Booking forms

“Dear choir,

I’d like you to come and sing in my new concert venue.  It’s a sumptuously renovated barn and is the next big thing in the county.  It’s going to be like Glyndebourne.  I will enhance the programme with my internationally acclaimed harpischord playing…”

“Dear Mr Barn,

Delighted.  Please find attached a copy of our booking form and conditions, including fee.  Please note that the choir marches on its stomach and note the questions about whether or not refreshments will be provided for us”

“Dear choir,

Booking form returned.  Fee is agreed, tea and biscuits will be provided between your rehearsal and concert and a buffet served in the concert interval”

then,

one day before the concert, a phone call:

“Hi.  Mr Barn here.  I’ve just remembered that I said we’d give you tea and biscuits.  Well – I’m afraid there’s no-one available to do teas and biscuits.  We might be able to lend you a kettle, but you can’t use the kitchen because the ladies doing cheese and grapes for the interval will be in there.  Sorry”

Email:

“Dear choir members,

Mr Barn has renaged on his promise of tea & biscuits.  Please bring flasks and sandwiches.”

Well – the choir being as it is, 3 members clubbed together and provided tea, cakes, scones-with-jam-&-cream, 3 kettles, 4 teapots etc etc.  Partly, according to one cake-angel, to show Mr Barn what sort of spread could be provided at 8 hours’ notice.

Needless to say, ‘sumptuously renovated’ was a bit of an overstatement in describing the new venue, but ‘barn’ was spot on.  The ill fitting doors and the ancient stones combined to ensure that however warm and spring like the weather outside, inside the barn was arctic in temperature.  However, the rehearsal went ahead, and as the tea was being prepared, I sought out Mr Barn himself…

“Afternoon.  Lovely to meet you.  Just thought I’d better check some of the other points from the booking form after the tea & biscuits thing went astray.  Our fee – will you be giving me the cheque today or posting it later this week?”

“Ah yes.  Well – ticket sales haven’t gone quite according to plan.  I mean – I hope I’ll be able to pay you, but it might not be the full amount.  And actually I won’t know until the end of the series, which is in August, and I’ll have to get the figures from the tourist office.  Your conductor thought that would be OK…”

That’s why we don’t let the conductor deal with people or bookings.  That’s why I emailed you and sent you the forms.  That’s why you’ve been dealing with me.  Gah!

So, I passed the concert in an alternating mood of grumpiness during our pieces and unexplained giggles during the harpsichord solos.  Came home from the post-concert commiseratory bash to an email from Mr Barn:

“You’ll be pleased to hear that we can pay you the full amount after all!  Can you come out to the barn and collect it in cash next time you’re passing.  And sorry about the tea thing.  I forgot.  I’ll get it right next time”

After a few more emails, I found someone  more likely to pass the blessed barn than I was and who was willing to pick up a wad of cash and not spend it all on the way home.  Her comment about his email?  “Next time?????!!!!!”

Repertoire lists

“Dear Quartet, 

We’d like you to play for our wedding in two months’ time, at St Gerald’s church.  Just the service – it’s a nuptial mass so should last about an hour.  We’d like you to play as the guests arrive, as the bride walks in, while we’re signing the register, during communion and as we leave…”

“Dear Players,

See request above – are you free?  Normal fee for up to two hours’ playing?”

“Dear viola-player,

Yeah – that’s fine.  Hey – since St Gerald’s is really local for me (so you can all come round for coffee), and it’s only an hour, why don’t we charge them a bit less?  Love, 1st violin”

“Dear Groom,

That’s fine, the quartet is available to play for your wedding.  Please find attached our booking form and repertoire list so that you can think about your music choices.  If you need any further help, let me know…”

“Dear Quartet,

Did I mention that we’ll need you to play the hymns?  We’ve chosen a couple that we remember from primary school.  Hope you’ve got the music for them”

“Dear church-friend,

Help!  I need copies of these hymns please – in as near to a 4 part harmonisation as you can find.  No problems reading off the piano score if necessary.”

“Dear Quartet,

We’d like you to play happy songs while our guests arrive, no downbeat things like classical songs can sometimes be.  Just upbeat ones please. Thanks”

“Dear Quartet,

We’d like Kerry to come in to the wedding march please.  The normal one.  I think it’s Wagner – or Mendelssohn”.  Then we’d like A song played on solo saxophone from Miss Saigon, and In my life by the Beatles for the signing of the register, then we’d like another happy classical song and ‘When I’m 64’ for the communion, then we’d like to go out to ‘All you need is love’.”

“Dear groom,

No problem with the ‘happy classical songs’ and the hymns, and I can get hold of the Beatles songs even though they’re not all in our usual repertoire.  I’ve had a look at the Miss Saigon song, and whilst it’s lovely, I don’t think it’s going to work well for string quartet, and besides which, I can’t find a quartet arrangement of it at this short notice, and due again to the short notice, I don’t have time to arrange it myself.  Please find attached a list of similar songs from shows that you might like as an alternative”

“Dear Quartet,

Sorry you won’t do Miss Saigon.  Can we have ‘Fields of Gold’ by Sting instead?”

“I’m sorry – same situation.  I can look for an arrangement of the Sting, but I can’t guarantee it at this late stage.  Just to confirm – you have checked out all this non-sacred music with your vicar?”

“Yeah – priest likes the beatles.  Can you do Desree’s ‘Kissing you’?  I know that’s not on your list either, but it’s very nice and there’s a quartet in London that can play it.”

deep sigh…

“Dear colleagues in other local quartet,

Help!  Please can you rush me an arrangement of Desree’s Kissing you?  I’ve given up trying to make them pick something we’ve actually got in the pads.  Eternal gratitude and a large pint awaits.  Payment too if you want”

“Dear groom,

Sorry that nothing on our repertoire list hits the spot.  I have managed to source an arrangement of the Desree so hopefully we’re now sorted.”

“Dear players

Just checking you’re all OK with all the details for next week.  Times, venue and repertoire attached.  I know.  I’m sorry.  See you there”

“Dear viola player,

We’ll be done by 1.30pm won’t we, cos I have to be the other side of the city by 2pm. 2nd violin”

“Dear 2nd violin,

No.  The way this gig is going, I can’t guarantee anything, and 1.30 was always going to be cutting it fine.  Can you promise you’ll stay to the end of the quartet gig even if it means you being late to your next thing?”

“Dear viola player,

Praps you’d better get a different 2nd violin for this one.  Mind you, it’s a busy date so you might struggle.  Sorry”

“Dear 1st violin,

Don’t ever try to convince me into charging a lower fee ever, ever again”

It was twenty years ago today…

Well – more or less, anyway.

Twenty years ago today, I was in my second term as a sixth former at a minor provincial public school.  I had discovered that there were two places in which I could hang out in my free time.  There was the girls’ house, a civilised place which I associate with buttered toast and ‘our tune’ at break times, a quiet, orderly study with tidy desks and inoffensive posters of boys in levis on the walls, and the constant presence of a smiling housemistress; or there was the music department attic.  The music department was (and indeed still is) housed in one of those fabulous old buildings that has a fantastically grand entrance hall, and gets more and more scruffy the more stairs you climb.  At the very top were four rooms.  In one, the deputy head of department gave piano lessons and coached scholars for Oxbridge entrance exams.  A few yards further along the corridor were two forgotten corners of the school which had been turned into ‘common rooms’ for 6th form music scholars and their ‘guests’.  Sofas with exposed springs, stereos with home-made surround-sound speakers (frequently blowing fuses), lethal coffee with no milk and unsanitary mugs, and ongoing low level warfare between the occupants of the two rooms.  In case you’re wondering, the other room was a small and fragrant loo.  Farts were regularly lit.  I did mention it was a mostly boys’ public school didn’t I?  My very first boyfriend appeared on the scene at this school.  We were both in the chapel choir, and he gradually became a fixture in our attic room.  Drinks were drunk in the attic room, caretakers were bribed to turn blind eyes and the handy window to the roof and fire escape became a regular out of hours exit when the department was locked.  Sometimes too many drinks were drunk.  (I realise that any drinks at all were strictly speaking ‘too many’ but y’know…)  So – I spent much of this term, 20 years ago, in an attic room, with a boy who was a member of House “B” (for the sake of some anonymity).  Before coming to the school he’d been a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral School.

Today, I was back in my old school, summoned because one of the viola pupils was having a ‘personality issue’ with the sole violin & viola teacher in the department, and urgently needed a change of teacher.  I walked into the marble entrance hall, past the stone lions, and up the first staircase.

“Ah – lovely!  Glad you’re here.  Trouble is, we’re a little short of teaching rooms today…  Um – OK – I think I know where there’s a room free”

And then we went up two more staircases, and it all came flooding back.  Past the old teaching room where I was coached unsuccessfully for Cambridge, past a boarded up door which used to lead to the loo, and into the second of the attic rooms – now a good deal tidier.  But – in the first attic room – a pile of old and suspiciously familiar looking furniture.

“Right – this is Oli, your viola pupil.  He came to us from Salisbury last year – ex chorister – now in House “B”.

I facebooked the first boyfriend when I got home and told him what I’d been doing with my morning.

“Dear God – no!  Were you sick over him as well?  Did you notice if my sweatshirt was still out on that roof?”, came the amused but rather TMI response.

What’s it worth? (part 2)

Some people make their living from music, other people have music as a hobby.  I do both.  I make my living by playing the viola and teaching viola & violin, and I’m an amateur singer.  I sing in a small, amateur choir which is stuffed full of good musicians, some professional, some not.  I find it quite easy to see the line between my professional and my amateur music making.  To make it even easier, I use my maiden name for my professional performances and my married name for my singing stuff. 

One form of income for the jobbing viola player, is helping out local amateur orchestras, providing either leadership or just a bit more oomph in ailing sections.  And yes, the viola section is often an ailing section.  

I had been in denial about one forthcoming date in the choir diary.  We were down to do a combined concert with the local orchestra that you might have read about in my ‘Viva la diva’ post a little while ago.   I originally chose this choir because it hardly ever does accompanied concerts and I was pretty grumpy that we were about to work with one of my least favourite conductors.  And then it got complicated…

One of the sopranos in the choir is also a cellist.  She’s also a lovely, generous person and thought it would be quite fun to join the orchestra for the numbers which didn’t involve the choir.  Of course, they were delighted about this, and e-mailed me:

“Hi – are you singing in our joint concert?  If so, would you like to join the orchestra for the pieces where you’re not singing?  I think Judy’s playing!”

After some discussion about the current strength of their viola section, and which pieces I might be available for, I found an ‘extras confirmation letter’ in my inbox, and some badly photocopied music with the key signatures and the last half bar of every line cut off, on my doormat.  The last line of the extras confirmation letter read: “We haven’t discussed expenses but I was sort of hoping you might help out as a favour this time as you are there with the choir anyway…?”  Well, if all that it involved was ‘being there anyway’ that might be fine, but they wanted me for two extra rehearsals in a different city, as well as ‘being there’ for a much larger part of the concert day than I would otherwise have been.  Since my husband is also in the choir, and we usually give a lift to another choir member (wheelchair-bound) and his carer, that would mean either several hours of sitting around for the rest of the car load, or taking two cars at separate times.  Several more e-mails later, and I had politely declined their kind invitation to play for free, to the bemusement of the generous cellist and the cheers of my choir-neighbour, a professional actress who is equally fed up of being asked to lend her skills and talents for free.

Well then – What is music worth?  What are you paying for if you pay a musician, when there are so many amateurs around who will perform for free, or even pay for the priviledge?  Why have live musicians at all when you can stick a CD on.  After all, the CD won’t need to take a break, won’t need a drink of water or, heaven forbid, a piece of cake – (yes indeed – our cellist was chastised for eating a piece of cake in a quartet break recently.  She politely explained that she’d been working hard for the last two hours and there was nowhere else for her to go to eat her snack in private.  “Working hard?  Pah!  That’s not work” came the reply from the punter who went on to taunt her about how fat she’d get if all she did all day was eat cake.  This is our marathon-running cellist by the way…)
So – if you book musicians for a private do, are you paying an hourly rate for us to turn up and sit around playing lovely tunes with our friends at your event?  Well sort of.  But you’re also paying for the music consultations that you’ve had, either by phone or e-mail, the conversations about what mood you’d like to create, the sourcing of your peculiar special requests, and the years of lessons, practice, and that very unfashionable thing – talent, which makes it all look so easy.  You’re paying to help fund the upkeep of expensive pieces of craftsmanship (that’s right – that’s why we won’t play outside in the rain), and the purchase of music and posh frocks.  And you’re paying for the guarantee that, unlike the keen amateurs, we promise to get it all right and make it sound vibrant and fun, whilst looking smart and smiley.  You’re paying for our experience to match the music to the mood of the event, or create a different mood, to deal with requests from the Irish Uncle who decides he’d like to have a good cry to Londonderry Air, or the cousin who wants ‘that tune from Master & Commander’.  What’s that worth?

Tricky, isn’t it?

(and yes – I still have more money rants to come – welcome back wibsite!)

What’s it worth..?

“Have you had any of those credit crunch brides yet?”, was the opening conversational gambit from a friend in the same line of business as me.  I thought about that for a while, and considered the recent dealings with people who have wanted our string quartet recently.  Well – there was the father of the bride a couple of weeks ago who was in charge of our cheque at his daughter’s wedding…  At a suitable break in the proceedings, I sought him out and lightly & discreetly brought up the subject of envelopes. “But you haven’t finished yet!”, he boomed, attracting a crowd of strapping ushers.  “Well, no – but we’ll be finishing just as you’re about to start the speeches, and in my experience, it’s not a good look to have a musician coming begging just as you take the mike.  I promise we’ll keep playing even after you’ve paid us”.  “Hmm – how much did you say it was?”  I told him, and he reached slowly into his jacket pocket… “What about for cash?”.  (sigh).  “No – it’s the same amount, however the money comes.  It’s the amount we agreed several months ago”.  Eventually, the cash was grudgingly handed over and we launched into a celebratory rendition of ‘Makin Whoopee’.

Then there’s the bride with whom I’m still in e-mail negotiation for her wedding next summer.  Originally she wanted us for the ceremony, drinks reception, meal, and (most unusually) the evening do as well.  She thought that having one group for the lot would be cheaper.  However – when we’d priced up the cost of having a quartet at your beck and call for over 8 hours, she balked.  Now I’m just getting e-mails claiming that she has found a cheaper quartet, and although she realises they might not be as good as us, couldn’t we drop our prices to match them?  “I’m afraid not – you’ve already got a reduction on the price we should be charging you”.  And how about if she pays us the deposit now instead of the month before her wedding?  “No – it still costs the same”.  And how about if it’s cash?  “No, I’m sorry – we’re all paranoid about our tax returns and we all declare everything.  Cash really makes no difference”.

And then there was the charity film premiere event.  They phoned with two days’ notice to get a quartet to an event where a cinema full of people had all paid £30 for the priviledge of watching James Bond whilst wearing black tie.  We gave our usual quote.  No – sorry – far too expensive.  OK, a discount if we get to come and watch the film as well (we’ll be in evening wear anyway).  Not a big enough discount.  We could do you a trio for three quarters of the price?  Still not cheap enough – how about the trio for a pittance plus some free advertising in our glossy magazine.  I gave up when the fee stopped covering my petrol and parking.

So – how has the credit crunch affected the quartet work?  Well – we’ve added a cheaper ‘trio’ option to our services.  It’s cheaper for the clients because obviously they only have to pay three of us, but we don’t get paid for the cost of buying the extra music, holding rehearsals to learn the new repertoire, or for the effort of giving it more loudy at the gigs to make three players project as much as four.

What is music worth?  More in part two, following shortly.

Whose wedding is it anyway? Part two

I’m still laughing about yesterday’s gig.

This was a civil ceremony booked through one of the agencies that give us work. No specific requests for music had come through, and we just had the basic venue and time details, until our first violinist got the contract with the names and phone numbers on.

Then I got a phone call from 1st violin (who, it may or may not help you to know, is gay):

“Help! You know this gig on Saturday? They haven’t asked for any particular music but it’s not a straight wedding it’s a civil partnership – two guys, and I can’t think what to play. I’ve phoned the more butch one, and it seems his partner is going to walk down the aisle, but we can’t do the normal wedding march can we?? What shall we do? And don’t you dare suggest Queen of Sheba (he knows me too well – that’s exactly what I was going to suggest – that and the Rondeau from the Fairy Queen), and then they want music for the register signing and I thought the Flower duet might be nice, but that’s got connotations of airline stewards from the BA ad, so we can’t do that…”

Eventually, we sorted out some perfectly neutral and inoffensive baroque trumpet tunes for in and out and a long passacaglia which can be as long or short as necessary for the register signing, and the call ended.

So – we all met in the car park of another seaside hotel and compared notes. Cellist was excited, as she hadn’t done a gay civil partnership before, and was looking forward to some classy decorations and 1st violin had taken extra care with his grooming and had a pocketful of business cards, in the hope of a congregation full of potential dates for himself. Inside, the hotel was twinkling with fairy lights and the decorations looked slightly camp but pretty classy. We met Adam – the man who had spoken with 1st violin, and he told us that Danny would be down in a sec to confirm how it was all going to work. A few moments passed… “I’m sure she’ll be down shortly” muttered Adam.

Did we hear that right? Is this couple really that stereotypical that one of them refers to the other as ‘she’?

And then our collective jaws hit the floor as a tall, jeans-clad girl in a tiara waltzed down the stairs, and said “Hi – I’m Dannii”

Exeunt three members of string quartet – pursued by an explosive giggling fit, leaving 1st violin to deal with a very conventional bride and his personal disappointment.

At the nearby organic cafe (mmmm) where we whiled away the hour before we needed to start playing, we teased 1st violin mercilessly

“So – is the Kylie obsession so strong that you hadn’t noticed the name of her little sister?”
“Look – it was spelled ‘Danny’ on the contract. What would you have thought? Adam and Danny – it’s clearly a gay thing”
“It’s spelled ‘Dannii on all the cards they’ve got there though, isn’t it?”
“I’ll be having words with that bloody agency…”

So – we came back and played for a lovely wedding – well apart from the fact that we had to sit outside the ceremony room due to lack of space, so we couldn’t see or hear what was going on and relied on a complicated system of nods and winks from the member of hotel staff charged with keeping the room door shut when we weren’t actually playing. And yes, of course we played the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, and the flower duet, and the Rondeau from the Fairy Queen. Would have been a waste not to.

The hotel’s conjuring tricks with doors continued as the bride and groom left the hall towards us, whilst their guests left in the opposite direction, through the large windows leading to the garden.

After a brief attempt at playing outside, under one of those lovely shady wind tunnels which decorate so many formal gardens, we retired indoors and positioned ourselves next to one of the large windows. We hardly saw any of the guests, or the happy couple, but made good friends with the photographers and the champagne waitresses – always the best people to have onside in these situations.

Cheers Adam and Dannii! You may not have been the friendliest of couples to your wedding quartet, but you gave us the best laugh we’ve had in years.

Whose wedding is it anyway? Part one

And… it’s the middle of the wedding season in the shires again, and the last couple of dos have each had an element of ‘who the heck are you?’ about them:

For wedding no 1, I had been phoned a week before by a violinist with whom I used to do irritatingly intense chamber music concerts. Actually, the concerts weren’t too bad but the rehearsals drove me to distraction. The cellist was always at least half an hour late, the violinist was – well – we’ll come to him, and the pianist (with whom I got on the best), was keen to try everything at a tempo slightly faster than the one at which he could actually play all the notes. Anyway – the violinist. When I first came across him, I read his CV before meeting him, and was instantly intimidated. He studied at a top American conservatoire, with legendary teachers and went on to, allegedly, lead various UK and European orchestras, etc etc. And then I met him, and it didn’t take too long for me to realise that actually, I had nothing to be afraid of. Aside from being a fairly average, and annoyingly quiet player, he’s got one of those odd senses of humour, which means that he doesn’t get any of the silly jokes that are bandied around in rehearsals until about 2 hours later, whereupon he will repeat them with glee for the rest of the session, and every time he sees the person who made them from then on.

So – he’d booked me for this wedding gig, and I said yes because the Hyperactive Mountaineer was due to have a friend staying that weekend so that they could do some hyperactive mountaineering. I left plenty of time to get to the seaside resort town where the wedding was due to take place, it being an August Saturday in a popular resort, and got to the rather shabby looking hotel after a 3 hour trip which, out of season, would have taken an hour and a half.

The rest of the quartet were already there and I was glad to see that the cellist was a bloke I’d met before whilst depping in one of the classier local quartets. The second violin was a name that I knew but I face I’d never met so we spent a little while unsuccessfully trying to work out why we’d never met before when we used to live in the same county.

A quick look through the pad for the civil ceremony gave me a bit of a flavour of the couple’s musical tastes. Pachelbel to come in, Wedding March to go out, and then Shania Twain for the signing of the register. Whilst guests were arriving, there was a chosen selection, including Lloyd-Webber, Whiter Shade of Pale and a few Beatles numbers with slightly tricksy rhythms if you haven’t played them before. It soon became clear that our violinists knew none of the pieces of music in the pad (mysterious, since the first violinist had assembled the music – but he claimed that he’d spent so long putting it in order that he didn’t have time to practise it), and so viola & cello became ‘Popular Culture Advisory Corner’. Every piece was preceded by “So – do you know this piece? No? – OK – we’ll count you in from here”

So – the ceremony came, the groom looked terrified, and the bride’s family looked fierce. Cellist and I had a whispered speculation as to whether there might be the hint of a shotgun about the whole thing, or whether the bride had just chosen a less than flattering frock. The registrar broke the vows up into teeny, tiny bite size chunks for the couple to repeat when she realised that they might not manage too many words at a time, but still there were problems. The most entertaining problem came when the registrar said “I, Darren Lee Smith…”, to which the groom replied “Sorry – could you repeat that?” and the registrar muttered “Well OK – it’s only your name but… ‘I, Darren Lee…

Between the ceremony and the reception, playing in a bar smelling of old beer, I checked my phone for a signal. Nothing. So I checked the iPod and immediately plugged into the hotel wifi. I sent a ‘Help! I’m trapped’ email to my usual first violinist, apologising for anything bad I’d ever said to him and promising never again to whinge about his breakneck speeds. And then I went back to plotting with the cellist against the dopey violinists we were faced with today.

Viva la Diva

Two concerts recently with rather lovely sopranos.

1st one was with a really top name singer – the type you expect to have an entourage and demands – only of course, you discover that the lives of the top classical performers are scarily normal – probably not like the ‘classically trained’ (whatever the heck that means) beauty queens who profess to bring ‘opera’ to the masses. Don’t get me started… What do you mean, I already have?

Anyway – Diva number one was slumming it backstage with the band, due to the nature of country churches, however posh the surrounding area, when her phone bleeped 5 minutes before the concert was due to begin. Only it wasn’t actually her phone. It was her teenaged daughter’s phone which Diva had borrowed on finding that her own had run out of battery. And the bleeping wasn’t strictly speaking for her attention. It was a text from one of her daughter’s friends saying ‘So is the party still on then?’ Cue frantic calls from Diva to her daughter, her husband (an equally top conductor, presumably also due on stage in 5 minutes), and her next door neighbours. Meanwhile, the band were onstage, the audience were in expectant hush, and only the sound of a soprano soloist hissing from the vestry gave any clue as to the reason for the late start of the concert. Presumably, somewhere at the other end of the country, another orchestra was sitting on another stage, waiting for its conductor, whilst listening to the muted sounds through a dressing room door of a man trying to placate his wife over the phone, and prevent a house wrecked by home alone teenagers.

And then – last weekend, there was the gig with the local amateur orchestra with a regular viola section of 2 and a half players, plus the conductor’s wife who is really a violinist but borrows a viola from time to time. I’d stopped saying yes to their requests for me to come in and lead them out of trouble, due to the hassle to fee ratio, but this time I’d said yes – purely because my singing teacher (not quite as world renowned as Diva number one, but not too far off) had begged me to – saying it would be ‘a laugh’. She hadn’t sung with them before, and I had warned her…

Shortly before the day, I had an urgent text from her saying that the conductor wanted to take her songs far too slowly, how big exactly did he think her lungs were, and could I please speed things along from the middle of the band? She was slightly worried that she’d offended him at their meeting, when he promised that he would absolutely go at her speed in the concert and she replied “No – don’t worry – I know conductors – they all revert to type in the concert – I’ll just have to spin it out somehow”.

So – concert day arrived and ‘La Voce’ was desparately trying not to succumb to a throat bug which was playing havoc with ‘la voce’. She was doing this by saying ‘Dahling – I can’t talk – I must rest’ and then holding forth about the state of the world and reeling off vicious rumours about everyone in the profession. Between the rehearsal and the gig, we headed off into the city to forage for food since, I was informed, ‘A hungry diva is not a happy diva’. I strode off in my newly acquired mega comfy walking sandals to be shouted down by La Voce who was wearing ‘blonde soprano shoes’ and had to mince everywhere. She got recognised in the street by people who had just happened to be hanging around the cathedral, and people who recognised her from elsewhere. She got wolf whistles, and calls of ‘nice voice love’. I suddenly felt very brunette and viola player-ish. However – nowhere to eat in the fair city. Well – a Greggs bakery and a Costa coffee, so Costa it was for a sarnie and a fruit salad. Which brings me back to the law I’m going to pass when I become Empress of the World, which will forbid anyone from putting on concerts in areas which have neither a pizza palace nor a rich landowner whose wives and servants cater fabulous feasts for visiting performers.

Of course, in the concert, the conductor was his usual self, la Voce followed him anyway, singing more beautifully than he deserved, nobody acknowledged the orchestra at any point, and the orchestra went back on the ‘I’m washing my hair’ list until I’ve forgotten again – or somebody convinces me that it’ll be ‘a laugh’.

Next time it’ll be easier.

It’s half term, and until the end of term I have far too much teaching on the go. It’s making me work a 6 day week most weeks, and is a terrible juggle when I have weekday concerts.

However – from the beginning of July I lose the v posh school that I started two years ago. It was handy when I was doing a lot of travelling from city to town, but now that I’m living in town, it’s neither handy nor fun. Note to self – try never to have your teaching room immediately next door to the head of music’s office. Particularly if you don’t really get on with him.

The justification for losing Posh School, was the acquisition of some teaching just a 10 minute walk from home. The job came thanks to Henry, who told his piano teacher that his violin teacher had just left the school (rather suddenly). Henry’s piano teacher told me, and I phoned the head of music. Job done. Then I lined up a friend of mine to phone up Posh School, and job pretty much done there, thus assuaging my guilt for leaving them in the lurch.

Of course, it takes a little while to get to know your students in new schools. Gain their trust and change things slowly. This is harder when you arrive to find that 8 of them have been entered for exams which happen 3 weeks after you start. This is also 3 weeks after a long holiday in which they’ve forgotten what a scale is, or – in some cases – which shoulder the violin sits on. So – for these lucky pupils, I had to go straight into Mrs Nasty mode, nagging about scales, aural tests, intonation and all the rest. Anything to get them through these exams. One of the girls was giving me particularly evil stares after her first two lessons. Last week was the first time I saw them after their exams, and I hope I managed to achieve some rather more fun lessons. The plan is to get them to read music without every note being colour coded, and perhaps even encouraging some of the ‘finger tapes’ to fall off the instruments. Small success with Evil Stare girl though. After a lesson of jolly pieces with funky CD backing tracks, she looked at me thoughtfully…

“You know how we had to work really hard at my scales for my grade 3, cos Mrs H hadn’t really done them with me? Can we start the grade 4 ones a bit earlier please so that it isn’t so difficult? And can we praps keep doing Aural tests too?”

The brainwashing is working..!

Can you see clearly now, Lorraine?

“Is it my contacts or has it suddenly gone really hazy in here?”

asked my desk partner, peering at the music.

“I think it’s your contacts, but it’s getting pretty dark.”

Yesterday was a choral society gig in a picturesque country church. In typical weekend fashion, it was a blisteringly hot (well – OK – warm-enough-for-shorts) day outside whilst we were working in a gloomy, chilly building, and now that I have a few days off, rain and winds are forecast for the foreseeable future.

13th century churches aren’t always equipped with the best electrics and the little light that was filtering in through the East window was being blocked from shining on the viola part by a wall of straining sopranos. That, combined with reading from a badly duplicated facsimile copy bound in a way that you couldn’t read anything within an inch of the fold, meant that some of our accidentals were a little more accidental than they should have been.

So – when the end of the rehearsal came, we were first in the queue for the fixer’s offer of clip-on music stand lights.

In performance (and if you ever need a choral work with emphasis on descriptions of elephants and having one’s dessert crowned with honour – I think that’s what they were singing about – Judas Maccabeus is the way forward), it became clear early on that following the conductor wasn’t going to help us a lot. Little things like not beating in the right directions, and missing out the last ten bars before the interval (wanting an early gin perhaps?). So – thank heavens for a good leader. 1st violin and 1st cello locked eyes, bypassing the man on the dais and the rest of the band locked onto whichever one of those they could see.