Thursday 15th October 2015 – Madame K

Madame K belongs in a French children’s book as angelic teacher and fairy godmother to the children. She speaks slow and articulate French, with an air of romance and gentle pride, that draws you into the language and her classical universe. Behind her rimless glasses her eyes shine wisdom and the mystery of a beautiful bygone era. None of us would question it if she procured from her leather briefcase a fabulous magic wand of ivory and gold.  Continue reading

C’est chaud

Nina is keeping me company this fine evening.

People ask me how I am getting on here. It has been a month and the initial jitters have disappeared. I am no longer terrified of finding the right ‘Amphi’ (l’amphithéâtre’ = lecture hall) in campus. I have made friendships from a range of different situations, on my corridor, meeting ERASMUS students, organised language tandem nights and classes. In lectures I can understand 50%, sometimes 70% of what the teacher is saying, which is often at such supersonic speed not even the French students can keep up, reassuring for me to some degree. But at least the lecturers I have this semester are decent oralists, all thoroughly engaging and rigorous. I record all of my classes and re-listen at home, which takes hours and is incredibly boring. Finally I am in France and I want to go out and meet the world but in fact I must do this in order to survive the year and enjoy any hope of passing my exams. Oh God.  Continue reading

Life in a Suitcase: Postcard from Trinidad and Tobago

I am in a place where it is difficult to distinguish between a party, a bus journey and breakfast time. Everything feels like a tropical nightclub, but without the excessive booze, lights and hormones. The music of the Caribbean is its very heartbeat, and through it I am finding a real joy of life. The rhythms travel through every cell of your body and command movement in your muscles and bones. All the songs I have heard have been in Major keys and have very energetic music videos – to non-musicians this means tunes that ‘sound happy’. Everybody is dancing, like carnival dancing, with manic hip rotations and inexplicable bumps and grinds. How can they do that with their bums? we ask ourselves everyday. The bum has a life of its own it seems.

The subject matter is often about dancing, partying, letting go, self-discovery and like all pop music much of it is about sex. But I feel like Caribbean songs take it one step in another direction, and not necessarily ‘further’ either. For example, in Trinidad there are a lot of words and phrases that are euphemisms for sexual things. One song that is on our bus playlist is about a ‘salt fish’. And we thought, how peculiar to devote an entire song to salt fish and to ‘soak it good’ and to ‘heat it up with some firewood’. Still, we danced along, had fun with the song.

You can imagine our horror when we discovered what it was actually about… I shall say no more!

The Trinidadians (or ‘Trinis’) adore their flavours and spices and we have tried two traditional favourites. ‘Bake and Shark’, a tender fillet of shark fried in breadcrumbs tucked into a fried bun, and a ‘Roti’, which is curry in a salt dough stretchy pancake with crumbled chickpeas in between the layers. The former can only be bought at Maraval beach, for sustainability reasons I think. One day I drank fresh watermelon juice, coconut juice, a homemade iced mocha and could have weeped because they were all so delicious.

Why am I here? I can’t even believe it myself. I am in Trinidad and Tobago for CONNECTT, a brand new, global musical alliance founded by conductor Kwame Ryan, a former member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. I am one of 15 Connecttees who come from the UK, USA, the Americas, Germany and France. I applied for CONNECTT through NYOGB as an Alumnus, and I am here with former NYOGB co-principal violist James! We are working with young musicians from Trinidad and Tobago and will perform orchestral and chamber music in and beyond the concert hall this week. Already we have played in the delightful Green Market in the Santa Cruz area.

It has been hard to find time to write about CONNECTT so far as every day has been spectacular and extremely busy. James and I haven’t even found time to Skype the NYO Office yet, given the lack of time and 5-hour time difference. But today must have a mention.


We visited Mahara National Park in East Trinidad and trekked through our first ever tropical rainforest. It rained, and beautifully it did. The fat drops of water made a soft, soothing thuds against the leaves. There were clusters of bamboo so thick and tall they keeled over the paths and blocked out the sun and rain. The rain softened the ground. Mud, glorious mud, all over us, mostly brown, sometimes golden yellow. The trail was hard and slippery, but we found a safe path through large stepping stones, logs and foot holes created by long, old tree roots in the ground.




At the end of the trail was a small waterfall, hidden in the cosy deep of the forest, and a very deep pool of crystal turquoise water. When it rained, the drops created little bubbles on the surface that disappeared the moment you tried to latch your attention. It was a sea of explosive little bubbles, like harmless fireworks sparkling on the water. We took off our soggy outer clothes and bathed like mermaids. You could even climb up to the top of the waterfall by holding onto a rope, and then jump off! To be here alone on such a beautiful day was extremely special and has undoubtedly changed our lives.


The walk back was muddier and wetter. I never wanted dry, clean feet so much in my life. With my trainers and socks I had to wade through knee deep water and land in murky puddles. I just didn’t care anymore and it felt great. Equally satisfying was throwing my shoes and socks in the bin afterwards.

GIVE ME MORE, TRINIDAD. Thankfully, still a week of paradise to go.

PS. Thank you Cornelius for the photos.

Trouble in Beijing

Date: 7th August 2015
Local time: unknown
Location: A380 Airbus

It all began when I woke up in my auntie’s flat to a rainstorm. The time was 17:05, and I had overslept thanks to my grandmother who thought it better to let me sleep than be back at the hotel in time. A week had passed since the orchestra touched down in China, and somehow it was time to go, even though nobody wished it. A fourth concert please, we begged in our sleep.

In auntie’s car we drove up and out of the car park, beeping people out of the entrance who were hiding from the rain. A little girl under a link umbrella shouted “It’s hailing, it’s hailing!” And so it was, my auntie whispered, bemused and confused. How sweet of her to warn us. Continue reading

Life in a Suitcase: Postcard from Shanghai

Date: August 2nd 2015
Location: en route in Shanghai
Local time: around 3PM

Shanghai looks like the city in the film Metropolis, made in 1927 by Fritz Lang. Robotic structures, ominous, glistening in the sun. Strange shapes, as if someone has scattered a box of different sized chunks of lego on the ground. It is a true metropolis. A new town towering on fresh stilettos, the sight of the skyline instils a terror and excited fear in my veins and gut. I feel like if I blinked the super storeys would collapse and regenerate into exquisite Megatron beasts, from Transformers, but very cool and sleek and streamlined. (Yes, I know Transformers is about cars but whatever.) The tallest building in Shanghai looks like a veil of silk blowing in the wind that has been captured in glass and steel. In Megatron form it would be very sexy indeed.

transformers movie 01 Continue reading

Life in a Suitcase: Scotland to China

Date: Thursday 30th July
Location: Dubai airport

Local time: 3AM

Leaving a lasting impression in Glasgow International Airport

We are in a place where one feels the mugginess of the air that aircon fails to disguise. Its like any large airport, but many details such as the wide cyclindrical columns, noticeboards and railings, look like they’ve been covered in tin foil, the shiny side facing outwards. Dubai boasts one of the largest airports in the world, but we enjoyed a brief layover and waiting time. There are artificial waterfalls in each terminal, which seemed impressive when spoken of, but less so in reality. The construct consisted of a vast, black board, standing almost 180 degress but not quite, to allow a thin veil of water to pour onto it. A few lights of varying colours shone, but nothing very special.

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Life in a Suitcase: Atlanta to Scotland

Time of writing: around 5am
Date: 25th July 2015
Reason for delay: Prep school WiFi makes WordPress go all funny. I posted this blog via email.

24 hours ago I was in a plane across the Atlantic ocean. In three hours I will be in transit to my next destination, Perth, Scotland, and three hours later I will be in a rehearsal room. The dizzying side effects of cross-continental travel bring to mind the scene of a jubilant ceilidh, with a live folk band and hundreds of people on the dance floor. The night is coming to a close, the people are drenched in sweat and bruises, though feel nothing for the current dance, Strip the Willow is numbing these sensations from their consciousness. There are spinning couples everywhere, accompanied by foot stomps and vigorous clapping, the kind that give you muscles aches and tender skin the next morning. You’re either watching people get dizzy or in vertigo yourself holding hands with your other half, desperate not to let your sweaty hands slip out of grip.

After 32 beats you are launched into the skies. Where to land? You see a man and grab his arm, only to be launched again into the clouds. Then you fall again into another spin, with a new man, who pulls your arm so fiercely your feet merely brush the floor. Some twirls seem to last forever, others whip you forward like a car passing on the motorway. You feel not only excited and exasperated, but your face wears an expression of constant disbelief and astonishment at the number of spins your own body is capable of enduring. But suddenly the body stops and the music keeps going. All that is moving of you is your own rapid breath. Filled with despair, having reached the bottom of the line, there is nothing you desire more than climbing back up and do it all again. But you know that it will be a year before that happens.

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Life in a Suitcase: Canada, VSOIW 2015

Greetings from Whistler, Canada!

I’ve just returned from a full orchestra rehearsal at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Institute, and have chosen to blog over another early night in my plush queen-size bed. The rehearsal ended at 10pm by the way, AND I still feel the pull of an 8-hour jet lag.


We are playing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (Ballet Suites) and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Here’s a photo from the VSOIW Instagram account – I’m the one sitting closest to the lens at desk 5, ‘suicide corner’, and I am loving it there. I feel like God and can see everything but without any tremendous powers.

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Friday 13th March 2015 – Being a bad student: music, music, music…


This is terrible. Still 2 weeks to go until Spring break, I already feel like I’m on vacation with only my indulgent interests at heart. If you think you have it bad, let me tell you a little story…  Continue reading