Category Archives: Music

Thirty years on.

So, I scared myself and a good number of other people today by announcing it was thirty years since I received my A Level results.

They were what I needed to get to where I was intending to go at the time, so I wasn’t too bothered about them being really quite poor results. I was more annoyed by the complete failure in my Music A Level, after getting a good solid B grade at O Level. Consultation with the other 50% of the group (yep, there were just the two of us!) led us both to conclude we’d not had a good two years of teaching, with one honourable exception out of the nine teachers we’d had, the exams had been absolutely awful and nothing like we were expecting, so the results were probably quite fair, we didn’t need the A Level to get to where we were aiming, (me into education, she into nursing) so pursuing the appeals procedure was likely to be a waste of time, effort and money. I didn’t do it, and neither did she.

I was still accepted onto a course where I spent 50% of my time on Music. I’d fulfilled the requirements for that through my audition, my instrumental grade results and my interview. My other two A Levels, in French and General Studies, gave me the results I needed for the other 50% in Education.

My best result was in General Studies… an exam for which we were not prepared, which we all took as a matter of course, and which relied mostly on our own interests and general knowledge.

French.. well, the one year of post A Level work I did killed all love I had of the language. I’ve often intended to revive my ability to read and speak French, but to this day, I’ve rarely had the inclination, apart from the occasional week in France or with groups of French speakers.

But, Music has remained. For a few years, music teaching was my sole form of income, and organ playing and the ability to play the piano has probably shaped my current pattern of life almost more than any other skill I have.

30 years ago, my intention was to become a primary school teacher. I will never regret that decision, as it led me to where I am now, but I have never used that training in the way for which it was intended.

I do still work in education, but in ways I never envisaged and could not have done so as the roles I’ve been fulfilling in recent years just did not exist. In fact, towards the end of the time of my initial training I was firmly told I had no people skills, should aim for nothing higher than working in Woolworth’s (just as well I ignored that piece of well-meant, but brutal advice) and certainly had no talent or aptitude for working with teenagers, and I was never to think of doing so, when I tentatively suggested I might be training for the wrong age range. Um, we all now beg to differ, me, my current employers, hopefully my future employers, and the many teenagers I have worked with and for over the last 20 or more years. (Well, OK, some of teenagers may well agree with the original advice!)

Maybe one day, I’ll try that Music A Level again.. just to prove to myself I can!!

Tries to look repentant – fails miserably.


About a month earlier than in previous years, the collapse of the weekly routine has begun. Normally, this would be stressing me out significantly, for this means less work, and less pay until at least the end of October. But, this time, I am completely unfazed. For, Wednesdays have been shrouded in a veil of gloom all year, and the hours have been silly anyway. Only 3.50 of them, but such stressful ones. I’ve mostly managed to get to do some organ practice on a Wednesday afternoon, mainly as a de-stressing tactic, but some weeks those 3.50 hours felt like about 50 hours, and I was too tired to go. Which I have not liked one little bit.

Today, however, the veil of gloom has suddenly completely lifted, as we realised it was going to be counter-productive for all concerned if we maintained the routine for another seven weeks, and the day was officially removed from all our timetables.. I’ve agreed I will work if needed for cover on Wednesdays, but otherwise, I will be using them for music-related work until the end of the academic year.

I couldn’t believe quite how excited I got about it. In  fact, it’s possibly just as well I am off to talk to the one to whom I talk about all matters of great and vital importance next week, because I am quite convinced it’s very significant. I’m sure I’m not supposed to be excitedly showing my line manager in my main job all the music I’m going to go and play, and work on, because I’ll have more time to practise. Fortunately, I’m quite well known for such enthusiasms now. But, it is also suggesting to me that I ask strongly to stick to my contracted hours in my main job next academic year,  and get more music-related work. For, Main Job does earn me enough to pay the bills, just, and Music Stuff earns my fun money. But music nurtures my soul in so, so many different ways instead, it’s more than worth creating the room and the space for it.

What I have been doing about lately

I am rapidly losing patience with my gas supplier. The saga of the meter inspection, which I thought was over and done with, has a new chapter. How they can decide I need to arrange for a bi-annual inspection only fifteen days, seven hours and fourteen minutes after the last one, I am not sure, and neither is the customer services person.

The accuracy is due to the start of the time I made the phone call after incredulously opening both letters informing me of the need for an inspection, and the threat of court action if I did not arrange for this.  [Edited to add: This saga is in addition to the safety checks I’d been having done in the previous post. But, it still involved me taking an unpaid day off work, which, on this occasion, was totally avoidable if I’d been given the correct information the first time round.]

I had my first Mothering Sunday in church since 2009. My feelings about it haven’t changed since writing this post. It was every bit as awful as I thought, but I did pretty OK until I suddenly couldn’t cope with the post service refreshments, went back to play the organ whilst I was waiting, and couldn’t stop crying for ages… oops. Ah well, I got a lot of practice done whilst waiting for my equilibrium to be restored.

It didn’t help that there had been a bit of an interesting week previously where it had to be explained clearly to some of those I work with that being single and living alone by choice did not constitute grounds for writing someone off as clueless about relationships, and the human race in general. Neither did my religious convictions contribute to my supposed cluelessness. Actually, in retrospect, my colleagues and I reckon I am probably far too clued up for the liking of this lot, and it was easier for them to decide I couldn’t possibly understand them, as I seemed to live in such a totally different world. It’s done some good, as we’ve broken through whatever barrier it was that was preventing me working effectively with this group, and we’re back on a reasonably even keel again. Until the next time.

Then, I’ve been gearing myself up to do things I’ve been holding back on doing whilst getting settled into being an organist again. Like, sorting music out properly, clearing out files of papers dating back to 1995 (so far!!) working out how best to organise myself… Days in Holy Week will, I think, be spent in getting myself properly organised now I know what works! I’ve also formally requested for my main job to be contained to 4 days a week from September, rather than the hours spread over five days. It can be done, I know, especially given the departments I’ve been working in. However, I’m applying for similar jobs more locally. It would make sense!

But, mostly, I just seem to be trotting along, contently and enjoying whatever comes along.

I think it was all OK.

…after a lot of practice yesterday and today, then playing for Harvest and Evensong, I think I can describe myself as an organist again. Will need to do lots of getting myself acquainted with the vagaries of the instrument, but it’s coming.

Am tired now.

It’s good to be back where I belong, though.

Quality time with my sofa


Yes, well, that was a waste of 12 days! Still, my doctor now recognises me, my sickness record is well and truly shot to pieces, but I’ve saved some money on travel. My sofa and I have never had so much quality time together, and I’ve never been out of the house so little in All My Born Days.

Normal service is resuming, though. A little removing of the dust and cobwebs, a little hoovering, a little cleaning of the toilets has taken place… Scrabble opponents are muttering darkly about being beaten again… (“I’ll tell the doctor you’re  really, really not well, I’ve just won three games in a row.” offered one opponent after the first dreadful appointment where I was all ready to change doctor. Things improved on the second visit, thankfully. This surgery is within walking distance but  also on a direct bus route when I’m not well. Which, on the whole, is my state when I require a doctor. But, then I plan my life around the Number 11 bus.)

However, I do not wish to over-do things and give myself a relapse. (As happened with the Great Flu Dramas of 2008/09 and 1990.) So, I’m sitting quietly, (when not blogging, checking the whole of the Internet, replying to the pile of e-mails that has accumulated, ) with a pile of hymn books, contentedly adding to my Index of Indices. I did bits of it somewhere in those 12 days, but I can attest to being so much better as I’ve added over 300 hymns this morning, whereas I was averaging 20 or so, then needing an hours nap. Admittedly, today I am tackling a book that is in alphabetical order, and with lots of hymns that don’t have alternative titles, so am kind of speeding along the spreadsheet column with ease. Two days ago, it was also alphabetical order, but with loads of alternative titles. Maybe it was a bit over-ambitious to  go for a seasonally arranged book when Not At All Well. It also took a couple of hours to untangle the messes created by inserting cells and not rows…

I’ve also got ammunition for my students who are grumbling madly about having to work with spreadsheets – I keep telling them they are beautiful, and they don’t believe me.  Never mind, they’ve had a fortnight off me and my inanities, it’s back to normal tomorrow!

But, for today, I will continue with the quality time with my sofa.

It’s that time again…

One of the few things I do catch up with on iPlayer is the bi-annual BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. Probably 2010 was one of the few years I missed the whole competition, since it began in 1978. I think that may have been the year it was shifted to BBC 4, and I just didn’t register it had happened – no matter, I’m back on track with it this year.

Back in the beginning, it was what kept me inspired to keep practising, kept me believing I could get better – though, well aware that as a late-starter, comparatively, as a musician, I was never going to get to the required standard (if memory serves me correctly, at that time, it was Grade 8 with Distinction. The current rules state Grade 8 with no mention of classification.) to even think about entering the competition, let alone be that good! However I’ve since passed Grade 8 on all my three instruments as an adult, and am getting back to where I was after a enforced few years without access to a piano, and when I first left uni, I earned my way as a music teacher, church organist, school pianist and accompanist for non-piano playing teachers for their exam candidates. I used the competition as inspiration for my own pupils, and on at least two occasions, organised trips to concerts where past winners were playing locally. No, none of my pupils ever got to that kind of stage either, but they learned a lot!

In the intervening years, I watched out of interest, I was always pleased to note I rarely got it wrong as to who was going through to the next round in the various categories, though not always correct as to the over all winner. I had occasional wistful moments of wondering what my life would’ve been like if I’d stayed as a working musician, though no regrets. I continued to play for church, and occasionally for schools if they needed a pianist.

Most recently, I’ve been working with teenagers of the opposite end of the spectrum. I think I may have deliberately missed out on 2010 as the contrast between those I work with and those who appear in the competition was much too strong… My students struggle with basic numeracy and literacy, with social skills, with basic day to day living.

However, this year, as I’ve been much more relaxed about many things, I’ve not been hiding the musical side of myself at work. It began last year, when I was timetabled into a room with a piano in it! (For an English lesson… ) With two students who were drawn to it like a magnet. Like many, they’d taught themselves to pick out tunes they knew, but had neither access to piano lessons, or a supportive home life. We struck a deal. If they completed their English work, I would start to teach them a little more, and would play for them occasionally as they worked at their English.

This year, I have different students, but for whom music has also been very important. It’s been the best way of helping them learn to respect other people’s ideas, tastes, views – and that they might like something new! It’s helped two young men to articulate ideas, it’s helped calm others. We’ve introduced each other to music that we like, learnt to listen to the choices of others, and it’s been great. Far more importantly, they are all just beginning to realise there is so much more to them as people than the “failures” they have been throughout their school lives, and that they don’t have to be limited to education as defined by their skills in numeracy and literacy.

So, I’m watching to see who wins the BBC  Young Musician of the Year this year – and will be showing some of it to my own students during the next few weeks. No, none of us will ever be there, but we will enjoy it! I will also be saying to my students at the end of this year that they have worked just as hard, and achieved just as much in their own ways as these young musicians., and I’m every bit as proud of them for it. If not more so!

Ow! My aching arms! and back!

But, I’m delighted they are aching, for it means the piano is now here, and I think I did about five hours practice yesterday, as well as getting it here, set up and in it’s rightful place!

We will gloss over the saga of woe that occurred between me ordering and paying for , and actually getting said piano. It’s not pretty, but justice has been done.

Possibly bringing it home myself, on a shopping trolley, was a little foolish. It is designed to be used for moving around, but whilst it’s much the same size as my keyboard for width, and depth, it’s considerably heavier, and it has it’s own dedicated stand, which is correspondingly heavier than my keyboard’s X-stand.  So, the box to house all of this + its packaging is about the same size as me.. . in fact, out of curiosity, once I could – I did discover I could fit in the box quite nicely.

So, yes, getting a taxi would have been sensible.

However, sensible and Japes do not always belong in the same sentence when she is determined to get something done. I was determined this piano was coming home.

There are a couple of glitches, but once they are sorted, I am very content with this purchase. It will be a great practice piano, and because the keys are properly weighted, the piano playing arm and back muscles will be kept in better trim. But, oh, I am aching today!


The newest member of the family …. except I’ve got to wait a week whilst they order it!!

I did, however, spend quite a bit of time testing it out in the shop, and am quite satisfied it will do all that I will be asking of it.

And I did test a good few others before making my choice.

So, the fuller report will be forthcoming once I’ve really got it here.

Plan? What plan?!

It’s been a great, but busy few weeks. I thought I had got through the half-term reasonably well, until I spent most of yesterday asleep, and then over-slept this morning, messing up Plan A of early church, followed by rugby (Yay for the All Blacks!!) followed by a meander to see how the half-marathon was doing.

So, usual Sunday plan took place – which I’m actually quite glad about. I’m trying not  to “church-hop” in the mornings, but only in the evenings as the church I go to in the mornings has no evening service. The infant being dedicated this morning made me giggle so much. He was such a happy, beautifully-behaved child, with the most expressive face.

Plan A for the half term break is also under reconsideration. September/October are very tight months financially in my line of work, and going away even for an occasional day trip wasn’t an option, so I had planned to finish off the odd DIY tasks I’d set myself over the summer, but which had to be postponed after the discovery of various bigger jobs that needed doing by someone else! With the exception of one job, they’ve all been completed. Some of the smaller tasks I’ve got on with at weekends, as I’ve not been so exhausted as I’ve been in previous autumn terms, so the list isn’t as long as I thought it was going to be.

However, I have finally received a significant amount of money back from the taxman. After careful consideration that I have received the correct amount, said cheque has been banked and cleared. So, my bank account, which was perilously close to crossing over the border into overdraft territory, is looking astonishingly healthy, and pay day is still to come.

The prudent plan would be to save most of it! I considered this carefully for a while… about half an hour or so.

The other prudent plan would be to buy some new clothes. Which I am going to do a certain amount of! (Appropriate clothing for a wedding, possible interviews, some new shoes and underwear are on that list!)

The main item on the shopping list, however, is a digital piano. My keyboard has done sterling work over the ten years I’ve had it, but it’s not an 88 key one, nor is it proper piano action on the keys. I’m limited in what I can play on it, the key action is over the top light and sensitive and it’s been frustrating beyond belief. I’ve learnt to cope with it, but by limiting myself. The purist in me wants a real piano, the pragmatist knows a digital one will fit in this house better, and I can practise when I want to, as I can wear earphones.

So, tomorrow, for the first time in months, I’m off shopping!!!


I’ve been most traditional these last few days.

In that Saturday was spent spring cleaning the house from top to bottom, today has mostly been spent on a DIY task (which might have made a bit of a mockery of the spring clean, apart from the fact I realised this was going to happen, and only gave the sitting room a quick lick and a promise, so to speak! It will get it’s end of term mammoth clean another day this week, when the varnishing is finished.)  and listening to the Classic FM annual count down of the nations favourite pieces.

Then, I had a moment of wondering about those pieces… and did a quick analysis.

  • Can play (on piano, clarinet or organ) 17 of them! In the case of the two organ pieces, I’d need a bit of time to get back into practice again, and I’d not want to play some of them without a bit of notice.. but play them I can or could!
  • Have sung, as part of a choir, 9 of them.
  • Have played in the orchestra for 7 of them.
  • Have played arrangements of parts of an awful lot of them on piano, clarinet and in orchestras. (I lost count at 30.)
  • Have studied 10 of them for O or A Level or first degree level.
  • Squinted at 5 of them and thought “Never heard of that one!”
  • Muttered darkly at the few pieces I dislike. Surprisingly few, even Beethoven’s Violin Concerto seems to have grown on me over the years. Though, sadly Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto has to be turned off these days if it’s the slow movement. not because I hate it, but because it’s so overplayed and I don’t want to hate it.
  • Would love to be able to play a good number of the concerti. (If I ever learn another instrument, it would be the cello, for the Dvorak Cello Concerto.)

I was traditional about a few other things since Maundy Thursday as well, but that’s for another day.