Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Birds' Singing Lessons

Birds have been responding to my singing lessons this year by trying to out sing my pupils. Firstly a blackbird took up song near the back door and sang so loudly whilst I was teaching that I had to shut the door, which is always open in the summer. A few days later, a blackbird hopped into the kitchen during a lesson. I was focused on my pupil, when it's sudden appearance in the kitchen caught my eye. We stopped and both stared in delight as the blackbird pecked about at the tiles a bit and the hopped out. This happened a second time a few days later.

Now a crow has taken up it's very dull persistent creaking song from the top of a neighbour's silver birch. Again, it was so loud yesterday that I had to shut the door.

These birds seem to be competing or joining in. I'm not sure which. It's a funny story from the life of a singing teacher. There are many funny stories and anecdotes and also many poignant ones, but they are about humans and our private time in the music room together. It isn't so easy to tell those tales. I can tell that somebody said they felt they came alive this week in their first singing lesson. I can tell that I get hiccups frequently because I am often inadvertently breathing in sympathy with my pupils when I am not actually going to sing. That gives me hiccups. I can wonder what on earth it sounds like to the neighbours over these years of Koo Koo Koo-ing and Lah Lah Lah-ing and Taaaaaaaay-ing

Maybe the birds are telling me.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The texture of love

The texture of love is the wind in the trees
Elusive till you catch a scent the herbs in the garden
The tearing of thunder cracks us open
and lightening sparks in our eyes

The texture of love is in curtains which we draw each evening
The switch on the standard lamp to illuminate the darkened room
The hand held
The birds' rhapsody

The texture of love is harsh and brittle
Aching and profound
It is in the pots and pans and the rose in the jar
In the maps of our journeys

The very good times
and the bad ones

The smell of lilac
The gardens and homes of strangers in which we wander
In the care of the National Trust
The old van to whose needs we tend
The old hearts that break and mend and break and mend

The texture of love is in all these things

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Stop doing that rain dance please

Inspiration is the issue as I look out on the drenched back gardens of suburbia. Surely I should be living somewhere more dramatic. Somewhere with mountains and tumbling waterfalls. Somewhere with a wondrous river estuary and a myriad of tributaries for me to explore in a canoe. Somewhere near to the sea but not near enough to be engulfed or crumbled off a cliff.

Pause for a Virgin to whoosh past on the railway track that divides my drenched garden from the garages of that other mirror road whose houses face away from us.

The lilac blossom has been soaked into rust
Loving it, the castor oil bush has doubled in size
Moody water-filled sky lurks over slate grey roof line
Light fading
It's just that kind of day

Pack everything up and vanish

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


If Music is a jigsaw then very few if any of us get the whole picture and for many of us the picture is full of black holes.
Music is so beloved by so many people, but rarely does a mind come along that can encompass anything like its entirety. It isn't all of music that is beloved. I don't think there can be anybody who adores Death Metal, Puccini, Webern, Gilbert and Sullivan, Reggae, Adele, and the songs from Glee. But perhaps there is. What about someone who loves Ancient Icelandic Music, the songs of Cilla Black, late Beethoven Quartets, Kurt Weill, Perry Como and Wagner? I could go on with combinations but will restrain myself. I am finding them too diverting! It is a matter of taste. 
I presume that it is also a matter of how each person hears these various types of music. Being able to hear into the genre of Death Metal requires some bravery and for me it requires a muting of my defences. I feel invaded by this music. It encrouches on my sanity, as Stockhausen's Hymnen does when play through head phones. These are intense demanding tracts. 
But I also feel invaded but the insipid. By plaintive narrow voiced pop songs with the repetitive theme of loss of the beloved: Ouch you hurt me I will never recover.  Yet if you transport me back to Dowland's Flow My Tears Semper Dolens Semper Dowland Or Purcell's Dido's Lament I am uplifted by what seems now a much more sophisticated message.
That was just a tiny skim across the water of musical appreciation. But this mighty musical jigsaw contains so many more pieces. In places there are chains of interlinking pieces that require sequencing for strong learning to take place. Find your optimal hand position or your embouchure and you will liberate your instrument. 
There are also some sturdy little blocks that maybe be taken in isolation. Rhythm can come without pitch. Playing music from a script means that you can access huge swathes of the history of music, but reading music does't mean that you could attempt an authentic rendition of an unaccompanied traditional folk song. Playing boogie boogie is an art in itself and does not require knowledge on Chanson. 
Most of us can never aspire to complete the jigsaw. We can complete a corner and a big block to one side. We might have half the edge and a random collection of unconnected similarly coloured pieces that could fall in place given the right setting. We might complete a section from the middle with no way to link it in the rest. It is at the best patchy. It isn't a 250 piece job, more like a 25,000 one. 
In my daily life as a singing teacher I come across exceptional intelligence. After a day at work such people turn up here to be challenged deeply by music. The people that I refer to are high IQ folk who want to complete a part of their musical jigsaw that has frustrated them for years sometimes. I teach all sorts of people but this is one category of musical learner that I have just started to think about. I am quite intelligent myself, but have some massive black holes in my knowledge and understanding. My early teaching was very poor and I had great problems even approaching learning, let alone processing, sequencing and assimilating knowledge. Going out to work for eighteen years in Special Education resolved a lot of that but early born frustrations lurk. Harmony makes no sense to me. The nature of chords and the way they link up to form the conventions of either classical or jazz music feels outside my grasp. I could take the knowledge onboard as facts but it would mean nothing to my personal musical world where I create my own composition based on pattern making. Therefore I have not taken it onboard. 
I meet all sorts of musical learners, including people who have wonderful natural musical gifts and some who want to start completely from scratch to find the music within them. Sometimes the gifted do not practise. Sometimes the person starting from scratch finds the music but that doesn't satisfy their yearnings. It turns out that they wanted more of the jigsaw than was actually available to them. Wanting to sing soprano cannot create a soprano voice. There are some barriers that are insurmountable and then there are those that will dissolve over time with careful practise. It is the nature of my work to support people to overcome their barriers to learn to free up their musical world so that they can access enough of that vast musical jigsaw to satisfy them. 

Well I woke up at 5.20 and it is now 6.44, so whatever I spent the night thinking about has drizzled out into this rainy morning and I hope makes some sense. It is a great way to start the day. Sometimes I wake up full of a dream but today I woke up full of ideas.