Introducing: Shannon-Latoyah Simon

I started playing the classical guitar at the age of 9 and naturally I became interested in the repertoire, which actually isn’t too vast or varied for the instrument. I think my involvement with classical music really grew when I started studying at the Northampton School for Girls (my secondary school), which was also a specialist music college. Classical music was played in nearly all of our classes to improve cognitive function and we were all encouraged to compose pieces, join the after school music ensembles and attend as many concerts and recitals as we could!

For me it’s very important to see more people of colour in the industry. Growing up I found it difficult because there were hardly any people of colour I could look up to as a role model. Due to this I have become involved with the BBCF (Black British Classical Foundation) an organisation that represents and provides opportunities to ethnic minorities within classical music. This year I was able to perform in the BBCF ‘Music inspired by Shakespeare’ concert at St Pauls Church in Covent Garden, which was an amazing experience. I love working with the BBCF because it inspires minority audiences and makes them see the possibilities for themselves and think, “I can do that too!”

I don’t feel as though being a black person in classical music has had any advantages or disadvantages as such. I’ve never been discriminated against of made to feel uncomfortable in any situation. I like to think that any opportunities or achievements I have gained have been down to hard work and determination.

 

 

For more information about Shannon visit www.shannonlsimon.com

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Introducing: Caroline Modiba

“It doesn’t really matter what skin colour you are, if you’re talented enough then that’s where you should be”.

I got involved with classical music when I was still in school in South Africa. There were choral music school competitions and the finals took place in winter. And then the opera section was introduced and I thought “why not try my luck”. I made it to the finals and I made an impression to a few people who later introduced me to Sannie Streicher who was a voice coach. I took lessons with her while I was completing my high school diploma. After graduation I decided to study Bcom Management (business course) which had nothing to do with music but then music found me again. I was still taking singing lessons with Lorraine at this time and I heard about auditions for young artists training programme. I went to audition and got accepted in the 3 year training course with the Black Tie Ensemble which was an opera company with their own training programme. After completing the course I was accepted as a member and started earning money through my talent, which was great I thought.

There’s a lot of people of colour in the industry already, especially singers and for me it doesn’t really matter what skin colour you are, if you’re talented enough then that’s where you should be. It would be nice though if we could get more people of colour in the audience. I haven’t had any bad experiences as a black person in the industry and all the good experiences I’ve had I believe had to do with my talent and not my skin colour.

Caroline was one of the soloists in Verdi’s Messa Di Requiem performed by Birmingham Conservatoire. You can listen to her phenomenal voice in concert here and here.

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Birmingham Conservatoire

Sunday’s stunning concert was particularly significant not only for the conservatoire but also for the Birmingham music scene. The Adrian Boult Hall has been a prominent concert venue for the last 30 years and this farewell concert was the last before its demolition to make way for developments in Birmingham’s city centre.

If you missed the original broadcast on BBC Radio 3, don’t worry, it’s still available! Click here. The full concert  is also available to listen to on youtube. I had the absolute pleasure of working with one of the finest conductors in the business: Barry Wordsworth. His positive, uplifting and encouraging attitude along with his infectiously warm personality made rehearsing a breeze and an unforgettable concert.

After the resounding success of the “Requiem for a Concert Hall” concert and a brilliant review, I began to think about Birmingham Conservatoire as an institution and how it is viewed by those in the music sphere.

Birmingham Conservatoire was founded in 1886 as the Birmingham School of Music – yes 130 years ago. This really surprised me as the conservatoire is actually only 4 years younger than the prestigious RCM (founded (1882).

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This status says it all.

 

Having been a sixth former at a specialist music school, I have to say that there seemed to be a particular emphasis on students studying music in London. When I was auditioning for conservatoires, there wasn’t much conversation about Birmingham Conservatoire or many other music colleges outside of London. I almost felt like there was a pressure to gain a place in London just to prove my worth. For me, I had a pretty realistic idea of where I wanted to study so I didn’t actually audition to RCM or RAM. Initially, it turned out that I was the only person in my year that was going to study in Birmingham whilst the majority of the year gained places in London. Similarly to the Facebook post above, comments by others made me feel like I was joining a less prestigious and sub-standard conservatoire compared to others. I feel like people were only impressed about my place at Birmingham Conservatoire when I casually mentioned that I’d been offered an unconditional  place and a substantial scholarship. This is sad because it is a great achievement alone to be entering into a conservatoire seeing as there are only 9 in the UK!

There is an attitude floating around that the only reputable conservatoires are in London. This is simply INCORRECT. Don’t get me wrong, the music colleges there are brilliant. After my BMus course,  I would love to do a postgraduate degree there but studying music in London is not the be all and end all.

Since joining in September, I have found the conservatoire to be a vibrant and friendly  atmosphere overflowing with exceptional talent from all departments. Particularly with this concert, there was a strong sense of camaraderie and solidarity amongst the students. The academic teaching in addition to the music teaching is outstanding and there is support coming from every corner. Just recently, I was taken aback at the talent at the Junior Conservatoire and the high level of teaching it provides. Also, our principal Julian Lloyd Webber has been friendly, approachable and generally present and very involved throughout the year (which has been his first year as well as mine). Birmingham Conservatoire was definitely the right place for me to be and I truly believe that I would not have made the same progress at any other institution. Furthermore, I’m happy to say that in September 2016, there will be 6 Purcellians at the Birmingham Conservatoire (all with scholarships) so I think attitudes and perceptions are changing for the better. I’m positive that the new building (opening in 2017) will be an influence factor in bringing many more young musicians to consider studying at Birmingham as their first choice rather than 2nd or 3rd.

Don’t forget there a number of notable alumni  (to name a few):

  • Mike Seal
  • Laura Mvula
  • Richard Van Allan
  • Rhydian Roberts
  • Mark Gasser

To anyone who does not have an informed opinion about the college, please listen to the concert – it is a perfect reflection of the high standard of music-making that is achieved at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The recent concert has definitely confirmed the fact  I am very proud to be a student there.

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*Cover photos of concert by Greg Milner Photography

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Procrastination, Motivation & Discipline

The Two Set Violin guys call it Pracrastination. Pracrastination? Yes: Procrastination for practise.

Particularly for student musicians, I think it’s a common issue. It can often be very easy to put off the hours of practise and say you’ll do it with it later.  Also, the fact that no-one else is watching makes it easier to procrastinate.

It’s definitely something that I struggle with from time to time.  At times, I can be super motivated and utilise my time well; at others, I can be quite talented in the art of procrastination.

Finding different sources of motivation is imperative for me in order to avoid procrastination. I’ve noticed that I often procrastinate when I’m feeling demotivated. Lack of motivation leads to procrastination. This cycle can last for a few days or a few months however the longer it continues, breaking out of it becomes increasingly more difficult.

One of the benefits of learning an instrument from a young age is that one can easily learn discipline as a by-product. Having a routine and something to focus on and have fun with definitely lays some foundations for skills like organisation, creativity and becomes an advantage later on in life. Unfortunately, I didn’t begin learning the violin at a young age  so the foundations of discipline were not already there. I kind of had to work things out   by myself i.e. a practise schedule and balancing that with homework etc. Despite this, I’d say that this helped me to find motivation from myself and no one else which is always a good thing to have when no one else is there for encouragement.

I’m constantly looking for new ways to freshen up my practise so that it doesn’t become stagnant.  I believe that musicians can adopt certain attitudes pertaining to sport. In the way that athletes train to maintain their fitness and work towards a tournament or competition, musicians can do the  same. Practise is our training for a performance. For me, thinking in this way gives me a new lease of motivation.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’”. – Muhammad Ali

I love the late Muhammad Ali’s quote and the same idea is relevant for musicians. Practise and having the motivation to practise is not always easy. Some days are better than others and they can be quite tedious. However, the more good practise we do, the better musicians we’re able to become. Don’t quit, stay motivated!

 

 

 

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Kaplan Vivo – D’Addario Review

 

For string players at Birmingham Conservatoire, there is a weekly workshop where there are various types of musical presentations and discussions related to stringed instruments. In February of this year, two representatives from D’Addario orchestral (Tom and Lyris) did a presentation and talk about strings. In addition to delivering important information about what strings are actually made of and how they are made, they offered the chance to try a set of strings for free! I was generously sent two sets of strings: Kaplan Amo And Kaplan Vivo. Having only ever played on Thomastik Dominant and Pirastro’s Evah Pirazzi, I was so excited to try a set of new strings. As a student, my budget is often tight so I was really grateful to receive some strings as they can be quite costly – thank you very much D’Addario!

 The Kaplan Vivo set were the strings that I thought would be fitting for the violin that I’m using at the moment. In the coming months, I’ll be trying the Amo set on my other instrument. In this post, I’ll be frankly and honestly reviewing this sets of strings without bias.

So, D’Addario says:

“Kaplan Vivo delivers brilliance, clarity, and a robust feel for darker instruments…sets settle quickly, exhibiting a rich tonal color palette and superb bow response”.

  • Kaplan Vivo delivers brilliance, clarity, and a robust feel for darker instruments
  • Synthetic core produces a rich, powerful tone
  • Short break-in time and excellent bow response provides superb playability

For a more detailed string spec click here.

I have to say that I completely agree with everything that D’Addario claims about the strings.DSC_2235_Fotor.jpg

Firstly, I found that I could play on them practically straight away and therefore they didn’t take long to play in.  As a first impression immediately after putting the strings on, I really felt that the strings were loud, very powerful and offered excellent projection. This aspect was great for me because they really jolted me into playing louder. At times, I can be a tentative player so the strings gave me scope to explore playing with more confidence and take ownership of such a big sound. However, the powerful projection  doesn’t impede on the tone quality of the strings; on my violin they have a clear, warm, rich and resonant tone particularly at the lower end. A range of characters and colours can be achieved on the G string – I’m excited about playing Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto in B minor using these strings.

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DSC_1218At the time of my final recital (May 25th) I had had the strings on for around 2 months and for me, they still retained significant resonance, brilliance and clarity.
This is so important for me. Typically, I don’t change my strings for  quite a few months simply due to lack funds – #studentlife. I really appreciated this because I usually play on Evah Pirazzi and they can wear out and become dull quickly. Considering I’m a music student, I use my strings for daily practise sessions which  are around 2-5 hours (depending on my schedule). In addition, I have had various concerts and orchestral courses. I cannot stress enough the durability of these strings – they’re brilliant and show now signs of slowing down anytime soon. In my opinion, after tone, durability is a crucial factor in choosing good strings in order to get good value for money.

Aesthetically, I love the design and packaging. It is very sleek and professional looking. Each string comes in a sealed sleeve unlike other strings which come packaged in paper envelopes.  I like to save the packaging from my strings to store spares and old strings so I liked this feature. The silking at the ball ends is a black and silver pattern which compliments the black and grey packaging.

DSC_2218 In conclusion, I really like the Kaplan Vivo strings and they complimented my violin very well. These are the type of strings that I’d use for an important concert due to the brilliant sound  projection. If you use Evah Pirazzi, I’d say they are a good alternative. My only concern is the price point as online, they cost around £77 (depending on the retailer) and I usually buy my  usual set of strings for £60. Due to the sheer durability, I’m willing to pay the difference. Can’t wait to try the Kaplan Amo set on my other violin!

If you’re wanting to buy the strings check out these UK retailers:

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2 Violinists 1 Day

February 2nd – the day that the violin world was doubly blessed with with two violin masters: Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) and Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987).

Both these violinists have influenced me in many ways in terms of how I want to look posture-wise when playing, the different  the styles, expression and vibrato I want to use and general musicianship. Both violinists also transcribed many famous pieces for the violin to show off the instrument and what it could do.

My first encounter with Kreisler was at around the age of 14, when my previous, previous violin teacher Dawn Price told me about Kreisler and his Viennese style and recommended that I watch some Youtube videos and get my hands on the Kreisler Collection. My eyes and ears were immediately opened to world of luscious, rich tone that Kreisler physically made and wrote in his music. I particularly love the music of the romantic and late 19th/early 20th century era of violin virtuosity and ultimate expression and Kreisler is the man who made it happen for me! I immediately wanted to play Caprice Viennois Op.2 however I started with Schon Rosmarin then progressed onto Praeludium and Allegro and Sicilienne and Rigaudon.

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Heifetz is a violinist that I’m still learning about and it was only when I started at the Purcell School that I really became acquainted with him. He has such a a distinctive sound and power that is what draw me to listen to him and watch Youtube videos. It was also at Purcell where we watched the film the Art of Violin Playing and the focus on Heifetz was what made me want to discover him more. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a huge George Gershwin fan so naturally I love his transcriptions of some of Gershwin’s most popular pieces i.e. An American in Paris; Five Selections from Porgy & Bess.”George Gershwin was a good friend of mine. We often played together. I asked him to write a concerto for the violin but he died before he had a chance to do it”


Performance Anxiety

One thing that I’ve never really addressed is my performance anxiety because I’ve always felt ashamed of it and I felt that to have performance anxiety was a huge weakness. I haven’t always had it but I’d say within the last 2-3 years it has been an on-off battle. I struggle with anxiety and during the last 4 years I went through periods of time when honestly, I was quite depressed due to many things that had happened. I think this is when I first started to have negative thoughts about myself and the music that I was making.  Ultimately, for me, it all comes down to confidence and I am guilty of lack of self-belief sometimes. I think the crucial catalyst in me experiencing nervousness is whether I believe I can succeed in a particular performance – more often than not I used to tell myself that I couldn’t do it. I now know that positive affirmations really help and anxiety definitely is NOT a weakness.

I actually really love performing and it’s a fundamental part of being a musician. I guess it’s just the vulnerable position in which I put myself when I stand exposed in front of others and expect them to enjoy my music. I love sharing music with others and I’m always very excited to perform whether it is solo or ensemble work. My typical symptoms were shaking of the bow arm, fast heart-rate on stepping in front of the audience, tension throughout my body, inability to physically and mentally relax – my mind often wandered and I was very prone to being put off by any potential distraction. All these things especially when playing the violin contribute to poor sound quality and lack of music to give and enjoy. Currently, I’ve managed to eliminate the shaking in my right arm and hand but my heart still races which sometimes causes me to rush however, I have implemented various warms up and breathing exercises which enable me to try and relax.

An aspect of performance which I think aids my fears is that there is always judgement and critique from someone, somewhere. This is why I hate performing to other musicians in a performance class or something of the sort – because they are judging the piece and the way I’m playing it. In a way it’s good for feedback and discussion on ways to improve but I guess no-one likes to be judged too severely by others. Obviously in an audition setting, there is no escaping judgement however in a typical performance most people are there to enjoy the music. The average concert-goer probably isn’t a musician themselves; they just want to have a good night and enjoy some good music. That’s something that has taken a long time to accept. If I play a wrong note, most people don’t notice and if they do, it doesn’t take away from the all-round performance experience. As soon as I sense that the audience is supportive and friendly, I immediately play better and more confidently.

One of violin teachers used to say we (musicians) do not have a life-threatening job – nobody is going to die if we mess up or play a wrong note so just play. And it’s so true. I used to beat myself up about a performance that didn’t go so well. I used to believe that I let everyone down, myself, my violin teacher any one who’d ever invested the time and effort to help or see my performance. I’ve learnt that it pays not to dwell on the bad but to just accept that things go wrong and work on how I can gradually eliminate anything that poses itself as a threat to my performance. This may be a technical aspect so I now try to break my practice down into chunks and take any technical difficulty out of context, isolate it and work on it until it is more fluent. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes and it sorted and other times I have to do little by little and maybe to it only 10 minutes each day. It’s a learning process.

I’ve been trying to practice performing  in a true performance situation. It’s so easy for me to play brilliantly in the practice room but it’s a different thing when it really counts and there are people watching or listening.  This is why performance classes and informal concert opportunities are key. I only wish that when I was at Purcell, I had the confidence to just put myself forward more.

When it comes to performing, my current violin teacher reminds me to just enjoy the music and as simple as it sounds it has been working very well. The minute I stop thinking about the things that could wrong and start focusing on the music itself, that’s when I start to relax and just let it flow!

Check these links out:

 

If anyone has any ways to combat performance anxiety please feel free to leave a comment.

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