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Weedon’s Wanderings: 22nd May 2019

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COMING UP SOON...

...it’s copy date at Organ & Keyboard Cavalcade magazine. I’ve just penned my article on song contests. It called to mind the fact that I once entered such a competition and suffered dreadful embarrassment. If you want to know more, either buy the next issue of OKC or wait a while and all will be revealed. The article refers to my unhappy experience, and provides a link to the instrumental version of my song. If you’d like a sneak preview of the tune, click here to see it performed on YouTube, alongside the sheet music.

 

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 13th May 2019

The Laughing Audience by Edward Matthew Ward (1816-1879) from an etching by William Hogarth (1697-1764) made in 1733, watercolour, pen and ink

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

We have just watched Queen Victoria: My Musical Britain, presented by Lucy Worsley. She explained that, when the young princess first attended the opera, it was customary for the audience to talk loudly throughout the performance. Not only that, they wandered around and enjoyed noisy and boozy picnics in the auditorium. Apparently the young Victoria was the first one to watch and listen in silence. Happily, as it was ‘trendy’ to do as she did, we have to thank her for the development of silent audiences. 

Mozart would have been startled by modern attentive audiences. His works were performed in a total hubbub. The first composer to get really stroppy about noise was Wagner. When you consider the duration of his operas (Die Meistersinger lasts five and a quarter hours) he was asking a lot. Even ardent fans would start shuffling about after a couple of hours!

Of course, these days the noise is slowly creeping back into concerts. Mobiles and iPads ping, ring and glow. And new audiences, not familiar with concert etiquette, share thoughts mid-movement and often clap enthusiastically between movements. Then there’s the fact that someone always gets a tickly cough in the quiet bits. 

I’ve had some less than silent audiences in my time. I used to leave big pauses at the emotional climaxes of my pieces, until I found that folk mistook them for the end, and started applauding. On another occasion, two good ladies in the front row decided my concert was the perfect time to have an argument - which gives new meaning to ‘front row’, I suppose. It’s a funny thing that even quiet audience participation is completely audible from the stage. As the two ladies grew more and more angry with each other, I played louder and louder to drown it. Then I had a brainwave - I suddenly dropped my playing to a whisper. Their fortissimo shouting carried on for a second or two, then they piped down for the rest of the evening.

Perhaps my funniest experience was during a sound check before a concert. All performers try out their loudest bits, just so they can judge if they will be too loud. The acoustics vary so much from hall to hall. And what seems loud in an empty venue is considerably quieter once the audience arrive and ‘soak up‘ the sound. Anyway,I was ‘giving it a few seconds of welly’ when a gentleman crossed the stage and prodded me. “Turn that noise down!” he scowled. “If you play that loudly all evening, how on earth are we going to carry on a conversation?”

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 9th May 2019

SOUNDS CHEESY? IT’S TRUE!

If, like me, you listen to the radio throughout the night you may have come across the phenomenon of ‘dreamt reality’, where a news story works its way into your sleeping fantasy world. It amazes me how an item on the radio can hi-jack a dream I’m already having and join seamlessly into the tale in real time. It can have the odd effect of making me feel clairvoyant when I hear the next edition of the news after waking, and say “Wow, I dreamt that!”

Sometimes my dreams are so outlandish that I realise on waking that they can’t be reality. I had just such a dream last night. I dreamt that a team of scientists in Switzerland have been playing music to maturing Emmental cheeses. They found classics, rock and pop caused changes in the cheeses - and the changes were radically different. Then I woke up - and found it was true. Apparently Mozart’s Magic Flute produces a soft mild cheese with a close texture, whilst hip-hop produces a much stronger flavour with bigger holes. If you don’t believe me, click here.

Of course, music is nothing more or less than a series of vibrations in the air. When these vibrations reach our ear drums and rattle them, the shaking is ‘read’ by nerves and impulses are directed to the brain; the brain brilliantly converts them back into sound for our enjoyment (or otherwise). 

Vibration can be used for other purposes. It’s an important tool in dispelling the bubbles from poured concrete. On that basis, it seems reasonable that certain vibrations (higher frequency ones like Mozart) will help dispel bubbles from Emmental. Conversely, heavy bass such as you hear in rock and hip-hop may actually make bubbles form. That would explain the texture differences. But what about the flavour?

Apparently, bacteria are part of the story in cheese maturation. I can only guess that cheese with more holes in (and thus more air) gives bacteria an aerobic environment and they do their maturation job with more vim and vigour. Or maybe the action of those air bubbles on the cheese makes it mature. Who knows? Certainly not me. But it suggests music has powers that we’ve so far only dreamt of...

 

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 29th April 2019

Kit Kat ad

THE VALUE OF HAVING A BREAK

D’you remember that ad? Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. And to my mind, having a break is good policy.

Golf fans will probably have been amazed by the recent come-back of Tiger Woods, winning the Masters Tournament after a fallow patch of several years. Admittedly, he had been out of action with a bad back, but his flair on his return seemed even greater than before his injury.

Meanwhile, we’re being told to forget gruelling long exercise routines. These days, the fitness buzz-word is HIIT - high intensity interval training. The idea is that we go at our given exercise (cycling, press-ups or whatever) hell-for-leather for 30 seconds, then take it slowly for 4 or 5 minutes before another burst. The benefits, they insist, are immense. 

I’m a great fan of having a break. I’ve applied it in my musical life in both small and large ways. I’ve just started tickling the ivories again after exactly a year off. And although I can feel my fingers have stiffened up, a bit of daily practise is bringing them back to life. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a year or more off, and each time I’ve found my playing technique really benefitted. I forget the bad physical habits and soon get back the good ones. No doubt, as I get even longer in the tooth, it will be unwise to take quite such lengthy breaks, mind. 

On a smaller scale, I have always advocated that practices be short and very concentrated, with lengthy gaps in between. My ideal is five or six 5-minute practices a day. There is no doubt that progress occurs between sessions, as the brain processes the information inputted each time. And for those practices I focus on very short passages of music - a bar, or even a couple of notes - which were giving trouble.  There’s no point practising something that’s going well anyway. That’s like polishing silver which is already shiny. No, I work on the blemishes so that they no longer stand out from the rest. 

ENTERING THE 21ST CENTURY

I’ve finally grasped the nettle and got my recordings accepted on iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer and many other providers.  You can hear Moonlight Sonata and Reverie so far, with many more to come. Following on from that, I am having my arrangements and compositions published by Sheetmusicplus.  I’ll tell you when they’re up for you to download. 

And now, I think it’s time to have a break...

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Weedon’s Wanderings: 18th April 2019

The Cavaille-Col at Notre-Dame, Paris

Holding our breath in hope...

Hearing news of the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame rates as one of those ‘never to be forgotten’ moments for me, and many other organists I expect. In addition to the shock of seeing such a huge, iconic and ancient building going up in flames there was the sick-to-the-stomach fear for the organ it housed. The glorious Cavaille-Col is the stuff of organists’ dreams. Something about the awakening of its enormous lungs when it’s switched on, the background thrum of its circulation, and then the unique beauty of its singing voice. It seemed impossible that it would live through an inferno and flooding such as we witnessed. And yet it also seemed impossible that it would die so horribly and we’d never hear it alive again.

Aristide Cavaillé-Col (1811-1899) single-handedly changed the future of organ music through his highly individual instruments. At a time when pipe organs were thought to have had their day, he built huge pipe orchestras and then used them to entice young musicians to play and write for them. We can thank him for inspiring so many composers: Charles Camille Saint-Saens, César Franck, Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor to name just a few. And, in a sort of ‘apostolic succession’, we have each of them to thank for the next generation of organ players and composers: Widor, for example, taught Albert Schweitzer and Marcel Duprés

Almost miraculously, it seems, the organ in Notre-Dame has survived, protected from flame and water by the one surviving part of the roof. It will doubtless be a little poorly after the experience, but as long as the building can be stabilised then work on its restoration can begin. What better way to celebrate that than to listen to Olivier Latry playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on this wondrous instrument here!

There is a sumptuous Cavaille-Col in Manchester Town Hall, although that edifice is closed till 2024 for restoration. But enjoy a tour of the building and organ in the capable hands of Jonathan Scott here

Other interesting videos here:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G36AJPpo4lo

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DYHMHyOtBdI

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6ldgsWt6fzI

 

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