Monthly Archives: July 2018

My New CD Is Here!

I am SO excited to announce that my brand new album is out now on CD!

This week’s blog post is going to be a little different in its format – I decided to switch things up a bit and make a new video diary entry to add to my E-Gré project series.  By the way, if you haven’t seen the rest of my video diaries where I documented my whole journey on this fascinating project, make sure to check them out in the E-Gré section of this website so that you can get all caught up!

This is the first time that I have ever produced my own CD and it has definitely been a huge learning experience.  I just had no idea about the amount of work that goes into producing a CD; from choosing the right colours and fonts, creating album art and working out just how you are going to distribute the album… it is certainly a huge undertaking.  But this has also been a process that I have found really interesting, and in all honesty, I have LOVED having complete artistic control over the whole product.   I am absolutely thrilled with how the CD has turned out and am excited to finally share it!

In this video diary, I’ll give you a mini ‘tour’ of the CD and talk you through how I made all of the decisions that I was faced with.  I’ll fill you in on the meaning behind the beautiful album art – a gorgeous painting of Sonia by her first love, Walter Gramatté – and update you on my plans concerning distribution, as well as what’s next in terms of the future of the whole project.

I am also very excited to share with you that the album will shortly be available on Spotify!  I will soon be announcing the exact date of release.  Getting the permission for this is just so fantastic because it was always a goal of mine to try to shed as much light on this music and reach as wide an audience as possible.  I hope that, through making the recording open-access and available for everyone to hear, there will be some young violinists out there who will feel inspired to learn and play these wonderful Caprices, as they are SO worth it!  If you would like a copy of the CD, or have an idea for a school or library that might really benefit from having a copy in its archives, please let me know and I will add you to the mailing list!

Lastly, I want to thank the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation again for all of their support throughout this entire project.  I feel utterly privileged and so lucky that I got to work on this music so intensively and create something of which I am so proud, and it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without their support.

 

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My Current ‘Technique Practice’ Regime

To write a blog post describing how I practice my violin technique on a day-to-day basis feels somewhat akin to that common teenagers’ nightmare, where one, suddenly and for no apparent reason, finds themselves stripped down to their underwear in front of their high school cafeteria.  The truth is that an open and honest conversation about technique practice amongst musicians, and even more so between musicians and the general public, is a pretty rare thing; we love talking about our exciting concerts and projects, not so much about our scales!  During student years, technique is generally a private matter between a teacher and their student and I am sure you would be hard-pressed to find a professional musician who will freely admit to what they have to do to stay technically fit on their instruments.

Why is this?!  Perhaps we, as musicians, secretly enjoy that the only image the public has of us is when we are at our absolute best – on stage, in performance.  Nobody has to see the daily slog, the painful 3rds and octaves exercises, endless scales and studies that drone on and on.  In a live performance, musicians can hide all of that work behind their music and make what they are doing look effortless… which seems wonderful, but it is only a tiny fraction of the whole story.

I think it’s time to let the cat out of the bag.  Playing an instrument is SO difficult – it simply cannot be done without learning a good technique and, even more importantly as you get older, maintaining and looking after that technique!  In this blog post, I am daring to expose myself and put out there what I do every day to keep my technique in shape.  I will set out my technique practice routine in the order that I do it, which is also my personal order of priority, according to how much time I have on any particular day.  I hope you might find it interesting, or that it may give you some ideas, and I also hope it will be a useful post for me to look back on, on those days where I don’t feel motivated to practice.  I also wanted to state that this routine is true as of now, this present moment, July 2018, and it does change up often, so perhaps I will make this post into a series and update it as it changes!

One last thing to mention before I dive in, is that I was about 13 years old when I really discovered scales and all the potential ways to practice them; as a teenager I spent about two hours a day practising scales, playing them in different rhythms, bowings, dynamics, tempi, double stops.  I actually enjoyed the structure and nitty-grittiness of this kind of practice and I have to say that the work I did on scales back then has saved my ass SO MANY times – in situations where I am sight-reading, where I have to learn a piece really quickly and just in general daily intonation practice.  So, if you have any doubts as to how worthwhile technique practice is, I can assure you, it is.  And the sooner you start, the better.

Step 1 – Warm up. Every day, come rain or shine.  Approx. 12 minutes

  • At the beginning of my practice, after tuning, I play a simple chromatic exercise, which I think originally came from a Ševčík exercise book, but I’ve been doing it for so long now that I can’t even remember.  It’s basically just a short series of chromatic scales, starting with 5 note scales, then octave scales, and finally two-octaves (in one bow) from bottom G up to C (extended 4th on E string). I use this exercise to warm up my fingers and get them used to the feeling of the strings at the start of every new day.  I might also do this exercise when warming up for a concert, or re-warming up for an afternoon rehearsal, especially if my hands are cold.
  • Next, I will play a slow scale (usually it’s just a 4 octave G major scale), one note per bow.  This exercise isn’t really for the left hand, but instead so I can concentrate on the feeling in my right arm, feeling the weight of it going into the string and using gravity to draw out the sound from the instrument.  I will also think about my bow changes and string crossings, focusing on making them as smooth as possible.  After repeating this maybe three or even four times, I will turn one note per bow into four, and then eight, sixteen, and lastly all the way up and all the way down, getting faster and faster.  I will repeat until I feel comfortable.

These two small exercises take about 12 minutes to complete. On days where I don’t have much time to practice, I will stop here and go straight into practising pieces.  This is also my typical private warm up before an orchestral or ensemble rehearsal, where I am able to arrive a few minutes early and prepare myself privately.

 

Step 2 – Flesch.  Brace yourself.  Approx. 55-60 minutes (split between two days)

Alright, now comes some real nasty technique stuff.  I like the Flesch system, although I am not absolutely devoted – I will sometimes change up fingerings and bowings as I need to, or jump around between exercises if I feel like it.  Basically, each day I will pick a new key (or continue from the previous day if I didn’t manage to complete a whole set) and just dive in.

  • First come the one string, one-octave scales and arpeggios
  • Followed by the full three-octave scale and arpeggios.

These take me about 10 minutes, so this is another potential place for me to stop if I have run out of time.  I do these regularly, basically every day.

  • Next come the scales in thirds and 6ths.

I usually do thirds and 6ths together, and they take me about 15-20 minutes (variable..!) and, again, this is another place to stop and move on.  I probably get to these about 5-6 days a week, and usually I stop here and complete the whole set the following day.

  • Up next are the scales in octaves, regular and fingered.

Altogether, the octaves take about 15 minutes – I try not to spend too long on fingered octaves because it gets painful and isn’t good to do too much of.  To be totally honest, I usually HAVE to stop here, even if I have started with the octaves on a new day!

  • If I can manage it, I’ll add on 10ths.
  • I can’t lie, I pretty much always leave out the harmonics and double stop harmonics… I know, it’s bad.  I’ll work on implementing them more often.

10ths and harmonics together would probably take about 15 minutes. Then, DONE.

 

Step 3 – An enjoyable etude. Approx. 30 mins.

For the last part of my daily technique practice, I will choose an etude to work on.  I try to pick etudes that are related to the repertoire I am playing, or a specific technical issue I want to improve.  For example, when I was working on Kreutzer Sonata recently, I had trouble with the opening chords, so I chose etudes like Kreutzer No. 37  (I know, ironic that I chose an etude by the violinist for whom the Sonata I was working on was written!), and Dont No. 9.  Generally, I love the Kreutzer etudes, the Rhode, Dont and to keep things interesting I switch up between these, or if I find a new unique exercise that I want to try out, or one gets recommended to me, I will add it into my practice at this point.

  • Practice etude slow and intentionally.
  • Focus on the technical issue at hand.
  • Finish by playing it like a beautiful piece of music.

I can spend about 30 mins per day on an etude, or more if it’s a new one and I am enjoying it! I would say, I get around to step 3 on about 5 days in a week of typical practice, but this is totally dependable on my schedule, if I am doing an orchestral project etc.

 

And that is usually where I leave it.  I probably spend about an hour and a quarter in total on my technique practice each day, and this feels about right according to the rest of my practice.  So, now I would LOVE to hear from you.  How do you structure your technique practice??  Are there any particular exercises or systems that you swear by? Please let me know!

 

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10 Tips For Self-Care When Travelling

The season of travel is truly upon us!  Summer vacations, festivals, camps, conferences, weddings and a multitude of other summer activities and events mean that many of us will be away from home for a large portion of these upcoming weeks and months.  As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe in Salzburg, and, like all summers that I have spent here previously, I am again struck by the THRONGS of tourists bringing the streets of this city to life.

While travelling, visiting new places and exploring different cultures is SO exciting and a real privilege to be able to do, it can also be quite a stressful activity.  I have often heard people remark on the fact that, although they enjoyed their holiday on the whole, it didn’t turn out to be the incredible and fantastic adventure that they envisioned it would be, and I have come to believe that there is reason behind the saying ‘the best part about going away is coming home again’.  I think even the most seasoned travellers among us would agree that being away from home can be really difficult; we are displaced from all of our normal routines and suddenly without access to the regular home ‘comforts’ that we have implemented into our daily lives that we perhaps never realised were quite so important in making ourselves feel good.

The truth is that self-care really is important; it is what makes our bodies and minds tick, and what makes us be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.  And it shouldn’t have to stop when we leave our homes and go somewhere else – in fact, these might be the times when we need it most!  I have compiled my own list of self-care essentials for when I travel in the hopes that they might help some of you out too.  These are things that I know I need in my life so that I can function best, and therefore get the most out of every day, which is what we all want when we travel anyway! I have divided my list into different levels of necessity, starting with the absolute non-negotiables – the most vital self-care requirements to staying in top shape – working my way down to the more ‘luxury’ conditions – things that I don’t strictly need every day when travelling and that don’t really matter if I can’t get access to them, but that would just be nice.

Absolutely Necessary

  1. Sleep.  No question.  A decent night’s sleep is the most fundamental requisite to staying in good shape, when travelling or at home!  It doesn’t have to be a fancy hotel to do the job well either.  I’ve found that making sure my body is at a comfortable temperature and earplugs if I am sharing a room go a long way, and it doesn’t hurt to have some Nyquil in my bag either.  Whatever works for you to get a good sleep, do that.  And prioritise it!  I’ve definitely learned the hard way (admittedly, especially as I’ve gotten older) that my body just can’t keep up with staying out and socialising all night and then working at 100% the following day.  I’ve trained myself to ditch the FOMO and put my sleep at number 1, which means that I will maybe stay out for 1 drink before hitting the sack at 10 or 11pm, and not feel pressured into ordering another pitcher of beer (which inevitably turns into an all-nighter), and this has helped me out so much when travelling!
  2. Regular routines.  Obviously, nothing is really regular when we travel – every circumstance is temporary and different.  But I have found that the more that I can keep any kind of regularity in my bodily functions, the better I feel.  This means sleeping and waking at around the same kinds of times each day, eating at regular intervals so I don’t get overcome with hunger and hangry and (sorry to be TMI) making sure I have access to a washroom at about the same times each day too.  Especially if you are like me, and your body tends to have it’s own very clear clock and schedule, this last one is really important!
  3.  Coffee.  Well, for me it’s coffee, but for you it could be anything else; tea, a banana, a certain brand of orange juice, a bottle of wine…  I’m talking about that one thing that you know you need.  Don’t avoid thinking about it, if you know you need that one thing every day to make you feel the best – make a plan for how you are going to get it!  For me, I bring my Aeropress and a little bag of coffee with me everywhere – I just can’t rely on there always being a decent cup of coffee wherever I am, and I’ve suffered with instant crap enough to know that I need something better.   Maybe you can bring your own tea bags with you and a travel kettle, if that’s what you need.  Maybe you want to pack extra supplies of granola bars or nuts, if you know you are a picky eater and you want to make sure there will be something for you to eat.  Whatever it is, think about it in advance and make sure you can have it!
  4.  My water bottle.  It’s an easy one but it is definitely a permanent travel companion of mine.  I hopped on the reusable water bottle trend a few years ago, and haven’t really left home without one since.  Travelling is thirsty work, and there is really no need to continually buy bottles of water, nor to contribute to that needless waste of plastic.  I love having my own water bottle in my bag, and I find that I fill it up two or three times a day when I travel, which just shows how necessary it is to me.  I highly recommend getting your own, and here’s to staying hydrated! Just FYI, I use one by the American brand Nalgene, and I like it because it’s BPA free and it holds 1000 ml of water which is plenty but also doesn’t make it too heavy to carry.  Also, it’s a pretty colour.

Moderately Necessary

  1.  Physical activity.  I decided to put this in the Moderately Necessary category, because I know that lazy beach holidays are a thing and definitely have their place, and sometimes it is good to take this kind of break.  But, for me, even on this kind of vacation, making sure I have some kind of movement and activity in my day really helps me to feel so much more energised and mentally positive.  I love to explore new places by foot, as I think it’s the best way to really get to know a new environment, so walking is usually my preferred and most accessible form of activity.  If I happen to be staying in a hotel with a gym I will always try to use it (and I always pack some light work-out clothes accordingly), but if this isn’t possible, I would definitely recommend downloading and following the 7 Minute Work-Out app on your phone.  I really got into using this app when I was travelling for a couple of months straight last summer.  It offers a work out routine that you can do anywhere, and which involves no equipment, so it’s really easy and effective (definitely gives you a sweat!).  There are lots of other good apps too, including ones for stretching (although I would love any recommendations you might have for this!) and they are free, really beneficial and so easy to incorporate into your travel routines.
  2. Good food.  Again, I know there are some people who would disagree and put this one in the Absolutely Necessary list.  The reason I put it here is mostly to do with the matter of budget.  I am very open about the fact that I am pretty much always travelling on a tight budget, and in some places this can accommodate a great diet, with lots of great and cheap healthy food.  But in lots of places (unfortunately the places I tend to go most often), it just isn’t possible to get the best, most nutricious meals every day.  I would say, just do the best you can, and prioritise food as you want to.  For me, I know that I can’t afford to eat really good meals out every day, so I will make sure that I have a bag of apples to snack on, opt for buying some salady stuff for picnic lunches (which is just as cheap as buying fast food, where I am anyway) and find ways of having access to a small kitchen – either through friends or often hotels and hostels have them available for guests to use – so that I can prepare cheaper dinner options myself.  Fruit and veg are really what I try to go for as much as I can, and I will avoid quick, greasy junk food where possible.  Maybe you can choose to eat one really good and healthy meal each day, and just make do on bread and cheese for the rest of the time.  Perhaps food is higher on your priority list, so that you decide to save on other things like taxis or tram tickets.  But travelling should never be an excuse to binge on junk food just because that is what is most easily accessible to you. Putting effort in to find the best food options for you is really important.
  3.  Communication.  I know, sometimes we travel precisely to get away from everyone and everything.  And I enjoy that sense of liberation too.  But I still do find it moderately necessary to keep some amount of communication to the world going.  I need to be able to reach my boyfriend or my family, I might want to tell a friend about something exciting that I experienced that day, and just keeping up with the news these days is no small task.  A little bit of WiFi time each day for me is perfect, just to keep in touch.  Occasionally, and for very special people, I’ll even write a postcard.

Luxuriously Necessary

  1.  Downloaded podcasts.  Podcasts are a fixed and firm aspect of my everyday life at home, and I would definitely count them as a part of my regular self-care routine.  I find them interesting and entertaining, and they represent a way for me to escape my own world for a bit, to stop thinking about my own problems and just relax! (By the way, I’ve written a couple of blog posts on some of my favourite podcasts – check them out here if you need some recommendations!)  When I travel, I totally rely on having some pre-downloaded podcasts ready to go.  I listen to them while actually travelling, on planes and trains, or any time I don’t have access to WiFi (which can be often) and they also help me to get to sleep too.  I also sometimes have some downloaded TV shows or movies from Netflix on my tablet, and I know some people would opt for this, but for me, it’s podcasts all the way.
  2.  A good book.  I mean, because a good book is to travelling like hot sauce is to eggs.  They just go.  Even if you never have time to open it, just knowing that you have the option of reading a great book is like having a feeling of peaceful security in your bag.  I am on the brink of jumping on the Kindle bandwagon (a bit late to the party, I know) and would love to know your thoughts on this.  Are you a kindle person, or will nothing ever replace a real-life book for you?
  3.  My penknife.  My penknife is definitely a luxury; I do always take it with me when I travel, but I don’t always use it.  I have to say, the most useful element of the knife is the corkscrew/beer bottle opener!  But for those couple of times that I have been stuck without a knife, it has totally saved me.  Sometimes you need a knife to cut bread and cheese for a picnic.  Now and then you get some kind of technical issue with a suitcase that requires a knife to sort it out.  My knife also comes with tweezers, which I have definitely also found useful, and the screwdriver function has also meant that I have never had to buy a screwdriver – win!  It’s not hugely necessary, but it is really nice to have and when it does come in handy, I am always so thankful for it!

I would love to know what your self-care tips for travelling are!  Do you have a special pillow that you always take with you?  Is there an app on your phone that you use to make lists or travel arrangements?  Do invest in travel-sized products that help you maintain your favourite routines? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below!

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Wanderlust at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie

What does ‘Wanderlust’ really mean?

‘Wandering’ is an expression that feels somehow very luxurious and romantic to me; it makes me think of a movement that is slow, unhurried and meaningful, of someone who takes pleasure and joy in walking at their own gentle pace, taking the time to contemplate life as they wander – I can’t help but be reminded of the hymn, ‘I wonder as I wander’!  At the same time, I feel that wandering could just be about the act in itself, the very journey that is being carried out as one wanders.  I know that when I set out for a wander, my only intention is to do just that, nothing else must be achieved during my wander except the actual wander itself and maybe that is what is so luxurious!

When we pair these feelings about wandering with a kind of lust or a desire, ‘wanderlust’ seems to embody a deeper state of mind, a psychology combined with a passion.  Perhaps wanderlust symbolises a connection with nature or a world traveller, maybe it’s about an artist looking for inspiration.  Perhaps too, at its core, wanderlust really epitomises the tumultuous journey through life.

I hadn’t really thought much about the meaning of wanderlust, or how I felt about it, until I visited the wonderful ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island in Berlin.  The exhibition aims to explore all of these different concepts surrounding wanderlust, it’s many dimensions and the allegories that represent its ideas, found in the paintings of artists such as Caspar David Friedrich and Auguste Renoir, and it is the first ever art exhibition in the world to focus on this theme!  I actually found the exhibition and the artwork that was presented so powerful and enlightening that I just can’t believe that this has never been done before!

Firstly, if you are a fan of the 19th century German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, you absolutely have to get to the exhibition.  There is an entire room dedicated to his work, which includes the infamous ‘Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog’, completed in 1818.  I had wanted to see this painting for a long time, so this was a definite pull for me, and I was pretty awestruck by it!  It is so immense in its ideas, one lone man facing the world, shrouded in a mysterious haze, not knowing what lies beneath the fog… David Friedrich was one of the first painters to present figures with their backs to the viewer, and I find this adds such a personal but dramatic element to the ideas of the painting as well; we see what the man standing in the painting sees, his view is also our view so we could almost be him.  Our attention is drawn, not to him, but to what he is looking at, and that is so interesting!

 

 

I was extremely happy to be introduced to some other incredible paintings by David Friedrich at the exhibition too. I find his work to be very quietly powerful.  It’s not pretentious, or ‘showy-offy’.  It is humble and yet it addresses huge questions concerning life, the world, humanity… There was another portrait at the exhibition which was painted of David Friedrich working in his studio.  I was interested to learn that his workspace was utterly minimal; literally just an easel and canvas.  Apparently, he hated any kind of mess in his work environment, as when he was painting he wanted only to live in that world, with no reminders of his ‘real’ life.  I love to learn these snippets of information about artists whom I admire; it gives them such a character and personality in my mind and lets me see their work with more of them in it.

 

 

I saw several other fabulous paintings, but one that really stayed with me was ‘The Wetterhorn Mountain’ by Karl Eduard Biermann, from 1830.  It is difficult to see clearly in the photo below (click on the image to enlarge it), but there are two haggard and struggling climbers which contrast so starkly with the awesome and brilliant white mountain peaks.  Nature is all-powerful in this painting, while man seems so weak, human life so short and fleeting compared to the indestructible mountains and valleys.  I love the darkness and the light, I love the personality of both nature and humanity, and I find this painting altogether very inspiring!

 

 

The exhibition has so much to offer; there are, of course, very grand paintings as well as small sketches, sculptures and even music videos, including one by the Icelandic singer, Bjork.  In total, there are over 120 pieces of work on display, all arranged into different sections which showcase different aspects of Wanderlust, from ‘The Discovery of Nature‘ to ‘Life’s Journey‘, ‘Artists Wanderings‘, ‘Landscapes‘ and more.

As I wandered around the exhibition, it struck me just how poetic it all really was!  I was wandering through a ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition, contemplating beautiful works of art presenting ideas of wanderlust, as I myself experienced wanderlust.  In a beautiful twist of meta, wanderlust became the very act of going to the exhibition!

The exhibition is open until the 16th September (2018) and if you happen to be in Berlin until then I SO encourage you to go!  It takes roughly 2.5 hours to see it all, and I recommend getting the audio guide, unless all you really want to do is wander!

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Update: The End of an Era and Looking Forward

Phew!! What a moment this is in my life!

This week marks the end of my life as a student and, even more significantly, the end of my ‘Salzburg Era’.  On Tuesday evening, 26th of June, I played my last and final Masters Recital, thus completing my Masters Degree.  That night, I said goodbye to being a student, to the city of Salzburg that has created itself such a special place in my heart, and to my brilliant and wonderful teacher, Klara Flieder.

I moved to Salzburg when I was 20 years old.  At that time I didn’t speak a word of German, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or with music, and I didn’t even know much about my new teacher whom I was going to study with.  I only knew that I wanted (and needed) to get away from the boring politics and depressing life that I was living in London.  When I first arrived in Salzburg, I was completely overwhelmed by trying to figure out how everything worked and seemed to ‘fail’ at every step.  I don’t think I realised how difficult a move like that would be or what it would entail, and creating a new kind of life for myself has definitely been a slow and gradual journey.  But now I can honestly say that Salzburg, and being a student there, has enriched my life in so many ways and I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had never moved there! (I probably wouldn’t still be playing the violin, that’s how unhappy I was in London…)

 

A sneaky snap of my Beethoven ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ performance during my Masters Recital

 

I owe pretty much everything – my love of violin and music, my education, my outlook, my ideas – to my teacher.  I was so lucky to get to study with a professor who so understood me and cared about me, who inspired me and made me excited for each lesson, who made me feel the importance of our work so profoundly.  Klara deserves her own blog post so I won’t say too much more about her here, only to mention that saying goodbye to her the other night was incredibly sad.  When I finished my Bachelor degree with her and left Salzburg for the first time in 2014, it definitely didn’t feel like the end – somehow the metaphorical (and literal) door remained very much open for me to come back to do my Masters.  But this time, even though I know we will always be in contact and she will continue to be a big part of my life, it really does feel like the chapter is closed.

 

Celebrating with my wonderful teacher and pianist, after my Masters Recital

 

Right now I feel quite an intense mix of emotions! I must confess, I have been looking forward to this moment for a while and NOT having to deal with the obligations of being a student any more.  I am excited to get out there and start working on my own creative ideas, to not be held back by responsibilities of things like trying to get enough orchestra credits… I do feel nervous, though, because real life is daunting and being a musician was never going to be a big money-maker, especially doing the kind of creative work which I find so fulfiling.

But more than anything, I am SO excited! My head is bursting with ideas and I am ready to dive straight in.  Firstly, I always knew I wanted to get this blog back on track.  I have lots of posts ready to go, and ideas for many more, and I have decided that my upload day will be every Sunday, so make sure to check back in each week to stay updated!  I have my whole Eckhardt-Gramatté project on the back burner, so get excited for the imminent release of my album as well as more news surrounding the project! I can’t wait to get my recordings out there and hope that you love them as much as I do!  By the way, you may have seen that I created a whole section on this website dedicated to my work on this project, including videos, photos, quotes and even my Masters Thesis, so definitely check it out if you are interested! There is also the small matter of my upcoming move to North America.  I will be documenting that whole process, as I think it will be bigger and more complicated than I can even get my head around at this point, so there are indeed many exciting times ahead.

So, for right now, I want to say Adieu to my old life, hello to the new one, and a big welcome back to my blog! I am so happy to be back here and writing again and looking forward to a new chapter of life!

 

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