Archives For Covid-19

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.

Sweet Sixteen

July 12, 2020 — 73 Comments

It has been a joy and such an engaging challenge to present 16 weeks of music alongside George from our balcony in London. We have explored a variety of repertoire, with the hope to engage with different tastes in music so that each week we hope that we brought a little fun to our neighbours, both virtual and from within our complex. Thank you so much for watching!

For me, it helped ground my weeks. Providing inspiration and a deadline for tasks, which would add up to a musical sharing. Sometimes it was our main priority and other times it was a joyful release of tension. I simply love performing and to be able to share and continue to make music has been a gift. I feel very lucky.

I would love to hear what you have enjoyed the most about our shared experience?

George and I decided to take a little break from the weekly concerts, so that we can attend some rehearsals and give us some time to relax, recharge and learn some new material. We hope to evolve the idea and see where it takes us. Would you be interested in the concerts continuing? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments or by email.

One of my New Years’ resolutions was to experiment with video, and this string of concerts, which emerged from a spontaneous event, has opened my eyes to the fun of sharing regular video content with you. I hope to continue to explore this over the coming months. So, stay tuned and as always, I would love to hear your feedback as I explore the possibilities further.

I hope you enjoy this week’s balcony concert and celebrate 16 weeks with us.

Program:
Do, Re, Mi – Sound of Music
Bibbiti Bobbiti Boo! – Cinderella
Be Kind and Courteous – Britten
Piangerò la Sorte Mia – Handel
Baby Shark – Pinkfong
Quando m’en Vo – Puccini
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Evita
Oh Luce di Quest’anima – Donizetti
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – Mary Poppins

We are happy to report that we have seen improvement in the WiFi quality in our home. Hooray!! This is fantastic news as our solution (a WiFi Booster) has enabled us to stream continuously whilst performing on our balcony. To mark this occasion, we decided to sing pieces that sadly suffered from our previous WiFi problems and that you may have missed. We combined these with songs from our first balcony concert on the 27th March 2020. Goodness, almost three months have passed – Time is whizzing by! 

We hope you enjoy the concert and we are so thankful that you have stayed with us on this crazy, wonderful journey over the past 13 weeks.

The program includes:

You’ll Never Walk Alone – Carousel – Rodgers
Somewhere – West Side Story – Bernstein
Me Voglio Fa’Na Casa – Donizetti
Over The Rainbow – The Wizard Of Oz – Arlen
Danza, Danza Fanciulla – Durante
Glitter And Be Gay – Candide – Bernstein

A special shout out to my Dad on Father’s Day, love you, and of course to George’s Dad and thank you to all Dads for everything that you do. We celebrate you all today 🙂

What have you been up to this week to lift up your spirits and cheer?

Have you made any homemade projects Glitter?

My good friend and authoress Noelle did an interview with me for her blog, Sailingaway and if you fancy taking a look here is the link :

This week has felt a little like an after-shock, which I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t realise how much an emotional impact postponing the wedding would have on me, combined with the unrest in society and also the fear that I have for the future of the performing arts industry, and how theatres will survive in a world constricted by social distancing.

But once again I found solace directly from all your support here on my blog and across my social media platforms. I feel secure knowing that people’s love for music and their need to be entertained is prevailing. Thank you all for this.

Endless Pleasure – Handel
Deh Vieni Non Tardar – Mozart
Batti, Batti O Bel Masetto – Mozart
Piangero la Sorte Mia – Handel
Neghittosi Or Voi Che Fate – Handel

This week, George and I performed a selection of Handel and Mozart arias from our balcony for a variety of reasons. It was rejuvenating for me to reconnect with characters and arias that I’ve rested from my repertoire and see how much they have matured since I last performed them. The choice of program also took a little bit of pressure off myself, in the sense that I knew I would feel comfortable with this repertoire whilst allowing myself some time to reflect. However, I want to say a huge thanks to George for pulling it out the bag, as some of the Handel is devilishly hard to play in such a short time scale. I think he did brilliantly. In hindsight, it was also fun to see that there is nothing quite like an 18th century vengeance Aria to express the frustrations that surround us at this time.

I took real enjoyment from watching the Royal Opera House present it’s first live event since lockdown on Saturday. It gave me a sense of calm and hope for the future. Showing how we as an industry, and an art form can continue to adapt and strive to share and make music with those who miss having it in their lives.

With that positive feeling in mind, I feel that I’ve expressed my grief and angst through my performances and I am ready to re-emerge for whatever unknown adventure the future holds for me and for George.  

What are you missing the most during these lockdowns? and what is bringing you comfort whilst you wait for normal life to resume?

Good Luck everybody! Live long and prosper!

As the Mad Hatter might say: ‘A Very Merry Unwedding-Day’ to us and to all the other couples who have had to postpone their wedding plans because of the Covid-19 virus. This week’s concert was particularly special to George and me as it was on the Eve of what would have been our Wedding Day on Saturday 6th June. Despite making the decision to postpone our Wedding when it became clear that due to the restrictions it would not be possible to go ahead with our plans, we felt a surge of pent up emotions rushing back at the start of this week.  We decided not to fight them but to embrace them and ride the waves of our feelings as the week unfolded in front of us. So on Monday 1st of June we sat down together and chose a selection of songs related to weddings that were special to us both from our past and in our future.

Our first song Let Me Be Your Wings, was performed at both at my Brother’s wedding to his husband Alex, and my Bridesmaid Ellie’s wedding to her husband Rory.

We then performed two Disney songs, Once Upon A Dream and A Whole New World. We had arranged for these songs to be played by our musician friends Maria and Jobine on Violin and Cello as we were to have walked down the aisle.

Followed by Love’s Philosophy: George’s Best Man Daniel was to create our wedding favours printing the poem by Percy B Shelley that Quilter used in this song onto artwork we had chosen. The next Two German songs are about dedication.  Schumann wrote Widmung as a wedding present for his wife Clara. A personal touch is that George played the Liszt arrangement of this piece for the processional walk at my brother’s wedding. We then performed Zueignung, by Strauss because it was the closing piece in our first duo program that we performed at the Kathleen Ferrier Bursary Competition back in 2013

Finally, Qui la Voce. Bellini wrote this beautiful aria for the character Elvira in his opera I Puritani, she has been driven to madness after her beloved abandons her on their wedding day. She dreams in the faster section of the aria of his voice and hopes that they will meet again and fulfill their wedding vows. Though George did not abandon me, I did find new resonance with this character and I can’t wait for our new wedding date! BRING IT ON!!

Little did we know, that our wonderful Neighbours had secretly arranged online a surprise for us after they had read, we were supposed to be married this weekend. On Friday morning we received a personal video compilation of messages and congratulations. We were so moved; I must admit I cried a little!

Then as we began to move our keyboard onto the balcony, we were moved to see a display of multi-colored bunting decorating over 25+ homes in our courtyard. One of our neighbours, Shannon came to the base of the balcony to greet us five minutes before our concert to explain that the bunting was for us and that our neighbours wanted to say thank you for performing to them over the past 11 weeks, they had also left a gift for our balcony outside our door and a bottle of champagne! I managed not to cry until after the set – although I did get a lump in my throat a couple of times, when I started swaying with a friend on his balcony making me smile, it was one the most difficult performance challenges to date. I couldn’t look at George for too long, in the worry that I might blub! I am so glad that we were able to film this concert and share it with you. I will remember this act of kindness forever.

I would also like to add a special thank you to our families and to all of our friends who have reached out with messages and sent us gifts to show their support and keep us in good spirits. We were so touched and felt so loved we can’t wait to celebrate with you all.

P.S Our Shoulda-Woulda-Wedding day started with a bang! After a friend of ours told our story to the BBC Radio 4 Today program we were invited to have a brief interview and sing live from our home to close their Saturday segment ahead of the 9am news headlines. We had brilliant fun setting up our Pop-Up recording studio equipped with microphones, two laptops, lots of wires, and three blankets hanging from the wall. We’d had a test run earlier in the week and using the iPhone/FaceTime meant the mike on the piano receded when I started singing so we learned a new trick to get the balance right.  Sadly, the song that we prepared only aired for 10 seconds but it was a brilliant experience and a great way to start our day and we had lots of lovely messages from teachers and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.

We’ve enjoyed selecting pieces tied together by a theme or a place over the past two weeks. Since the West End is temporarily shut, George and I thought we could bring a taste of the West End to the Courtyard with a selection of pieces from Musical Theatre Shows.

Growing up I was a huge fan of Doris Day and the classic Musical movies, like Calamity Jane, and live stage shows such as Cats, Wizard of Oz, and Phantom of the Opera. I particularly enjoyed Calamity Jane, as the story featured a fierce lady with a big heart who learned how to find strength and love in vulnerability. I personally think that as a performer allowing yourself to be vulnerable on stage, in the sense of releasing your emotions honestly, creates a special bond between you and your audience. Over the last 10 weeks, I have felt this connection with our audience and this bond has made me feel supported and encouraged me to take more risks during live performance. Such as holding my notes as long as I can and singing quietly.

I want to take a moment to thank you for listening and sharing this unknown journey with us. We will continue to experiment with how we can make and share music, whilst prioritising people’s safety. You can listen to our tenth balcony concert below:

Songs:

If I Loved You (Carousel)
The Deadwood Stage (Calamity Jane)
Secret Love (Calamity Jane)
Memory (Cats)
Popular (Wicked)
Think Of Me (Phantom of the Opera)
Encore: Don’t Rain On My Parade (Funny Girl)

VE Day

May 10, 2020 — 64 Comments

This Friday marked the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, a celebration of the peace in Europe that followed the end of World War 2 and brought an end to the tragic loss of life and the suffering that was endured by so many.

Despite the restrictions on public celebrations, it was lovely to see people engage virtually with this historic moment in different ways. From acknowledging the 2 minutes silence at 11am, to organising a “safe-distanced” street parties with bunting and sweet treats to share.

George and I wanted to remember loved ones whose lives were changed immeasurably by the events of World War 2. To celebrate the freedom, we are so lucky to have and the lasting peace we so gratefully enjoy, all thanks to the courage of many by singing three songs that we felt caught the atmosphere of the day.

We’ll gather Lilacs, Danny Boy and We’ll Meet Again.

We combined these three songs with one of our favourite English Songs, Love’s Philosophy. Fun Fact – this poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley will feature as part of our delayed wedding favours.

We decided to finish with a flourish of Operetta, Art is Calling for Me and we hope that you enjoy our programme.

May Day, May Day

May 3, 2020 — 43 Comments

Preparing for rain,
Felt safe under the brolly.
Did not predict wind!
C. Hoather & G. Todica

As April was ending and Summer approaches, I find that under the current lock-down one day starts to merge with the next. For us, having our Friday Balcony Concerts for our friends and neighbours has helped to give George and me a definite end to each week and something to work towards, which has been so important for us both to remain focused.

Last Friday just before our concert, at around 17:20 we began our set-up.  We sellotaped our back-up camera to the plant pot frame because the live stream failed in week four and placed a stand ready to hold my iPhone to live-stream the 6th Balcony Concert, when the weather took an unexpected turn. I was in the kitchen at the time, cleaning dishes calmly, when George shouted from the other room “OH NO, RAIN!” We dashed out without a moment to spare, to protect the camera and keyboard at all costs! Within minutes we started to prepare for the worst and we dug out all of the brollies in our home. We experimented with different contraptions built from what we had in our flat, settling for the unlikely marriage of clothes hanger stands, graduation scroll holder (thanks RCS) and umbrellas (oh, the things you can create last minute when you apply a little improvisation and plenty of duct tape).

As the clocks struck 18:00, all seemed well. So, we began and managed to keep performing despite the weather’s mood swings. If you haven’t time to watch the full concert and you’d like a giggle, jump to my Mary Poppins wannabe moment around 13 minutes in!

Repertoire this week:

Let it Go (Disney – Frozen) a personal favourite of George’s young nephew Marcu

Nella Fantasia (Ennio Morricone)

Muttertändelei (R. Strauss)

Schlagende Herzen (R. Strauss)

Mein Herr Marquis – (J. Strauss – Die Fledermaus)

This was the first time I’d ever sung ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ which I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks, so I hope that you enjoy them.

Just before the lock-down George’s friend helped us out by building a couple of IKEA flat-pack cupboards to help store all of our music books, sheet music and scores in.  However, the third cupboard which was due to be delivered just as we found ourselves entering lock-down, was put on hold.  This week it finally arrived and so we decided to try and put it up ourselves.  I discovered how to use a drill and the importance of following instructions (or not LOL).  Finally, the last cupboard is now up and attached safely to the wall even though I did have to unwind the screw and put in a raw plug – who even knew such a thing existed, thanks Dad, I even put in an automatic light and push to open thingymabobs and I am feeling very proud of my achievement (with a little help from George of course)!

This Friday marked our fourth balcony concert, and it has been a real joy to sing to my neighbours and friends online alongside George. Despite being limited to our own home for a few weeks now, it has been a breath of fresh air to feel close to the lovely people who live near me. I feel connected to a bigger community, a neighbourly relationship that reminded me of my childhood as we grew up with lovely neighbours and were in and out of each others homes, George also grew up in a really close community where all the neighbours knew each other

As a musician, who practises at home, I was nervous about upsetting my neighbours during the lockdown. I limited my singing hours to be conscious of those around me and I made adaptations to my home such as hanging homemade sound panels (created by George!) above our electric piano. After our first concert, we were overjoyed to feel the support and encouragement from our neighbours and the request for more music. We even received some chocolates, flowers and even beautiful drawings from our little neighbour upstairs.

On one of her art pieces, she told us that her favourite song was ‘Baby Shark’. So as our encore to four American Songs by Aaron Copland and Glitter and Be Gay by Bernstein George and I sang, (with all the actions) ‘Baby Shark’ for our little friend above us.

Unfortunately, our live stream dropped out during the concert cutting the recording short but one of our new friends filmed the encore on their phone. I hope you enjoy the clip.

The full program:

Four American Songs by Aaron Copland:

The Boatmen’s Dance

Little Horses

Long Time Ago

Ching-a-ring-Chaw!

Glitter and Be Gay – Bernstein

Encore – Baby Shark – PinkFong

Here is what was recorded from the concert 🙂

Following our short performance last week George and I performed our second balcony concert on Friday 3rd April for our neighbours as we all continue to come to terms with staying at home here in the U.K.

Our song selection this week included a mix of styles to try and please a wide audience of tastes. The pieces that George and I performed were:

      I Feel Pretty, from West Side Story, by Bernstein

      I Could Have Danced All Night, from My Fair Lady, by Loewe

      A Piper, by Head

      O Waly, Waly (folk song) – for my blog friend Hilary, who suggested it.

      O Luce Di Quest’anima, from Linda Di Chamounix, by Donizetti – for a sprinkling of Opera

However, after feedback from last week, we decided to trial live streaming on YouTube. The idea was suggested as our neighbours in our development, who do not face into our courtyard, got in touch and asked if there was a chance, we could share it with them online. So we researched how we could do this and decided to experiment with YouTube Live as I already had an account with them which I use on my blog from time to time.

We set up my phone to capture our performance in the corner of our balcony using a stand with a phone adapter screwed into the top – a little bit of repurposing with pieces that we already had at home. For this our first attempt at live streaming we decided to film live using the unlisted feature, which means people can only watch with a link. We copied and pasted this into our Neighbourhood Facebook page and then let rip.

Moving forwards we hope to share our third balcony concert with you all publicly via my YouTube Chanel. It will take place between 18:00-18:30, weather permitting (UK time) on Friday 10th April. We would love for you to tune in and celebrate music and people coming together during this difficult time.

I want to thank my YouTube subscribers as I wouldn’t have been able to live stream without their support. If you have a YouTube account you can find my channel by clicking on the link : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjMXKEEZ0Iu32vdQ_GyQXcQ

This is George’s YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClNHb_M4FDh1gwl7h2oiuLw

Hope you can join us, stay at home and stay safe 🙂