May 26, 2015

When in Rome…

Filed under:Music,Travel — Aileen @ 12:10

Hi everyone! I figured this is as good a time as any to come out of hiatus. Usually when you see a blogging lapse like this either something bad happened (it hasn’t, thankfully) or the blogger reappears with an addition, like a baby (let me check…nope!), or a new job. I’ve been preparing for some competitions. I did some small Irish ones in March and April. Now, this month (like, right now), I’m doing a small one in the south of Italy. Next month, in about three weeks, I’m doing another, bigger one in Milan in June. I figured if I’m putting so much effort into preparing the music, I should do more than one while I’m at it.

So, today I’m en route. This is my little postcard from Rome airport while I wait for my connection down to Bari. I think it’ll be fun to show you what it’s like to ‘do a competition’. (Some native readers might be wondering why I am traveling to do a competition when the Dublin International competition is on at the moment – I’m too old to participate. I did it in 2006 but didn’t pass the Irish round.)


I’ll spare you the tedium of negotiating airports, save that they are all the same – I fly south to Bari in about an hour and then take the train even further south to a little town called Taranto. I guess it’s about the size of Galway. I booked a room in an apartment through Air B&B. I’ve never used this before so I’ll let you know how it works out.

Tomorrow, I report at 9am for the lottery (I’ll explain in better detail after it happens). Everyone plays in the first round tomorrow, too. We all get to play for 15 minutes. Thursday, about half of us will pass to the second round and you play 45 minutes for that. Only a few will pass to the final on Friday, which is a free programme of 30 minutes. I don’t expect to be a finalist but I would love to pass the first round. Keep your toes crossed for me!


September 15, 2013

September Outfit – for Recitals

I did not anticipate making this outfit by ANY measure.

I am quite proud of this ensemble as it was partly of my own design. The skirt I drafted on a whim. It was something I’d intended to make during the spring and I even bought the fabric for it. It was inspired by a skirt I had made for me almost ten years ago (that unfortunately no longer fits me… in the good way, but still). It was very easy to make: I made my basic skirt block and then traced off the princess panels, adding an estimated amount of flare to the hem. I made a muslin and re-drafted the pattern slightly to include a deeper and wider flare at each panel. Because it’s just taffeta, I didn’t bother lining it but used a facing instead. I serged all the insides and, after an infuriating half hour trying to turn a tiny hem, used the rolled hem feature on my serger too. Very satisfactory. Not the finish for every sort of material but in this instance, it was perfect.

The basis of the top, as I said before, was a Burda magazine pattern I’ve used a number of times before. I altered it to eliminate the dart and include pleats at the neckline. I love how it drapes and I think it shows off the posh fabric to its best! My main reason for finishing this outfit up quickly was because I had another recital last night. I ended up not wearing it because the venue was positively Siberian and I retreated into a long-sleeved dress instead. However, it is reassuring to know it is awaiting me on the hanger!

The details… I used 1.5m of taffeta for the skirt, which was no more than €15, bought from the fabric shop on Parnell St. The silk for the top was 1m of bridal silk marked down from €60 (!) to €20. I had enough to make two lots of bias binding for the neckline and sleeves – I seem doomed to always cut the wrong width. (Shoes are from Marks & Sparks, whom I adore as they do a size 3.5, a veritable unicorn in the shoe industry).


May 30, 2011

Vado, ma dove?

Filed under:Cardigans,hoodie,Music,Shawls,Stash — Aileen @ 12:48

It has been constantly one thing after another since my last post. There has been knitting interspersed but not an awful lot, unfortunately. So shortly after my last post, I got to play for National Music Day. Directly after that, the violin duo I played in won the Elsner cup for Duo playing at Dublin Feis. Between that and Easter, I spent trying to recover a concert I had spent the last six months organising in Viarmes, France. My violinist decided to… not do the concert… with less than two weeks’ notice. I have a flautist friend who wanted to go instead, so all was not lost, apart from my Easter holidays which I spent learning an entirely new programme!

We travelled to France over the May bank holiday weekend. My point of contact was the lady who heads up the town twinning committee for Viarmes with Tubbercurry (which is where I’m from). She was nothing less than utterly amazing in her organisation so I knit her this shawl in the delicious Blue Sky Alpaca Alpaca Silk.

It was a much easier knit than I expected it to be. I used three skeins of the Alpaca Silk and although it was already far too warm there for her to wear it, she loved it.

When I got back from France, I was busy playing for my students’ practicals in the IT, in NUIM, for end-of-term concerts for DIT Chamber Choir and of course, my own Masters recital! Through all of this mayhem, I was receiving my monthly installments from the Hedgehog Fibres fibre club. One package was this…

…and another was this, with its own matching draw-string bag…

I’m saving them all for the Tour de Fleece!

Like I said, there has been sporadic knitting. Although I am finished with college, I still have more exams to play for in NUIM and to compound my stress levels, I agreed to be rehearsal pianist for La Traviata for the next two weeks. I just wanted to start things that I knew I liked. Like another Heather Hoodie.

And another Audrey in Unst.

I can tell you now that there won’t be much time for knitting over the next two weeks but I’m going to post photos from the rehearsals to keep you guys up to date 😉


February 15, 2011

What I Do

Filed under:Music — Aileen @ 08:20

I get asked this a lot. I try and keep to the point of knitting when I post here but I think it would be good to fill you guys in on what goes on around here. It will hopefully also explain why sometimes there is a lot of knitting and others, not so much.

1. What exactly do I do? I am a pianist. I did a BA in piano (yes! you can do that! academic modules in harmony, composition, history, conducting; exams that made up 75% or more of my overall mark were solo recital, concerto, technical and chamber music exams). Then I did an MMus in solo piano (solo recital, concerto, chamber only). Then I did a fellowship diploma – the performance equivalent of a masters – in piano accompaniment. I graduate from MMus in piano accompaniment this year.

2. How do I make money? This is a very good question. My main sources of income have been teaching piano one-to-one, playing for singing lessons and playing for students’ competitions, auditions and exams. More recently I’ve been getting an increasing amount of accompaniment work and have stopped teaching piano for the time being. This sort of work includes working as a set accompanist for a feis or music festival – typically one or two days together.

I also work as an accompanist in a university where I play for a performance class. There I am assigned a number of end-of-degree/masters students, usually six, to prepare their recitals in June, and I play for undergrad performance module exams, too. I do pretty much the same thing in the IT where I got the job a few weeks ago. I used to work as an examiner for the RIAM. I also work a lot of random jobs like filling in for rehearsals, exam resits where the original accompanist isn’t available, that kind of thing. I’ve actively worked in the city for over five years now and I can get phone calls for all sorts of random things. A lot the time it’s either someone I played with before looking to work on a new project or it’s a recommendation from someone I played for.

3. That sounds really hectic, right? Yes and no. From February to June is the busiest period for me. There are exams – from grade exams to the ones I’m assigned like in the university and IT, auditions for the main music institutions, competitions and festivals. It’s also a busy concert period and the best time of the year to get an audience. I have a recital today and one next week, one in March and three in April. Some of these are my own projects, some are projects where I am hired by whoever got the gig initially.

In the summer, it is very difficult to get decent audience numbers and most musicians travel to music festivals abroad to take masterclasses and meet new people. A masterclass is a lesson with a teacher you don’t normally go to. They’re usually open to the public so it’s more like a recital with discussion afterwards than an actual lesson. This costs money to do so most people apply for funding for a little help. It’s good to try and tie in masterclasses with a concert because then the concert can pay for getting to the masterclass.

September is the worst time of the year. You’re broke and teaching has only just started again. Even worse if you’re in a third level institution like me – they don’t start back until the end of September. Up to December is usually a quiet period, bar a flurry of Christmas concerts which are usually last minute. This is where you really need a steady teaching job to get through. On the upside, it leaves a lot of free time to enjoy the autumn and to get stuck into learning new repertoire for the coming year.

4. Sometimes it is very hard. Sometimes the music is hard, I have to learn a lot of music I have never heard before, I am under time pressure, I have to sight read, the person I am playing for is an idiot/maniac/arrogant/mean, I work long 12 hours days, there is a lot of travelling involved but I still have to turn up and play like I just had a long snooze and a smooth cup of coffee, I get abuse from who I’m playing for (usually singer/conductor), the person I’m playing for blames all their mistakes and bad judgements on me.

5. Mostly, though, it is really cool. Sure, at times I have an overwhelming amount of work to do, to try and juggle my course work with what I need to do to be prepared for actual work. But at the end of the day, I get to play really great music all over the place. I get to meet and play for all sorts of people. Sometimes it’s kind of hairy but mostly it is lots of fun.

6. If you have so much work to do, how come you’re drinking tea and writing this at 4pm? I don’t have office hours. Sometimes if I have a rehearsal or lesson later in the day, I sleep in and work through the afternoon. The days I work in the IT, I go there first thing and then practice in the evening. I have to try and fit in the practice I need to do with outside commitments that earn money. Typically I end up working through the weekend and taking a few halfdays as I need them.

7. An average day’s work for me is 4-5 hours of practice, not including breaks.

8. I still have piano lessons and intend to keep having them for another few years.

9. I think what I like most about being a pianist is that, as a person, you have to constantly refresh and renew your approach. You have to be receptive and open to learn and change. You have to be strong and stand up for what you believe to be musically right, but diplomatic and compromising to find something that works for that moment without having a massive row.

10. Overall, though, the best thing is that, in my office, you can knit any time you want!

Playing piano duets at Mary Immaculate college, Limerick, today (15th) at 1pm – come one, come all!


October 31, 2010

On the road again

Filed under:Music — Aileen @ 16:51

This time I’m involved in the music for a one man play called Tom Loves a Lord. We played Friday night in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway. (The theatre gives a good synopsis of the play). I wanted to post about it before the night but we were so involved in rehearsals and set up on Thursday and Friday that I simply did not have one spare moment.

Here we are about fifteen minutes before starting.

Martin Dyar, the ‘one man’ part of ‘one man play’, also wrote it. I must say, it is interesting, easy to follow and most of all, funny. His conception comes across so clearly. The structure is simple but the language is so full of nuance that each character is convincing with their own quirks and contradictions.

We help to punctuate the rhythm of the play with songs from Moore’s Melodies. Luckily, the songs Martin chose are some of my favourites: The Last Rose of Summer, Silent O Moyle and the beautiful Lambert arrangement of She is Far From the Land.

The most important bit!

Anna Louise I know from secondary school. We were reacquainted through competitions that I was the set accompanist for and so, here we are! It’s a small world.

Last night, my violinist Elina and I played for a town twinning concert in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, where I am from. I must confess to being very tired after the rehearsals and performance on Friday night but it came off fine. We were warmly received and it was so nice to meet many people that I hadn’t seen in over a year. It was what Elina calls a ‘karma gig’, because we didn’t get paid for it, but we were invited to their town in France to give a recital in our own right. That, to us, is payment enough!

Tom Loves a Lord runs Wednesday, November 3rd in Charlestown Arts Centre, Co. Mayo at 8pm as part of the John Healy weekend, and again Saturday, November 6th in Anaverna House, Ravensdale, Dundalk at 8pm. Don’t miss it!