The Cold Hard Truth.

March 10th, 2012

My husband and I often have the conversation which goes along the lines of, are we ever happy with our playing? Can we stand back and be satisfied with the sound we’re making, enjoy our talents for what they are and sometimes put our critical ear to bed and just be content? He would argue that being a musician is to constantly search for more from yourself, a quality I completely admire. However, I am perhaps too easily ready to give up the gauntlet when things get rough and say enough, I can not expect more from myself. However, we all know this isn’t the truth…there is always more.

We had coaching a few days ago from an incredible pair of musical ears on a man who I struggle to warm to when working with. I get the feeling when he coaches me that he can see straight away that I’m actually a bit of a quitter when the going gets tough! I hate feeling like this and am all too quick to stand to my defense and cry ‘I am trying my hardest, stop picking on me!’ Pick pick pick pick pick pick pick pick! It is horrible to lay your soul on the table and have someone dissect your every note, all your worse nightmares, all the passages you know you haven’t completely conquered yet being pressed against your nose, forced in front of your eyes. You want to close them and forget about all these suffocating notes you can’t play exactly the way you intend, run away screaming, it’s too hard! Alas in a coaching session this would obviously be quite rude so instead I stand there with this giant magnifying glass and the giant ears and eyes bore into me baring the cold hard truth of the things I can’t do…….yet…..

It’s a hard learning experience having someone be brutal and point out your every flaw. I wish that I could see this as a positive experience but no one likes having their inadequacies pointed out to them, I’m left feeling small and like I still have so much to learn. At this point in my career I think that I shouldn’t need someone pointing out the things I’m doing wrong, there shouldn’t be anything I can’t do! Really, there isn’t, it’s just a case of applying myself ALL the time to EVERY note and ALWAYS being aware of giving more of myself to the music. I have always been known as being a fiery red-head, and so, like a wounded lion who has been defeated in battle, I have sulked and now I am ready for round 2!

Jitter Bugs…

January 20th, 2012

We were asked to do our first concert here at The Banff Centre for the Midweek Medley Concert and as much as I’d like to say that I was really excited to be playing, I wasn’t! I have a bit of a problem with my steroids at the moment and have uncontrollable hand jitters, shakes, wibbles and wobbles. It’s not good. Now that I’m well, the dosage of Prednisolone is too high for my body to cope with, plus the added bonus of nerves and adrenaline, I was a wreck! Any violinist out there will know the feeling of bow shakes, it creeps up on you when you’re on stage and trying to play with a long smooth bow suddenly seems to be the most impossible thing on earth. It’s totally terrifying and I am very fortunate to say that it has only happened to me a couple of times in my life. So, here I am in Canada making my first impressions to a room full of musicians and I could barely hold my violin let alone play it, but the show must go on. I hold my head up high, smile, and try to breath slowly and calmly as I play. Alas this was not my night and the demons were let into my mind and like creepy crawlies all over my body I had no hope of taming these horrible jitter bugs. People were lovely about our playing, our musicianship and a general feeling of success was almost felt. It’s important for me to rationalise this awful experience and know that there was simply nothing I could do and that this was not my fault. However this is far easier said than done! I was so upset, angry and even had to endure conversations and inquisitive remarks about the shaking bow incident, re-living it was almost worse than the actual event.

My first week here was a slightly odd one and it definitely took me a little while to feel settled. I have absolutely loved my little practise hut and have found myself doing the most incredible work with wonderful focus. I don’t have to worry about anything, dinner, the washing, people to call, bills to pay, bliss! The cold temperature went down to -38 which was unlike anything I have ever experienced, a thousand tiny burning needles in your skin if left uncovered to the wind. Icicles in your nose and at one point I actually heard my hair freezing, a sound similar to rice crispies popping! We were selected to play at the Midweek Concert where we performed Dvorak Four Romantic Pieces and again at the Friday night’s concert also in the gorgeous Rolston Hall. We did Janacek for the Friday night concert and it went down really well and luckily I felt much more comfortable than the first concert. Nick has totally fallen in love with the Steinway in Rolston and has plans to steal it, perhaps slightly too big to fit in his suitcase!

This is Farrally, our Halls.

Kinnear Centre (on the right)- where the amazing Library is and also Maclab Bar :)

The amazing and awesome Marimba Duo – Greg and Ben who gave an incredible concert including an Israeli piece I shall never forget. I was so fascinated by the way they breathed together, had crucial eye contact and created sounds I never knew possible on a Marimba.

Gorgeous mountains!

A fellow resident said to me, ‘Don’t think of this place like an institution, we are all just a bunch of hillbillies thrown together exploring our creativity taking inspiration from the nature and people that cross our pathways.’ This has totally transformed my way of thinking about my time here and I am now feeling wonderfully motivated, exhilarated and yet also very peaceful. This place is filled with the most wonderful people, poets, painters, photographers, dancers, musicians and although it took me a while to feel comfortable I can safely say that I know already it will be hard to leave.

Ode to a Puppeteer.

January 16th, 2012

We saw the most amazing display of Puppets tonight presented by a group that have been working here together over the last 2 weeks. Some of the puppets were completely enchanting and the skill involved in the craftsmanship of these miniature paper maché people really made me believe their emotions were changing and faces moving. The Puppeteers, a very lovely bunch who we shared breakfast with on our first morning demonstrated so many different skills in their performance, balance, poise, attention to detail and they all had an amazing awareness, a kind of magic thread that connected their bodies to their puppets. It was wonderful and nothing like your average Punch and Judy show!

We along with a few other new comers were introduced to all the other music residents in a meeting that began our first Monday here and to be honest it felt a bit strange being back in an institution. So many new people, new place, new everything and all I really wanted to do was get our practice hut! Don’t get me wrong, I know I haven’t come all this way just to shut myself away for 24 hours a day but we have 3 whole weeks to chat to people and by now I was practically bursting to play!

And so we got our Steinberg Duo hut in the woods and I also managed to get a separate hut of my own to finally shut myself away in…. Bliss!

We have signed up to perform in Wednesday’s Mid-Week Medley Concert and we’re also hoping to be selected to play in Friday evening’s recital series in Rolston Hall. Bring it on!


Raring to go!

January 15th, 2012

An enforced day off, woo hoo I hear you say but I am gagging to get my skates on and get stuck into some playing! We unfortunately don’t get the key to our hut until tomorrow and so I take my jet-lagged body back to bed in the morning as I try desperately to adjust to the 7 hours I have gained. Feeling very odd, perhaps it’s the altitude and the thin air but I am exhausted and am even nursing what feels like a bad hang over!

Temperatures are dropping this week to -32 which oddly I’m quite intrigued about, so far it’s reached -17 and we have only managed to stay outside for a maximum of about 15 minutes! We took the short 10 minute walk from The Banff Centre through the woods to Downtown Banff. Every single street name is an animal, Caribou, Elk, Moose, Grizzly, Wolverine, they have them all, Squirrel, Beaver!

As we wondered along the main high street, Banff Avenue we stumbled across a lovely family who invited us to join them by the fire, drink some hot tea and try traditional Canadian Bannock, a bread dough cooked like marshmallows on the fire. They told us stories of their ancestors and explained about the traditional clothing and how best to stay warm.

These people were obviously true pros at being outside for so long and although the fire was lovely and warm, we bid our farewells and headed for home.

Tomorrow we begin the immersion into our music making journey here and I am so excited! We have a busy schedule mapped out for the next 3 weeks with concerts to perform, concerts to go and listen to, (including African Guitar playing and a Puppet Show tonight!) notes to learn and we are recording in our final week. We plan to do some exercise every day (we kick started today with a swim, although it nearly killed me!) and we also plan to stay alive, not freeze to death and not get in the way of any crazy Elk who are huge, have big antlers and apparently can be quite unpredictable, eek!

Feeling So Welcome!

January 15th, 2012

It is 5:20am and although I realise this is silly o’clock, there is no way I can go back to bed and sleep. A bad combo of jet lag and being like a little girl on Christmas morning desperately wanting to open pressies and being far too excited!

I AM IN BANFF!! There is snow all around me outside and there is a small dusting of what looks like icing sugar being added to the handsome pine trees. I have come down to the communal lounge and before I turned the lamp on I had the pleasure of watching a small deer outside who was having a good munch on a nearby tree, I am actually in heaven!

Yesterday was an extremely long day with the added 7 hours and watching dawn not quite break over and over on the plane was totally fascinating. Being suspended in time got me wondering how much you could do if you could stop time. We had a very smooth journey minus a rather smelly man on the plane who I really wish hadn’t taken his shoes off! The cabin crew gave us impeccable service on our Transat flight and we arrived in good time at The Banff Centre after an entertaining and very informative journey from our bus driver Nicholas who wanted to tell us all about the mountains, lakes and wildlife.

My overwhelming first impression is how wonderfully helpful, friendly and welcoming everyone has been since we got here. I get the feeling that everyone really wants us to get the absolute most from our stay including the full spa and fitness centre which offers yoga, pilates and boot camp classes. The food is superb with massive amounts of choice and the best part about being here is we have so much space to think, work and breath albeit -10 cold air!

Our Welcoming committee at The Banff Centre!

Practise Huts in the woods.

Our very own hut!

Nick outside Steinberg Duo hut.

A resident Professor’s hut.

As far my UC goes I’m down to 15mg Prednisolone and I’m not sure wether it’s the minus temperatures or the steroid side effects but my skin has taken on a whole new level of scaley! Moisturisers are going to have to be my best friend for the next 3 weeks or I fear I might actually disintegrate completely!

Scales of all Kinds.

December 31st, 2011

I have scales like a scaly monster, thank you Prednisolone!

I threw my scales away because to be honest I just don’t want to know anymore!

And, I can’t play my scales because I haven’t played for so long!

We have a concert in Germany in 6 days time and I was amazed that my family didn’t seem to realise that we might need to rehearse for it! Do most non musicians think that we can just pick up where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we last played and still be able to perform at a moments notice? I am shocked and actually quite hurt! Playing our best means putting in hours of quality practise, like an athlete, we must train to give our best. Surely this is not so hard to understand, is it?!

I hate not being able to play, it’s like a punishment slowly trying to peel away the days of having not practised to finally reveal a tiny morsel of something that once sounded like yourself when you could play. It’s like my fingers are jeering snidely at me saying ‘Serves you right for taking time off!’ I want to scream at the top of my lungs ‘It’s not my fault I have UC, I was so ill’ but alas the music, notes and concert dates wait for no one.

Ho Ho Hmmm….

December 29th, 2011

I have borrowed the above photo from my new buddies on the Colitis UK Facebook page, I would like to publicly thank each and every one of them for their incredible support over the last 10 days. Bruce the Green Man, Bagpuss, Rooster and all the others, I’m incredibly grateful for your kindness in what has been a really poorly Christmas. Also not forgetting my amazing man who, short of being superman, I’m absolutely certain he would make me a new colon if he could!

After 6 months of being symptom free, 3 weeks ago a nasty tummy bug invited my UC to rear it’s ugly head once again. Devastated….. I had completely forgotten how awful things can get. Running to the loo day and night, no energy at all but worst of all is that the world just carries on but now without you really being part of it’s existence. Christmas had arrived, cards needed sending, gifts needed to be bought, food, so much food should’ve been eaten and cheer definitely should’ve been had. Alas, it was not meant to be for me this year.

I do not want this to be a pity post because as I sit here (7am, 30mg Prednisolone, wide eyed, awake, ready for action!) I am on the mend, HURRAH! I have had lots of time in the last 2 weeks to reflect on the last 6 months and although I have been symptom free I think I had forgotten to take care of myself. I find it oddly comforting that even though I have looked into the eyes of my seriously worried husband and been more concerned about him and how he’s looking at me that I am still here! My spirit has not been broken, I am strong and will not let this beat me. UC is part of who I am and while I live with this disease it is up to me to remember that I have so much support, I am loved and nothing can ever take that away.


Confidence, Courage and Strength.

December 29th, 2011

I took this photo in Granada while I was there last summer for a friend’s wedding and it will always remind me of how lucky I was to witness the most amazing display of Flamenco that night. They performed for us all with the sun setting behind the Sierra Nevada in most beautiful place right next door to the Alhambra. The musicians took their seats and the dancers came to the stage, the eager audience hushed in anticipation and a mysterious magic filled the room….silence….

Like nothing I have ever heard before the female singer dropped her head and from the depths of her soul came music so rich it was as if these notes were her dying words. The vibration of the sound came at me, through me and into me with such strength I was compelled to listen and I knew I could trust her every note. The clapping began, the pulse of Spanish blood being shared. The dancers began to move, their bodies strong, so confident, it was as though a spell had been cast over me and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from them.

The reason I’m writing about this experience is because that night I saw and heard something that can only be described as real confidence. Strength was in their blood and they had the courage to show us what Flamenco really meant to them. I was incredibly moved by their performance and now having witnessed it, I want to know more about this secret of strength and courage that I believe we all possess.

I have thought long and hard about the word ‘Confidence’ over the last few weeks, for me it is a funny old thing! One moment I have it, the next I seem to have misplaced it and then I have it again etc etc… While this is incredibly frustrating, it also acts as a small reminder for me not to take my confidence for granted. My very own humility gauge telling me that while I do have control of my talent I must never become arrogant with it. I still feel like I have so much to learn and I must remember that this it is this hunger that keeps me striving towards my ultimate goal of becoming the best I can possibly be.


Boxes Full of Stuff!

July 17th, 2011

I realised recently that I have so much junk lurking around at home and I think that perhaps it might be time to get rid of some of it. I saw a really good film a couple of weeks ago called The Butterfly Effect and the ending inspired me with a quote “I know who I am, I don’t need a bunch of stuff to remind me!” It’s funny how we hang on to things for their sentimental value, memories of the past, good and bad. I have endless journals, photo albums, poetry I used to write and even graffiti type art from way back in the day when I desperately wanted to express all that teenage angst! I think there are many reasons I have hung on to it all, partly because I don’t think I’d be who I am if it wasn’t for all those memories, writing it down, sticking it altogether helped me to make sense of things back then and also I’m a sentimental softy! I think really though I am afraid that if I get rid off it all, somehow I’ll be erasing part of myself that made me the person I am sitting here right now.

Wouldn’t it be lovely though to start all over again, throw everything away and feel like you really do have life so much more clearly figured out now that you don’t need all that junk to remind you who you used to be? I don’t want to be one of those people who hangs on to the ‘good old days!’ I’m so much more comfortable with the skin I’m in today that perhaps I don’t need all those things to remind me who I used to be. Is it healthy to look back into your past, dredge up old issues and open up raw wounds or should they stay right there in the past? That doesn’t mean you won’t treasure all those memories (painful, glorious and life changing) in your minds eye but surely we don’t need them to define who we are today….

Who knows, but one thing is for sure, growing older means growing wiser and what I do know is that I would rather be living life with my eyes and ears wide open looking forwards than looking backwards with boxes full of ‘What ifs?’ and ‘If onlys’.

Into Battle!

June 16th, 2011

Sometimes I think that life would be so much easier if we all just said exactly what we think instead of being careful about upsetting anyone ALL the time, or is that just me?! I find myself so often these days stuck between a rock and a hard place trying desperately not to offend or hurt anyone but right here, right now I am going to speak out and say that I wish common sense grew on trees so that certain people would feast on it until their bellies were so full they actually become the embody-ment of common sense!
I am particularly furious right now and really just need to vent and go AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!
Ok, a bit better now…..

Today has been one of those infuriating days. I have been faced with two INSANE situations or rather two ridiculous people who I literally want to shake so hard that their ridiculousness will just sort of fall out of them!!
I’m sure the world would end up being completely chaotic if we all said exactly how we felt but why have I ended up being the type of person who just quietly disagrees with things? It’s the whole thing about balance I suppose, there are those who feel it’s their God-given right to say whatever they want, to speak out as their constant stream of conscience flows in their brain and out through their lips! Then there as those who just don’t want to voice their opinions too loudly and feel it is best to let life take its course. Perhaps it’s not so black and white a situation and I should look at a third
I will step gently in life and know that I am not always right, be happy to be told that my ship is sometimes slightly off course. I know that I must take a big deep breath right now and try not to be too judgmental. One question for you all to ponder, would you want someone to tell you that you are being a COMPLETE idiot even when you think you know exactly what you’re