Tag: music

Hear us Roar – Right Not a Fight

If you have been following my musings for quite some time you may remember that I had the pleasure of attending the Natspec Student Conference way back in December.

Since then Natspec’s campaign to give choice to young disabled people in education has grown into a rather stunning campaign called ‘Right Not a Fight’.

The title (of course) is referring to the battle which many young people have to go through before they can gain funding to get into specialist colleges. I loved the december conference and I was honoured to be a part of the group which coined the phrase ‘Right not a fight’. On tuesday I headed out with a group of students from my college to the capital to take part in a protest with Natspec outside parliament.

The day started bright and early and myself and friend T found ourselves to be the only two students to travel the four hour journey in the car rather than the minibus with the others. The minibus goers bided us farewell and began the journey, while staff member and driver K was still contemplating where on earth we were going to put the umpteen lunch bags we had been left to transport. Encased in egg sandwiches with a distinct absence of cool bags on one of the hottest days of the year, we were off.

Within college, marketing is somewhat a mystical department. We see very little of the staff there apart from when they appear at college events to snap a few photos. With only a vague idea of where they actually worked on the campus it was really nice to get to know K and L. We had some crackers of conversations on the long drive down including; comedy nose breaking, mockery of Nick Clegg’s tweet announcing his love for apple crumble and a lot of staff/student myth busting.

It’s relatively rare that staff find themselves trapped in a vauxhall with a dog, two students and many heat festering sandwiches so K and L appeared to use it as a student/staff ice breaking exercise. As the hours ticked by myself and T kept a close eye on a very suspicious looking cheese and pickle sandwich that in the heat appeared to be haemorrhaging chutney- it was our version of a barometer throughout the day.

On arriving in London and being presented with our ‘Right not a Fight’ t-shirts we went in search of a cafe and a toilet. To get accessible facilities we ended up going through airport-like security to use the ones in the House of Commons. We felt very privileged, and in the Foyer I met a group of small children who asked me if Noodle the Guide Dog was an MP. “Yes she is” – I replied with a smile. Apologies to the parents who likely later had to explain to their child that dogs, bow-tie wearing or not, cannot be members of parliament.

We were meeting on Old Palace Yard, Westminster and though we were strictly prohibited from using ‘Noise Producing Objects’ myself and T decided to take the risk and bring out our ukulele and Guitar. If I was to be asked previously what I thought the first time I performed in public would be like, I would have never have guessed it would be singing ‘Roar’ along to my ukulele in front of the House of Commons. Several MPs popped over the road to see us, and now that the noise rule had been well and truly demolished the group began to chant too. Other colleges who are members of Natspec were there also and it was lovely to catch up with people from the December conference and meet new friends too. My personal highlight of the day had to be meeting a charming young man called L who I communicated with through Makaton. I have been learning makaton since september, but this was the first time I had used it in real life. He was lovely and even told me about his pet cat.

Many photos, videos, chants and renditions of ‘Roar’ later we were back on the road. It did feel like we had been travelling for an awfully long time for just an hour and a half protest, but it was completely worth it. On the way back myself and T reflected on what our college has done for us, and how close the campaign is to our hearts. L and K joked that they should have had a dictaphone running to take quotes from us. Overall it was a fantastic day and I of course will be supporting Natpsec 100% as this campaign flourishes.

Myself and T playing our instruments and singing  The campaign group of all the students from different colleges and the staff

The Smell of Coffee in The Silent Cacophony- What Makes a Good Music Teacher?

I have been learning the mandolin since christmas 2012. For those of you who don’t know what the mandolin is, its an instrument which is strummed like a guitar, about the size of a ukulele, tuned the same as a violin and with two strings per note. It is the first instrument I have ever actively enjoyed playing and I have now reached the point where I feel semi-competent in making bearable sounds from it (I can change chords and strum at the same time… just).

This success is largely thanks to my brilliant mandolin teachers of the past and present- both of whom happen to be called *Trevor and both predominantly use the nickname *Trev. The similarities don’t stop there as both have hefty facial hair of some kind, the ability to play the ukulele and spend vast amounts of time in rooms filled with musical instruments. All of which they are able to play- of course. Trev number one, a folk musician who lives near the sea, appears to have converted his front room into a musical man cave. Guitars hang from the walls like trophies and the occasional bell or kazoo is perched on one of the many music stands cast around the edges of the room. On top of his piano lives an impressive collection of trilby hats which seem to all possess different personas which he chooses carefully from before heading out to a gig. I only had a few sessions with Trev One, but he did a lot of work with me on how to sing and play simultaneously which I am very grateful for.

Trev number two teaches in a music school above a shop which sells cheap-but-cheerful brightly coloured guitars. In his room he has narrowed his collection down to just a few instruments of choice, some preserved in expensive looking cases like coffins whilst others sit perched on stands welcoming students in. Before moving away to college, and away from Trev number one, I’d had no idea how hard mandolin teachers are to come by. In fact it took nearly a term to find Trev number two. However since our first session, we have met up nearly every wednesday to learn chords and songs.

It has not always been the case that I have had brilliant music teachers- in fact previously I presumed that hating children was a necessary attribute of being in the school’s music service. I met my first ever music teacher when I was around seven years old: she was an ageing woman who wore a lot of hand knitted jumpers. Every thursday morning she attempted to teach myself and a small group of other girls the violin within the confines of the echoey school hall. I had signed up for violin lessons having never held the instrument before, and mistaking its sound for that of the cello. I soon discovered that the shrieking wooden devil was not for me. Plus our teacher appeared to be on a personal mission to find us the most embarrassing and childish songs to perform in front of school assemblies. After much pleading to my parents I was finally allowed to give my violin and makeshift sponge and rubber-band shoulder rest back to the council.

My next teacher was a lady called Mrs H, who was a plumpish woman with angry red cheeks. This could have possibly been caused by her spending all her working day either playing the clarinet or shouting at her students. I had gone to her with the intention of learning the flute, but after being told that I had a ‘clarinet mouth’ I was lumbered with the instrument until I finally left primary school. I hated the noise that it made and the way the texture of the reed on my lips made me shudder. Telling her I wanted to quit has to be one of the bravest moments of my school career, and though at first she appeared angry she didn’t start a vendetta against me as I had feared she might. In fact, she disappeared completely and I didn’t see her again.

It is these experiences of instrument learning which make me so grateful for the two Trevs. My current Trev is the inspiration for this blog. Last week I went to the music school for my usual wednesday afternoon lesson, mandolin in hand. When I entered his teaching room, which smells strongly of coffee and wooden instruments in their silent cacophony, I suddenly had something very different on my mind.

“Trev… would you possibly mind showing me a guitar?” I asked. I have only held acoustic guitars a few times before, their size has always been slightly intimidating compared to my mandolin and I distinctly remember breaking one’s strings in secondary school. Trev however was more than obliging, and we went on to spend the whole half an hour session looking at all the different types of guitar. He let me hold and explore each one- classical, acoustic, electroacoustic and just electric and did his best to explain the differences between them. I asked a lot of questions, all of which started with “It’s a silly question but…”, however that was ok because all of his detailed answers began with: “There is no such thing as a silly question but…”. He taught me a few basic chords and has agreed to do some lessons with me on the guitar, because I would love to be able to play a bit and apparently it is a lot less fiddly than the mandolin.

The experience reminded me that the best teachers are the ones who don’t just teach you the notes, vocabulary and rhythms. The best teachers are the ones that install in you the passion that they have for music. Even if it is not the instrument you are supposed to be learning, a different piece to the one you have been working on for weeks or just you wanting to chat about music in general- enthusiasm is the most valuable thing a student can gain from their teacher. Once you have that passion for music or a paticular instrument the notes and chords tend to fall into place because you have the motivation to practice until you get it right. That passion is the thing that makes you want to play your instrument to gain calm after a hard day, or makes you listen more carefully to songs to find ‘that chord’. It is the passing on of this enthusiasm which I think makes a really exceptional teacher.


Me holding the mandolin



(*Trev is a pseudonym for both mandolin teachers, however they do both share the same name.)

We Scuffled in Skiffle and Survived.

On thursday night my friends and I went to a concert at the local theatre. This was a brave decision on their part considering one of them hates anything to do with theatre and the other is a big fan of ‘EDM’ (Electronic Dance Music). To me on the other hand, a theatre visit is the ultimate definition of a good night out and ‘EDM’ is what you get when someone leaves the ‘A’ out of Edam. This is why I was very surprised when they came with a group of friends and I to a skiffle music concert…

The tickets had been booked before christmas by our enthusiastic key worker at college. A small group of us had shown interest in going to see something at the local theatre, and she spent a happy hour with us in the common room putting stars next to potentially good acts. ‘The London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra’ won the vote on which event we were going to buy tickets for and everyone was looking forward to it. The programme promised vibrant mandolin music and (as a mandolinist in training myself) I was very excited for the opportunity to hear the instrument being played properly for once!

By the time it came to going to the concert the group had completely evolved from our original gathering of programme circlers. People had dropped in and out and to my surprise the group now included my EDM listening friend J, who admitted that he had been heavily persuaded by our key worker to come along. On the day of the gig, when faced with a psychology night class, my friend P quickly joined the group also; casting aside all previous hatred of theatre based activities. Both J and P were fairly nervous about the gig and as they tentatively shuffled into skiffle they gave me looks of “Oh what have you brought us to…”.

As we entered the auditorium I was informed that Lai would probably bark during the performance because of the high pitch of some of the music. I was slightly apprehensive because even though the venue would be expecting this it is still embarrassing to have a barking dog next to you. As soon as we stepped into the theatre we were jumped on by the stewards and the theatre manager who had reserved spaces for our group at the front of the tiered seating stand. I came around the corner and was immediately told that they were going to put a seat below the rest of our group (on the same level as the stage) for me and my dog.

“But I’d really rather not sit by myself.” I calmly protested.

“But the seating is raised. We can move a chair so you can sit with a friend.” the lady replied.

“It’s no problem, she has been on raised seating before.” I added whilst gesturing to my guide dog- who at the time was putting on an exemplary pair of puppy-dog eyes.

“But it’s carpeted… And there’s also fire safety to think of”. My face was now a perfect model of someone who was not impressed. She evidently knew she had made a mistake with the carpet comment, especially when I called for my key worker to come and back me up. Safe to say I managed to get a seat with my friends, although I was consistently reminded that Lai must not be anywhere near the aisle. Being my guide dog, and a very sassy one too at times, Lai took great pleasure in daringly throwing her tail into the aisle from time to time during the performance.

The music started with a lively number in which we learnt the names of each member of the group. Mike, Martyn, Captain Cabbage and Ron were lively mature men wearing brightly coloured clothes and large wigs. Their first piece, a chant, had P turning round and giving me raised eyebrows and a look which clearly said ‘What on earth?!”.

The music quickly moved on to a catchy song which involved the chorus ‘Buy, buy, buy viagra!’. This had all of our group uncontrollably snorting with laughter. There were so many brilliant pieces in the set with vocals that had the audience grinning from ear to ear. Collectively they can play an overwhelming amount of instruments: violin, banjo, harmonica, ukelele, mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, knee trumpets, washboards, suitcases, trumpet, saw, accordion, double bass, sousaphone, bagpipes and spoons! We saw a lot of these instruments during the set and seeing someone play an industrial saw with a violin bow was certainly an experience I won’t forget! I was very proud because Lai stayed silent throughout it all.

The music was fun and bouncy, making us all want to dance and sing. Wrapped in it were such good feelings of happiness, whit and good humour- it was infectious. As we arrived back at college and were signing ourselves in for the night we were still rowdily running through the catchiest of the night’s choruses together. It was a fantastic experience and I have certainly now earned the musical respect of my friends. Lai is now considering learning to play the spoons professionally and I am aiming to be able to play the mandolin to at least half the ability of Martyn Oram.

Overall it was an amazing night.