OK, I’m finally going to join the 21st century, and at this Saturday afternoon’s gig at Ardkinglas I’m going to go paperless, and just have an iPad mini on the music desk. As most of my music library is on PDFs already, it seems like a lot of pointless work to print it out and stick it in a folder, so I’ve ordered some pageturning footpedals and installed ForScore instead. If you come along you can have a laugh at me pressing the wrong buttons and getting lost (or not) in some early 19th-century Scottish piano music on an early 19th-century Scottish piano. It’s advance bookings only via the Estate Office at email@example.com or 01499 600261.
Aaron and I are heading up the A83 (landslip permitting) to rehearse tomorrow, and our repertoire includes such Nathaniel Gow delights as the original version of Largo’s Fairy Dance (which starts with a march as the fairies advance), and a delightful piece of Haydnesque piano writing called Hot Pyes. We should have real hot pies on hand really … and if you’re wondering, the following piece is called Kail and Leeks rather than Polystyrene Cup of Bovril.
A very strange thing happened last night: I went to an orchestral gig and really enjoyed it. Admittedly the presence of Fred Frith on the bill meant that my enjoying it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but having him, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell on the same bill in front of a nearly full and noisily appreciative City Hall was great. Lewis’s piece of ‘post-genre cheerfulness’ was 25 minutes of rivetingly precise orchestration devices played with great panache by the SSO folks; the trio improvisation was as witty and serious as you could wish for; and Fred managed to drop one of his chopsticks off the stage in his piece, a gesture I’d assumed was a piece of Jimmy Page-like ‘tossing the violin bow away’ showmanship. But when he started looking for it and a helpful member of the front row retrieved it and passed it back up to him, I realised it had of course been an ingenious ploy to break down the fourth wall and engage the audience in the performance. Mibbe. Anyway, you can hear the whole thing on Radio 3’s Hear and Now on 19 April.
There was a cheerfully post-genre bunch of musical folks in the audience to bump into, including improvisers, folkies, rock critics, students and academics. I had the chance to tell Catriona McKay how much I love her Harponium album, and a colleague from another academic institution asked me ‘Are you still at the university?’ ‘Just about.’ (pause) ‘Well, I’m pleased and astonished.’ ‘Yeah … I think I am too actually.’
Simon Frith also alerted me to this event (PDF) coming up soon, where the Frith brothers will discuss what listening is: I’ll definitely be there listening to that. And Kate Molleson returned my precious Tracy Thomson hat which I’d left behind at another concert earlier in the week, after being in quite a hurry to leave within 10 minutes of it starting.
On Thursday afternoon I was very proud indeed of my Performance students who were presenting their Group Exercise, where nine brand-new groups performed for 10 minutes each. It was definitely post-genre, and often extremely cheerful: evidence too that musicians can learn much more from each other than they can from their ‘teachers’.
This week I have learned not to be quite so critical of talking heads on TV music programmes who talk rubbish (no names), as I had the experience of finding out for myself just how easy it is. I was in Edinburgh on Tuesday to record some conversation with Suzy Klein for a forthcoming BBC4 series on British music in the 18th century, next door to Bute House in Charlotte Square. We’d had a good chat through the topics to cover, some of which I was confident to ramble about and others on which I was perhaps on shakier ground. The thing is, when there’s a camera pointing in your face, and lights on you, and you get asked a question, you go into ‘performance’ mode as though you’re on stage: shrugging and mumbling don’t really cut it, so you end up manufacturing apparently eloquent opinion on the spot, with a sense of niggling doubt about whether what you’ve just said bears any relation to anything, other than just being the first thing you could think of. So it will be very interesting to hear what makes into the edit, and I will be far less ready to slag off people who talk shite on telly. The ceiling of the room we were in was pretty spectacular though …
Last weekend Roy & Aileen O’Neil, Allan Wright and I were clambering around Sandy Edmonstone’s organ-building workshop retrieving a variety of amazing instruments as he clears it out. I’m now the proud owner of a five-and-a-half octave square piano by the Scots maker to the royal family, William Stodart …
… and we also rescued an immaculate Mason & Hamlin reed organ complete with canopy, and a rather more derelict 1790s Shudi Broadwood harpsichord which at some point early in the 19th century had been converted into a piano, and even has a rabbit’s foot sustaining pedal with separate left and right sides (if anyone has room to look after this treasure, please let me know). Here it is dangling from a rope as we lowered it with the help of Sandy’s block and tackle from the rafters.
And here is Roy gazing in awe at Sandy’s original No.10 Meccano set.
For the last couple of weeks it’s been enormous fun to spend time with Errollyn Wallen, who’s been resident in the university’s School of Culture and Creative Arts. Last night we ended up in the Glasgow Curry Shop with none other than intonation guru Ross Duffin. Ross’s thesis that the 18th century musician conceptualised tuning around 6th-comma meantone makes huge amounts of sense to me, and he allowed me a fanboy moment by signing my copy of his most famous book: the last time I’d seen him was at Ronn MacFarlane’s birthday party in Cleveland 12 years ago.
Preparation is a wonderful thing. I went along to Olivia’s Celtic Connections gig last night, and mentioned to Helen as I was leaving the house that last time I’d gone to hear Olivia I’d found myself unexpectedly on stage playing lots of wrong notes. So this time I tucked my iPad into my pocket, armed with the chart for Olivia’s tricky arrangement of Purcell’s There’s Not a Swain. And sure enough, about half an hour in, just as I was getting comfortable at the back of the audience: ‘Is David McGuinness in the room?’, and this time I could just get up and enjoy making music with Olivia without worrying too much about playing a load of nonsense.
Of course if I’d really known I’d end up on stage I wouldn’t have been wearing an ancient old jumper with holes in it. But we did stay up quite late with Ali Roberts, Neil McDermott and Alex Neilson in the company of some good Williams Bros beer (Midnight Sun makes a very satisfying session pint), and a rather good session of another kind being led by the folks in Breabach: the proper Celtic Connections experience then.
This morning was the latest in a long series of work meetings held in Cottonrake: today’s introducing Zoltán Kömíves to more of the Bass Culture team … wholemeal toast and Scottish honey with tea is a good restorative after a late night.
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