'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 29, 2008

Time Machine

Well, it has been rather a surreal day.
Robin set off early to drive down to London.
Those following Twitter yesterday will have seen that we did in fact try to purchase a train ticket.
After a frustrating time 'on line' we discovered that we would have to pay one part of the journey twice, just to collect the tickets...
As the cost was already nearing that of a small sized family car, a quick visit to the railway station followed.

The surly man at the desk assured us that it was indeed possible to get from Manchester to London, but he couldn't guarantee getting home again....
What! We're talking two major cities here.

To cut a long story short, Robin got up early this morning and drove instead.
He has had a successful rehearsal with Izzy Cooper and is particularly pleased with the Villa Lobos and Manuel de Falla arrangements he has been working so hard on recently.

Meanwhile here at Hillhouse I made an innocent comment on Twitter about son number two wanting to make a time machine.
From this I have received advice on black holes and wormholes, made new friends, and it appears that my progress has been followed as far afield as Michigan, where an order has already been placed if successful in my quest.

Well, I can report that it has been an extremely successful day.
Our time machine is complete.
So far we have travelled to the Jurassic period, met pirates on the high seas, a cyberman (Dr Who style) and Alien Spacemen, which were obviously from the future.

The patent is pending, but as you are such a trustworthy lot out there in the blogosphere, I shall let you into our secret.


1 plastic bucket - large
lots of paper
lots of sellotape
plastic poles

and most importantly, the mindset of a 5 year old.

As for my order, my Twitter friend, Ari in Michigan, the cost, well I'm afraid it's priceless.
And if you think I've lost my mind now, just wait until you read my ramblings after another 5 1/2 weeks of school holidays...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nigel Kennedy Proms 2008 - Monocle Poppin' Innit?

Thank you to the BBC.
Last night we were treated to the recording of Nigel Kennedy's performance at the BBC Proms 2008.
It proved to be an oasis in the cultural void that is television today.

What a pleasure to see Kennedy perform Elgar's Violin Concerto with the passion, mastery and skill of the true virtuoso that he is.

His ability to engage not only the audience, but also the BBC Concert Orchestra, shows the mutual respect that was justly deserved.

As if one concerto wasn't enough, Kennedy then went on to play with his Polish Jazz Quintet, proving once again that he is a true maestro.
I have said many times on this blog that it is rare for a classical musician to play convincingly in other genres, but Kennedy is one of those rare musicians.

The fact that he had just played Elgar brilliantly, emphasised the quality of his musicianship, and only added to the quintet's kudos and gravitas.
It is always such a delight to observe any musician when so engrossed in his music, whether Elgar or his own compositions, and on this occasion Nigel Kennedy did the world a huge favour with these inspired performances.

Jeff Beck's playing was truly fantastic, and, with the addition of Kennedy's version of 'Third Stone from the Sun' also being performed, (I don't recall ever previously hearing Jimi Hendrix's music at the Proms), it was a hugely refreshing change.

People like Nigel Kennedy are extremely rare.
We should cherish those with such ability and allow them to grow and develop.

Friday, July 25, 2008

2 Years of Blogging

Happy second birthday to 'Life of a Musician'.
We seem to have come a long way since the first blog two years ago and I have certainly been on a very sharp learning curve in this time.

A few statistics for you:

Today will be the 597th post, which I'm sure you will agree, is a lot of writing!
In the past year alone we have had nearly 19 000 page views, with approximately 1000 pages read each month.

Then we entered the MySpace terrain and in only a few months have built up a considerable list of 'friends' and have already had over 2700 profile views.

Twitter has been equally as active, with 93 regular followers and 838 updates at the time of writing.

We may be low on the 'links', by which a lot of blogs judge themselves, but the amount of regular readers we have more than compensates for that in my mind.

We will be releasing the 4th CD on CD Baby in just a few weeks time, so I think you will agree that it has been a busy 12 months.

I've enjoyed the past year and there have been many exciting things happening along the way. Lets hope the next 12 months prove equally productive.

Many thanks to you all, from all parts of the world, for following the life of this particular musician so far...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Life's Little Instruction Book

Back in 1992 Robin gave me a present.
It was a book written by H.Jackson Brown,Jr. called, 'Life's Little Instruction Book'.

The idea was a simple one.
The author wanted to write a few thoughts and general observations to pass onto his son as he left home to attend college.
Instead of just a few points, the collection grew into, "511 suggestions, observations, and reminders on how to live a happy and rewarding life."

It's a beautiful concept, and one that all parents should consider, to hand onto their offspring at the appropriate time.

We have referred to it many times in the intervening years and in fact incorporated many of the points into our daily lives.
But there is one entry that has caused us great mirth and a sense of well being on many occasions.
If you already have the book, then it's No. 491. If you don't own a copy, then I suggest you purchase one.

However, No. 491 states, 'Make someone's day by paying the toll for the person in the car behind you.'

This in particular appealed to Robin's sense of humour, and we have used it on many occasions over the years.
It generally works something like this:

You pull up at the toll station, choosing the manned option.
You then pay your own fee and add, "and this is for my friend in the car behind."
Generally all other passengers in the car start to squirm at this point.
We have never been questioned further, presumably the operator just assumes we are travelling in tandem.
As you pull off, be sure to watch the next car, as it arrives at the booth.
They try to pay their fee, and are told, "your friend has paid for you."
This causes a great deal of confusion as the unsuspecting car behind you tries to explain that they have no idea who you are.

Meanwhile, we are all rolling around laughing and speculating on the conversation that ensues in the following vehicle as they try to understand what has occurred.

Try it, not only does it pass the time on a long journey, but you are also left feeling virtuous for doing a good deed for a complete stranger.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nigel Kennedy - Running on Pure Adrenalin

As Nigel Kennedy prepares to perform Elgar's Violin Concerto tonight at the BBC Proms 2008 you can be assured that he won't have ingested any prescribed medication to combat nerves prior to his concert.

However, what he does after the performance, in order to relax, may be a different matter.
This point was recently highlighted in many newspapers and blogs.

One example was in The Guardian blog with a post from the American oboist, journalist and author of 'Mozart in the Jungle', Blair Tindall.

Apparently Kennedy is against musicians taking prescribed drugs for stage fright, but not adverse to occasional cannabis use.

This whole topic reminded me of a post I ran almost a year ago which looked at Robin's views of the use of beta blockers to combat nerves, 'Sex, Drugs and Classical Music.'

So, apart from the cannabis, I think we fall into the same camp as Nigel Kennedy, which I must say isn't a bad place to be.
I'm actually far more concerned that I will only be able to hear his performance at the proms tonight on Radio 3, and not see it on any of the available television stations, despite huge coverage in the media....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Uriah Heep, Jon Hiseman's Colosseum and the Naked Drummer

A local radio station prompted an old friend to call today.
For some reason the station were reminiscing about the band Uriah Heep and a concert they performed back in 1971.
They asked anyone listening with memories of the event to get in touch.

Our friend, Pete Hilton, remembered the occasion well, as he was there, with Robin, playing in a band on the same bill.
The band was 'Spring', and they went on stage before Uriah Heep.

I was intrigued, so looked up Uriah Heep's site, you can see it here.
Sure enough, if you go to their gigs list, click 1971, then on August 29th the very concert is listed, Kendal Festival.

It was quite a night, as after 'Spring', Jon Hiseman later went on with 'Colosseum'.

Neither Robin nor Pete Hilton were able to recall much of events of the evening. Whether that was the passage of time, it was 37 years ago, or whether it was the excesses of the night, (it was after all a rock festival) I haven't yet established.

However, they did both remember being on the same bill as Uriah Heep on another occasion in which the drummer did the entire set naked.
I should add that Spring didn't follow suit...or should I say without suit or in birthday suits.....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shame (Flute) about the African Nose Trumpet

I haven't as yet been able to establish why, but in the last few days there have been a number of new visitors here from America, all arriving at the same page.

They found their way to a post I ran back in October 2007, called, The Shame Flute, which you can read here.

Whether there has recently been a radio or T.V. programme featuring the said flute, I'm not sure, but whatever the source, the interest has spanned from coast to coast.
But I am very pleased to welcome all new visitors and hope you enjoy the Hillhouse experience!

This got me thinking about unusual and interesting facts connected to instruments, so, I did a bit of research.

Did you know, for example, that the flutes used by Inca chieftains were made from the arms and shinbones of their captured foes?
Worth remembering next time you happen to be asked to play one.

Or that drums on the island of Timor are carved in the shape of a human torso, because an ancient tribal hero could imitate the sound of the drum by thumping his chest.

Finally, that the national instrument of Polynesia is the nose flute, which is played with one nostril.

This last point reminds me of a rather harrowing time our eldest child recently had.
He was being interviewed for a place at senior school, by the headmaster.
This, as you can imagine, is a stressful situation for an 11 year old, especially when shown an unusual object and asked to guess what it was.

Poor son was at a complete loss.
He'd never seen the item before, and correctly surmised that he was being tested on his lateral thinking.
After much examination, and soul searching, he still had no idea, so decided to try injecting a little humour.
"It's an African nose trumpet," he declared.
Their was no response from the headmaster, and I spent the next few days reassuring son number one, that his response had been acceptable given his family background. (By that I mean musical and not raving mad...)

Anyway, he starts at the school in September, so I assume he either guessed correctly, and the item was in fact an African nose trumpet, or, and more likely, the head 'overlooked' the attempt at humour and dismissed it as youthful high spirits...

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Song, A Soprano, and A Book

Where's Izzy Cooper when you need her?
Robin is currently working on a few arrangements for the concerts in August.
They are sounding great, but there is a problem.
He keeps seeking me out, and asking me, to sing the soprano part.

The problem is, I'm not a singer.
By any stretch of the imagination, I am not a singer.
I'd love to be a singer, and have tried recording various songs of Robin's, over the years.
And he has always, very patiently, manned the recording equipment, before playing back the 'take', and trying to disguise the nervous tick that starts to develop.

But I am trained to observe, and I also have ears.
I can hear that I am no singer.
I can also see the flicker of pain as it crosses the sensitive musician's face.
That's OK though, we got past all that years ago.

So today, as he asks me to sing some parts for him, he is under no illusions, and neither am I.
Basically we are checking that the notes are all in the right places...
The children have escaped to another room and the dogs have their paws over their ears.

Actually, I'm doing myself an injustice.
I'm not that bad, as non-professional singers go, I'm OK.
But Robin has spent parts of his career working with some incredible singers, Pavarotti, Russell Watson, Madeline Bell, etc.
So my 'singing round the house' style just can't compete.

Luckily, I'm not trying to make a living out of it.
I have however just completed a book.
A whole book, from start to finish, written.
I still have some editing to do, and the small matter of getting an agent and publisher, but I won't let that spoil the mood.
It's not everyone that can say they have written a book...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Guitarists and Their B****y Nails

I have certainly neglected you all over the last week but there hasn't been a lot to report, other than nail issues....

Robin has been doing a lot of travelling this year, involving many concerts.
As all guitarists know, and also any non-guitarists who follow this blog, guitarists are completely at the mercy of the quality of their nails.

It's a constant battle to keep the nails of the right hand in an acceptable condition to stand up to the rigours of performing.
The vicious circle of super glue, silk wrap and acetone really do take their toll.
The underlying nail becomes damaged and weakened, resulting in further use of super glue, silk wrap and acetone....etc. etc.

There comes a point when the nails have to be rested and allowed to recover.
But this isn't easy.
With the next concert is looming on the horizon practice has to be done.

There's also the constant need to learn new material, and in this particular month, there is a lot to learn.
The concert in August with Izzy Cooper requires arrangements to be made, and then learnt.
Hopefully, later this month they will also be able to get together, and play through some of the pieces.

But first, Robin has had to rest his nails.
It really is the only time this year that he can completely stop playing, only for a few days, and allow them to recover.

So the glue is off.
The silk wraps are off.
And therefore the acetone isn't needed.

He is religiously applying various lotions and potions in an attempt to rehydrate the battle worn nails, so they will be in a good condition to return to duty for the forthcoming bookings.

As you can imagine this is actually a rather stressful process for Robin.
Not only is he concerned about the upkeep of his nails, but also he misses playing the guitar.
The only saving grace has been the mandolin.
Fortunately, the mandolin is played with a pick, so no nails are required.
Consequently, as you will have read on the tweets, we are hearing a lot of rather nice mandolin playing.
Mind you, it's a good job it hasn't been sunny.
If I hear 'O Sole Mio' one more time, I will just have to go out and buy an ice cream...

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Case of the Missing Key

We had one of those weekends that just seemed to go in a blur.
The school term ended with sports day, which was a great event and we were lucky with the weather.
It was very nice to spend some time with friends chatting and enjoying the day, whilst cheering on the excited schoolboys.

However, on our return home, the mood rapidly changed.
The key to the music room was lost.
We looked everywhere. All pockets of all 4 family members. Everywhere.
The last person to have it was Robin.
He'd locked the music room, put the key in his pocket, and then gone off to the school playing fields.

Logical next step was of course to retrace his steps.
How hard can it be to find one small silver key in the vast expanse of the school grounds?
Funnily enough we had been joking earlier about getting a bloodhound puppy.
Now was the time we needed its sniffer dog skills.
Our two Labradors aren't up to the task.
They may be good at retrieving sticks, but even they on occasions run in the wrong direction, and we have to go and get the stick ourselves...

So, after 1/2 hour pouring over the beautifully manicured fields of school, Robin returned frustrated and angry.
Everything he needed was in the room.
Tantalizingly close but beyond reach.
After trying to pick the lock for a while I conceded defeat and we called a locksmith.

Whilst we waited I tried a few quotes to calm the situation, and started with Bertrand Russell:

"To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness"

That didn't go down to well.

So I tried humour, a quote from the American humorist Russel Baker:

"Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories - those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost."

OK, in retrospect it possibly wasn't one of my better ideas. But fortunately we were saved by the arrival of the locksmith, who had a huge bunch of keys and worked his way through them until finding one that fit.
Whilst relieved to have regained entry to the music room I do find it rather worrying that there are people out there with keys to your home...

Our elation didn't last long when he informed us that his call out fee went up at 4pm. The time at this stage was around 5 o'clock...
As the rant continued from Robin about the cost of the missing key I decided to keep the next quote to myself:

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." William James

And that was just Friday...

Friday, July 04, 2008

Google Searches for the Guitar?

The sound of the first movement of the 'Concierto de Aranjuez' continues to echo around the house.
So whilst Robin immerses himself in the music I decided to prepare a little 'Google search' entertainment for you, to help ease you all into the weekend.

These unusual Google searches have proved popular on the occasions that I have included them, resulting in a number of emails expressing amusement.
So, here are a few more.

For those unfamiliar with the system, these are a few of the latest batch of searches that have found there way to this blog, occasionally by very strange and devious routes.
Often the link to the classical guitar appears rather tenuous, but amazingly, I have actually found some of the pages the unknown searcher landed on.

For example, 'name tapes for socks' arrived here.

'spilt nail varnish remover', here.

'George Bush eyebrows', here.

'Barbirolli Marriage of Figaro boiled egg', here.

But then the person enquiring about 'guitar socks' could have ended up on one of two pages, this one, or, this one.

However, there are always a few that I never really know where they ended up:

- musicians who practice too much (always)
- can musicians have children (what!)
- robin hill murders (!!!)
- top 10 hills in India

One of my favourites:

- one day I pay the hills (yes please, whoever you are!)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rodrigo and Steely Dan 'Aja'

We listen to a lot of music here at Hillhouse.
Currently we are alternating between two very different styles.
As I have mentioned, Robin is performing the 'Concierto de Aranjuez' next year.
Part of the preparation involves listening to many different interpretations.
So when I can't hear Robin playing through the piece himself, or working on parts of it, then I frequently hear recordings by various artists.
Robin does, of course, have his own interpretation, but it's always good to hear others performances.

But it's not all work.
We are also revisiting one of the best albums ever made, 'Aja' by Steely Dan.
We have listened to this album for many years, but on one of Robin's recent trips abroad, he happened to come across a documentary about the making of Aja, which offered a wonderful insight into this remarkable recording.

Although released in 1977, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker created a classic album which sounds as fresh today as it did 31 years ago.

This is due not only to the incredible quality of composition and intelligent lyrics, but also to featuring some of the greatest session players around.
Joe Sample, Wayne Shorter , Steve Gadd and Tom Scott, to name but a few.

If you are unfamiliar with the 'Aja' album, then I strongly recommend that you get yourself a copy immediately.
Meanwhile, we shall continue to alternate between Rodrigo and Steely Dan. Not a bad backdrop to my work.