Monday, 17 April 2017

The Triplets of Belleville

In my last post, I wrote about Sylvain Chomet's animation film, 'L'Illusionniste', and some of my thoughts and perceptions of it (please check that post out here!).  Following on from that, I wanted to write a post today featuring another of Chomet's movies, 'The Triplets of Belleville'.  This movie actually preceded 'L'Illusionniste', but I watched them in reverse order and I'm quite glad I did because I feel that, while in 'L'Illusionniste' I was very involved in the narrative of the story, in 'The Triplets of Belleville' I was much more drawn in by Chomet's work and personality - I really got to know him and his ideas here. 

'The Triplets of Belleville' is another animation.  It tells the story of an orphan boy who is raised solely by his grandmother - he seems to know no other social relationship except that with her and his dog.  The boy spends his life training for the Tour de France, cycling around Paris and up many of it's tough hills, constantly supported by his grandmother.  When, during the competition, he proves himself to be one of the best, he is kidnapped by the 'French Mafia' and taken on a boat to New York, to compete in inhumane underground mafia gambling shows.  His grandmother, never ceasing in her support and care of him, follows the boat to New York and fights against all odds, overcomes the toughest challenges, in her rescue mission to get him home.

In my post about 'L'Illusionniste', I mentioned the charming French humour that came to the surface every so often during the movie.  I have to say that this was something that struck me immediately when watching 'The Triplets of Belleville', and it absolutely stayed with me throughout the entire movie.  The humour in this film is precisely what gives it so much character; it is what makes it so quirky, so wicked, at times so strange and weird.  The humour goes beyond the storyline, it pulls you along through the many twists and turns of the film. 

Like 'L'Illusionniste', there is basically no dialogue in this movie, but I found it especially amazing here how much the sounds of the film really grabbed me and how important they were in the telling of the story.  For example, during the boy's training, the grandmother NEVER STOPS blowing her whistle, showing how she continually eggs him on and supports him to keep going.  Perhaps the grating sound of that whistle is also supposed to get to us, the viewers, to make us uncomfortable and show us the harsh reality of the life of a training athlete.  Other sounds started to get to me too; footsteps (particularly those of the limping grandmother), the barking and whining of the dog, the car noises, the sounds of metal mixed with images of the bikes, the horse noises that Chomet used for the imprisoned cyclists...  As I watched, I started noticing a whole array of sounds that, in a typical movie full of dialogue and background music/noise, I wouldn't usually take note of.  I also have to say that the music that Chomet used in this movie was absolutely fantastic - some wonderful jazz and great singing which definitely added to my overall enjoyment of the film.

Another similarity with 'L'Illusionniste' was the incredible amount of detail in the animation.  I learned my lesson the first time, so that when I watched this movie, I made sure to sit really close to the screen, and I feel that I picked up much more, although I would still like to watch it another few times!  One element of the detail really sticks out in my mind: at one point, in a very run down and shabby house, we catch a glimpse of a toilet, in which there is a piece of poo in the shape of Mickey Mouse! This has to be Chomet showing his personal feelings about his competition as an animator with the superpower that is Disney!

Something that I felt very strongly when watching this movie, was how much of the story was really told from a French perspective - this was an aspect that I appreciated as, again, I could see so much more of Chomet behind the work.  The images of the city life in New York and the 'fat Americans' that contrasted with the Parisian scenes, the prosperity in America compared to the humble life in rural France - of course, everything was told in hyperbole but it was very interesting to see Chomet's personality come out in this way.
Another fascinating element in this movie is how Chomet uses animals.  There is the dog, who is ultimately spoilt by his family - he eats their food, he sleeps on their bed, he is fat and cries when he doesn't get what he wants.  This hugely contrasts with the treatment of the boy, both in his harsh athletic training and as a prisoner, when he is forced to cycle like a machine and, if necessary, to his own death. There is also the striking frog scene when one of the Triplets uses a grenade to catch frogs, then cooks and eats them, except for one who we see struggling away after it has been tortured.  Is Chomet commenting about the lives and treatment of animals verses that of humans?

'The Triplets of Belleville' is a film truly unlike any other.  I can't really label it in any way, compare it to anything else, it can't be put in a box.  It is so weird and so full of character and personality, you really just have to watch it to see what I mean!

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Thursday, 13 April 2017


In my last blog post, I mentioned how inspiring it can be to discover a diamond of a book, concert, movie or any other piece of art.  Well, in the last week I have seen two gorgeous movies for the first time and, in connection to my last post, I wanted to write about each of them in turn, as these are definitely what I would consider to be diamonds!  Both movies are animations by a French director and comic artist who is new to me, Sylvain Chomet, and the first movie of his that I want to write about today is 'L'Illusionniste', or 'The Illusionist'.

I was interested to watch this movie for many reasons; firstly because, after recently reading and loving 'The Animators', I have a new-found respect for this style of art, although, I strongly felt that I wanted to watch something more original and unique in this genre, and not another Disney or Pixar flick.  Secondly, this movie features many scenes in Edinburgh - it shows off the city absolutely beautifully and, as I am about to visit Edinburgh, I wanted to 'get into the mood' of the city!  Another reason why I was particularly attracted to this movie is that it is a story that was actually originally written in the 50s by Jaques Tati, a film maker who's work I adore, and which was then adopted by Chomet in 2010 for the production of this film.

Actually, the story behind Tati's original screenplay is quite interesting and a little controversial.  The movie focuses on a father-daughter relationship between an older man, the illusionist or magician, and a much younger girl, an admirer who believes that his tricks are real magic.  It is said that this was heavily based on Tati's own experience of having an estranged and illegitimate daughter, that the main character was a portrayal of Tati himself, and that this story acted as a kind of personal letter to her.  Tati had intended to make this screenplay into a live action movie but never did it - Chomet has claimed that this is because the story was too personal and close to him, preventing him from being able to make the movie, hence why Chomet wanted to make it for him, albeit in a different format to the one that Tati had chosen for it.  However, since the release of Chomet's film, a letter from one of Tati's grandsons has come to light, saying that in no way does 'The Illusionist' reflect the real circumstances of Tati's personal life, and that the movie is a great injustice to the true story.

Whatever you choose to believe about the origins of the story behind 'L'Illusionniste', the magic and beauty of the film will never fail to shine through as you watch it.  The one huge paradox that I found in the movie, was that it was so incredibly detailed and yet so simple and minimal.  For example, the detail of the animation is complicated and breathtaking - I would recommend watching it on a big screen, a couple of times, or sitting very close to the monitor just to have a CHANCE at picking up on all of the minute and important details.  Already, I have found out that I missed lots of things and so I must watch it again - your eyes must constantly wander over the screen, seeking out all of the hidden meanings.  And yet, there is basically no dialogue!  We do hear some bits of Gaelic (at least, I presume that is what it is) and a few sounds that could be French, but the story is pretty much entirely told by the nuances of the characters; the movements and expressions and angles.  I find this so extremely clever and awesome!

Another aspect of the movie that really jumps out at you as you watch it is that the pace is so gentle.  I guess that, because we are so accustomed to these huge, blockbuster, action-packed movies, produced on grand scales with enormous budgets, it was so surprising to get used to this new feeling of something smaller, something with space and where time moves slowly.  I think that this perfectly suited the storyline too, which was one that I didn't know I was going to relate to so much! 

The illusionist constantly faces the harsh reality that, in a world full of the growing television industry and glamorous rock bands, there is less and less room for him to perform his old-timely craft, full of rabbits and top hats.  After failing to find an audience in Paris, he then tries the London scene, before making his way up to Scotland, performing in pubs and run down old music halls, before ending up in Edinburgh, working in shop windows - the lowest point in his career so far.  The girl, whom he meets on his journey and who accompanies him to Edinburgh, brings a little light to his grim life and he, not wishing to break her illusion that his tricks are real, pretends to conjure her up beautiful gifts, subsequently bankrupting himself.  Along the way we meet other performance artists - a ventriloquist, a clown and some acrobats - all struggling, and ultimately failing, to find their place in the world, to be able to perform their art.  Without wishing to spoil it for you, one of the most powerful moments happens near the end of the movie, when the illusionist writes a maxim; 'Magicians don't exist'.  Whenever I think of this, I keep having to remind myself that it said the word 'magicians' and not 'musicians'.  Perhaps this movie hit a little too close to home - this would be evidenced by the floods of tears that I was in when it was over!

I would also like to mention the charming French-ness of this film.  In what is quite a sad story, there is that element of realism mixed with a wonderful sense of humour that I find so beautifully French! 

There is another genius moment of meta in the movie when the illusionist goes to the cinema and a slice of real black and white movie is mixed into the animation.  The main character in the movie within the movie seems to reflect our illusionist and this adds such a touch of lightness and a feeling of being 'in the present' to the story too.

Chomet has created a truly, uniquely beautiful movie in 'L'Illusionniste'.  It's almost as if he gives us all the puzzle pieces and it is up to us to put them together in our own way and take what we can from it.  For me, the heart of the story lies within the art and work of the illusionist, but, I know that for others, the relationship between the illusionist and the girl is what it is really about. 

I feel like there could be much more to say about this exquisite film, but I will expand more in my next post, which will feature another of Chomet's movies, and in which there are many echos and shadows of this one.  If you haven't seen 'L'Illusionniste', I really hope this post has inspired you to do so, and I would love to know what you think!

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Monday, 10 April 2017

The Joy of Reading a Fantastic Book

When I write blog posts, I love to spend a while thinking about them beforehand: I put time into researching various ideas, carefully constructing and building my points with a lot of thought about which words I want to use.  For today's post, however, this process has been absolutely impossible for me to work through and there is one overarching reason for this: I am reading one of the best books I have EVER read.  I upload blog posts every Monday and Thursday, but I am sitting here at my computer, at 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, with nothing prepared for this week's new posts because I have spent all of my time reading and instead of stressing about this, ALL I can do is go back to my book!  Today's post, therefore, will be a little bit of a shortcut for me, but I'm hoping you won't mind.  It's going to be about what reading a great book can do to you.

I am just beginning the 4th and final book of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels and I am totally in love with them.  I will be writing about these books in more detail in a separate blog post (in which I will put in my usual time and effort!), but, for now, I just have to tell you how great these books are.  I feel like, to say I can't put the book down is an understatement - I am living and dreaming along with these characters and I feel euphoric!  I think about them in everything that I do; their decisions affect my own decisions, their attitudes and lifestyles are heavily influencing my own, I dream about them at night and I find Ferrante's writing completely addictive.  It has really been a while since a book made me feel like this, if ever, and I thought it was interesting to write about.  

If a book has ever made you feel like this, you will know what I mean.  I'm talking about being transported and living in a new world totally removed from our real one, making new friends, learning new ideas and hanging onto every single word as if it is the last one.  As a musician, it is usually listening to an incredibly inspiring piece of music or watching an exceptional concert that can induce these feelings.  Sometimes a wonderfully and sensitively made movie can do the same thing.  Although, concerts and movies are unfortunately over much to quickly - at least a book can last a couple of days.  But, whatever the medium, I don't think this experience and these feelings occur all that often, and how sad that is!!

Maybe there is a downside to this.  Perhaps it is unhealthy to feel so addicted to a book - what will I do when I have finished?!  It is, afterall, a very powerful reaction to have to anything, and if it stops you from being able to carry out your work as normal, is that a good thing?  I also imagine that when I have finished reading these books, I will find everything in my normal life so much more boring and grey than I did before.  But actually, I think that these experiences are absolutely necessary to life.  In a world full of books that are just OK and not that great, passable concerts and below average movies, how inspiring and amazing is it to find a shining diamond every now and then.  

Perhaps you are not someone who is a big reader, or you have just never felt this way about a book before.  For me, I find the written word beautiful and fascinating and I would encourage you at all costs to keep looking for that one diamond of a book that can make you feel like this.  This HAS to be what life is about! 

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Thursday, 6 April 2017

Favourite Paintings: Wheatfield With Crows

It's been a while since I wrote a post in my Favourite Paintings series here on my blog, so I thought it would be nice to share with you today a painting that I find incredibly special; that is Vincent Van Gogh's Wheatfield With Crows.  This painting holds a particular significance to me, because it was the first painting I ever looked at and really LOVED!  I remember clearly the experience of being in Amsterdam and visiting the Van Gogh museum with my parents - I must have been about 11 or 12 years old.  Before then I had never particularly enjoyed visiting art galleries or museums, like most pre-teens, but I tagged along with my parents and I think I surprised everyone by my reaction to Van Gogh!  I just remember seeing this one painting and feeling overwhelmed by it, feeling how important it was and realising how much a painting like this could affect you.  My parents even bought me the poster of this painting which is still hanging, either at the house of my mom or my dad, I can't remember now which one.

I find Wheatfield With Crows absolutely beautiful.  I love the dark blue of the stormy sky and the golden yellow of the wheat.  I love the unanswered questions of the painting; where are the birds flying?  Where is the path going?  In fact the birds have no direction and the path seems to just go nowhere, which leaves me feeling isolated, lonely and very uncertain, but I find such sad beauty in this!

This was certainly one of Van Gogh's last paintings, although no one really knows if it was absolutely his final piece.  He painted a few canvases, including this one, in the last days of his life in July of 1890, just before he committed suicide.  Perhaps, then, we can see here some of his most inner thoughts and struggles with life and death and the unknown of what was to come after death, represented by the directionless birds and the path that leads nowhere.  Maybe the clouds in the sky and the impending storm tell us about how difficult he found it to be alive in the world.  The crows, which he used many times in his work, could symbolise reincarnation. 

On 10th July 1890, Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother, Theo, about his last paintings.  He said that in these works he wanted overall to express his "extreme loneliness".  This makes me wonder, were these paintings a cry for help? Could he have been saved, if only someone had looked more deeply into his work and seen his loneliness and pain? 

In any piece of art, whether it be a painting, a piece of music, a poem or a dance, when we are given a small glimpse into the mind of the artist, I find this to be a really touching and astonishing moment.  To be able to look past what is in front of us and see more, this is what gives life and art so much meaning and what is truly important.  It's something that I will always strive to search for.

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Monday, 3 April 2017

My Living Room Concert Series

Over the past couple of years, I have felt myself growing more and more disenchanted by concert life around me.  Trying to put into words what exactly disturbs me about concerts, going to concerts and concert 'etiquette' isn't easy, the whole thing often just feels so false and unreal.  For example, the process of going to a concert feels incredibly strange; that one should track down a concert ticket from an office, to then go and sit stiffly and in silence in a glamorous concert hall, watching musicians work hard for their bread and butter, and finally to bang our hands together in appreciation afterwards, regardless of if we even liked what we heard - this is so far removed from our real daily lives!  

From a musician's point of view too, performing a concert can actually be a really weird thing if you think about it!  We work for weeks and months on particular pieces of music, until finally the 'big night' arrives when we get all dressed up in fancy clothes, suddenly leave our comfy practice rooms and march ourselves on stage in a concert hall with an audience half full of mainly retired and old age listeners.  When we finish playing, we bow to this audience, go home, and either congratulate ourselves for a job well done or beat ourselves up and hope that next time will be better.

I really started to think more about this whole concert business when I met my boyfriend who, as you probably know by now, is not a musician.  We talked about the way classical concerts are, how one must behave at such concerts and why classical music has become such a stereotypical 'elitist' culture.  He told me that if it wasn't for me he would never go to a classical concert because, firstly, he would have no idea what was on and when - which concert to go to, what was worth seeing and what not.  Secondly, he wouldn't know where to get a ticket from (and not much interest in forking out for expensive tickets).  And finally, because the idea of sitting uncomfortably, in silence in a hall listening to music that he didn't understand was not an appealing way to him to spend an evening.  And I totally get his sentiment!  I am sure that it is exactly because of these reasons that lots of young people do not venture to classical concerts and why classical music has been labelled such as it has; that it is only for well-educated, well-cultured, upper class, stiff-lipped people with money.

I know that these issues are nothing really new, and in lots of places people, who feel the same as I do, are trying to combat them - in the States in particular, where music feels so progressive (much more so than in our traditional European societies), and where so many new concert initiatives and concepts are being introduced all the time.  One idea that has seemed really popular and successful is that of a living room concert.  Instead of going to see concerts at the big, inaccessible concert halls, musicians are hosting concerts in their own homes, where anyone can come and listen and feel much more personally involved with the performers.  

I decided to get on this train and host my own living room concert in my apartment!  A few things stood out to me right away as being really important; first, I wanted to perform a mixture of music from different styles and genres, but everything that I would play would be GREAT music and stuff that I would normally play in any fancy concert - I wasn't going to cheat here.  Next, I really wanted to have a young audience, people from all different fields and walks of life, who might never go to to a classical concert but were, nevertheless, interested in hearing a violin concert!  Finally, I wanted my concert to be really relaxed and chilled, where the audience could get really comfortable, drink a beer, get to know new music and new people and generally have a fantastic evening.

I decided to play a few different movements of solo Bach, from the solo violin Sonatas and Partitas, as well as some new pieces that I have been working on from S. Eckhardt-Gramatte (see my post on this composer here!).  Some friends of mine also performed some really cool Polish songs and even a Radiohead cover, and we threw in a couple of classics all together which went down great!  Because of the intimate setting, we were able to talk to our small audience about what the music was about and where it came from and I think this was such a great aspect of the evening - that the audience could really get to know and understand music that they might not have heard of.  

A lovely bunch of people came to the concert, everyone brought some beer or wine, and everybody just relaxed and enjoyed the music!  It struck me that the living room concert works from both angles - it's enjoyable and accessible for audiences and it is much more natural for the performers too, as we can feel much more connected to our audience, and performing in our living room in front of a few people is much closer to practising by ourselves than jumping straight into a huge concert hall.  Actually, if you think about it, lots of music that we play, like small chamber music and sonatas and pieces, were written to be played in a small room and not in a big hall at all.

This was just my first living room concert, and already I have the date of the next one planned in my diary!  My aim is to really cultivate this special series, have some other different musicians play, expand my audience, maybe even try out playing in some different spaces too.  Of course musicians have to earn money, but I really want to keep this series strictly no tickets required, so my idea is to simply ask people for a donation of 10 Euros or so on the door, which will go directly to the musicians.  This is an event where music, getting to know wonderful music and hearing great performers play is what is important, and not what you wear or how much you spent on a ticket or who else is happens to be there. 

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Thursday, 30 March 2017

March: Freya Chooses...

This month has been a very busy and fulfiling one; I have tried lots of new things and experienced many impulses from different areas in my life that I want to include in this month's Freya Chooses post.  There are, as usual, a few items in the media category, as well as a couple of musical and cultural experiences that touched me, and even some other more personal highlights of the month.  I hope that the things I write about in this series here on my blog can give you a few ideas for things that you might also enjoy, or inspiration for some small ways to improve your daily life.

The Animators
Starting off with a fabulous book that I read this month, The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker, took me on a whirlwind through the lives of two young women in America, finding their paths and their identities in the world.  Both artists, the characters meet in art school, through which they become business partners, and together they create incredible animation movies.  This is a book about art and what it is to be an artist, especially for women in what is a pre-dominantly male field, it's about family and relationships, sexuality, life in very different parts of the USA and, ultimately, death.  This is a really wonderful read and I totally recommend it for something to help you escape from the real world.

I had to mention this great show which is a Netflix original.  The second season just came out, which is why it is fresh in my mind, but I have enjoyed it all from the beginning.  In my opinion, this show absolutely nails the portrait of a real relationship - and not in the usual 'fake' way that you see in TV shows and the movies.  In Love, the characters each have their own worries and issues, it's often hard to say which one is right and which one is wrong, they make you feel slightly uncomfortable yourself as you watch them fight and they make decisions which reflect real life.  A show like this is so refreshing and different, episodes are a perfect length and you are guaranteed a giggle or two!

Robert Frank Exhibition
Although I had never previously heard of the photographer/film maker Robert Frank, on a recent trip to Salzburg I decided to check out this exhibition at the Rupertinum Museum.  Frank was a native of Switzerland but spent much of his life in the States and Canada.  One of his most famous pieces of work was a book of photos called The Americans, which portrayed real people in their real lives all across America.  I learnt that Frank was a contemporary of Jack Kerouac (definitely enough to get me to the exhibition) and Kerouac actually wrote the introduction to The Americans, in typical Kerouac style.  After reading it and then looking through the book, I was struck by how much the writing matched the photos; it moved and flowed, it revealed secrets and was altogether incredibly inspiring.  I definitely recommend checking out Franks work, especially if you like Kerouac - his photos are amazing and his short films are really interesting too.

This month, I got to spend a weekend with my aunt, her partner and my two cousins in Brighton, and I was reminded of how much I love this place.  I don't know if it was that I was having such a good time with my family, with great food, walks on the beach and the best Bloody Mary I have ever had, or whether the bohemian vibe of the city just got to me as it always does, but I felt so happy and content there.  I also took a visit back to my old school to teach a day of masterclasses to some young violin students, and it felt so good to teach again!  It really reminded me how fulfilling it can be to see the look in a young student's face, as they begin to realise, through the things that you say, just how many possibilities they have in music-making.  

Beyond Retro
On the subject of Brighton, I had to mention my favourite vintage shop, which I managed to get a chance to pop into on my way to the airport!  I discovered this store a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with it.  It is a warehouse full of recycled, upcycled, reclaimed vintage clothes and bits and pieces.  I have talked a lot on my blog about how much I love to shop second hand, so Beyond Retro is kind of a dream for me!  Every single piece is unique, there is so much colour, so many styles from every decade, so many prints and fabrics, I could honestly spend hours browsing here.  I picked up a couple of things which I absolutely LOVE and will be featuring in a Vintage Finds #2 blog post coming up soon!  (Check out the first one here.)

Living Room Concert
This month I held the first concert in a new concert series that I have called 'Living Room Concerts'.  My idea was to take the musicians out of the formal, sometimes inaccessible, concert hall into a place much friendlier and more intimate - i.e. my living room!  I will dedicate a whole blog post to this event as there is much more to say, but the concert was definitely a success and I am already planning the next one!  There was a great atmosphere, great music, beer and conversation and altogether it was a very special evening.  I know that concerts like this are going on everywhere, so I suggest checking if there is something similar near you, as it really is a fun event!

Lindener Berg
I want to talk about a new discovery for me, near to where I live, which is a gorgeous walk around the Lindener Berg, or Linden mountain (Linden is the name of the area of Hannover in which I live).  Just now the bloom is starting to emerge and the spring daffodils and bluebells are absolutely beautiful.  It is so worth taking a walk around this area, and there's also, in true German style, a cute beer garden too, serving beer, coffees, ice cream, wurst and pommes.  I definitely recommend a visit here if you ever find yourself in Hannover!

Raging Bitch and Maple Smoked Weizenbock
Finally,  I have been introduced to two craft beers this month which are so delicious!  The Raging Bitch is a Belgian IPA and has a hint of orange in the after taste.  The Maple Smoked beer, which comes from Steam Works brewery, has more of a smokey flavour, but is not harsh or too strong.  Both beers are really smooth, tasty and if you like craft beers then definitely check them out.  Watch out though because they have a pretty high alcohol percentage!   

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Monday, 27 March 2017

Some Thoughts on Playing by Memory

When I speak to my musician friends and colleagues about performing and performance anxiety, there is one issue that comes up first every single time; playing by memory.  I have heard it from hobby musicians, students (young and old), professionals and even some of the most famous names in the business.  It seems that playing by memory is one of the most difficult and scary aspects of performing on stage and, having definitely struggled with it myself, I thought I would write down some of my thoughts on the subject.  As I am pondering it now, it strikes me that, when it comes to relying on your memory on stage, it doesn't matter if you are a musician or a public speaker, an actor or any other kind of performer; the same conditions apply.

The first point I wanted to make is that playing by memory IS NOT necessary!  I have seen some incredibly touching and special performances which have been done with the music next to the performers on stage, and similarly have also seen some not so great concerts where musicians played by heart with no music.  It really does not detract from your performance if you do not let the physical pages get in your way of communicating your music.  Of course there can be exceptions - if the performer hides themselves totally behind the music stand so that we can't see them, or if their head is so in the pages in front of them that they forget about communicating to their audience altogether, then of course playing with the notes becomes a hindrance to the performance.  However, if the music and communication to your audience is always kept as number one priority, then having the music on the stage with you should not matter.  

For me, there have been occasions where I have felt COMPLETELY sure that I could rely on my memory, and in these instances I feel like you know when you can trust yourself.  In these times I have happily left the music backstage and just got on with it.  But there have been those other concerts where I have not felt so secure, even when I could say that I knew my notes 99% but there was that tiny glimmer of doubt. And everyone knows that under pressure, on stage, where we make ourselves really vulnerable and expose ourselves in front of lots of people, everything gets put under the microscope and that tiny glimmer of doubt can cause some serious breakdowns.  If having the music there with us, if only to refer to when we need to, can give us that safe feeling and eliminate some of the worry and anxiety that comes with performing, which can be a very difficult and frightening experience, then what is so wrong with that!?

Another factor to consider is the choice that one has to make: to play by memory or with the music.  This might sound simple but, at least for me, it can cause problems!  I have played concerts in the past, where I had chosen to play by memory in the rehearsals, and then at the last minute changed my mind and taken the music on stage and subsequently really mucked myself up!  And it has also happened the other way around too.  It's my feeling that, whichever way you choose, you must pick ONE, and commit to it!  If you decide to play with the music, you must prepare with the music, so it is familiar to you and not off-putting.  If you decide to play my memory, you must also practise that way too.

Which brings me to my next point; how to practice playing by memory.  The trouble is, and it happens all to often to EVERYbody, that when we are alone in our practice rooms, playing by memory can feel so easy and effortless - of course our fingers know where to go!  We can allow ourselves to go into automatic mode where we don't even have to think about what we are doing, just let our hands do it for us.  But all of that can go out the window when you put yourself on stage and a few people in the audience.  I know this feeling so well; suddenly you start actually thinking about what you are doing, you can't quite remember where to put your fingers, how the tune actually goes, what chord comes next.  Oh God, even writing about this experience is making me cringe as this is really one of the most horrible things that can happen to a performer!! 

After one too many of these kinds of performances I decided to re-evaluate how I was practising and preparing for concerts where I knew I would be playing by memory.  Instead of slipping into auto-mode I chose instead to play with real deliberation in the practice room, slowly playing and thinking about every single note; where I was putting it, how my finger felt, how my hand shape felt, what I had to do with my bow, what the movements were exactly and, most importantly, all the while visualising and hearing in my head what note came next.  It takes a long time - this is definitely not a practice short cut.  It requires a lot of patience, a lot of repetition and a lot of brain power.  But I promise that it is worth it because you will ABSOLUTELY and without any shadow of doubt, know your music.  After I started practising this way (in my case it was Bach that I had particular trouble with) I found my on-stage experience of playing by memory SO much more comfortable - I could relax, feel safe, enjoy it! 

Performing by memory is difficult, and can definitely cause a lot of anxiety for many people.  So we have to try to minimise this stress as much as possible in whatever ways we can.  I'm kind of losing the belief that performing in general and performing by memory gets easier as you do it more and more - this is something that has been told to me since I was a child and I don't think it's true!  I think each concert experience is different and presents it's own challenges and this probably won't ever get any easier, just stay unique to each experience.  But isn't this, afterall, what gives us the adrenaline which causes us to keep doing it again and again?!

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