Tie The Knot – Classical Music in Scotland

I was flattered to be approached by Tie The Knot – Scotland’s premiere wedding magazine to be included in their September/October 2018 publication.  This month they feature classical musicians who have the pleasure to perform for couples in venues across Scotland.  Click on the link below for the article

Classical Entertainment Tie the Knot 2018

Here is the article in full which  I shared with their editor about my opinion of classical music’s place in weddings and a little snap shot of my experience as a trumpeter playing at weddings.  There was of course much more which could have been written and included – perhaps I could have shared the experience of playing the opening theme from Star Wars for the exit music going into Imperial March – all specially requested by the groom!

” Music has a wonderful way of uniting people together from all backgrounds and beliefs and classical music is no exception – especially on a wedding day.  It’s a broad style of music that works in a variety of instrumentation or voice and it’s foundation is its strong sense of melody.  
Classical music is timeless and can offer a special personal touch to a wedding. There’s not only a great choice of classical music to choose from but it has the ability to be formal, fun, and most of all celebratory.
As a trumpeter I’ve played classical music at each stage of a wedding from playing the bridal procession with a trumpet fanfare or voluntary, playing an aria during the signing of the register to performing a selection of upbeat classical favourites throughout the drinks reception.
Couples have the choice to have as much or as little classical music as they wish at their wedding.  Being able to offer solo trumpet with an option of working alongside an organist or pianist, I can demonstrate through the sound of the trumpet the range of character it can display, including, brilliance, power, a regal feel and of course, a sense of joy.  I can also provide my own established brass ensemble (www.brasstracksmusic.co.uk) or trumpet and accordion duo, Albaccord, that offers the option of entertaining with a variety of musical styles as well as classical music.  My work is all acoustic without the need for an electricity supply, therefore ideal for those outside weddings or in a rural setting.   



The Dawn Chorus

The Dawn Chorus is a film short recently aired on Channel 4’s new series of Random Acts (Summer 2018).  It is a wonderful clever creation by the young Japanese film director, George Wu.  The music by Athos Tsipani compliments the choreography of the bird puppetry and is also a vital element of telling the story.

Never mind Birdland – this swinging jazz number allows all the featured instruments (trumpet, clarinet, piano, drums and double bass) to tweet, squawk, coo, craw and generally flap in their own unique way as only winged creatures know how during their dawn chorus to welcome in the start of a new day.   The trumpet, represents the colourful Kingfisher bird, the instrument’s valves operating the three main sections of the bird, from valve 1 = the tail wing, valve 2 = central wings and valve 3 = head and beak.

The production was filmed and recorded in Edinburgh – in Summerhall, a very apt location as it was the former home of the Dick Vet School.  The ensemble is seen performing in the anatomy theatre – a space not changed drastically since it’s construction in the Victorian era.   Enjoy listening and watching the clip below of The Dawn Chorus.

Improve Your Sight-reading – by Paul Harris

You don’t have to be good at sight-reading of course! But let’s think about all the advantages if you are.

It will take you less time to learn new pieces, you’ll be able to play in ensembles with confidence, you’ll get more marks in exams and, most important, you’ll be able to learn new music on your own which means you’ve become an independent musician who can always enjoy music-making any time, any place. Also your teacher will be able to devote more lesson time to important musical and technical points rather than have to teach how pieces ‘go’. They would be very pleased about that!

So what’s the secret? It’s all about understanding. Read the next sentence:

Ysae si gnidear-thgis!

Doesn’t make too much sense! An obscure foreign language? Actually it just says ‘Sight-reading is easy!’- but backwards!

Reading ‘Sight-reading is easy!’ (the right way around) is easy because you’ve probably seen the words before and because you understand the meaning. Fluent and efficient reading comes from instantly recognising familiar groups of letters and words – the more familiar, the more fluent your reading will be.

But before we look at sight-reading music, let’s briefly think about how you read. Your reading skills depend on a combined effort of your mind and your eye. The eye itself is a complicated and magnificent piece of equipment! It works rather like a camera, taking a ‘snapshot’ of what it sees, sending the information to your brain, where it is processed and understood, and then moving on to take the next snap.

So how can this help us when it comes to sight-reading music? Have a look at the pieces you are currently learning and see how many familiar patterns you can find – part of a scale or arpeggio, a whole scale or arpeggio, a leap of a fifth or an octave for example. These patterns are just like familiar words. Knowing your scales helps considerably in sight-reading! It is a good idea to practise scales, reading the notes from the music – this will really help you to recognise these patterns quickly. What actually happens when you sight-read is that you take a ‘snapshot’ of a bar or part of a bar, memorise it and while you’re playing it, you look ahead to see what’s coming – and it’s actually much easier to do this than you might think!

Have you ever thought why reading words seems to be so much easier than reading music? There are two reasons: we actually get a lot of practice reading words – cereal packets, newspapers and magazines, books, instructions for your latest computer game (the list is endless) and of course we don’t have to read words in time. It was to help overcome both these problems that I devised the Improve Your Sight-reading! series a few years ago; it’s a fun and very progressive way to get better. As an examiner poor rhythm is usually the main problem I notice in the sight-reading test – the notes are often correct. That’s why each section in Improve Your Sight-reading! begins with rhythm exercises. Do practise these, or similar exercises and make sure that you really do understand how to count them and how the rhythmic patterns fit into the pulse. Always clap the rhythm of your pieces (and any other music you can get your hands on!) Your teacher will be pleased to spend as much time as necessary with you on this subject! There is enough material in Improve Your Sight-reading! to allow some sight-reading practice every day!

When doing the sight-reading test in exams always remember two golden rules – ALWAYS COUNT and DON’T STOP once you’ve begun. In the exam you should be given about half a minute to look through the piece before you have to play it. You can learn to make very good use of this time. What you must do is skim your eyes over the whole piece, trying to get a sense of what the piece is about. How well could you hear it in your head? Take in as much as you can as you skim through it. especially notice familiar patterns – melodic and rhythmic ones. Your eyes will soon learn to spot tricky notes (an E sharp or G flat for example) or a tricky rhythm and you can linger for a little longer on these. You can actually improve your ability to take all this in when you’re practising your sight-reading: give yourself say 10 seconds to look at a short piece and then get someone to test you on what you can remember. In time you’ll learn how to spot all the important features very quickly indeed!

If you really know and understand rhythms and can instantly ‘process’ the fingering of any note, then nothing should stop you from developing really fluent and accurate sight-reading.

So with practice, and as you build up confidence, you should become as fluent in reading music as you are in reading this article!

Paul Harris has an international reputation as one of the UKs leading educationalists. His ‘Improve Your Sight-reading’ series is published by Faber.

©Paul Harris 2012  /http://www.paulharristeaching.co.uk/

Perfecting How To Practice

Perfecting how to practice your instrument takes time and patience in knowing what works best for you and demands both focus and discipline.  These latter two principles can be tricky for anyone learning an instrument or maintaining and developing their skills, regardless of age and ability.

The idea that ‘practice make perfect’ is an easy throw away cliche that could confuse many a younger, less experienced musician, who may still to learn to differentiate between playing and actual practice.  There are other phrases which I prefer to use with my students, like, ‘practice doesn’t always sound pretty’, or , ‘practice make permanent’.  Take the last statement for example, how often do you hear someone play a section of music over and over, stumbling over the same areas of either the rhythm or note reading and when it finally sorts itself out, move straight onto something new?!  I would recommend a couple of suggestions to try and avoid this form of ‘practice’ or habit.  If you have identified a ‘tricky’ section of music, then firstly you have already isolated an area to hone in on and practice.  Find a metronome or download a metronome app (see links below) – plently available for free if you don’t have one, and find a tempo/pulse that allows the section of music to be played without hesitation or a stumble.  Mark down the tempo that works for you in your designated progress/planner book and begin to play around with the music – try playing it a different dynamics, vary the articulation, ear mark any key note or rhythm, or if possible stick it down or up an octave.  It’s one way to allow the music notation to become ‘3D’ – becoming more alive, expressive and most importantly more easily manageable to perform.  The tempo by this point can be gradually increased and brought up to the suggested speed.

I asked a couple of colleagues about their top tips on ways to perfect practice: Here are their top 10 tips.

1. Small, regular amounts. Avoid ‘cramming’ or binge practicing, especially prior to lesson or performance.

2. Avoid practicing when tired and unfocused.

3. Start practice with most difficult sections, while fresh and alert.

4. Vary practice from what you focus on, where and time of practice.  Randomise practice.

5. Divide what time you have to practice into sections e.g 10 minute slots.

6. Minimise playing though a song or piece of music until ready and perform to friends or family.

7. Record practice. Use recordings like an audio diary.  Soundcloud is a good online resource for this purpose. See link.

8. If your attention starts to wander – Stop practicing and do something else e.g make a cup of tea

9. Listen to as much music as possible for inspiration.

10. Learn music you enjoy and find out as much as you can about the piece, song and composer. It will help with your understanding of the music and put it into some form of context.

Happy practicing!




Trumpeter Wows Edinburgh

On Friday 27th June, 2014 there was a special concert at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Finlay Hetherington’s trumpet students had the opportunity to hear and meet with some of the finest living jazz musicians from the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, with their trumpeter and director, Wynton Marsalis.  Benedetti and Marsalis share a musical kinship that crosses genres after meeting ten years ago. Picture: John Devlin

There was even a surprise guest appearance of the Scottish violin virtuoso, Nicola Benedetti. It was fascinating to watch Wynton direct Nicola on some of the jazz nuances in his violin piece.  Not only did this inspire us as musicians, but demonstrated that no matter your level of artistry, you can still learn and be open to lessons from others.

Following the rehearsal, which were kindly invited to observe, our students were able to have a Q&A session with the drummer and pianist of the orchestra, who explained that they were in charge in keeping the melody and rhythm together within the orchestra.

That evening, a busy Usher Hall, were able to enjoy and be, quite literally, blown away by the musicianship and virtuosity of the Lincoln Centre band, who performed a selection of arrangements of the best Blue Note Records.  A very memorable performance that was topped by a very generous and breath taking encore given by Wynton and his rhythm section.