Category Archives: Memory

Recording 1

During yesterday’s eduBuzz meeting, Don asked me what difference the growth of pupil mp3 performances on the blog had made. Since then, I’ve been explaining to a couple of people some of the technicalities involved. It struck me that I may have taken for granted the obviousness of what it was all about, and the various features involved. This post will deal with the advantages of recording and tomorrow’s about the technicalities.

Advantages for the pupils:

  • Performance experience – pupils perform in their school’s guitar ensemble in two or three concerts per year. Unless they have opted for Standard Grade or Higher Music or an external exam, there will be few opportunities to experience performance as a soloist or in a small group.
  • Sense of deadline – recording equipment is not available every week and we cannot simply replace teaching with endless recording. Therefore, we really have to nail the piece(s) within 30 minutes. Life is full of deadlines and it’s good to be able to get used to meeting some of them in a fun kind of way.
  • Learning to relax under pressure – anyone can relax when there is no pressure – most people can relax when the pressure stops – the trick is to relax under continuing pressure.
  • Easily accessed record of work – the pupils, their parents, relatives (near and far), friends etc. can access this archive at any hour of the day or night.
  • A chance to compare progress with pupils from other East Lothian schools – pupils in various schools will be playing the same repertoire and always seem interested in seeing how others are getting on with it – many are known to each other through the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble.
  • Fun – despite all the talk of pressure, pretty much everyone seems to enjoy the experience – nobody has yet entered the room and, spotting the equipment, let out a sigh of despair.

Advantages for the teacher:

  • An opportunity to stop the clock, stand back and see how things are really going –  time is tight, especially in group lessons lasting 30 mins – which format makes up the majority of the week. We often look at sections of various pieces and tend not to play through everything.  An element of trust is involved in assuming that pupils will not let a section, which was previously conquered, slip from their grasp through neglect.
  • An opportunity to talk about the pressures of performing (as opposed to preparation) and how to tackle and overcome them – many of the problems are physiological rather than psychological. Incorrect posture can create imbalance causing tension and reducing accuracy and mobility. Planting the feet firmly on the floor and relaxing the shoulders/elbows/wrists/hands can solve many problems. Choosing a speed which allows one time to think (where required) and to relax between phrases/sections is also very helpful. However, nothing improves a performance more than simply knowing what is coming next.
  • An opportunity to see, in a non-threatening situation, if anyone is really likely to “crack” under pressure. This has not happened so far but, were such a person to suggest opting for Standard Grade Music, I might feel I had to ensure that they knew a sizeable part of the final mark is gained by playing for several minutes in front of a complete stranger.
  • Fun – there are very many takes in each session. Some stop due to forgetfulness, some because of technical slips and others through simple hilarity.

Knox mp3s

Three new mp3 performances have been added to the Knox Academy page including:

  • the brave agreement of three S1 pupils to “count in” Polish Dance in Polish – without ever having seen the words written down
  • three S2 pupils learning a theme, a harmonised version of the theme, background figures to one another’s improvistaions with no written music whatever

Red Light

I’ve spent that last couple of days recording MGS pupils playing some examples of their repertoire. This was sprung on them as the idea was not to record material currently being honed, but rather to see how quickly previously learned tunes could be resurrected. Results were mixed and some were very encouraging. Two S2 pupils quickly reheated a tune which we performed when some former pupils of Wallyford returned to the school to join forces with P7 pupils. That concert took place last May and the pupils did not even ask to get the music out. We had a couple of “run throughs” and then recorded two versions  – the latter of which, being the better, was kept. Three S1 pupils (former pupils of Campie PS) win the prize for most professional approach to recording -a very expressive performance in one take after a quick run through.

Once processed, I’ll post these performances on the Pupil Performance Page.

Andy Young (1920 – 2007)

I read with a mixture of sadness and pride the obituary of former colleague and bandsman Andy Young, a one-time brass instructor for Lothian Region. I came to know Andy through our membership of the Lothian Big Band. Andy was the lead trombone and I was an insecure, young pianist. Andy took me under his wing, kept me right with great subtlety and, in time, encouraged me in my first steps in arranging for this genre. Initially, I was keen to impress Andy but soon the real impetus was to hear him bring these arrangements to life with his great tone and phrasing.

At the time I was not a driver and Andy kindly agreed to pick me up, complete with keyboard, stand, amp and accoutrements. During the weekly journeys to rehearsals he would regale me with stories of his days on the road with professional dance bands and of his time in the RAF. Like most bandsmen, Andy loved a laugh and those trips were as much fun as the rehearsals. He once recounted the tale of a stand-in conductor who tried to make his mark by criticising the intonation of an individual from the throng. Like myself, Andy was no giant, and on this occasion was mistaken for a pushover. Andy’s response was, “How would you know? Your ears are painted on!”

Eventually I passed my driving test, bought a car and was delighted to be able to return Andy’s generous favour – four years of lifts to rehearsals and gigs. At that age, the miniscule amount of awareness bestowed upon me did not stretch to my failing eyesight and complete lack of sense of direction. At the end of the first journey home Andy, who had survived WWII and the rough and tumble of life on the road, alighted the car, leant in and said (sotto voce) “I’ll just take my own car next week, eh?”

Thanks for everything, Andy.

You can read more of Andy’s life in this obituary.

User Experience

I am hoping to pop into BarCampScotland tomorrow (Sat) and give a very brief description of the user experience of pupils practising at home with the midi files posted on the Guitar Group Support Page. I intend to make this a very short presentation (5 mins max) but in that time hope to highlight the following points:

  • that the virtual ensemble is likely to encourage practice – especially for those who perceive their part as having no intrinsic meaning i.e. all those not on a melody part
  • the benefit of using various versions of the same tune at gradually increasing speeds
  • the importance of panning (getting the stereo spread across the speakers just right)
  • additional parts

As a personal test, I intend to take a guitar, no music and to switch between parts in any given arrangement. Get out the mats!

I spoke to Ewan (who is organising the event) today and he stressed that it might be nice if came across as a resource which was open to all and not limited to present pupils. As it is, I have directed some former pupils who are now private pupils to these pages. It will be interesting to see if anyone on the outside tunes in.

To err is humane?

This afternoon saw the 5th of 6 rehearsals for the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble’s contribution to the Showcase Concert (Fri 16 Mar, 7.30 @ Musselburgh Grammar School – tickets limited to 300 available now from Brunton Hall Box Office 0131 665 2240).

Illness, prelims and pupils being out of school for three days this week (and therefore missing final reminders) all took their toll on attendance. However, my feeling is that there is no such thing as wasted rehearsal time and many tricky passages were in much better shape after intensive practice. I asked the pupils to attend to three practical matters before our final rehearsal:

  • Change strings (especially bass strings) in order to produce a bright, clear and lively sound in the concert
  • Ensure that all pages of each piece are stuck together – A3 parts rarely fall from music stands, whereas loose A4 ones often do
  • Highlight any repeats and “jumps” in the music

From experience I know that some will neglect to attend to any of these. My difficulty is detecting the border between offering whatever help I can and pandering to our spoon-feeding culture. I learned more through mistakes than successes, but find it difficult to let others do the same. For example, if you knew that a pupil owned several highlighters yet had neglected, despite repeated requests, to mark the relevant junctions in the music which option would you choose?

  1. Use your own highlighters and lesson time to mark them yourself – knowing that, in a high speed piece, they would struggle to find the place in time
  2. Allow them to learn from the experience in the public gaze

Once In A Lifetime

Yesterday during MGS’s coffee & biscuits at playtime, a colleague (Gordon Gallagher) flagged up a little known gig. An extraordinary jazz quartet featuring Buster Williams (bass) Lenny White (drums)  George Colligan (piano) and Steve Wilson (saxes) was due to be playing in The Jazz Bar in Chambers Street. They had been playing at Ronnie Scott’s in London and had been tempted up by BBC Radio Scotland for two gigs and the promise of a broadcast on The Jazz House. If you get the chance to hear the broadcast, listen out for the unusually free rhythmic play – especially in the second half.

For those not into jazz these names may not register much of a reaction. This is the equivalent of a pal inviting you to a barbeque round the corner from your house, promising a bit of a kick-around in the back-garden, then discovering that the guests included Pele, Ronaldinho, Zidane and George Best. Continue reading Once In A Lifetime