I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before , but music and science came together in a highly unusual way earlier today, when a set of bagpipes were introduced into the environment of the science laboratory here at the University.
Be not alarmed, Gentle Reader: there was no experiment being performed on either instrument or player, who in this instance was second-year Music Performance Scholar and Biochemistry student, Eloise Jack. In her capacity as a student of Biosciences at Kent also involved in extra-curricular music-making, Eloise neatly brings together the elements of both academic study and extra-curricular enhancement of the student experience – by day, she can be found working in the laboratory or in the lecture-theatre; at weekends and during the vacations, she is busy wielding her bagpipes either around the campus or as part of the piping-community somewhere (you can read more about Eloise’s experience over the summer at the National Piping Centre on the blog here).
Representing two aspects of university life coming together, Eloise will be the focus of a feature in next month’s University magazine, and this morning’s photoshoot drew her away from the concert-hall and into the scientific enviroment. We’re looking forward to reading the feature next month.
My thanks to colleagues in the School of Biosciences, Professor Dan Lloyd and Ian Brown, for opening up various venues in the Stacey Building to help with this morning’s shoot.
As part of her Music Performance Scholarship, first-year Biochemistry student and highland bagpiper, Eloise Jack, recently took part in a piping course at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. Here, Eloise reflects on her experience.
Thanks to the music scholarship I received from the University, I was able to attend an intensive piping course from the 24th-28th of June at The National Piping Centre in Glasgow. Each day consisted of three one-to-one sessions, with time between the lessons to practice in one of the centre’s practice rooms. Throughout the week I had lessons with four different instructors, covering different styles and playing techniques, and also tuning the pipes and general maintenance.
In the first lesson I set my goals for the week with Finlay MacDonald, head of piping studies at the National Piping Centre. These included: –
• Expanding my musical repertoire and learning new styles of tunes.
• Learning the correct technique to tune my bagpipes myself, by ear (Usually someone else tunes my pipes for me using an electronic tuner.)
• Developing my embellishment techniques and overall piping technique.
Each further lesson was different and tailored to my needs, and depending on what instructor I had depended on what we worked on in the lessons.
I usually play marching tunes as I play with a marching band, however I wanted to expand my solo music repertoire. During the course, I was introduced to and started learning music in four different styles, including a jig, a reel, a strathspey and a four-part 2/4 march.
Tuning my pipes by ear was something that I was very keen to learn, as I normally have to rely on someone else to tune them for me. It is a difficult technique to master because you have to keep a steady pressure whilst trying to tune the drones so that the reeds in the drones and in the chanter vibrate steadily.
In completing this course, I managed to achieve all the goals I initially set. I also completed some much-needed maintenance on my pipes which was an unexpected expense, but the results in terms of the sound I can now achieve made it well worth it. They not only sound better when played, but the adjustments make it easier for me to practice tuning as make it easier to hear when they are in tune.
I really enjoyed the course. Being able to focus on just bagpiping really helped and I would definitely attend another intensive course in the future so that I can continue to develop my overall technique and repertoire.
Over the weekend, third-year Music Performance Scholar and violinist, Melody Brooks, took part in the Chineke! Junior Orchestra’s events as part of the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre; this is her story…
This weekend, I had the pleasure of playing with the Chineke! Junior Orchestra as part of the annual Imagine Children’s Festival that takes place in the Southbank Centre. Children of all ages gathered (with their parents) to take part in a number of workshops with us and then watch our concert.
Each workshop was led by a different person. The first two were led by dancers, who focused on the first and last movements of the Othello Suite by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. They taught the children dances to to fit the pieces, and then the orchestra surprised them by entering through the audience and performing the pieces live. After an initial play-through, the children and orchestra performed the piece together, in front of all their parents and peers. The final workshop, led by a viola player in the Chineke! senior orchestra, was a singing workshop. This focused on the ‘Children’s Song’ in the Othello Suite. She taught them a song based on the main melody of the piece, and again, the children were able to perform it live with the orchestra. The audience truly enjoyed exploring the movements of this recently resurrected suite.
The concert started at around 3:20pm. Conducted by the brilliant Stephanie Childress, we performed the St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst, the first movement of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, and four of the five movements of the Othello Suite. We were truly inspired by our conductor, who brought clarity and excellence to our interpretation of the pieces. A former BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist, she was the epitome of musical excellence. The atmosphere was truly electrifying. The children were enthralled by all the lively movements, whilst their parents were moved by the slow ones. Everyone was in awe of the two young female soloists in the Bach concerto. They carried themselves with grace and poise, and perfectly embodied the essence of Bach. I was especially proud of Inez and Shona, especially as I had met and played with Shona as a budding violinist 10 years ago. All in all, it was a beautiful concert, especially considering that we only had two-and-a-half days to prepare!
Finally, the concert ended with a bedtime story told by the founder of Chineke!, the formidable Chi Chi Nwanoku, OBE. She told the children how music had always been a massive part of her life, and how she started playing the double bass after a knee injury took her out of the running for the Olympics. As she revealed her motivations for founding Chineke! – and more specifically the Chineke! Juniors – the orchestra accompanied her with the harrowing ‘Willow Song’ of the Othello Suite. It was truly moving.
All in all, it was a beautiful weekend experience. I had fun learning the new, enthralling music by Coleridge-Taylor and playing St Paul’s Suite (which has a special place in my heart!). I was able to meet new musicians, including several LPO Junior Artists (the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s initiative in partnership with the Royal Academy of Music) and future Royal College of Music attendees. It was an honour to play with such talented and dedicated BME youth, and I look forward to seeing what the orchestra does in the future. Be sure to check them out!
Continuing the series profiling University Music Performance Scholarship students and Award Holders. This week, foundation-year physicist and reeds player, David Curtiss.
I started my music-making on the piano at age 7, something that I have tried to continue developing throughout my years of study. I then decided that I wanted to be part of my school orchestra and so chose to start the clarinet, leading me onto the local area wind ensemble and a host of fantastic opportunities that followed.
I started on third clarinet in the youth band, and after 4 years found myself principle in the main band. I was then offered the chance to play the tenor saxophone, I took it (because who doesn’t want to play the coolest instrument?). This then opened the door to join big bands and play in different ensembles.
Because I could now play multiple reed instruments, including the oboe, I was invited to play in the pit band for the school productions, such as The Sound of Music and We Will Rock You. It’s something I have thoroughly enjoyed and made sure to take part in every year. I also had a brief trip onto the stage for our production of West Side Story where I played the lead role of Tony, a fascinating experience which gave me a new respect and insight into musical theatre.
My next venture was into the baritone saxophone when I was asked if I’d like to give it a go and I haven’t looked back! It has given me the opportunity to play alongside the Scots Guard in their chapel next to Buckingham Palace and at The Royal Albert Hall as part of the Hampshire County Youth Wind Ensemble, as well as a host of other locations that I would never have thought possible.
I continued my musical education at college however switched courses to pursue a scientific route. Last year, a few friends and I had the idea of starting up an orchestra for fellow college students. This idea spread into a full orchestra, wind band and string orchestra resulting in a full concert last year in Winchester. This new musical venture also gave me the opportunity to do more conducting with the string orchestra when we performed Grieg’s Holberg Suite. We have also just planned a concert for Easter where we will be putting together a jazz band and some smaller ensembles which is very exciting!
My musical journey has continued to grow here at Kent where I am part of the Concert Band, Big Band, Pops Orchestra, General Harding’s Tomfoolery, Chorus and Cecilian Choir. One of my goals for my time here at Kent is to assemble a sax quartet. I have some pieces that I have arranged that I would love to be debuted by an ensemble such as this. I am amazingly grateful to be a recipient of the Music Scholarship, as it has allowed me to purchase some desperately needed upgrades for my instrument, and also to have the chance to be taught by the fantastic Peter Cook. I look forward to developing my playing and getting involved with everything that the brilliant Music Department here at the University has to offer…
Congratulations and thanks to first-year Music Scholar, Eloise Jack, who piped us home on Friday evening in honour of Burns Night.
Dressed in her Day Uniform, Eloise – who is in her first year studying Biochemistry – patrolled the piazza outside Gulbenkian as people headed home at the end of the day, sending a selection of traditional Scottish tunes skirling into the evening air.
Congratulations to everyone who graduated from the University in July, especially to the many musicians amongst the mortar-boards and gowns swirling around the Cathedral Precincts and celebrating their success. Included as part of the throng were the following:
We wish them – and everyone else who graduated! – all the very best for the future.
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.
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!
Continuing the series profiling University Music Performance Scholars; this week, Masters student in Actuarial Science, Ramnath Venkat Bhagavath.
Having been born into a family of musicians, I started my vocal training in South Indian Classical music (Carnatic music) at a very young age. I still remember my childhood days when my grandmother would wake me up at 5 am in the morning and make me practice for 2 hours, every single day. Being an accomplished Veena artiste, she was a perfectionist in every sense. I gave my first public performance at the age of 13 and since then, I have been regularly giving vocal concerts.
After completing my schooling in India, I did my undergraduate studies in Toronto, Canada, and immediately followed that with a Masters at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. I relocated back to India in 2012 after my studies and worked there for five years before I decided to come to University of Kent to do my second masters. I was actively pursuing and performing music throughout, alongside studies and work. I was fortunate to perform on many prestigious stages in India and abroad.
When I first came to University of Kent, I was a little worried whether I would have the opportunity to pursue music along with my masters. I was even apprehensive when I applied for the University Music Performance scholarship as I wasn’t sure whether Indian classical music would be encouraged. All this changed when I had my audition for the scholarship. Both Susan (the Director of University Music) and Daniel (the Deputy Director of University Music) were extremely welcoming and encouraging of Indian classical music. When I got to know that I was selected for the scholarship, I was very thrilled and delighted beyond words.
When I first stepped into the Colyer-Fergusson hall, I was amazed at the splendor, grandeur and acoustics of the hall. I was lucky to have couple of my skype music classes with my Guru in India, right in that hall. I also had access to practice rooms with just an email notice. I was able to actively pursue music while at Kent.
When I was given the opportunity to do a lunchtime concert at Colyer Fergusson, I was inexplicably happy. After all, to perform in such a hall will be every musician’s dream! My performance was well attended and appreciated by everyone. I had excellent musicians from London accompanying me on the Violin, Mridangam and Ghatam for the lunchtime concert. If not for this concert opportunity, I would not have had the chance to know these musicians. We already have plans to collaborate again in future.
Furthermore, I also had the privilege to perform during the Scholars lunchtime concert, where I performed along with other music scholars. I also worked with the University wellbeing department to conduct workshops on Raga singing, as a part of their wellness week program. I sincerely express my gratitude to everyone at the Music department for giving me wonderful opportunities to showcase South Indian Classical music. University of Kent has truly given me beautiful musical memories that will be etched in my heart forever!
Read more profiles of University Music Scholars here.
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.