I can’t believe how quickly the years have passed since I started my studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow. Keeping my blog and sharing my experiences has been a great way for me to look back and reflect, allowing me to set new targets and goals for the years ahead. To celebrate this, my sixth anniversary, I thought that I would select several posts at random from the last six years and share their links with you. I hope you enjoy them, maybe you have other posts that you remember, let me know.
What an enjoyable week I’ve spent at the Veronica Dunne International Singing competition in Dublin, Ireland. I sang alongside my peers, met the most lovely generous couple, Susan and Glen, who hosted me and a fellow soprano Claire Lees from London, and I’m hoping to stay friends with them both for a long time to come.
“Inaugurated in 1995, the Competition was created to honour the lifetime’s work of Dr. Veronica Dunne, Ireland’s Grande Dame of singing. Ireland is known throughout the world as a land of song, and in the classical and operatic field, this is in no small measure due to the unique and dedicated teaching of Dr. Dunne.”
Dr. Veronica Dunne – Photo By Frances Marshall
To get to this stage I submitted an application with videos to get through to a live audition at one of six City locations throughout Europe and the US. 160 singers were selected from 35 Countries for live audition my location was The Wigmore Hall in London, which was a treat in itself. I was thrilled to get selected as one of the 50 competitors that got through to the live preliminary round of the competition in Dublin on Friday/Saturday, and even more so to get through to the 21 singers selected for the quarter-final on Sunday especially as I had sat in the audience and listened to the most excellent singing.
Sadly the quarter-final is where my adventure ended, I was hoping to give you all good news on Sunday evening but I discovered the result at twenty past nine Sunday evening and didn’t have time to put this post together, and you know what I’m like I was optimistic of getting through to the Semi-finals. It was fun though and a great experience plus my first ever visit to Ireland!
Wigmore Hall, London
The Natioanl Concert Hall
Inside The NCH
Each round was held at the National Concert Hall in Dublin and was open to the public. It was a great honour to sing for such a prestigious jury: Jane Carty; Richard Bonynge AC CBE; Orla Boylan; Peter Carwell; John Gilhooly; Olga Kapanina; Andreas Massow and Evamaria Wieser read more about them here.
I’m going today for my personal feedback which is a bit nerve-wracking but on the bright side I get to hear from this star-studded jury what I need to improve on to give me a better chance in future competitions and auditions.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of singing, with George Todica on piano, for my brother Matthew’s fairytale wedding to his long-term partner Alexander in Peckforton Castle in the Cheshire countryside. This amazing venue was such a romantic location for a perfect day. I was also a Groomsmaid so after singing I had a quick dash to the back of the great hall to join the procession. When we were choosing wedding songs to celebrate the marriage service they had to be none religious as it was a civil ceremony so we selected songs about love and commitment it was very emotional especially when I was singing as they signed the register.
Inside the Great Hall at Peckforton Castle
George played Widmung as the sun streamed through the stained glass windows as we walked down the aisle in the Great Hall on a stunning candlelit and autumnal coloured rose petal strewn white carpet, Matt and Alex had chosen clear glass columns with white petal trees strung with candles in little balls it just caught my breath.
It really was an absolutely beautiful service with gorgeous promised vows to each other, there was just an amazing vibration to the day with six of Matt and Alex’s fabulous girl friends and me as groomsmaids and four groomsmen including my younger brother Thomas who did a reading with Alex’s brother Josef.
I’m just so happy to have a new kind, caring and talented brother in the family.
There are some people who pop into my life just at the right time, and Russell Lomas was one of these people. In 2012 I entered a biennial interdisciplinary music competition held at Arley Hall, Northwich – The Warrington Competition For Young Musicians. Just before the competition, I had sadly broken my fifth metatarsal in my right foot and I was in a walking boot and crutches. My Dad parked in the wrong car park, 800 yards away, because we didn’t know the venue (learned a lesson from this and always try to check parking and travel arrangements in advance now). I was hobbling along a path in what I hoped was the right direction when a very lovely but bemused man came running over to me and shouted wait here and I’ll get my car. This was the first time I met Russell, and his generosity of spirit never changed the whole time that I knew him. Later I found out that Russell was the accompanist for the competition, he played for me in the vocal heat, which I won, and again in the grand final.
Russell, Me and Colin Blamey – Lytham St Annes 2013
He must have enjoyed those first encounters as he offered me the opportunity to perform with him in several recitals over the years that followed. Giving me so much good advice, too much to list, but lessons that I will take with me into my future career, and which I have stood by during my training as we kept in touch even when I moved Glasgow and then later to London.
I have plenty of happy memories singing alongside him, he always used to know where the best cafes were at every venue and taught me to always bring a packed lunch just in case! This advice has helped me save money when on tour, and if you’ve followed my career so far, you’ll know I’ve needed this tip. And if you’ve worked with me, this will explain why you’ve seen me always pack a lunch and dinner.
Elloitt Gresty, Me and Russel Loams – Rochdale 2013
Me, Elizabeth Lawton and Russel Lomas – Preston 2014
One of my favourite stories about performing with Russell, was when we performed at a charity event for YouthPositive in Manchester at the Etihad Stadium, which is Manchester City’s home ground. Russell, however, was a very big Manchester United fan and gave me a cheeky smile when we arrived for our warm-up session, as he lifted the leg of his trousers, proudly displaying his Manchester United socks, which were still tasteful and black. But both he and I knew that he had stayed loyal to his club, and this still makes me giggle to today.
Russell With Me At The Etihad Stadium – 2013
Me and Russell -Chief Constable’s Charity Ball July 2015
The last time we performed together was in April 2016 at Walton Hall, in a concert for past winners of the Warrington Competition for Young Musicians. It was a wonderful evening performing with Russell alongside some amazing instrumentalists.
Me with Russell at Walton Hall – 2016
I’m so pleased that I was able to tell him about my graduation and success at the Pendine International Voice of the Future competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, he was so pleased and proud of me. It was shortly after that I heard the sad news of his passing and I will miss him immensely.
Here is a video of us performing together in Preston 2014. The song is A Piper by Michael Head
To help celebrate International Women’s Day the Royal Academy of Arts approached the Royal College of music to suggest a collaborative performance entitled “In Tune with Feminist Futures” inspired by revered female artists, including Royal Academicians Gillian Wearing, Sonia Boyce, and Phyllida Barlow.
This was an ideal opportunity for me and my friends on the Women In Music module to perform some of the pieces that we have researched and prepared for our recital lectures on the 8th March.
It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to work with accompanist Leanne Singh-Levett who has helped me to shape my songs, one of which is quite a difficult and quirky contemporary piece by Kaija Saariaho called “Il Pleut”. Leanne will also be accompanying my friends Katy Thomson and Esme Hurlburt with their contributions to the evening.
There will also be performances by the Maconchy Quartet, Maren Bosma violin, Eloise MacDonald violin, Joanna Patrick viola, and Lily Hope cello.
The programme for the evening will consist of:
Lisa J Burgess Clouds Judith Weir Lady Isobel and the Elf-Knight N Boulanger Soir d’hiver A Mahler Fünf Lieder: In meines Vaters Garden; Laue Sommernacht Maconchy Allegro feroce from String Quartet no 1 Beach Take, O, Take Those Lips Away Beach The Year’s at the Spring
The recital is to be held in The Reynolds Room, Burlington House, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly and starts at 6:30 pm. So if you are in London on the 9th March and want to come along and join us you can get tickets from the Royal Academy of Arts website.
On Thursday I had the opportunity of going to see ‘Hamilton’ at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. I went with my brother and his friends to the Matinee viewing at 14:30. It was exciting as I was a jump-in for the ticket, so I didn’t know much about the show other than it had been well received in the media.
This musical theatre show is about one of the founding fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton, whose drive and ambition lead him to become an American war hero and George Washington’s right-hand man. It was quite an empowering story to watch because it demonstrated what successes can be achieved if you keep working hard and persevere. However, the show also demonstrates the personal costs that this lifestyle can incur. The Hip-Hop musical highlights explain that he was born out of wedlock, then orphaned as a child, and despite these challenges sought higher education when he was in New York beginning to make his connections to the American Revolutionary War.
As a student of Opera, I was keen to see what parallels there were in this piece, especially because it attracted such a large audience, I wanted to see what I could take from the production and apply myself to my own work or future collaborations with composers and producers. It was interesting to see that the story was told mainly through rap, instead of spoken dialogue and then further developed through songs, duets and ensemble pieces. This is very similar to the common structure of opera. Instead of the rap, Opera uses recitative, semi-sung music that allows the progression of the story. The songs could be directly compared to arias because they were sung by a soloist, they enhanced the narrative by focusing on the key emotions felt by the character at that moment in the story. Creating empathy between the audience and the players. I would be very interested to hear from people whether this kind of musical storytelling is easier to connect with than opera? Is it because there is a more modern beat and rhythm behind the rap. (If you are interested you can access the album on Spotify)
I was very impressed by the high energy level of the performers and their ability to rap, sing and some of them dance. It was also brilliant to see a truly diverse and talented cast.
Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of performing at the Royal College of Music as part of a fund-raising event on behalf of the College Library, along with fellow soprano Yiwen Su and my friend Addy Stoiber who accompanied us both on piano. Through the event, titled ‘Restore A Score’, the RCM wanted to raise awareness of the important work that they do in safeguarding musical works for future generations of musicians and enthusiasts to enjoy.
Just Before The Performance
The two arias that I performed were both by Carl Maria von Weber, the first was “La Dolce Speranza” and the second was Ännchen’s aria from Der Freischütz “Kommt ein schlanker Bursch Gegangen”. It was a real privilege for me to actually to be able to see on display a manuscript ( full score ) of Der Freischütz which was used for the first English production in 1824.
I read on the RCM website that: “The Library at the RCM contains a wealth of material, over 500,000 items in all, ranging from rare, early 16th-century printed music to contemporary manuscripts, from standard orchestral repertoire to band arrangements, from scholarly collected editions to single songs, from early libretti to journals, e-resources and modern textbooks, and from 78rpm records to compact discs and DVDs .”
The museum at the RCM in London’s South Kensington is undergoing an exciting redevelopment. It will be fully accessible to the public when it reopens in 2019. During this period the museum will be recruiting volunteers to help carry out conservation, digitisation, outreach, learning, and engagement so if you’re at a loose end you can join the mailing list by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org .
People debate about funding the arts, especially from taxation as there are ‘more important things to spend taxes on’ but if we turn our back on art what distinguishes us from the other animals just surviving to eat and breed. Read this excellent article by Rupert Christiansen [Here]
This morning I took advantage of the beautiful spring sunshine and decided to take a walk through the park before heading into South Kensington. Over the weekend there has been a piano festival on at the Institut Français, which is opposite the Natural History museum in South Kensington. I went along to support my friend George Todica who was performing a four-handed piece with Daniel Hart who also is studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with George. I enjoyed the concert immensely, which took place in the library recital room within the institute, and it was great to catch up with them both after the performance. Both George and Daniel also performed solo recitals during the festival which came to a close this evening.
This week has been another interesting and exciting week for me. With lots of challenges to overcome, starting with a tube strike by the London Underground on Monday. It could not have come on a worse day for me as at Midday I had an audition on the other side of London to get to. The trip using the tube connections would have taken me about 50 minutes normally. So when I heard about the tube strike I gave myself an extra hour and half to use the buses with the goal to get there 30 minutes before my warm up time. A Northerner’s ignorance! I also thought it would be a great idea to take my trusty pink wheelie trolley bag with all my belongings rather than just a back-pack. [Which turned out to be a blessing as I’ll tell you later.]
It started well as the first part of the journey was OK, my bus stop is relatively near the beginning of the bus route so I was able to get a seat with my bag. For the first 5 minutes I thought, goodness this tube stress is just malarkey, I have a seat and the bus is moving! HOWEVER at the next stop next to what would have normally been a busy tube station the amount of people waiting for the bus was just insane. The only thing I can compare it to is leaving the Manchester City Football stadium at the end of match and everybody trying to get on the same bus. The bus was packed both upstairs and down within minutes, bodies against bodies with very little wriggle room. People were pushing, desperate to get on, they seemed willing to risk getting their limbs trapped in doors, with families not being able to board together they had to agree to separate and travel on separate buses. The risk assessor inside of me was wishing I had a seat belt but I was quickly reassured because we were moving at a snail’s pace.
We were making very slow progress and the minutes were slowly ticking by. I was conscious of the time but kept telling myself “You left with plenty of time, you will make it”. Then suddenly it was announced that due to the long delay the bus was now having to change route and proceeded to kick off all the passengers a mile from the stop it was supposed to take me to. My adrenaline kicked in and I managed to walk to the next connection which was a mile away in about 10 minutes. But the bus stop I had planned to use was queuing around the block. Remembering the crush that I saw earlier I decided to walk back along the route and find a quieter stop. Every road was jammed solid, the buses, taxis, cars weren’t making progress even the bikes were finding it difficult! Success! I found the terminus for the bus route and managed to board the bus and soon we started moving along side streets towards my next destination, but when we joined Oxford street again we ground to a halt.
I only traveled 800 yards in 30 minutes, with my audition time looming, I worked out it would take me about 35 minutes to walk the remaining 2.5 miles, and that If I stayed on the bus I would probably miss my slot. So I asked the bus driver to let me off and luckily he was a very nice man and he let me off at the next stop. I then zoomed and jogged like nothing before. Friends of mine will laugh as I am a terrible runner and would have been better off doing jetés down the pavement. So I weaved through the crowds with my four wheel wheelie bag (which has now had a very good review based on its mobility skills!) And to be honest, I must have had the look of fearless determination as people began to move out of my way as I flew towards them.
My Trusty Wheelie Bag
You’ll be relieved to know I made it just in time, to get changed fast and warm up before singing. Phew!!
Now I’ve been kicking myself for not getting a picture of the crowds for my blog, but here are a few I have found online. I must admit I did try to take a picture but people look at you very funny and I didn’t want to advantage of other people’s misfortune.
Picture From The Evening Standard – Tube Strike 2017
Then following the Audition I had to return to Royal College of Music for a rehearsal and I had the bright idea to walk back along the bus route rather than wait for the next bus. The traffic was moving so slowly I just kept walking from stop to stop. It started raining and after 2 miles but still no bus had caught me up. I kept going down the Strand, then walked down the Mall, past Buckingham Palace and then up Constitution Hill. I was started to tire now, but still no bus had passed me so I decided to refill with cheeseburger and a coke because my city mapper app had told me that I had burnt off the equivalent calories to this from the walk of my first half alone. So why not make the most of it. When I got to the Hard Rock Café it looked shut from the front door and I couldn’t see much life inside. I was panicking because there wasn’t much I could afford in the area, Kensington darling! I was starving and in need of a burger, so I searched for a possible way in. Luckily! It was under refurbishment so they were seating customers’ downstairs in the original part of the restaurant. Which was super cool! Sadly, I had not walked far enough for an Oreo cheesecake. After a quick recharge I walked the rest of the journey and made it to school on time for my rehearsals which were fab!
It’s been a massive change moving to London, far more even than when I moved to Glasgow City Centre from my rural town home in Cheshire.
I am thoroughly enjoying myself and I feel like I have just got used to travelling via the tube rather than just by car, bus or walking. I even quite like the contactless payment that is prevalent down here. Even though it’s a nightmare to keep track of every penny that I’ve spent here and there . There are hundreds and thousands of people of all nationalities in my new home. It’s a very enriching environment. I thought it was going to be daunting but it has taught me to be really aware of each other.
I enjoyed observing a grown man (security officer might I add) kick a bunch of leaves with great childish gusto the other day, only to miss them all except one. Our eyes met and we shared a giggle. I would have joined in but I was being the stereotypical busy local marching along the pavement as fast as my little legs could take me to class because the district line tube was held at a red light for ages. (I’m improving my patience too!).
I still can’t believe that when I leave school I can always see the glorious Albert Hall and beautiful Hyde Park is just behind and lovely to explore.
It is nice to do so much walking, and be a tourist sometimes. So whilst I’m busy with my studies and working hard I would love to hear about moments that have made you smile this week, or perhaps challenge you to be mindful, to make time to enjoy the little moments that cross your path in this coming week.
In my yoga class this morning my teacher asked us all to think of one moment this week that has made us smile. He said it didn’t need to be a huge achievement or lifestyle change. His was the feeling of holding a freshly brewed cup of tea and enjoying the heat flow into his hands and body. So as I drink my tea I wish you all a merry week and I hope exciting things are to come for you all, even if it’s only something that puts a smile on your face. After all, Christmas and the festive season is nearly here as the shops so kindly remind us and the super ice rink by the Natural History Museum allows people to have a bit of joy as the winter weather chills them, I loved listening to all of the laughter and people having fun. Glitz and glamour to come!!
The Ice rink At The Natural History Museum
The Albert Memorial
Kensington Gardens – Behind The Sunken Garden
On The Edge Of Hyde Park – Kensington Gardens
These pictures were from a recent visit to Kensington Gardens adjacent to Hyde Park after a busy morning’s practice.
Since I started blogging I have met so many supportive and helpful people, people who have inspired me to be myself and pursue my dreams. One of them is Pascal Barnier, a French artist, and a good friend. When he listens to my singing he uses his illustrations to share with me what he sees in his imagination. I find the results absolutely fabulous and have loved sharing them with you all over the last three years.
When he found out that I was to release the “Haugtussa” as an album he decided to produce a video of his images set to my music. When I sing I have in my mind the images of the characters and the story that I am trying to tell, it helps me to find the right emotions to accompany the melodic music and expressive poetry. So to be able to see what someone else imagines when listening to my singing to me is quite fascinating.
Here is the video and I would love to hear what you think of it. If you have listened to the Haugtussa, is this how you imagined the story?