Why Elgar?

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For many years now Edward Elgar has been the main inspiration for my music making and growing passion of music. For those who aren’t familiar with Elgar’s life story, he was the son of of a piano tuner and lived in Worcester for his early years. He has become the definition of English music and his cello concerto has inspired and astounded performers for generations.

Elgar is an inspiration for all of us. Self-taught in his younger years, Elgar learnt to take inspiration from his surroundings, most notably the Malvern Hills and the Worcestershire countryside. Elgar spent so much of his time ‘living and ‘being’ in order to ‘fix the sounds’, his music reveals a freshness and ingenuity that can so quickly be related to a scene or emotion. Through his deep relationship with nature, Elgar was as much an artist and painter as composer. He painted the sounds he saw and not the sounds he had learnt were correct and beautiful. Elgar lived his childhood surrounded by his siblings and left composing from the countryside in ‘the reeds’.

Music is an entity which derives not only from your heart, but from the way your heart reacts to the environment you are surrounded in. Elgar learnt what true love was before he learnt about the theory and rules surrounding music. This immersion in nature was a relationship that would remain in Elgar for the rest of his life. Even when in London, Elgar pined for Worcestershire and its beauty. Elgar knew where his inspiration came from and in that environment composing came as naturally to him as talking. As performers of Elgars music, can musicians like me only understand his motivation behind his music if we experience the environment for ourselves? Anyone who has walked on the Malvern Hills can appreciate the huge sense of power and and yet vulnerability you experience being face with a huge expanse of country either side- rather like performing an Elgar symphony!

Elgars’ choral music so often encapsulates a certain natural image, for me at least. Of course, his choice of words to set his music to also has an impact, but the textures of voices instantly create an image in my mind. For example, one of the 4 part-songs,’ There Is Sweet Music’, instantly creates the image of a frosted valley, the different voice parts bouncing from the hills either side. The regular phrasing and slow tempo reveal the calm and unscathed condition of the environment, Elgars’ use of imitation reinforces this echo effect. The music ends very softly, the word ‘sleep’ is repeated between male and female voice parts until it lands silently, perhaps just as the final leaf of the autumn assumes its place on the frosted ground.

My interpretations and musical decisions are of course merely inspired by my experience of  nature and perhaps photography and art of this part of nature. By broadening our knowledge and asking our emotions how it responds to images and experiences, we can relate these emotions to our music making. If we learn about the place that Elgar was most inspired, we can combine this inspiration with our personal interpretations and create beautiful image. Just as Elgars’ countryside was different each time he saw it, as is our interpretation allowed to be as varied and exciting as we please. It is, however, still important that we perform this interpretation in knowledge of the composers intention of inspiration, whether this be a poem, book or artwork.

My love for countryside and exploration of new emotions comes with my love for Elgar. Every note he wrote, though subconscious, was inspired by his experiences and passions. We can connect to our inner selves just as Elgar did simply by experiencing the same level of love and passion he discovered on the Malvern Hills.

Always choose the better life- mental health and musicians

  Sometimes our thoughts can be far more destructive than the events surrounding us. Of course these two things are often interlinked, but not exclusively. If we have a specific worry plaguing our minds, no matter how laid back our life may seem, often the internal anguish can be far more warring and destructive. On the other hand, we may look back on a seemingly stressful week and feel calm, balanced and relaxed.

The way we choose to react to the events in our lives can determine the amount of stress they infer. This is far easier said than done. Often we are forced to enter a different mindset in order to get through the day, sacrificing the calm, balance and joy in our lives. We are forced to become self obsessed and one-track minded towards our goals and work and choose to sacrifice the relationships with our friends and the inner calm. Although this mindset may do the job, it forces us to crash out, emotionally drained and find ourselves running on sugar, caffeine and very little sleep. What if there were a way to get everything done and maintain a love and peace?

It all begins with simplifying our lives. This often requires erasing guilt, pressure, stress and other negative emotions that take over and over complicate our lives. This may include thinking completely rationally about what it is you, personally, are able to sustain as simply and joyfully as possible. If something is causing you immense stress and guilt, such as a subject or commitment, it may require you to either leave it for a while or lose it altogether in order for complex, eating emotions to diminish. It is at this balanced, freed state that our mind and body functions at its best and we begin to excel at what we love.

It is always necessary to take time to care for yourself. It is important to remember that it is not a weakness to respond to stressful situations negatively. Different people have differing stress thresholds and this shouldn’t cause comparison or guilt. It is a strength to know what you find difficult and learn to cope with it.

In order to discover how much you can cope with it is necessary to confront yourself by taking time for reflection, meditation or prayer. These states often leave you vulnerable and more responsive to factors that cause strain on your body.

Perhaps what I’m suggesting sounds time consuming and impossible at the moment. If this is the case, it is a tell tale fact that your life is very complicated. It may be that you only need 10 minutes when you wake up to be aware of the space around you and practice allowing emotions and sensations to come to you, but this time is invaluable to your mental health and sound is paramount you attempt to find space for it.

I value nothing more highly than time spent with yourself in any situation, shifting the strain to the side and breaking down your negative thoughts into breathing and trust in the world. It is at this point that your body will tell you just how much it is prepared to deal with.

I am searching to find this center of awareness in my practice but until I feel I’m able to sustain this, I know I need time with my thoughts, however scary or difficult it may be in order to cope with the pressure of being a musician and 17 year old.

One factor I find beautifully reassuring is my art form. Music is love and community, space and prayer. When we breakthrough the inevitable stress of auditions and pressured performance, we will discover the true beauty of what we love and associate it with the emotions that we thrive on, and not those that restrain us.

We have such a beautiful life to live, why not start now?

Love Hattie x

What it feels like

  They told me 

Fly like a bird, they said all

Be like the sound you want to hear

Be like a sportsman, set the intention, precision

Then play like a dream and run like the wind

Sing you, sing like the moon, play as the risen lark

 

Dream like the artist who grew this art

Who painted their soul and drew the Gods

Of unknown lands far away

That are unlike, unloved, untouched

Until revealed

 

But a musician favours playing like anything but themselves

Because playing like is painting by numbers

Impressive, professional like but a replica of another soul

Easier

 

Let the simile fade with the blackened night

I played the moon, I played the birds

I sang the love and the death

Because I am also unlike any

None will play my moon again

But all shall feel like the thought of a silent unsung song yet to be played

How busking can make you into the musician you want to be

  During the summer I’ve been busking regularly in some of the small towns around my area in order to save some money for returning to boarding school (as I like to party ;)) When I first started busking I experienced very similar emotions that I would if performing formally. I would worry the night before and pray that it would rain or that I could get out of it. Thinking back to that now is funny as I will do anything to have a bit more money as I spent the first year of sixth form completely broke and borrowing a lot of money from people (which I do not recommend!) Nonetheless, I saw busking as hugely exposed and scary concept that was the height of embarrassment and anxiety. How wrong I was! I think busking has proved to me how experiences decrease in fear the more you do them- It’s a very tangible example of this and a large part to play in this decrease is the reception you get from everyday people.

When in a high-pressured music school you often rely on your peers and parents for praise and confidence. It can often feel as if all the teachers are nothing but critical and it is difficult to read into what they REALLY think about your performance or assessment. It’s not surprising, therefore, that in this environment you find yourself making comparisons and judgments with everyone else and becoming a highly strung, emotional individual. This is another reason why performance anxiety is high as you receive little if any praise from the teachers you respect so highly, so every performance becomes a battle to impress and discover what they really think of you. As soon as you take the music you love out onto the street, you are providing the atmosphere for a market square or cobbled street and the effects are pleasing. You feel as thought you are ‘playing’ the houses and the people that walk past. You become the music much quicker and practice a mindset which is so vital in a performance. Of course, earning from your music adds to the huge joy and gives such a satisfaction. You feel worthy and your endeavors are all worthwhile at last! People are genuinely interested in you and your music. “Are you a student?”, “Would you please play Bach G major prelude?”(invariable request grrr!!), “Thank you so much- what a treat to hear a classical busker!”. Compare this with “You haven’t practiced this”, ” It went wrong because you played it too fast”, “I’ve certainly heard you play that better”. I’m not for one minute saying that I don’t feelI deserve criticism. I understand that it is an integral and inevitable part of life at a music school and a very realisit simulator for the world of music. I think it’s important for artists to know their talent and worth a bit more. This means sharing with normal, everyday people an atmosphere that would otherwise not be there. Throw in £100 at the end of the day and you’re game!!

I encourage everyone to become a busker and get to know your worth and talent. Get payed for being the atmosphere, learning your repertoire and sharing the joys of being a musician as well as the stresses and pressures of being a student.

Steps:

  1. Find yourself a wealthy town
  2. Play lots of Bach
  3. Take lots of breaks
  4. Stop when people want to talk to you (I didn’t at first but they get a bit peeved!)
  5. Play anything and everything- people just want to hear nice sounds!

Please light up the streets of Britain with your music and help people realize just how fabulous classical music really is!

Much love,

Hattie

I can’t do Jazz, but I know it so well

Jazz music has always inspired me to do something but I can never quite figure it out! It may sound odd to some, but it gives me this wealth of energy and inspiration that I feel unable to organise or act upon. Should I try to compose a jazz melody, does my mind want to hear more jazz composers, should I arrange something jazzy for cello? I’ve attempted each of these, but alas none have worked out or taken off. Perhaps this tangible lovey, gooey, jazzyness I hear need not be touched by my innocent classicalised mind! Perhaps I should try to feel the wealth of sound and colour and not worry about having to recreate it or put myself into it. These phases of jazz obsession happen to so many of us- why am I not content with simply listening and accepting. I can’t ‘do’ jazz, but I feel jazz, understand jazz and bloody love jazz! 

The Performance Mind

Hope you’re enjoying my crazy little poems- I write them as an attempt to iron out the anxieties and thoughts in my head and hope they may provide a different perspective for other artists/ musicians.

I’m aware how many people suffer from performance anxiety or stage fright and how often the remedies we are given don’t work. The picture attached caught my attention when at the Tate Britain on Saturday. I feel the different sections represent the different minds you can adopt when anxious and how everything seems disconnected and alien.

    

Trying not to care is the beginning of the end
Be aware that you do care, but that caring will make you spend

Every thought and feeling and mood on caring alone

The energy and love for the art withered and cold to the bone.

Perhaps caring wasn’t worth it-Those who give no shits

Often give the best performance And avoid all panic and fits. 

But why do those who love suffer for their art the most?

Performing is running naked, like confronting a ghost

Every part of you is on show, every ounce of what you love

And you pray the music will be there, that your preparation is enough

But nothing’s ever good enough for those who suffer from art

Things I ignored in practice suddenly tear up my heart

I worry I wasn’t true to myself and that the music wasn’t divine

I ask for reassurance from the audience, for any little sign

That I proved myself to them even if it wasn’t how my dreams play

And they tell me it was fabulous, that my playing made their day 

And sometimes they see through me and tell me it was tense

And I’ll cry and try once again to relax and make it less dense. 

When will I be able to state that playing in my room

Is just the same as a recital, an audition, my heart would go boom

But when you get up to perform you’re always torn away 

Of what calm what joy and what love you experienced yesterday

The energy is no longer focused on the love and the sound

But now on proving yourself to yourself and trying to the world

It’s only when other people watch that I dissolve to this state

Because I know they could love me too, but I’m surrounded by this hate

A hatred for exposing myself incase it goes tits up

But a hatred for not trying, even though trusting brings me luck.

Be truthful on what you love and hate and explore exactly why

The petty judgments from other people make you cry and sigh

So stop trying to stay true to your music, your art, your love

Stop caring about not caring, it’ll be easy and pleasantly pure as a dove.

  

Should I practice or should I just be?

  I am much more relaxed about my practice now a days. I have enough time to do everything and can wip out some constructive practice when needs be. But the rest of the time I’ve found to be a struggle. I understand that the time you spend mindlessly repeating a certain phrase can translate into excess tension and strain but this is a comfortable solution. Being constantly ‘constructive’ and ‘alert’ is a difficult mindset which is easy to wander off from.

I think I’ve discovered that just like when you’re leaning to meditate, it’s important to set an intention but not criticise your mind for wandering off. Conversely, bringing the attention back to your intentions whilst having a heightened awareness. 

Perhaps it’s better to only practice when you feel like it, but often I’m convinced we aren’t to sure what we feel like. I’ve decided that if I’ve taken out my cello, began to practice for ten minutes and still have no desire, then I can resign my attempts and return later with a fresher mind. Simply having this trust and agreement means that I actually find myself doing that very little and that time seems to pass very quickly.

I hope you all enjoy the work you do and don’t feel discouraged if your mind wanders- it’s what it’s designed to do.

Happy being!

Hattie 😘 

 

I’ve just discovered that I have never listened

Until very, very recently I understood the art of listening to be a passive, almost reflex action. Something we don’t have to think about, something that occurs naturally just like looking or feeling. I didn’t expect to have to keep a specific awareness of the sounds and messages around me- I expected them to come to me. I expected my hands to play the Haydn Cello concerto and my ears to judge each performance and tiny mistake. 

It may be obvious to many that this is in fact not an advisable method of becoming a professional musician. I realise that i never really listened with a whole awareness  to the sound I was making, just judged and criticised without careful thought and deliberation. 

The first time my teacher mentioned my absence of listening was many many months ago just before a concerto competition. I felt ready despite some injury setbacks and had just played the whole piece to her in an accompanist rehearsal. I thought it went well. I couldn’t remember much of the performance but I couldnt remember many slip-ups. But my teacher wasn’t quite so objective or reassuring. ‘You can play it’ she said, ‘but you didn’t listen to a single note that you played’ This hit me quite hard so I went on a quest to discover what it really is to listen and respond without judgment, especially in a performance situation. The Alexander Technique would say that if the primary control (awareness and release of head, neck and back) is in place, the ears are able to have a heightened awareness as the body feels balanced. I’ve certainly discovered that I require balance in my body to be able to play well and ultimately listen to what I’ve played. I almost view the ability to listen and feel balanced above the ability to play in tune. I certainly feel much better about myself if I’ve felt balanced and comfortable, even if I don’t play every note in tune.

I’m still searching for this ideal of being able to be both the performer and the audience member but will admit that I still feel in the dark. I know I’m not alone when I say that I find listening in concerts a challenge and listening specifically in my practice.

I have observed two things however- first is that I am completely engaged as a listener in a concert if I have either played the piece I’m listening to or listened to it many many times. I have also observed that as soon as I know someone may be listening to my practice I immediately turn my ears on and am aware of exactly what I want and what parts of my piece that I’ve been mindlessly playing through.

Perhaps these discoveries give a reassurance that it’s a similar awareness I have when people are listening to my performance to when people (potentially) listen to my practice. It is useful to have this judgmental awareness in practice, but not quite so useful in performance. Perhaps in performance I need to imagine myself much more as the listener. How would I want someone to hear this piece? How do I want to hear this piece? In a performance, it’s too late to listen judgementally. A performance is when you can share what you’ve practice with both your audience and yourself.

As for the being able to listen better if I’ve played the piece, perhaps this shows me how prepared I am to listen attentively. I know how the piece is going to sound and, most of the time, I know I have the capability of playing it well. It’s very easy to forget your knowledge of a piece and brilliant preparation when you’re forced into a stressful situation. I think it’s important to trust your hands and ears to listen and play to make the experienced relaxed and enjoyable, just as it is in practice.

Why poetry is the music in words and my obsession with half rhyme

Am I embarrassing you? I’m in Paris with you.

I don’t know why the sounds of half rhyme excite me so much. My favourite poems appear to be those that follow no set pattern and adopt a more imperfect tone and rhyme scheme. Perhaps it’s the predictability of perfect rhyme that loses my attention- I like this abstract idea of manipulating words. It’s a similar idea to the expressionist and modern composers. The idea that no rules need be followed, but through the half rhyme the poetic quirkiness is not lost!