Orchestra rehearsal: awesome band and a touch of greatness

In this week’s orchestra rehearsal for the Queensland Music Festival “Under This Sky” event we were joined by music heavyweights.

Some real cool dudes were set up behind us. They were the house band – a Samoan funk band called Bass 6. Their keyboard player ran off those jazzy 11ths and 13ths, on a really bright-sounding, digital piano. They were warming up, it sounded great and I was now distracted. I didn’t want to play, I wanted to watch them. The keyboard player was Sam Tuuga, who arranged several of our songs.

Topping that, music royalty was in the house. QMF Artistic Director James Morrison was sitting with producer Tara Hobbs, along with Choral Director Cath Mundy and Creative Director Sean Mee.

No pressure then.

We collected our new music and Conductor Shaun Dorney waved his baton and cued us in.

Well, he cued some of us in. The MELODICA section had to wait 49 bars.

49 frigging bars.

As they say here, far out.

I counted diligently, while a battle raged in my mind. It went like this:

Me, the blogger: Hey, hey, hey… James Morrison is standing up right in front of us, with his trumpet! Where’s my phone? Must get a photo.

Me, the musician: Forget it. Just concentrate. We are on BAR NINE (2-3-4), TEN (2-3-4), ELEVEN…

Blogger: But he’s playing NOW!

Musician: Yep. I’m hearing James Morrison playing live, and it’s sunshine piercing the clouds. He lifts his horn and fills the air with the sweetest, prettiest, happiest notes. Magical, musical stardust is raining on us. I’m in the moment, my mind is blank but for the music.

Bugger.

What bar is this?

Blogger: Ah well. We’ve stuffed that up. Get a photo then.

QMF Artistic Director James Morrison and Conductor Shaun Dorney
QMF Artistic Director James Morrison and Conductor Shaun Dorney

Elsewhere, Nathan, a clarinetist, asked politely what I called “that instrument”.

This happens a lot. At the Sunnybank Theatre Group, someone in the cast said, “Oh it’s a mouth-piano!” I thought that was a pretty good name.

Back to Nathan, we chatted a bit and he said he recently took his AMEB Grade 5 exam, and just got the result – Honours! Well done, guy.

Nathan the clarinetist
Nathan the clarinetist

Finally James, a flautist, asked if I wanted any videos of the orchestra for the blog. Are people nice or what? It must be the music that does it. More about the flautists soon.

Melodica: Jammin’ in da orchestra

It’s the second rehearsal of the Logan Orchestra, which performs Aug 1-2 as part of this year’s Queensland Music Festival (QMF).

We have a new location: Old Logan Village Road, Waterford. So I pray to Google Maps and off we go.

Lovely Isabel was there, waiting for us with new music, here she is.

Isabel Hart, QMF Project Co-Ordinator
Isabel Hart, QMF Project Co-Ordinator

Looking at the music, Melodica has chords and…a reggae beat! Aw, look at that! Bars and bars of it. Today we are groovin’

Jammin Melodica by PicSay

I managed to keep count when I wasn’t playing, most of the time. Conductor Shaun only shouted once: “Melodica, this is you, now.”

Anyway, he doesn’t seem too mad with me. What do you think?

Da Boss! Shaun Dorney, QMF Orchestra Director and Conductor
Da Boss! Shaun Dorney, QMF Orchestra Director and Conductor

We were in a lovely place, Canterbury College. I think we’re having a few rehearsals here. The college is hosting an Arts Open Day on May 26. So I thought I would include the flyer here for your perusal.

Canterbury College ARTS OPEN DAY

Next rehearsal is in a couple of weeks!

Right hand or left hand? It doesn’t matter when you’re four

Dayna is my beautiful, cherubic four-year-old student. I first met her when she was three, when I taught her two older sisters. She used to roll around on the floor nearby with books and colouring pencils, occasionally sneaking up on us and plonking a note or two. After a while she started bugging her mum, “Mummy, I want to learn too!”

Dayna’s two sisters had one and a half hours of lessons between them, and originally we decided to adjust the time so that Dayna could learn something fun for the last ten minutes.

To start with, I visited Susan Paradis’ website – she was an invaluable resource when I first started teaching piano. Really, the generosity of the online community knows no bounds. I chose her Wiggly Worm pdf for Dayna.

Dayna greeted me at the door the following week! She was so keen to start! We played games numbering our fingers and playing low and high sounds, then we looked at Wiggly Worms. We went through it and I left it with her for the week.

Wiggly Worms by Susan Paradis

The following week, Dayna played it clearly, with determination and pride (“Ta Da!”) This followed by squeals of delight, and a bit of jumping around.

Right! I started her on a Bastien Primer A book. Dayna was a voracious learner and her ten minutes blew out to 30 minutes from the second lesson. Now all three girls had half an hour each. Dayna couldn’t tell me which was her right or left hand. At first, I tried to draw a right or left hand by each short song, later I asked her, “When you draw, which hand do you hold your pencil?” She put up her right hand, and I started to draw a pencil on all the R.H. pieces.

Each week I asked, “Did you have a chance to practise, Dayna?” She would nod vigorously, and open the book. I guessed she was practising by herself without any guidance, because she would play right hand songs with her left hand and vice versa. She would be a bit nonplussed when I gently switched her hands around, although it didn’t stop her playing all her songs correctly.

Incidently, from what I can see, young children who have the benefit of a parent overseeing their practice generally learn their pieces more quickly and with less errors than their unsupervised peers. But I also think that the child who learns independently is building precious skills and character traits for life. The delight of independent discovery is potent, if the penny drops! That’s the gamble I suppose. Hopefully I can help a little bit there.

Anyway, I was thinking about Dayna one day and thought, “Joanna, you need to lighten up on this girl! She’s only four and you’re teaching her like her seven-year-old sister. Cut her lesson down to 15 minutes! And really, in a song like this, who CARES if she is using her right or left hand? She’s practising all by herself, she psyched and she’s only four! It’s all good!

Big notes

So last week I said, “Dayna! I want to hear everything you practised! Play it for me, just the way you’ve been doing it all week.”

Dayna played about six or seven songs, mostly with her left hand, although by the time she got to Mary’s Lamb (which sounds very much like Mary Had A Little Lamb) she decided to do that with her right hand. The songs sounded great and Dayna was happy. I did mention to her mum that she likes using her left hand to play, even though the family claims she’s a Righty.

I made her lesson a bit shorter, and picked out some Music Express sheet music for her with big pictures which she could colour in and bring them to the next lesson. Yay!

Bringing books to my students

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There are so many fun piano books out there, for kids and for adults. But I can’t buy them all to bring around to my students.

So I had a chat with Music Express‘ owner. Sorted! I can now pick what I want and let them know when I sell something. How’s that for a great working relationship?

Kid in candy store time! I picked several things I thought my kids, or adults might like. I particularly love duets. It can be a lonely deal learning piano and two people playing together is a great experience. And I get to play with my students!

My students always have one work book. I want their technical ability to improve and the lesson books introduce whatever the next concept is in a logical manner.

I have teenagers on adult learner books, and some of those songs are…well… just not from their era. I still want us to work through those lessons, but let’s find something that’s a little lighter to play too! In the future I hope they will tell me what to look out for, for them.

So I hit the road with my books today, and the students are going for it! It’s a great feeling to see them like what I picked for them. Can’t wait to show the rest next week.

Melodica goes to orchestra rehearsal!

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Look at that! Scores for my beautiful melodica to play in a Queensland Music Festival orchestra in Logan! They arrived in my inbox a day before the first rehearsal.

“You have arrived at your destination,” said my GPS, on the Brown Plains Road with trees everywhere and not a sports centre in sight. Aw come on! I have zero internal GPS and don’t want to be late! A U-turn and some scouring of the horizon for any building.. yes! Found the sports stadium with ten minutes to go.

I headed for Court No. 2, which was milling with people!

Where do we all sit?
Where do we all sit?

“Who have we got? Any sax players yet? Over here!” Shaun Dorney, QMF Orchestra Director and Conductor, was bellowing. He was seating people within an area defined by red tape. This was the size and shape of our raised stage, which has yet to be built.

“Excuse me, what instrument do you play?” This chap was directing people to their music folders.

“Melodica,” I said.

“Melodica…”

“Oh hello!” Isabel Hart looked up. She’s Project Co-Ordinator, and was the first person I met at the audition about a month ago.

“Your music is down there on the extreme right,” she said. The folders of music were laid out on the floor, and sure enough, all by itself at the end, was a lovely black folder with the label MELODICA on it! Rockin’!

“Melodica! Here!”

Oop. That’s me!

Shaun seated me with some oboe players. Fresh-faced high-schoolers. I leaned over and peeped at their music, it looked similar to mine.

“We have the widest range of musicians ever!” Tara Hobbs beamed. Tara is QMF Producer on the project. “All ages and ranges of musical abilities.”

This is Jay Turner, who composed one of our main songs! He has a beautiful mandolin, all amped up. I’m gonna ask him to jam with me when I get the chance.

Jay Turner, composer and Mandolin Man
Jay Turner, composer and Mandolin Man

QMF Creative Director Sean Mee explained to us the context in which we were playing. It’s a massive two-day celebration in Logan entitled Under This Sky, which will take place at the Logan Brothers Rugby League Club August 1-2.

Under This Sky is a story of joy and identity, of the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is an epic celebration of place. QMF website

SBS is documenting the entire project journey.

SBS cameraman and QMF Creative Director Sean Mee
SBS cameraman and QMF Creative Director Sean Mee

Then we were into it. Shaun Dorney had a quick discussion with Jay about the rhythm, then he was conducting! Downstroke, “Two, three, four…”

Are you serious? Just like that? Does everyone know their bits already?

We have compositions written by Morganics, and Jay Turner, with arrangements by Erin Thomson and Shaun Dorney.

I’ve never played in an orchestra before, and I expected that the conductor would sort of point at me and wave me in.

I looked at my music… 2 bars of not playing. Then another 15 bars, maybe we’re here now? Then 13 bars, 12, 13, 8… then my first phrase…

“Melodica! I didn’t hear you!”

Of course not, I haven’t a clue where we are. Yikes! I got the hang of it fast enough, pressing my fingers against my thigh to keep count!

“Sometimes the hardest bit is when you’re NOT playing,” Tara said later when I expressed my new insight. No relaxing and listening to the other musicians then!

Next rehearsal in two weeks. :-)

A Poppy in Portsmouth

In the early ’70s, my young life was like walking through portals. By day, I went to a local primary school in Hampshire, England. I got on a school bus, ignored the sing-song jeers coming from the back row, tried to get through the school day incognito, and walked home alone.

Stepping through the portal that was my front door, I took off my shoes and entered my Malaysian-Chinese home, with its sepia-coloured photos of ancestors long gone, the occasional colour photo of relatives whom I had not met, and an odd set of house rules which I would not dream of sharing with any English friend I might one day have. Perhaps the oddest of these was NEVER to put my feet up and show the soles of my feet to the television set when the Queen was making one of her broadcasts.

At home we ate nor mai fan, chicken rice, pork ribs, agar-agar seaweed jelly, rice porridge jook and “one hundred-year-old” black eggs. God forbid they heard about that at school.

Conversely, Mum was aghast when I said the day’s school dinner was toad-in-the-hole and frog spawn. She thought blue cheese was very suspect and I was forbidden from eating Cadbury’s Creme Eggs because she didn’t trust that they were cooked properly.

Mum did not make English friends and she and I were a solitary unit in a small village unpoetically named Cowplain.

One afternoon we passed a small group of people, including three retired servicemen in uniform, sitting at a table outside a department store called Landports, in the Commercial Road shopping precinct in Portsmouth. There was a collection tin and a tray of plastic red poppies on the table.

My mum paused, took out two brand new fifty pound notes from her purse, folded them and put them in the tin. She made a slight smile at the group, averted her eyes, and took a poppy.

This was an extraordinary thing for me to witness. We lived a frugal life. The hot water boiler and central heating was turned on for half an hour each morning and late afternoon (for my benefit I later realised. Mum stayed in a cold house all day.) We never ordered takeaways. We had two shared extravagances: to eat fish and chips for lunch in the Landports cafeteria, and to have strawberries and cream in Summer.

“Mummy!” I hissed frantically, “Those are fifty pound notes! Are you sure?”

She ignored me.

One of the retired servicemen stood up.

“Excuse me, Madam. May I ask where you are from?”

“I come from a place called Sabah, in British North Borneo,” she said. “We – we are always grateful to the Allied soldiers.”

My mother was self-conscious about her English, and was already moving away. The man stepped out and they shook hands. They stood there for a moment. My mum patted his forearm and nodded. Then we left.

I moved to Sabah for the first time in 2008. A year later my husband Mike took me to the Sandakan Memorial Park Service. Sandakan is a town in Sabah, Malaysia, and the memorial park honours the British and Australian POWs who endured the Sandakan Death Marches in World War II. Mike placed a wreath at the memorial on behalf of SAAA (Sabah Australian Alumni Association).

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Here is a bagpiper from that day playing Waltzing Matilda and Flowers Of The Forest.

This Anzac Day April 25th is the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, when Australian and New Zealand forces went to fight the Ottoman Empire in World War I. On this day Australians remember their sons and daughters who have served their country in times of war and conflict. People from other countries remember them too.