Friday, 25 February 2011

Back in the UK again, sitting in the kitchen of Barnaby Brown, about to have my first canntaireachd lesson.

This trip marked my first time in London after the Globe show. Enticed by the many delights proffered by The Whisky Exchange (slightly embarrassingly £10 cheaper in London than in Glasgow...), I wound up back in the same neighbourhood as the Globe on Monday, and on Tuesday ventured only as far as Covent Garden, where I bought a very funky pair of shoes from this store. The shoes shall be honoured by a picture in the future...

London takes on a different feel in winter - suddenly it becomes clear in the endless grey why there is a tea called "London Fog."

London Fog

Among my many vivid dreams in the past few weeks, one was about London public transit disasters. I took a picture before I woke up so that I could post it here:

On my way to the Central Line

On Wednesday, I headed to East Knoyle to sit in front of a fireplace and drink whisky. Tick. Tick. I do very much approve of very affordable taster-sized bottles of expensive whisky: already an easily won over aficionado of Springbank 10 year old, we tried the 15-year old version and it was excellent.

The next day, Gawain and I drove to Oxford to hear a talk on Oswald von Wolkenstein at All Souls College, given by Marc Lewon. We passed some interesting architecture on the road, too.


Oxford College with Stripey Lawn

Ten points to Marc for answering Margaret Bent's question on how he would defend a certain assertion and he responded without hesitation "Duel."

I'm back in Glasgow now for a weekend of holiday before heading up to Aberdeen for more erudition and a further exploration of the many varieties of Speyside malt. Last night I opened the very luxurious 1985 Glenrothes that I've decided to carry around with me and share. The warm, caramel aftertaste was very enjoyable, the full on beginning of the sip though was a bit shocking until I realized that it tasted better if I tried to taste with the sides of my tongue.

Must get ready to go and walk up Ben Lomond now. Wish me luck, as my knee has been acting up lately. I'm so eager to head for the hills, though, that I've gone off coffee for the last three days in an effort to get the swelling down - it seems to have made a difference. I hope that Scotland's boggy, spongy ground, combined with using poles and shock-absorbent insoles and going absurdly slowly, will somehow serve to counterbalance my foolhardiness.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Saturday morning, coffee in hand.

Really a lot to write about - as usual the weeks where lots is happening I don't get the chance to post!

The Bach cantata went well - the slide trumpet chorale went particularly well after I decided I didn't need to play it loud at all. In the rehearsal of the Telemann cantata which followed, I was quite enjoying listening to the decadent last chorale when the conductor (from the organ, of course) asked if I'd like to play along. Of course! So I put down Sophia (who had been on my shoulders) and ran and got my tenor trombone from the kitchen - I hope Sophia didn't feel her position usurped! Then he asked if I could double the top part... well, I ran and got my alto trombone instead, adding yet another instrument to the cantus firmus count.

In the rehearsal it was a glorious feeling to ride on top of such a gorgeous sound. In the concert it was ok but not more I'm afraid. The band got a spontaneous urge to play and sing very, very quietly, which was quite magical and which I highly approve of in theory, but it was extremely difficult to join in on in the high register of a cold trombone. Still possible though. It was one of those moments that felt mildly traumatic in how hard it was, but then afterwards everyone said how the trombone added quite a lovely colour, and I'm forced to remember the helpful words of Dave Martin: It doesn't matter how it feels, it's how it sounds. Right.

But wait, did no one care that I split the high d the first time 'round? Maybe not...

The next day on lunch break, I got a call to do something I haven't done in a while - to play in a symphony orchestra. Covering for a sick friend, it was a last minute thing - concert was last night. The last few days I've had my modern trombone out (fourth instrument of the week and only Monday!) and have been, um, relearning it. This mainly consists of abandoning a bit of sackbut technique: for renaissance music I've developed a sort of a falsetto way of playing high, which lets me play in the alto range for long periods of time and quite delicately. It's bad trombone technique though. While it works brilliantly for renaissance music, where parts rarely span more than an octave, its inflexibility makes it basically impossible to use when playing over the whole range of the instrument. So, knowing what I had to do, I dug out my old International Edition of Bach cello suites transcribed for trombone (am I really posting this to the Internet?) and blew lots of air until the chesty feeling of being a modern trombonist crept back into my body. Also a very good feeling.

On Wednesday I had a singing lesson, the first in far too long. Funnily enough it was about not switching completely into falsetto to sing the high bits but keeping a chesty feeling. Hmm...

During last night's concert I was more comfortable than I had thought I would have been* after just a few days of modern playing - yey! I indulged in a bit of wholesome SFT (Slavonic Fortissimo Therapy, of which modern trombonists will be familiar) in the Slavonic Dance. I was still not as loud as the trumpets by the way. The last piece, Dvorák's Cello Concerto, is just a phenomenal piece of music.
*apologies to non mother tongue English speakers for that bit of syntax. Ok, to the rest too.

I enjoyed a few "Eureka" moments in the rehearsals. I like to think that all renaissance and much baroque music has a text. Well, after we played three short notes, the bass trombonist exclaimed "Chuk chuk chuk!" Maybe romantic trombone parts do have a text too! Perhaps it looks like I'm being facetious, but really I'm not. I find it much easier to play in concerts if I can activate the language part of my brain in music-making, so texted music is easier to play than untexted. Otherwise my brain tends to blather on anyway about this and that, whereas if I can focus it on the text of the music, it shuts up in the random department and I play better. "Chuk chuk chuk!"

Another Eureka - I do suddenly understand why early music people are stereotyped for liking organic products - in comparison with the relatively transparent music we play, romantic music seems to be steeped in musical MSG. Of course, the cellist was so good last night that I completely enjoyed his ubiquitous vibrato: it didn't seem chemical at all, but would more accurately be compared to a bit of added umami.

I had a strange moment last night redoing my falling-out braid (UK: plait) at intermission (UK: the interval). I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, it would be ok if I started to get a few grey hairs now. Gosh.

I won't be surprised if I do, either. I had kind of thought that the restful, sit-back-and-wait portion of university applications might last a bit longer than two and a half weeks from submitting my last application...but news is, well, flooding in and the suspense of where I'll go next is almost unbearable....


(...Go on, is it?)


(...Mu ha ha.)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I just went on a run for the first time in over a year!

I had given it up for a while at least because of the pain in my left knee, but on my bicycle on my way to visit a friend in Germany the other day, I saw some people jogging on a path in the forest, which looked like it had something on it to make it quite cushy - I thought woodchips but it turns out to be sand and leaves. Today Alex asked if I wanted to go along with him on a short run, so I said yes, as long as we sought out this path. We found it very easily and it's a 500m loop - very nice. Towards the end of the fifth loop I started to feel a bit of aggravation in my knee, and called it a day, but I think I shall give it a try again soon (and invest in some better shoes, and stretch out my hamstrings properly before even leaving the house). Nothing quite beats a runner's high, especially before a concert where some really exceptionally long notes are involved... that would be the trombone cantus firmus this afternoon!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The forty days between New Year's Day and my Birthday are a desert as far as gigs are concerned. With Christmas gone, generally miserable cold and cloudy weather, and I between the passing of a calendar year and the counting of my own, I allow myself to be a bit more reflective in this time - my own personal and secular Lent. Despite these days inevitably beginning with a bit of hangover, there's no fasting involved (as a certain jovial roundness in my belly will attest to), but I do take time to think of what kind of person I'd like to be when I'm a year older, and to ponder over issues philosophical and otherwise. Then my birthday comes at the coldest and bleakest time of all, and with a tip of a hat to the Ordre de Bon Temps of the early French Canadians, I celebrate with friends, music and good food, checking baggage at the door and looking forward to focusing for the rest of the year on more concrete things such as my career.

I have yet to decide if the utility of observing this Lent lies in the great mirage of accumulated wisdom that I'm left with, or in the been-there-done-that feeling which leaves me very fond of my birthday indeed (already a good thing) and with a sense that it's exactly the perfect time to, well, get on with things.

So, I'm 31 now, and slightly disoriented. It felt far too warm and sunny this week to possibly be my birthday so the usual philosophical routine was interrupted by an unshakable joie de vivre. Worse things to complain about I suppose. The Föhn winds (see last post!) have been waning only gently, and it's hard to believe that we may get more winter before spring finally comes. The crocuses are up, the mini-daisies you see in the grass too, and of course snowdrops. Will I get to use my cross-country skis at all this winter? At this point it's ok if not...(or if I have to head for a high Alpine valley to do so!)

Here are a few pictures documenting Sunday's Beer-Rhine-Sunset:

See Moon Top Right

Dark at Seven

On Tuesday the Egger workshop was full of people - all the part time workers were there, all machines in use, and no one needed anything to be done, so I clocked out and called up Josué and we hopped on the bus to St. Chrischona, where there is an excellent view of Basel, and when it's not as hazy at it was, all the way to the Alps.

Behind the 1509 church (you can climb right up the tower), there are forests and fields - somewhere in there the border between Basel and Germany too.

Josué climbing a hill

Sunset through trees

When we got back to civilization, we saw a modern-day shepherd, driving through the park on a scooter, followed by a herd of sheep trotting along and ringing their bells.

Modern-Day Sheep Herding

Having wound up on the wrong side of the hill to watch the sunset, we nipped over to the other side just in time. The haze which had obscured the view of the Alps the hour before was now responsible for a very fine palette of colours:

We headed back into Riehen - a northern suburb of Basel, stumbling upon a little whisky shop which is barely ever open but as luck would have it was closing in six minutes. So we nipped in and got a 50mL taster bottle of BenRiach 20-year old - wow! Heather and Honey rounded out by sweet pears. Back in Speyside in a few weeks, I think I shall have to explore...

Church Tower at Dusk, Riehen

My birthday evening was simple and very lovely - Alex made some Charbonnade with a marsala cream sauce, then people came round and we sat about my living room eating Silke's excellent chocolate cake.

The next morning, Helen (who had stayed over since she lives in Freiburg) and I had breakfast, and I got the distinct feeling that every time I looked, the daffodils had made one more step to opening. Shortly after breakfast was done, sure enough there was a bloom. Now there are five.

Breakfast, Daffodils, Herb Garden

Since then, I've been recovering from the intense socializing of the last week, but I couldn't resist when I was invited upstairs for a very silly supper of eggs and toast (incidentally the same as breakfast yesterday too). But these were goose eggs from the farmer's market in France and we had to eat them out of espresso cups, to Sophia's supreme delight. She ate a whole one.

Now it's Saturday morning and I've just finished my coffee - perfect timing. Off to play in the Bach Cantatas later, playing the chorale tune on trombone in the first movement and slide trumpet in the last. Not many notes, but after being sent some live recordings of Bach for my birthday, I'm happy to get my fix of being inside the music myself!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Well, it's been a while again. I got back from Scotland on Monday evening and couldn't bring myself to write, having just filled out and handed in what is hopefully the last of my university applications. Today is a perfect day to blog, too, having woken up to do a morning walk through the Allschwil forest, enjoying the Föhn winds - the Alpine equivalent of the Chinook - which has brought us some warm, sunny weather. I bought some more potatoes at the Farm Shop and added to my documentation of things only found here in Switzerland. Here, a coat-rack at the entrance to the forest, where people have hung their expensive coats (and parked their bikes):

A notice reminding horse-riders that all horses must be wearing a license plate:

...and a random selection of Swiss forest-gnomes:

And here we are, looking smug...

Nathaniel, Nathaniel, Claire, Me

If that weren't enough to make for a perfect morning, we all met up an hour after getting back to Basel and read some music together. Now I'm on my way to enjoy the first BRS (Beer-Rhine-Sunset) of 2011 with the people in the photo above.


It was spectacular, mostly because of the perfect cheshire cat moon, and we toasted BRS with prosecco. Then I got back and had a proper Sunday supper and some of the whisky I brought back from Scotland.

One of the stories about Föhn is that people don't sleep well when these winds come. I didn't quite believe this yesterday, but was woken up by a random nightmare about endless airports and deadly street-cleaning machines and, having been wide awake for the last hour, settle down now to finish this post at seven-thirty in the morning.

So, on to Scotland...

I arrived in Edinburgh airport on Monday evening and oddly enough you can't get directly from that airport to Glasgow by public transit (UK: transport) despite it being less than an hour away. You have to either go into Edinburgh first at great time and expense, or do what I did, which is wheel your suitcase one mile to Glasgow road and hop on the Citylink 900 bus. If it stops. The first didn't stop (but waved - thanks) and then the house nearby started burning some tires and I was engulfed in disgusting smoke so I started walking to the second stop half a mile a way - but the 900 wasn't due there so I kept walking, only to be passed by the next bus shortly before arriving. Third time's the charm though, and pretty soon I was on my way to Glasgow, where Alison was waiting with some delicious home-made burritos.

The next day was Jan. 25th - Robbie Burns Night when evening would roll around. In the afternoon we went for a walk around Mugdock Country Park - very cheering to know that woods, hills, ponds and castles are only 9 miles north of Glasgow.

Boardwalk to Castle

From this boardwalk I first took notice of the incredible Glaswegian sky. When I was there last summer it was sunny, but now in winter, despite the clouds it was luminous, textured, and always changing - a constant reminder that the sea was just around the corner.

A Glow behind the Trees

Soon we arrived at Mugdock castle, a ruin whose building spanned from medieval to Victorian times:

The only bench I remember seeing:

As we left the castle we saw that we were being watched:

This tree has a fern coat:

And here, next to the castle, we ate lunch. Fried mushroom & pesto and mushroom and horseradish sandwiches - yum!

The park was bigger than it seemed and felt very far away - you can see the first hills of the highlands sticking out behind these crossed paths:

This is what's called a kissing gate, which people can get through but cows can't:

Before long we realized we'd joined up onto the West Highland Way:

The end of the hike provided a dark view of Glasgow in the distance, not to mention a few more glimpses of awesome sky:

Upon coming home, it was time to make a traditional Burn's Night Supper: Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Haggis you'll have to look up - it's delicious, Neeps are turnips and Tatties are potatoes, these two all mashed up of course. Our meal started with some Scottish salmon on miniature oatcakes, then it was time to begin traditional Burns Night activities, like taking the Haggis out of the oven. Actually there were two (...haggi? Haggisses? anyhow...)

We took it in turns to read the "Address to a Haggis" after a moment of panic when Alison discovered that the pages had been removed from from her sister's copy of the (otherwise) Complete Works of Robbie Burns!
But sure enough the Internet provided, and I brought this laptop into the kitchen to read from...

At the appropriate moment in the poem, the hagges (surely it pluralises like 'crisis'?) were pierced by Alison's deft knife! (Actually in retrospect it was more like 'punctured' but that doesn't feel very poetic now, does it?)

Then we brought the haggides (surely it pluralises like 'glottis'?) to the table and much merriment was had.

Alison and Ruth and a Full Burns Supper - num num num

Cranachan for dessert - a traditional Scottish delicacy with raspberries, heather honey, cream, toasted oats, and of course whisky:


You'll notice perhaps that we were three and there were four bowls. David came by late the next morning and ate his before taking me on a tour of Glasgow University. Here's the river Kelvin, which we passed on the way there:

and one of many interesting corners of Glasgow's West End:

Quite soon we were greeted by the sight of the University tower against the sky:


It doesn't loom quite so much when you get up close though:

David and not-looming Tower

Venturing inside, I saw the chapel, concert hall, exam room, and a reminder of the origins of my own Alma Mater:

Soon it was off to the music building - a small but beautiful interior with wood paneling and winding staircases. Unfortunately the practice room situation is a bit dismal:

I could play in here as long as I didn't need 6th position

Right. I did scavenge about for other practising possibilities and may have found a solution or two.

Then it was off to the new cake shop to meet up with Alison again before she caught the train to London.

Choices, Choices

My Choice (two pieces thereof)

Walking back, I noticed something I'd never noticed before at the corner of Great Western Road and Byres Road - it's true what the Doctor said, people do just walk by and not ask any questions.

Abandoned Tardis

Thursday I thought I would go down to the Uni, meet with my potential Ph.D. supervisor, hand in my application, and go. Ha ha. Oh well. The meeting was very good but I had many fine pieces of advice to work into the application. I gave up hope that it would be done within hours and went to a concert instead, where I saw among other things, Barnaby Brown play triplepipes and sing Canntaireachd - which is pronounced 'Cantara' and is Gaelic mouth music - or a way of singing what bagpipes play. I liked it so much, I wanted immediately to learn it. So far I've learned to spell it, but perhaps I will be able to get a lesson when I'm back again?

When I got back to Alison's I got a text message from Helen saying that she was already on the bus to Edinburgh - never assume the same flight times with easyjet! Ah! So I went down to the train station and we soon met up in Edinburgh to check in at the hostel and find us some pub fare. Helen had haggis.

The next day was quite perfect. We wandered down the Royal Mile, popping into charity shops and a shop where they made animal horn trumpets (we tried them - should have bought one probably!) and a few private whisky establishments (I bought a bottle on the way back).

The Royal Mile

At the end, across from the Scottish Parliament, was Holyrood castle, but it was far too lovely out to go inside, so we climbed a hill in Holyrood park instead.

Helen, Catherine, Ediburgh

On the way back, mulling about what to do for lunch, we saw this red restaurant. "I'm tempted. Are you tempted?" "I'm tempted too!" So, off to the tempting tattie we went and ate baked potatoes with all sorts of fillings and cheese.

Scarlet Establishment

Curiously, having just arrived, we were eager to 'get out of the city', so after some coffee, we hopped on the bus to Rosslyn Chapel, the site of many sandstone engravings of everything from angel musicians and the dance of death to many carvings of the pagan "Green Man", to the inscription Forte est vinum fortior est rex fortiores sunt mulieres super omnia vincit veritas: "Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all."

You'll have to visit the websites for pictures because we weren't allowed to take any. Having a bit of time before the return bus, we wandered down to Rosslyn castle, an eerie ruin at twilight:

Rosslyn Castle

Park Bench

Upon returning to Edinburgh, we ate curry and found some traditional music in a pub. At one point they put their fiddle and sang my favourite Stan Rogers song.

The next morning it was off to Aberdeen - a glorious sunrise over the Firth of Forth greeted us on the train ride.

Looking upwards, Aberdeen reminded me a bit of Lancaster with it's stone houses and many chimneys:

After an afternoon of wandering around (yey charity shops!) we went back to Frauke's house, equipped with a functional fireplace, and toasted marshmallows.

Helen, Frauke, Hot Coals

The Germans have a tradition they call Abendbrot, which is a supper of bread and the best meats and cheeses you can find. So to our cracked wheat we added smolked salmon, pigeon breasts, two types of Scottish cheese and some traditional oatcakes, cheddar and chutney for good measure.

The next morning, we went riding:

Horse in a Frosty Field

Me on Wesley

Frauke and a slightly unwilling Benji

Helen on Goose

There was just enough times for a quick romp around the dunes of Balmedie, just North of Aberdeen, before heading to the bus.

Um, tide coming in or going out?

Frauke, Helen and Me

Helen failing to display English Wistful
Melancholy at the Appropriate Moment

The Grassy Dunes

More of the same

And more...

Fiery Sunset

Taken from the car going into Aberdeen

No trains running that day, Helen and I took the Citylink Gold express bus, which went from Aberdeen to Glasgow, only stopping to pick up some sandwiches, drinks, and tablet for us. Free (if dodgy) wifi the whole way too, and all for £10. Ok, I say.

When we got to Alison's, she had some lovely sea bass waiting, and we listened to the first edit of the I Fedeli CD recorded last October...very exciting!

The next day was pretty chaotic, as finishing my Uni applications took, as usual, much longer than I expected. But with some help from Alison and some fresh gumption from the air outside - smelled of heather and the sea - I got them in and headed back to Basel, exactly a week ago today. The week was not very eventful, mostly spent in the Egger workshop, where sawing out little angels on the jewelry saw provided some welcome respite from the inhuman CNC lathes. And now I have to head back there, or I'll be late!