Category Archives: what I’m up to

Chamber music group in Howth

One of the things I miss the most in my music making at the moment is playing with others. I’m just coming to the end of Alan Rusbridger’s inspiring book, ‘Play It Again’, and found his descriptions of informal chamber music sessions very compelling. I also had the great fortune to win a couple of tickets to see the Vienna Piano Trio playing Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven in Castle Coole last week. It was wonderful to watch the communication between them and sense, especially in the Haydn, the fun they were having. I’d like to try and initiate something like that in Howth (where I live). It would be a place for musicians to come together and explore the chamber repertoire. Maybe you have learned an instrument when you were younger and haven’t played for ages… I play piano, but I also play clarinet and would love to *actually* play it, as opposed to just knowing how to!

Please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested.

Lyndsay & Dave’s wedding

A beautiful wedding today at Our Lady of Dolours church, Glasnevin, that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

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The bride is the aunt of a girl I teach piano to, Chloe (who earned a distinction in her Grade I last term and is working away for her Grade II). Months ago, Lyndsay asked me to play for her wedding and already had some cool ideas about what music she’d like. Here’s the full rundown of what I played this afternoon:

Hoppípolla — Sigur Rós (piano)

Tunnels — Arcade Fire (piano)

I, The Lord of Sea and Sky (piano / vocal)

What A Wonderful World (piano)

Ave Maria — Schubert (piano / vocal)

Should I Fall Behind — Bruce Springsteen (guitar / vocal)

Pie Jesu — Andrew Lloyd Webber (piano / vocal)

Love Theme (from ‘Cinema Paradiso’) — Andrea Morricone

Marry Me — Train (guitar / vocal)

Sweet Child O’ Mine — Guns ‘N’ Roses (piano)

Quite the programme! It all went well, and I really enjoyed myself 🙂

Here’s my set up (thanks to Paul McGough for the use of his excellent Bose PA):

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Late night gig

On the DART into Connolly station now with my guitar, bag of music books, and music stand. Picking up a GoCar from the Rotunda and driving to Castle Leslie, where I’ll be the entertainment for a wedding later on. Once the DJ has to wind down, I’ll be on hand to keep the party going in the bar. Need to do a set list, so must do that now, but thought I’d share this rather unusual occasion with you.

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Gig in the Swan Centre, Rathmines

I just finished playing a set of an hour or so as part of a community day that’s happening in Rathmines today. Great fun 🙂 (I’m writing this to the soulful strains of local jazz singer, Emilie Conway, who was on after me.) A lovely sunny day for it — although the glass dome of the centre was right above me as I powered through my more ‘up’ covers. And now I’m chilling out at ‘The House of Tea’ having afternoon tea, if you please…

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Here’s what I played:

Englishman in New York – Sting
Imagine – John Lennon (via Herbie Hancock)
Why, Georgia? – John Mayer
The Wild Rover – trad.
Alberta – trad. (via Eric Clapton)
Trust You – moi
Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Just The Two Of Us – Bill Withers
Way Down In The Hole – Tom Waits
Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
Better – Tom Baxter
Something For The Weekend – The Divine Comedy
Seven Days – Sting

I put out my tip jar (and my nifty cat) and got more tips than I do on the average night at the restaurant! I’m still trying to crack the secret of getting tips at the restaurant. I think the fact that I was very visible today helped, and also that I was more playing the role of a busker. In the restaurant I’m tucked away, out of the view of most of the tables, and it’s less common to tip a musician in a restaurant. Maybe people think the musician gets some of the service charge? (They almost certainly *don’t*…)

The tea I’m drinking is a delicious Darjeeling, recommended by the waitress (who sounds like she’s from the north). Kept warm on a little tea light burner. Lovely little cafe, this 🙂

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Going to a concert

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Tonight I’m bringing half a dozen of my piano students to hear Benjamin Grosvenor’s piano recital at The National Concert Hall. For many of them it’ll be their first time at such an event. I don’t know a great deal about Mr Grosvenor (although he’s probably weirded out by people calling him Mr Grosvenor), other than that he’s a phenomenal pianist, a prodigy, a wünderkind.

I showed some of my students a YouTube video of an 11-year old Benjamin performing with astonishing maturity in the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year back in 2003. Tonight, his programme consists of transcriptions of Bach, some Chopin (including the Op. 22 Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise), Scriabin, Granados, and ending with a virtuosic arrangement of Strauss’s Blue Danube. Here’s a Spotify playlist I put together of the pieces. One of the Bach pieces I couldn’t find and one I could only find in its original solo violin form (but I’ve included it anyway).

I’ll let you know what we all think 🙂

The book in the picture, by the way, is something I found in a charity shop (possibly The Secret Bookstore on Wicklow Street). First published in 1950, it’s full of entertainingly unapologetic opinions such as:

A word about the habit of giving bouquets at concerts. You will see it both at star recitals and, sometimes, at recitals by new artists. It’s silly really, and as it’s perfectly obvious that the flowers are sent in by friends or, in the case of young artists, by proud relatives, it deceives nobody into thinking any the more of a performance. It was, I think, Bernard Shaw who pointed out the impossibility of an audience offering spontaneous tributes, and who referred ironically to the custom of well-bred people of always taking a bouquet with them to a concert on the off-chance of wanting to present it!

Albert Herring

Firstly, delighted with myself: I completed the Crosaire crossword in The Irish Times today, most of it in less than an hour as I ate my dinner. One of the very last ones I got was rather nice.

Most uninhibited sort are confused by thief dropping farthing on road (9)

If we ‘confuse’ the letters of the word ‘are’ we get EAR…if we ‘drop’ the abbreviation of farthing (F) from thief we get THIE…and road=street=ST. All that gives us our answer: EARTHIEST (“most uninhibited sort”).

I’ve started working with a young singer/songwriter called Laura Elizabeth. I’ll be doing some playing on recordings she’s planning to make in the next while. Definitely one to watch — I’ll keep you posted. Check out her videos on YouTube.

This evening I went to the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s production of Albert Herring, an opera by Benjamin Britten. It was brilliant. The staging, for a start, was really economically managed, but pleasantly fulsome to set the scene in the happily bustling rural English town. The grocer’s boxes are full, the tables for the May Fair groan with delectable treats. Scenes were changed fluidly, only once requiring crew to come onto the stage. Costumes were a treat — Margaret Bridge as the imperious Lady Billows was gloriously bedecked in sartorial finery (to match her superb singing). Her sidekick, Florence Pike, sported an ominous eyepatch and self-important tweed skirt and jacket. The school mistress, the mayor, the young buck Sid, his sweetheart Nancy, the three kids, Albert, and his mother; all these characters were dressed in the colourful and elegantly practical clothing of an idealised inter-war England. The local policeman and vicar (played outstandingly by Padraic Rowan) wear the uniforms of their stations.

It’s a fairly evenly-distributed score, with everyone getting their chance to shine. Particularly impressive are the ‘crowd’ scenes and one ensemble that comes to mind is the one in the grocer’s in the second act. Mrs Herring and Nancy are joined by the octave-apart unison of the vicar and the school mistress (who, in the tradition of Oscar Wilde’s Dr Chasuble and Miss Prism, seem to have un petit frisson between them) — those pillars of society enveloping the fretting mother and guilt-ridden friend with stoic music. One part that feels underwritten is the mayor, a tenor role that doesn’t seem to add much to the drama. When given the podium at the May Fair to honour the newly-crowned Albert, he goes off on a self-aggrandising tangent about his council’s past achievements. Perhaps a bit of social commentary is being made…?

Britten’s music is wonderful. I’m not familiar with most of his operas, but those I have seen have convinced me that his reputation as a master of the genre is thoroughly deserved. This one, in particular, seems to be a great choice for a university level cast of the calibre of the RIAM singers. The music is supremely challenging for vocalists and orchestra, but marvellously engaging for an audience. What a delight to have such operas in English! I’m looking forward to the next one already.

A old friend of mine, Conor Mitchell, is one composer who is doing brilliant work. I went to see his opera ‘The Musician’, based on the story of the pied piper, in Belfast a few years ago and was blown away by how good it was. He just completed a set of Cabaret Songs to texts by WH Auden and Mark Ravenhill, which will be performed at Britten’s centenary celebrations in Aldeburgh later this year.