Monday, December 25, 2006

The Best Christmas Present

A few drops fell on Friday night, and yesterday afternoon, and then it rained all last night. The sound of heavy drops falling on my roof is something I haven't heard for what seems like months. The parched earth and thirsty trees are soaking it up. It is putting out the bushfires and bringing relief to all of us in this drought, and especially the people whose livelihood is directly dependant on the land. What better Christmas present could we have?

(Image from stock.xchng)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Money and Study and Time

With a HECS debt that could easily serve as a deposit on a house, and that is going to take me years to pay off, I am very glad that my current course is not adding to it. In fact, I simply wouldn't be able to do it if I had to pay. As it is, I am struggling to work enough to pay my bills, while having time to devote to my music. This year I think the balance was tipped too far towards money-work and not enough towards study-work, and as a consequence I didn't gain the results that I would need to get a scholarship for next year, which would mean that I would be able to do less money-work and consequently achieve more with my music.

It is a chicken-and-egg scenario - it is hard to continually devote the time it takes to excel in anything without having any financial assistance, and the financial assistance is impossible to obtain without achieving results that require large investments of time and energy.

It hasn't always been like this, though: this article in today's Sunday Age reminds me that the baby-boomers who are now running the system, and making it harder and harder for current students, had the benefits of free education, affordable housing and stable employment prospects.

(Image from stock.xchng)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Charn Sunset

The light from the setting sun was blood red on the trunks of the gum trees as I walked through Westerfolds Park this evening. The smoke from the bushfires is a feint haze in the air, but more than enough change the light to remind me of the old world of Charn, in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, a book that I hadn't thought about for years.
Low down and near the horizon hung a great, red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon the world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group. And on the earth, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen. And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges cast long, disastrous-looking shadows in the light of that whithered sun. Once a great river had flowed through the city, but the water had long since vanished, and it was now only a wide ditch of grey dust.
There are rivers and lakes in this country that are little more than dust, thanks to the drought, and with a Prime Minister who is gung-ho for nuclear power, is it so strange to think of a world being destroyed by "magic"?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Brian Eno lecture

A couple of weeks ago, while I was up during the night suffering biological payback (why is it always that the women suffer while men get off scott free?), I distracted myself from my discomfort by listening to this lecture by Brian Eno, as part of the BBC's Free Thinking series. Brian Eno is a fascinating chap, and an excellent speaker, and this lecture prompted me to continue my musings about time, particularly in relation to his Long Now project.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Existential crisis

Oh my! The bigger the project, the bigger existential downer afterwards!

The reason I haven't posted here for a long time is because I had my masters recital last night. This was one hour of music that I have been focussing on since February - it is as though the whole year's work was distilled into that one event. The focus was intense, to say the least.

I find it really hard to evaluate my performance. There were a lot of things I was very pleased with, and also quite a few moments I was distinctly not pleased with. But I realised a few days ago that I never really believed that I could actually get up there and do it, so the very fact that I did it is excellent!

I had it recorded, and it will be interesting to listen back to the recording, and see how it sounded from the outside. Often I find, when listening back to recorded performances, that mistakes and glitches that seemed massive from the perspective of the performer actually are barely noticable, while other things that I was hardly aware of at the time stick out like sore thumbs.

But it's all in the past now.

And I'm facing a sink full of unwashed dishes and a desk full of unpaid bills. Welcome back to normality!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sparkling shiraz

Life is full of meetings and partings. Some last for a lifetime, some for only a few hours. The length of time does not reflect the significance of the encounter. A moment shared between two people. A memory held for life. A smile, a glance, a kiss. They won’t be forgotten. The heart holds more than photographs.

Is a bittersweet parting at the airport better than a messy domestic break up in a year’s time? Or is it the safe option?

(and by the way, Tasmania was beautiful)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Heading South

I'm off to Tasmania for a few days. I feel I may not be quite the same person when I return. I'll let you know...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Saturday morning in Eltham

The sun was shining, but it's not any more. The air is sweet, though, and I have my front door open. I am hibernating this weekend. Today is the first day for a month that I haven't had to drive into the city, and I plan to make the most of it.

I am listening to
and drinking organic orange juice, which is one of the best things eva :)

The plan for today is to practice, write, read, rest...

There is one phrase from a book I am reading which for some reason won't leave me alone: "every heart has secrets is dares not tell". I am not quite at peace with my life just now, there is a niggling feeling in my heart... but there's nothing I can do about it now, so it may just have to lie there for a while longer.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What is Practice? Part 5...

Hello, My Name is Practice

I am planned and disciplined, spontaneous and creative.
I marry emotion and reason, technique and expression.
I am focus and imagination, work and play.

Sometimes I like to repeat things over and over again, listening for small changes each time. I gain insight through mantra.

Sometimes I like to perform for myself with abandon, not caring about wrong notes, but feeling the sweep of the music carry me away.

I can be a microscope, investigating the smallest detail of a trill, or a giant telescope, linking the constellations of movements, keys and themes.

I can lose myself in intricate detail and discover infinity in a simple melody.

My heart moves within and without time, capable of stretching split seconds into eternity, as well as beating crotchets at exactly 84 beats per minute.

I am deep stillness in contemplation, dancing movement, perseverance through frustration.

I listen, I feel, I touch, I remember, I discover, I am, I do.

I am a way of life, a meditation, a path of growth.

I am a musician’s personal liturgy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sci-Fi Soviet Architecture

My new favourite place on the web, PingMag, has some photos by Frederic Chaubin of strange and wonderful buildings in what used to be the USSR. I want to know what they look like inside!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What is Practice? Part 4 - Going Deeper

(Part 1)
(Part 2)
(Part 3)

The history of the word practice is quite interesting. The earliest recorded use in English was in 1392, when it meant "to do, act, or perform habitually." This came, via Old French, from Middle Latin practicare, meaning "to do, perform.” Here there is nothing about the purpose of acquiring a skill or proficiency. These earlier forms of the word are all about doing.

I started to think about the practice of a musical instrument in these terms.

What if practice was about doing? If the doing was the important part of the practice? What if the impending performance was not the supreme goal of the practice, it was merely a by-product? How does practice affect us as people, not just performance machines? Could I be a music practitioner, rather than a performer?

The word practice is used today not only in the context of music. It is often used when talking about spirituality, meditation and religion. If I practice meditation, how is that different to practicing my instrument? Could practicing my instrument become less like a chore and more like the practice of a belief-system? Something that flows through the whole of my life?

How well can I get to know a single note? How deeply can I inhabit the silence of a rest? How far can I stretch the space between two semiquavers?

Can I approach my practice with compassion, without judgement or guilt? Can I enjoy the journey without an obsessive need to arrive?

Could I view practice not as something that separates and isolates me from the world, but as something that connects me to a deep current of humanity?

Now I really have no answers to these questions, and I don’t really know if it is possible. Maybe this is all a bit way-out. But I am starting to formulate a picture in my mind’s eye of a possible practice…

This is a deep practice, working with vertical time, rather than horizontal time. There is no clock-watching.

This practice is about really knowing the music, getting completely settled with the material, and with myself.

This practice approaches the instrument with interest, and really listens to the sounds. There is awareness, rather than judgement.

This practice is a whole attitude to life. It is a lifestyle, encompassing much more than technique or even musicality.

It is a doing that involves aesthetics and philosophy, emotion, reason and soul. It affects not only the music but life itself.

* * *

If this practice could talk, maybe it would say… be continued...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Post-show blues

Oh, how I hate the day after. The day after the big gig, the day after the show ends, the day after it is all over and life threatens to go back to grey normality. Why is it always at this time that the question of my future and what I am to do with it looms large?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What is Practice? Part 3 - On the surface – Practice as Preparation for Performance

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

Certainly much of our practice is geared towards acquiring skill or proficiency. There is a certain level of technical ability required to play a musical instrument, and we need to be able to play the right notes at the right pitch at the right speed.

To gain this technical proficiency, we “play… things that nobody would want to listen to. This might include scales, arpeggios, extended tones…, and various technical patterns.” As Chad Fowler remarks:

I would certainly never record them and release them on a CD. I wouldn't even bore anyone with these sounds unless they either lived in my house and had no choice or were being paid to listen to them and offer suggestions for improvement.

But we don’t want to acquire technical skill just for the sake of having technical skill. No, we want to perform for an audience. So practice could also be defined as the preparation for performance. Private, isolated practice in preparation for public performance.

So we practice our pieces, work on the fingering for a particular passage, play those bars over and over again until we cannot possibly make a mistake. We analyse the harmony, and impart meaning into the melody. We turn the piece of music inside out and find out how it was put together, so we can re-create it in our own interpretation. We try to get under the skin of the music, to feel its emotions as our own.

This process of preparing for performance takes time, patience, discipline, and often seems like a lot of hard work. But the goal is in sight – that big recital. Wow, won’t it be great to have achieved that! All this hard work will have been worth it!

But what happens when that big recital has been? Our practice is not at an end. We still have to turn up at the instrument the next day, continuing to hone our technique and learning the music for the next gig. Just like the proverbial housework, practice is never really done.
In our practice we are constantly striving towards some future date, focussed on a target that keeps moving as our goals grow and shift. We are never satisfied because what we are working for is never now. It is always somewhere in the future.

Practice can be very easily seen as merely the means to an end, the road by which we arrive at our real goals as musicians – performance. Because, after all, we’re performers, not practicers, aren’t we?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What is Practice? Part 2 - As Described by Others

(part 1 of What is Practice? is here)

When I questioned music students about what they thought practice was, the answers included: “Torture”; “A process of trying to improve your technical skills”; “To work on something to attain a high standard or perfection. This involves an amount of repetition.”; “Repetition in the hope of getting it better.”; and “Working at getting something right – getting better at something.”

So far, these are not particularly positive descriptions. They involve work, repetition, slogging away at the instrument for some future glory.

When I looked up the dictionary, I found that practice could be “a habitual or customary performance”, “a habit or custom”, “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency”, “skill gained by experience or exercise”, or “the action or process of performing or doing something” .

It is the third of these definitions that many, if not most, music students, and certainly myself, generally associate with the idea of practicing our instruments: “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

We set the fire alarm off!

Last night, in our dress rehearsal, all was going to plan: Margie was lighting the burning town, it was looking fabulous. Then whoop-whoop-beep-beep-beep "please evacuate the space now, and make your way to the assembly point outside..."

The smoke alarms in the venue had been isolated, but not the ones in the School of Art ceramic studio next door. And the smoke travelled through the vents in the walls...

I think the audience thought it was part of the show! Luckily it was a balmy evening, and the bar next door was open, so we sat outside with a beer for a while, waiting for the firemen to tell us it was safe to go back in!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What is Practice? Part 1 - My Experience

I presented a phemomenology of practice in my masters seminar last week. This is the first of a 4-part series containing some excerpts from the paper. I found that through writing the paper I have started to radically re-think the concept of practice, and what it means in my life.

I started by thinking about my personal experience of practice...

I think it’s fair to say, that until now I have on the whole been unhappy with my practice. I used to think that it was a burden to be grudgingly borne on the rocky road to the glittering hall of performance, but I am not so sure now. If I am to be a musician, it is something that I am going to have to do a lot of, and I am determined to find a way to make it an integral and enjoyable part of my life if that is at all possible.

So I set out to find what it is, why I have had such a fractured relationship with it, and what it has the potential to be in my life.

I don’t really remember much about practice from when I was a child. I remember playing the piano, but I don’t really remember practicing. I am not sure what distinction I am making between playing and practicing here, but I think it might have something to do with making a conscious decision to aim to improve the playing of a piece or to get to know it better. That’s an interesting phrase: to get to know a piece. There’s “knowing the notes”, which is different from “knowing” or “getting to know” in terms of making friends or becoming acquainted with the music.

I know that I have never thought that I have done enough practice, that I have never felt completely prepared for a performance. So that is one thing that I have seen practice as: preparation for performance. I wonder what “enough practice” would feel like – does anyone ever think they have done enough practice? I have always seen practice as hard, long, boring work that I have put off for as long as possible. It has connotations of endless hours at the instrument, repeating the same passage over and over again. It is necessary drudgery – slaving over a hot keyboard. Hours of scales; up and down, up and down, up and down.

I feel frustrated when I am practicing, and feel that I don’t quite know how to do it properly. No-one ever taught me how to practice. I don’t want to dislike practice. I don’t want to spend hours each day doing something I don’t enjoy. I am sure there is a way of enjoying practice, and I think I have felt glimpses of this occasionally. I don’t always hate practice, but it is certainly not something I look forward to. What do I think it is? Why do I not look forward to it?

I see it as stealing time away from me, and I feel directionless and unsure of what and how to practice. No matter what I am practicing, I wonder whether there is something else that I should be working on. I am not confident about my own decisions about what and how to practice. I don’t know how to measure my practice – how to know whether I am doing the right thing or whether I am doing enough of it.

I also find it hard to focus on one detail of the music when there are so many others clamouring for attention, and I often get discouraged.

There is a lot of guilt attached to my practice – either I’m not doing enough or I’m not doing the right thing. I can’t remember ever being entirely satisfied with a practice session. There is always the feeling that somehow I cheated, took the easy way out, glossed over something, or gave up on it. I have seen practice as something that is to be endured rather than enjoyed, and something that I have tried to do as little as possible of, rather than as much as possible. I don’t know what effective and enjoyable practice is – I’ve never done it. I think I’ve always just ended up playing things over and over again, hoping that somehow it would sink in. There’s a lot of blind hoping and not really feeling secure with anything. I feel that basically I have been flying by the seat of my pants. I haven’t really “known” the music that I’ve performed, and I’ve trusted to luck that I’d get most of the notes right.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday morning

Sam, Jess and Tom - thanks for coming round for dinner last night. It was really great to hang out and cook, drink wine, and dance together.

My offering for you this morning is a meme from Liz.

46 random questions about me...

Have you ever:
1. Taken a picture completely naked? no
2. Danced in front of a mirror naked? no
3. Told a lie? yes
4. Had feelings for someone who didn't have them back? yes
5. Been arrested? no
6. Seen someone die? no
7. Kissed a picture? no
8. Slept in until 5pm? no
9. Had sex at work (on the clock)? no
10. Fallen asleep at work/school? yes
11. Held a snake? yes
12. Ran a red light? yes
13. Been suspended from school? no
14. Pole danced? no
15. Been fired from a job? no
16. Sang karaoke? no
17. Done something you told yourself you wouldn't? yes
18. Laughed until something you were drinking came out your nose? yes
19. Laughed until you peed? no
20. Caught a snowflake on your tongue? no
21. Kissed in the rain? yes
22. Had sex in the rain? no
23. Sang in the shower? yes
24. Gave your private parts a nickname? no
25. Ever gone to school/work without underwear? no
26. Sat on a roof top? yes
27. Played chicken? no
28. Been pushed into a pool with all your clothes on? no
29. Broken a bone? yes
30. Flashed someone? no
31. Mooned someone? no
32. Shaved your head? yes
33. Slept naked? yes
34. Blacked out from drinking? no
35. Played a prank on someone? yes
36. Had a gym membership? yes
37. Felt like killing someone? no
38. Cried over someone you were in love with? yes
39. Had Mexican jumping beans for pets? no
40. Been in a band? no
41. Shot a gun? yes
42. Shot a bow and arrow? yes
43. Played strip poker? no
44. Donated Blood? no
45. Ever jump out of an airplane? no
46. Been to more than 10 countries? no

So there. Quite tame, really.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Festival shenanigans

Went to the opening night party for the Melbourne Festival last night. The champagne was flowing freely and the dance floor was groovin!

Hence I am rather less than eloquent today. We don't open until Thursday night next week, and there's a lot of work still to be done on the show. I did manage to sneak a half hour nap on a couch this afternoon, though :)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Still alive

Sleep definitely helps. With a lot of things. It is amazing how much easier it is to do stuff when I've had enough sleep. Who would have thunk? :)

I'm currently working on the practice paper. It's still daunting, but not as much as it was a couple of days ago, and my ideas are starting to crystallise. I have realised that I have never really been confident of my ability to practice, and have not trusted myself to make the right decisions about practicing. Somehow I always doubt myself, and find it really hard to measure or evaluate my practice. I think there is a lot of guilt attached to my practice - I feel that either I'm not doing enough or I'm not doing the right thing. I'm not really sure exactly what practice is yet, but I think I'm getting closer.

Stephen Nachmanovitch, in his book Free Play, describes practice as the "encounter with the gap between what we feel and what we can express", which is very similar to the way I feel about this paper right now. I think it's all in my head somewhere, but I am finding it really hard to get it down on paper.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Overwhelming craziness

Crazy crazy crazy... we've got less than two weeks to go before Navigators opens at the Melbourne Festival. I feel like it's starting to come together, but there's still a lot of work to do, and I'm feeling quite overwhelmed by everything that's going on at the moment.

I burst into tears at my harpsichord lesson yesterday, just feeling like there is an insurmountable mountain of work that has to be done before my recital at the end of November. My teacher was very understanding, and handed me tissues while helping me work it all out.

I've got to present a phenomenological investigation of practice in my Masters seminar on Wednesday, and I have hardly started on it, so this weekend is going to be spent on that.

My grandmother died last weekend, which was sad, but also a blessing, as she had been suffering for a long time. She turned 100 years old in February, and had a long, happy and fulfilled life. The funeral was yesterday, which was a small ceremony conducted by my mother, auntie and uncle, and attended by the close family.

Right now I'm actually at work, sneaking five minutes to write this. I know that when I get home tonight, I will be too tired to do anything but collapse into my bed.

Anyway, this is not meant to be whingey or a plea for sympathy, it's just how it is right now.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


On Friday last week I presented a short piece that I had written for the Navigators Project. I think listening to music while lying on the ground should be done more often :)

(thanks to Voin for the pic!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Procrastination Queen

I am the queen of procrastination. I have been avoiding this blog like the plague. It's not that I have forgotten it, or that I've been stuck for ideas about stuff to write about. No, not at all. I've simply been procrastinating.

Granted, life is kinda crazy busy right now - but when is that not the case? We have this unarticulated fantasy that at some point in the future there will be enough time to do the things we are not doing now because we are too busy. I know for a fact that's never going to be the case with me. I am always trying to do enough things for 3 people - right now it is:
- working full-time on the Melbourne Festival show
- studying full-time
- working half-time for money

There is a paradox for me where I get really inspired and motivated when I'm busy, but not for the thing I'm supposed to be working on. When I'm practicing, I'll have a great idea for a theatre show; when I'm in a lecture, I'll have an idea for a song, but when I sit down at the instrument the last thing that I want to do is work on the song. I seem to get the motivation all in the wrong places! And then when I do have a few hours of free time on the weekend, do you think that I want to jump into that project that I've been dreaming about all week? Of course not! I want to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and the Sunday papers. Time and motivation for me seem not to connect and the result is procrastination.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Practice again

It has been a struggle to get practicing again after my 2-week hiatus. On Monday I couldn't face the instrument, on Tuesday afternoon I tuned and improvised and played a couple of my recital pieces, yesterday I did about an hour's serious practice, and today it was close to two hours. Being a musician requires a ridiculous amount of self-discipline, and sometimes I wonder whether I am up to the task.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

It is very strange to be back in 'civilisation' after spending the past two weeks in the seeming emptiness of far north Queensland. There is no way I can possibly encapsulate the entire trip into words, and certainly not in one post, so I will simply give some of my impressions, and elaborate on them at another time.

- Time is a strange thing - my whole perception of time changed while I was away, and to my surprise, the hours of travel along dusty dirt roads passed quickly and became almost like a meditation.

- The way we percieve different landscapes changes the longer we spend time there - many times during the trip I felt quite alien from the landscape when I first arrived in a place, and was sure I would never feel comfortable or at home there, but after a day in that place I started to feel quite differently about it.

- Australia is truly a land of contrasts - we would be travelling through parched, dry bushland and suddenly come across a beautiful billabong with waterlilies and brolgas; at other times we would be standing on a paradise beach with coconut palms and azure sea, but not be able to swim because of the deadly crocodiles and stingrays; in the dry season the rivers are only stagnant puddles along dry watercourses, when in the wet they rise 10 meters and cut off all road access.

- The amazing warmth and generosity shown to us by the three indigenous communities we visited will touch me forever, I think. It was one of the most beautiful and humbling things that I have ever experienced, to be welcomed with open arms by people who have been so dreadfully wronged by the culture that I represent.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Last night in Melbourne

Well this is my last night in Melbourne for a couple of weeks. Today was spent shopping for sunscreen, tropical-strength insect repellent and other such essentials. I have just made sure that my ipod is loaded with everything I might possibly want to listen to, and my underwear is all washed! I had dinner with Anne and Jeff, and spent a beautiful hour chatting with Anne beside the fire.

In a way I am sad to be leaving my little house, even if it is only for two weeks. I have really settled in here since I moved in February, and I feel so comfortable and very much myself at home. It will be nice to know that my home will be waiting for me when I return from my journey into the unknown, and that, no matter what happens out in the bush, there is a safe place for me to retreat to back here in Melbourne.

I have no idea what to expect from this expedition, and I am trying to keep my pre-conceptions and assumptions to a minimum. I want to approach everything with an open mind and heart, because I think that is the way I will gain most and grow from the experience.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Music" from the Natural World

Musicians have always been fascinated with birdsong, and there's a bit of a new age craze for making music from whale song... is the next big thing volcano music?

Thanks to the Well-Tempered Blog for the link.

More about DasArts

The overseas artists who us VCAites will be travelling and collaborating with on the Navigators Project are all studying at DasArts, a multi-disciplinary arts college in Amsterdam. Richard Murphet, one of the artistic directors for the project, has written an article about his visit to DasArts here.

DasArts also have a blog about the project here.

I'm counting down the days until I get on that plane to Cairns! Only 3 sleeps to go...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Navigators Project

In one week I will be flying to far north Queensland to spend two weeks exploring ideas and themes surrounding the landing of the Duyfken 400 years ago. I am taking part in the Navigators Project, a collaboration between the VCA and the Dutch arts collegeDasArts, which will result in a performance for the Melbourne Festival in October.

I think this is going to be quite an intensive experience. There are 24 artists from completely diverse backgrounds and with different methods of working. We are all going to spend two weeks in the outback, and will visit three Indigenous communities during that time. I feel as though I am travelling to another country, even though I won't be crossing any national boundaries.

The DasArts people arrived in Melbourne yesterday, and we are all meeting together for the first time this afternoon. I think the journey is about to begin...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Spring is coming

The sun is shining. My windows are open. The magnolia is nearly in flower.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Everything is hard

"I finally decided that everything is hard."

It explains why the pros will labor endlessly over a piece which might be graded as intermediate. It also explains why us non-pros should too. There's as much JSB in one of his Little Preludes as there is in one of his Partitas. Each is worth infinite effort.

I like the idea of pieces of music being worth "infinite effort" no matter what their "technical" difficulty is. It is so easy to spend hours practicing something with lots of notes-per-second and not spend so much time on the slower works. But really, no matter how "easy" it might be to play the notes, that is not making music. Music happens when, as my teacher says "you have an attidude to each note on the page", when each note has it's own place and meaning in our soul - and that takes timeand effort. Infinite effort, in fact.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Friday, August 04, 2006

Balloon lands at VCA

The one morning I decide to come into work late something exciting happens at work!!

Update: Video here

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Men of Mortuaries

From the lovely Stephanie I am led to this!! Wrong, but entertaining... and slightly creepy. Still, it's all for a good cause, I guess!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Kenneth Gilbert Masterclass

I played for Kenneth Gilbert in a masterclass held at Melbourne Uni today. Out of the six people who performed, I was the only one who didn't play Bach! I think he was quite pleased when I got up and stated that I was going to present the d minor unmeasured prelude from d'Anglebert's third harpsichord suite. I think I played it well, although I didn't feel quite as settled as I would have liked. He seemed to think it was good, though, and just thought that I could have a few more pauses - in fact he told me "not to be afraid of silences".

So that's one piece pretty much ready for my recital in November. Now I've really got to get cracking on the Bach concerto!

Monday, July 31, 2006

More on "talent"

Chris Foley has written that, like me, he is rather skeptical of the idea of inborn "talent":
Personally, I've never been a great believer in talent. The t-word gets bandied about rather indiscriminately in the musical field, especially with the poor kids who get branded very early on as either having or not having it. ... former students of mine that have gone on to work in the profession are often not the ones who were the official superstars in their university years, but usually the ones who decided to bear down and do the work, get along with those around them, and knock on the most doors after graduation.

Whew, 2 posts in one day, I'm on fire!

30 day trial of New Regime!!

I can easily get myself all tied up in knots trying to write something 'worthwhile' to post here, which of course results in me not writing anything at all! Taking inspiration from Steve Pavlina's 30 day trial I have decided to post here for the next 30 days - whether I feel I have something useful to say or not. I know from doing the Artists Way morning pages that even when you don't think there is anything interesting to write about, if you just sit down and start sometimes unexpected things turn up on the page.

So I ask you to please bear with me on the days when there really is nothing of interest, but hopefully that won't happen too often!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I have just discovered a wonderful thing...

...Vanilla yoghurt and freshly grated nutmeg. Go try it!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

What not to do

A not to do list.

I could add: do not piss fart around on the internet when you're supposed to be practicing!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Practice planning

So far today I have done just over half the practice I want to do. I have two hours left to go. I still feel as though I am learning how to practice, that I am constantly discovering new ways of learning, and a more efficient technique. No-one every really taught me how to practice, and it has taken me a long time to figure out some really important things.

Only a few weeks ago I realised how important planning was in my practice. For the first half of this year I had been practicing fairly aimlessly, without a clear picture of what I wanted to achieve in each practice session. When I started planning each session and working out how much time I was going to spend on each piece I planned to work on, the task in front of me seemed much clearer. It was also less daunting, because I had broken up an amorphous 4-hour block into much smaller sections.

Planning also makes it much easier to stay focussed, as the big-picture thinking has been done in the planning stage, and I am free to concentrate on the problem at hand in the actual practice time - I am not getting worried about all the other pieces I have to practice because I know that I have scheduled time for them.

I have also found it useful to do short bursts on difficult sections. If I spend 30 minutes trying to deconstruct a tricky rhythm or work out complex fingering I often get frustrated and give up. But if I tackle it 5 minutes at a time, I can come at it fresh each time, and soon I can start to spend longer on it. This is a bit like Merlin Mann's procrastination dash I guess :)

Planning my practice time is a bit like writing a To Do list, really. It gets all the niggling reminders out of my head and onto the paper, so I can rest assured that I've covered everything and just follow the plan, concentrating on what I am actually working on, right now.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Why artists should not feel guilty about having a life

If you're an artist, you enrich the lives of others. Your own life, therefore, needs to be enriched to start with. Don't believe that the ultimate flash of divine inspiration comes only through being a stressed-out workaholic.

Read the full article here. Thanks to Scratch my Brain for the linksky.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Some notes about music theory

I was going to write something witty and wonderful here, but I am too tired so I will just point you in the direction of Kyle Gann's article instead. Thanks to Sounds and Fury for the link.

Cheerio! I'm off to collect all my stuff for tomorrow, shower and jump into bed.

I promise I will write more soon, I know you're all dying to hear all the angsty details of my life, but you'll have to be patient.
really I am sorry

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Morning Coffee

In my dressing gown with the curtains shut, pretending I am hibernating.

For some reason I decided that the best music to listen to this morning was Beethoven's Violin Concerto. I really love the recording I have, with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. It is somehow firm with a strong foundation, yet delicate without being wishy-washy. A few months ago, while listening to this recording, I began to notice the timpani, and the way they interact with the rest of the orchestra in this piece. Back in 1806, when this work was written, percussion instruments were still very much special effect instruments, and were often silent for much of the time, reserving their impact for moments of glory and drama. This piece, though, actually starts with a bar of solo timpani, which must have been quite bizzare for audiences at the first performance. Once I really started to listen to the timps I realised that they really underpin the whole first movement, with their little four-note, "bup-bup-bup-bah" motive. Who would have thunk that 20 minutes of music could grow out of four repeated notes?

So that is what I am listening to as I sit here in my slippers with my feet toasy warm drinking my coffee that is rapidly getting colder and less appetising.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Things are looking up

I feel like things have turned. The winter solstice is passed, the days will slowly start to get longer, the mornings less pitch black. I have cleaned off my desk, read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, listed all my projects and to dos, and set myself little reminders in my PDA. This morning I tuned my harpsichord at 8:15am, and then practiced until midday. I have a rehearsal tomorrow for a gig on Sunday, and for the first time in a long while I actually feel prepared. I had lunch with friends today, and even found the time to stop by the supermarket and buy coffee and packet mix to make cookies for tomorrow’s rehearsal.

Right now I am sitting in front of my fire, because the rest of the house is too cold, and I have been typing away into a document called “Random Thesis Stuff”. Just scribbles and starts and snippets, but I am taking baby steps.

I feel like I am finally taking some definitive steps in the right direction, that progress is starting to happen. This is a good feeling to have. Finally in the last couple of days I have felt really positive about my practice – felt that I was getting somewhere, and that it might actually be possible to do what I want to do.

I am listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing Gershwin, and drinking coffee. The music makes me want to dance.
If I should suddenly start to sing
Or stand on my head or anything
Don't think that I've lost my senses
It's just that my happiness finally commences

The long long ages of dull despair
Are turning into thin air
And it seems that suddenly I've
Become the happiest girl alive

Things are looking up
I've been looking the landscape over
And it's covered with 4 leaf clover
Oh things are looking up
Since love looked up at me

Bitter was my cup
But no more will I be the mourner
For I've certainly turned the corner
Oh things are looking up
Since love looked up at me

See the sunbeams
Every one beams
Just because of you
Love's in session
And my depression
Is unmistakably through

Things are looking up
It's a great little world we live in
Oh I'm happy as a pup
Since love looked up at me

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Afterculture

Can we imagine instead a future where songs are heard drifting in the twilight? Where great forests rise again? And rivers run clean and sparkling to the sea, and a million buffalo roam, and people meet face to face without fear in the marketplace, and children are secure?

From Afterculture Art - An Anthropology of the Future

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Another death in the family

Hiroyuki Iwaki died yesterday in Japan. He was the Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for 15 years, was appointed their first Conductor Laureate in 1990, and celebrated his 30th year with the orchestra in 2003. His name is well-known in Melbourne, and the auditorium at the ABC studios in Southbank is named after him.

In the words of the MSO's Managing Director, Trevor Green:
Maestro Iwaki was one of the great architects, a builder of the present Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Many of our finest musicians were appointed by him during his years as Chief Conductor and his musical stamp on the Orchremains today. This will be the real legacy that he leaves for us all in perpetuity.

RIP Gyorgy Ligeti

Gyorgy Ligeti died earlier this week. He was one of the few well-known twentieth century composers who wrote music for the harpsichord, and I remember playing his Passacaglia Ungherese for my recital at the end of high school. I also tried to make sense of Continuum a few years later, but gave up after a couple of attempts. Maybe I should actually learn to play it one of these days!

Sunday, June 11, 2006


I just finished watching Seven Years in Tibet on DVD. It was a strange film, and I really enjoyed some aspects while at the same time disliking others. I wanted to watch it for the scenery, and wasn't expecting much from the plot, but I did get drawn in, and it has inspired me to find out more about Tibet and the plight of its people.

The most frustrating thing about the film is the ridiculous German accents adopted by the two main characters. If an actor is speaking in English, rather than the character's original language, then I think they should just speak English with their own voice. Brad Pitt's character in this film would not have spoken German with a dodgy accent, so why should we hear him speak English with one? Unless a character is speaking a language that is foreign to them (say when Pitt's Austrian climber speaks halting Tibetan) then it is fine for them to have an accent, but when they are speaking a representation of their own language they should speak it fluently. I felt that the silly accents really compromised the integrity of the characters and distracted the attention of the viewer.

Accents aside, this film was beautiful to watch. The Tibetan culture was probably unrealistically idealised - it was certainly portrayed as a "paradise" in the midst of a world of chaos and war. The landscapes were stunning, the people beautiful and generous, and everyone had enough food to eat. Despite this fairy-tale gloss, I did feel an undercurrent of genuine expression - of Buddhist serenity and principles of kindness and non-violence.

The plot was pretty straightforward, and the film seemed to meander along in its own time, which suited the setting. Pitty about the annoying accents, because this film could have been really lovely without that constant reminder of fakery.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How to justify a bad day

Well, my bad days don't usually involve blizzards, ice and snow, but I think Ben Saunders' words could be applicable to many situations:
It’s miserable, but in a way I’m glad it’s happening. As I said to Tony as we clambered into our sopping tent, it’s great to have mental reference points like these to fall back on.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I was pleased to read today (even though it is old news) that L'Arpeggiata will be releasing a new CD later this year - a collaboration with a flamenco guitarist. One of my all-time favourite records is their All'Improvviso - a fresh, beautifully-crafted, inspired and inspiring CD.

When I first heard this music, driving with a friend of mine to a gig in the country with my harpsichord bundled in the back of the station wagon, I realised how close many of the baroque musical forms are to folk music. Gigues, chaconnes, sarabandes - they all stated off as dances, that real people danced to. And they weren't the sedate affairs we have come to know from BBC period dramas. They would have worked up a sweat, the women's hair would have come loose, they would have drunk beer to refresh them and give them spirit for more dancing. Before I encountered All'Improvviso I had never thought that "classical" music could be this alive. These people play 16th and 17th century music with the same energy and vibrancy as the best folk musicians. In their hands this music is not dead, despite the fact that it originated 400 years ago. And they are not afraid to put their own stamp on the music - in fact, a lot of this CD is work composed and improvised by the group themselves. The very first track is a song by Lucilla Galeazzi about the house that she wants to have one day - full of music and friends. You can listen to it here

One of the most amazing things about this CD is the way they have worked with jazz clarinettist Gianluigi Trovesi. Let alone the fact that he is a jazz musician and the rest of the ensemble are trained in early music, the clarinet wasn't even invented until much later on. So it is a completely "foreign" sound for this music, or so one would think. Actually it doesn't stand out at all as out of place, but it certainly does stand out for it's amazingness!!

Anyway, I think this CD is ace :)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why Genres are Crap

9 days ago, at about 4:30 in the afternoon, my thesis topic suddenly and irrevocably changed. I was planning to write something about improvisation in renaissance or baroque keyboard music, but was struggling to find a reason to research and write about that. As a joke I said maybe I should write a thesis entitled "Why Genres are Crap", and my excellent and insightful supervisor (yes, I know you're reading this!) suggested that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

So for the last few days I've been thinking about the idea of genre in music, and the seemingly great rift between classical and popular music. At this point I have no idea how I am going to tackle this gigantic topic, and what will be my specific argument, but I am really interested in questions like:
Is genre useful or restrictive?
Does it mean that people focus more on the type of music rather than the artistry or merit or value or any of those things that make music beautiful?
Do we concentrate on the style at the expense of the substance?
Why do people listen to the music that they listen to?

Basically, I think that the division between 'popular' and 'art' (classical) music is pretty ridiculous. Musicians are constantly put in little genre pigeon-holes: classical, early music, country, pop, hip-hop, fusion... even 'cross-genre' is almost a genre in itself.

Obviously I have to come up with some swanky, uber-intelligent argument at some stage, but in the meantime I'm going to ramble and see what happens.

Stay tuned for some slightly more coherent and incisive... stuff...

In the meantime, I am glad that there are other people that are thinking along the same lines, though :)

Friday, May 26, 2006


I have been musing about solitude lately. In February this year I moved to Eltham to live by myself in a little studio amongst the trees. This was a big change for me, after having lived for nearly 10 years in the inner city. All of a sudden I didn't have a milk bar on the corner, a gelati shop up the road and a tram stop at my doorstep. Now I have to get in my car in order to go anywhere.

I am glad to finally have enough space for my harpsichord, and that there are no neighbours who can be disturbed by my practicing. I have tried to block out time for practice and the other work I have to do for my course. My wonderful harpsichord teacher has encouraged me to spend time being, and dreaming, and meditating, as well as putting in the hours at the keyboard. I am aware that time for contemplation and space for creativity are important for artists.

It has been interesting to observe, though, how much I have questioned myself for spending time alone. It is a concept that is not often celebrated in 21st century Australia. Sometimes I feel that I am being measured by the quality of my social life, and I start to worry that I am being too hermit-like.

I do love to socialise, and this weekend is full of dinners, coffees, catch-ups and the like. When I am at work I am constantly with people. So why do I get all angsty after spending one day in my own company? I have plently to do, I am by no means bored or unfulfilled, and I am mostly enjoying spending time with my instrument, learning and playing music.

I think that perhaps I get worried that society will not accept me if I decide sometimes to shun it. That if I spend a Saturday night at home, I will never go out again. This, of course, is a completely irrational belief, but humans are full of irrational beliefs, aren't we?

In the midst of my solitude on Tuesday afternoon, after I had had my harpsichord lesson, and in a little break in my practicing, I read this post at Click Opera, and the last two lines brought a smile to my face.
There's no shame in being introverted. People who love quietness love life.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Crap words

After thinking about cool words yesterday, I started finding words I really don't like. Here is a selection:

boring: I remember my mother saying to me that there was no such thing as boring, and I think I might be starting to agree with her. There are lots of things that I don't agree with in the world, but I think I'd rather describe them as bad, shitty, crap, terrible... but not boring. I especially don't like the expression "That's a bit boring" when used to describe something that is unpleasant or inconvenient.

ordinary: mostly for the same reasons as "boring". Describing something as "ordinary" when you really mean it was awful is just silly!

years of age: as in "she is only 25 years of age". Why can't you just say "she's 25 years old"? This is just pseudo-officialism and is also silly!

I'm sure this list will be added to... feel free to contribute :)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cool words

Scott Ginsberg's post about cool words has reminded me that there are a couple other words that I really like (apart from "angst" which I use at least 5 times a day!). Here they are:

liminal: this word I first came across in at uni in a lecture about the Bertolucci film Il Conformista, where it was used to describe the protagonist - on the threshold of society, not quite belonging, but not an outcast. Originally, I think it is a medical term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it:
• adjective technical 1 relating to a transitional or initial stage. 2 at a boundary or threshold.
— DERIVATIVES liminality noun.
— ORIGIN from Latin limen ‘threshold’.

crepuscular: this word I found in Antonio Melechi's Fugitive Minds: On Madness, Sleep and Other Twilight Afflictions. When I saw that title in the bookshop, I couldn't not buy it! Crepuscular describes things to do with twilight - semi-nocturnal animals, shadows and all sorts of cool things. This is definitely a word that should be used more often!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Jumping on the Bandwagon late, as usual

This week, at Poetry Thursday the prompt was to "get lost in the poetry section" of a bookshop or library. Being a total newcomer to poetry I had never even looked in the poetry section of a bookshop before. I didn't even know where to find it.

Thursday night, I had an hour to kill between a coffee appointment and dinner at a friend's house. I was in the city, so I went to visit Borders. I quickly found the small poetry section, between "black fiction" and "drama". It was interesting to be confronted by shelves of books about whose relative merit I had no idea. I don't know what makes poetry "good" or even what it is, really.

I picked up a few books at random, and read through some writing. I noticed that I was drawn to the smaller books. A little brown spine, with "The Learning Curve" in white letters caught my eye. I liked the picture on the front, and I opened to one of the first poems "The PE Teacher on the Day Before School Begins". Then I read another, and another. I walked out of Borders $22 poorer. That was the first book of poetry I had ever bought: John Foulcher's "The Learning Curve".

One of my favourite poems from this book is "The Art Teacher".

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Are you Creative?

I have just finished reading Laura Young's series on creativity, starting here. I especially liked part 5: Be willing to stand naked before yourself. Without prejudice. where she quotes Clive Barker:
It's a question of sitting quietly with yourself and saying, the only company I have in all the world is the person I am. And everything else can go away from me, everybody else can go away from me. It is within the bounds of possibility that all the people I love most in the world could be gone tomorrow. I have to be at peace with this myself. And a third of this "myself" is a sleeping self. An important third, perhaps the most important third. So, let me be quiet with myself and sit with myself and like myself, and what my subconscious is telling me.

I also enjoyed what she had to say in part 10 about criticism, and the difference between creative voice or impulse and the technique which enables us to express that voice. We can continually work on and improve our technique, but that in itself is a means to an end, and we shouldn't take criticism of our technique as criticism of us as artists:
Comparing your technical expertise to the student next to you in art class, or to your best friend, or Picasso simply compares tool kit to tool kit.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Question of Talent

I gave a presentation about myself in one of my Masters seminars last week. Our task this semester (our first in the course) was to talk about ourselves, our background, and our convictions related to music. I talked about my history as a musician, and the turning points, and moments of realisation that I have had. Here is one paragraph:
For most of my uni years I was farily heavily involved in student politics. I was a member of one of the socialist groups on campus, and was waving the red flag with abandon. I was fascinated to talk to people about the world, and why it is the way it is. I had never really questioned that before. The fact that humans created the society that we live in – and that therefore we have the potential to change it – was such an eye opener for me. I was also interested in ideas of equality and elitism. The idea that everyone is equal, no matter who they are or what their background, was quite different from what my experience in music, where, it seemed to me, there was a great division between those who were ‘good’ and those who weren’t. I started to become very wary of words like ‘genius’ or ‘talent’, as they suggested some sort of inborn ability that others lacked. Is musical ability a product of nature or nurture? In my own socialist utopia, everyone had the chance to play music and make art.
I still don't really know how I feel about the idea of talent, genius, inborn ability, or whatever you care to call it. But how else do you explain the way some people seem to be really good at stuff while others aren't? Is it subtle differences in background and education? Do some people have more determination than others? How do we explain Mozart's achievements at age 5? Do we all have the capacity to be Mozarts? Or are some of us doomed to perpetual mediocrity?

Some new research by Anders Ericsson and others suggests that
the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.
They argue that whether someone enjoys an activity or not is a huge factor in whether that person will become good at it or not:
Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.
All this seems very logical, and supports the theory that I wrote about here. Maybe there is hope after all!

(Thanks to for the link)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pop vs Classical?

Greg Sandow once again writes about the gulf between classical music audiences and concerts and the world of popular (for want of a better word) music. He mentions the ways different audiences respond to music:
Often orchestral music is very rhythmic. Why doesn’t the audience move (even a little) to the rhythm? Do orchestras preclude that, by sitting blankly onstage themselves?
I am not so sure that it is entirely about the music that they are playing, but perhaps more about the attitude and engagement of the performers and the general atmosphere of the performance. I am still formulating my ideas about this, and will try to write more about my thoughts soon.

But in the meantime, Sandow's post reminded me of something I heard about on the radio this morning, which was a concert by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and supported by youth radio station Triple J. The ASO have a series this year called "The Edge", which
will seek out the sounds of contemporary culture fusing the music of the X and Y generations to the classical. The Edge will merge the forces of Triple J with ABC Classic FM, 1960’s French poet of jazz Serge Gainsbourg with Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Muse and Jeff Buckley. The emergent sounds will have its audience listening to music standing bravely on The Edge! These late-night, one hour concerts at the ASO’s Grainger Studio will be recorded for broadcast on Triple J Radio with the support of ABC Classic FM.
It will certainly be interesting to see what these concerts are like, and how they resonate with their target audiences.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bungled Headline Fury

Jason Kottke and Paul Bausch have noticed some trends in media headlines lately. Personally I like how no-one makes a smiple mistake anymore - no, in the Australian media it is always a bungle:

"Traffic chief slams taxi fare bungle"
"Fiji election official admit bungle over numbers voting"
"Immigration bungle let murder suspect out: ALP"
"Body bungle warnings ignored"
"Mum on warning mission after pharmacy bungle"

This word has been particularly effective in the media surrounding the "body bungle" of Australian soldier Jake Kovko, and lots of people have been furious to boot:

"Widow's fury over Kovco bungle"
"Mother's fury at bungle"

Monday, May 08, 2006

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Cold & Grey

I conceived my first poem last night, on the way home.
I didn't write it down.
Now I can't remember it.

My car still doesn't have a heater.
This morning I wore a jumper,
a jacket,
a scarf,
a coat,
and gloves.
And I put a hot water bottle on my lap
to keep me warm.

Today is grey.
Bleak. Cold.

I have lost sight of the good
in life.

And can only see grey sameness.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Struggle

Lyrics I heard on Triple J this morning:
"How long should an artist struggle before it's just not worth the hassle?"
Can't for the life of me remember the name of the song, or the artist, but it was suitably artistically angsty.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The essence of time

There hasn't been much lately. Time, that is. I feel awful bad for neglecting you, my droogies, but I'm sure you're surviving just fine without me.

I found this today on nownow:
Today at 2 minutes & 3 seconds past 1 o’clock it will be:

1:02:03 04/05/06

- a moment in time that occurs about every thousand years.

How special is that?

Now it’s up to you not to waste this historic second in time. When, in the distant future, your grandchildren ask you how you spent this once in a thousand year moment, don’t let the answer be, ‘I was on the toilet, honey’.

Yelp, cheer, smile to your self, hug a stranger. Just do something to mark this rare but wonderful oddity. Because before you know it we’ll be back to boring, out-of-order time, and their ain’t nothing special bout that.
Make sure you make the most of that split second of infinity!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Give me coffee now!

Caffeine addiction really sucks. Just because I hadn't had a coffee in 24 hours I wake up this morning with what feels like the world's worst hangover. Only I didn't have a drop to drink last night, so I have all the pain with no rockin' good time to make it all worthwhile :(

Now I've had 2 asprin, and am half-way through my second cup of espresso and slowly I can almost think again. But my writing skills are really still not so good, so sorry if any of this is totally incomprehensible.

Somehow, even given all the bad things that caffeine can do, I really have no desire to give it up. I like the taste, and 'going for a coffee' just isn't the same if I drink hot chocolate. I already take soy milk in my coffee, and would feel like a right tosser ordering a 'soy de-caf latte'! Every barista in Melbourne would hate me. I know these reasons aren't exactly compelling, but right now I have no desire at all to give it up (probably because I can feel that caffeine goodness sweeping through my nervous system as I write this...). I don't do anything else that is bad, so I'm allowed to have one vice, right?

Monday, April 24, 2006

My fingers are so, like, totally frozen?

Ohhh, Melbourne is a bit chilly this morning. The heater in my car busted back at the beginning of March on a hot late summer's day when it was about 40 degrees, so it didn't worry me then. Unfortunately it will require major financial outlay to repair, which is taking me a little time to accumulate on my I-work-4-days-a-week-in-a-government-funded-higher-education-performing-arts-college wage. Oh, and the fact that I bought a new harpsichord doesn't help matters either.

Anyway, so it's cold, and during the 45 minutes it took me to drive to the afore-mentioned government-funded-higher-education-performing-arts-college I slowly got colder and colder. I've been sitting at my computer now for nearly 15 minutes (yes, I will start doing some real work soon, right after I've bought my morning soy latte) and and my fingers are still not working properly.

As you probably guessed by now, this isn't really going anywhere.

But what did amuse me during the fingers-thawing-out stage was the latest offering from Click Opera about the all-encompassing 'like'. As in, you know, like, that like word? Let me tell you, this is certainly not just an American phenomenon. Every tram, train or department store here in Melbourne town is full of teenagers (and not-so-teen-agers) who are totally, like, going, like, whatever?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Blackwater Lightship

This morning, when I should have been practicing, I instead stole a couple of hours to finish reading Colm Toibin's novel The Blackwater Lightship. This book was lent to me by my wonderful landlady, Anne, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it over the last few days. It is a story primarily about a family, and the strange and fractured ties that both hold them together and keep them apart. I could identify with the protagonist, Helen, and with the way she felt she was an observer rather than a participant:
No one in Hugh's family watched things as Helen did. She looked out for a neice or nephew or cousin or aunt or brother or sister who watched everything, who took everything in as though it were not happening to them. But there was no one like that except Helen herself at this funeral; they were all involved in being themselves, and this surprised her and impressed her.
It is a simple book, but it reminded me (why do I always think it should be "remound"?) about those small (and at the same time so big) things that are really what is important in life.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Michael Nobbs podcast

Michael Nobbs has just published his first podcast. I really like his drawings, and it is fascinating to hear his thoughts about drawing and why he started in the first place. Listen here.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Another quote

I must be on a roll...

I found this one from Mary Oliver over at Kat's Paws today:
I keep a notebook with me all the time - and I scribble.... You begin to get your felt reaction in a phrase, perhaps. But, you know, I've said before that the angel doesn't sit on your shoulder unless the pencil's in your hand. ... And in truth that [is only] given after years of desiring it, being open to it, and walking toward it.
I think "the pencil's in your hand" could easily be replaced by "you're at your instrument" for musicians :)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Classical music as event?

I've been enjoying a couple of lovely (and very chilly) days in the country. I hope you all had a good Easter break as well :)

To fill in the time until I have something original to write, I will point you in the direction of this post by Greg Sandow, who has some interesting things to say about music performance as an event...
Finally, from Sanja Petrovic came something quiet and lovely. Sanja, a pianist, said she’d been involved in a performance of Chopin nocturnes. Several pianists were involved. (Sanja, I hope I’m remembering this exactly right!) The concert began at 11 PM. The space was darkened. Candles were lit. Can you imagine a more beautiful—or more suitable—setting for the nocturnes? No need for program notes. No need to explain who Chopin was, or what a nocturne is, or what kind of unexpected modulations might occur in measure 32. No need, God help us, for any education (the very notion of which, I think, is killing classical music, but more on that in another post). The setting of the concert clarified anything that anyone would need to know. I wish I’d been there.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Bubble Baths!

I don't have a bath at my current place. Most of the time I don't mind not having a bath - I'm generally a shower type person - but sometimes it would be nice to run a hot bath with mountains of fluffy bubbles.

Back in 2003, the last time I lived in a place with a bath, I used to like eating ice-cream in the bath. It is a fantastic sensation - warm on the outside, but coldness slipping down the throat. Ice-cold vodka works well too!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sometimes I wish...

...that weekends were longer
...that I could time travel
...that I knew what people really thought of me
...that my food magically cooked itself
...that humans would eventually figure out how not to kill each other

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bog People

I had forgotten how much they freak me out. I read Jessica's post over at looktouch just now, where she mentions some poems about bog people. I couldn't even click on the link. There is something about these preserved bodies that I cannot bear to look at.

I tried google to find a page about bog people, so I could link for you guys, but I don't even want to open any of the pages. I am scared to see pictures of these poor people preserved like leather.

My first encounter with the bog people was when I was maybe 12 years old. I think I saw part of a documentary about them at my grandparents' place. My mother had a book about them, and showed it to me, by way of further research. At first I was fascinated, and I read the little paperback book from cover to cover. Slowly, however, the horror grew, and before long I couldn't look at the pictures any more. They were black and white, in this little book, grainy pictures of unnaturally preserved human sacrifices from centuries ago. My young skin was soft and pink, and these people's skin was hard and dark - skin which should have decomposed long ago.

They were squashed from the weight of the bog above them. I remember the Tollund Man's face looking askew, flattened, unnatural. It was all leathery, hard, dark. Their stomachs still held the remains of their last meals, and the hanging noose circled their necks. Why were they killed? One girl's hair lay in a halo around her head. Who was she? What colour was her hair before she lay in the bog for centuries?

They had strange names, derived from the places they were found - Tollund Man, Elling Woman. They should be dead, left to rot, their bones to slowly melt into the earth. Instead, they are frozen in limbo, denied rest, their bodies remain. Now they lie in a museum for all to see.

These strange bodies from centuries ago - these are the one thing that strikes terror in me. I cannot look at them. I don't know exactly why.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Decisions, decisions

I need to be more decisive... I think.

I want to make quick, snap decisions about things... mostly.

It would be good to make decisions faster, to know where I was headed, to be one of those people who are sure about things... but sometimes it's good to ponder for a while, to weigh up both sides of the argument, not to jump to conclusions...

Oh, now I don't know whether I want to be more decisive or not!

Friday, March 31, 2006

How to Drink Enough Water

I am feeling slightly dehydrated today. I am conscious of the fact that I have not been drinking enough water lately, and now I am feeling lethargic and headachy. This may or may not have anything to do with dehydration, but it does seem to happen to me when I haven't kept up my water intake.

So it was fitting for me to find a post today on Lifehacker linking to the WikiHow article How to Drink More Water Everyday. This article has some good suggestions for maintianing good water consumption, but by far the best way I have found so far is to fill a 2 litre jug full of water every morning, and have that sitting on my desk with a glass. It is so easy to just sip away throughout the day, and before I know it I've drunk my 2 litres before 5pm. I don't mind drinking water - but if it is a hassle to go to the filter or the tap, and find a glass, and then wash it up... well, I will just not drink it then. If I make it easy for myself - the jug and glass are sitting there next to my computer - then I have no problem.

This is an interesting article about how much water we should be consuming every day, for any one who is interested.

Here's to happy hydration! Cheers!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Last night's train journey

I am sitting on the train with the beginnings of a headache. To the west, behind the clouds the sky is pale blue with deep magenta slashes through it. The reflections of the city lights in the train windows are superimposed on the last remnants of the sunset.

The train is starting to fill with passengers, eager to get home to dinner and the evening's television programs. They read books, newspapers, office documents. Each is sitting in their own bubble of personal space, their own island of discontent.

The season is changing. There is a chill in the air now, at night. Brown leaves are starting to appear on the ground, but strangely the trees are still outwardly verdant.

We are out of the city loop now - out of the noisy, cuving, concrete tunnels. The train sways on its journey along the tracks, stopping at all the little inner city stations: West Richmond, North Richmond, Collingwood, Victoria Park. It is too late for the express trains now - the fast bustling trains ferrying anxious commuters to and from their tall office blocks in the CBD. No, this is a lazy train, taking its time as it winds its way to the leafy north-eastern suburbs.

I miss living in the inner city. I miss being able to jump on and off trams, and walking home once the trams had stopped running at midnight. I miss the convenience of short distances and milk bars on corners.

This train journey is a new thing in my life - a different type of time. It is an in-between time, a time that is not nothing, but is not really something either.

What do people do on trains? Do they do different things from normal? Do they think different thoughts? Would the man sitting opposite me really read The Amulet of Samarkand if he were somewhere else? Would the man on the other side of the carriage read MX if he were at home? Would I be writing this if I were not on the train?

Monday, March 27, 2006

I Hope You Do!

I Hope You Do!
Author Unknown

I hope you woke up this morning with a big smile on your face
I hope the sun is shining just for you
and the birds are singing their very best songs...

I hope your coffee is hot and tastes just right
and the cats are purring contentedly, and the mailman waves a
cheery hello and there are no bills in the mailbox...

I hope just everything goes your way ...
I hope everything is well with your world,
a place for everything and everything in it's place...

I hope you can enjoy all you do and you are
complimented on the way
you look and you can laugh
and talk and share to your heart's content

I hope you have all you wish for yourself and those dear to you,
and all your dreams come true...

At the end of the day
I wish you a perfect moon shining just for you,
a snug and cozy bed with the softest of pillows
and I hope you sleep like a lamb with a smile on your face...

I hope you have a perfect end to the perfect day
and I hope that every day is just as wonderful in it's own way
I hope your day is ... filled with love!

From Inspiration Peak

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Love is the path to true fearlessness

This is a great post about falling in love by Rhonda Britten. I especially liked this paragraph:
Love is the path to true fearlessness. Without a willingness to be vulnerable (that is one way to love myself) and the courage to express all of me (that too is loving myself), I will never know who I could be, who I really am.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I can identify with this

This is a postcard that I have stuck on my office door.


I want one of these treehouses! Imagine a whole forest of trees with glowing suspended magic lantern treehouses joined by a delicate tracery of hanging walkways...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How to be an Expert

If I ever needed a kick in the pants to put in the hours of practice, it is now. I am painfully aware of the (seemingly massive) gap between what I want to do with music and where I am now. I have the desire, but do I have the dedication?

I found this post - How to be an Expert - at Creating Passionate Users today, and it is exactly what I needed to read. It has served as a reminder that it is possible, but I really need to knuckle down. I need to dedicate and commit myself fully. It's certainly not going to be quick and easy.

...The only thing standing between you-as-amateur and you-as-expert is dedication...

(via Watermark)

Shame, Fear and Performance

Last night, in class, we had an interesting discussion about the nature of performance, and the importance of being 'present' duing performance. One of the ideas that came up was about the difference between shame and fear, which are both feelings/emotions that can adversely affect performance. This was something I had not thought about in this way before. Shame is felt about something that happened in the past, whereas fear is worrying about something that may happen in the future. Neither of them are about the present moment, although if we allow ourselves to become involved with either, it can have a significant effect on the present. Being successful in performance involves being free of the past and the future, shame and fear, and focussing on the reality of the here and now. Of course, this is always much easier to say than to do!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Book Review: Authenticity in Music

At only 78 pages, this slim volume is not in the least bit intimidating, yet manages to explore in some detail the philosophy of authenticity in (mainly) Baroque music. Raymond Leppard, whose academic and performing credits are extensive, including a 14-year stint as the Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, begins by illustrating the differences in approach to music reception or listening between today's globalized post-modern western society compared to the 19th and early 20th centuries' ideals of progress and improvement on the past. This is no more than a potted history, and is somewhat generalised, but is nonetheless a useful and I think necessary backdrop to a discussion about historical performance in today's world. I am not sure about his hypothesis that the atomic bomb was the big turning point where western culture abandoned the idea of progress in favour of the search for something deeper and more profound. Has this really led to the rise in popularity of early (Renaissance and Baroque) music, as a response to this search for purity and balance in a chaotic world? It's a nice theory, but I think it is perhaps a little too convenient. But then again, he only has a handful of pages for this development, and is certainly not pretending that he is presenting an in-depth exploration of the subject.

The second part of the book is a discussion and explanation of Leppard's own approach to interpreting and performing early music. He is not addressing the finicky little details of ornamentation and phrasing, but rather the general attitude and approach. He outlines the problems the musician has to grapple with: the incompleteness of the repertoire, inconsistent and often ambiguous notation, and great variation in advice regarding technique and interpretation, even in original sources. He points out the fact, simple but often overlooked, that, no matter how hard we try we can never replicate exactly the sound of the past. Even if we play Bach from Bach's manuscript on Bach's harpsichord in Bach's house using Bach's tuning system, we will still be playing and listening with ears and minds who have heard Mahler, Shoenberg and Franz Ferdinand.

The only way forward, Leppard concludes, is to find a middle ground between the pedantic pursuit of authentic purity and the communication with modern audiences. A compromise is needed, he writes, combining the knowledge about the past gained from academic study with a creative understanding of the spirit of music, and a focus on communication with the listener.

This book was very easy and enjoyable to read, and would hold interest for both listeners and performers. Leppard's style is conversational yet nuanced, and he includes musical examples to illustrate his points. I would have liked some suggestion for further reading, rather than the very brief notes at the end. Overall, though, I found this an interesting, thought-provoking book.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Shedding a whole new light on coffee

OK, so I can be a bit of a coffee freak. I do feel for anyone who tries to have a conversation with me before my first coffee of the day - it can really get ugly sometimes. But my coffee obsession is a passing interest compared to this guy.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Not all high-brow

I don't want this blog to be too pretentious, so in the spirit of light-heartedness, this made me laugh today :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I went to a workshop given by the amazing pianist and composer Andy Milne this afternoon. He played a few pieces and spoke a lot about the jazz scene in New York, which is so far removed from the tiny insular scene here - it sounds like another world. He said a lot of really interesting things, but what sticks in my mind is a little anecdote he told.

He was catching a cab somewhere, and the cab driver asked if he was Muslim. He replied that he wasn't, and the cab driver asked him what religion he was. Andy replied that music was his religion. The cab driver said that music wasn't a real religion, but Andy reasoned that music fills his life like a religion. It is with him every waking moment, and he relates all life experience to music in some way. After that there was silence in the cab for the rest of the journey, as they both pondered this. Andy said today that he should have tipped the driver for prompting him to come to this realisation.