Sunday, 10 March 2019

What is the meaning of music?

Playing the trumpet is difficult. Sounds obvious, but the more I practice and the more it becomes easy in some respects, the more I realise how much more work there still is to do and how many hours I've already dedicated to learning this instrument. I really do enjoy it, and there are two things that have really stood out to me over this last semester;

1) Music doesn't have to be "trial and error" all the time.
If nothing else, my teacher Kristian has opened my eyes to the science behind trumpet playing. We can learn so many things from studies and research around the body and how we use certain muscles in playing. These, when combined with simple physics of airflow and pressure, make for firm foundations which can then lead to rapid learning through application. I've really learnt to be critical of everything I'm taught, finding out if it's trustworthy, and I've seen the benefit of this in my first semester here!

2) Music is a gift from God.
Psalm 96 "Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day."
This knowledge keeps me joyfully rooted in my identity, particularly as I realise more and more how unsatisfying music can be (think of the unsuccessful audition, the less-than-perfect performance, hours alone in a practice room etc). I'm so grateful for this perspective.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Århus, in the middle of Århus

What a lovely evening! I love sharing food at the best of times, but experiencing so many cultures in one go is something that can only truly be found at an international potluck dinner. We ate all sorts ranging from Venezuelan corn bread to Japanese soup as well as a taste of German, Spanish, Danish, Dutch and of course I made some toad in the holes! I'm so grateful that we now have a sociable dorm and are able to host such parties, plus spending time with friends is something I didn’t realise how much I had neglected whilst in London. I took the opportunity to introduce one of my favourite family games involving categories and cups of water being thrown on each other...
German Dampfnudler

 Working backwards, the last few weeks have progressively improved as I've got more stuck into Danish and student life, learning and improving my trumpet playing and settling at a church and meeting new people – thanks all you who have been praying for me! I still have various residency things to sort out and the Danish language speaking is still quite limited, but I’ve had my first speaking practice session with one of my dorm mates and he says I’m doing quite well so there’s hope yet.

Warning: nerdy paragraph alert

Having spent a crazy summer in many places with a sporadic practice schedule I was so grateful to get back into a routine and have a trumpet lesson again. After all, the main reason I applied to Denmark was to study with Kristian Steenstrup. After everything I had read about his methods and the radical change of moving to a new country, I was afraid it might not fulfil my expectations, but I was not disappointed in the slightest! This week has been my fifth lesson and it was particularly positive because I can already see how much his approach has benefited my playing and I'm seeing big improvements. I'm convinced that if everyone were to spend a month or two studying with him, they would not go back to another method because it's so logical, well thought-through and worthwhile investing in. Having said that, it would be pointless if you disagreed with the theoretical side of it! For anyone sitting on that bench I would recommend reading Blow Your Mind (he didn't pay me to write this, I promise). The other main factor I relish about RAMA life is the dedication and attitude of the students, particularly in the trumpet class. There's an ethos of support and encouragement for fellow classmates and it feels like a really safe environment to learn in without facing unnecessary judgement. Of course, we’ve also received (sometimes brutal) feedback from professionals since there were already two rounds of mock auditions. You can't argue that we don't face reality!

I think the sense of community within the department is demonstrated well by our trip to Aalborg for the rare opportunity to see Mnozil Brass perform live in Denmark - they were SO good! It was fun to have a look around the town too, taking in the classic Danish architecture and fun pub names...

Pub: Pigen og Trompeten/
The Girl and the Trumpet

In summary, I love that I can be confident moving to Denmark was the right decision and I’m grateful to God for guiding me through the process. Although I’m rarely homesick, I’m looking forward to having my Mum visit next week, some time off and a chance to explore this new city and country a bit more. Until next time!

S x

Looks like someone turned 25 recently...

The Danish tradition is to coat the birthday girl/boy
in cinnamon if they are not married by 25!

Monday, 27 August 2018

Settling in to Denmark: a mixed beginning (prayer letter)


A new country, new language, new home, new course and new friends. It’s all very new and different. But what’s the one thing that always stays the same? God. He is my rock and my refuge and it’s in him that I can trust - always. At least I know that, but the first few days and weeks are always the hardest.

Having lived in Yorkshire the majority of my life, I then settled in London for 4 years which was briefly interrupted by an Erasmus exchange in Hungary. Through this I’ve experienced both extended home comforts and the joy of knowing lots of people around you and the sudden changes that occur moving from one home to another. I’m pretty sure God was sending me to Denmark. I’ve yet to find out why, but I intend to make the most of it. Upon arrival I was looking forward to meeting my flatmates and course mates, getting stuck into a new church and being open with people about my faith. I’m still optimistic, but with the different universities starting at varying times the student church service was cancelled last week and my flatmates appear to be hermits so I haven’t met or socialised with them as much as I’d anticipated. However, God has greatly blessed me with other international students, including a few Brits, to get alongside at my music college and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know them!

It’s take two on church try-outs this week so hopefully I’ll have better luck this time! My main prayer points are:
1.      To find a good church and some fellow Christians.
2.      To meet and get to know flatmates (there are 12 of us, so far I’ve briefly met 4), hopefully leading to gospel-centred conversations.
3.      To maintain a positive outlook, always working for God’s glory both in studies and socialising.

P.S. If you have any encouraging passages or words, I will always appreciate them being sent my way!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

How do I pronounce this?

Yep, you guessed it - I'm travelling again!

Yes, I brought my trumpet.

Bit of a different vibe on this trip, and to be honest it's exactly what I needed. The daunting prospect of a new year and worrying where someone hid my 4 years of degree has been sufficiently counteracted with some productivity doing a postgraduate audition and time enjoying some really fresh air. As in, feels like -4 degrees celsius plus a sea breeze level of fresh. But my, I've not felt so at ease for quite some time, even with the purpose of my trip being for an audition, and not even whilst in my homeland of Yorkshire. How bizarre. Well not really, when you look at how gracious God is. Only he could provide such peace and serenity in such a beautiful creation.

Look at that sky!
I love just walking around a new place, seeing the sights, trying to figure out the language and how the transport system works. Århus is small enough to do that without getting lost, which is just as well because I couldn't find a paper tourist map anywhere. In addition, there's something special about having time alone/with God in a place and not having to be anywhere in a hurry - the complete opposite to life in London. Being able to appreciate the Lord's creation with few distractions is really freeing, and often goes unencountered by many - why? Why do we (myself included) so often feel something is not worth doing unless it is documented? I was convicted to simply enjoy some moments for myself and the amusement of any strangers who may be watching.

In addition, it's been my third experience of Airbnb and I would really recommend it to anyone who likes a homely (and cheaper) stay. It's such a great way to really see how the locals live. It's also been part of the whole peaceful feel to this trip. The neighbourhood in Åbyhøj (good luck pronouncing that, I still can't) is so quiet and has an almost village-like style to it. Excuse the book-like description but seeing it frosted over with the orange sun rising over the hills is literally like something from a postcard (not that I've been able to find any postcards here either). "Quaint" would probably be a suitable description from us Brits.

Music Academy
Musically speaking, I've had the opportunity to meet Kristian Steenstrup - "regarded one of the finest music pedagogues of his generation" and was accompanied by David Strong - a fellow Yorkshireman! Every performance is a learning curve; not only in my abilities but my humility as well - something else that is remarkable in the way God is shaping me as I grow closer to him.

I'm sad to have to fly home tomorrow, but so grateful for this lovely experience and time away. Until next time, enjoy these "documentations" of some aspects of my trip!

S x

Aarhus Cathedral

Dokk 1 - Library on the harbour which parks your car for you
 (not kidding)

Had time for some skating and thought the set-up was cute. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A Year Later...

Roughly a year ago, I was delighting in the wonderful time I had just experienced in Budapest on Erasmus. So I decided it was time to re-visit the blog. Since then it's been a year of re-adjustment and challenges and honestly, it's not been that easy. However, I was reminded yesterday that God doesn't promise a life of uninterrupted pleasures, but that we experience Battles and Blessings throughout life, often right alongside each other (Bible in One Year, Day 4). I realise now that the incredible experiences I had were a gracious gift, for which I am so grateful.

In this new year, my first trip starts tomorrow in the form of a visit to Aarhus, Denmark, as I begin a string of auditions to find where my future may lie. There are so many things to consider and explore that it can, at times, be quite overwhelming, but it's so incredibly exciting at the same time. I don't really know where I'll be next year, but I plan to enjoy the process of finding out rather than allowing it to take me over. There's far more to life than stress. I might even stay in London, who knows?
In preparation for this particular audition I've been reading Kristian Steenstrup's book "Blow your mind", which explores Arnold Jacobs' and Kristian's approach to playing a brass instrument. I've found it enlightening to read about the physiology of trumpet playing alongside how we think about our practice and what takes our focus. Highly recommend it to any keen brass players, it's not too long and I found it a very accessible read (any jargon is well-explained). By the way, it's almost half price if you order from here:

Danish Kroner
I'd better go and finish packing, but here's a little insight into how I coped on the "come-down" from an incredibly special period of my life;

Through the toughest patches of last year, I found comfort and hope in my Saviour, Jesus Christ. "He is my rock and my fortress." (Psalm 18:2) Nothing else comes close to the satisfaction he provides and particularly when I look back, I know how he has used my trials to bring me closer to him. My prayer is that others would acknowledge his awesome power and turn to him. Not only in the hard times, but in committing their life to him. He changed my life, he could change yours too.

S x

Monday, 2 January 2017

Erasmus has ended?!

Vienna looking marvellous!
Somehow it's now early January and I'm back in my lovely family home with a proper brew having returned to England and celebrated Christmas already. I can't deny how much I've enjoyed my Erasmus experience and although I didn't record it at the time for you, it won't be any less exciting to tell the stories. I've already noticed that I can't stop mentioning Budapest/Liszt Academy/new friends to everyone I meet, that's just a slight warning for those of you I'll see in January!

However it's not only Budapest I'm smitten with, I spent 4 days travelling to and exploring Bratislava and Vienna in late October and I just love the ease of access to these cities and around central Europe. I've got to be honest, I fell in love with Vienna. Go there, it's beautiful. Trains, buses and hostels are lots of fun and a bit of solitary exploration was very exciting and succeeded in making me feel nicely but humanly independent as well as beautifully grateful and dependent on our wonderful Creator. In a short summary, I've picked up the travelling bug giving me the desire to visit many more exciting places!

In preparation for the Varasdy Frigyes National trumpet competition I learnt skills that before embarking on this trip I'd have never thought I could accomplish and along the way I made friends closer than I ever imagined possible in 4 months. Although having friends from all over the world could be seen as difficult, I'm very excited in that I now have many countries where I can have my own personal tour guide! Speaking of the competition though, that was an experience and a half - I was privileged to perform in front of Hungarian trumpet legend, Gábor Tarkövi. Having learnt from memory 2 movements from each of the Haydn and Böhme trumpet concertos, nerves were racing high as I took to the stage. I was pretty pleased with how I played but with over 20 competitors, the competition was very strong. There was a real sense of pride when students of the Liszt Academy achieved 1st and 3rd place!

In my last few weeks there were some really lovely things that happened, particularly as a great way to say farewell before flying home. Other than getting all my courses signed off with good marks, Dad and older brother Jonny managed to come for a weekend visit in early December, ice skating in Europe's largest outdoor ice rink at Heroes' Square with my brilliant Bible study friends was great fun and a "Tim-Tams" party with all the Erasmus students ended my time in Budapest with excitement and a great send-off! Going to miss all you people a lot...
Christmas Markets with the boys!

I now don't think it's possible for me to even nearly sum up my whole time on Erasmus so you'll just have to get me chatting if you want to know all the in between bits... I hope you've had wonderful Christmas and New Year celebrations, I'm certainly looking forward to what 2017 has in store!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Life at the Liszt Academy

Hello, it's me again! However this time I'm typing on a Hungarian keyboard so I bet proof-reading this post is going to take me a while... Having pledged you another post before Sunday, I then realised I actually don't have much time before then to get everything down into words! Although I don't feel ridiculously busy, I look back and notice that I've certainly squeezed a lot into the last few weeks. I also noticed I haven't told you much about studying yet so considering it's kind of the main reason I'm in Budapest, here's attempt no.2 to let you know what I've been up to;

Luckily after a few lessons I'm pleased to say I can now keep up with the pace of the BA2 Music Theory class, just about! We've covered harmonic analysis of Classical and Romantic styles of music and now we're learning how to analyse the form - binary, ternary and rondo so far. Sounds a lot like stuff we already learnt at school right? I thought so too but was proved very wrong when we used terms such as "periods" and "sentences" to describe shorter passages and even discovered mini ternary elements within a piece in ternary form - composers continue to amaze me. They are so much more intelligent than we realise when we just scratch the surface in listening to a piece!

Did I tell you students can get free tickets to ALL of the concerts held here at the Liszt Academy? Pretty cool right, so obviously I've been making the most of the opportunity. The highlight concert so far is definitely Máv Symphony orchestra when they played Dvorák symphony no.9 "New World". What a fantastic piece, especially when preceded by Elgar's cello concerto, what a wonderful evening! As we had bought tickets for this concert we had the privilege of sitting behind the stage so I rather enjoyed peering over the woodwind and brass section's shoulders to follow their music...
Piano recital
Despite the unbeatable sound of a full symphony orchestra, I've also been to a piano trio chamber concert (piano, violin, cello) and a solo piano recital as well as other orchestral works. There is certainly a strong theme of patriotism running through the concert programmes given the amount of Liszt and Bartók that is played! Kodály, Dohnányi and Ligeti also seem to be very popular and I just love how music is such a core part of the culture here, not least in the fact the concert hall is nearly always full (take note England) and there are so many streets and squares named after their composers, it makes me so happy!

Oh also, how could I forget to mention the beautiful Grand Hall and its attention to detail? I noticed during the interval of the last concert there are paintings depicting musical terms, as you can see here with "Scherzo", built into each corner for those in the balconies to enjoy! Student seats really are the best sometimes.

So last Friday we had a trumpet masterclass with Bruce Hellmers, former Principal trumpet of the Australian Opera and Ballet orchestra and fortunately for me, it was all in English hooray! I'm not sure how much some of the Hungarian students got out of it but I'm hoping they understood at least some of his expressions and the slightly odd accent... It was really nice to meet some more trumpet students anyway since I had only met my teacher's 3 other students up until then. Although I didn't play in the masterclass, I still benefited greatly from hearing other people play as everyone seems to be playing the same 2 pieces in preparation for the competition in December, myself included. I'm going to be sick of hearing the Haydn and Böhme trumpet concertos by the end of this term!

Other things at the Liszt Academy you might ask? They're all pretty cool too, I just can't go into detail about them all or we'll be here all night. Trumpet lessons are kind of important though and the delights of having 2 a week mean I tend to put in twice as much work as I normally would! They're good fun and generally consist of me playing something (not up to standard 90% of the time) followed by my teacher playing it perfectly and giving me direction to improve combined with mutual translation lessons of a variety of words! Teaching him "diaphragm" was hilarious.

Time to go and practice again and then watch the Budapest Gypsy Orchestra in concert, have a great weekend!

S x