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!


February 14, 2011

My favourite things #2: Ebooks

Filed under:Books,Favourite Things — Aileen @ 15:25

It is great to see e-readers gaining popularity. I have had mine for over a year now and I can honestly say that it has cut my consumption of paper goods to a fraction of what it was. I think that this, coupled with the platform that Ravelry gives to independent designers to sell their patterns digitally, has pushed the concept of knitting patterns into a new realm. There’s the instant gratification of it – when you download a pattern, you have it instantly. In the same vein, you can hold off on buying a pattern until you really need it; there’s no physical limitation on how many are available. It’s less wasteful and therefore cheaper – no paper and no shipping. The whole idea of Ravelry downloads, and downloads of patterns in general (like from Webs, Patternfish or Chic Knits) has really expanded over the last few years.

I also really like the idea of knowing that the money is going straight to the designer… I think this is the main reason that independent design and publishing has flourished. Recently there have been a few releases of knitting e-books that really caught my fancy. First up is Westknit’s Book Two. His website is here and you can see what Book One was like here. Book Two isn’t listed there yet but you can see all the projects in it through the Ravelry link above or on Flickr.

These Splitbark mittens were my first love from the collection. It has a complimenting hat, too.

At first glance, I wasn’t that captivated with the collection as a whole but when I saw what other peoples’ projects looked like, I was convinced. The collection is available in print and digitally and I think all of the patterns are available individually, too.

Another e-book that made my day was the release of Veera’s Book of Gray. I have knit a number of Veera’s patterns and wear them all the time so this I found very exciting. My clear favourite is Graystone.

All of the patterns are available to buy individually although I ended up with the whole collection. I can really see myself knitting my way through the whole thing.

My last favourite isn’t new at all – it’s Romi’s 7 Small Shawls to Knit. This has been an on-going project where she releases one pattern a month or so. I think there is now only one left to go. They are all beautiful and quite different from each other. They are designed to use up your precious single skeins of sock yarn or hand-dyed yarn. I love them all! I think I even found the perfect shawl for my wedding. Sure! I don’t have a dress or invitations or any of that stuff done but the knitting is sorted!

Needless to say, I have already cast on for the Splitbark mittens so stay tuned for some progress pictures!


February 8, 2011

Could it be?

Filed under:Photography — Aileen @ 13:58

Everything caught up with me and I crashed at the weekend. Yesterday I had a day at home. Lately the weather has been really awful with howling wind and rain but yesterday afternoon, the sun came out and the wind abated. I hopped on my bike and got down to the Botanic Gardens for a walk around. Call it a reconnaissance mission for spring.

See that dark cloud there? Ten minutes later, I was sheltering in that very glasshouse from a shower. But it passed in a very spring-like way and I wended my way to another glasshouse whereupon I found these!

Nothing says ‘spring’ more than daffodils.

Sure, they’re miniatures and sure, they’re in a sheltered house but still: there is hope, knitters! There is hope!