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 week marks the 5th week since the lockdown in the UK on the 20th March and you can catch our 5th Balcony Concert at the bottom of this post. It has been great to see how my friends and inspirational sources have taken on these turbulent times and turn to creativity to stay positive and stay afloat financially. This week I have interviewed my friend and colleague Michael V. Jones, who has taken up inks instead of arpeggios to release his imagination and try to build a business.
I have worked with Michael on two different projects, ‘The Fire of Olympus’ with Radius Opera and ‘Christmas Elf’ with Northern Opera. He is a delight on and off stage and this week I received a special gift from him in the post! An intricate ink painting of one of my favourite streets in Greenwich! I love this street as it leads to the Historic Greenwich Market – a pleasant place to visit at the weekend – something to look forward to in a post-Covid19 World. I have immediately ordered a frame and I cannot wait to hang this ‘one of a kind’ piece in my music studio.
It was such a delight to connect with Michael virtually and I really enjoyed learning and discussing his process and I thought I would share it with you on my blog.
When did you first start creating these fantastic drawings?
Well I took GCSE and A Level Art in School, and before going to Music college to pursue Opera I had every intention to pursue an Art career, however music and singing won in the end and I haven’t painted seriously for about 10 years. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown I’ve had all my singing and teaching work postponed and so have had much more time on my hands. I started painting again a couple of weeks ago and have been pleasantly surprised at the response to my work.
What medium do you use to create these one of a kind pieces?
I mainly use Black Indian Ink and paint it on watercolour paper, using water to vary the tone.
How long do they take you to make?
It completely varies, but on average about 6 hours for an A4 piece and 10 hours for A3.
Do you listen to music whilst you are drawing?
I actually listen to audiobooks, usually something I’ve already read so I can ‘zone-out’ and get into the artwork. For your piece I was listening to Circe by Madeline Miller.
What is your personal experience of the Lockdown?
At first it was a massive adjustment as I’m used to working 6 days of the week with various teaching and singing jobs, so trying to find things to do with that massive amount of time was hard at first. Finding and using Art as a creative outlet has been a godsend, I actually feel calmer than I usually do!
Have you got any coping mechanisms to share?
Finding little tasks and completing them, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, really helps me. The feeling of having finished a job really makes me feel better. Baking has also helped.
Is this something you have always been interested in, or is this a newly acquired skill?
I’ve always been quite good at drawing and painting, however experimenting and using solely ink to create the effect is new and is definitely something I want to continue to pursue.
Have you found a platform, where people can see and purchase your art to help to get you through the Lockdown?
I’ve actually sold most of my work through social media. On Facebook I have an MVJones – Art page detailing prices and works that I’ve already sold, and on Instagram I also have an MVJones – Art page. I’m in the process of setting up a website for my art separate from my singing one, so watch this space! My email is m email@example.com for all art related queries.
As I mentioned before I’m also an opera singer, so please feel free to visit my website www.michaelvincentjones.com to see what else I can do 🙂
I wish Michael the best of luck with this new venture! I miss singing and performing with him and all my other colleagues. But in the meantime, here is our 5th Balcony Concert where we performed a musical cocktail featuring a little bit of Musical Theatre with a sprinkle of Rachmaninov and Dvorak.
Here’s our program:
Dream Valley (Roger Quilter)
I Dreamed A Dream (Claude-Michel Schönberg, Les Miserables)
Home (Maury Yeston, Phantom)
они отвечали,They Answered (Rachmaninov)
Pisen Rusalky O Mesiku,Song to the Moon (Dvořák, Rusalka)
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.
Happy Easter and Joyous Passover one and all. I hope that in spite of the quarantine situation you all managed to find creative ways to enjoy this long weekend and the beautiful weather that came with it.
At the moment, I am so thankful for technology and for being able to video call my loved ones. On Good Friday, George and I performed another Balcony Concert, which now is slowly turning into a series! It is nice to experiment with live streaming as it means my friends from all over the world can become part of our small community whilst we perform, and our neighbours in our block who don’t face into the same courtyard can still enjoy the show safely. Thank you for supporting us and we hope you enjoy watching our next performance on Friday 17th April which will be Balcony Concert #4
After the performance, I was able to FaceTime with my close family despite the huge distances between us and a enjoy a Disney themed karaoke and compete against each other in a friendly pub style quiz.
On Saturday I dedicated the day to arts and crafts. I spent time calling my good friend Emily, and whilst we spoke we enjoyed drawing exotic animals such as frogs and geckos, (who doesn’t love a challenge).
Then after lunch, I painted empty eggshells with my close friend Rebecca, who is a fantastic artist. I’ve not done this for a few years and it was good to revisit childhood memories and see if I could remember how to blow out an egg. In the evening, over zoom, I played a board game with my brother Matt, his husband Alex, and George, where we had to complete a stained glass window. All in all a great time was had.
What have you been doing recently? Any fun indoor activities to share?
For those of you who may have missed our performance last Friday I have included the link below. George’s Mum suggested this week that we include a few songs for the children in our block, which seemed like a great idea at the time. It wasn’t until we walked out on to the balcony that it struck me how long it had been since I last sung any of them 😊
Repertoire this week:
Do Re Mi – from the Sound of Music
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – from Mary Poppins
I took inspiration this week from the videos of people
sharing music on their balconies during the quarantine in Italy. I saw these
videos on my Facebook newsfeed and I found them so moving and thought that they
really celebrated community spirit.
On the Facebook group of our apartment block, there was a request to do something similar at our shared home. So, George and I said that we would be happy to get involved. One resident was worried that as everyone has different tastes in music that we should be careful not to disrupt the normally peaceful atmosphere. Our small community has families with young children, elderly residents and homeworkers so I thought this was a very thoughtful comment and so I suggested that we limit the live music time to after normal working hours and pick a date so that there is as little disruption to everyone as possible.
So last Friday, 27th March at 18:00 George and I
were gearing ourselves up to take our electric piano onto the balcony and sing
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Somewhere (West Side Story)
You’ll Never Walk Alone.
I must admit that I was a little nervous, I didn’t want to
upset anyone so I tried to pick songs that I thought most people could connect
with, whilst still sending a message of hope and togetherness. After all the
people I would be singing to are my neighbours. But we thought it was time to
be brave and try to do something nice for our community using the skills we
We set up and let rip. One by one, we saw windows open. People came out onto their balconies. One young woman in the courtyard who was on the phone began to share the experience with her loved one during their FaceTime call. There was a father dancing with his daughter. After we finished the first song, there was applause. It gave us the courage to continue and we started to perform our little hearts out. After the three songs, we were surprised to hear people ask for more and we said that we will try and perform again next Friday if the current situation doesn’t improve.
We were then surprised that our performance was filmed and shared by a few of our neighbours on our community Facebook group and this has allowed me to share this short video with you. Please continue to stay safe and healthy and know that you are each loved.
It was such a delight to visit Alderley Edge in Cheshire to perform alongside George Todica on Wednesday this week. I used to visit this town annually to participate in the Alderley Edge Festival of Music, Speech, and Drama. This week-long platform hosted many different competitions where performers could showcase their skills as musicians, public speakers, singers, and actors. The festival has been running for over a hundred years and I was fortunate to celebrate their centennial year in 2016 by performing in their gala concert. If you are interested in building up experience and showcasing your skills within the UK. Then check out the Festival Directory by clicking on the link and see if there is a festival near you that you can apply to. I learnt so much from these experiences when I was younger and can’t recommend them enough!
George and I performed at Alderley Edge Methodist Church, which is one of the venues now associated with the festival. The team who organise the lunchtime recitals here were so warm and welcoming and created a relaxing atmosphere – just perfect for our performance. I was thrilled to see some new faces as well as some from my childhood friends.
On Tuesday 18th February I attended a talk held in the Caversham Room at Cadogan Hall. The event was organised by Opera Prelude, an organisation who is passionate about opera and the professional development of young singers. They specialise in lecture-recitals and masterclasses. The event that I attended was called: The Key to Audition Success. The guest speaker was Sarah Playfair, who is a renowned Casting Director who previously held artistic administrative positions at Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne Festival for many years before becoming a freelance arts consultant. Playfair spoke precisely and honestly about her work. It was very helpful to hear a voice from the panel, which so often in auditions only says “Hello” and “Thank you”.
She offered advice across a range of topics but I found it a little disheartening when she discussed the volume of sopranos (my voice type) that apply for each audition. The amount is much greater than all the other voice types put together and often represents over two-thirds of all applications received. An example she gave: there were 220 sopranos who auditioned for five chorus spots, and that wasn’t including the number of applicants who didn’t pass to live audition! Playfair discussed that certain training programs would tip the odds in your favour, such as opera school. I haven’t completed an OS program, and as a freelance artist, the odds seem a little steep. But I shall keep swimming and hopefully, I will be one of the fishes that slips through the net.
For those of you who may have missed my most recent video release I have included it below:
This morning I had the delightful opportunity to turn pages for my Fiancé George Todica as he played alongside Maria Gîlicel (Violin) and Jobine Siekman (Cello) as they performed together as the Chloé Piano Trio. The concert took place at 11:00am this morning in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. The aroma of coffee mixed with freshly baked flaky pastry oozing fruit jams filled the hall… ready to whet the appetite of the Sunday Go-Getters!
The Trio’s concert was sold out and 150 people came to hear Beethoven’s Second Piano Trio as well as two pieces by Lili Boulanger. George played on an outrageously vibrant red grand piano, which filled the room with lively energy. The Yamaha piano is a one of a kind and originally played by Sir Elton John.
Later that same day, we visited Lancaster Hall Hotel and attended the Schubert Society’s monthly concert with our friend Catherine. It was a great excuse to catch up and enjoy listening to a concert, which just happened to also feature a piano trio! It’s been quite a string feast today, but interesting to see how different musicians can create their own unique sound worlds yet start with the same ingredients.
This week I have been preparing for my upcoming recital at Alderley Edge Methodist Church where George and I will be performing on the 19th of February at 1 pm. These lunchtime concerts that the Alderley Edge Methodist Church host help to support a variety of charities. The designated charity for this month’s recitals will be Church Action on Poverty.
Here is a link to my most recent video just in case you missed it 🙂
Charlotte Hoather shone as Pandora, here presented as the Presidential Aide who resigns and joins Epimetheus’ gang of rebels. Her clear soprano was especially suited to the nature of the score, and her dramatic performance was strong yet subtle.
Pandora (a very impressive Charlotte Hoather), clad in statuesque white, is Zeus’s much put upon ‘chef du cabinet’:
There are many poignant moments. I will mention a ‘Queen of the Night’ moment for Pandora.
As The Fire of Olympus draws to a close George and I are looking forward to returning to the North West of England to perform a lunchtime recital at Bamford Chapel and Norden United Reformed Church, Norden Road, Bamford (near Rochdale), OL11 5PQ. If you missed our recital in Warrington then this is a great opportunity to hear our program of music inspired by English texts.
We originally designed the program to celebrate English and American composers and how the music is affected by the different styles and cultures vary. We begin with songs inspired by the English Countryside, local folklore, and Poetry that focuses on Nature‘s connection to love and human emotion. We then decided to throw in a wild card by including the two arias from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, sung in English translation. This meant our musical cruise could take a detour to France. Since we were stopping in Paris, George decided to include a piece by one of Paris’s favourite salon players, Frederick Chopin. The piece is called ‘Rondo a la Mazur’ and is one of Chopin’s earliest piano works that showcase his talent of making the piano sparkle. The journey continues as we embark to the New World with musical flourishes of Copland and how his music drew inspiration from American folk songs and finishing off with more glitter with a sprinkling of Bernstein’s.
We really hope you can come along and board our transatlantic musical adventure.
Here is a couple of clips from our performance in Warrington last week:
Hello everyone wishing you all a happy June. I’d like to start this week by thanking the fantastically talented George Todica who unleashed his brilliance on piano during my final recital at the Royal College of Music and kept me calm and sane in the days before the performance on Monday morning, even suggesting using print shop when my trusty printer wouldn’t work on Sunday!
Me and George Todica After My Recital
I had to dash off after the performance and a quick lunch with friends and family to Croydon on the other side of London to start rehearsals with Surrey Opera https://www.surreyopera.org/ for their production of Bernstein’s ‘Candide’ and my role as Cunegonde. I’d spent some time getting the role ready before the rehearsals and with the agreement of my brilliant singing teacher Rosa Mannion and awesome coach Simon Lepper I put ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ as the final aria in my recital which after 40 minutes of near continuous singing was quite a high note to ask my voice to end on!
Bernstein was mentioned in the conductor Marin Alsop’s interview I’d read when I was reading up on Women in Music, he was her mentor and teacher. She credited him with this piece of advice ‘morality is very simple and based on human diversity, tolerance and about what we all strive to be. Be yourself, do not seek to be somebody else, but be the very best of who you are’ that’s all I sought to be in my recital.
Rosa Mannion and Me
Anyhow, a bit about Cunegonde and Candide for you if you’ve not heard of this Operetta. The score was written by the American author, composer, conductor, lecturer in music and pianist Leonard Bernstein in 1956. The story is based on the 1759 Voltaire novella of the same name, Cunegonde is the daughter of a Baron from the Country of Westphalia, a region in North West Germany. When war breaks out Westphalia is destroyed and her family murdered. Cunegonde is thought to be dead but she turns up in Paris, France with her duenna (chaperone). She has fallen into the role of a demimonde (a woman supported or exploited by wealthy men) shared by a Grand Inquisitor and a wealthy Jew.
Candide is in love with Cunegonde, the daughter in the house where he is brought up. Dr. Pangloss, their tutor, teaches them that everything in this world is for the best, part of God’s universal plan. Candide is then tested in a knockabout series of unfortunate events to test this theory. He is expelled from the Baron’s home, press-ganged into the army, is told Cunegonde is dead and meets Pangloss, together they survive an earthquake, are captured by the Holy Inquisition, and finally Pangloss is hanged. When he is reunited with Cungonde, he kills her new lovers and they flee to South America where she is sold into slavery. After many adventures, he returns to Venice where he finds Cunegonde in a completely fallen state, a whore in a gambling casino. Finally disillusioned, he realizes that the world is neither good nor bad but what we make of it.
The cast is lovely, my role is dual cast and it’s going to be great getting to know Lizzie Holmes. The direction is clear and very well organised. We will be performing this summer (praying for good weather) at the magnificent Minack Theatre on the clifftops of Porthcurno in Cornwall from 16th to 20th July 2018. The tickets are £14/£10 Adults and £7/£5 for under 16’s great value for this crazy romantic comedy full of wonderful music.
Minack Theatre By Day
Minack Theatre By Night
Surrey Opera receive no regular funding for their productions and are reliant on sponsors and fundraising to help finance the shows as ticket sales alone rarely cover the costs of putting on their lavish productions. You can join their supporters club and take advantage of their packages starting with a Bronze membership with an annual fee of £30 giving you a newsletter, priority booking, programme listing and invitations to Surrey Opera’s fundraising events.
Sadly I missed a couple of my friend’s recitals on Monday but I’m hoping to watch a few of my colleagues at the RCM this afternoon and during breaks this week.
Every evening though for the next month I’ll have my head stuck in the score whilst developing my characterisation throughout the days, there is a lot of singing it’s a chunky role that I’m really looking forward to performing.
My third and final album from my time studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is now available to download at Amazon and iTunes, or to listen to on all the streaming sites. It’s my attempt to fund my living costs for my second year of Masters of Music Performance in London (my 6th year of study). You may remember George Todica and I dressing as Alice and the Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to get into character for the cover of our English Speaking and Song concept album. Pascal Barnier used those photographs to imaginatively create the artwork that now hangs on my Mum’s office wall and is used on my ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ album cover.
All of the songs are classical English Art Songs and the spoken sections are prose and a monologue from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. It’s quite bonkers and a bit ‘off the wall’ but I didn’t want to lose it, so we recorded it live last year. ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll is the epitome of nonsense literature and fills our heads with imagination.
The album is my reimagining of adventurous Alice exploring ‘down the rabbit hole’. Using the vast depth of English song repertoire full of wonderfully illustrative poetry and Lewis Carroll’s prose to rework the tale of one glorious golden afternoon’s adventure, where everything is imagined as the only weapon in the war against reality –with a philosophy of life to finish my program when a girl goes through that awkward stage of transition, imagined by her sister at the end of the book, and how she hoped Alice would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood. If you want to know more about what happened in Wonderland you will need to read the wonderful book. I tried to tailor the songs to express my ideas and emotions about the start and end of Alice’s Adventure and in the words of the King of Heart’s ‘Begin at the beginning…and go on till you come to the end: then stop’.
1. Sweet Chance That Led My Steps Abroad
‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her’. I selected Michael Head’s ‘Sweet Chance That Led My Steps Abroad’, using the poetry ‘A Great Time’ by W.H. Davies to create the scene.
Punting In Cambridge
2. A Piper
‘Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge’. I imagined the White Rabbit was rather like the Pied Piper leading Alice astray so follows ‘A Piper’ also by Michael Head from O’Sullivan poetry. It’s one of my favourite English songs.
3. Do Not Go My Love
“Why, how impolite of him. I asked him a civil question, and he pretended not to hear me. That’s not at all nice. I say, Mr. White Rabbit, where are you going? Hmmm. He won’t answer me and I do so want to know what he is late for, I wonder if I might follow him. Why not? There’s no rule that I mayn’t go where I please. I– I will follow him. Wait for me, Mr White Rabbit. I’m coming, too.”
‘Do Not Go My Love’ without asking my leave by Hageman with text by Tagore. This is an English song I’ve sung for a couple of years and was included to represent the dreamlike fall into the unknown.
‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time? I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth… I wonder if I will fall right through the earth! How funny that would be. Oh, I think I see the bottom. Yes, I’m sure I see the bottom. I shall hit the bottom, hit it very hard and oh how it will hurt!’
5. Let the Florid Music Praise
“At this moment, Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!”, and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen…… “And who are these?” said the Queen, pointing to the three gardeners who were lying round the rose-tree; … How should I know? Said Alice, surprised at her own courage. It’s no business of mine.” The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed “Off with her head! Off___”
Only one song could fit this moment of chaos at the end of the day ‘Let the Florid Music Praise’ by Benjamin Britten with the words of WH Auden. I chose this dark humourous song because it’s so full of energy and excitement I think it fits that moment of panic, with a bold opening flutes and trumpets, imperial standards flying, hot sun raising temperatures. The unloved Queen of Hearts with too much power.
The three final songs were chosen from works by Roger Quilter (1877-1953).
6. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
“Wake up, Alice Dear! said her sister…why, what a long and lovely sleep you’ve had’. ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ now the white. The beautiful sonnet poetry of this song is by Lord Tennyson. Tennyson discloses in this poem the stillness of the twilight, beautiful rest and stillness of sleep. That time in sleep opens your heart and mind to new adventures with an emphasis on what you can see.
7. Dream Valley
“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!”said Alice. And she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange adventures’. Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been. Memory, hither come, begins Dream Valley’ with words by Blake . Lewis Carroll’s adventures included: happy and sad tales with lots of morals.
8. Love’s Philosophy
Lastly, her sister sat still just as she left her… till she too began dreaming after a fashion:
‘As Alice remembered her dream, her sister, …. pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman… ‘. ‘Loves Philosophy’ with poetry by Shelley that describes how different parts of nature interact and depend upon one another and is a classic story of unrequited love using natural imagery.
I was very fortunate to have George Todica as my accompanist, he has now completed his Master’s degree in Piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is undertaking several large competitions this year to launch his career; he also has an engagement next year ( 2018 ) at The Wigmore Hall, London.