Techno Viking the way God intended him to be

That is, dancing along to The Wooden Shjips' Shrinking Moon for You:

Bloody bastard Bach!

Well, we finally bought a piano. It's a Perzina 129cm in black and it's gorgeous.

And I'm now playing again. I took ABRSM Grade 4 in about 1982 and was working towards Grade 6 or so when I left secondary school. That was it - no more formal piano playing for the best part of twenty years.

I have a couple of anthologies that I rescued from my sister's - they're both about Grade 5, which should be ideal for working up some new repertoire and getting my technique back.

Unfortunately I decided to work on Bach's Little Prelude No. 4 in D (BWV 936). This piece has a bit of a reputation (see a great little discussion here). Most of the piece is in three parts, which move independently. Howard Ferguson, the editor of the book, really needs to explain what this is doing in a Grade 5 anthology!

The Canadian grade system considers this to be a Grade 8 (of 10) piece. By contrast, the Prokofiev Waltz, which was in my Grade 6 1987 syllabus is Canadian Grade 7. I reckon the Bach should be a tricky Grade 6 here - at least tricky to play well. And in fact, it turns out that the London College of Music has it as a Grade 7 piece in its syllabus.

But will I let it beat me? No way!

[Footnote: I don't know whether the LCM exams are comparable to ABRSM. It has the Beethoven Bagatelle Op 119/3 in Grade 6. I'd consider that a Grade 5 piece, probably, but then again I find my 1987 Grade 6 pieces fairly easy too! I guess I must have practised them more than I remember.]

John Rutter meets his match

We just got back from what we hope will be an annual tradition - going to the 9 Lessons and Carols from St Alfege Church in Greenwich. I first went in 2003 and have been every year since with a different combination of girls. Buffy is the big challenge of course. Last year we left during O Come All Ye Faithful. This year, she and Regan left in the middle. She Had Had Enough. And that was that.

As for Katie, she was recovering from a cold, had been to a dance party in the afternoon and was pooped. She wasn't in the best of moods and wanted to leave too. But I really wanted to stay, not least because Richard Brasier, the new organist, was playing Messiaen's Dieu Parmi Nous, one of the most sublime Christmas organ pieces there is, at the end. So I tried to keep her entertained by talking up what was coming next.

How could she not like the jolly charms of Rutter's Shepherd's Pipe Carol? Isn't it fun, Katie?

"No, Daddy. It sounds like terrible goblin music."

Oh well, there's always next year.

Paco Pena's Requiem for the Earth

Last Saturday saw the latest Voicelab performance - a special concert of Paco Pena's Requiem for the Earth. The Requiem is a special piece which mixes flamenco rhythms and themes with the more formal choral tradition, in celebration of the wonder of the Earth. Voicelab Swell, the auditioned choir, got the nod to form part of the 100-strong choir for the concert.

I really enjoyed the Requiem - it's an intriguing mix of exciting flamenco beats and hauntingly beautiful choral music.

Particular highlights were (1) the demented percussionist Rubem Dantas, who is quite obviously a total genius when it comes to rhythms of any sort. At one point he became frustrated with us because we couldn't get it right. So he got up from his cajon, stood in front of us and told us how it went: "can-ta-re, can-ta-re, can-ta-re", all the while his eyes darting back and forth. In later rehearsals we clearly improved because he started turning to us and applauding, including during the actual performance. Great stuff.

And (2) the baritone soloist, Roderick Williams, was simply stunning. A better choice for the part couldn't have been found.

Then things became strange. After the concert, Regan told me that she knew Nati, our Spanish voice coach. It turns out that she works in Greenwich and walks every day from Kidbrooke to Greenwich, passing Regan and the girls as they make their way to school. They've got to recognise each other, and one time Nati gave Katie a book that a friend of hers had published.

Fearing the drunks on the train at that time of night, we decided to brave the riverboat. It was the best idea I've had in ages. We had to get the security guard to unlock the gates (he was very unwilling) but after that we had the boat to ourselves. 25 minutes to the Dome for the three of us for £12 and a superb view of the city (including Tower Bridge opening).

At the Dome, we arrived just as, uh, the Ultimate Fighting Championship finished. And about 2,000 drunk chav skinheads fought their way down to the Underground. Sadly, a couple also found their way onto the bus where they debated, in slurred tones as they chugged down warm Fosters from a can, the finer points of their heroes' savagery.

But, hideous as that might be, it didn't detract from our wonderful evening.

Next Voicelab project is a reprise of the Beethoven for HM the Queen!

There's a review of the Requiem here. They didn't enjoy it as much as I did... ah well.


I've entertained myself in the girls' absence by doing a bit of podcasting. Under the gruesome name Aural enema, because frankly that's what it does to your ears, I amuse myself (if nobody else) by the extreme juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridiculous.

If you can see past my own horrific pretension and delusions of grandeur, download episode 1 and episode 2.

The day I supported Motorhead

Another Saturday, another Voicelab gig.

This time it was a special request from Sir Jarvis of Cocker to open up his Meltdown festival by singing the Sanctus from Missa Luba. This was to support the first gig of the festival, none other than legendary hard rockers Motorhead! We picked up the piece in the first couple of hours of rehearsing, which meant a fair bit of sitting around doing nothing. The rehearsals themselves were fun, though, and the African drummers were awesome.

During the first break, Neil Voicelab announced, to tumultuous applause, that he could get us complimentary tickets to see Motorhead. Now, I suspect I would rather lose a limb than spend even a fleeting moment listening to Motorhead. As it was, the bloke I was sitting next to, a nice chap called Robin, said that he would quite like an extra ticket so I got one for him.

We performed three times - once outside, once inside to open the festival, then another time inside, this time introduced by Jarvis himself. He explained the importance of the piece to him - it is central to the film If and its message of the need to overthrow bossying authority (New Labour, anyone?). There were lots of Motorheady types in the crowd and they seemed to enjoy it.

Afterwards, at home, I felt the need to cleanse my musical palette, a sort of aural enema, if you will. So, at ferocious volume, I listened to The 13th Floor Elevators - Slip inside this house (Roky Erickson is playing at Meltdown tonight), the whole of Gag - A Friday Face with a Friday smile, and the first few songs from Rapeman - Two Nuns and a Pack Mule. Now that's real noise. Motorhead sounds like your mundane Top 40 pap next to that little lot.

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