'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Mental And Physical Workout With J.S.Bach

Robin has become obsessed by J.S.Bach.
If he isn't listening to recordings then he is playing it.
As I've said before, Robin doesn't feel he really knows a piece, and certainly wouldn't perform it in public, until he has completed the process of memorisation.

When it comes to Bach this is quite an undertaking.
The pieces are always complex with little repetition to allow the musician any respite.
I measure the amount of neural activity going on in Robin's head by how quickly he completes the daily crossword in our newspaper.
The more he memorises the quicker he gets which just shows how important it is to give your brain plenty of exercise.

Physically it is also a workout.
All Bach pieces are hugely demanding of both the left and right hands.
Fortunately right and left hand exercises form part of Robin's daily workout on the guitar anyway.
In fact the pianist Andras Schiff has said that any time spent in the company of J.S.Bach is never wasted and will always be worthwhile. He also prefers to play Bach than complete technical exercises yet still achieves the same results.
I can understand what he means.

I'm just hoping that all this background Bach that I am hearing will somehow filter through to my brain via some sort of osmosis.
If I could just get to the crossword before him....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Messing About On The River...

Robin has expressed a desire to go boating.
He suggested hiring a barge for the day and gently watching the world go by as we wend our way down a canal.
Whilst this may sound like a lovely day out I have my doubts.
He's fine when he isn't the captain. After all, he's spent many weeks at sea, all over the world, performing in some fantastic 'floating' theatres.

I also know it's not me.
I have been on many boating holidays, all over Europe, without anything untoward happening.

However, never yet have I been on board a boat of any kind with Robin, without some 'incident' occurring.
The first time was a pedalo in Portugal.
Sounds innocent enough.
We peddled out to the end of the peninsula, sat back enjoying the sun, Robin said, "Every time I feel stressed I'm going to think of this moment."
I said, "I think we're sinking."
We were.
After swimming to some rocks we had to pull ourselves out and watch in dismay as our pedalo sank to the bottom of the sea.
Luckily we were picked up by some passing tourists and deposited back on dry land.
I'm just pleased he'd left his guitar at the hotel...

Some years later we were again on holiday and Robin persuaded me to go in a speed boat.
I knew as the instructor strapped the ignition key to Robin's wrist that this could be a potential problem.
Sure enough, way out to sea, Robin raised his arm to greet a fellow skipper, and our engine cut as the key flew out of the ignition.
It wasn't until we had drifted perilously close to rocks that we managed to get it started.

Many years later I thought we'd try again.
The third and final attempt at boating to date was on Coniston water in the Lake District.
Mid-lake one of the oars fell overboard and son number one knocked Robin on the head with the remaining oar as he tried to attract attention.
All against the backdrop of a screaming baby who didn't like wearing a life jacket one bit.

So forgive me if I'm not sounding too enthusiastic about Robin's latest idea...
Mind you, these 'life experiences' are always good for fuelling the creative instincts, so watch this space.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

If You Can Keep Your Head When All Around Are...

This morning we re-discovered a fabulous piece of music.
We used to listen to this a lot but it must be some months since we heard it.
It's by Francis Poulenc, 'Salve Regina' from the opera 'Dialogues Des Carmelites'.
The version we were listening to was performed by the 'Orchestra Du Theatre National de L'Opera de Paris', and it's beautifully executed.

If you don't quite follow me here, then I suggest you go to iTunes and download a copy, or, heaven forbid, a record shop....then you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Meanwhile we are all in a strange state of euphoria here.
There is a strange yellow/orange orb in the sky that hasn't been seen since April.
Given that it's nearly August you can imagine how sun starved we are here.
So, I'm off outside, to make the most of it, as I have a feeling it will only be a fleeting glimpse of summer...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Robin Hill's 'Unofficial' Desert Island Discs

Today I decided that I would quiz Robin on the choices he would make for the long running BBC Radio 4 programme, 'Desert Island Discs'.

Each week a guest is invited to choose 8 pieces of music, a book, and a luxury item, which they are allowed to take with them to a desert island. The castaway is also issued with a copy of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare.
The whole concept of the programme is a wonderful one, and we frequently listen in. Whoever the guest may be, it is always interesting, and I guess that's why it has been running since 1942!
Currently the show is presented by Kirsty Young.

As I started questioning, Robin wasn't fooled, and within seconds he had worked out what I was up to, but I must say, he was very obliging!
So here are Robin's choices - in no particular order:

1)Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D Major.
Performed by 'Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin'.

Robin initially heard this piece performed by Jack Loussier, and the jazz version so intrigued him, that he was inspired to explore the original.
He loves the piece because it is like a hugely uplifting musical kaleidoscope , with intricate contrapuntal conversations between three soloists (violin, flute and harpsicord). The first movement culminates with a highly virtuosic cadenza for the harpsichord and a triumphant return of the main theme.

2) What is Hip?
This track is by 'Tower of Power', and has to be the ultimate 'funk' tune, superbly played by the tightest band in the universe.

3)Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.
Robin's favourite is actually 'Peter's theme' performed on strings.
As a small boy he avidly watched a T.V. programme called 'Zoo Time' with Desmond Morris.
Although he didn't realise it at the time, the theme music for this programme was from Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf', and it just goes to show how we are profoundly affected by music from a very young age.

4) Armando's Rhumba.
This is by Chick Corea and the piece was dedicated to his father 'Armando'.
Robin has long been a fan of Chick Corea and has in fact made several arrangements of his pieces for various combinations of instruments.
We also have a couple of letters from Chick himself who is equally complimentary about Robin's music!

5)Rodrigo's Concerto Madrigal.
Joaquin Rodrigo composed many pieces for the guitar and this is one of Robin's favourites, particularly the movement, Giradilla (Presto).
The recording he most enjoys is that of Pepe and Angel Romero as it is the most incredible feat of virtuosity by two of the best players on the planet.
Hill/Wiltschinsky have performed this piece but sadly not recorded it.

Robin chose 'Because' from The Beatles 'Love' album as it is the version with the backing harmonies only. It's very poignant to hear distant birdsong from the trees outside Abbey Road studio, and shows incredible insight into the harmonies The Beatles were capable of, and how well they could sing them when not being deafened by screaming Beatlemaniacs.

7)The Boho Dance.
The Boho Dance is from Joni Mitchell's album 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' which was released in 1975.
Robin is a huge fan of Joni Mitchell and this is just one of many of her works that he feels are masterpieces.

8)Handel's Rinaldo:Aria: Lascia ch'io Pianga.
Robin's all time favourite recording of this is by Cecilia Bartoli with 'The Academy of Ancient Music' conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
Robin heard her perform this at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and it's hard to imagine a finer interpretation.

All hapless castaways are also allowed a book and one luxury item.
The book Robin chose is by the American novelist John Cheever, and really, it could be any collection of his short stories.
They offer perfect insight into American life and life in general.
(and whoever it is who borrowed our copy could you please return it....!!)

Finally, the luxury item, and I don't think there will be any surprises here.
One of his Miguel Rodriguez guitars of course. Although he has been rather cheeky and asked for a huge supply of strings - I'm not sure if that will be allowed.

One final note.
Whilst these are definitely all favourites, if I had asked Robin on another day, we may have had a completely different list of pieces. But then that's the beauty of music.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Passage To India

It's really quite rewarding when something that you wrote only a few days ago finds itself in an unexpected place.
On the 19th July I did a blog 'Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo Pay Homage To Andres Segovia'.

Today I was alerted to a 'special report' on

To read more click here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Music Society Musing

Today I have been following up on a few contacts.
One of them was a music society which has existed for 60 years.
Hill/Wiltschinsky have played for 'Prestwich Music Club' on numerous occasions, and I thought it time I organised a return visit, or solo performance.

I was quite taken aback to find on their web site that they had ceased operations in May this year due to falling membership.
It's very sad when such a committed group of people, who have enjoyed and promoted classical music for so long, have finally succumbed to lack of 'young blood' entering the system.
Robin has played in many different music socities over the years and it has been a worrying trend that the age of the audience is getting older.
However, it isn't always the case, as the guitar does have the power to pull in a younger generaton due to the many genres of playing.

But it's a shame for all concerned.
Sad for the members of a community who will no longer be able to hear, and to meet, top class musicians in a more intimate setting than the major concert halls.

Sad also for those who gave so much of their time planning and organising these events.

Sad for musicians, in a world where it is increasingly difficult for good music to be heard, yet another avenue closes.

We should learn to cherish and enjoy good music and not let our heritage drift off into the distance.
Change is good. Moving on is good. Modern styles of music are also important. But we must appreciate what has gone before because that will fuel the future.

I feel sure that a lack of funding, to help support these smaller associations, must be playing a part in their decline.
However, we also must find a way of introducing younger people to the delights of classical music.

The very term, 'classical music' is one which can alienate younger people, as they feel unable to relate to it.
The 'stuffy' look and feel which classical music had, has been changing, over the years.
The duo long ago discarded their tuxedos for a more contemporary look.

So, we have to find a way of helping music societies, putting pressure on the powers that be to increase funding, or reinstate it where it has already been lost.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happy Birthday To Robin Hill's Classical Guitar Blog

Today is 'Life of a Musician's' first birthday!
I can't quite believe that we have been going for a year - but it's true.
We have come a long way in that time, and I have learnt a lot in the process, and had a great deal of fun.
There's such a lot coming up and I hope to have more sound clips and video footage over the next few months.
Plus the launch of a new web site where downloads and sheet music will be available. More of that over the next few weeks.
In the last year I have only missed one day, and that was due to technical problems with our BT line, and we now have regular readers in over 45 countries!

So, to mark the occasion, I have decided to give myself the rest of the day off.
As for the cake, well, I had some helpers who very quickly demolished that!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Innocence of Youth

I have been home alone for a some of today.
This is rather rare and I considered for a few seconds how I should fill my time.
There were plenty of things I wanted to do but even more that I needed to do.
Unfortunately, the most pressing, was to try and regain some sort of order in our home.
It isn't easy keeping on top of day to day jobs, with a husband who works from home, two children and numerous furries.
Especially when the said husband is recording and the sound of a vacuum cleaner is very unwelcome.

So that's where I started.
In fact I did lots of jobs around the house, all of them noisy ones, and really quite enjoyed it.

One by one they have all returned.
Second by second the house also returned to the state it had been in earlier this morning.
It reminded me of a quote by Phyllis Diller:
"Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shovelling the walk before it stops snowing."

Oh well.
Another rare occurrence today, I picked up one of Robin's guitars, and played a few pieces - not very well.
Robin was in the background, trying not to flinch and grimace at my efforts, when in walked son number two.
"Oh, Mummy, are you giving Daddy a guitar lesson?"
Robin's face was a picture....

Monday, July 23, 2007

'The South Bank Show' Saves The Day...

As we settled down to relax yesterday evening, we were grumbling that we had missed the 'Proms on Four' as it had been on between 7.30 - 9.20 pm.
As we didn't sit down until 10.30, I think most of the orchestra would have been nearly home by then.

However, Melvyn Bragg saved the day.
The South Bank Show is a long running series that can be seen all round the world.
We always try and check in, to see what it's about, as programmes of this quality are few and far between.
Last night we were rewarded with a lovely hour of Dame Emma Kirkby.

Dame Emma Kirkby is hugely influential in the field of early music and Bragg met the singer as she rehearsed with the Purcell Quartet, talked to her about her career to date, and followed her to Italy to show her coaching students in a masterclass of Monteverdi madrigals.

All the more appropriate as we are heavily into Bach here at the moment as Robin prepares for his J.S.Bach CD.
Incidentally, I just discovered that 'The South Bank Show' featured a piece of music, 'Fairie Queen', played by the Hill/Wilschinsky Guitar Duo, a few months ago.
I'd love to find out more.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


If you remember, two weeks ago Robin was due to play his guitar at an outside venue, but due to the terrible weather the concert had to be postponed. To remind yourself of the ensuing impromptu pavilion concert click here.

Well, to make up for it, Robin agreed to go back again today.
All week we have been watching the weather forecast with interest. The rain has been a constant feature.
However this morning when we got up the sun was shining!
A rare treat indeed.
So off Robin went to make up for the disappointment of a fortnight ago.
Here he is tuning up:

I'm pleased to say he got through the whole event without further downpours which was very lucky as it started again as he was on his way home.
Oh well.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter Meets J.S. Bach - Sort of...

We are all a little bleary eyed here at Hillhouse this morning.
Son number one wanted to go to our local Waterstones bookshop at midnight to collect a copy of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'.
As we encourage reading, and wanted him to participate in the 'collective experience', in a mad moment we agreed.

Some years ago when Harry Potter exploded onto the scene, there was great excitement here when Robin was asked to play at the 'Proms in the Park', and was therefore sitting on stage when the John William's score was first performed.

Prior to this expedition I had to go out.
I left the house at 7pm, Robin was in the music room, working on a Bach minuet which is part of one of the many projects currently underway here.
Robin is in the process of recording a number of CDs, one of which is made up entirely of the music of J.S.Bach.
As Robin is frequently away from home, he has to make the most of the times that he is here.

I returned 4 1/2 hours later to find son number one desperately trying to keep his eyes open and Robin in exactly the same position - still practising.
He assured me that he had stopped to put son number two to bed, and when I checked he was in pyjamas, in bed, and asleep, so I had to believe that some adult involvement had taken place.
This was an ideal evening for Robin.
Normally by about 10 or 10.30pm I tend to storm the music room or recording studio and insist it's time to stop.
Last night he was able to pursue his perfect evening unhindered. (Especially as son number one was keeping a very low profile in case he was sent to bed for looking too tired...)

On my return Robin finally put his guitar away at 11.45pm and off they went to purchase the book.
They thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being out at that time of night, despite the presence of local drunks spilling out of the pubs, and taunting the excited shoppers as they waited for the store to open.
When they told their story on their return it reminded me of the blog Kenneth Woods did a few weeks ago about a similar experience.
I can only hope that it has put son number one off excess alcohol consumption when he is a little older and inspired him to much greater things....

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo

The picture from the review that I posted yesterday really wasn't very clear. So I thought you may like to see what the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo look like!

This was taken about the same time as they performed at the Sistine Theatre in Rome.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo Pay Homage To Andres Segovia

Back in 1990 the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo were chosen to perform a concert at the Sistine Theatre in Rome.
The event was to pay homage to the legendary guitarist Andres Segovia, who had given his last concert in Italy in the very same theatre, five years previously.
As you can imagine, this was a huge honour for the duo, and one they took very seriously.
Here's a translation of the review from the Italian newspaper 'Il Giornale D'Italia:
(click images to enlarge)

And, for my Italian readers, here is the original:

I'm glad I found them!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Organ Donation Awareness to Mood Changing Music

Blogcatalog are running a 'Community Organ Donation Awareness Campaign', which, as the title suggests, plans to highlight the need for more organs for transplantation.
For more information on the UK statistics visit 'UK Transplant'.
How does this fit in with the life of a classical musician you may ask?
Well I'll tell you.

We have first hand experience of the benefits of organ donation.
A very significant person in our lives was lucky enough to be one of the few on the waiting list to receive a new heart.
As you can imagine this was preceded by years of failing health and distress to all concerned.

The 'call' from the hospital informing us a match had been found was equally difficult to comprehend.
Hospitals have strict assessments for anyone on a waiting list, as they have to be able to cope with not only the physical strains of the procedure, but also the emotional ones.

After many tense hours, the operation was completed, but it was a few days until the worry started to subside.
It's actually quite amazing how quickly someone recovers, and within a few weeks, are back at home in a much better state of health than prior to the operation.

Robin was obviously involved with the whole event. Regular visiting, boosting moral, and generally supporting the rest of the family, not to mention continuing his performing career and looking after son number one, as we went through this stage of our lives.
One thing that remained at the front of all our minds was the 'gift of life' we had been given - literally. We had the pleasure of Tony's company for seven more years, it would only have been days or possibly a few weeks at most without the transplant.

The donor family were, and still are, often in our thoughts.
This is a difficult concept for anyone to deal with.
Their loss was our gain. But we never forgot that.
Little information is given about donors, but we did know that it was a 19 year old boy.
The strange thing is, that Tony suddenly developed a liking for pizza, which he had never previously enjoyed.
I've heard of other cases where likes and dislikes change. So I hope that donors can take some comfort from the fact that part of their loved one very definitely lives on.

But could musical taste also be altered. We know from research that music can most certainly affect mood. There's a very interesting article by Nic Fleming discussing just this. Listening to music releases dopamine which results in a sense of happiness. You can read the article here.

Can musical memories be passed on? I'd love to be able to give you an answer to that one and tell you that Tony suddenly developed a taste for rap music, but as I don't know the musical tastes of the donor, and, Tony had a hugely eclectic taste anyway, I'm afraid I can't say.

Suffice to say that making more organs available for transplants can only be a good thing. And music, well all the surgeons I know, play music in the operating theatre to aid their relaxation. This can be anything from Meatloaf to Beethoven...
Tony's surgeon listened to Oscar Peterson for his operation...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Comfort in Music

Robin has been out playing his guitar today in a rather unusual setting.
I had a call, only a few days ago, asking if he was available to perform this afternoon and we made all the necessary arrangements.
I then went to tell Robin I'd made a booking for July 17th to which he replied, 'That's over a year away, tell me nearer the time.'
I had to inform him, that for this particular event, it was impossible to plan a year in advance.
The booking was for this Tuesday as it was a funeral.

Now, Robin has played at funerals before, but only when they have been close family members. So this was a first.
It's quite strange to be involved in such an intimate occasion when you don't know the person who has died or the family and friends that are grieving.

But music is an ideal way to help people through such a difficult situation and to bring comfort to those in distress.
This was on my mind all day and I found this quote that sums it up:

"When whispering strains do softly steal
With creeping passion through the heart,
And when with every touch we feel
Our pulses beat and bear a part;
When threads can make
A heartstring shake,
Philosophy can scarce deny
The soul consists of harmony."
William Strode (1599-1645)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pianist Envy?

How does this classical guitarist relax?
The answer:
He plays the piano of course...
Just when I thought Robin had finished music making for the evening, this is what I found:

Robin is actually playing a piece he composed for piano and orchestra called 'Three Van Gogh Portraits.'
In this photograph he is playing the first movement, 'The Journey South', which depicts Van Gogh's train journey from Paris to Arles.
I wish you could hear it as it's one of my favourite movements.
However, you can hear the second movement, as I put it on the blog back in May.
Click here to read more about it and listen again.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dogged Devotion to J.S.Bach

Sunday morning and Robin is hard at work.
He is in the process of memorising J.S.Bach's Double in B minor from the violin Partita No.1.
Our canine friends', Milly and Coco, (also known as Miss. Bimps) favourite composer is, of course, Bach, but that isn't why they are there.
Whilst Milly is rapt by the music she is also willing Robin to put his guitar away and take her for a walk.
You can see in the mirror that Miss. Bimps is trying to execute the classic pincer movement by attacking simultaneously from both sides.
Ohh, and in a Hitchcockian moment, yes, they are my legs...

You'll be pleased to hear that very shortly after this photo was taken Robin caved into the pressure and took them out.
They are now sleeping it off in the kitchen...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

From Proms to Psycho

What a delight.
To turn on the television and find the 'First Night of the Proms' in full swing. The joy of watching musicians perform, to a packed house, could only have been bettered if I had been in the audience myself.
Unfortunately Robin was out all evening and therefore missed the lot. He did 'phone home at one point and was very envious that I was currently enjoying Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

It was pretty late when Robin got home but he was very excited about a purchase he had made earlier in the day.
A box set of 12 Alfred Hitchcock films.
So despite the hour we chose to start with Hitchcock's masterpiece, 'Psycho'.
This has long been a favourite of ours and it amazes me that every time I watch it I see something new.
Each shot carefully thought out and planned, with the famous 'shower scene' taking seven days to shoot, using seventy camera setups, and the final take only lasting 45 seconds.

What makes the whole 'Hitchcock' experience even better is of course the music.
The inspirational score was composed by Bernard Herrmann.
Herrmann was born in New York in 1911 and studied at New York University and the Juilliard School.
As well as a composer, Herrmann was a conductor, and at the age of 20 formed the New Chamber Orchestra.
Herrmann was particularly interested in new and rarely performed works, and gave the American premiere of many English works including Walton's First Symphony.
As a composer for the cinema Herrmannn proved himself a master at providing a psychological edge and dramatic tension through his music.

This is what we were admiring late last night.
The film 'Psycho' is an all time classic and the score cranks up the tension with every scene.
One feels that Stravinsky must have been an inspiration, especially with the frenetic, motor rhythms, which instantly identify the film.
This is then contrasted with a release of tension as the soaring, lyrical second theme takes over.
Pure genius.

George Martin has remarked that Bernard Herrmann's score inspired him to write the string quartet arrangement for The Beatles, 'Eleanor Rigby', a perfect artistic symbiosis.

If you are not familiar with the film 'Psycho' then I strongly recommend watching it. You must be over 15, and be warned, you may well prefer to take a bath in the future...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Rain, Rain, Recording and More Rain

I knew it wouldn't be easy when Robin decided to record his new CD from our studio at home.
The most obvious reason is unwanted background noise.
With two small children, two dogs and a cat, the potential for extraneous noises filtering through a series of closed doors, is quite high.
But our children have grown up with this and understand that when we tell them 'Daddy is recording', they actually do respond by creeping around the house quietly.

We've turned bath time into a game.
Who can go upstairs the quietest.
Who can manage to get through an entire bath time without squealing.
That sort of thing.

Don't get me wrong though. We haven't cramped their style too much and in fact they do quite well out of it.
When the 'red light', so to speak, is not on, then mayhem ensues.
Running up and down stairs making as much noise as possible is actively encouraged.

Sing songs around the piano become a daily occurrence - usually made up by the boys themselves.

The timing couldn't be worse. Final decisions on recording equipment were made just as school broke up for the extended summer holidays....
That makes two children at home all day plus assortment of friends.
Ohh well.

But the biggest problem has been the weather.
Anyone with children will know that boys in particular are like puppies. They need regular and lengthy exercise.
Since the end of term it literally hasn't stopped raining.
A constant stream of water slides down the window pane.
We start each morning with, 'How many beats per minutes is it today?'
It's July - we want the sun....

Even the amount of rain has had to be turned into a game.
Is it:
1) Drizzle
2) Fine rain
3) Large drops but coming down vertically
4) Huge drops bouncing on the ground
5) Daddy stops recording because the microphones are picking up the rain as it lashes down on the window.

If it doesn't stop soon I think I shall have to relocate to another continent....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

George Bernard Shaw and Musical Composition

Musical composition is a strange thing.
This is what George Bernard Shaw had to say about it:

"The fact is, there are no rules,
and there never were any rules,
and there will never be any rules of musical composition except rules of thumb;
and thumbs vary in length, like ears."
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

We have recently been hearing some fantastic music coming from the studio, and music room, and for the last few days it seems to have all been at a rather fast tempo.
For example, 'Caprice No.7 by Luigi Legnani', which I put on the blog the other day, to remind yourself click here.
But also the instantly recognisable style of Bach.

The mind is a complex and amazing organ which somehow has the ability to flit from one piece to another, remembering thousands of notes as it goes.
This was brought home to me, as I listened from afar, but then an unfamiliar sound reached my ears.

I recognised it as 'distant composition', a calm, quiet, slow and peaceful piece of music had forced its way into Robin's consciousness and was trying to get out.
It was such a different style to the pieces he has been playing for a few days that I was a little surprised.
So I asked him about it.
The response was, "It's like a sorbet to refresh my mind."
I know exactly what he meant!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Classical Guitar at the Proms...I'm Afraid Not...

I have been scouring the schedule of the BBC Proms for any sign of the classical guitar. I'm afraid to say that over the entire season there isn't one classical guitar performance.
This makes me both sad and angry.
Sad because it is such a beautiful instrument that seems to have an uphill battle to be heard.
Angry, well, there are many reasons.

There are so many fantastic guitar concerti to choose from, surely there was something that could have been fitted in the schedule.
If fear of the unknown is the cause, then how about one of the most popular concerti ever written?...the truly beautiful, 'Concierto de Aranjuez' or the 'Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre' by Rodrigo. Or, maybe, some Vivaldi or perhaps a little Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Malcolm Arnold, William Walton or Leo Brouwer?

For the really adventurous programmer perhaps an old favourite allied with a new composition. We have a number of concerti from which to choose, and what a coup that would be, the composer performing his own piece. Oh, and he's British....maybe that's the problem. But this isn't about sour grapes.
Whilst it would be fantastic for Robin to perform there, just to see any classical guitarist, would be great. When have Pepe or Angel Romero, the Assad Brothers or Xuefei Yang ever been heard at the Proms?

I recently read a report proclaiming the guitar had taken over from the recorder as the instrument of choice for school children. We should be capitalising on this. As there is currently concern about the future of classical music in general, and the need to introduce the younger generation to the whole area, surely we have missed a golden opportunity to present one of the most popular and versatile instruments in the world.
Any child in the early stages of learning an instrument needs to see and hear what can be achieved.
How many more families would have 'tuned' in for a guitar concert to encourage their offspring with their chosen instrument?

BBC Radio 3 used to feature the guitar on a weekly basis through its programmes, 'The Classical Guitar' and 'Guitar Encores', now we are lucky if we hear it from one month to the next.

Whatever the reason for is a great tragedy that the guitar is again ignored and neglected by the BBC.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Musicians have Bigger Brains - Well Parts of It

It's official - Robin has a larger cerebellum and corpus callosum than your average person - well, he and most professional musicians that is.

Last night we watched a very interesting programme, 'My Brilliant Brain' on channel 5, that was examining the child prodigy, Marc Yu, and discussing whether his ability was from sheer hard work or whether he was born with a brilliant brain.

Apparently the brains of dozens of professional musicians have been scanned. There are very few activities that demand as much of the brain as playing music. In fact the scientist involved said it would be easier to look at the parts of the brain NOT involved when playing an instrument than those that are, just because of the amount of activity.

Music making is multi-tasking at the highest level. Musicians, pianists in this example, not only read the notes, but feel the keys, move the fingers and listen to what they are playing all at the same time.

It appears that musicians are 'built' for the job as some areas of their brains are larger than can be found in non-musicians.
One such area is the cerebellum. Normally this takes about 10% of the overall brain volume yet there are more nerve cells here than the rest of the entire brain. This area works harder and faster than other areas of the brain as it orchestrates the movement of thousands of muscle fibres in the body.

As a skilled pianist can play up to 30 notes/second with exquisite timing, a larger cerebellum would be a huge advantage.

The corpus callosum is also larger in musicians. This is a strip of tissue connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. Each side of the body is managed by one half of the brain, so a bigger corpus callosum means there are more nerve fibres so that more nerve signals can travel from one side to the other.
A larger corpus callosum is obviously an advantage to a musician as they need to precisely synchronise movement between the right and left hand side of the body.

The question is whether they were born that way, or, has music shaped their brains.
One interesting study shown on the programme looked at the brains of 50 children prior to learning an instrument and then periodically rechecking dexterity, intelligence and scanning them.
After a year they could see changes on the scans with the areas used for hearing and analysing music showing more activity than those children not learning an instrument.

The programme went on to examine studies undertaken on isolated children, which highlighted that certain skills can only be learned within a 'critical' period, and beyond that point the ability has gone. It also looked at studies carried out in the late 60's that found that underprivileged children, if given the right stimulation from birth to three years of age, will have an IQ advantage that will remain with them throughout life.

This is all proof that we need to talk to, stretch, stimulate our children from birth, but doesn't mean they will all grow up to excel at their given skill.

On the nature side of the debate, the general feeling seems to be that genes can give a predisposition to seek out an experience and then foster that skill.
So nature/nurture appear balanced....

In the case of Marc Yu, we will have to wait and see, if he continues to play/perform past puberty. An advantage for him is that he plays musically. He hasn't just learnt the pieces, which at that age would be incredible, but plays with passion.

I would be very interested to look at the brain scans of musicians of different instruments as the skills involved vary.
The flute is monophonic, whereas the piano and guitar are polyphonic. There are however differences within this as the pianist has one action for the right hand, with it reversed in the left hand, whereas the guitarist action between hands is very different in both position and movement.

Maybe one day they'll let me in a lab somewhere, I can call in a few musician friends, and wire them up.
There's more yet to be learnt I'm sure...

Monday, July 09, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes

The sun is shining and the birds are singing.
It's such a shame it wasn't like this yesterday.
But that's life.
Robin has agreed to go back in two weeks time, to appease those members of the audience who couldn't fit in the tiny pavilion, so hopefully the weather will be a little kinder then.
One thing which surprised those lucky enough to hear the guitar at such close quarters was the power the instrument has. But the guitar was designed for small, intimate, gatherings, which that certainly was!

The whole experience yesterday must have shaken Robin up more than he realised, as shortly after he left the venue, I had a call from an anxious event organiser.
He wanted me to get hold of Robin, and ask him to return, as he had left his guitar there!!!
In all his years of performing he has NEVER let his guitar out of his sight, let alone got in the car and driven off.
The poor man in Entwistle, was rather anxious to reunite the two, as he didn't want to be responsible for such a valuable instrument.
Can't say I blame him.

I called Robin and he was merrily telling me about the washout afternoon when I interrupted to ask if he had forgotten anything.
"No, son number one is right here," he replied.
"What about your guitar?" I said.
The next part of the conversation can't really be repeated but I feel son number one has extended his vocabulary somewhat...

Robin swiftly returned and relieved the organiser of the rather precious object.
After allowing himself a break to watch the exciting tennis at Wimbledon, he then returned to the music room, and got on with some more practice.
Just a normal day in Hillhouse.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rain Stops Play - Guitar That Is...

'Seated upon the convex mound
Of one vast kidney, Jonah prays
And sings his canticles and hymns...
Till the great fish spouts music as he swims.'
Aldous Huxley (1894-1964)

Ohh dear.
Robin set off for Entwistle and the sky was very grey.
Since then it has been raining.
Not drizzle or showers, but huge, fat, raindrops that bounce once they hit the ground.
Not only that but there's the occasional rumble of thunder...
At least that's what it is like here. Robin is about 10 miles away.
As I haven't had a call yet to say the event has been cancelled, then maybe, the situation is better there.

Whatever it is like it certainly won't be easy for Robin to play.
Cold hands will be a problem.
When sitting in one position, outside, his hands will very quickly get cold.
This is obviously not ideal when trying to play the guitar.
Add an adrenaline rush and the situation gets worse.

I've been seen in many venues around the world carefully carrying bowls of warm water backstage so that Robin can try to warm his hands up.
Whilst not able to do that today I did have a call from the event organiser, who was concerned about the weather, and I suggested plenty of cups of warm coffee for Robin.
I suspect he's on a caffeine high around about now, and as for the poor audience, well, I hope he's playing plenty of flamenco so they can at least feel warm on the inside.

I've just heard from Robin and after a few pieces the rain did indeed come down. They withdrew to a small pavilion along with as many of the audience as could fit in.
They were so disappointed that he played for them anyway in the rather cramped conditions. Well you have to be versatile!

Eventually the event had to be abandoned and Robin is now on his way home.
At least he'll be back in time to watch the rest of the men's finals at Wimbledon.
He'll be delighted about that.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Entry of the Gladiators

Well last night the audience were blown away.
Metaphorically speaking that is...
The charity concert in a marquee went really well and even the weather held out.
In fact it was a rather pleasant summer's evening over in Yorkshire - unlike Lancashire - don't tell them though.

If I were to say, 'Entry of the Gladiators', to you would you be able to guess where we have been this afternoon?
Another clue, this piece is also known as 'Entrance of the Gladiators' and 'Thunder and Blazes'.
Got it yet?
How about the fact that it was composed by the Czech composer and conductor of military bands, Julius Fucik.

If you haven't got it yet you will with this clue.
Yes, 'Entry of the Gladiators' is universally recognised as the theme tune of clowns and the circus.

We have been to the circus and a great time was had by all.
Except that Robin does find it difficult to cope, whenever he finds himself amongst an audience that all clap along to encourage the artist, on 1 and 3.
He stands his ground, and takes a stance, by clapping on 2 and 4, which results in an 'alternate clapping' more frequently heard in flamenco.
The clowns didn't seem to be bothered.
Son number two didn't notice.
Son number one just laughed - he's used to it...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Music and the Great Outdoors

This could prove to be an interesting weekend.
Tonight Robin is playing at a charity event - in North Yorkshire.
That in itself is very good.
However, this event is being held in a marquee, and as most people are aware, the UK, especially Yorkshire, is suffering severe flooding.
I was talking to the event organiser the other day, and the area is very wet, but not completely under water.

I'm not sure whether to pack Robin off with his concert clothes, plus wellies, which would cut quite a dash I'm sure.

On Saturday 'Live Earth' gets under way with 24 hours of music hosted by eight cities, London, Johannesburg, Shanghai, Rio De Janeiro, Sydney, New York, Hamburg and Tokyo. Whilst many of these venues should remain dry, London could be in for a wet time.

Then on Sunday, Robin has another outdoor event, at Entwistle Remembrance Park. Whilst he will be seated under a pagoda the audience will be open to all the elements.
It's never easy playing the guitar outside, or in a marquee for that matter, but competing with rain drumming on tarpaulin could prove interesting.
I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Rain Stops Play?

I'm afraid it will be very brief this evening.
Time seems to have run away with me.
Sports day went off very well and we only got drenched for the last half and hour......

Now Robin is back to his recording. Although I hear the sound of distant composition - so I think some idea must have forced its way into his consciousness and temporarily taken over.

Normal service, from both of us, should hopefully resume tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

School Report...

It has been a busy week here as the school term draws to a close.
All that is left is sports day tomorrow.
We can only hope the rain will stop.

End of term also means school report.
I am pleased to say that son number one has done very well, so, we can all relax and enjoy the summer.

It did however, make us reflect on a report Robin had from the same school, many years earlier.
One of his teacher's comments was, 'a day dreamer'.

This struck me as rather amusing when I read this quote the other day:

"all men who have achieved great things have been great dreamers."
Orison Swett Marden (1850-1924)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Classical Guitarist Robin Hill plays Legnani

It's time for another audio clip.
This time it is 'Caprice No.7' by Luigi Legnani.

Legnani was born in Ferrara on the 7th November 1790 and died at the age of 87 in Ravenna on the 5th August 1877.
Legnani was a guitar virtuoso, composer and later in life, an instrument maker. He originally trained as an orchestral string player but devoted himself to singing and the guitar.

In 1807 and 1816 Legnani appeared in Ravenna as a tenor, performing arias by Cimarosa, Donizetti and Rossini. It was in 1819 when he launched his career as a concert guitarist in Milan.
Legnani was a friend of Paganini and together they gave concerts in the principal European Courts.

Legnani retired in 1840 to Ravenna where he became a guitar and violin maker.
250 works by Legnani have been published.

Although the Legnani Caprices have been part of the guitar repertoire for some time, concert performances and recordings have been sporadic, partly due to their difficulty and fast tempi.

Today you can hear Robin Hill performing, 'Caprice No.7', an ebullient piece, marked 'prestissimo', which as you can hear, it certainly is. This is in fact an out-take from the new CD, you should hear the final version...
This is an example of how important it is to practice your scales and arpeggios....

Monday, July 02, 2007

William Congreve, Diana Princess of Wales, and the Positive Power of Music

Wembley Stadium was packed with fans, with a global audience of millions, as Prince William and Prince Harry 'celebrated' the life of their mother, Diana Princess of Wales. They chose a concert of some of their mothers favouite bands, alongside modern day acts that they thought she would have liked, to remember what would have been Diana's 46th birthday.
You can read a report by Caroline Davies, 'Princes mark life of Diana with music', here.

Music has been a soothing balm in many difficult situations for a very long time.
In the words of William Congreve:

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
I've read that things inanimate have moved,
And, as with living souls, have been informed,
By magic numbers and persuasive sound.

William Congreve (1670-1729)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Music-Colour Synaesthesia and the Arts

Many artists and musicians talk about 'synaesthesia', a fascinating condition, which can take many forms.

For musicians the most interesting type is music-colour synaesthesia.
Here the individual experiences colours in response to tones or musical stimuli. Synaesthetes rarely agree that a tone will be a certain colour, although there are some trends, higher pitched notes, for example, are more brightly coloured.

It has been reported that colour changes in response to the pitch and it involves more than just the hue of the colour.
Brightness, (the amount of white in a colour, so as brightness is removed, red would fade to brown and then black), and saturation, (intensity of colour, with red being highly saturated and grey or black unsaturated) are also involved.

Colour synaesthetes also often report that colour will move or stream into and out of their field of view, and whilst some feel the colour is projected out into the world, others say the colours are experiences in their 'mind's eye'.

This is all fascinating stuff and there was an excellent article in 'The Daily Telegraph' the other day, by Martin Gayford, 'Art's brush with boogie-woogie'.
Here it's discussed how many figures in modern art have been fascinated by the relationship between visual art and music.

An example given is Vincent van Gogh. At one stage of his troubled life Van Gogh took music lessons from an organist in Eindhoven. His teacher concluded that Vincent was mad, as he constantly compared chords with colour pigments.
It appears that Van Gogh may have been a synaesthete.

In relation to this, an exhibition has just opened, 'Eye-Music:Kandinsky,Klee and All That Jazz' at 'Pallant House Gallery, Chichester'.
It looks like it's well worth a visit.

How does all this relate to Robin and him playing the guitar?
Well, the colour scheme in part of our house, is vibrant red and yellow.
What that tells us I'm not sure.