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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Reading week: Hemingway, Burlesque, Halloween, Food

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My neck and legs are in agony and it’s all my fault. I can’t even look down at a book without flexing and feeling a sharp twang behind my head. Did I sleep funny?

Oh yes, I do remember. It was the hair-throwing head spins, one slow and two high-speed rotations in the routine. How many times we did the routine, I haven’t a clue. A dozen times maybe.

For all my life, ahem in the context of orchestral warm-ups, I’ve been advised to never tip your head ‘too far back’, but ‘just enough to see the ceiling’. Last night I went so far back I could have thrown my head out the window and into London Bridge station. Who’d have thought that a burlesque class could put such strain on the human body? Continue reading

First year is over: FREEDOM FOR FOUR MONTHS

I have been released.

How to describe the moment I left the exam hall? It’s a mixture of the following two clips.

Watch from the beginning of the clip to experience the journey of this year.
Then skip to 1:37 if you get bored of it.

Watch from 1:40:25


No more late nights at the library, unhealthy diets and panic attacks.

No more irritating people in the silent library zones. One of them was oblivious to the fact that his nose made a wheezy sound whenever he inhaled and exhaled.


No more sights of people studying hardcore. The diagrams, textbooks and glum faces gave me one too many nervous pangs.



I’m not sure how to continue this post.

It’s been a while since I did anything human.

I’ve been living in a cave.

A little bit like Howl’s room:

But less dreamy and romantic.

Add a few dusty surfaces, smelly shoes and discarded plates – an overflowing laundry basket on the side.

A tower of books on my floor. A suitcase from a month ago.

I haven’t even touched my violin since NYO.

The muscles won’t know which way to push and pull.

The hands will ache during the first few practice sessions, but it will be okay.

I can have violin lessons again too.

My first rehearsal of the summer is on Tuesday evening. So many concerts to come, never mind a tour to Belgium. We even have t-shirts and stickers.

I can start on KCL Bar Society stuff. Updating the website, thinking up new pieces for the newsletter. I can contact a few lawyers and arrange some meetings.

I can plan my summer! I have so many things I want to do.

I want to read literature again.

I want to find a summer job for a bit, maybe.

I want to start watching French films and restart my mission to learn more Chinese.

I want to swim.

I wanna go back home to Edinburgh for a bit.

Meanwhile moving into a new house for next year!

I have a huge backlog of social activity to catch up on. I’m referring to the negative space during exam time, and also from over the entire year.

The fact that I can count the number of times I’ve been out with my fingers.

My, my.

Today, my first free day, I did some first-timers.

I had a coffee made from a Moka Pot for the first time.

I visited my first London cemetery – Highgate Cemetery – which hosts Karl Marx’s tombstone and other charming sights.

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My phone died by the time we came face to face with Marx himself. Here’s a Wiki image of his resting place for your interest.

Less effective in this image is the darkness which he casts with his eyes. Each eyeball must be the size of a grapefruit, which allows plenty of room for white, iris and pupil. The eyes are alive. Even the natural moisture (eye juice) is carved in.

I also had my first Magnum ice cream for the year.

I am very overwhelmed by everything. And so very, very tired.

Gonna go now. I’ll write something more substantial later.

Ciao x

Nice Reading Week. Nice.

Date: 23/02/14

Time: 14:35

I’m typing this blog post in transit on the Northern Line. In my bag I have a Criminal Law textbook. There are three hefty chapters to read for tomorrow’s tutorial but I’m not really feeling the vibe for academic reading on this train. Maybe in three stops when I change to Victoria the opposite will happen. After all the Victoria is the most inspiring and joyous of all London transport routes.

My second reading week of year 1 is coming to a close. I’m feeling good about what I’ve done and have much to share.

– I played Scheherazade last Sunday eve with King’s College London Symphony Orchestra.

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– I went to my Yoga and Mindfulness class.

– I studied law. Footnotes dominating every page of this article.

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– I went to an open day at Norton Rose Fulbright, one of the top global law firms in the world. Did you know that all new trainees undergo a medical procedure before they start work? The distance between you and your computer screen is measured, they give you a special seat if you have bad back problems and likewise with keyboards and mouses. Winner. Absolute winner for me. Also the office is situated beside Boris Johnson’s digs and has a view of the Thames.

– London Fashion Week was on next door to King’s. I received a free bottle of coconut juice (with orange flavouring) in passing, but other than that the event was a nuisance! Try getting to the library when the pavement is blocked by people dressed like… No, I dare not insult the fashionably intelligent. But they were just dwindling around the entrance with arms hung like limp chimpanzees and expressionless faces. All I’ll say is this: the stylists and bloggers look normal in the context of a fashion magazine, but ridiculous amongst the normal dressed folk.

– I went swimming and swam two length short of 60 because the swim team kicked everyone out the pool. I fumed because I didn’t reach the next ten.

– I performed in the University of London Symphony Orchestra last night. Again I was ladled the task of printing concert programmes. It was worse this time; I was printing them 45mins before the concert began and so went on stage with an empty stomach! But some fellow violinist friends donated a pain au chocolat, a hot cross bun and a ham and cheese sandwich in the interval. It turned out to be a great night nonetheless, for many other reasons too which I shall not disclose right now.

– I’ve started wearing my hair in a ponytail.

– I attended the KCL Annual European Law Conference.

– My application to study abroad was successful and I was selected to study at Strasbourg University in my third year.

– I dropped my phone on concrete.

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A nice packed week coming up. Never a dull moment! I take inspiration from my friend’s words:

I refuse to live a dull life! I don’t want my tiredness to stop me from doing things.

(But within reason.)

An account from a Leaf (Leaf) on the passing of summer…

If you were in my neighbourhood in Atlanta you’d think it was still summer.

The sun is still out, not that often, but enough to tan me as I jog in and out of the shady trees in the local park and to bring out its coniferous aromas. In my room the air conditioning keeps me cool; the occasional ice-cream is a supplement.

But the leaves are indeed falling. It’s one of the many things I’ve been observing while I’m out doing regular exercise – for once, ha! Every few days, every other day, depending on my definition of ‘regular’ when I wake up in the morning, I’ve had the chance to see the effects of seasons changing. The gardeners have taken out the leaf-blowers, don’t know what they’re really called, to clear the path of brown, crispy curls. The landing rate has increased gradually; one leaf falling during a lap round the park has grown into several from a single tree.

“Well, duh in Autumn they die and by winter trees are naked. What is so special about that?”

For a while I’ve called summer ‘My Season’. In many respects it does, whether you like it or not, belong to me. And here’s why:

  • I was a summer baby born July 11th on a hot summer’s day. In London it was reported to have been a high of 41.C
  • During wintertime, many take pleasure in wearing chunky garments, wrapping up warm, putting on wellies and all that stuff. I am not a fan. So much effort put into every morning’s wardrobe picks only leaving me looking like a babushka. If I’m honest, I feel and look much better in summer clothes, which proves that I must have been created for summer only.

I thought these were the only two reasons which justified my strong attachment to the middle months of the year. But today I discovered another one! I can’t I never noticed this until now!

The new evidence I share with you right this moment.

I’ve been called many different names throughout my life. Once I even wrote about my awkward meet-and-greet experiences – it’s something I feel increasingly apprehensive about as I grow up – but I don’t think I’ve ever explained the origin of my name. Over the summer a few of my friends learned of its meaning and used it frequently as a replacement for my normal one – YeYe, if you didn’t know already. As a result the nickname was embedded quite deeply in my brain and was thus accepted into my daily thought processes.

In solitude I become very reflective. (Great, now you know when I’m lonely by keeping track of how often I write blog posts.) Sometimes I rewind my memories and play them back to myself:

Your name; is it Chinese? Yes.

What does it mean? Leaf Leaf; one ‘Ye’ translates to ‘leaf’.


Do you you see it now?! Don’t tell me you don’t.

Yes; you do!

Leaves grow and thrive in Spring and Summer, and they die during Autumn and Winter! I rise and fall with them. Oh my goodness. 

That the summer season and I are physically, emotionally in tune with one another is now an absolute fact. It creeps me out that I speak of this connection like a romantic and human relationship, but I can’t find a better way to illustrate my point.

Take a moment for this revelation to sink in. Don’t worry, it took me a while as well.


Last mention of bugs, I promise: Torrential rain the previous day brings out the spiders and their metre-long webs to catch the influx of insects. They’ve been hiding from last night’s weather. I seem to been on a flowery, William Wordsworth, hipster orbit right now. Get me out of here please. I’m supposed to be a realistic and rational person. I’m studying law in less than a fortnight, ARGH!

August 21st 2013 – Adventures to the mall and movie theatre!

This past week I’ve been on my laptop the whole time writing, receiving and forwarding emails to the four corners of the world. Of course having such a device is indeed a luxury for anyone. But as my only method of communication, I am growing tired of its use, and therefore kind of deluded.

University this, that, loan, rent, budget,  sending copies to Mum, Dad, and emailing far too many student societies asking to be part of them. Oh my god save my eyeballs from imploding! All made worse by the fact I’ll probably be using eBooks as study material for the next few years, I’ll be glued to this machine 24/7, and that frightens me.

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Not sure how the duo-spectacles thing is going to work out in the long term. Might have to invest in a pair of clip-on shades to fix onto my glasses, like the ones my Dad uses. He looks questionably cool…

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Oh no! NYO 2013 is over!

Wait, what, where, how, why?! Really? Has it come to an end?


The NYO Prom happened last Sunday. A culmination of a year’s work; the highlight on our calendars. They say our concert was the first ever to be completely free to the public, tickets, programmes and all. Even I failed to grab hold of extra tickets. After only 8 minutes, they were completely sold out. On top of that, it was celebrating bicentenary of the Royal Philharmonic Society, offering a world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “Frieze”, and NYO’s first go at Beethoven 9.
– “Simply unmissable” – as one Irish newspaper put it.

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Photo courtesy of BBC Proms: “Ode to joy, ode to joy, ode to joy, ode to joy!”
Yes, those are the words to the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, as declared by certain members of the NYO.

Strangely, I was not feeling very nervous about playing the notes live on Radio 3 (filmed for TV broadcast next month). There was another matter which occupied my mind: my new concert dress. I had been pretty adventurous in my choice of performance outfits overall, pushing the boundaries further and further in each successive concert.

This one, however, was my most daring yet. Not because it was short, or big; but because it was excessively, spectacularly, sparkly. Endearing as it sounds, I feared it would attract unwanted attention and make me stick out, like a naive girl who tries too hard to attract people at primary school Christmas discos.

As we made our way onto the stage at 7:30pm, I was still questioning the appropriateness of my attire.
“Jacob, are you sure it’s fine? It’s so sparkly, arghhhh…” Soon I forgot about trivial things, and found myself heavily engrossed in the music.

Oh my god, it was so amazing…

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NYO Week 1: “I’m not tired and never will be!”

Okay, I have a question for all of you, especially the NYO folk.

When you ask someone,

“Hey! How are you?”

…how many times, I repeat, how many times have you received this reply?

“I’m good thanks… Tired though.”

Yes, you’ve heard it before, the typical unimaginative answer so often uttered by an orchestral musician.

Nobody has been the exception to this yet. Not one person in this orchestra. I am determined, however, to avoid using this phrase and construct spectacular alternatives every time. Please, let’s inject some positive energy, as they say here. We haven’t even reached the end of the residency yet.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of week 1. Enjoy.


Sectionals finished yesterday morning, and we said goodbye to our incredible tutor, Kyra Humphreys.

We will miss hearing the barking dogs outside the building and the deafening rain against the windows that swamped our pianissimo playing.

I love our section; we work so well together. Our productivity seems to have improved greatly as we were even making progress by Day 2:

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N.B. This photo does not reflect the quality of Natalie’s playing at all. Gi was just tired.
(See what I’m getting at?! Tired!)

Mealtimes have been a joyous occasion.

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I’ve been mauled by a Scottish Big Bear many times:

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Break times are well spent, on playing our own instruments…

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After a few days, we were reduced from our full string sectional format (violins + violas + cellos + basses) to smaller ‘octet’ style ensembles, which enabled us to become more aware of interweaving textures in the music and communicate with players seated further away. Desks from the front were grouped with those from the middle and back of other sections. My group was aptly named Lions – such ferocious players, we must be.

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From 10am – 1pm today, we had our first rehearsal with NYO Principal Conductor, Vasily Petrenko. We thought we were working hard already, and then he arrived only to make us play spikier, shorter, and prettier, like in this movement.

Everybody also took part in the community projects for the Derry City of Culture celebrations. The majority were involved in Play at Our Place and Inspire Day. Play at Our Place consisted of NYO members working with young musicians to create a mini-concert in the young musicians’ living rooms.

Inspire Day, the activity I did, similarly invites local young musicians to work with NYO members side-by-side, but in a full orchestral setting. On this occasion we were lucky enough to be conducted by Vasily as well! (I need to start writing about/editing material from today… Eeeek.)

My friends take a well-deserved flop on the mats after a crazy day:

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And then we all went a-bowling…

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Borrowed from friend's Twitter

Photo taken from a friend’s Twitter

…and walked to the river, eating MacDonald’s fries as the rain began to pour down.

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Tomorrow: a lie-in, and also the arrival of the choirs! Waah!

“Let’s run through all of Beethoven 9!”

Hello from Derry! NYO played through Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the first time in its history – how cool is that?

When news spread that we were going to run through the symphony in its entirety – sans chorus and soloists – faces gasped and gawped, mouths agape, eyes wider still, and heads turned left and right to meet the gazes of their friends who were in the same disbelief. Could they really do that to us?

I was equally astonished, but secretly, deep, deep within my strange mind, the idea of playing through thousands of notes – well, trying to at least – which put together created arguably the single most epic piece of music ever written couldn’t have made me happier. Note-bashing, as they say, is not a favourable way to approach music, especially in an orchestral context.

But I love it! It’s like sight-reading chamber music: absolute freedom. And anyway, we need to have an overview of the whole work. When better to run it all than Day 1? Continue reading

Back in London: NYOGB meets NYOUSA

Yesterday, several NYO members had the great pleasure of meeting our sister orchestra – the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America! We were invited to watch the rehearsal for their Prom, which took place that evening, and then to lunch.

Us Brits would say we had a very lovely day. Americans apparently prefer to use the word:


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