Saturday, August 29, 2009

Teaching composers

Where has the time gone? As you might imagine, I don't get much spare time anytime these days, so I'm not a reliable blogger, sorry. What with work, family, running the house, other things, life runs away from me quite regularly.

This year I've had the opportunity to re-structure the composition curriculum where I teach. I am fairly happy with the results, particularly with setting composition projects (with prescribed parameters) for individual students at each level. However, each week we meet as a seminar class twice a week for 1 hour each meeting. A combined-level class is always a challenge: what can be taught to 1st years without being boring and repetitive to the 3rd years? What can be taught to the 3rd years without being over the heads of the 1st years? It isn't quite like a performance masterclass where everyone can learn from observing the student who is playing.

My most recent thoughts about dealing with the seminar is to run it as a three-year cycle on topics/composers/eras, so that in three years of a degree, a composition major would cover (in general terms) each topic regardless of what year they are in.

I'd be very interested in any advice on this, from a musical or pedagogical point of view. Or any alternative suggestions!

Thanks in advance...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On pause

After a particularly trying and stressful month, we are hopping on a plane tomorrow. One night in Adelaide to break the journey, then 6 nights in Darwin to be at the wedding of two lovely friends. Then back to Adelaide for 8 days before heading home. Really looking forward to a break. Work has been madness, and I've had back-to-back deadlines (not the note-writing variety, sadly) for several weeks now, with the TSO Composers' School thrown into the mix.

The kids are growing and changing so much. It's going to be lovely to have some warmth and sunshine and just enjoy some time together without running from one thing to the next. Alexander is going from strength to strength, his teacher is very happy with him, particularly his reading, and he seems to have settled in well at school after a few months of testing the boundaries.

Lillian is 21 months and toddling around with increasing confidence. She has a killer grin and such an animated face. She's suddenly acquired a lot of words; they're not crystal clear (she is so little after all), but her favourites are 'bath', 'car', 'cuddle', 'wa-wa' (yoghurt), 'nana' (banana), 'A-sanda' (usually yelled very loudly at the top of the stairs first thing in the morning), 'apple', 'gee' (drink)... sorry, I've forgotten that relating toddler development milestones is excruciatingly boring to anyone other than parents and grandparents!

I'd quite like to get back to writing some music one day soon. I wonder when that will happen? Next semester looks to be pretty heavy-going with four visiting composers coming to Hobart, which is tremendously exciting. Katy Abbott came in first semester to teach and speak about her work, and next semester's composers include Roger Smalley and Raffaele Marcellino. I really like this program of composers-in-residence. I think it's great for the students and also gives me an opportunity to meet these composers and get to know them and their music.

See you when we get back!

Friday, April 17, 2009


A fantastic article in the Australian about music education.

Bravo, bravo. Now, how can we act? More on this in time. (I'm busy transcribing/arranging at the moment...)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Darling Heart

Here is my very talented brother-in-law Gareth, with his debut single Darling Heart.

Also the trailer for Natalie Imbruglia's upcoming movie Closed for Winter - Gareth singing at the end of the trailer...

Free voice lesson

The ever-lovely Gina B sent this to me and I just had to share it. Hysterical!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Desperately Seeking Sleep

Well she's at it again, our little cherubic nightmare. Almost every other night she's waking every one or two hours, for no reason other than seeming to need to be put back to bed. She gets no feeds, no drinks, no conversation, no nuffin and STILL she wakes. Some nights are fine, but last night was a kicker - awake at 2am, 3am, 5.15am, 6am, and then 6.30am. She is not sick (hallelujah and pass the potatoes).

We have come to the conclusion she's doing this because she is constantly whinging to be picked up during the day, so spends most of the time being carried around, on account of the fact she's not walking yet, at almost 18 months - I am not worried, just exhausted and frustrated. I'm so tired I can't think straight half the time. Apologies to those of you who have noticed, LOL!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spelling and other misdemeanours

Warning: large ranting post ahead.

I have been marking written tests taken by prospective students who want to study music at university, and as always I am appalled, horrified and furious at the complete and utter lack of basic musical knowledge that some people have, considering they want to make a career out of it. Last night one of these written tests really took the cake for me. I have never in my life read such appalling spelling in an essay, which is part of the test in addition to the basic music questions like, "Name this note." Here's a sample - see if you can work them out:
Carmon (yes, Bizet's opera)

And so on. Gaaah!

What is wrong with the following scenario? Young Person fluffs around and leaves school after year 10. Has some casual and part-time employment in "retail and hospitality" for a few years, learns how to do web design or similar, all the while being really interested in music, particularly alternative, electronica and similar, and attempts to write pieces by playing them from an electronic keyboard into your computer, tweaking notes that sound "wrong", pressing a button and, voilá! Notation appears! "Hey! I think I'll be a composer, and apply for a composition degree at uni!"

Why, why, why would you decide to be a musician at the age of 18 (or older) and apply to a tertiary music course without even being able to read music? Correct me if I'm wrong, but do students turn up to first-year mathematics having never done mathematics in high school and being unable to read numbers? It really IS the equivalent of that.

I was at work today and I ran into a woman who I had taught in 2007 in the foundation unit, which starts with topics like key signatures, scale construction, how rhythm is organised, and so on. I asked her what she was doing now and she informed me that she was auditioning for postgraduate study. I am not sure if my gaping jaw was obvious to her but I smiled politely, wished her good luck and continued on my merry way, incredulous that this person could go from being unable to construct correct rhythmic patterns in 2007 to attempting a postgraduate qualification in music in 2009.

If you can't read a note as big as a barn, GO AWAY AND LEARN HOW AND THEN COME BACK TO A UNIVERSITY MUSIC COURSE!!! Can I emphasise that strongly enough?

I am deadly serious. No matter what line of music you are hoping to make a career in, do NOT expect to learn everything from scratch in first-year university. It is simply a waste of everyone's time, especially your own. This career is simply too competitive to succeed in if you don't know anything about it by the time you reach your late teens or early twenties. And those who think they know about music because they have all the recordings of Miles Davis, can play licks by Joe Pass, can sing a few songs from Sondheim musicals, or similar, just need a reality check. And private tutoring before they apply to a university.

However, this leads me to a much deeper philosophical issue: why are music institutions taking in students like this? Why are music institutions designing courses around what the students think they need, as opposed to what the experts in the field know they need? What are the career options for students who exit tertiary music courses being unable to play standard repertoire and get on the casual list of a professional orchestra, or make a living doing jazz gigs? What about the students who can do those things, where are the jobs for them? Why are schools producing musically illiterate students who in turn go into teaching and so the awful cycle continues?

No matter whether it's jazz or classical, I will go to my grave upholding the belief that people who want tertiary music study need to be able to read music, take basic theory and aural training, learn the fundamentals of music history, and need to be literate and able to write coherently.

Sorry if this rant started to seem a little incoherent or disconnected. It's been a long week!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

One book meme

I came across this at Reeling and Writhing. Hello Genevieve, whoever you are! :)

When I was pregnant with Lillian I found myself with a lot more time and enthusiasm for reading. It was probably procrastination since I wasn't writing a piece at the time. I love to read. My husband loves to buy me books; they don't always appeal to me but I've come across a few gems recently, and not-so-recently.

If this meme appeals to you, consider yourself tagged. And let me know, I'd love some recommendations.

One book you’re currently reading: Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited. My sister gave it to me for Christmas and I'm hooked. Saw snippets of the BBC series with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews on ABC2 recently but I'd like to see the whole thing.

One book that changed your life: Goodness, so many! I was impressed with Alex Haley, Roots, which I read when I was in high school. A few years ago Anne Manne, Motherhood, really made me re-think so many things. Jane Austen, Persuasion, is one of the best books of all time.

One book you’d want on a desert island: Hmn, tricky. Maybe Pride and Prejudice?

One book you’ve read more than once: Pride and Prejudice. What can I say? I love Jane Austen.

One book you’ve never been able to finish: Arundhati Roy, The God Of Small Things. I just didn't get it. Also George Eliot, Mill on the Floss, but I'll give that another go.

One book that made you laugh: Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones, the Edge of Reason. Laughed till I cried. The films are not nearly as good as the two BJ books.

One book that made you cry: Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Nanny Diaries. I was a weeping mess at the end, and turned back to page one and started again. Great book.

One book you keep rereading: None, really. I do enjoy certain parenting books and go back to them when I feel like I need a refresher. Diane Levy, Of Course I Love You, Now Go To Your Room is my favourite and works every time. (Can I add Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion here too??)

One book you’ve been meaning to read: So many! I have a pile of books to get through, that were given to me as gifts over the past year but in the madness of having two young children and a large piece to write, the year slipped by (as did the summer break). *sigh* Here they are:
Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman's Union
John Honey, Strings
David Malouf, Every Move You Make
Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
I did manage to read Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and thought it was brilliant.

One book you believe everyone should read: Musicians should read Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle. It's a searingly honest inside look at the world of classical music, and how things really work - how it's so difficult to make a living, why some people get gigs and others don't, no matter how good they are. Fascinating and somewhat depressing. If you're not willing to do what it takes to make it to the top, don't bother going into classical music. Food for thought.

Also, Li Cunxin, Mao's Last Dancer. Fascinating, riveting, heartbreaking, warm and wonderful. I definitely recommend it.

ETA: The Bridget Jones books are read aloud by Tracie Bennett as audio books - hilarious.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

First day pics

Just two shots of Alexander's first morning heading off to school. The sun was in the wrong place, we were trying to get there on time, Lillian kept bursting into tears, I had to go to work... it was not a very calm way to start the day!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Off to school

Alexander started school today. He is now in Prep, for which you need to be five here in Tasmania. A rather momentous day, the first day of full-time school. He was cool as a cucumber, very happy to be going back to see his friends and see his new teacher again. He was most excited that there would be some Mobilo, a particular type of construction toy that he was addicted to at Kindergarten. I did my best not to cry but have to admit that a tear did come to my eye at one point. But nobody saw. No they didn't. Luckily. Then we left (David came along to share the moment) and he barely looked up, just said, "Bye Mum, bye Dad." Snif. That was it. I'll put up a few pictures when I get a chance over the next day or so.

It was a manic day, as I am now back at the Conservatorium for two half-days a week so after leaving Lillian at her grandmother's I went off to work for a few hours. Ack! I've been on leave for around 16 months so it's like starting a new job; even more so because we have a new head of school and I have a new office and so do most of my colleagues so I can't find people and most of my books and files are still scattered around my new office waiting to find a shelf to live on. It took me a few hours to unravel some emails, sort out computer access to student records, catch up with a colleague who is the go-to person for just about everything, before even starting on re-writing the unit outlines for what I'm teaching. And then it was time for school pick-up. I really don't know how I am going to fit it all in this year - mothering, composing, lecturing, cooking, shopping, cleaning, washing, chauffeuring, and several other -ings. Need to be organised, need to get enough sleep.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get on the computer much over the past couple of months. Sorry if you've been wondering where I am. I am here! (said the Whos in Who-ville.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Where have I been?

Wow. I have just dragged myself onto my computer for more than 10 minutes at a time for the first time in almost two months. Lots of wonderful blogging been going on in the world of blogging, but not any of it here. Warning, this is a very wonky post.

December: the end of school, planning for being 'properly' back at work, pre-Christmas preparation, house guests (my parents) arriving, other family arriving to stay with mother-in-law, my brother-in-law's short notice wedding (Sydney), Christmas, Lillian not well for the week of Christmas, then I had gastro.

January: Mum with gastro, husband with gastro. Purged unwanted toys, clothes, rubbish. It continues. Bought a new barbecue to replace the one that The Vandal destroyed on his rampage around our house in November. Husband turned 50 yesterday, we threw him a big party on Saturday and had 32 people in the house. Spent yesterday recovering, having quiet brunch and then napping in the afternoon.

My sister had her first baby on Friday 9 January - welcome to the world Grace Jacqueline Lenden Barnes. Now there's an aristocratic name, don't you think? She wasn't very willingly evicted but got out eventually to see the world and meet her stunned parents. I've seen photos but probably won't be able to go and squeeze her in person for a few months yet. *sob*

Despite having had the holidays, I am tired. Tired, very tired. I don't know if it was a good idea for us to stay home for the summer. We haven't had much warm weather yet although tomorrow is expected to be 31 degrees (C). We've had a house full of people, and small children and illness are always tiring. I still feel like I haven't had a holiday, even though I haven't been working or driving anywhere - don't know, really, just feeling oddly unsettled this evening.

Poor Lillian is all over the place with her sleep, both day and night. I feel like I'm doing it all wrong. Trying desperately to discourage her from waking at 5.30am, but when she does then she needs two day sleeps, but if she sleeps a little later she will only sleep once a day and it's hard to know when to put her down. Then she is yelling her head off every evening at bedtime, no matter how tired she is. I took her to the doctor today because she's been coughing at night and waking up a lot, and he says she has tracheo-bronchitis but should be better by the end of the week. *sigh*

So here we are in 2009. From 27 January I am back at work, just two half-days a week. I'm now head of composition, which is so exciting and terrifying at the same time. Many expectations, lots to do. We have a new Head of School - amen to that. I will still be doing some co-ordination for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's Australian Composers' School, which is in June this year. And there are a couple of commissions in the pre-discussion stages which look promising.

Alexander starts school on 5 February. I'm so excited for him. I want him to be as independent as he's ready to be, to leap into his learning, to grab life with the horns. I don't feel too many pangs about him being at school every day this year. He is growing up so fast and very ready to be a Prep boy. He loved Kinder, but he's particularly happy to be back in the same class with his best buddy, Oscar.

Vegie patch update. The tomatoes haven't done anything. I had one snowpea. Lots of radishes but we don't eat them, so I'm not quite sure why I planted them. No beans yet. The corn, zucchini, spring onions and cherry tomato plant are doing really well. I think those get more sun, so we'll see. Because I started so late (late Nov), I may have missed the boat with all of it but never mind, it was a good start and given that summer always comes late to Hobart I may still get some vegetables in the coming months. *sigh*

So, I'll press on. Hopefully a chance for some rest before going back to work in a couple of weeks. I need some space and time to myself just to think straight about anything. My head is spinning and I've been surrounded by people and things to do for just a wee bit too long. Time for bed. Night-night.