Hannah’s American Diary: part One

University Music Performance Scholar Hannah Ost is currently working in New York at the French Woods Festival  for the Performing Arts as part of Camp America. Alongside her busy schedule, she’s keeping a festival diary for the rest of us to enjoy: here’s the first instalment…


Tuesday 10 July

It’s been almost a month since I landed in the US so I thought I would update you on what I have been doing at French Woods Festival here in New York!

In the morning, I teach voice lessons to whoever wants to sign up. I have had as little as two students in two hours and as many as nine (which was a crazy day!)

After lunch, I am the Assistant Musical Director for two shows: James and the Giant Peach and a rewrite of Snow White which I have helped rewrite some music for. I mainly teach the solo numbers, while the Primary MD teaches ensemble songs. I’ll be playing the Keys 2 part in the pit band for the first.

I have also been given my assignment for the next session, which begins next week. I’m going to be the Primary Musical Director for a show called Junie B Jones and I’ll be playing Keys 1 and conducting the pit band for that show too!

I’ll keep you posted…

How music enhances learning: an article in Neuroscience News

A fascinating article in Neuroscience News looks at neuroscience research that links learning music with enhanced cognitive abilities.

A variety of research literature has been drawn together from all over the world, and seems to suggest that learning music enhances both cognitive as well as speech, attention and memory skills.

Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.

The report author,  Nina Krauss, Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, suggests also that there are “strong implications for education,” and also for aiding neural processes in children with learning disorders.

Read the full article here.

Feeling the heat: Open Day brings musical students to Colyer-Fergusson

Despite the twin threat of soaring summer temperatures and the quarter-final match as this year’s England football squad edge ever closer to the World Cup Final, last Saturday’s University Open Day brought visitors aplenty both to the Canterbury campus as well as to Colyer-Fergusson.

Amongst the visitors filing through the doors of the music building were people from Somerset, Devon, Northamptonshire, Surrey, Hertfordshire as well as from London and Kent itself; however, the prize for the Visitor from the Farthest-Flung Shore went to a lady from Paris.

Thanks to some of our loyal Music Scholars and student ambassadors (pictured above), who took the time to lead tours of the building and its facilities for extra-curricular music-making, sharing their experience of combining their academic studies with their musical life, and to Fleur, President of the Music Society for the next academic year.

To everyone who visited, hope you had a safe trip home – hopefully the roads at 3pm, when the day closed, were rather quiet for you…

Exhibition celebrates the construction of Colyer-Fergusson

The gallery is currently hosting the exhibition of photographs charting the construction of Colyer-Fergusson, originally created as part of our five-year anniversary celebrations marking 2017-18 as the half-decade since we opened our doors at the end of 2012.

The exhibition, on display throughout the summer, is open during normal working hours, admission is free, and there is disabled access.

Strings on tour: String Sinfonia performing in CAST Gala concert

If you missed the String Sinfonia’s trip to Canada last month then fear not; here is the group performing Elgar’s Serenade for Strings as part of the Chinese Artists Society of Toronto’s Gala concert, directed by Floriane Peycelon.

The performance was the culmination of the ensemble’s five-day visit to Canada, which also saw them give a  Classical Connections concert at Toronto’s Varley Art Gallery, as part of the gallery’s recent exhibition.

With thanks to CAST Administrator, Lily Cheng, for the footage.

Fiercely committed playing: Tasmin Little opens StEdsFest

The newly-refurbished hall at St Edmund’s School bore witness last night to a bravura concert from violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Martin Roscoe, on the opening night of the school’s second summer festival.

The programme opened with a fiercely committed reading of Brahms’ Sonatensatz, alive to the drama of the turbulent opening, followed by a finely-crafted performance of Beethoven’s Sonata no.10 Op 96, in which both violinist and pianist were alert to every nuance. An exquisite rendition of Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera opened the second half, which concluded with Franck’s epic Violin Sonata, an impassioned delivery, emotionally generous and brilliantly executed.

A riotous ovation from a packed, enthusiastic audience drew the performers back for two encores; a crafty Brahms Hungarian Dance full of wit and gypsy sass, and Salut d’amour by Elgar that brought a towering recital to a beautifully lyrical close. A terrific way to open this year’s St Edmund’s festival, which continues until 3 July.

Concert photos © Peter Cook / St Edmund’s School

Beach antics: Cellular Dynamics engages audiences at Beach Creative

The Herne Bay community is currently enjoying the evolving Cellular Dynamics project, as scientific research and live music combine in a two-week residency at Beach Creative, the community’s thriving arts centre

Saturday night saw a performance of music combined with live image- and video-projections by Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences, Dr Dan Lloyd, and Your Loyal Correspondent, set amidst the photographic exhibition accompanying the project, which has been on show since Tuesday and lasts until 1 July. The live piano works performed included John Cage’s hypnotic In A Landscape, the mesmerising Opening by Philip Glass, and pieces by Debussy and Tarik O’Regan, alongside hi-resolution spectroscopy and images drawn from the scientific environment.

The audience enjoyed pre-performance refreshments and a short introductory talk about the project at the University, before the performance. Uniquely amongst the various incarnations of the project which have previously taken place, this one saw both performers sat surrounded by the audience, creating a highly intimate atmosphere, with each piece prefaced by an informal Q&A session.

A display cabinet also presented functional peripherals from the research laboratory as objets d’art; another aspect of looking at the scientific landscape in a creative way.

The exhibition continues at Beach Creative until 1 July, and admission is free; Cellular Dynamics next appears as part of the Norwich Science Festival in October.

A chicken sandwich, a shoe emergency and a conductor’s baton: a day in the life of Hannah Ost

Recently, first-year Music Performance Scholar, Hannah Ost, had the opportunity to work as Music Assistant to Andrew Lippa at the Royal Festival Hall; here, she reflects on the hectic pace of life, the need for the right shoes, and working on The Little Princess


A few months ago, I saw an email advertising open auditions for Andrew Lippa and Brian Crawley’s musical A Little Princess. The auditions were for the main child leads and, needless to say, I was a little bit too old to go! However, there was contact information listed, so I decided to send an email to express my interest in the show and offer my assistance in any way possible. To my great surprise, I received an email back from the executive directors of the show, who had forwarded my email to Andrew’s full-time assistant. There were a couple of emails back and forth between us and about a week later I found myself sitting in my study, on a Skype call with Mr. Andrew Lippa himself (mildly freaking out, as he is my all-time favourite composer, but managing to keep calm and composed… if you’ll pardon the pun!) He talked to me about the possibility of my being his assistant; we went through the role, his expectations of me and what I should expect on rehearsal days.

So it came to be that on Friday lunchtime (25th June), I found myself carrying a chicken salad and diet coke to the Southbank Centre, to give to Mr Lippa, in a rehearsal for his musical, ‘A Little Princess’. I made notes during the Sitzprobe and formatted them to send in the evening. I got to listen to incredible singers, and musicians (from the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra) perform incredible music, being conducted by the incredible man who wrote it. We had dinner together and we talked a bit about me and my background, and also about his work and his life. He gave me some tips on making it in the industry, how to conduct a cast and orchestra and how the process of composing a full-length musical begins. It was a little surreal, considering Lippa’s music has been some of my favourites for years!

But Friday was nothing in comparison to the crazy day I had on Monday 28th…

9am – I arrived at Andrew’s hotel room, ready to head to the theatre. Helped him with his bags, got in a car and went through the Artist’s Door to the Royal Festival Hall at about 9:30.

10:30am – Technical rehearsal. I sat in the 2nd Violinist’s chair onstage and looked out at the 2,900 soon-to-be-filled seats, down at the performers, then back at Andrew, who was conducting the pianist and actors. Once again, surreal.

2:30pm – Dress rehearsal! I sat in the middle of the front row and watched the full thing. It was a fantastic opportunity and if anybody went to see the performance, you’ll know just how talented that cast was.

5pm – At roughly 5pm, we broke for dinner and Andrew went to get prepared for the show. All’s going well until I realise the showbiz after party is tonight and I’m going to be there. I look down at my £6 Primark plimsoles… I need shoes.

6pm – With an hour ’til house opens and Andrew getting ready in his dressing room, I walk 15 minutes to the Strand and frantically run around trying to find a cheap size 5 pair of heels. After spending 15 more minutes in a Next, I decide on a pair that fits and hurry back to the theatre.

6:55pm (5 minutes before house opens): I wait for the slowest lift in the world to come to my floor, shoot up to the stage and check everything is how it should be: Baton in place, scores organised, water bottles in position. I race back to the dressing room and get there on the dot of 7pm. Showbiz life: nailed.

7:25: Act One beginners call! I take my place in the stage right wing and page the curtain for Andrew, as he enters at 7:30, to begin the show…

From here, my job was essentially finished for a couple of hours. Besides paging the curtain, I was free to watch the show on the monitors and listen to the roar of the crowd after every number. I became a bit like a backstage helper, helping cast members find props, bringing cups of water to nervous performers, drawing the curtains after an exit/entrance. It was wonderful to see the smiles on the kids’ faces especially – when they came off stage after a big number!

At roughly 10:30, after packing up Andrew’s music, I joined him at the after-show party, where I was introduced to performers, press and agents alike. I shook hands with so many people I couldn’t even begin to count and exchanged details with a few too! Being in the presence of so many experienced industry professionals was amazing and I was happy to listen to them talk about their experiences working in musical theatre, television, film; I even spoke to some musical directors which made my heart leap just a little bit!

After that, myself and his full-time assistant, Matt Webster, got Andrew into a car back to his hotel, rejoined and stayed at the party ’til it ended at 11pm. I got the train home, albeit a little too tipsy for my own good, and hit the hay for a needed sleep.

So what does all of this mean for me?

Well, as someone whose life goal is to be a West End Musical Director, these two days gave me the opportunity to see how professional theatre comes together. I’ve worked in ‘Am-Dram’, but this was very different to that in a lot of ways. The main difference is the amount of people it takes to make a show. In the world of youth theatre schools, a sound 15 people will make up the backstage team. In professional theatre, there were at least that many people on the stage at any given moment, with another 30 backstage at least! You realise everybody has their own very specific job, which is of the utmost importance to them, but which others do not realise is happening. It is always non-stop and I barely sat down for two days… but that’s the exciting thing. There was always something to observe. I observed how to conduct an orchestra, two choirs and a full cast simultaneously. I observed how hierarchy works in the business. I observed how and how not to behave in the working world and it’s given me a brilliant new outlook to apply to my own endeavours at University.

Hannah rehearsing the ‘Pitch Project,’ an a cappella group she has formed at Kent this year

A lot of life lessons were learned in a very short space of time, but I am honoured to have worked for my favourite composer, on a fantastic production at the Royal Festival Hall. One of the best experiences of my life so far, for sure!