Saturday, 17 November 2012

Piano week

This time last week I was rushing from a wedding gig in a marquee.  We were chilly until the hot air machine was switched on and then baking as it was pointing at the band. Then it was switched back off and the sweat cooled on our backs.

 So it was good to go from there to a bonfire-and-firework birthday party on a friend's farm. He had been storing school pianos for a tuner and four of them had been condemned, after having all useful parts removed. These pianos formed the heart of the bonfire and, surrounded by pallets, they made a fine fire.

 My own piano gets little use, I'm afraid. I like to bash out carols at Christmas but the children have stopped playing and during recent and continuing building work it has been almost inaccessible behind boxes and papers. So it was good that the piano tuner came last week, forcing me to tidy the room and rediscover the instrument. Hopefully it will be some years before it ends up on a bonfire, although it would be an effective cure for the woodworm with which it is afflicted.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Success story

It's always a pleasure to blow my own trumpet but last week two of my students did the blowing for me.  They took the Associated Board's Jazz Saxophone Grade 5 exam.  Usually the results take an age to come through but this time it took just over a week.  And great news!  They were each awarded 'Distinction' (which is the highest band, being better than a merit which in turn is better than a pass).  Whoopee!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Three Colours

On Friday I went to Polka Theatre in Wimbledon to help Joy Haynes hold an audition for a puppeteer/performer to work alongside dancer Jasmiina Sipila in a new production.  The piece will be a collaboration between Polka Theatre and Norwich Puppet Theatre and is aimed at children aged between two and four years.  My part was to provide some musical accompaniment while the applicants worked individually and then in pairs.  They were all very strong and I love improvising, especially with artists and dancers, so I was in clover.

We did some research and development on the show last year and I'm looking forward to developing it further in the New Year.  Below is an edit of last year's R&D.  I improvised with Jasmiina and shadow puppeteer Zannie Fraser and brought in some pre-recorded sequences for them to work with.  Joy Haynes directed proceedings and James Gibbon made a great job of editing a three days' worth of material into ten minutes.  The show is about the three primary light colours and we spent a day each on Blue, Red and Green.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Body Land Movement

Life just gets better.  I had a wonderful day on Saturday playing for a dance workshop led by Celia Little and Filipa Pereira Stubbs in woods west of Cambridge.  Called Body Land Movement, it facilitated expressive dance in nature and my role was to support people musically in their exploration.  As they improvised dance, so I improvised music.  It is very hard to convey, in words, just how magical an event this was for teachers, dancers and musician alike.  I won't even try.  At the end of the day we ate soup together and then made use of a sauna in the woods built from huge pieces of oak.  And that gave me a chance to practise, with an audience, the story I plan to tell at Tales from the Undercroft in Norwich tomorrow evening.

The Cambridgeshire site has not one but two covered dance floors without walls.  We used the larger one (pictured) as well as the woods around it.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Farewell, Monster

A rainy Monday is the perfect time to make a long-overdue blog entry.  The eight weeks since my last entry seem have passed in a blur.  For at least the last fortnight I have been completely submerged in 'There's a Monster in My Piano' which is the new show from Garlic Theatre.  The title says it all really.  The story features a toy piano from the famous (in toy piano circles at least) Michelsonne factory in Paris which burnt down in 1970.  These pianos are now rare and sort after.  You may laugh but know this: Yann Tiersen, composer of the Amélie soundtrack, plays a Michelsonne piano.

Being a show about a piano, and not being a pianist myself, I enlisted the help of Norwich piano teacher and jazz musician Simon Brown (pictured with Monster).  He covered the Chopin, ragtime and boogie woogie piano elements.  However, I'm rather pleased with this little piece, half of which we used in the show, which shows off the toy piano while simultaneously demonstrating why you won't often hear it national radio.

It's a waltz followed by a march.  The march bears a very close resemblance to a famous classical piece of music which I'll leave you to identify.

The show was a monster in more ways than one.  As well as involving the sampling of the piano, there are three animated sequences that needed music, foley and scripts recorded and applied.  And the show as a whole is almost never silent.  So it was a relief to declare it 'in the can' at the dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon and kick off the weekend on a high.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Beverley Puppet Festival 2012

A mini tour performing The Chalk Giants and Claytime took in Beverley Puppet Festival.  The weather plays a big part in any event using outdoor spaces but I think this would have been a great event even without the sunshine.  The highlight for me was Sockobauno's Little Fawn Caravan.  Not just because it is a wonderfully intimate space in which to view a performance.  Shane Connolly's two shows were masterpieces: tragic, comic and totally riveting, adults and children came out raving about them.

Other images I captured included the hurdy gurdy man playing for a dancing cow.  And I wish I'd caught the giant Punch a moment sooner as he waved from the railway bridge. But I like the juxtaposition with the booth in the foreground.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Birds of prey

The recent news item about Rufus the vanishing, and reappearing, Wimbledon hawk reminded me of some workshops I ran last month.  These are a relatively new departure for me, about which more later, mixing 'found' and 'junk' instruments with storytelling. They took place in a marquee at Holt Hall and I was sharing the billing with friend, author and performance poet David Mason.  

At the other end of the marquee a mandala making workshop was to take place. Nice and quiet.  But the bird drawing workshop leaders didn't like the space they had been given in a nearby gazebo - too windy for both the birds and the paper, apparently. And then the cuddly toy store felt they'd been left out on a limb so they moved in too.  Finally, when it rained, we had an influx of people looking for somewhere dry to eat their lunch. 

All this gave David a captive, if somewhat 'we'll-talk-amongst-ourselves', audience to try and out-shout.  For me focussing the children on the activity, especially the part where I tell a story, was challenging.  But somehow having the birds at such close hand made it all worthwhile.

Apologies for the qulaity of the pics.  Not for the first time, I left my camera at home and had to rely on my phone.