10 Things That Make Me Feel Really British

  1. TEA
    At all hours, day and night.
    Must be just the right shade of light brown.

  2. Calling “Cheers Mate” to the bus driver as you alight from the bus
    You met them once, they delivered you home, they are definitely your mate.  Also, yes, we say “alight”.

  3. Rainy Walks
    The British countryside offers some absolutely gorgeous walks.  Unfortunately, a walk that doesn’t involve some amount of rain is very rare.  It’s just part of the whole experience.

  4. A pint at the local pub
    My favourite pub in England is Dad’s local; ‘The Eddie’.  It is beautifully old-fashioned, with delicious beer on tap and good old board games on offer.

     

  5. A Sunday roast
    For some reason, Sunday’s are always incomplete without a tender piece of roast meat, little roast potatoes, veggies and, of course, a Yorkshire Pud.

  6. Hearing a wonderful melting pot of accents
    Wherever you go in the UK, you will hear a vast array of different accents and dialects of the English language, from the Geordies to the Scouse, the Welsh and Scottish, the West Country and the Cockney… And when a few of them come together in one conversation, it sounds like a marvellous, albeit slightly comical, musical symphony of language.
  7. MARMITE
    I love it.  You probably hate it.
  8. The feeling of pursing one’s lips, holding in your feelings, all to avoid an argument and keep the peace
    The British are experts at bottling up their emotions to avoid any embarrassing conflicts or public displays of emotions.  The neighbours are always watching, and what will they think?!

  9. “I’m desperate for the loo”
    Some of our shortened words and phrases are just brilliant, especially those used in connection to the bathroom: loo, bog, privy, spend a penny…

  10. Monster Munch
    My personal favourite.  These pickled onion flavoured crisps are mouth-wateringly good.

     

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Beautiful world, where are you?

Today, I simply want to share a stanza from a poem by German poet Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenlands – The Gods of Greece.

This poem, written in 1788 and later set to music in the form of an almost painfully beautiful song by Franz Schubert, is originally 25 verses long, although Schubert chose only one of these for his lied.  Having just spent some time in Liverpool, a city that is currently in the midst of its 2018 Biennial of Contemporary Art – a festival, set this year to the theme of Schubert’s particular chosen stanza, Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? – I felt compelled to share these touching, emotional and very relevant words.

 

Schöne Welt, wo bist du? Kehre wieder
Holdes Blütenalter der Natur!
Ach, nur in dem Feenland der Lieder
Lebt noch deine fabelhafte Spur.
Ausgestorben trauert das Gefilde,
Keine Gottheit zeigt sich meinem Blick,
Ach, von jenem lebenwarmen
Bilde Blieb der Schatten nur zurück.
Fair world, where are you? Return again,
sweet springtime of nature!
Alas, only in the magic land of song
does your fabled memory live on.
The deserted fields mourn,
no god reveals himself to me;
of that warm, living image
only a shadow has remained.
English Translation © Richard Wigmore

The Biennial writes of this poem,  “Today the poem continues to suggest a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political and environmental turmoil. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.” (Visit their website here)

 

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Going Blonde

Something that I love about my blog, is that I have the freedom to write about absolutely anything I want.  Whether I’ve been inspired by an art exhibition or a performance that I have recently seen, have stories to tell about a place that I have visited, or if I just feel strongly about a particular topic – anything goes here in my little nook.  Just now, my life is definitely on the stressful side; I have a huge impending move, bringing with it many difficult challenges, I haven’t been home for more than a couple of weeks in a long time and, well, I am a poor musician!  (Enough said!)  So, I thought that for today’s blog post I would take a step back, write about something fun and just keep it real.  The subject of today’s post is how I dyed my hair blonde.

Going blonde was quite an experience.  It took longer and a lot more work than I ever anticipated and I am still learning how to handle it.  So I thought I would document the process here – this will be a post that I would have wished to read myself before I began this blonde journey of mine.  And please, if you have any personal experience in this matter, any tips to add, I would love to read them, so do leave them in a comment below!

I guess I should start by clarifying that my natural hair colour is a kind of darkish red – in winter it looks a little more brick-brown and in summer it tends to go a shade of strawberry blonde. I have experimented with dying my hair darker in the past; I first tried a tone just a little darker than my natural colour when I was about 16, and have since also gone a more chocolatey brown.  But I have always been curious to see what a true golden blonde would look like on me.  And the thing about hair is, it grows!  Nothing you do to it will ever require more than a short-term commitment!  To me, this just calls for creative experimentation.

So where did I begin?  Well, I decided first, being the cheap-skate that I am, that I would try to do it myself at home.  I first bought a semi-permanent box dye of a shade that was more of a dark blonde.  I would say, at this point, I was still unsure of the exact kind of blonde I wanted to be, and this is something I would suggest you really think about first if you are considering going blonde – it’s definitely a good idea to know the colour you really want to be before you start.  I also chose the 8-week wash-out dye, only because this is what I had done for going darker in the past and it had always worked really well.  Basically, this dye did nothing.  Maybe in some light it looked ever so slightly lighter… but you couldn’t really see any difference.  So I wrote this off as a fail.

Next, I decided to change two things; I would now try a permanent box dye, instead of the wash-out one, and I would pick one that looked super light blonde on the box (lighter than I had intended to go).  By the way, we have a pretty limited choice of box dyes in the shops here in Germany – I have since seen the selection of dyes in stores in North America, which is highly extensive in comparison – so both box dyes that I bought were L’Oreal, as this was pretty much the best option I had available to me.  After dying my hair with this second one, I found that it came out lighter than the first one, but it still wasn’t blonde!  My hair was now just a lighter version of red.

At this point, I realised that I was never going to get to a real blonde colour by myself at home.  So, with the help of my kind aunt, I arranged an appointment at a salon in Stratford, Ontario (where I was headed in a couple of weeks).  Before my appointment, I finally decided to choose a shade of blonde that I really wanted and the kind of look that I was going for.  I did some research online and found a picture of a style that I really liked, and I took that picture with me to the salon.

My Aunt and I, with newly blonde hair

The result: I LOVE my new blonde hair!  I have to say, my hairdresser was fabulous, she pretty much achieved exactly the look of the picture I showed her, and I can highly recommend Dudes and Dames Hairdressing Salon in Stratford! The appointment took about 4 hours in total, and most of that time was spent applying the dye individually to very small sections of hair (I have a lot of hair).  So if you are going to go through it, bring some reading material! I actually found my hairdresser’s technique for applying the dye pretty interesting; she would apply it in a V shape to some sections of hair, to achieve a kind of ombre look, before wrapping it, and then applied it directly from the roots in other sections, which she then folded and wrapped in foil.  She even left a few strands of hair all over my head out, so they stayed red, and the overall look creates so much texture and dimension.

Now, by this point, I had achieved the blonde that I wanted, and I was so happy.  However, I still had (and have) a lot to learn, because what I have discovered is that getting to the blonde you want is only part of the journey.  Maintaining the blonde is where the real challenge lies.  I have found that since going blonde, my hair has been very dry and brittle, and extremely difficult to brush.  I have been using L’Oreal Ever Pure Colour Care System shampoo and conditioner, followed by some coconut-oil-based serum and a frizz control product from Lush.  I brush my hair out with a wide tooth comb after I shower, as this has always been my strategy for dealing with my curls.  Again, if you have any suggestions for good products to use, I am all ears!

The other thing is that, of course, I knew my hair would grow quickly, and with this my roots would also grow out.  And it is happening very, very quickly!  I still absolutely love my blonde hair, but it is changing in tone every day as it grows, so I am always learning how to style it to make it look good and fresh, and constantly trying new things with it.

As of right now, I am not sure what my next plan will be; whether I will re-dye it, just touch up my roots at some point, let it all grow out altogether, or dye it a whole new colour!  I guess I will see how it goes and what happens over the next few weeks and months.  I will say that, for right now, I am really enjoying my new look and the feelings it gives me; it’s kind of like having a new character to play when I am out and about!  It feels warm and summery, friendly and bright, and I know that my red hair is lurking there, not far away, so I really don’t miss it!

So, if you are considering changing your hair colour, to blonde or anything else, I say do it!  It will satisfy that small curious voice in your head, and even if you hate it, it’s always good to try new things!

 

To Recap

What I learned:

  • Know exactly what colour and shade you want to dye your hair
  • Blonde hair needs a professional
  • Be prepared for lots of after-care!

 

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Why I Love Live Theatre

As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.  I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!

Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important.   I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all.  Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!

(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)

 

A piece of art comes to life! 

When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable!  They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience!  At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music.  But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it.  And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too.  Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.

 

Different interpretations

I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it,  finding its own meanings for myself.  Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting!  This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different.  Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger.  Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech.  For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language.  At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two.  One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.

 

Each one on their own journey

Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members.  There is always so much happening in the audience!  Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it.  In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too.  We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads.  We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing.  Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently.  Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.

 

Human connection

Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people.  At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence.  But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together.  In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing.  There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends.  We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place.  In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.

 

There’s only one shot

This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience!  Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre.  They know this, and the audience knows it too.  Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs.  As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing.  As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous.  It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about.  And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!

 

Mistakes!

And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes.  I love mistakes.  I think they are brilliant.  Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake.  When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers!  To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.

 

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Pekka Kuusisto and The Reddress

Photo courtesy of Pierre Boulez Saal

 

When someone asks me to tell them who Pekka is and what he does I find it pretty difficult to answer in any coherent way!  I can tell you that Pekka Kuusisto is a violinist from Finland, that he can play ANYTHING in an astoundingly beautiful way but that he can also create new sounds that one has never heard before.  Pekka crosses boundaries, challenges you to consider life and music in new ways, to listen with new ears and seek out new meanings and ideas.  Whether he is playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, old Scandinavian Folk tunes or even just improvising on the spot, there is an artistry in his work and a special humbleness in his character that creates something truly magical and utterly unique.

I have to admit that Pekka has been a hero of mine for many years (maybe then, this post is a little biased…!).  Throughout my student years, I was that annoying violin pupil that sat in my room for hours, watching and re-watching videos of him playing any repertoire that I was working on, making notes about every small idea or movement that he would make and trying to copy and implement it into my own playing (God, this is embarrassing). When I got to meet and work with him on Beethoven’s Op. 127 String Quartet a couple of years ago, it was a DREAM and I still feel inspired by that experience!   Pekka treated my colleagues and I as equal musicians, listened eagerly to our ideas, cared about us and our group like it was honestly as important to him as it was to us, worked with us for hours and hours after the schedule ‘told’ us to finish and then continued to sight-read Haydn Quartets with us late into the nights, ate ice-cream with us and made us laugh.  It was such a joy to realise that this violinist whom I SO admired, was also such a nice, friendly and beautiful person, and as a result I am now able to call him my friend.

Unforgettable days working on Beethoven Op. 127 and having so much fun! With Hannah Nicholas (Viola), Carlyn Kessler (Cello) and Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)

 

Alright, I think I’m doing OK so far, I think you get who Pekka is – great violinist, great person.  Now let me try to explain the Reddress.

I first heard about the Reddress during those 2 weeks of working on Beethoven with Pekka, when he told me all about its concept and design.  Very literally, the Reddress is like one huge organism; in the centre and high up on a podium is the nucleus of the dress, where the performer stands and commands, and throughout the body and folds of the dress, which take up the entire auditorium, are little pockets (200 in all) where members of the audience nestle in and become part of it.  The dress was designed by artist, Aamu Song, who questioned the traditional concert set up of a musician on stage in relation to their audience, who are usually so far away from them and sitting in de-humanising rows of seats.  She wanted to invent a new way of connecting musician and audience, make them all part of one event and overcome physical separation and distance.  And this is exactly what the Reddress does.

Song originally envisioned the Reddress for a female performer, and you might be wondering what it’s like to see a male artist, such as Pekka, at the centre of such a dress.  Well, when  Song first saw Pekka playing in the dress, she found that he kind of became part of it, that the dress was gender-neutral and that the whole experience was about so much more than just the dress – it became about the power of music and connection in performance.

In the miraculous and  incredible way that life sometimes works, I was lucky enough to get the chance to see Pekka perform in the Reddress at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin.  It was one of those pinch me moments – I somehow got a very last-minute ticket, jumped on a train from Hannover and just went for it, because I knew I might not get the chance again.  When I arrived at the hall, dry ice and atmospheric electronic sounds greeted me in the foyer and all the way up the stairs and into the main auditorium.  I heard other audience members gasping as they also arrived at the hall, asking ‘What’s going on here?!‘.  Because it was such a spontaneous decision to go to the concert, I sadly hadn’t managed to get a ticket for one of the pockets of the dress, which meant that I was sitting on the balcony and viewing from above.  But actually I found this to have some advantages – I could see the whole thing in action at once and, because of the magnitude and height of the dress, I still very much felt involved.

When the music died away and the lights dropped, Pekka walked out into the room, whistling and making sounds with his voice into a microphone, as he walked between the people in the pockets of the dress.  When it came time to get into the dress, a woman helped him up into it, zipping him in and Aamu Song passed his violin up to him from her own spot in the dress.  Pekka began to play folk music, alternating between deep and moving sounds, upbeat dance movements, cold and shuddering harmonics and improvised ideas.  He played each tune in many different fragments, which were then electronically looped, on top of which he added the new fragment, creating a really rich tapestry of music.  Sometimes the looping stopped and he took the mic off his violin, letting himself play alone, just a sweet violin playing a simple Finnish folk tune in a red dress.  The Reddress also had the capacity for 360 degree rotation, and this gave Pekka the freedom to constantly move as he wanted; he played to every single person in that room, constantly switching his direction, moving left to right and vice versa, up and down, sometimes bending right down to the ground, other times reaching as far up as he could, and I felt that he was always trying to establish a connection with everybody that was present.

When he came to the end of the performance, the ritual of exiting the dress began; the violin was passed back down to Song, the woman who had helped him into the dress unlocked him from it and he climbed back down into the folds of the audience.  The concert ended with Pekka walking again among the body of the dress and the live bodies inside it, playing the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin, adding his own ornaments and decoration in his typical ‘Pekka’ style and silently leaving the auditorium and Reddress behind.

I found it really interesting to watch the emotional reactions of the people who were inside the dress.  There were those who sat up, wanting to be actively a part of the event, those who were tapping their hands along to the beat of the tunes, couples who shared the experience together, children who were fascinated by everything, and even those who were probably asleep.  The Reddress gave this audience total freedom to be who they wanted to be during this performance, and they in turn made up part of the performance itself.

Like me, you might be bursting with questions about the physical logistics of the dress.  How is it maintained?  How do they pack it up and transport it?  What is it made of?  When I first laid my eyes on the Reddress, I was immediately struck by the sharpness of its colour and by how perfect it looked.  The majesty and passion of the red colour that was totally unblemished was extremely powerful.  I was so interested to read about the cleaning process of the dress, which is of utmost importance to Aamu Song, who insists on this for each and every performance.  Apparently the dress, which is made of wool, felt and satin,  is vacuumed and frozen at -20 degrees, and it takes several people to set up and lay out!  Once you see the vast size and sheer volume of the dress, you can only imagine how much work this takes.

Song and Pekka have both remarked on the addictive quality of the Reddress;  Pekka commented that he now misses that same connection to the audience in any normal concert and that the Reddress is his absolute favourite performance platform.  And I can also say, as a member of the audience, that I will definitely miss feeling so much part of a performance as I did on that night.  Both as an audience member, watching concerts from some distant little chair in the dark, and as an artist, performing from a stage which feels so lonely, just seems to make NO sense now!  It feels so unnatural and false.  Of course something like the Reddress is so huge and awesome that it would be practically impossible to bring it, or even something like it, to every performance.  But being part of the performance of the Reddress has really got me thinking about how we, both as musicians and as audiences, can work to make this connection something real and break down that silly boundary between us.  Should we be rethinking the design of the typical concert hall?  Should we reimagine our performance style altogether? Are the general public of audiences and of artists on board for this transformation?  Personally, I am hoping that the Reddress starts a revolution!

So, for now, that’s the best I can do – and I hope I did Pekka and the Reddress justice!

 

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A Few More Berlin Gems For A Lazy Day

It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog.  It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’.  If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!

The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before!  The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it.  I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to.  I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.

Bites To Eat

First off and most importantly: food.  Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street.  I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.

For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot).  Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly.  The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!).  The coffee is also spot on.  I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!

The Commonground breakfast!

Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen.  I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high.  Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times).  I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus.  I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious.  The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun.  The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about  €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food!  But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!

I got the pork broth – delicious!

Coffee

If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon!  Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up!  This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim.  It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it!  You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it.  If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.)  Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too.  As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered.  As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved.  It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.

My iced-latte at Ben Rahim

Independent and Vintage Shopping

Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district.  But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you!  For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique.  It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women.  They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis.  Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find.  If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big.  Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find.  I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!

If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop.  There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too.  From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while!  They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.

Attractions

If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered.  Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from.  I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that!  If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin.  It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located.  If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day!  Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it.  I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum.  It is awesome.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin

If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal.  This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim.  It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts.  Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).

Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal

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Taking A Feminist Stance

I’ll be completely honest – this wasn’t the blog post I had planned for today.  I had a post all ready to go that is well formulated and structured, looks nice and has good content!  But last night, I watched a movie and I feel that I just HAVE to comment on it.

The movie I am talking about is a silly one, it likely won’t have much of a far-reaching impact, and it probably doesn’t even deserve to be spoken about, especially in its own blog post… but maybe it does!  Maybe it is EXACTLY media like this that SHOULD be talked about and thought about!

So, last night, after a long day, my mom and I decided to check what Netflix had to offer us in the way of some light-hearted entertainment.  We ended up choosing the first thing we saw, a film called ‘Like Father’.  We watched the little preview that Netflix gives you if you hover too long at the top of the page, and it seemed perfect for us; a fun, light comedy.

Here is the premise of the movie: we meet Rachel, a ‘workaholic’ for a big corporate advertising company, on her wedding day.  Up until the moment she walks down the aisle, she is sending emails and making work calls, and ultimately, it is for this reason that her fiance decides to leave her jilted at the altar, not being able to see a future with a woman who is this dedicated to her job.  Now for the sub-plot: Rachel’s long-lost father, who left his family to follow his own career path when Rachel was only 5 years old, has turned up to the wedding.  After things go pear-shaped at the ceremony, Rachel and her father end up reconnecting, get very drunk, and find themselves on the cruise ship honeymoon that was intended for the newlyweds.  Together with the help of a team of quirky characters on board the ship, including a gay therapist, an elderly couple, and of course, a comedic supporting African-American couple (I mean, could they have tried any harder to tick all their token boxes for this movie?!) Rachel must face the fact that it is because of her priorities, and her work-life balance, that things haven’t worked out for her, i.e. that she hasn’t been able to get married.  The question remains: can she really change all this and learn to put her phone away so that she can find happiness ( which means finding a man who will finally marry her)?

I just couldn’t really believe the movie I was watching – it felt like it belonged in the 90s, not in 2018!  Here we are presented with this character, Rachel, who is pretty much a  total bad-ass!  She works incredibly hard and has earned herself a great job (in a corporate company – never an easy task for a woman which shows tremendous strength of character on her part).  She’s ambitious, she has goals and dreams and she puts them above any man!  She is committed, she somehow manages to find the time to always look amazing and she also invested in a romantic relationship – I mean, wasn’t the fiance the idiot for not realising until his wedding day that her number one priority was her work and that he would never get her top spot?! It seemed to me that she was always clear about that!

However, this movie sought to portray her as a complete failure!  It was always deemed to be terrible when Rachel attended to work calls and emails on her phone.  The fact that her fiance left her at the altar was HER fault, because of her shortcomings.  And they made it pretty clear that if she didn’t change and realign her priorities, she would end up like her father and live a miserable and failed life.  Because marriage = success, happiness and fulfilment.  I just can’t find the sense in this.

What is perhaps even more shocking, is that the co-writer and director of the movie was a woman!!  We have to look at the movie in the context of what is happening in our world today. Women, and especially women in Hollywood, are finding their voices!  Time’s up! Do we really want to use our voices to preach this old-fashioned, out-dated message about women only finding happiness in men and not in their own personal work? I so believe in the ‘women empowering other women’ movement, and I think it is really important, even more so in 2018 and with someone like Trump in the Oval Office.  How could the woman who directed this movie be OK with putting her own heroine, Rachel, down like that?!

Maybe I’m being too hard on the movie, maybe one could say that is was just meant to be a shallow, light and funny movie and not dissected in any feminist way.  But isn’t this the whole problem?  That this is the kind of comment that our society can make about a woman and that it can just be allowed to fly because it’s not ‘serious’ or ‘real’.

Maybe I am the one to be criticised because I chose to watch it.  Alright, I accept that.  I didn’t need to engage, and I have worked really hard at disengaging from things I find toxic or that I don’t like online or within my own connections, so why would I choose to watch this movie, and watch until the very end?  Well, maybe it was some kind of outraged and morbid curiosity.  Maybe I am still a product of our society and, whether I like it or not, I simply can’t escape from being taken in by these ridiculous, glamorous, white Hollywood stories.  But it has certainly provoked me to think more about this, what I engage in, and to be more aware of what progress really is, or isn’t, being made.

 

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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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