Playing on Repeat #03

Song: Telephone Hour
Musical: Bye Bye Birdie
Performers:  Oconomowoc High School

…have been going through the piano accompaniment for this colourful and fun piece that one of the schools I’m positioned at is learning, so it has been on my mind a fair amount. I have to admit that’s it’s rather crazy to play, arms flailing here and there. Happy Monday!

-The Fine Duchess


James Blake + Concert Etiquette


A few weeks back, the Duke and I were fortunate enough to see James Blake in concert at the Astor Theatre. The concert was very much enjoyable, with James Blake showcasing his wonderful talents, keeping the mood light in between songs with small chatter and humbly expressing his appreciation for all his supporters that were there that night.

During my years at WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts), I quite often frequented the Perth Concert Hall, watching in awe as famous concert pianists dazzled the audience as their fingers flew across the grand piano and the thick sound of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra filled the enormous space. I had learnt the important rules and appropriate etiquette associated with these classical concerts – don’t applaud in between movements, don’t talk during the piece, try not to cough at the quietest moment of the music, etc. (you can read up on a few more rules here). I’ve also been to Perth’s Ellington Jazz Club in support of many friends. Here, you’re allowed to lightly talk amongst yourselves but we would often do so sparingly as we were there to actually listen to the music, not catch up.

The James Blake concert was the first contemporary concert that I had ever attended. Whilst I very much enjoyed it, there were small groups of people who were chatting and catching up at the tops of their voices throughout the majority of the performance, all sitting in close proximity to me, which proved rather distracting and frustrating. I’m very much curious as to whether this is very common in this setting. Would I have stepped over the line if I had politely asked them to lower their voices or take their conversation outside in the foyer? Would that be rude or would it be in my rights, as someone who is really keen to just have a good night listening to a favourite artist? What are your thoughts?

-The Fine Duchess

Image via It Sounds Better Live

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Drum Lessons


Out of the blue, the Duke asked me if I wanted a drum lesson (yes, I married a musician; he’s the clever breed that can play any instrument that he picks up too) and I jumped at the chance. And so in an hour’s time, I can play a basic funk pattern, learnt what a ghost note is (and how to slot them in) AND I can pretty much play the pattern from Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning! Can you tell that I’m rather excited? I must admit though, that it feels so odd to be playing another instrument and to be coordinating my arms and wrists in different directions. Through my lesson today, I know a little bit more about the frustration that my students feel when working on something that is completely new to them: for the Sunday Morning groove, I could play all the parts separately, ie. snare and high hat only, or high hat and bass, but when I tried to put all the parts together, it would drastically fall apart (aargh! The syncopation in the bass did really did my head in). But never one to shy away from a challenge, I was absolutely determined to master the groove and I more or less managed to do so by the time an hour had gone by. But the ability to retain all that I had learnt today will only be determined when I practise tomorrow.

So to those who are starting out on music lessons, trust me when I say that it is more beneficial to practise a small amount everyday, may it be ten minutes or fifteen minutes, than to do a large chunk of thirty minutes but only once a week. But why am I telling you this? You’re all a clever bunch. I’m sure you already know this.

How did you find learning a new instrument? Isn’t it odd to use parts of your body (ie. individual fingers) and learn certain movements that you wouldn’t really incorporate in your daily life?

-The Fine Duchess

PS. in case you have missed out, you can read up on my first piano lesson, over fifteen years ago!

Dumb Ways To Die

Clever marketing by Melbourne’s Metro Trains. It even won two out of the coveted four top honours on the first day of awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

The campaign message featured in the video: of all the stupid ways to die, acting unsafely around trains is the most inane.* Go and have a laugh. Watch this video. Maybe even pick up a few life lessons on certain situations to avoid.

Hope you’re having a lovely day!

-The Fine Duchess

Video via Red Meets Blue Design. Song written by The Cat Empire‘s Ollie McGill (keyboards).

*quoted from USA Today

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Piano Lessons


Did you ever take piano lessons as a child? If you did, how old were you when you first began?

I remember my first piano lesson at the not-so-young age of eight and three quarters years old : it was a cold autumn night when my dad took me to my first lesson.  Walking up to the door, we rang the door bell, only to be scolded for doing so as their baby was sleeping. Goodness, what a great way to begin my first lesson. My teacher’s name was Mrs Anderson. After a quick introduction to the piano (simply pointing out the black and white keys, and how the keys are grouped into twos and threes), we began looking through my very first piano book – Bastein’s Piano Basics, Primer Level. I learnt the numbering on my fingers, from my thumbs to my pinkies, and discovered that only seven letters of the alphabet are used in music – beginning at A and ending at G. For an eight-and-three-quarters year old, this was rather fascinating.

It would be a nice story if I said that I stayed with Mrs Anderson through my adolescence years but the reality is that I began lessons with another teacher less than a year after my first lesson, right after my Preliminary exam. Though my mum is not a trained musician, she has always and still does love music very much and was highly involved in my piano lessons, listening to me practise and ensuring that I was doing what was outlined in my music journal. After a few months, she noticed that when I played the piano, my wrists were sitting really quite low and my fingers looked rather tense. She went to Mrs Anderson with this concern but my teacher brushed it off as something I will grow out of and insisted that my mum should not be worried. However, being the diligent parent she was, she consulted the opinions of a few close friends and watched their children play the piano, coming to the conclusion that having one’s wrists sit so low and playing with tense fingers really was not the way to go. And so off she went to find me a new teacher.

Looking back today, I am truly grateful to my mum. Playing the music well and accurate but doing so with bad posture and tense hands is definitely not the best way to approach playing the piano. There is more to it than making a few strings resonate and producing a pleasant sound – the physical side of piano (as in the way the hands move in relation to the rest of your body) is very important, despite many teachers in our society seeming to pay little attention to this fact. Where possible, one should be using the least amount of energy possible but yet be producing the best tone and sound. When all muscles and joints are moving well together, playing the piano (not necessarily reading the notes) should be easy! It should be as natural as walking.

I remember when I was in my year one music class,  all the children that played the piano were allowed to use the glockenspiels, but those who had no experience were handed the percussion instruments. I didn’t mind the maracas or the clave sticks at first but after a few lessons, I found it unfair that my instrument produced only one sound whilst the glockenspiels produced a much larger range. And it sounded so pretty!

I was never a very good liar. Not only that, I have been described over the many years to be a very sweet child and a straight A student. But the incident with the colourful glockenspiels had me in such envy and I felt so unfairly treated that I crossed the line (especially in the mind of this little six year old) – I lied. My music teacher must have had a very bad memory because when she asked the crucial question of which skilled child had experience playing the beast of the piano, I inconspicuously raised my hand and she didn’t even blink. Surprised at not being caught out, I was overjoyed and quickly picked up the extraordinary skill that was a prerequisite for even going near the bright sounding instrument.

But guilt gripped me so tightly that I confessed to my mum and told her all about the incident. After a gentle warning of the consequences of lying, all was well. But my mum could no longer deny the affect that music had on me – she sought out my first piano teacher and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

-The Fine Duchess

PS. Were you forced into lessons or did you willingly attend them? Did you give up the piano at a young age? Any regrets? Chris Cornell sure did regret it.

Image via the bluegrass special

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Over the past few days, I have had the soundtrack from the film “My Week With Marilyn” (starring Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson) on constant replay. Not sure if it is the boisterous jazz that bursts through with little warning or the melancholic melody of Marilyn’s theme that has me feeling so wistful. Perhaps it was the delicate piano lines played by classical pianist Lang Lang that convinced me to look up the transcription of the beautiful theme.

The melody is so simple. It begins in a tone that yearns for happiness and yet is so lonely. And just when you think that the future is so too bleak to comprehend, the clouds miraculously part to reveal the smallest ray of sunshine.  Though the theme ends on a happier note, it still feels as if that happiness is tainted and not quite as it seems, as is revealed in the film.

Lang Lang plays the piano excerpts in the film with such depth and lyricism but credit must also be given to Conrad Pope and Alexandre Desplat. Some of the tracks, such as “Colin Runs Off With The Circus” and “Eton Schoolyard,” are indeed very charming and have been described to be rather George Gershwin-esque. For them to be followed by  the dramatic track of “Arthur’s Notebook” or the bittersweet “Colin’s Heartbreak” shows that the film score has been very well written and would surely satisfy those with a classical background (such as myself). In fact, upon listening to “Colin’s Heartbreak,” I came away thinking that the flute, clarinet and oboe are quite the admirable trio and are so very suited together.



On another note, I found myself thinking that whilst the flute was so warm and tender in “Colin’s Heartbreak,” it was quite a contrast in it’s appearance in “Paparazzi” (around the 1 minute, 20 seconds mark) – I never realised that flutes could be written in such a way to sound so… seductive. Who would’ve thought! It just goes to show you how much I have yet to learn.

Overall, the soundtrack is a pleasure to listen to and I highly recommend it.

Do you often look up film soundtracks? What are your favourites?

-The Fine Duchess

PS. if you’re curious and want to try your hand at playing the beautiful piano theme, a transcription can be found here. Good luck!

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Smile Big

Good morning my lovelies. Hope you all had a good night’s rest, refreshed to begin this new day with gusto and determination. And to think that it is Thursday already. Tonight, the Duke and I will be heading out to Ace Pizza (finally) in celebration of a certain someone’s birthday – my amazing sister, S. There is sure to be lots of pizza, constantly flowing drinks and maybe even a rabbit (?) dished up too.

Until then, don’t forget to smile big.