern playing techniques. These sounds made me imagine the shrieking cries and the wailing of the school walls crashing into the ground. Then this sound world was disturbed aggressively by thunder claps from percussion which made your ears ring, and your heart race. Waves of music and a sense of destruction filled the pauses after each three consequential hits. ROBIN TICCIATI allowed the sound to reverberate around the hall and die into terrible nothingness. A dynamically active and emotionally hard hitting opening to a Friday evening.

Programme note:

Robin Ticciati
Robin Ticciati – Principal Conductor At The SCO.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) then welcomed KAREN CARGILL to the stage to perform ‘Kindertotenlieder’ by Mahler, continuing the theme of mourning of lost children. From the opening Cargill captured the solemn landscape of this music honestly and gripped the audience’s attention. Standing tall and free from physical tension she displayed with clear consonants and richly dark vocal tone the suffering a parent encounters after losing a child. The cycle continued to develop and an unsolvable pain resonated through the interpretation, through to the last song where Cargill gripped her hands into fists during the introduction. The first sign of physical embodiment of the text. This arriving at the end of the cycle left the audience spellbound and overtaken.

Programme note:

Karen Cargill
Karen Cargill – Internationally Renowned Scottish Mezzo-Soprano

After the interval the SCO performed Mahler’s ‘Blumine’ which caused me to imagine a Disney scene of a park in the spring, surrounded in flowers, where two loves meet to celebrate their love with a first kiss. With a regal tone setting the mood this delicate piece painted a sweet and enjoyable scene, a great contrast after a deeply moving first half.

Programme Note:


The concert ended with the rich and sonorous performance of Haydn’s London Symphony. Ticciati had a creative control over the orchestra and executed echoes and the shape of the piece with enthusiasm and excitement. The music was very merry and triumphant. However, I couldn’t help but wonder how the piece could be interpreted to represent modern London. With all the characters and experiences it has to offer now. But it was a magnificent way to finish the concert. But for me the opening piece of the evening was outstanding and really got my blood pumping!


57 thoughts on “Critical Writing

  1. charlotte your writing transported me to the concert, I love your interpretation and description of the music and your words enabled me to imagine the atmosphere at the concert. A lovely piece well done xx

    1. I shall have to remember to spend more time on your blog to improve my writing of reviews as you can see from my first attempt I don’t plagiarize others work but reading how more professional writers do it helps 🙂

      Best wishes

  2. Charlotte you cheat, admit that you’ve already had a journalism course !!!!
    This is very good work. I imagine the room you reading and images are formed, the music comes.
    Well done !!

    1. I wish I had taken a journalism course 🙂 My English teacher at school used to always say “if there is a ‘Describe’ question in the test Charlotte do that one”.

      Best wishes

  3. You have achieved something very interesting here, because in one narrative we have a transporting report of what took place, garnished with some analytical insights. The former is about what you heard and how it made you feel, and the latter how it was achieved and why it works.

    You have woven the two types of writing together effectively, with the balance tipped more towards the reporting element, as a reader I really enjoyed the richness and the explanation.

    However, for academic writing, or writing something that is going to be graded my advice would always be to make it easy for the person marking it to see where you have given them what they want — I’ve blagged my way through exams all my life, and my brother marks them professionally.

    In this case think about whether the marks are awarded for describing how the music made you feel, or how that effect was achieved, and then make sure you follow that balance, and separate out where you shift from one to the other — I think you have done this particularly well in the section on Karen Cargill, where you open with some sharp insight on her technique, and then what it achieved.

    Elsewhere you blend them the elements (eg the violin in Howokawa’s Meditation). It is beautifully written, but harder work to pick out which purpose you are writing to.

    Hope that is helpful, in any event please keep sharing your listening experiences.

    1. Thanks so much Ali that’s really very helpful, I must match my writing with marking schemes, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that advice on my academic work, I must consciously concentrate on that now. I appreciate it.

      Best wishes

  4. Your choices of powerfully descriptive words and the ways in which you presented them made me feel as though I could ‘see’ what you were saying! Brava

    1. Thanks Annette, I added a Disney picture for the none-Disney aficionados and that one summed up precisely the sort of image but with real people in my mind.

      Best wishes

    1. Punctuation is never easy for me; I usually get it right then change it and get it wrong or throw in a comma when it was fine as it was 🙂 I must have ten books at my parents but rely far too much on Word to check (as it told me a semi-colon not a comma was required after me above).

      Best wishes

  5. 😉 I do not here ‘critical.’ I mention this as there is something dispassionate and or objective in what I would be looking to see in ‘critical’ that you’re excitement and plug-inedness doesn’t stress or even demonstrate. NOW before you think this a bad comment, imagine me winking at you…I am far happier to see description and be left to judge for myself what happened. To your credit, you are descriptive and leave this well put as I’ve some notion of some of the programme’s offerings but not all. This is a great style to be within, passionate but not to neglect of what happened and some of the “why” it’s important.I hope you give disillusionment the skip this lifetime…. it would be sad to read you had a lame evening and also feel so uch of the why.

    1. I learnt that when I freely express my critical thinking about something I’ve listened to I upset people and I tend now to go with the ‘if you’ve not got something nice to say don’t say it at all’ method 🙂 I would perhaps be more critical in a submitted piece than I would on my blog but then perhaps I shouldn’t name it ‘critical writing’ and just call it my review. I hope I skip disillusionment too that’s a good wish.

      Best wishes

    1. Yes I definitely think so Sue, but for me I wasn’t transported by an honest interpretation. It was beautiful and very regal but I didn’t believe it was London of yesteryear.

      Best wishes

  6. I was not surprised to see some magnificent writing here, Charlotte–your blog has already clearly demonstrated what a skilled and critically-thinking writer you are!

    With that being said, as a writer myself, I have two suggestions to make. It’s always a good idea, in critical writing, to try and find something that you think could have been improved in the experience you are “critiquing.” I know, when you go to a wonderful concert with a singer you know is better than you are, it’s hard to not feel extremely impudent for daring to suggest: “well, the one thing I thought could have been improved . . .” but it does make you have to think harder about the performance and gives a fuller idea of the whole scene to the reader, if you try to pinpoint drawbacks as well as thrills. (But if there aren’t any; there aren’t any :-).)

    My other suggestion is a somewhat boring one; but, in my professional writing, I live off of it like bread (cake being the creative part). And that is really, really, really ridiculously strict attention to grammar–even to the point of always having a grammar book on hand to check your work with; I have one on the shelf under my desk. Especially today, with all of our texting and emails, we don’t automatically speak or write in grammatically complex sentences, and so when we write something formally, it is easy to leave out a comma, or switch tenses. Editing often takes longer than writing, even though they are such small details. Compared to some of my university friends, you did not have as much difficulty with keeping the unity and flow of the entire piece consistent, but there were a few minor “proofreading” things I noticed (my brother writes the same way; I’m his chief editor). For example, there was one place where you could have combined a fragment with the sentence following it: “The first sign of physical embodiment of the text. This arriving at the end of the cycle left the audience spellbound and overtaken.” Fragments are sometimes okay, especially in writing with a very emotional context, but in this case, it might have been better to write a longer sentence of “This first sign of physical embodiment of the text, arriving at the end of the cycle, left the audience spellbound and overtaken.” Don’t be afraid of long complex sentences; just mix them up with the shorter, stronger ones. However, you don’t need anyone to tell you to use strong visual adjectives and adverbs; you really have a gift for painting pictures with words–I can imagine just what the concert felt like! Wish I had been there!

    Hope my suggestions are helpful and not overwhelming (if I didn’t explain something clearly, let me know and I’ll try again), and I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing!

    Best regards,


    1. Thanks Cate, my Mum usually proof reads most of my posts, although she jokes she finished school a lot younger than me, but she was away for the weekend so I flew solo. Switching tenses is one of the biggest problems for me and something I don’t even realise I’ve done and I’m not sure how to correct it either because when I read my own work back it seems ok 🙁 Thanks for the suggestion that makes things much clearer for me. I’m very guilty of relying on Word for my grammar and spelling checks. I appreciate your help thanks again.

      Best wishes

      1. My mum edits everything I write, too–but she expects me to proof read her own letters in return, since I’m the one who knows everything about commas and semicolons (oh, and dashes–especially those)!

        The only suggestion I can make about making the correct tenses “second nature” is to have someone else read them, or read them over with a grammar book to check, until it starts to sound automatically “wrong” if you use a different tense in the same sentence or paragraph. The downside to this method is that, when we speak, we regularly switch tenses and it sounds perfectly normal (which is why, when you read your work back to yourself, especially if you do it out loud, it sounds all right); so, once you start thinking in perfectly correct tenses when you write, you start noticing the changes when people talk as well, which can be quite distracting if you are as much a grammar fanatic as I am! So I wouldn’t worry too much if there’s one grammatical issue you have trouble noticing in your own work–it’s probably just proof that you are not going to extremes. After all, there is more to life than grammar–I think :-).

        All the best,


  7. Charlotte, I think it’s great. When I browse a review, I like to be touched by a clear sense of atmosphere and the human response of the reviewer. I’m not a professional. I’m not even in the business. Your review made me want to go there and seek out the enjoyment of the moment. If that’s one measure of a critical review, then it certainly worked for me. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Marcus, I’m constantly playing catch up with lots of my more classically raised peers and sharing my thoughts with people who perhaps would never consider one of these concerts without a nudge is a real passion of mine.

      Best wishes

  8. I got caught up in the drama of the events through your descriptions and I was glad you pulled me out of it with the ‘Disney’ addition. It seemed an extremely balanced critique to me, well written….. Expect a distinction!

    1. Thank you, It wasn’t a marked piece Terri just a practise run after an inspiring first lesson.. I’m glad you liked the Disney addition, a childhood spent pretending I was a Disney Princess is to blame 🙂 I feel after reading all my comments I should always consider who my reader/marker is and the purpose of the task which has been excellent advice and it’s given me lots to think about.

      Best wishes

  9. Both Ali and Cate raised valid points.
    I thought the descriptions were emotive and well written. In particular I enjoyed the ‘Waves of Music’ in the opening paragraph to allude to the tsunami.
    It appears that you have already corrected one criticism I had in that in your final sentence you have change ‘climax’ to ‘was outstanding’ If that was indeed the high point of the evening then would not a valid criticism have been that everything after that was a little bit of an anti climax.
    I personally didn’t get the ‘Disney’ part in the third paragraph which seemed out of touch with the rest of the writing.
    Finally while I thought your writing, word choice and descriptions were good I did get the impression that it was more of an exercise in linguistics than a true critique.
    But for all that, well done.

    1. Yes I agree James that’s exactly why I quickly changed it, I must read through and edit more carefully. The Disney reference is pure me 🙂 I love classical paintings and should perhaps link my observations with fine art but I’ve put a picture in for you now to get an idea of what was going on in my head 🙂 Yes I agree the title was a little misleading, I’m certainly no Rupert Christiansen who I admire greatly for having the words and knowledge to critique professionally.

      Best wishes

  10. This was a splendid beginning, Charlotte. Writing a critical appreciation on performances by others may also help you to appreciate reviews about your own performances more objectively. Indeed, attention to grammar and such is important. Coherence of thoughts, the flow, choice of words… all of this will improve over time, the more your write. So keep writing, just as you keep up with your practice of singing — there’s always scope to improve. 🙂 Good luck.

    1. Yes I absolutely agree. The blog is such a good discipline to encourage me to write and to have such a lot of intelligent, helpful comments is fabulous. Thank you.

      Best wishes

  11. But it was a magnificent way to finish the concert. But for me the opening piece of the evening was outstanding and really got my blood pumping!
    * It was a magnificent way to finish the concert, and for me the opening piece of the evening was outstanding and really got my blood pumping! * Sorry – just me. I am ultra picky. Still, a good start, which I know you will improve on.

    1. Thanks John, my Mum always tries to drum in that you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘But’ especially if the following sentence naturally flows I must try harder 🙂

      Best wishes

  12. Well done, Charlotte! I think this first attempt at criticism is a very good one. I find analysis very difficult to do as I tend to concentrate on how music or literature affect me emotionally and find describing the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how it was done difficult. The first piece you described sounded really powerful. I must try to listen to it one day.

  13. You always have a descriptive and enthusiastic writing style that will suit you well, however I agree with some previous comments that you *might* need to be a bit more dispassionate and descriptive for it to be critical writing. I think this works wonderfully for a “review,” but I think a critique is more academic in tone than you’ve got in this draft. Perhaps less descriptive adjectives and more analytic terms? I do not know anything about critiquing music so I’m guessing a bit. But I do think you are off to a good start and as I said, this is a lovely review if not quite a critical piece of writing. Then again, I am not sure what the requirements are for the class – it may be more descriptive than I’m thinking.

    1. Thank you for your advice I appreciate it. I used to spend hours doing English homework only to hand it in and be disappointed in the mark because I’d wandered off from the question structure. I worked really hard in my second year at the Conservatoire to improve my essays and add structure, purpose and a better format for markers and I must remember the rules. I used to get the highest marks for ‘descriptive’ questions so I obviously naturally lean towards that. 🙂

      Best wishes

  14. Very emotive, Charlotte, but a bit overdone in places. Allow the reader places to fill in the blanks. Readers of musical reviews know the score (unintentional pun) and can associate interpretation when nudged in the right direction.

    See what you think of these suggestions:

    The evening started with the powerful and emotional performance of Howokawa’s Mediation. An incredible interpretation and dedication to the victims of the Tsunami on 11th March 2011, focusing on the children lost [in the disaster/ omit – tautology]. It included a ferocious duet from violins [who/ which] [appeared to embody demons/ replace; not visual. Try omitting and leaving the reader to infuse the representation through the rest of the description], [their/omit] bows striking and hair whipping [violins have hair?], which created a visual element to the piece. However the energetic music was interrupted by deathly silent pauses and animalistic sounds created using modern playing techniques. [These sounds made me imagine the shrieking cries and the wailing of the school walls crashing into the ground./ Readers of musical critiques will get this – it doesn’t need spelling out]. Then this [sound world/ world of sound] was disturbed aggressively by thunder claps from percussion which made your ears ring, and your heart race. Waves of music and a sense of destruction filled the pauses [with a sense of destruction] after each three consequential hits [contrived clash]. The conductor, ROBIN TICCIATI, allowed the sound to reverberate around the hall and die into terrible nothingness. A dynamically active and emotionally hard hitting opening to a Friday evening.

    1. Me ‘overdone’, it isn’t the first time I’ve heard that comment too 🙂 I liked your suggestions, I should have used violinists I see the confusion I created there. Good tip about the personal pronouns in reviews I hadn’t considered that. Yes I found your advice very helpful thank you.

      Best wishes

  15. The program would not allow my strikeouts, so sorry for any confusion. Strike-throughs missed = disturbed aggressively (deluged); your ears ring and your heart race [ears ring and hearts race – avoid personal pronouns in reviews]; move the “sense of destruction”; after each three consequential hits/ after each contrived clash; insert “The conductor”; and finally “dynamically active and hard hitting”/dynamic and emotive.

    Hope at least some of this helps.

  16. Critiquing is a skill, like any other that takes time to perfect. I have read and commented on around 3000 short stories on Naturally, I am a more accomplished critic than I was 4 years ago. I would not have a clue what this element of your course requires, but from the POV of critiquing short story fiction a simple approach is to the note the highs and lows. Remark upon them without using adverbs wherever possible and capture those moments which impact upon your mind as well as your soul. The imagery the music/singing inspired in you was the highlight of your critique. Good luck learning this new skill – Adam

  17. There is one important thing to remember. As a professional singer, your approach to criticism is necessarily different from that of “professional critics” who are not. You can not use the same styles that critics who have never been on a stage. Why be like everyone else when you’re different?

    1. Merci Beaucoup, I’ve learnt so much from the comments that I’ve been reading and digesting over the last couple of days. You’re correct too vive la différence!

      Best wishes

    2. Nice “Musical” Words, Mr. Pascal Barnier

      When the artists become a critic, and the critic an artist… Sublime Art of Experience, Reason and Aesthetics… Savoir Faire on the hyper-reality … Exchange of Subtle Intuitions … Gems of Originality … Art about the Art … Hyper-poetry …

      (Exquisite comment(Meta-critic) about the critics of the critic related to an artist/performer who wrote about taking some chances and tests on critical writing… Adore, Style and Innovation)

      …and for Charlotte:

      Practice, practice, practice… Perform is the practice of forget practice and express what the moment requires to be expressed… (of course, when the paints are not sounds on time, people tend to edit their performances for better appearances, you know, like using make up on the face)

      Technique is just a resource to forget when the moment to express is given, of course, Elegance merge when the forgotten Technique was embracing excellence and sublime aesthetic standards…

      An “Advice”, you don’t have to believe on “Me” … The meaning is between your shoulders, not “mine” …

      About decisions…

      Where are the new dresses ??? … (-; …

      ☻ … ✾…. ❁ …. ❀ …. ✿ … Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ … ✿ … ❀ …. ❁ …. ✾ …. ☻

  18. Charlotte – Congratulations on your critical adventure. Very nicely done. Truly you’re that rarity among musicians: a first-class artist who is also a first-class critic. I especially liked the way you synthesized your own response to the music with more objective description of the works’ content.

  19. I like your review, Charlotte!

    Analyzing performances is difficult indeed. It is hard to distance oneself from emotion and to try to quantify or put a standard on something that is objective. It is why some non-mainstream sports are so difficult.

    But it helps to learn to break down a performance for improvements’ sake.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Steve, that’s so true. It’s been a very interesting exercise and very useful to get all of the comments for so many different reasons. I’m working hard I need to ensure it’s all sinking in.
      Best wishes

  20. Wonderful lively writing,with lots of great imagery. I love the idea of a ‘ferocious’ violin duet, (little tip: avoid strings of double adjectives or nouns e.g. in the last para). Ticciati is fantastic we have been lucky enough to see him at Glyndebourne.

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