Category Archives: Style

Harry The Piano and Gauntlet of Fire

There should always be room for a bit of fun in the school day, especially if it involves exposure to amazing musical skill. My PT today showed me this video of Harry The Piano playing the main theme from Harry Potter in a huge variety of styles – shouted out at random from (I presume) the person doing the filming. This is a great inspiration for pupils, many of whom (along with some teachers) have a dread of melodic improvisation, far less harmonic.

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I’ve said it before, but feel it’s worth repeating, that the parallels between Music and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) are not, in my opinion, as straightforward as one would imagine. One might imagine reading, writing, listening, speaking in MFL to equate with reading, composing, listening, playing in Music. I’d contend that a more realistic parallel would be playing, composing, listening, improvising.

Compared to many generations gone by, we have made great strides in regarding musical improvisation as something ordinary mortals should be able to attempt, but there’s a long way to go

History of Music

While searching Youtube for a dynamic piece I’d heard on the radio the other day, I stumbled upon an excellent audio-visual history of music in 20 chapters. Each video features key works from the specified historical period, the composer’s dates and photograph (or portrait). Simple idea, excellently done – and ideal for SQA Listening revision. You can access all 20 videos below:

Vox Project

Always a source of fascination, Radio 4 is launching Vox Project – researching the oldest instrument on Earth – the human voice. Listeners/readers are invited to send recordings of their voice, engaged in one of various comparative tasks, to the researchers at UCL. The one which particularly interested me (and possibly many of you) is the difference in one’s voice when teaching as opposed, say, to chatting to friends. Schools are full of digital recorders now so why not get involved.

You can send recordings via Audioboo (if you have a iPhone or Android Phone) – otherwise you can upload to Youtube and email a link to

The site also features:

I’ve said it before but I’m often struck by how important our voices are in teaching and how little we really know about them. Or is it just me?

The Saltire

I was honoured to be able to take part in Sunday’s Saltire celebrations in the fantastic acoustic of St. Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington.

My role was that of accompanist in a performance of Robert Burns’ Ca’ The Yowes sung by Zoe from North Berwick High School (pictured below with performer and MC for the evening, Phil Cunningham).

Zoe shared the bill with very distinguished company: Dougie Maclean; Karen Matheson & Fish. The warmth and encouragement of these seasoned performers was very touching and, I couldn’t help noticing in the afternoon’s sound check, that they seemed to be very impressed as Zoe brought the song to this moving climax: ca-the-yowes-last-3-verses-homecoming-2009-11-29

Judging from the reception, the evening’s audience was similarly moved.


Joe Bonamassa

My colleague and friend, Mike McGeary, got in touch today to alert me to an opportunity for pupils to attend a workshop with legendary bluesman, Joe Bonamassa.

Date: Saturday 5th Dec

Venue: HMV Picture House, 31 Lothian Road (next to Usher Hall).

Time: doors open 2:45 – kick off at 3:00

Cost: FREE

Here’s a sample of the man in action:

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I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Last session I included a short Desert Island Discs session in an In Service as a prelude to offering a session on Audacity. The item I chose to represent my love of the craft of musical arranging was I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter arr. Nelson Riddle) from the album Songs For Swinging Lovers:

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At that time, this was the only arrangement of the song I really knew and, as so often happens, it seemed like the best and only expression of the song. However, on Monday of this week, following another In Service, I heard a contrasting arrangement on the Radio 3’s In Tune – one of those moments when you end up sitting in the car, at the journey’s end, until the song was over. The singer is a sprightly 82-year old Barbara Cook with Michael Kosarin on piano and Peter Donovan on bass. I’m presuming the arrangement to be the work of Kosarin – a celebrated Broadway musical director. You can hear the song here at 27:35 (until it’s over-written by the edition on Monday 2 Nov). What impressed me particularly was the harmony from 28:27 – the arpeggios seeming to capture the giddy relentlessness of romantic obsession.

I’ve always felt the art of arranging to be taken for granted. Perhaps that’s a compliment to many arrangers – that their work makes songs sound so natural that it seems like no big deal. However, the result is that, compare to performing & composing there is little discussion of the topic. That’s why I consider this six-part interview of Nelson Riddle to be something of a treasure:

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Nava Rasa

Former Knox pupil, Simon Thacker, is currently gathering together an East/West ensemble entitled the Nava Rasa Ensemble for a ten-date tour (details here). The programme, Inner Octaves, will feature music by Shirish Korde, Terry Riley and Nigel Osborne. Simon is never one to shy away from technical or musical challenges and this promises to be an unique evening – and one to remember.

Digital Delay

If someone were to mention electric guitar with digital delay, certain musical ideas might spring to mind – but probably not what happens from 4:00 in this video as the player is from quite a different musical culture. [kml_flashembed movie=”″ width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

Carlos Bonell Concerts & Masterclass

Haddington-based guitar teacher, Liz Mercer, is putting on a weekend of events featuring her former teacher, Carlos Bonell.


In order, they are:


Saturday 28 November at 12:30


Children’s Matinee Concert in St. Mary’s Church, Haddington. Ticket price £7 per adult, which includes entry for two children.


Saturday 28 November at 19:00


Evening concert in St. Mary’s Church, Haddington. Ticket price £14 (limited place senior citizens price £7)


Sunday 29 November at 14:00


Masterclass in Town House, Haddington. Participant price £15, Observer price £9.


Tickets can be ordered directly from Liz, using this booking form which contains all necessary contact details.


Guitarists talking guitar

Radio 4 is broadcasting a series of five short programmes this week (Mon – Fri, 15:45 – 16:00) about guitar style and technique. Each day, Joan Armatrading discusses playing ideas, tunings etc. with one of five players: Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, John Williams, Russel Lissack and Bert Jansch.