ELLEN PEARSON, SINGER
BLOG POST #3 - SEPTEMBER 2017
30 Songs of September
The definitive Ellen-certified song guide to mourning the end of September.
1. Where Corals Lie –Elgar: after an amazing journey, the singer dreams of returning to the undiscovered depths of the ocean; I always interpreted the text to signify an acceptance of death as a calm eternal sleep. (quite a theoretical beginning – trust me it gets lighter)
2. Apres un reve – Faure: the classical inspiration behind American rapper Nelly’s Just a dream; an emotionally intense French song about waking up from a beautiful dream and wishing you could return to that heaven.
3. Er, der Herrlichste von Allen- Schumann: essentially the Just the Way you are of German classical repertoire; revelling in every single detail about the person you love.
4. When I am Laid – Purcell: there is (understandably) no real pop culture equivalent to this lament of Dido sung before committing suicide due to Aeneas leaving her after one night of passion.
5. Per Pieta – Bellini: a young woman begging her lover to believe that she is faithful to him; this is what I assume is the subject matter of Beyonce’s classic ‘Love On Top’.
6. E’amor un ladroncello – Mozart; Dorabella is introducing us to her friend ‘love’ and explaining that love will tease and fool you; comparable to Rihanna’s ‘Unfaithful’ for those die-hard vintage Rih-Rih fans out there.
7. Absence – Berlioz: We’ve all been too far from the one we love and begged for them to “REVIENS” repeatedly.
8. Come Away Death – Quilter: A bleak song about wanting the lonely relief of death; don’t worry – it’s taken at a lovely brisk tempo to quell any depression.
9. It was a lover – Dring: a harmless ditty about two lovers, perhaps a more musically developed ‘Call me maybe’.
10.Fischerweise – Schubert: fiercely repetitive, but lovely; the German song equivalent to a friendly neighbour’s gossip.
11.Allerseelen – Strauss: a grief stricken lover imagines life if their lover returned from beyond the grave; no pop comparisons available at this moment – get on to that, Tom Jones.
12.Sleep – Warlock: With problems like Trump in our world, I think we can all relate to this song begging for the sweet release of sleep.
13.Mad Bess – Purcell: the fake insanity of a woman trying to escape the death penalty – my goals.
14.Porgi Amor – Mozart: Threatening goodness knows who with committing suicide if she doesn’t get her love back; you’ll notice suicide is a repeated theme of operatic repertoire.
15.Non so piu – Mozart: almost the operatic ‘baby’ by Justin Bieber; a young boy completely thrown and enthralled by the discovery of women.
16.Je veux vivre – Gounod: AN AMAZING song which Juliet sings in anticipation of finally living the dream she’s had; real life equivalent of the transition from secondary school to University.
17.Seguidilla – Bizet: a young cheeky woman uses this to seduce a soldier who she knows loves her; maybe a ‘don’t cha’ but in French.
18.O del mio dolce ardor – Gluck: a young man on a boat on the way to meet the most beautiful girl in the WORLD; probably comparable to every One Direction song - charged with hormones and excitement.
19.Si mi chiamano Mimi – Puccini: a young, beautiful woman introducing herself to a stranger; the feminine reply to the Doors’ ‘Hello, I love you’.
20.O Ravishing Delight – Arne: begging to be saved from excess of joy – my everyday conundrum.
21.O mio babbino caro – Puccini: a daughter begging her father to let her be with the man she loves; got to love the parental bond.
22.Uber allen gipfeln ist ruh – Liszt: PEACE WILL COME TO YOU; repeated rather aggressively. (but, let’s be candid, this is perfection – LISTEN TO IT)
23.Una voce poco fa – Rossini: a woman swearing her love will be hers; a multitude of pop culture references are available which don’t need mentioning.
24.Laudate Dominum – Mozart: Praise to the Father! (this piece is so heavenly that you will be praising whichever father you need to).
25.Che Faro Senza Euridice – Gluck: translated loosely as what will I do without my Euridice (a lover who has disappeared); traditional break-up song.
26.Ach ich fuhl’s – Mozart: it’s the classic ‘he doesn’t love me back’ song – a veritable ‘on my own’ or a more realist ‘teenage dirtbag’.
27.For Lo I Raise Up – Stanford: asking the Lord to help defeat the evil in the world; this is basically the heavy metal of the choral world – it’s a real head banger! (no irony intended).
28.Short People – The King’s Singers: inferiority of short people; no offence intended (not my words).
29.Hear my prayer – Purcell: “and let my crying come unto thee” the only words in the whole song – don’t judge the repetition.
30.Song for Athene – Tavener: mourning the death of an angel; number 30 in this list, but number 1 in my heart – listen for the AWE-INSPIRING CLIMAX.
THE LAMENT OF THE PAGE TURNER
I wear black, I’m unseen and yet I hold a complex role of the utmost importance. It’s an unpaid source of employment and yet the level of stress meets that of a heart surgeon with a limited understanding of coronary functions. I rarely bow and I really couldn’t care less about what is going on around me.
I AM A PAGE TURNER and without me, the heap of crumpled pages stained with the fingerprints of a sweaty piano basher would finally make their jump to the abyss. Without me, the pianist would look small and desperately lonely all alone on the piano stool. Without me, the already mediocre performer would SUFFER UNDESERVEDLY – FORCED TO LIFT THEIR HANDS OFF THE PIANO.
Many a time I’ve become too absorbed in the joie de vivre of the heady melodies of Schumann, or too busy musing upon the intensity of emotion in some étude of Rachmaninov, I’ve awoken from my musical submersion to a beetroot-faced pianist nodding furiously in my direction, inwardly wishing they’d asked their year 3 girlfriend (Candi-Lee) instead - who during their 3 day relationship showed higher levels of reliability. You can almost feel the intense blame radiating from this aspiring Rachmaninov whose monotonous performance – let’s face it – would not have stolen anyone’s heart with or without the pages in the right order, let alone turned at the correct time.
However, this reaction is NOTHING compared to the frantic look of a pianist whose pages have been turned early - the turn of the page jump-starts a twitching in the hands, which begin improvising in the style of arpeggios played by a 12 year old in their first piano lesson. The opening and closing mouth (which mimics that of a toothless old man chewing potatoes) and the increasing blush on the face speaks to the utter HUMILIATION of the pianist, so much so that they will remember this moment for the rest of their life, they will never talk to the unfortunate page turner again and they are already planning their revenge upon the gormless FOOL who dared to have their own thoughts during a piano recital. (It’s a particular shame when the page turner is a partner, friend or family member because this can cause complete re-thinks of previously flawless relationships.)
Of course, GOD FORBID a glorified key-stroker turn their own pages (which by the way are in a haphazard flop which has more in common with a postmodernist installation in the Tate Modern commenting on the sanctity of the Archers than a manuscript). The SHEER OUTRAGE; THE FLARED NOSTRILS; THE UNDULATING NECK! You can almost hear them at the “post-concert meet and greet” with their gaggle of aunts twice removed; “I’m not angry it’s just.. did Vlad turn his own pages?” [referring of course to Horowitz]; “It’s just TERRIBLE because there was just nothing I could do…why didn’t I get mum to do it?”
When did this insanity begin?? Ever since humans have perched by piano, has there always been a bored companion with a hovering arm, becoming increasingly aware of their omission of deodorant? Do pianists thrive off having a stationary pilot fish with which to contrast their fast moving hands?
All I know is that in order to maintain happy and loving relationships with the pianists in your life, DO NOT PAGE TURN for them. The only reason for doing this job is if you are recovering from some sort of operation and need to sit down for an extended period of time. (and possibly the music)
BLOG POST #2 - JUNE 2017
An Ode to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major
After my audition for Junior Trinity Laban Conservatoire as a principal singer, and, most importantly, a second study ‘violinist’ (I use that term in the loosest of senses), I realised that it could be embarrassing to arrive at Junior Trinity with no knowledge of any great violin pieces and lacking unachievable goals, so I decided to brush up on some violin favourites.
The first and most important piece I have ever listened to is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. On first listen, I was enthralled by the Canzonetta section; so much so that I decided to buy a copy of the whole concerto and learn it. I later performed a catastrophically bad rendition of the Canzonetta to my Aunt, SO BAD that even familial relations couldn’t salvage the uncomfortable silence that followed my rather indelicate performance. The ensuing damage to my confidence was absolutely necessary; it was frankly absurd for me to envisage a successful performance of that technically and emotionally complex piece. [However, I have not since performed the canzonetta – maybe my memory doesn’t serve me correctly, perhaps in fact I was astonishingly skilled and they were spell bound YOU NEVER KNOW]
From the first F sharp of the first movement of the concerto, the listener feels whole. The beginning phrase is warm and embraces the listener. Until – the sudden tension in the double basses and the cellos strikes us, and the whole atmosphere changes. Every time I hear the oboe comes in, I want to move my body to the longing tone that the minor melody embodies. The anticipation is UNBEARABLE! (I always wonder what the violinist is thinking in those 30 seconds full of expectancy before they begin; perhaps a regret for the hastily downed cup of tea 3 minutes prior; I certainly know that my feelings would amount to that of an inexperienced climber at the bottom of Everest – regret, fear and hopelessness) The entrance of the solo violin is playful, and the first melodic succession of notes always, for me, paints an image of the warm streets of a beautiful town full of ancient, colourful buildings. Then the first theme arrives with heart-wrenching sighs, and a calming sense of line that gives us a sense of nostalgia. The violin equivalent of coloratura between each return of the theme leaves the listener more and more awestruck. The emotional variety achieved by each new phrase develops, and fills a void that the listener didn’t even know they had.
Needless to say, by the end of the first five minutes of the Concerto, I’m usually dancing around the kitchen (always incorporating an item of food or, if he’s lucky, my dog into my choreography as my dance partner) and although I’m a natural mover, I don’t think that I’m alone in enjoying dancing along with this lyrical and intensely romantic piece. There is something so human and warming about the opening minutes of this concerto interposed with moments of such melodrama and raw emotion. It’s most certainly not just notes on a page!
For me, the first movement represents the excitement and energy of the process of getting to know someone new; a prospective partner, perhaps. The hesitance of the beginning phrases descending to fitful bouts of passion embodies the ecstasy of falling in love. The Canzonetta transforms the mood into that of longing, of loss – the repeated notes almost begging the listener to stay. The contrasting middle section is that of nostalgia and bliss, a dream sequence of memories of the beginning innocence of the relationship. It pulls out of us emotional reactions we didn’t know we had, perhaps our own memories of a long forgotten moment of perfection, tarnished and lost amongst the everyday. Don’t get me started on the final movement – as if this concerto wasn’t emotionally fulfilling enough, Tchaikovsky throws so much passion into this final release of pent-up tension.
During my revision for A levels this summer, I decided to send a request to Classic FM’s Requests for the last movement of the Tchaikovsky to be played to inspire me to continue my lack-lustre revision, NO SUCH LUCK. Which is an injustice seeing as 1) the Tchaikovsky is possibly the greatest piece for violin of all time, 2) they played the Star Wars theme what felt like 3 times in the space of 3 hours, and 3) I really did try and appeal to the pity vote with my reference to my exams to no avail which just shows the apathy of the general population to the struggling student. This also represents, for me, the lack of appreciation at both the time it premiered as well as today for the PERFECTION that Tchaikovsky achieves in this piece.
If I could give every person in the world a piece of music to listen to that I think would have an impact on them – THIS would be it!! I have been lucky enough to see it live three times and each time I have been surprised and experienced such enjoyment at finding a completely new phrase or hearing a different violinist’s interpretation of the slow and thoughtful canzonetta. In a world lacking originality, and appreciation of the humanness of every single one of us – this piece is imperative for embracing both of those things (and some excellent violin playing).
[Of course, if you would like a limited edition recording of me ruining the Canzonetta, I will have to be paid more than £50…per badly played note]
BLOG POST #1 - mARCH 2017
Throughout my life, a passion for music has been a constant. Particularly music for the piano. Growing up in a house with a piano played constantly by both my sister and mum, without the ability to play myself, meant that my dreams of playing Chopin and Rachmaninoff were realised in several secret, stabbing performances of the only thing I could play on the piano: the left hand of the Bond theme. (Composed of three notes, but you would be surprised by the vigour with which I gave my performance) Any attempts at lessons from my sister finished with a mutual frustration at my incapability to multitask, and a begrudged return to the role of page turner. Although many would be discouraged, and simply abandon the irrational hope for talent to bestow itself upon them; I did not. I continued to steal my sister’s piano scores and trace the stave with my fingers while listening to every single note, (my special favourite being the Rach 3) and hoping that one day my two hands would move together in harmony. So, when asked to undertake a challenge for my Arts Award with the Canterbury Festival, I chose to start learning the piano.
My first lesson with my lovely piano teacher was, in one word, rewarding. It felt natural to play, even if I was simply playing a five note scale on both hands. I later sight read the right and left hand of Melodie by Schumann (a grade one piece so perhaps my extreme self-satisfaction was overkill). Of course when my amazing teacher played the piece with both hands in perfect synchronisation and with the childish wonderment that Schumann intended for the piece; he brought it to life. His dramatic playing as well as each new nugget of information or anecdote gave my lesson such excitement, and every correction made me eagerly anticipate improving.
Watching my teacher play a section of the Grieg piano concerto to illustrate the need for movement of the elbows really gave me the sense that I was in the presence of greatness and I started to feel that I was finally on the way to achieving one of my lifelong dreams. Years of watching Benjamin Zander talk about ‘one cheek playing’, watching Shine and believing the skill of playing piano to be an unattainable, magical gift bestowed upon the lucky had led to this important moment of playing scales!
In the days that followed, I foresaw a parallel between my initial ecstatic piano practise and my first job. My first job as a dish washer began with overexcited scrubbing of each dish, and a constant humming joy in unblocking the plug holes clogged with soggy bread. Then, predictably, as the shifts got longer, and the amount of soggy bread increased; I lost a good proportion of that enthusiasm. This was my worry for the progress of my piano practise. But, with the challenges of synchronising my two weak hands, as well as the different fingering, needless to mention: the notes; I found myself occupied in perfecting my playing. Hours went by of playing the same phrases repeatedly. For many more skilled pianists, this could sound rather dull – but due to my rather lacking virtuosic talent, I was absolutely content.
My weeks filled with endless revision for A levels and repetitive practise of violin and voice are suddenly rendered more exciting by everything learning to play the piano is teaching me about music, but also about life. Taking the leap of playing a phrase without staring at the keys intently and believing that you can play two different parts at the same time gives you confidence. The act of playing two parts at the same time requires such empathy with the piano, and gives you a real connection with the melodic intention of the composer! Even at Grade One, I have learnt that breathing life into your piano playing is achieved by performing with emotion. (Until recently I had applied the need for emotion in performance to only my singing, but I now realise that music is only really great when the notes on the stave lift off to convey a deeper message).
So please, I implore you: take piano lessons for your musical understanding, for a new perspective on beauty and because EVERYONE CAN TRY WITH ENOUGH CONFIDENCE and ENOUGH PASSION FOR THE MUSIC! (I initially wrote ‘everyone can play’ but I may disprove that statement yet! I’ll keep you posted)
While it is easy for me to wax lyrical about my experience, I still can’t play the whole of Melodie hands together: so back to practise for me and I’ll let you know when I finally get booked for Carnegie!
A book recommendation on the subject of piano: Play it again! By Alan Rusbridger (Former editor of the Guardian challenges himself to learn Ballade in G minor [composed by Chopin] in one year)
I’m currently reading: The Trial by Franz Kafka
I’m currently listening to: Elegy, Op. 24 - Fauré (the recording by Emil Klein [cello] and Sorin Melinte [piano])