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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
This week has been full of new challenges and insights. It’s
very easy to become consumed by the feelings of worry and dread at this moment
in time, but I am urging myself and my loved ones to try and find reasons to
Personally, my heart has been warmed by the kind gestures of the community that I live in. Due to our varied work routines, our apartment complex rarely gets the time to share communal conversations unless they are about possible items of furniture to be sold or upcoming resident meetings. But over the past week, I have seen people come together and selflessly offer their services to help those in most need in any way they could. Some of them offered to buy groceries for people who aren’t able to go outside. Online posts have been shared where you can find hard to source food that can still be bought locally, and people were even willing to share the food that they had in.
Residents have been promoting local shops, butchers and greengrocers and shared that the farmers market are offering deliveries. Our local Italian restaurant has set up a no-contact delivery service especially for the complex. Some people are offering help in other creative ways. Today a neighbour, who works in publishing offered books as gifts, of which George and I received, “The Truants” and “Norse Mythology”. I am really looking forward to reading them. George and I have been practicing our first dance for the wedding in our communal courtyard in the mornings for exercise and hopefully bringing a smile to people’s faces, whilst they are drinking their coffee. We are learning the Viennese Waltz and it is bringing us a little bit of happiness during a time of uncertainty.
What moments of kindness have you experienced this week?
On Saturday I took part in my first ever group online Pilates class! I usually go with my brother-in-law, Alex to “Greenwich Pilates” and it’s our special time together before my brother, Matt makes our brunch. I was so happy to still be able to do this. If you want to do an online exercise class, I thoroughly recommend my teacher Chiara, who is holding community classes online via a free application called Zoom https://m.facebook.com/chiarafavarettipilates/
How does it work? We all click onto a link and join the live session. The session involved over 5 different homes. The main screen is the teacher, and along the right-hand side is live thumbnail videos of each person completing the work out in real-time. So, remember to wear fitness clothes and not pyjamas 🙈.
I am in favour of YouTube videos for exercise and fitness
routines but the great thing about the live streaming is that we got immediate
personal feedback from the teacher and the friendly pressure to keep going when
the exercise gets hard as you are doing it as a team.
As a professional whose work is canceled due to restrictions on public gatherings, I think these online classes are a great alternative!
George and I have been sorting our music room today, we have been hanging pictures and our homemade acoustic Panels. We are offering online classes for singing/piano/music theory. Please email me if you are interested.
It would be a huge help if you could find time to stream a few of my tracks using your preferred streaming service, each time you do George and I get $0.003 per play but every little helps now that all of our work has been canceled for the foreseeable future.
If you have any links to audiobooks you have recorded, Kindle publications that you have published, or other online events or activities please add the links in the comments to this post to advertise where they can be found. It is so important to keep your mind active when you are forced to stay in so please do share with us anything that could be of interest.
Wherever you are and whatever you are doing this week stay
This month I have to be the project leader for my own career. It requires a slightly different approach and tempo than when I am working on a role for an opera company as I have to fix my own schedule, set my own goals, and establish deadlines for these tasks. I personally find that I work well under strict deadlines, this is what has enabled me to push myself to complete the memorisation tasks of new musical scores that seem daunting at first. I now need to explore different methods so that I can make the best use of my time whilst preparing for multiple projects with different timelines, which often overlap. To focus on how best to direct my energy to ensure that I can take each piece through the various stages necessary to take a piece from good to great.
I am preparing for auditions, a competition, a recital, and learning new arias and songs to add to my repertoire for the future. I hope to gain some more performance opportunities in the coming months and I want to be planning ahead now on how I will manage the additional workload so that I can deliver my best performance possible for each event
To help in my self-preparation I plan in regular coaching
sessions with both my singing teacher Rosa Mannion and my excellent repertoire coach
Andrew Robinson. They help me to focus on my deadlines by breaking down each
larger task into smaller achievable goals which I can work on in between my sessions. Always working towards the larger goals over
I heard Kitty perform at Wigmore Hall last year and enjoyed many of her recordings, especially her album “Nights not spent alone” where she performs songs by Jonathan Dove, alongside my good friend and coach Simon Lepper. I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Kitty sing at a celebration held for Jonathan Dove in December 2019. Later I was thrilled that she agreed to work on the interpretation of English Song with me and help me add a little fairy dust to my pieces, as a bonus she advised me on how I could prepare future pieces.
In my first month of my voyage of 2020, I would love to hear from you, my friends and fellow bloggers. I have visited your sights and seen so much talent for the arts, literature, film, food, travel, spirituality and your life passions, (to name but a few). How do you find ways to manage different projects, prioritise goals and bring your own ideas and projects to fruition? I believe in learning through others and I want this year to be the best one yet!
To inspire you to share, I want to share a beautiful story about my dear friend Hilary Birkin.
I’ve known Hilary since I was 11 when she created my costume for the role of the young Cosette in Les Miserables. It would be my first role at Knutsford High School, where I would later attend for my secondary education. She has worked tirelessly on so many school productions before, during and after my time at Knutsford High School, making sure we all felt beautiful and confident to strut our stuff in our solo song, a dance number or as part of the ensemble chorus. Everyone was made to feel important and I learned so much through her attention to detail and professional approach.
After graduating from Knutsford High School, Hilary and I have kept in touch and she has been supporting me by following and contributing to my blog.
Six years ago, in December 2013 I decided to run a 12 Days of Christmas competition on my blog where I drew the Dozen Gifts the songs describe for one of my blog friends to win. Janice Spina was a worthy winner and to my amazement, she had the drawings framed after I posted the originals to her. I was so pleased that she got as much enjoyment from receiving them as I did when I drew them.
However, unbeknownst to me, Hilary had been following the competition and saw these drawings and was struck by an idea. She quickly got in touch with my father (luckily) before the pictures were sent to Janice in America and asked for a scan of the images. With the secret vision of making a Quilt.
Hilary imagined that this quilt would be created out the 12 images replicated using embroidery and cross-stitching. Her Husband, helped her to expand the scanned images from miniature to the desired size and then the work began. She started by copying the designs onto embroidery linen, which had been a gift from an elder relative, adding a little extra sparkle to this handmade gift. Then, using a lightbox she would copy the illustrations and then begin stitching, all whilst paying attention to the detail of color and pencil markings.
Hilary would work on one square at a time. The twelve
squares have been popped into her bag, accompanied her on many travels, visited
many relatives, and been a creative constant over the past several years.
The final designs she brought together with the help of her daughter and with tips from her quilting group, with whom she meets on retreats occasionally throughout the year. When she invited me to spend some with her during my last visit home you can imagine how thrilled I was that she presented me with this fabulous piece of art. Such a personal gift from a wonderful friend.
I am utterly in awe of her creation. The patience, care, love,
and attention to the smallest detail that she has shown throughout the creation
of this beautiful piece of embroidery. I feel very lucky to have her as a
friend and I am so grateful to have this memory from the start of my blog,
which has so deeply influenced my life and work. This beautiful gift will take
pride of place in our new home and I will treasure it always.
I hope that you all had an enjoyable New Year and feel recharged as we start both a new year and a new decade. This week I managed to find a lovely balance between work and relaxation to start my new year. I wanted to break back into my practice regime but also prolong a little bit of the holiday cheer whilst my family and I had had some free time.
On Monday, I managed to catch up with my dear friend Esme, who I met during my Masters at the RCM. After graduation, Esme moved back to the USA so it was a joy to see her in London instead of through the phone or on WhatsApp. However, I am very grateful for this technology as it does help to bring us closer together when we are apart!
George and I welcomed in the New Year at my brother’s NYE party. It was so much fun and it was great to see some fireworks from the balcony!
This week I went to a board game cafe with my brother and brother-in-law. It’s called Draughts and is basically a cross between a library (of board games/bar/cafe). You rent your table for 4 hours and play until your heart’s content. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon with friends and I had a blast. We played Reef, Junk Art, and Bunny Kingdom. Even the titles bring a smile to my face.
And to start the new year with a healthy nudge, I went to a brilliant Pilates class with Alex and then enjoyed a lovely cup of tea post sweat-a-thon.
I’m currently working on preparing for auditions and competitions so my workload can at times appear a little fragmented but full of variety! I recently got some great advice from my friend and fellow artist Eric Christopher Jacksonhis photography captures the raw emotions of weather and the smaller details of life. He said that he wasn’t sure what the future holds but it will be great as long as he works hard and doesn’t give up. I like the power in this statement and self-belief. It’s thoughts like this that make you keep pushing forward and I can’t think of a better motivator at the start of a new year. Believe in yourself and give yourself the opportunity to be who you want to be.
With this in mind, I would love to hear what your New Years’ resolutions are. I try to make periodic goals throughout the year. But my main one for my blog this year is to experiment with Video. I’m a little nervous about this content as I’m not sure what to talk about and how regular I should try to be. I would love to hear your thoughts and also your reviews when I try it out during this year!
I am also excited for the year 2020 as I am thrilled to announce that George and I are getting married in June. I have taken my time before sharing this exciting news with you all, as we wanted to save up some money for the big day and also so we could make a home of our own together for the first time. Luckily everything has gone smoothly so far and we can’t wait to share our lives together.
I am on my way to Leeds today to start rehearsals for The Christmas Elf. It should be about a four-hour drive but often it can take an extra hour getting through London to the M1 Motorway. So I thought I would pre-empt the traffic and write my blog post this morning ready to launch when I arrive this evening.
This week I had the good fortune to be invited to two fantastic events. On Wednesday I went with friends to the Barbican to watch The Taming of the Shrew. . It was a Royal Shakespeare Company production which presented the audience with a really thought-provoking interpretation of this problematic Comedy. Director Justin Audibert switched the roles so that the play is gender-flipped by regendering all the pronouns. For example, the story’s protagonist Petruchio, (who is a fortune seeker who intends to marry the troublesome eldest daughter Katherine), becomes Petruchia. Claire Price presents a powerful interpretation of this role, hiding her venomous qualities behind charm and swagger.
Whilst the play unfolds, I suddenly realised how few lines the “female” roles of Bianco (Bianca) and Katherine have, despite me thinking that the play was about containing their wild spirits. It is only now that I realise that the center of the play focuses not on the prey but on the hunter. It became quickly uncomfortable, because even though the roles are now reversed to give the comedy a hint of female empowerment the general advocacy of dominance through psychological and physical manipulation is still present. Perhaps this is the message that the director was trying to put forward.
However there were many laughs had by all. A highlight for me was from Sophie Stanton’s giggle-inducing interpretation of a lovestruck Gremia who glides like a nymph in a Christmas ballet across the stage to swoon and salivate over a hair-flicking Bianco whose temperament was similar to a high school prom queen. It is interesting how through comedy we can shine a light on bitter truths and issues and how through laughter we can safely start an honest conversation.
On Friday I celebrated my friend’s birthday by attending a concert with him at the Wigmore Hall. There were three outstanding musicians Andrei Ioniţă cello; Stephen Hough piano and Michael Collins clarinet. The concert was part of the ‘Brahms series’ held at the Wigmore Hall to celebrate this composers prodigious amount of compositions specifically crafted for chamber music, song, and piano. I particularly enjoyed the 5 Stücke im Volkston Op. 102 by Schumann played masterfully by Ioniţă and Hough. It was also interesting to be exposed to a new composer, Carl Frühling and his exciting Clarinet Trio Op. 40. The music was very rich in melody, which was shared across the instruments. The harmony was very lush and late romantic in style but at times very non-intuitive which made it exciting for the listener. I have recently noticed a pattern of this whilst studying the Christmas Elf, which so happens to be composed by Pfitzner, who is a contemporary of Frühling. I found it really rewarding to hear this trio as it gave me inspiration and a better understanding of the German late Romantics, which I can use as I begin rehearsals tomorrow.
On Saturday night I had the wonderful opportunity to join my singing teacher, Rosa Mannion, to watch my friend Gemma Summerfield debut as Pamina in the Magic Flute at Scottish Opera in Glasgow. It was a spectacular production and she particularly sang with poise and mellifluous tone just exquisite.
Scottish Opera – The Magic Flute – Photos By James Glossop
It was an extra special production for me as it was a revival of the original 2012 Sir Thomas Allen production, which I happened to see during the first year of my studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. It was just as I remembered a magical production, I could vividly remember the steampunk costumes and set design which only improved with time.
The Three Ladies and the Queen of the Night’s costume were also inspiring – bejewelled with either hundreds of Swarovski or delicately placed LED lights – they truly looked like stars in the nights sky.
The fantastic detailing in all the props brought added flair to the mystical realm we, the audience, had been transported to. In particular I liked the clockwork birds, which glistened as Papageno unluckily missed them with his net.
Scottish Opera – The Magic Flute – Photos By James Glossop
Sir Thomas Allen, directed the opera full of wit and
joviality. The audience all around me were sniggering and laughing in perfect
timing with the singing actors due to their wonderful delivery of a
particularly humorous English Translation. However, the company were able to
balance these moments with seriousness for the suicide arias and lessons learnt
during the trials.
My rehearsals have started well here in Glasgow and I have
enjoyed meeting everyone involved in the Pop-Up Opera production. I hope that in some small way our abridged
version will whet the appetite of our audiences and encourage them to go and
watch the full production as it is a true delight to the senses.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) collaborative event with Royal College of Music (RCM) entitled ‘In Tune with Feminist Time’ held in The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, at Burlington Gardens. It was a wonderful use of this space as the musicians transformed what is normally an intellectual venue into a room full of colour, texture and emotive sounds. Behind the performers were projected self-portraits from renown RA academicians, one that struck me in particular was the artist Angelica Kauffman. She was a prominent English Artist of the 18th century, one of only two founding female members of the Royal Academy of Arts and the last woman to be admitted until 1922.
In her self-portrait ‘Hesitating Between The Arts of Music
and Painting’ it revealed that she was a talented opera singer, struggling
between devoting herself to a career in music or art. I found this fascinating
and thought it was a wonderful link to International Women’s Day as women
are capable of possessing many talents and with the right opportunities can
achieve success and explore their abilities to the fullest.
All the performers in this event were fantastic and revealed
new music, tales of history and interesting poetry inspired from the female
hand. The composers that were represented were: Barbara Strozzi, Judith Weir,
Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, Maria Rodrigo, and a premiere by living
composer Hayat Selim.
I particularly enjoyed the event as it continued the theme
created by the inaugural event last year that I performed in: ‘In Touch with
Feminist Futures’ which was created as a platform for myself and my fellow
colleagues to present our research and performances from our Women in Music
module led by the charismatic and formidable duo Diana Roberts and Natasha