'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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dowland to Rodrigo - Guitar on the QE2

The QE2 has left Quebec and is now cruising the Gulf of St.Lawrence.
Today Robin is performing the third, and final, concert of the trip.
I thought you may like to see what he is playing, so, here is the programme:

Two Dances - John Dowland
(Melancholy Galliard - Allemande)

Two Pieces for Viheula
Guardame Las Vacas - Luis de Narvaez
Fantasia - Alonso Mudarra

Homage a Tarrega - Joaquin Turina
(Garrotin - Soleares)

Una Limosna Por el Amor de Dios - Agustin Barrios

Alegrias - Celedonio Romero

Cavatina - Stanley Myers

Two Pieces - Robin Hill
(Canzone - Fiesta)

Adagio (extract from Concierto de Aranjuez) - Joaquin Rodrigo

Alegrias - Traditional (Arr.Hill)

Robin Hill - guitar

This programme lasts for 45 minutes, but every one of those minutes, are pretty eventful!
I look forward to hearing how it went and reporting back with more news tomorrow.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Quebec Calling

Amazing what a few 'phone calls and a couple of hours on dry land can do.
Not to mention a little retail therapy.
This is Robin, sporting a rather splendid hat, freshly purchased in the old quarter of Quebec.

It should certainly keep him warm over the winter months as he undertakes his daily dog walking!
Robin has allowed himself a little time off to explore Quebec, as, it is the first time he has been to Canada.
It looks and sounds beautiful.
One of the tourists sites claim, 'unparalleled romance', so, it's rather unfortunate that I'm not there.
Oh well, maybe next time....
His time ashore was limited though, as he needs to prepare for the third and final concert of the trip, which is tomorrow.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Yehudi Menuhin, Robin Hill and the Psychology of Performance

I'm getting rather mixed messages from the QE2.
The second concert went very well last night and there was a large and appreciative audience. The programme was very much enjoyed, and, there have been many wonderful comments.
However Robin wasn't pleased with it.
There was no particular reason for this, which was making it difficult for me to reply, with any form of reassurance.
So I turned to Robin's own book, 'The Guitar Gymnasium', and read his chapter on 'Performance and Practice'.
At one point Robin refers to Yehudi Menuhin's book, 'Unfinished Journey', and whilst the instrument may be different, the psychology is the same:

"The performing violinist continually reviews the hours, days and weeks preceding a performance, charting the many elements that will release his potential - or put a brake on it. He knows that when his body is exercised, his blood circulating, his stomach light, his mind clear, the music ringing in his heart, his violin clean and polished, it's strings in good order, the bow hair full and evenly spread, then - but then only - he is in command. But neglect of the least of these elements must gnaw his conscience. The audience, even the critic, may not suspect his troubled conscience, or may ascribe a blemish to an irrelevant cause, all unaware of the player's silent admission of insufficiency, his self-disgust, his begging to be given another chance. Even if no fault is noted, the audience's plaudits, their stamping and standing, are of no comfort to him then." Yehudi Menuhin.

So as you can see, Robin is in very good company, with any doubts he may have.
I suspect that the loss of a days practise, due to illness, was enough to upset his equilibrium.
However, he has one more concert to perform on the QE2, which will be on Sunday.
As he is docking in Quebec, Canada, later today, I will at last have the chance to speak to him again.
I must remember to tell him to read his own chapter on performance and remind himself just how difficult it is!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Birthday Blues and the Daily News

The weather has improved and the sea sickness gone, but, that has been replaced by a bout of homesickness.
Robin always misses the family when he is away but today is the 5th birthday of son number two.
No parent wants to be away from home at such a time but sometimes they have to be.
Robin emailed an icard last night which I dutifully printed out and gave to the birthday boy this morning. He was delighted as it was a picture of a frog wearing a birthday cake as a hat!
We had a few family members over for tea, but I have saved the official party with friends until Robin returns.
I'm not so mad that I would attempt to entertain 18 four and five year olds on my own....

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic, practise is going well for the concert tonight.
Robin was featured on the front page of the 'Daily News', with a caption, 'The guitar like you've never heard it before.'
I trust they are meaning that in a positive way...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rough Sea - Great Concert

Well I heard from my man at sea and the concert last night went very well.
I think Robin was a little more tense than normal, due to the loss of a day of guitar practice, whilst he was battling with sea sickness.
However, he had some lovely comments from members of the audience.
One couple, who travel every year on the QE2, said it was the best concert they'd heard. So that was very nice.
He was also taken out afterwards by the cruise director which is always a good sign!

The sea today remains rather rough, so Robin returned to the exercise bike, to try and take his mind off things.
I suspect that subconsciously he feels the faster he pedals, the quicker he will reach dry, and stable, land....

However, he couldn't really relax, as tomorrow is the second concert.
This is another 45 minute recital and a completely different programme.
So no rest for Robin.
He has been busy rehearsing, and preparing, on and off all day.

I meanwhile have been holding the fort here.
It's rather strange as it is the first time that Robin has been away since son number two started school.
So, in theory, I should have much more time.
I haven't seen any evidence of it as yet, although, the house has seemed remarkably quiet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Not-So-Glamorous Side of the Travelling Musician

Yesterday I had some rather unhappy e mails from a seasick musician. It isn't often that this happens and highlights just how rough the sea must have been.
Mind you, we suffered gales here in the North of England yesterday, and the South had a series of mini tornado's. So I can imagine what the Atlantic must have been like.
As always, Robin's main concern was that he felt too unwell to practise, and as the first recital is tonight, this wasn't really a position he wanted to be in.
The situation was made worse by the hatches being well and truly battened down, and consequently, there was no natural light in his room.
Robin is an outdoor type, so, this was particularly difficult.

However, a new day dawned and the weary musician emerged feeling much better, and immediately got down to some serious guitar practise.
His sense of humour also returned, as he informed me that although the weather had improved at the moment, worse was to come in the next two days. There's a tropical storm in the East Atlantic, that as yet, hadn't become a hurricane...!

After practising on and off all day, and taking time out for the sound check, he booked himself a session on an exercise bike, and rattled off 10 miles, which will have helped with any pre concert build up of adrenaline.

As the time difference is changing every day, it will be tomorrow before I have any news of the concert, so you'll just have to wait - like me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On the Way To.....

It's not that we are blase about Robin's travels abroad, but I had a rather amusing 'phone call from him yesterday, after he had settled in on board the QE2.

"Where am I going?" was the question.
I couldn't help but laugh.
The itinerary we get for these trips contain only flight details.
So, on this occasion, we knew he was flying to Heathrow, and would then be collected, and taken to Southampton.
We also know, that his return flight is from Boston, Massachusetts.
As to where he was going in between was something of a mystery.

Normally, one of my jobs is to check countries to be visited, partly out of interest, and partly because I need to know whether travel injections are required, or visas, and even, what type of clothing to pack.
But it has been so busy here.
We did know that it would be mainly around North America, so no new visas or immunisations were needed.
Consequently I didn't look any further.
I did mean to, but, the time just ran out.
However, to save Robin any embarrassment when talking to other people on board, I thought he should at least have some idea where he was going!

As it turns out, it is a trip of 'firsts'.
This is quite rare these days, as Robin has been touring the world for 35 years, playing his guitar, either as part of the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo, or as a soloist, so there aren't many places left that he hasn't been to.
But on this trip , he is going to a few places, and one country, for the first time.
You'll have to keep checking in to find out where...

By the time I'd discovered this, we were out of contact, except via e mail.
So I sent the details off, and this morning, had a delighted reply.
I do hope he isn't going to sack his PA for poor planning....

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The QE2 and 'Music Practice Tips'

Robin is now on board the QE2, in Southampton, and waiting to set sail.
We had an early morning family outing to the airport in which son number two declared, "This is the way to New York!" I suppose that indirectly he is quite correct.
Whilst Robin is away on this trip he will miss the same sons birthday. Thoughtful as ever, Robin had brought him an early birthday present, so that he could give it to him himself.
Said son was absolutely delighted with the Buzz Lightyear laser gun that makes 10 different horrendous noises.
Judging by the look on Robin's face, he was well aware that by the time he returns, the novelty of the toy will have worn off, and it will have found its way to the bottom of the toy box, under a mound of new birthday gifts.
Thus Robin has all the pleasure of giving such a present, and none of the discomfort of the unbearable noise for the next few days...

Today I have also added a new link to the 'Links' section. Ben Clapton, over in Australia, has a new site, 'Music Practice Tips', which is, 'a source of practice tips and inspiration,' and is, 'designed to help promote effective and efficient music practice.'

It covers many types of instruments, and we have been asked to do a 'guest blogger' spot, in the near future. So keep your eye on the site for useful tips, and I'll let you know when our article on guitar practice is available.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Needs of a Travelling Guitarist

It doesn't seem to matter how much notice we have for trips abroad, there always seems to be a last minute panic, and, reasonably organised chaos.
Today has been no exception.
As fast as I have been preparing concert shirts in the last few days, Robin, who has been particularly busy, has been wearing them again.
Finally, today, I think I have caught up with him and we are now ready to pack.

It isn't like packing to go on holiday.
Much more is required.
Apart from the usual every day clothes that anybody would need whilst away, we also have to find room for Robin's concert suit, three concert shirts (on this occasion), concert shoes, strings, footstalls and of course, the extensive nail kit that is required by any travelling guitarist. That alone is the size of a large wash bag.
Oh, then there's a pile of music, some just to be used as a sort of security blanket pre concert, and other new pieces that are currently being worked on.
Not forgetting, passport, visa, (he's heading for the USA), and all the relevant paperwork.
Finally, tennis gear, just in case Robin manages to talk someone into a quick game.

So now I have made my list of things to do, I had better go and get on with it.
Oh, yes, I'd better not forget to add guitar to the list.....

Friday, September 21, 2007

Paco de Lucia - Panaderos Flamencos

Whilst we appear to be in a flamenco frame of mind at the moment I had to share another video with you.
This time it is the fabulous Paco de Lucia and he is performing, 'Impetu & Panaderos Flamencos'.
The first part of the video is 'Impetu', which is worth watching in its own right, but, it is the second half, 'Panaderos Flamencos', or, 'Baker's Flamenco', by Esteban Delgardo, which is highly evocative for me.

Robin was learning this piece whilst we were on holiday a year or so ago.
The desire to learn it rekindled by the fact we were in southern Spain at the time.
The sound of this piece floating out of all the doors and windows of the farm house we were staying in, will stay with me forever.
What better way to hear the music than sitting in the sun, with children playing, and your husband playing his guitar against the backdrop of the Ronda Mountains in Andalucia.

If you are wondering how Robin 'happened' to have the music with him whilst on holiday, well, he didn't.
He did however find a Paco de Lucia CD for sale on a street corner, something unlikely to happen in the UK, and the piece was on it.
He then transcribed the piece from the CD and we were all able to enjoy the music in the environment in which it was born.
As you can see, it was something of a working holiday for Robin, but then there are no other types for him!

Incidentally, on the same trip he bought a Reyes flamenco guitar in Seville, but that's another story...

Paco de Lucia

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Flamenco Guitar - Manolo Sanlucar

The beauty of YouTube is that it provides the opportunity to find real gems which would probably have previously been lost.
Today we discovered some footage of Manolo Sanlucar, the incredible flamenco player.
The film is of a piece he composed himself, 'Fantasia para guitarra y orquesta', and shows flamenco playing at its best, with a brilliant display of picado runs from the middle to the end.
For those not familiar with the terminology of flamenco playing, 'picado' is the alternate use of the fingers, i and m, of the right hand.

Sanlucar's right hand appears incredibly relaxed and the whole performance seems completely effortless. It reminds me of Pepe Romero's famous quote "It's easy to play the guitar well but very difficult to play it badly."

Whilst this piece was recorded on the RCA label, it doesn't appear to be currently available, which is a real shame.
As there's limited information about the piece, we don't know who the orchestra are, although I suspect they are Spanish, nor if Sanlucar orchestrated the piece himself. If someone out there has any more details then do get in touch.

However this does highlight the importance of YouTube and similar sights. Without them we would not have had the opportunity to see and hear this exceptional playing.

Manolo Sanlúcar - Fantasía para guitarra y orquesta

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Preparing For A Concert - 'The Guitar Gymnasium' Way

Guitar students, and also members of audiences, often ask Robin how he prepares specifically for a concert.
So I have taken a small extract from his book, 'The Guitar Gymnasium', to offer you a little insight.

"For the week preceding the concert, I play through the programme in it's entirety at least once, and often twice, a day. I isolate particularly difficult sections and practise them slowly, sometimes changing the fingering if I find a better one, and, as usual, I practice an array of technical exercises.
It is very important, during practice, to be aware of any bodily tensions, however slight, which will, under the strain of live performance, be magnified at least tenfold. If one identifies and addresses them in the practice room, they are less likely to surface in the concert hall."

There's a whole chapter on 'Performance and Practice' so this is just a little taster.
It is however particularly relevant this week.
Robin is preparing for another trip away and is currently rehearsing three different 45 minute programmes.
As you can imagine, this requires an awful lot of time and patience, if you are going to play through all the programmes at least once, if not twice, a day.
Consequently our days are pretty long at the moment and his fingers are working very hard indeed.
Not to mention his brain, as, Robin performs entirely from memory.

For anyone interested in reading more of 'The Guitar Gymnasium', then check out the LINKS section where you can order it from the UK, USA, or direct from the publishers, Mel Bay.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Telesales and How To Survive Them

Today we had one of those annoying telesales calls.
I find them frustrating, politely say I'm not interested, put the 'phone down, and fume for a few minutes.
Robin uses an alternative approach.
He actually has a few, sometimes he reads poetry to them, then puts the 'phone down, but on this occasion he went into a sort of bumbling aristocrat mode.
A nice young man called James was trying to sell him Sky T.V. and all the paraphernalia that goes with it.
After passing a few pleasantries, about how delighted Robin was to hear from him and that it was very nice of him to call, poor, unsuspecting James, went into his sales pitch.

The first problem he encountered was the satellite dish.
Robin declared they are, 'rather unsightly and would look incongruous on our Grade3 listed home'. (which we don't have..)
James obviously didn't know what incongruous meant but talked his way out of it by extolling the virtues of the improved dishes.
"Are they similar to a large dog bowl?" asked Robin.
"Well, yes, they are," replied James.
"Oh, well, that's the problem, we have two large dogs and they're likely to get confused."
I think by now you are getting the drift of the way the conversation was going.
Unbeknown to James, the whole call was taken on loudspeaker, which enabled the entire family to listen in, with increasing levels of mirth.
Suffice to say, James didn't sell us anything, and I'm pretty sure has been left rather bemused by the whole experience.
I just hope that they recorded the call for training purposes. I'd love to hear how they taught their staff how to deal with this sort of situation.

The point is though, that instead of being angry and frustrated at the interruption and intrusion of an unsolicited sales call, we all had an exceedingly good laugh, and were able to go about our day feeling much lighter and happier.

So the next time you get a call like that, remember, you don't have to take it seriously. You didn't asked to be called, so, just go with the flow and let your imagination take over.
It's much better for you.
Son number ones comment on the whole thing, "This is what makes living here so unusual..."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Sacrifices Musicians Make

It has been a particularly busy weekend in Hillhouse, hence my absence yesterday, and it isn't over yet.
As the school year gets underway so do the many activities that the children are involved in.
We have had swimming, two parties and a family gathering, which has resulted in me becoming a taxi service for the duration.
Robin has unfortunately had to miss them all, as he has been working very hard, out both Friday and Saturday evening, and again, at another private function, on Sunday afternoon.
This is the sacrifice that many musicians have to make.
They tend to work when every one else is relaxing and enjoying the weekend.
He was disappointed that he couldn't attend a close friends special party on Saturday, but they understand the situation, which does make it easier.
After all, it is Robin that has to get up there in front of an audience and perform, he has to be prepared.
Hopefully he will be home in time to catch the end of the family gathering today, probably arriving just as sons and cousins have worn themselves out, and are past their best!
As he hasn't seen much of our two boys over the last two days I think I'll get him to organise the bedtime routine.
Two overtired children, with that Sunday evening feeling, should help to keep his feet very firmly on the ground...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Classical Guitars and Hampton Court

There's an article in the paper today, by Roger Highfield and Nic Fleming, about 'Palaces being damaged by concert noise'.
Many historic buildings have been used for years as a backdrop for fund-raising concerts.
But a study carried out at Hampton Court Palace has found that loud music has damaged windows and brickwork.
I do hope that Hill/Wiltschinsky didn't contribute to the increased decay.
Years ago they performed live for BBC Radio 4, at Hampton Court , in a programme hosted by Gloria Hunniford.
Here are a youthful looking duo relaxing with sandwiches after the concert!

It was a good week for them, as the programme was chosen for 'Pick of the Week', which they were delighted about.
The article does go on to say that it is the bass frequencies, usually greater in rock concerts than classical, which cause the most problems.
So there we have it, more classical music please, in these fabulous settings. Not only is it an inspirational night out for artist and audience alike, but, it's also better for the environment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Led Zeppelin and Pavarotti

With all the papers talking of the reunion of Led Zeppelin for a one off concert in November, after a 19 year break, I just couldn't resist showing you this photo again.

Yes, it's Robin, playing his Gibson Les Paul guitar, with a very, 'Led Zeppelin' look about him.
He was going to record a version of 'Stairway To Heaven' especially for you, but, unfortunately even Robin on his guitar can't compete with the pneumatic drill outside...
You can however read, and listen, to Robin playing the electric guitar by following this link to a previous post on the band, 'Force Ten'.

In an unrelated story, it was rather sad to read a report by Nick Pisa, how unhappy Pavarotti was prior to his death, a situation that his family have been quick to deny. I do hope his comments to a friend in the late stages of his illness were just a symptom of his advancing vulnerability rather than marital problems.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


It's incredibly noisy here today.
Just when the children have returned to school and we are adjusting to the quiet, builders and tree surgeons have arrived in the near vicinity.
The sound of tumbling bricks has been deafening, but then they are thrown into a skip, from a distance, which is even worse.
As if that wasn't bad enough some neighbours decided to have some trees felled.
That's fine, they are their trees, but neither Robin nor I could bring ourselves to watch. We love trees, and feel the world needs as many of them as possible, to counter some of the environmental damage being done, and, of course, for their beauty.
I had to go out for a while.
I couldn't stand to see healthy trees, that we have admired from our bedroom window, be slowly dismembered.
Apart from that, the noise was horrendous, especially when combined with falling bricks.
So I escaped, until the worst was over, and Robin took himself off to the furthest point of the house, to try and hear himself practice his scales and arpeggios.

Meanwhile tributes have been made worldwide to the keyboard player Joe Zawinul. We did our own yesterday, but for one of many obituaries, you can read more about Zawinul's life here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joe Zawinul 1932 - 2007

Joe Zawinul, the keyboard player and composer has died today in Austria.
Zawinul was born in Vienna in 1932 where he later went on to study music at the Vienna Conservatory.
In 1959 he emigrated to the USA where he toured with Maynard Ferguson, accompanied Dinah Washington, and in 1961 joined Cannonball Adderley with whom he performed and recorded until 1970.
It was in 1970 that Zawinul and Wayne Shorter formed 'Weather Report'.
Zawinul was one of the most original and prolific composers to emerge in the 1970's, and it was Zawinul's experimentation with the Wurlitzer and electric pianos, that influenced other jazz musicians to adopt these instruments, which drastically altered the tone and colour of an entire branch of jazz music.

Weather Report have been hugely influential on Robin's life, in particular the album 'Heavy Weather' which had the perfect chemistry of musicians and the time was right for their musical statement to be made.
The fact that we still listen to their music on a regular basis shows how important it has been.

Due to a technical hitch, the video I've posted can be found below, under it's own title.
It is Weather Report, (with Jaco), performing 'Black Market' in 1978.

Weather Report (with Jaco)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Last Night of the Proms and First Day of School

It's good to know I wasn't the only one enjoying the 'Last Night of the Proms', read Geoffrey Norris's lovely review, 'A vintage and stirring night', for a full report.

We are having a strange day here.
School has resumed for the Autumn term and son number two has now entered the academic system, full time, from today.
There's an eerie quiet about the house, and over lunch, Robin and I couldn't quite get used to the lack of noise and fidgeting around the table.
Anyone who has children will understand the transition we are all making, but, so far, all appears to have gone well.

It will of course mean that we should both have more time during the day to get on with some work, that's the theory anyway...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Last Night of the Proms and Choral Composition

Whilst Robin was out last night I thoroughly enjoyed watching most of the 'Last night of the Proms'.
Conductor, Jiri Belohlavek, did a wonderful job and produced excellent performances from all the musicians.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra seemed to be having a ball, after what has been a very busy season for them.
To see so many people around the country, enjoying the music and the tradition of the Last Night, is very touching indeed, and can only help promote classical music globally.
The orchestra is such a mighty instrument, that we do well to remind people that to hear so many talented musicians in one place, is truly a spectacle not to be missed.

It also helped me.
Sundays, usually, are the only day of the week that we get to relax a little.
This morning was one of those days which was a real delight.
Robin started listening to the choral piece that he is currently composing, and I felt in a much better position to comment after hearing the 'BBC Symphony Chorus' last night.
Somehow it helped focus my mind, and my ears, on the possibilities available when working with voices, and I understand much more the effects that Robin is achieving in this new work.

The piece isn't completed yet, but it will be a very exciting day when it is, and even more so when we get to hear it performed by real live musicians.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Friday Night Frenzy

After a busy day finalising deals for early next year I thought my work for the day was done.
Robin was out playing, children were in bed, and I finally got to sit down.
It didn't last long.
The 'phone rang.
"Can Robin be in Malta on Sunday?" It was our London agent.
There followed two hours of four way 'phone calls between me, Robin, the London agent and the American agent.
Robin arrived home at 11.45pm and we were still waiting for the final word.
At midnight the 'phone went again, and it was decided it wasn't possible on this occasion.
We both breathed a sigh of relief.
Robin would have quite happily gone, but the prospect of getting organised and packed for an early flight on Sunday, wasn't very appealing.
Especially as he is out most of today, and this evening, playing at two different private functions...
Still, it's always good to be in demand, and that is something that no musician ever takes for granted.

Friday, September 07, 2007

To Play or Not to Play - That is the Question...

The other day I mentioned Bryn Terfel pulling out of the Royal Opera House's autumn production due to family commitments.
Following on from that, Rupert Christiansen wrote a piece yesterday which has some very good points, and it appears the public are divided. You can read the report and the comments here.

I do know that Robin had to make a very difficult decision connected to the premiere of his first ever concerto, 'Concerto Primavera'.
Two days prior to the performance, Robin's father died suddenly and unexpectedly.
Our world was in turmoil.
We had to deal with the emotion in the same way as any family.
But what do you do about the premiere?
The orchestra were booked and had been rehearsing.
The event was sold out.
It was not only the premiere of the piece, but also, the first concerto Robin had composed.
It wasn't just a case of being present at the premiere, Robin also had to perform it!
All in all it was a difficult position.

We discussed the situation as a family and it was decided that the 'show must go on', for many reasons, one of which being that Robin's father had been looking forward to it so much.
We didn't tell anyone.
Robin just got up there, played as well as he could, and somehow managed to get through the whole experience.
In fact the event was a huge success, and gained excellent reviews, which gave a much needed morale boost.

So, in this situation, the show did go on.
However, I'm not sure the same would apply if it were a sick child.
A parent who has died is a very different scenario, there really isn't a lot you can do.
A sick child needs support.
I just hope we don't have to face that dilemma, and I suppose all situations have to be looked at individually, and an informed decision made that feels right for the performer and their family.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

'High Fives' for the 'Great Tenor' - Pavarotti has Died

I'm sure that most of the blogging world will be discussing the death of Luciano Pavarotti, who died this morning, at the age of 71. You can read Malcolm Moore's report here.

It's sad when anyone dies, but characters as big as Pavarotti, in every sense of the word, don't happen too often.
His popularity has introduced many thousands of people to the area of classical music, and more specifically, opera, which is an achievement in itself.
Amongst musicians there was always an element of 'fear' when chosen to perform with him, as he had very clear ideas of what he wanted to hear. However there was also a huge pride at being offered that role.

This happened twice to Robin, although the second performance was cancelled due to Pavarotti's failing health.
Robin sat very near to him and felt his presence was even more powerful in person than he anticipated.
Pavarotti never spoke to the musicians directly, it was always done through the conductor, (despite his large voice he was very quietly spoken), but Robin could hear everything he said.
Believe me, Robin was very keen to give a note perfect performance and interpretation, for fear of the wrath of the great man.
It went well though and Robin was fine, unlike some of the orchestral members....

In the last few days of his life the Italian government awarded him a prize to recognise his achievements, shortly after La Scala announced a new Luciano Pavarotti award.
Pavarotti is said to have been "happy at the recognition", and it was nice for him to hear about these awards, instead of them being issued after his death. I do hope he took them as acknowledgments of his achievements and not notification of his moribund state.

Pavarotti was passionate about life and passionate about his music and will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Musicians and Their Families

Bryn Terfel, Britain's leading opera star, has pulled out of the Royal Opera House's autumn production of Wagner's Ring Cycle. You can read the article by Matthew Taylor here.
Terfel wants to spend more time with his family.
A decision he reached, after one of his sons required surgery three times for a badly broken finger, with more treatment to follow.

Any parent wants to be with their child at a time like this. It's always difficult getting the balance right when you are working. But if that work takes you away from home, often for lengthy periods of time, it can be a considerable strain for all concerned.
Robin has missed childrens' birthdays, sports day, parents' evenings, harvest festivals etc. all because he has been away at the time, and all he would have attended and enjoyed, if he had been home.

Whilst this is difficult for us, it is even harder for him. Especially birthdays. Last year we had to e mail a photo of the birthday boy holding up a message to his Dad, just so that he felt a part of things.
Unfortunately the same situation will arise next month.
But what can you do?
It's not just a case of accepting work, but also, of needing to play.
So we muddle through as best we can and make the most of the times when he is home.

Terfel will still be doing concerts, just less opera, which requires more time away from home.
I'm sure it's a decision he has deliberated over, and I hope that it is one that works out for him.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Son of a Musician

Son number two starts school later this week.
We were issued with a booklet to fill in, with his help, to make the transition to school life easier.
There were many questions, likes/dislikes, what makes you happy/sad, what you can/can't do, that type of thing.
This was all fine.
Then there was a section, 'What are your favourite nursery rhymes/songs?'
Here we got stuck.
His reply was, 'She's Leaving Home', by The Beatles,
'Shut Up', Black Eyed Peas,
'Sk8er Boi' by Avril Lavigne and Beethoven's 5th Symphony...
'She's Leaving Home', is currently a favourite, despite waking early one morning and asking us, "Where did they leave their baby?", somehow he hadn't quite got the point of the piece.
'Shut Up', doesn't exactly have suitable lyrics for four year olds, but we have all become very good at singing loudly over any phrases we don't wish him to repeat in public, making up our own words as we go along...
'Sk8er Boi', because he loves to dance to it.
Beethoven's 5th, well, he didn't actually announce the name of the piece, but he did sing a few bars, and that was what he wanted putting on the form.

This left us in a dilemma.
Do we put the pieces he mentioned, or, try and steer him towards pieces that his new found peers are more likely to know.
What will his peers know anyway?
In the end we put something vague.
Luckily he is familiar with all the current cartoons and their theme music, Postman Pat, Bob the Builder etc. So I just hope that he will be able to fall back on this to help him mingle in those first few days...

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Times They are a Changin'

One thing I miss when Robin is away are the debates and discussions that occur, usually triggered by a simple thought, or newspaper article.
So I was very pleased today when he announced gleefully that Bob Dylan's lyrics are to be studied in secondary schools.
Yes, we debated and discussed, and Robin's overriding view was, that Dylan is a poet and a musician, and it's an ideal way to teach children.
He then went off to practice and I continued to ponder the situation.
There was an interesting article by Sam Leith in the paper today, which has many good points, and you can read it here.

Eventually, I found myself on Bob Dylan's site, reading through some of his lyrics.
Here's one verse from, The Times They Are A-Changin', you can read the whole song here.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old roads is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

I feel sure that most teenagers will relate to this one verse alone.
If any child becomes interested in the use of language, and the power that goes with it, then this can only be positive.
Also, Robin has a hidden agenda when it comes to Bob Dylan, he does an excellent impression which actually sounds more like Dylan than Dylan does!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lost Luggage Again.....

One relieved guitarist is back home.
After flight changes, security checks, missed flights and finally arrival at Manchester, the sting in the tail was, of course, lost luggage.
This happens so frequently it's hardly worth a mention anymore.
At least Robin's guitar is now allowed back in the cabin of the plane so we didn't have to worry about that.
It's also not as traumatic on the return trip.
Past experience has taught us that having to perform concerts in a borrowed suit is not much fun.
We have been assured that the luggage it is on its way, and will be delivered shortly, by a courier who we are almost on first name terms with.

Not one to let jet lag get the better of him, Robin has already taken the dogs out for a much needed walk, and is currently on an extended bike ride with son number one, in the pouring rain.

No doubt he will be tempted to do some practice on his return.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Robin Hill Remembered, in a New York Toy Shop...

You know you have done a lot of travelling when you go into a toy shop in the JFK airport, New York, and the assistant says, "Oh, you back again so soon!"
I was quite amazed, and amused, when Robin told me this had happened.
She must get hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of customers each week. It's not even as if Robin is buying large, expensive, presents each time. It tends to be just a small memento for the children.
Mind you, there can't be quite as many shoppers with large guitar cases slung from their shoulders.

The journey home proved the usual tedious event we all now expect with air travel.
Robin's direct flight was cancelled, reason unknown, so they put him on a flight to Heathrow.
On paper it should all have worked out fine.
Except for the security checks.
So he watched his flight to Manchester depart, whilst he was still trying to get into the terminal building at Heathrow.
Coincidentally, I read this related article today, by David Millward.
I think Robin was beginning to think, "Why do I do this?".

I certainly was.
Having got two children up very early to go the airport, then a call to say wait for further information, by which time we were all too wide awake to go back to bed.
Shouldn't complain really, at least we'd been to bed!

So there we have it.
Instead of getting home at 6 am, Robin is now biding his time in Heathrow,due home approximately 6 hours late.
I know that doesn't sound a lot, and if you only travel by air a couple of times a year, then it's manageable.
But it's very frustrating when such a lot of your work is done outside the UK.

So next time you are at a concert, watching a musician from abroad, just remember the trials they have gone through in pursuit of their music.
They just want to play.
Unfortunately they usually have to jump through a few hoops to do so.