This week is the fourth anniversary of my blog, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of the wider blogging community.
For any newcomers to my blog, when I began my goal was to improve my writing. As part of my first year as an Undergraduate, I was struggling to answer questions for the critical writing module within the word count allowed, which was often as short as 500 words long. The discipline of writing my blog posts helped, forcing me to be more concise. At that time writing for me was difficult and not something that I found enjoyable. But accessing the knowledge and receiving the assistance of some great wordsmiths through reading their blogs and them kindly commenting on mine changed my opinion and helped me to increase my enjoyment of writing.
Over the years I have met many people from all over the world, through their blogs and other social media ( Facebook, Google+, Twitter, YouTube and more lately Instagram ) I have seen the world through their eyes and come to appreciate the vast amount that we all have in common. Blogging has become a celebration of what we share and allowed me to broaden my knowledge through the diverse interests of my friends within this enlarged community.
I hope that in return through my love of classical singing and opera I have helped introduce a few more people to this beautiful art form that means so much to me.
I don’t know where the next four years will take me, but I can’t wait to share them with you all.
On Tuesday 5th July at my Graduation ceremony the four years studying here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland came to an end with my award of a Bachelor of Music (Performance) with honours of the First Class. I have met some wonderful and inspirational teachers, shared my dreams with new friends and learnt so much during my time here. I have been truly fortunate to study what I love and I know that the skills that I have been taught here will stay with me as I continue my studies. I’m thrilled to have studied at an Institution with graduates that come from no less than 65 countries all across the world. It was also quite unique and wonderful to be presented to our friends and family by walking on stage following Ross Miller on Bagpipes.
We heard inspirational advice from our Principal Professor Jeffrey Sharkey and an encouraging commencement speech from Texas-born cellist Ralph Kirshbaum from his experiences in a long and fulfilling music career, who had been honoured with a Doctor of Music Degree (honoris causa).
Unfortunately Stephen Robertson, the head of vocals could not be with us for graduation as his presence would have made the day perfect. He has been a constant source of inspiration for me during my four years here at the RCS, always there to provide support and encouragement to overcome what at first may have seemed insurmountable. For all his help and guidance I must say a big thank you and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.
To all of you that have followed my training progress over the past four years, I want you to know that you have been a very important part of my development and I hope you stay with me for the next stage of my adventure. I have several exciting projects over the summer to share with you soon, keep in touch.
With My Mum And Dad Getting Ready To Go To The Ceremony
My Brother Matt and Me
The Start Of The Graduation Ceremony
Collecting My Degree
A Fabulous Ceremony, I Was So Happy
Norman Beedie, A Wonderful Teacher
Helen McVey, Very Inspirational
Alistair MacDonald, Helped Me Explore Music
Isobel Anderson, Our Alexander Technique Lecturer
Celebrating With My Nana and Grandad
Flowers From My Brother Thomas And His Girlfriend Anna
Claire Rucket, Davidona Pittock, Maria Sappho and Me
Leila Marshall And Me
George Todica And Me On The Steps Outside The RCS
With Alex McFadzen
Back: Nathan Jenkins, Next Line: Tim Edmundson, Robert Forrest and Alex McFadzen, On My Line: Susannah Bedford, Jessica Hurst, Me and Claire Rucket, Front: Beth Taylor
In Front Of The RCS Entrance At The End Of The Day
On Saturday, I had the pleasure to watch the opening night performance of Benjamin Britain’s ‘Owen Wingrave’ at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I must admit that it isn’t one of my favourite operas but I thought that the singers performed very convincingly and kept me engaged. I particularly enjoyed the four female characters in the ensemble pieces, their voices blended beautifully and created an interesting dynamic against the backdrop of the spooky grey mansion setting.
I was intrigued with the set design and lighting which was very atmospheric and interacted well with the performance space to create effects of new rooms and corridors. This gave the stage the look of a large country mansion devoid of warmth and coldly diseased due to the emptiness caused by the loss of family to ‘War’.
As a contrast to the visual setting it was lovely to hear the voices of the children’s choir in the second act, as they provided an eerie colour to the already tense storyline.
The direction of the opera was excellent and I found the use a young boy actor in the prologue intriguing as it helped set the scene by explaining the story behind the haunted room within the mansion. Another directorial highlight for me was the use of six young soldiers, who entered the space to suggest the night terrors Owen experienced about War.
There are further performances on Monday 9th May, Wednesday 11th May and Friday 13th May.
On Friday I went to the lunchtime concert at the RCS which featured ‘Mr McFalls Chamber’ group performing ‘All of the Above’. The programme was an energetic and innovative collection from jazz to rock and tango to contemporary classical. The ensemble performed a commissioned piece by Paul Harrison who works in the RCS teaching jazz piano. They also performed arrangements of Frank Zappa’s songs and a piece by Tim Garland, Martin Kershaw, Joe Zawinul and Raymond Scott. A little extra fairy dust was created by a very colourful lighting design that really lifted my Friday to new exciting heights. It was a real treat as often this isn’t paired with classical concert scene. Providing lots of food for thought!
Maximiliano Martín, clarinet
Cyril Garac and Robert McFall, violins
Brian Schiele, viola
Su-a Lee, cello
Rick Standley, double bass
Paul Harrison, keys
Iain Sandilands, percussion
Stuart Brown, drums
Mr McFalls Chamber’
In the same evening, I went to the RCS symphony concert conducted by Alpesh Chauhan. It was lovely to see and support my friends as they continue through their training especially with graduation exams looming. The ensemble did a great job of performing this top tier concert repertoire, creating beautiful images and persuasive colours with sound.
The orchestra performed:
Hector Berlioz ‘Grande Overture du Roi Lear, Op. 4.
This composition was created after a dramatic moment in Berlioz’s life. Whilst living in Rome, Berlioz heard that his fiancée had married someone else. In a reaction of fury he purchased two revolvers and a measure of laudanum and strychnine and vowed revenge as he began his journey back to France. (Perhaps this story needs to be evolved into an opera libretto!) However he got as far as Nice, and then abandoned his plans. Berlioz then spent three weeks in the Mediterranean to recover and was enraptured by Shakespeare’s King Lear and decided to compose in his bout of enthusiasm.
Claude Debussy, La Mer
These symphonic sketches were inspired by Debussy’s vivid memories from his childhood summers spent overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at Cannes. He wrote ‘I love the sea and I have listened to it passionately’ and he thought that music provided the ability to evoke the constant mutability of the sea that painters could not but often strived for. This work was stunning and if you like paintings by Turner well worth a listen!
Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
In my first year I wrote about this piece and it was wonderful to hear it performed in my final year of my degree. The piece itself is programmatic and depicts an artist who is heartbroken from unrequited love, (Berlioz himself), who then tries to end their suffering by taking an opium overdose. However the drug sends him into a hallucinatory dream that creates a series of episodes.
Then yesterday, Saturday 20th February I was thrilled to go and watch Scottish Opera’s ‘Ariodante’ by Handel. This was a superb production and possibly one of the best I have seen them put on. It was set in modern Scotland, depicted successfully through the stage design which reminded me of a contemporary home design featuring a wall of glass, metal spiral stairs and Edison style light bulbs in triangle cages. The singing was very classy and often sounded effortless. The cast did a wonderful job of sustaining my attention through the 3 hour performance by their romantic and expressively dramatic performance.
Each character went on a clear journey ending with a happy ending, (except for Polinesso who fell at the strike of a sword).
It was personally wonderful to see Jennifer France sing “Dalinda” because in my first year I saw her perform in a very sparkly long dress some Benjamin Britten in a cross Conservatoire competition held at the RCS. She still sounds amazing and her performance was particularly inspiring.
To finish off what has been a fabulous weekend I was able to enjoy some more Opera at the “Ye Cronies Opera Award” at the RCS. Where 16 students from the postgraduate Opera course competed for the annual prize. Everyone performed really well and the pianists were all supportive and brilliant too!
Ye Cronies Opera Award at the RCS
Each performance was of a high standard and I did not envy Neal Davies (who performed the role of The King in Ariodante) job of coming to a decision. Charlie Drummond came second and Euros Campbell came first. Congrats to all who competed and a big thank you to the audience for their support.
On Wednesday it was my friend Les Hughes’s landmark 50th birthday. He is a keen Liverpool FC fan so I recorded this song for him as part of his celebrations, I hope that he enjoyed it 🙂
To close I hope that you all have a fabulous week 🙂
During the first week of February the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was taken over by projects as part of ‘Bridge Week’. On Friday, I had the pleasure of watching and supporting fellow fourth year students Katie Oswell (Soprano) and Maria Donohue (Piano) in their immersive theatre experience entitled Cage E B (Cage Electronic Ballet). It was a fabulous collaborative multimedia performance including dance, voice, piano, acting and projection mapping with the aim to transport its audience to the world of 20th century contemporary theatre. With outstanding technical contributions from Alex Mackay and magical stage design by Jennifer Logan.
The performance commemorates the collaborative achievements of John Cage, an American composer, music theorist, writer and artist and refers to his work with the artist Marcel Du-Champ, pianist David Tudor, Andy Warhol, and various dance companies including the influence of Merce Cunningham.” (M. Donohue, 2016)
The musical duo performed:
____, ____ ____ circus on ____
A Valentine Out of Season
The Perilous Night
The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs
Nowth Upon Nacht
Concert for Piano and Orchestra
In the Name of the Holocaust
Overall the performance was visually beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen or heard before. Maria performed with strength, at times even thrashing her arms into the piano in order to achieve the articulated accuracy of the score. Every note was meticulous showing the depth of preparation undertaken by the talented American pianist. Katie sung with ease and elegance, gliding over tricky melodic phrases. Then as easily she could quickly alienate her audience through her dramatic presentation, causing tension that commanded our attention for the full duration.
The duo will be perform ‘Concert for Piano and Aria’ at the ‘piano festival’ at the RCS on the 11th March. Then they will be travelling to New York on the 19th March to showcase sections of their work at various venues, culminating with a masterclass at the Yamaha Studio to promote studying music in the UK. I wish them the very best of luck and lots of fun!
Today was the return of the Hilary Rosin Coffee Concert series at the RCS, which started with a bang! Sasha Savaloni, a guitarist and Doctorate student at the RCS, played three songs from Schwanengesang by Schubert and Six airs from Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ Op.19 by Fernando Sor. It was especially lovely to hear this set having performed in the opera last summer. My favourite movement was number three ‘Seid uns zum zweiten Mal Willkommen’ as it was based on motifs from the Knabe giving the music a cheeky and playful atmosphere. To finish the concert, our Principal Jeffrey Sharkey took to the stage with violinist Maya Iwabuchi and cellist Aleksei Kiseliov to perform Beethoven’s Piano trio in B-flat major ‘Archduke’, Op.97. Which was a wonderful example of ensemble connection as at moments the players communicated through generous smiles which was beautiful to watch on a Sunday morning!
And finally it is such a relief after five months of research that I was able to spend the past week collating it all and using the time to get my thoughts recorded for my essay, which has now been submitted ( sigh of relief 🙂 )
The decision about what to do next for my Masters’ study has been on my mind all month.
Scotland has a well-being dividend, after three and a half years here I’ve settled into the wider community, made relationships in and out of college and have a lot of comfort. There is very little travelling because it’s a compact, cultural City and I receive great support from lots of fabulous people. In fact Glasgow is full of warm and generous people and has been a great home for me for my first spell away from my parents.
London is billed as having ‘a cultural life that is unsurpassed anywhere in the world’. London city life can seem unwelcoming, they say people on public transport and in the street avoid eye contact. I put this to the test and I get lots of smiles back and have had a few chats on public transport. I met a fabulous elderly man in the café at the Royal Albert Hall and sat next to him whilst I ate my soup and we had the most interesting conversation about his recent bereavement and how much he missed his wife and her love of the ballet, the Bolshoi and life, the time passed so quickly.
I narrowed my choices down to The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and The Royal College of Music (RCM), London. It is difficult because I know lots about the RCS, which I love, and much less about the RCM. I have read the RCM prospectus from front to back several times, visited the institution a couple of times, and I did the tour. The first page quote by The Director; Professor Colin Lawson says; “Choosing where to study is one of the most challenging decisions a musician ever makes” gulp!
The RCM welcome page says they are ‘ranked no 1 place to study Music by the Guardian’ newspaper’s UK university guide. Also on the positive side they value independence and individuality, they offer ‘unparalleled performance opportunities, opening up the world and improving your performance’. ‘The institution takes your musical future seriously from the day you arrive”. They also hold numerous competitions and have three fully staged opera productions to audition for, watch and learn from each year. On the downside studying in London is also expensive, double my current living costs and nearly double the annual tuition fee loan as the RCS very generously offered me a scholarship to help with my fees. There are tube fares to take into account I think my brother pays £1500 each year for his travel card.
However… I’ve accepted my offer to study at the Royal College of Music, I just want to take the opportunity to challenge myself and I feel very excited to take this leap of faith. I’m looking forward to working there and I hope that it will be an interesting couple of years. Some people think I have a masterplan but frankly, as all my long term blog friends know, I pretty much feel around in the dark and grab onto any opportunity that passes by. Before reaching my decision I really had spent the entire month in turmoil about my decision because Judith Howarth has been a fantastic vocal professor this year and has helped me to develop my vocal skills and performance, Judith is still working in the Industry and if I had the spare funds I would go out to Berlin in February to watch her perform in Peter Grimes. Your teacher is very important as they act as your guide and mentor to help to nurture you and I have grown and learnt so much in Glasgow during my undergraduate studies. But I now feel that the time is right to move on and take the next step on my musical journey.
I feel this is more an “au revoir” than a good bye 🙂 and I am still looking forward to the rest of this year.
As you’ll be aware if you’ve been following my blog for the past three years, my musical passion lies in the Opera world, in July I flew to Italy to participate in the Trentino Music Festival Summer School. When preparing the songs for my audition for this summer school in January, my ambition about such an experience was initially to get more opera performance opportunities and to improve my Italian language skills over the five weeks duration. Whilst in Italy I made friends in all the local shops, bakery and cafes and practised my Italian on my willing victims every day. I attended and performed in master-classes, one by the amazing Deborah Voigt, and undertook the roles of ‘Gretel’ in Hansel and Gretel (under the skilful baton of David Gately), ‘2nd Knabe’ and chorus in Die Zauberflute by Mozart and as ‘The Novice’ and chorus in Suor Angelica by Puccini.
Jess And Me On Our First Day In Italy
Going To See Aida with Natalie
Just Before Going On Stage At A Concert In Italy
My Final Week With The Opera Performance Studio
The Final Performance Of Hansel And Gretel
I was guest soloist at a Fyfe Creative Arts Hub Recital the day after I returned from my summer holiday and in October I performed a selection of arias at a gala fundraising evening hosted by the Bowdon Festival Opera, they are raising funds to put the Opera ‘Don Giovanni’ this year and I’ve been offered the role of ‘Zerlina’ which is very exciting.
Tim Edmundson, Beth Jerem, Robert Forrest, Me And Michael Gibson
Last November George Todica and I utilised our Grieg Haugtussa song cycle coaching from our Norwegian master-classes in a one hour long concert in Edinburgh. I sang the full eight song cycle in the first half in the original Norwegian. I have been analysing if songs sound better in the language they were originally written in and one comparison I thought: ‘Does Shakespeare have such a profound effect and impact when translated into other languages?’ Or indeed ‘Would Robert Burns give the depth and feeling if spoken or sung in standard English rather than Scottish dialect, his poem and song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is often sung at Hogmanay (New Years Eve)?’
At the close of the year I enjoyed participating in the RCS choir at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral undertaking Handel’s Dixit Dominus, I also got to listen to friends performing Spem and Purcell.
Beth Taylor, Me and Susannah Bedford Ready For Handel’s Dixit Dominus
And finally singing in the Christmas Cracker with Jessica Hurst at The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
Ready To Go On Stage At The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
I will be having my Master of Music postgraduate program auditions soon and I’m trying to recollect all the advice I have received during my training here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and from people I have met along the way.
This picture was taken a couple of months before my Undergraduate auditions
In this blog post I want to talk about my undergraduate audition experiences. It may help answer some questions for those about to take their first auditions but if not it is my account of what I discovered and I hope that you find it interesting. I don’t pretend to know all the answers but I know that when I was auditioning I would have been grateful for more knowledge.
I personally think it’s important to feel as confident and calm as possible on the day so that you can sing at your best. For me I can help to aid this by planning and making decisions before the event for example; what I’m going to wear; how I’m going to get there; who am I going with; when and what am I going to eat. They may seem like silly questions but I like to know that on the day the only thing I have to make decisions about are artistic and creative ones when I sing. I was once told that we have a limit on how many decisions we can make in one day. I think this is really interesting and I will research into this to see if it’s true, (one day).
Try and travel to the Conservatoire using public transport, remember that if you are offered a place this is probably how you will be travelling between home and your place of study. Check the routes, timings and how many changes you will need and this will help with journey times. Book your train tickets early it’s less costly and you don’t run the risk of there being no seats available as I did trying to book a week before going to Cardiff.
It can be an anxious time but think of this as a new skill to master, the audition will be important to you and the anxiety you may feel is just because you are about to encounter something totally new in your life.
Ralph Strehle, a professor at the RCS once advised me to create a ‘positive list’. This is essentially a list of things people have said about my singing that they liked or thought were a strength. This could be comments from an exam critique, a teacher, a friend or audience member. The list may start off as just one bullet point, however it only takes a moment to realise that as your training progresses the list will grow. Reflecting on what’s good can improve your attitude, increase your optimism and boost your wellness.
Like preparing for an interview, research the school you are applying to. I know the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland voice department have a Facebook page now, on which they keep updates of what is going on and what our alumni our achieving. It can be quite exciting to see what is happening and can help you to form some informed questions that you would like to ask during your audition. But for these questions focus on what interests you and don’t be afraid to ask.
Check out the audition requirements for each Conservatoire as they will vary. Each will ask for a specific selection of song types but within each genre the song choice is yours. Some have a written exam and others may ask for a spoken monologue and a sight reading test so be prepared.
Most conservatories have two rounds and some possibly three. I can say without embarrassment that I didn’t get through every round at every conservatoire but I did at several others. We all are diverse and so are the Conservatoires. All you can do is be yourself and show them where you are at that moment in your journey and they will decide whether you are ready to work in their way.
Just remember that everybody’s voice develops at a different pace and there is no set age to join a Conservatoire. In my year there are a range of ages and it is OK and normal to re-apply if unsuccessful the first time around and you’ve set your heart on going to a Conservatoire, or to take time out before you commence the audition process. There are 16 vocalists in my year 11 girls and five boys, some Conservatoires take more at undergraduate and some take less but if singing is your passion then they are fabulous institutions to train at.
Lastly and probably the most important thing to remember on the day is that the audition panel are looking for keen students so remember that they want you to succeed.
The introductory week for the new term was a great taster for what lies ahead for me and over the coming months I can’t wait to share it with you. One of the reasons that I chose to study here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is that they allow you to follow your own creative pathway. Dance and music have always been so closely intertwined in my life, though opera is my true passion I was delighted that as part of my final year I got the opportunity to audition for an own choice module which if I was accepted would enable me to take RAD advanced 1 ballet classes.
I always found that dance was a great way to keep fit and it really helped me with my movement when on stage. It was fantastic fun to get back to practising, with my tights and leotard on. (Even though in the travel from the changing room to class I kinda wanted a pair of gym shorts).
In the audition we had to wear pinned numbers so that the three teacher panel could make notes on our technique and abilities. It has been over three years since I last participated in regular ballet classes so the audition was quite nerve racking. As we went through each element in turn it reminded me of Latin and Ballroom dance exams that my brothers and I took part in when we younger.
When the audition was finally over you could tell that it had been a while since my last regular lessons, exercises that I used to do so easily had really taken their toll but inside I felt fabulous.
I’m really excited to tell you that I have been accepted and I will participate in my first class on Monday 28th September. Ballet has many attributes, optimum fitness, deportment, core strength and stamina all of which I can apply to my own performances on stage.
I can’t wait to get back into my ballet, it really is a joy and a challenge, but one that I know will complement the work that I do in movement classes. You know me I will give 100% and work hard to try keep up with the ballerinas, (but perhaps not with my legs so high!), they are all lovely and very friendly so I’m looking forward to the classroom atmosphere.
It has been a frantic weekend getting prepared for the start of my final year as school opens again tomorrow, all the new fresher’s will be there, lots of excitement and nerves. It will be exciting to catch up with everyone after the summer break and finalise my timetable. I have a module audition too so keep your fingers crossed for me.
It is such an important year for all us fourth year students, with our auditions coming up over the coming months for entry on to Master’s courses next year or alternate paths we need to prepare for. So lots to do and plenty of repertoire to prepare ready for the challenge.
We have fabulous teachers here at the Conservatoire who just love to help bring the best out of us. Which is why I am so excited about the start of term and can’t wait to see what the year ahead has in store for me.
I have been asked by the Edinburgh Society of Musicians to perform for them at a concert to be held at their recital room at 3 Belford Road, Edinburgh at 19:30 pm on Saturday 21st November 2015 and if any of you are in the area I would love to see you there, I’m hoping to do the full Haugtussa cycle of eight songs in the first half of the program with a few surprises in the second half.