Friday, 30 July 2010

Ah! Finally a day off to write. So, may I suggest that you go and get a cup of tea before continuing? It's going to be a long post.

First thing's first. I went into town on Monday evening and found the Country Dancing session and Hannah, who I'd met on the train and who had told me about the event. After a sample of very fine local beer and some cider which tasted just a bit too home-made for me, musicians started showing up: two guitars, squeezebox, hurdy-gurdy, later on a flute. As they began to play some gangly white-bearded fisherman types acquired a previously unsuspected twinkle in their eyes and plucked the pretty young women from the sidelines to show them the steps of the walzes, the circle-dances, the line dances. It was rollicking good fun.

The Hurdy-Gurdy player had impressively strung his instrument in gut, for the sake of authenticity he said. Of course from there it was short work to determine that through my old roommate (UK: flatmate) in Basel we were, until then, but two degrees of separation.

Falmouth is a lovely town. I was a bit worried that it was going to be quite touristy, but though there were quite few tourists and quite a few chippies (num num num), it had held onto its local culture and no part of it was made of plastic.

It's quite true that this is not the first day off I've had since I wrote last - I've been busy though. Here you can see the walk through the buzzing Falmouth town centre to get to Swanpool Beach (not. And Yes, there was a pool with swans in it), where the kayak course was being held.
I had no idea that Sea Kayaking was an extreme sport, honest. I've canoed since I was five or so, and kayaking on lakes was a natural extension of that. I'd gone all my life until now not capsizing once, but the sea is a different beast than freshwater.

I had no idea, for instance, that the tides resulted in flows from west to east and east to west as the open Atlantic rushed in around Britain to fill the channel. I had no idea about Spring and Neap tides. While I've paddled in some harsh weather and choppy water (the lakes in Canada can get pretty big, after all), sea swells, those broad gentle waves that are responsible for sea-sickness, the kind you can play upon quite harmlessly until they get to shore and turn into wild surf - they were completely foreign.

The second day we engaged in "Rock-Hopping," paddling as close as possible to the rocks along the coast, exploring caves and gullies and squeezing between boulders. We did the same on Thursday, but this time it was level 2: paddling across the reefs which were only covered in water when the 3-foot swell was in. In one case I approached a little bit late and felt the rock hit my keel as I was paddling off the reef. In the caves, when things got narrow and we couldn't paddle with both ends anymore, I sighed a sigh of relief: I was allowed to paddle like a canoe and felt suddenly much more at home.

lunch in a secluded gully

On Wednesday and Friday we went to the North Cornwall coast, a bit less sheltered from the Atlantic, where there's plenty of surf to play in. At first we were told to go and try out playing in the surf, and get pushed over a few times to get used to the idea - ok, capsizing here I come. The first time, in 3-foot waves, I capsized immediately, hitting the bottom and banging the paddle into my face, giving me a black eye and a bruised lip about a 1.5 mm from where my mouthpiece sits. Confidence Building Excercise Fail. We were then taught how to brace the kayak against the surf which would try to flip us (noted, yes, thanks) and brought into 6 foot surf. Wait? What about practising in the 3-foot surf? Not fun enough for our intrepid and slightly foolish instructor, who went off to play in the waves whilst the rest of us capsized again and again, sometimes putting our lives in danger, sometimes not. Finally we all gave up and told the instructor he'd made a very bad choice indeed.

North coast: the sea is big, but the sky is bigger

That night we found out that no one had remembered to book the pool for the evening rolling session that had been one reason I'd been quite excited to take this course. I raised a fuss and it was agreed that we'd set aside some time on Thursday to roll in a secluded bay instead - fine - but the instructor lost track of the time and half-apologetically stated that it wasn't going to happen at all. No, no, no, that won't do! said I, who until then had seemed demure and laid-back (I was on vacation, after all) and I'm sure this made my flaring nostrils all the more shocking. And the lovely dutch couple, Ton and Els, both vouched that it was on the course outline and if we didn't do it on Thursday then we had no hope of practising it Friday and then definitely no hope of actually learning it.

So, I got my rolling course, only 20 minutes but I rolled, on my own, twice, and then did the same on Friday in the swells of the deep sea. I am contented. And, I've found a canoe club nearby in the London area which meets every Monday evening to practise their rolls in a local pool, so I think I'll join in and see if I can get a consistent roll before I go again in Scotland.

Despite these shortcomings, the course was a really fun time with lovely people and I learned loads and loads. Even the surfing part I got more of a knack for on Friday (when we played in 3-4 surf which was a bit more manageable), and to be honest, even in the big surf I did enjoy the thrill of being carried on the front of the wave before it engulfed me. The hospitality in Cornwall made a big difference too - Falmouth Backpackers was easily the best and most welcoming hostel experience I've ever had, and the people in the ice-cream stand replaced the ice-cream on Ton's cone when he was attacked by a giant and very rude seagull!

The North Coast of Cornwall

On the way back, I quite randomly met up with Uri on the train platform in Exeter, and he was taking the same train as me towards Salisbury. It was very nice to have a traveling companion from Basel to catch up with, and within a minute of saying goodbye, I was picked up and whisked back to East Knoyle to spend the night with two other friends I'd known from Basel. What a small world indeed! We delved into the very wee bottle that I'd purchased at a shop near the Globe before a good night's sleep.

The next day, Saturday, I made it back to London, and on Sunday was back at the Globe. Thank goodness we brass players can stay in shape just by playing our mouthpieces! We had rehearsal 8:30-11:30 am, followed by shows at 1 and 6:30 - what a long day! By the end we were all a bit zombie-esque, prompting me to wonder why the Globe has gone for a similar schedule the day after tomorrow. Sometimes alertness is better than preparedness. Sometimes. The excellent thing about Sunday's long day was that Claire McIntyre (another Basel friend...) was depping in, and we had good chances to hang out and catch up as well as play both shows. And we went back to said shop to pick up a tiny little bottle of cask-strength Glen Farclas to bring with us up onto a large hill in Scotland. Oh, and we took some silly pictures of ourselves in our costumes: at last!

The rest of the week has been more or less a routine Globe week. On Tuesday, I used the excuse of delivering a bassoon to Paddington station (yes, there's a brass sculpture of the namesake bear) to head to the British Library. I've decided to let myself become slightly obsessed with England in the early Jacobean period. Everyone needs an obsession. I've been reading up on the English Masque, and thought I should go and read some, see a facsimile of a print of one by Campion from 1614 (the original's not far away in Oxford) and get my hands on a revival of the Faeries' Masque performed for King George in 1771. Now why on earth did they do that?

Then I headed to the Early Music Shop, which I won't bother linking to because it was a disapointment. At first I thought I'd wandered into early music heaven - a vast library of facsimiles with instruments of all sorts lining the walls...then I took a closer look: only gambas and recorders and there were not so many facsimiles at all. It seemed as though every second one was entitled "Two dances from the Renaissance, arranged for recorder consort." I did find some Bassano and Virgiliano collections for solo instrument (which in the case of Virgiliano at least is mostly illegible in facsimile due to running ink) and they were cheap so I nevertheless left with a sense of victory.

Yesterday was also a two-show day at the Globe, and between them I got a text from Caroline (yet another Basel musician) saying she and Ralf and some German friends were coming along in the evening. It was lovely to see them and I might even run away to Chichester to see the sea again in Caroline's company, as our days off and situations in the same country have formed a conjunction, the next of which not even the most talented astrologer could possibly predict.

instruments backstage

Monday, 19 July 2010

The tide is going out again.

I'm not going to write very much because after a very busy week at the Globe, I'm on Holiday. The first Holiday with a capital H that I've had in years. One of the side effects of being a freelancer is that it's hard to take time without work and call it a holiday, there are too many things to do: emails, making programmes, practising etc. ad nauseam. With the Globe, it's at least got enough structure that when we've got week off, I thought "whoa, I've got a week off!" and just finished my first day of sea-kayaking here in Falmouth. No pics until I get back I'm afraid - I left my computer and even my iPod at home and am on the ancient public machine here at Falmouth Lodge.

I learned a lot about kayaking today - after an exhausting morning of learning to get in, turn, brake, go sideways etc. the instructor asked if we had any questions so, feeling my shoulder acting up and my elbow becoming a bit inflamed from the strain I asked "How do we paddle? Obviously we all got about ok, but he then demonstrated how to paddle with your whole body and not just your shoulder and elbow - oh. Something to practise!

In the afternoon we learned to capsize with grace and elegance: climb up on the top, crawl to the front and kiss its nose. But more importantly, we learned how to get back in, both with assistance and without, and how to stay warm while waiting for help or recouping energy. We finished the day capsizing and taking off the spray deck underwater to get out - something that terrifies anyone who has ever thought of the concept of a boat you wear, but it was actually fine once we knew what to expect. I'm looking forward to learning to roll on Wednesday though.

Well, off to find a Pasty or a Chippie (that's Fish & Chips to you Canadians) and make my way to "The Waterfront," where there's some live folk music going down tonight - I'm promised a hurdy-gurdy at least. I'm afraid the stories about my London adventures last week with be passed over this time: I won't tell you how impressed I am that London has two music lending libraries (and that I joined one); I won't tell you that when I bike I'm pretty good at staying on the left now but I am occasionally still shocked when I look into a car to find an empty seat where I think a driver should be (or in one instance, a dog); and I definitely won't tell you how glamourous and exciting our press night was except to mention that I got to wear my cocktail dress.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

At the beginning of this week I found myself faced with the horrifying realization that I had become bored. When I was about 12, I read lots of books on wilderness survival: practical tips on how to start fires, build shelters, make snow goggles out of bark and spear fish with sharp stones. One thing they all said was that there is no worse enemy to a person surviving in the wild than simple boredom, closely seconded by loneliness. Suddenly I realized that the most exciting part of my summer job was gone, with three months to go and that while I was slowly getting to know people, I still didn't really know anybody well. I'd fallen into the trap. I woke up one morning and thought to myself, oh dear, what do I do next? So I tried to figure it out and this is what I came up with:

Step 1: Stupid little errands. These I accomplished on Monday, giving myself until 4 pm or so to get as much done as I could. I managed laundry, some grocery (UK: food) shopping, putting some items in the mail (UK: post), buying a bike bell, sunglasses, getting my front derailer fixed, and getting closer to figuring out what to do this autumn. That was enough, on to step 2.

Step 2: Skip town and hang out with friends.

Gawain, Me and Helen on a Dorset hill

I bought myself a network rail card and headed for the hills - off to East Knoyle where there was a conjucntion of two dear friends, and enjoyed a very relaxing evening eating curry and morning faffing about and checking out the local gardens.

It was very, very hard to get back on the train to London. But...Onto step 3.

Step 3: Practise. There's nothing more depressing than the feeling that I'm not on my game because I'm bored. I had the funny situation where I could play everything in both shows pretty easily, but in the context of the show it was much harder. Makes sense - playing a fanfare on my own time is one thing but waiting 10 minutes then marching up to the front of the stage, putting the cold instrument to my lips and playing on someone else's count of "one-two-three" was not so easy. So I practised imagining myself on the stage in just that situation. I realized that while on trombone I can get ready to play quickly in one fluid motion, having a different embouchure and a different way of blowing on trumpet meant I needed a beat to relax and a beat to get my face in the right position. I realized that by the time I heard "one," it was too late to breathe in if I was going to start relaxed. So I just practised "walk - breathe - relax - make embouchure - play" over and over again until it became more second nature - and in the last two shows the fanfare in question was much easier to pull off.

Step 4: Spend a day practising doing nothing. This was Wednesday. In Basel we call this taking a Sunday. It involves remaining in one's pyjamas for as long as humanly possible, in my case just moments before my exhausted hosts came home from a long day of teaching. I suppose it's important not to have too many of these in a row - it can hinder the other steps. And to use the time well, making doing nothing into an art in its own right.

Step 5: Cardiovascular exercise. I finally discovered the route that Transport for London told me I should use to get to the Globe - it circumvents the very busy streets and introduces a monster hill into the South London landscape which I had previously assessed as being flat. So with my front derailer fixed I've been cycling to and from the Globe (or sometimes just to or just from, thanks to the ability to take bikes on the train). The hill is getting easier every day and whatever it's doing to my brain chemistry it feels great.

Step 6: Hydration. I discovered that I have enough time between my offstage fanfares in Part II to take advantage of my staff discount and buy me a homemade lemonade. Yes!

Step 7: Go play with some kids. If you don't have any in your family close by, borrow someone else's. How lucky for me that my favourite three-year old was visiting from Basel today!

Sophia and I - Who is having more fun?

Step 8: Sit in the kitchen after a show with a glass of Shiraz, make chocolate-chip cookies and update your blog. Done, done, and done!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Another busy week - tech week for Henry IV, Part II. For anyone planning on coming to see it, yes it does run on from Part I, so while you will enjoy the banter, the death scene, the fighting and the totties just as much whether you see part I or not, if you're into the political intrigue it's worth seeing them in order.

There was a little bit of time this week for socializing though - on Thursday I met up with Ann and some other friends to celebrate Canada Day. We went to Trafalgar square, where there was a huge celebration with Canadian Beer, Tim Hortons, Poutine, Bison Burger (had my first one in Saskatoon in 2009!) and guys in lumberjack shirts. It felt very Canadian, and was really nice to see so many people out - we played the fun game of "Spot the Canadians vs. Imposters." At the Globe, Hilary baked a banana-bread in celebration too, which was very touching and very tasty!
party on Trafalgar Square

Ian, Emma and Ann full of Bison Burger
By night, with a Great Lion and St. Martin's Steeple

It was a fun week at the Globe - always enjoyable watching a show come together. I think I've come to terms with my non-creative roll in this project - I realized the only thing I could change about it was my own attitude so tried to do just that. Now that tech week is over though, I will throw my creative energy into other projects which may or may not amount to anything beyond my own personal sense of fulfillment - I'll let you know.

Yesterday I finally managed to bike to the Globe using the route which bypassed the busy streets. Without stoplights, it did even seem faster - yey!

I've been reflecting this week on an idea proposed to me six weeks ago regarding "groove" being an element of music just as harmony is. It's interesting to think that a relationship to groove might vary with every piece- or with the same piece and a different way of playing it. In playing vocal music, locking into a groove is not something we do often - rather taking time or hurrying bits tend to enhance delivery by making it less rhythmically monotone. On the other hand, in complicated instrumental pieces, setting down a beat and sticking to it throws syncopation and other alterations into higher relief. We talk sometimes about being "on the front of the beat" or being "on the back of the beat" too - where there is definitely a groove but where our relationship to it is anything but square.

In rehearsing cues, I found myself wondering: Is groove important to this cue? Is it something to be settled into or reacted against (like in "panic" cues)? Or, in some cases, is it more important for the music to be like speech? Of course, in the theatre context there was not any room to explore these ideas, but I am grateful that working out these cues popped these questions into my head in the first place- a whole nother colour added to my palette of musician tools.

Yes. A whole nother. Happy Canada Day!

Now I'm going to go buy a Southwest trains railcard and use it, meeting Helen and Gawain for dinner in Shaftesbury - my first trip into the countryside since I got here. I also managed to get advance tickets back from The Lake District in August - taking my vacation time seriously this year! The network railcard will come in handy again in two weeks when I head to Cornwall to do a 5-day sea-kayaking course.