Learning Curves

The first real blog post. Now that www.feltonmusic.co.uk is bouncing off the satellites, hopefully this update will shoot out automatically to all subscribers (if not, check you're spam/junk folder as it may end up there)....

Another website related excitement. This afternoon, Emma George patiently took me through the basics of tending and propagating one's site. More tutorials are offered and will definitely be needed. It's going to take some courage, patience and lots of practice. I always felt that anyone who wanted to be involved in teaching other people should face up themselves to learning something they know little or nothing about. 

So getting to grips with being a website custodian is firmly on my agenda for the next few months, and there's another learning project for me too – being able to learn tunes by ear. I find that really difficult, and have to resort to a convoluted process, envisaging the notation in my mind's eye then reading what I can “see”. Daft. I'd love to hear how people who can learn by ear do it – but it's often difficult to explain how you do something when it's second nature.

I think I know how instrumentalists make it happen. When you play a lot, you develop a relationship between how the music feels under your fingers and what you hear. I use that technique to help sort out tricky bits when I'm sight-singing, imagining playing the notes so I can hear how they should sound. But I can't seem to go straight from listening to playing. And what about people who can pick up songs by ear – you may be one of them? How do you hold the song in your memory – is it the sound of it, or the physical sensations of singing?

Clearly I'd have a lot of learning to do in a purely aural music culture. 

I've always worried about any implication that people or musical genres are divided into ears and eyes when it comes to accessing new tunes. It's really uncomfortable to be told that one “must” read or “must” learn by ear because of the type of music. Or that aggravating “I know you'll find it easier to do it this way”. Last summer I experienced more than an hour of frustration as a group of us struggled to get to grips with a short tune. The workshop leader played confidently by ear, and was clearly amazed that adults who played instruments couldn't pick it up that way. Finally she gave in to our pleading and let us have the printed copies. Okay if the purpose of the session had been to help us learn how to play by ear, but it was supposed to be about putting the music together and we barely had time to get onto that. 

A salutary lesson for a music reader to bear in mind.

All this stuff about ears and eyes came to mind when I was thinking about the content of this blog. One of the priority jobs on the website was adding another event to the calendar. Alistair Anderson together with one of his playing colleagues, Dan Walsh, is giving a concert at Gallery 45 in just three weeks time (click here for more details). It will be wonderful. Even in the far reaches of Devon, where I worked in long ago days, we had heard of Alistair, an internationally known folk musician. He was one of the few facts I knew about Northumberland, together with Hadrian's Wall, coal mining, and romantic notions of castles, moorlands, beaches and islands gained from Lorna Hill's books for children. Alistair came to Devon to run folk music workshops for schools and I was bowled over by his musicianship and the energy of Northumbrian tunes. A couple of weeks later Northumberland advertised for a music adviser – how could I not apply?

Alistair's one of those enviable people who can access, recall and perform music any way. If you got to “Beyond the End of the Road” in the Village Hall earlier this year, you'll have enjoyed his high energy ceilidh calling, and if you get to Gallery 45 on Thursday, September 28th, you can have another great evening.

Even Alistair must once have been at the stage of having to learn a simple tune slowly, and that's what I'm hoping we can give people the chance to do more often. We followed up the Tin Whistle Workshop with an Irish Evening in July, a grand mixture of instruments and singers and lots of tunes and songs to join in with. I'm wondering whether there might be people who'd like to get together for a regular monthly follow up. We could do it on a Felton Music Saturday afternoon. An hour and a half of working with a few tunes and songs, building up confidence and a repertoire. No plans for playing for anyone else – just for the fun of it. Let me know if you might be interested.

And it'll be fine to play by ear or by eye of course!

Alison Rushby