Thursday, 29 January 2015

Somewhere in Accrington.............

11.32pm and finally I am at a hotel provided by Flybe for the cancellation of all flights from Manchester Airport. In fairness it was a bit of a mess, the queues were very long and never seemed to get shorter.....the handling staff were very nice but thin on the ground and the organisation of the evacuation was poor at best and execrable at worst.

We all feel rather like intrepid explorers, determined and undefeated, but tired and frustrated !

The hotel couldn't be more helpful and had hot food and hot drinks ready for us, and check in was quick, efficient and performed with smiles of commiseration ! I imagine the Flybe bill will more than cover their provision ! It was, however, very nice to be so well received.

Our hotel the Dunkanhalgh Hotel - I didn't notice the castellated bits in the dark, snow and........

I am now off to bed for about four hours befor I have to get on the 4am bus back to the airport - with the hope of no more snow PLEASE !


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

L'il Liza Jane in the chapel of all places !

They did it ! Six sisters of varying ages and stages put together a three part L'il Liza Jane today ! It was a little ragged around the edges, but by tomorrow afternoon when we have our final choral session I know it will be slick and tidy singing ! In a funny kind of way hearing sisters in habits singing a lively negro folk song with such gusto in the centre of a calm and beautifully peaceful chapel, might, to the uninitiated seem slightly odd - even inappropriate, but these ladies sing in this gorgeous chapel as if it is their home, which of course it is ! So the swing and smiles seem utterly right, and as my old Dad used to say, ' Why should the devil have all the best tunes !'

It was pure enjoyment, for me as much as for them. We were two quite vital singers/sisters down today as well, on other duties, so boy will they get a big surprise when they return to the vocal fold (Ha Ha) tomorrow !

It has been a very good day, lots of positive teaching, and, to my great delight they are getting to that place where some of the technical stuff is happening as if by second nature. Some very good mouth shapes and supported breathing. I really feel as if I have done my job when technique comes flooding back in 24 hours !

Job satisfaction, you can't beat it........


Lovely picture of the 1916 publication on the song, but on doing my homework it was a slave song from Louisiana, first heard around the 1860's. I thought as much, it doesn't strike me as a song composed by a Countess ?! Look closely at the cover.....


Monday, 26 January 2015

Sopranos must 'use it or lose it' !

It has been a beautiful day in Grange over Sands, both in terms of weather and singing ! I began my day with the Superior who thought she had forgotten everything she has been taught since I was here last, and in actual fact, and to her delight, in five minutes of scales and exercises all flooded back and the mouth was moving beautifully ! She is a lovely lady with a naturally high soprano voice and a warm and mellifluous tone quality. I had whipped her up to a top F before she realised it, and by the time I get to thursday I feel sure we will have conquered the dizzy heights of a top G.

It is very hard to persuade the sisters in all the convents and abbeys that I visit, that just because they do not use the top most end of their voices, does not mean that these notes don't exist ! Lack of use means lack of confidence in attempting them. If I came every week I know in this particular house I would have a raft of very good and solid high soprano voices. It is definitely to do with the fact that the daily office generally does not require much above a C above middle C. When your comfort zone is generally higher than that, and bearing in mind that the high voiced sisters have not even, by that note, moved into their head voice, it is easy for them to forget that they even have a head voice. Oddly, but understandably, some of these soprano sisters seem to think that they have only a smallish vocal range !

For one week only (sounds like a film promo) I work them up into this head voice, and they feel exhilarated by this new found ability ! Every year I tell them that it has always been there, desperate to come out and let rip, and now and again they need to remember to give it an airing !

We began our fun piece today, I gave them the three part version of L'il Liza Jane. They learn parts quickly and efficiently, not because they all read music, but like choristers, they sing such a large amount of repertoire - infact almost a new and different 'something' every day - that most nuns have a quick as lightening ear which picks up a tune or a part at the speed of light !

They are a joy to teach, but just need a large injection of confidence. Hopefully I give them that less painfully than using a needle.......Ugh !

Watch this space, ( and listen to it as well) !

I was fortunate enough to have Sunday lunch with the sisters and the Bishop of Lancaster was a guest. Last year one of my most diligent pupils here Sr Florence took her first vows after the noviciate and it was he who did the honours. Sr Florence is originally from Malaysia, and what a glorious sight it must have been when her visiting family wore traditional costume for the auspicious occasion ! The Bishop was a charming man with a great love for Beethoven and Schubert Lieder, clearly a man of taste !

All the family from Malaysia with Bishop Michael

The Superior Sr Eileen with newly professed Sr Florence


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Stranded of Scullamus..........

What a funny old morning ! I left home promptly at 3am, my friend Kate kindly driving me over to Inverness Airport from whence I am due to fly to Manchester, then on to the delightful nuns at Boarbank Hall in Grange over Sands.......well that was the theory !

It was blowing a sizable blizzard most of the way and snow was lying quite thickly on roads, verges and mountains. It would normally take around two and a half hours to the airport, today was nearer to three and a half. On arriving at the departure lounge with barely an official minute to make it through to the gate, I was hurried through and breathlessly sat down before expecting to be called immediately for boarding.

Minutes passed and it was clear that the flashing lights of the runway clearing vehicles outside were hoovering up snow like starving and mildly deranged Arctic ants. So after a little while it became obvious that we would not be flying anywhere in a hurry !

So here I am, ensconced in an empty Servisair Lounge, already on my third coffee and having had my breakfast. The airport is closed until at least 8am, then a recheck - or should I say 'snowcheck' will happen. Watch this space methinks.

My train ticket to Grange from Manchester Airport is for 11am, and it is at moments like this that I am glad I allow lots of transition time, so if we leave at 8 o'clock ish I think I will still make it.

Life is always exciting in this part of the world, indeed Kate had a fully prepared car including shovel, blankets, water, kettle and emergency food - and how sensible that is. Not so very long ago I was caught at Invergarry by a sudden and heavy snow fall and luckily grabbed the last available room at the Invergarry Hotel ! At least here I can wile away the time with snacks, drinks, comfy chairs, and lounge wifi, so not so much suffering as pleasantly frustrated ?!

Will I get to said sisters in Cumbria ? That is the million dollar question ! Answers on a postcard ( with a gloriously snowy view on the picture side of course) and posted to Inverness Airport !

Devoid of travellers........If I am here much longer I may have to imbibe a mid morning gin and tonic....



I finally arrived, a little bit exhausted from a rather broken up and scrambled journey with extra train sections, and a bus replacement, but have had a few hours shuteye in my lovely and usual room. After sharing a meal with the sisters this evening I can now crash and recover from the travel in readiness for starting teaching on Monday.

The Prioress, Sr Eileen told me that tomorrow in the nuns refectory the Bishop is coming to lunch, so best foot forward for a good Sunday lunch in elevated circles ! Hope it is roast beef......

Yum yum ! And I don't mean the character in The Mikado !