I started off today resenting Jimmy Fallon and went on a glorious journey

I thought I knew what I was going to do this morning. There are definitely things that I *should* have done, but I got terribly, wonderfully sidetracked.

I saw a tweet to a Joe.ie article about Michael Stipe performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ on The Tonight Show. I was intrigued – I perform that song when I play in The Candlelight Bar. If you haven’t already watched it, take a look:

I wondered who the piano player was. I wondered even more when I realised that he was accompanying Michael Stipe as an equal, with an obviously classical sensibility, not as some background chord player supporting a star. There was a notated arrangement on the music stand of the piano, it was a nice piano, it was a beautifully played, sensitive accompaniment.

A quick Twitter search gave me the answer, it was a composer called Paul Cantelon. His name wasn’t mentioned at all on the show, which really irked me. The various ‘articles’ that attach themselves to pieces of content like this did their usual job of contributing nothing. Jimmy Fallon is obviously a music fan, too, but it was an unusual moment for his show. The pop world has taught us not to acknowledge the musicians that accompany singers (either solo artists or band members). I felt bad for Cantelon when Fallon came over at the end and just impolitely ignored him.

Paul Cantelon is a fascinating character, as I just discovered by listening to a wonderful podcast conversation between him and Joseph Arthur. (I hope you can listen, as it’s on SoundCloud, which is currently changing its access model…) It’s a remarkable series of stories over two and a half hours(!), and what emerges is a picture of a fascinating life and the gracious, humble musician who has lived it. He grew up as a child of an evangelical preacher, was publicly shamed by Pierre Boulez at the age of 11, spilled hot chocolate over sheet music notated by Ravel, swung a piano into a 12th century Parisian church window, attended the 1st Church of the Surf, had an awkward encounter with Nina Simone, was in a coma for three weeks… Funny, charming, poignant, and profound. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend you take a listen.

In a weird way, Jimmy Fallon’s rudeness did me a great service. If Paul’s name had just been noted in the blurb at the bottom of the video, I’d not have found out about him. Such is the world we live in. “Oh right, that’s that bit of information, I’ll hurry on.” This might not be that moment for you – it’s supremely unlikely that you will have anything like the connection and experience I’ve had this morning with this person I never knew before. That’s the joy of life, the joy of autobiography, of story-telling, of honesty, of seeking meaning and beauty and creativity.

Here’s a Spotify link to one of his compositions for the film ‘Effie Gray’.

…maybe some other time

Last night I recorded a version of one of my favourite songs by The Divine Comedy, ‘Bad Ambassador’. (One take, so as not to annoy our neighbours too much…it’s not the sort of song that works quietly!)

It was the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Regeneration, the album that the track is taken from, on 12 March 2001.

Fifteen years ago I had just moved back home after graduating from the BMus course at Edinburgh. I was working at the Ulster Orchestra as their Education & Community Outreach Assistant. My diary reminds me that I was teaching clarinet to a wee girl called Sarah; I took her and her mum along to see the orchestra performing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. I was helping prepare the confirmation class at our church. I was playing in a band with my friends Jonny Boyle, Gareth Leslie, and Gareth’s brother-in-law Ben.

I didn’t work out how to play this song until years later, but Neil Hannon’s acoustic version was definitely released as a b-side…free with a weekend paper, I recall. Also on that CD were some behind the scenes videos of Neil in the studio with producer Nigel Godrich. He was renowned for his work with Radiohead and there were certainly tell-tale similarities in some of the sounds and techniques on the album.

I didn’t see the video to Bad Ambassador until mid-2014, and that was in rather a roundabout way (that I blogged about at the time).

Advent calendar: 18

This month saw the 150th anniversary of the birth of Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. His music exists on the outskirts of the classical music mainstream, but his symphonies and symphonic poems are really wonderful. The opening of the 2nd symphony impacted me greatly when I first heard it as a teenager. It was part of ‘The Great Composers’ series that my dad collected. Finlandia, Sibelius’s best known work, contains this beautiful chorale melody that was used as a setting for the iambic pentameter of the hymn ‘Be still, my soul’. It occupies the rather risqué position of number 666 in the Church of Ireland hymnal, but it certainly contains some of the most poignant lyrics:

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall thou better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.

I played it on the organ at St Ann’s on Remembrance Sunday, 11 November, 2012. I took lessons that year from Charlie Marshall, the organist at St Ann’s. Finlandia is a good one for beginners, as it can be done effectively using just the manuals.

We also sang it at my dad’s funeral seventeen years ago this month. It was his favourite hymn.

Advent calendar: 14

Behind today’s window is the angel Gabriel, no less 👼 This is an arrangement for piano that I did of the carol ‘Gabriel’s Message’. (Click that link to go to my original post, where you’ll find the SoundCloud player. You can download the track by clicking the arrow in the top right corner of the player.)

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
‘All hail,’ said he, ‘thou lowly maiden Mary;
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!’

‘For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold;
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!’

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.’
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!

S. Baring-Gould (1834-1924)

Advent calendar: 13

(So I’ve missed a few – I’ll fill in the gaps next year!)

Today, I’ve made a tutorial video for a piece that you might recognise from Greg Lake’s moody Christmas hit, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’. It’s called ‘Troika’ and was written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and is in his ballet ‘Lieutenant Kije’. This easy piano arrangement was done by the prolific composer and arranger Pauline Hall and is one of the 2016 Preliminary exam piano pieces set by the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Troika is the Russian word for three-of-a-kind and here depicts a team of three horses pulling a sleigh.

Enjoy!

Advent calendar: 8

I was out in Howth yesterday, visiting my sister and her family. I had great fun with my wee niece and was given the honour of reading her a bedtime story. We had ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and then ‘The Nutcracker’.

So, for today’s Advent calendar, here’s Clement Clarke Moore’s evocative telling of ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’…

Click on ‘ADVENT 2015’ at the top of this post (above the title) to see the previous posts I’ve done.

Advent calendar: 7

Today I’ve got two great Christmas tunes for beginner piano players to enjoy — ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman’. This video will help you learn them by heart (there’s no music reading required). Have fun, and get everybody to join in and sing with you at Christmas time 🙂

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