Tag Archives: violin

The Prodigal Violinist.

Last Sunday, I performed Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring at “MY violin concert”.

Before you start asking me for the details of my national tour, or how to order copies of Ms+e shar them in the comments. CD, in the interests of brutal honesty, I should confess that it wasn’t actually MY violin concert after all. Rather, I was performing at: “Music in the Orchard”, put on my the music school where I learn the violin. I know that’s just a minor distinction. A question of being in the fine print, instead of having my name up in lights, but a point needing clarification.

Anyway, as it turned out. I deserved to have my name my name up in lights,and that’s just for turning up. Ironically, playing my violin turned out to be the easy part.

You see, our household has a thieving poltergeist, and last Sunday morning it gave its best performance yet.

The nightmare started when my glasses went missing. Indeed, it hid my glasses  so well, that it took three people to find them. Every night, I put my glasses on top of the pile of books beside my bed. However, it’s not uncommon for me to send them flying during the night, but they usually land in the same old, predictable places i.e. down beside the bed or under the side table. However, this time they travelled further afield and had actually dived into my shoes. In an embarrassing moment of capitulation, I had to call my husband home from Church to find them.

The poltergeists next target was my daughter’s tap shoes. As no day is sacred in our end of year schedule and we’re double and triple booking and splitting the kids and ourselves up between us, my daughter had dance photos on the same day as my violin concert. While I’d really been looking forward to her hearing me play and being a part of my special day, I dropped her off at the dance studio as I headed up the hill. By this stage I was running late for my concert, but I figured that I wouldn’t be the opening act and would be well down the pecking order towards the end.

No such luck!

No sooner had I got there, and I was tuning up and praying to whoever it is who takes pity on mothers trying to pull off a performance while supporting their children and is lucky to be dressed at all, let alone made up. And, as for getting those fingers, strings and bow to cooperate, it was, going to take desperate prayer and serious pity. A case of the prodigal violinist… “I know you haven’t practiced enough, but I’ll help you play those strings and together we will make sweet music.”

As it turned out, I did have a guardian angel and that was my teacher, who was not just playing a duet alongside me. She was my accompaniest and a good accompaniest enhances the performer and compensates for their mistakes to make them look better. I knw she had my back, which gave me the confidence to get up on stage at all when I was only just adequately prepared.

So, let’s fast forward to my actual performance. I was playing Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. It is a fairly difficult piece, but it starts out relatively easy and gets more difficult as you go along. I usually managed it through the first page alright but struggle with the rest. Indeed, we had been looking at cutting out the middle section, but I really liked it and found it very dramatic so I bumped up the practice and went into prove it mode.

However, after all the stress of actually just getting to the venue and trying to find my bearings, I started stumling right from the start and my fingers weren’t getting into gear. There was part of me which was starting to feel my performance was doomed. That if I couldn’t even get the start right, I was really going to botch up the other bits. It was that same kind of dread which overtakes your stomach when you’re on a rollercoaster  and your peering straight down over the edge of the very earth. You are going to die! Yet, at the same time, there was also that awareness that the show had to go on. That I couldn’t give up. I just had to make it to the end.

Then, the strangest thing happened.

After stumbling at the start, I actually nailed the rest of the piece and it really did sound sensational as a duet.

I have a very patient and encourging teacher! A veritable angel!

Do you have any performance stories you’d like to share? Please share in the comments.

xx Rowena

 

 

Musical Reflections 1941…

In March 1941, while London was in the throws of “The Blitz”, my grandmother was performing in Newcastle, a regional city North of Sydney. She was a concert pianist and after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she returned to Australia in 1940 to tour with famed conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham…and no doubt to escape the bombs!

Fast forwarding to 2017, and I’m meticulously going through old newspapers online, transcribing text and pasting articles about her into word documents by year. It’s taken me years to come up with this approach for compiling all these bits and pieces, especially as filing isn’t exactly my forte.

An interesting aspect of my grandmother’s career, at least from the perspective of a storyteller, is that she lived through an extremely turbulent, yet fascinating, period of history. That included: the Great Depression, WWII, “women’s lib”  and also the Cold War when she actually performed behind the “Iron Curtain” in East Germany and Soviet Russia (the latter being quite an “interesting” thing for Grannie to do and she even brought back some Russian coins which was not allowed!!)

So, when I stumbled across this little discussion in the Newcastle paper about the conflict between classical music and Jazz, I thought of a few bloggers who’d find this interesting and I’ll be popping round to “your place” and dropping off a link. You never know when little historical snippets like this could come in handy:

So, here goes:

“WORDS CONTINUE, like pebbles, to be thrown into the stream of controversy that races between followers of jazz and the classics. One writer, who attempts an impartial summing up of the question suggests: “The highbrow’s error is to suppose himself a different creature from the low brow. He loathes himself if he is betrayed into humming a tune that all the world is singing or into tapping his feet in time with the band. And failing to recognise or contemptuously rejecting these instincts in himself he has nothing but scorn for their manifestation in other people. To him the lowbrow is the person who likes ‘that kind of music.’ How much better if we realised that there are occasions when we all like ‘that kind of music” when our superior faculties are enjoying a rest. “This problem must be giving the B.B.C. a headache in compiling its feature programme. ‘Music while you work,’ since obviously there must be some who would prefer to make a bullet or put an engine together to the accompaniment of a Beethoven sonata than to ‘Roll Out the Barrel.’ “Germany, if reports are true, is producing special music to aid the war effort. Soldiers now march to tunes which automatically control their breathing to enable them to go longer distances without becoming exhausted.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) , Friday 21 March 1941, page 18

This tension between classical and contemporary music, rings bells for me back at school, even in the 1980’s.

As if being a teenager wasn’t confusing enough, while the rest of the teenage universe was into  pop/rock/punk etc, my best friend was into classical and drew me under her spell. In retrospect, she was one of “those kids”. Their family only watched the ABC and she never ate junk food. Indeed, she didn’t even know what a Mars Bar was. That should have been a warning in itself, but your best friend is your best friend. Sink or swim, you do it together…even if you do die a social death.

So, if I could speak to my 13 year old self, I’d tell her that she should stand on her own two feet. That before you publicly declare you love classical music, remember you played Grease at your slumber party, which was anything but. Anyone who is your true friend, can accept a difference of opinion and give you the space and freedom to be yourself. You don’t have to be clones. Also, if you decide to go against the flow, make sure it’s for something you strongly believe in and that you’re prepared to cop the fallout. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

These are life lessons I’m now trying to pass onto my kids. Navigating your way through high school is a veritable minefield and hopefully they can learn from my mistakes and make different ones of their own.

Meanwhile, getting back to the tension between different styles of music, I’m sensing that this has eased up over the years and we enjoy much more of a smorgasbord of styles these days. That we can be wonderfully eclectic. Is that your take as well? I’d love to read your reflections.

xx Rowena

 

The Poet Muse…a mostly magnetic poem.

Gorgeous Goddess

sleeping,

delirious in a chocolate forest.

Mother moon whispers

sweet symphonies.

 

Your hair is a rose garden

and I swim in your beauty.

Who are you?

What is your song?

 

I hear your music

Yet, can not dance.

Awestruck,

An inner silence

fills my heart.

 

Intoxicated,

I stare at you

as still as a pond,

though my heart beats

faster than time’s

tick-tock clock accelerating

fast beyond my dreams.

 

I feel such love.

Yet, have no words.

Only rusty strings,

an imperfect bow

and half-forgotten notes.

 

So, I’ll let you sleep,

and you’ll remain a dream.

Nothing compares with make believe.

Rowena Curtin  23rd November, 2016.

Silent Strings…Friday Fictioneers.

The ecstasy was intense. She knew exactly how to play his strings and  the notes wafted out their bedroom window, mingling with the moonlight. A fusion of souls, together they painted stars across the universe…pure magic.

But then his eyes opened.

She was gone but his arms were wrapped around her cello’s wooden curves…a grief on the brink of madness.

He shoved the imposter back in the corner… a ghostly statue he would no longer embrace, but couldn’t throw away.

How could she be gone, now when he needed her most?

Yet, there was no reply.

Only silence.

………………………………………………………..

This has been part of Friday Fictioneers

xx Rowena

PHOTO PROMPT © Björn Rudberg

Weekend Coffee Share 15th October, 2016.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Let’s just forget it’s after dark and switch on the sun. Why let reality get in the way of painting a picture? While we’re at it, we can throw a rug on the grass and smell the roses. Our rose bush has burst into Spring quite literally and is covered all over with luscious red roses and a multitude of buds. Just going to show that a savage prune can be good for the soul. Mind you, personally I say go prune the rose bush and leave me alone.

How was your week? What did you get up to?

This week, I had a truly special moment when I received a Facebook message asking if I still had any of the sunflower seeds I’d received from the MH17 crash site in the Ukraine. This woman was related to the pilot and she was desperately searching for some seeds to plant in their new home. MH17 was the passenger plane shot down over the Ukraine2 years ago and these seeds were salvaged by the Sydney Morning Herald’s journalist Paul McGeogh and photographer. They brought the seeds back to Australia via quarantine where they were planted and this is generation 1.

If you would like to read about the sunflower seeds, click here

I was too anxious to plant the seeds last year. Actually, this wasn’t anxiety but more of a reality check because I am a serial plant killer and our front yard is currently littered with dead bodies following my most recent splurge. I always vow to change but my track record speaks for itself.

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

So, I packaged up 5 of the seeds and today we planted twelve in a seed planter at home and I’m hoping to plant the rest in the greenhouse at my son’s school. If you’ve ever read The Little Prince and you remember how the rose was kept safe under the glass dome, you’ll know exactly what I’m looking for. Obviously, I can’t bubble wrap the sunflowers but a greenhouse is pretty much the same thing. Hopefully, we’ll get plenty of seeds and future crops will be assured.

While I haven’t thinking about seeds, I’ve been doing more family history research. By the way, anybody who thinks this is dull and boring, hasn’t met my family. This bunch are on my Mum’s Mother’s side. There are a couple of different branches but they basically arrived from Germany during the 1860s. My research started out with my Great Great Great Aunty Rose who had a sophistocated hair and beauty salon in Brisbane which served the elite…including General MacArthur’s wife while he was stationed in Brisbane.

aunty-rose

Well, Aunty Rose was theatrical to say the least and she had a pet kookaburra “Johnny Boy” which she could get to laugh on command (not easy for a kookaburra apparently. I’ve never tried.) She also had a pet budgerigar called Romeo whose vocabulary was a very impressive 800-1000 words. While other women were knitting socks for the war effort, Aunty Rose organised fundraising concerts for the Red Cross featuring local entertainers and her birds. Aunty Rose, not unsurprisingly, was very in elocution and gave very dramatic renditions of poems. We actually have a recording of her performing on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder. She used to perform when my Mum’s family went round for a visit and apparently they found it very difficult to contain their laughter. Of course, these were the days when children were seen and not heard and they had to behave!!

Anyway, while researching Aunty Rose I stumbled across a startling little snippet. It turns out that her Uncle played the violin for Ashton’s Circus around 1870. This made quite a lot of sense. From there I strayed across another snippet about how members of the Wirth’s Circus band were bailed up by the notorious bushranger Captain Thunderbolt.

By this time, my creative juices are gushing like a fountain. Seriously, you couldn’t make up these characters.

So, as you can see, I’ve been well and truly spirited away from the real world this week and I’ve wandered off on yet another goat’s trail chasing the story. However, my stories are all very cold off the press. You could indeed say frozen but they’re so good that I have to perform CPR. Bring them back to life.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. I need to get to bed before the sun rises for real.

Hope you have a great week!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share and please click on the linky to enjoy beverages from right around the globe. .

xx Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share 27th August, 2016.

Welcome to another Weekend Coffee Share, brought to you this week from the Sydney Opera House, where our daughter played her violin this week. 10 year old Miss, performed at the  Festival of Instrumental Music with her school. This is such a great opportunity opening up this world-class architectural and performance icon to kids..a experience they’ll never forget.

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Sydney Opera House

Take it from me, it’s a lot harder to perform there as an adult. No one’s been banging on my door, offering performance opportunities. Of course, I have to be an absolute maestro to perform at the Opera House. That said, I did consider trying to sneak in with my daughter. The only trouble is that I’m so tall, I’d immediately be evicted and sent to violinists’ prison.

What goes without saying with all these performances and kids’ activities in general is that Mum or Dad are automatic taxi drivers. As much as we might rate a “thanks very much to Mum’s and Dad’s at the end, the kids themselves usually don’t seem to appreciate our “supreme sacrifice”. You can read here  about how we got to the Sydney Opera House.

However, I was very touched by an interview with one of the performers at the concert.  When a pint-sized student from Currabubula Public School near Tamworth, was asked how he got to the Opera House, he simply replied: “by my Mum.” While the interviewer was angling to find out more about his mode of transport and create a bit of a story of the country kid travelling to the big smoke, for this young man there was only one way to get to Sydney…his Mum and the car was incidental. His Mum drove him five hours, so he could play his recorder at the Sydney Opera House. No doubt, they talked and chatted along the way and there could well have been “electronic relief”. Yet, they made that journey to the Sydney Opera House together…a trip they’d never forget.

I could’ve hugged this young man. While he wasn’t acknowledging me personally, I felt he acknowledged every parent in the room.

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By the way, I should also mention that I had a novel experience getting to the Opera House myself. I usually request an accessible seat, especially in a large overwhelming venue and the Sydney Opera House is as famous for its stairs as the white sails. So, when the only accessible seat was a wheelchair seat and the Opera House could lend me a chair, I gave it a go. It was the first time that I’ve gone out to a public venue in a chair. It totally exceeded my expectations and the staff were incredibly courteous and helpful. I received five star VIP treatment and you can read about it here.

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Geoff and Miss at Starbucks, Circular Quay, near Sydney Opera House.

What with all the excitement of the performance, I almost forgot to share that I went to Starbucks for the first time. Our daughter adores Starbucks, which totally baffles me because I much prefer local cafes and there were some truly amazing dessert sensations at cafes all around Circular Quay and the standard is incredibly high. To me, the cakes at Starbucks were more like milk bar fare and our carrot cake was stale. We sent it back and changed it for a caramel swirl cheesecake which was marginally better than average and we stopped off at the Guylian Chocolate cafe and bought something special to take home. I’ve warned my daughter we will NOT be returning to Starbucks!

By the way, Starbucks hasn’t done well in Australia. You might like to read this article written in 2008 about it’s demise.

After the excitement of the Sydney Opera House, I spent much of the week resting and reading. I’ve started reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This is the first book in her autobiographical series and it’s a real eye-opener for me as a white Australian. Of course, I know racism exists but it’s quite another thing to read about how it acts out in such personal details and what the KKK lynchings meant to these families. Of course, I knew these things happened from a historical perspective but it’s quite another thing to be drawn into that world and know what it meant. That these were husbands, fathers, sons and like the road toll which loses much of it’s true impact, each person who’s life was stolen away was a travesty. I am grateful that Maya Angelou has taken me into this world and expanded my understanding without being bitter or turning to inverse racism. She is not well known in Australia and we’ve really been missing out.

Ballet Get-Your-Leg-Extension-Intro

Thursday night, I had my adult ballet class. This was week 3 and just like a Lego bricks, the steps are building up. Not quite as up in the air as in the picture, but give it time. I still haven’t pulled off a pirouette but I’m getting closer. A swag of new French terms is also slowly infiltrating my consciousness. Even though I studied French at school, many of these terms fly over my head like birds and disappear out the window. Thanks to Google, I’ve been trawling through a ballet dictionary to help them sink in and have also been interrogating my daughter, who holds our family pirouette record of 4 pirouettes in stockings on a vinyl floor.

Concert Hall

Main Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.

Before I head off for another week, I want to congratulate our son for enjoying his sister’s violin concert at the Sydney Opera House. He often ends up being audience at her various performances and attends without complaint, falling asleep and I feel it’s important to acknowledge the importance of audience, without which we wouldn’t be needing performers. He’s also been home sick a few days this week but seems to be on the mend.

How has your week been? I hope it’s been a good one.

Sorry, I almost forgot to let you know about Poets for Peace which is calling for contributions. Deadline is August 31st, 2016 and I encourage you to take part. Here’s a brief blurb:

“In response to the recent unceasing, and, in fact escalating global violence, we have seen and felt a corresponding surge in poetry about it.

We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to share your thoughts and feelings, a piece of yourself, to add to other Poets from around the world. We are hopeful that the combined weight of our collective spirit and wisdom will be felt worldwide as well.

The only restriction is that absolutely no hate is expressed other than the hate of violence. Any and all words will be appended to the running poem. This is not about ego, so you retain the rights to your creation, we are only interested in doing what we can to stop the violence.

Please share your poetry and your platform to spread the word for Poets everywhere to unite in this effort we are calling, “Poets for Peace.”Hashtag #PoetsForPeace

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster. You can click the Linky   to read the other posts.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wheely Good Night at the Sydney Opera House.

On Monday night, I not only watched our daughter perform at the Sydney Opera House, it was the first time I’ve gone out as a disabled person in a wheelchair and I can’t tell you how encouraged I feel by the experience. It truly opened doors for me, making it so much easier to relax, have a great night out and do what I was there for. That is, to hear my daughter play her violin without any unexpected medical nightmares… even if I couldn’t see her!

As a person with limited mobility, if all goes well, I can get around okay and usually use a walking stick in unfamiliar and crowded environments. I have what’s known as “an invisibility”, meaning that most of the time, you can’t see anything’s going on. However, these symptoms fluctuate dramatically so it can be hard to predict how I’ll be at a given point in time. Indeed, I was simply walking on grass when I broke my foot. Knowing that “being the hero” can have serious consequences, I’m understandably cautious about participating in seemingly everyday activities…such as getting to the Sydney Opera House. As such, I often end up staying home.

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However, there was no way I was going to miss our daughter playing her violin at the Sydney Opera House. No way on this earth!

However, if you have ever marvelled at the Sydney Opera House, you’ll note those stunning white sails are perched on top of a huge mountain of stairs. Of course, architecturally speaking, the effect is very dramatic.They’re also a photographer’s dream. I’ve seen intense portraits of lone performers sitting on those stairs with that same sense of abandonment you’d recall from Princess Diana’s portrait taken at the Taj Mahal.

As striking as these stairs might be, for anyone with mobility, health issues, or even a lack of fitness, those stairs are insurmountable. Although I can walk, I’d need an oxygen tank, not to mention a Sherpa, to help me get to the top. Even if I did miraculously make it to the summit, I’d be off in an ambulance and straight to the ER.

Opera House Steps

The Stairs…the dark side of getting to the Sydney opera House. A selfie on a good day.

Yet, while I’m prone to catastrophising, I knew I didn’t have to get up those stairs. That’s because public venues must have disabled access…even if it can be difficult to locate. When I attended School Spectacular at the Sydney Entertainment Centre last year, I was told to take the stairs, even though I was standing there with my walking stick. This particular person seemingly thought I could sprout a pair of wings and magically fly to my seat. Naturally, this meant that instead of having a good experience, I found myself defending accessibility rights when I wasn’t there as an activist. I was there to watch my daughter perform. Thankfully, someone else was more helpful.

After that, it’s hardly surprising that I want to sing my praises of Sydney Opera House staff right across the rooftops when everything went so well. We had VIP treatment all the way, and even the road lit up to greet us. What more could I ask?

I didn’t think about all of this when I booked myself in for a wheelchair seat. I always need an aisle seat and easy access in and out but get by with my walking stick and an accessible seat. However, these had sold out. The box office suggested this wheelchair spot, saying the Opera House could provide a wheelchair. I wasn’t entirely comfortable that I warranted a wheelchair. While I know people who use wheelchairs and can walk and how it enables them to do more, I’d never tried it out before. If I wasn’t doing well, I stayed home.

So, our trip to the Opera House, would also give us the opportunity to test out how a wheelchair went in public situations without having to BYO.

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Driving in to park at the Sydney Opera House

Our experience began with booking an accessible parking spot at the Opera House. It wasn’t free but it meant we could park right out the front with very little walking required. What it also meant was that we received the VIP treatment. We drove along Macquarie Street to the security gate, where the road was blocked off by a row of very sturdy metal bollards. As you could imagine, security is very tight. No more of this “G’day mate, it’s Fred” business. We had to show my disabled parking permit and my receipt to get through the gate. Then, like magic, the bollards electronically sunk into the ground and a row of recessed lights turned on. This was our road to the Opera House. By now, I was in my virtual limo pulling out the royal wave. It’s about time somebody treated mobility challenged people as VIPs, instead of outcasts!

After detouring for dinner, we returned to pick up the wheelchair and begin the journey to find our seats. The performance was in the Main Concert Hall and side-wheeling a gazillion stairs, we were personally escorted by staff along corridors, though multiple lifts via the bathroom. Once we’d finally reached our seats, we were greeted by a staff member asking: “You’re Rowena?”

Every single member of staff was courteous, friendly and respectful. I can’t tell you how that made me feel. It’s warmed my heart right to the core…a night we will never forget. Not just because our daughter was playing her violin at the Sydney Opera House, but because we were given the touch of human kindness, acceptance and understanding without it being a chore, something noble or even being “special”.

It just was.

Just like it ought to be!

What more could I ask for?!!

Concert Hall

Well, there was the small matter of needing someone to push my wheelchair. I don’t have the muscle strength to push my own chair. Not unsurprisingly, my husband was the wind beneath my wheels. Geoff’s Mum was in a wheelchair, so he has had experience. This is a good thing because wheelchairs can be notoriously difficult to operate, not unlike recalcitrant shopping trolleys with minds and travel destinations all of their own. Indeed, turning back the clock, Geoff’s mother fell out of the wheelchair when they went round a corner at Brisbane’s Expo88. I think he lost his licence after that and was put on a good behaviour bond!

Anyway, he got his licence back again last night…especially working with a difficult passenger who kept putting her foot on the wheels…not to mention bathroom stops up and down the lifts.

There was just one bit of explaining. We’d met a few other performing families during the day when I was walking round seemingly okay with the stick. Now, I was suddenly in a wheelchair. One lot had only seen us 5 minutes beforehand and thought I’d had an accident. They were all very understanding and had no dramas that I could walk and use a wheelchair all in one day.

Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of the world could be so understanding? Yet, you could say it was a Eureka Moment finally reaching that understanding myself after living with dermatomyositis for the last 10 years and struggling with the whole concept of using equipment!

I don’t know if there’s some quote about it being easy to change the whole world but more difficult to change yourself. If there isn’t, there should be and that’s where real change begins!

So perhaps you’ll be seeing more of me in wheels. Not because I’m getting worse but because I’m getting better.

Have you ever ventured out in a wheelchair or similar and how did it go? What sort of accessibility problems have you had or moments like mine where it all went well? Please share.

xx Rowena