Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tonight on Newsnight: My Dad

Apparently my Dad might be on Newsnight tonight (BBC2 10:30), being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman about the way that the House of Commons is becoming more tame. I'm going to miss it unfortunately..

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I had to prepare a little speech about Kyudo for my Japanese class the other week. It was something which I knew nothing about, so I did a little research on the net. I found it really interesting.

Kyudo means 'Way of the Bow' in English. The bow is made of bamboo, is 2 metres long and asymmetrical. There are eight steps in the shooting process: place the feet, position the body, ready the bow, etc., and all should be performed in one graceful movement.

This photo shows archers at some of the stages of the shooting process: readying the bow (2nd archer from left), drawing the bow (4th from left), the full draw (left-most), and just after the release (3rd from left). (Many thanks to Vernon Fowler for the use of his excellent photo.)

I'm sure this is not easy, but perhaps it seems that there is not too much to learn, just from a technical point of view. However, in fact kyudo is all about developing the spirit: the goal is to give oneself over completely to the shot. I think this is a great lesson: many people have such busy lives these days, and there are so many distractions. If we can really focus on the current task then we can achieve so much more.

Of course, this is really relevant to playing trumpet - or indeed any instrument. (As I recall, this is the central idea from the book, The Inner Game of Music.) When we play, we should aim to give ourselves totally to the current performance, and try not to be distracted by, for instance, an earlier mistake, or the difficult passage coming up, or the girl jiggling at the front of the audience. (Having said that, I really don't want to discourage any girls from jiggling at the front - but it would be OK if they wouldn't mind continuing to jiggle in between the songs).

I really liked the words of Hideharu Onuma sensei - a kyudo master who I was reading about at He said: "When shooting, sometimes we will hit the target but miss the self. At other times we will miss the target but hit the self. Our purpose, though, is to hit the target as the self and hope that the sharp sound of arrow penetrating paper will awaken us from the so-called 'dream of life' and give us real insight into the ultimate state of being."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

good morning

Eughhh.. just finished an all-nighter preparing music for a recording session tomorrow. Oh I mean today. My brain is starting to malfronction... And it's still going to be pretty intense over the next couple of days I think, so I've got the fridge well stocked up with Red Bull. I must say, though, this project has been really fun!! I'll blog more about it when I get the nod from the Important People..

Saturday, June 17, 2006

This Monday: Eileen at the 606

Just a quick plug for my chum Eileen Hunter, who is once again playing at the 606 Club in Chelsea on Monday! Hopefully I'll be sitting in for a couple of tunes too.

Monday, June 05, 2006

X-Factor: Battle of the Stars

What better counterpoint to the tragic beauty of Puccini's Butterfly than being in the studio audience at ITV's X-Factor? Yea, broad indeed is the cultural firmament, and festooned with a myriad shimmering stars.

Anyhoo, my mate worked on the show and got us a couple of tickets for it on Saturday. As I'm a big Corrie fan, I was rather disappointed that the ex-Corrie actress, Nikki Sanderson had been voted off the night before. But as it happened, she was sitting one row behind us and just about two seats away (result!) However, I was much too shy to ask for her autograph.

I'm sure it won't surprise anyone who has seen the show to learn that we are told when to clap and cheer etc. - and that is basically for the entire 90 minutes, apart from when the judges are speaking. It was really quite exhausting. But despite this, I did enter into the spirit of it. Well mostly - not so much when those Chefs were.. er.. singing. My god they were crap. And somehow kind of scary. I really hate that attitude of 'ha ha, yes we know we're bad, but we're fun!' As Louis put it: 'You're like four drunks at a wedding.'

I haven't been following it through the week, but if these Chefs made it through to the final four, I dread to think how bad some of the previously eliminated acts must have been. The good news was that they were finally voted off this time. The bad news, however, was that this entitled them to one last farewell performance, so we had to endure once more.

Well, I'm moaning, but the show is actually a lot of fun, I must say. I just could have done without those four guys leaping about and yelling at us.

It seems I made it on to air - apparently they skimmed past me at the beginning of the show. Hope they got my best side.

Incidentally, does anyone else find it odd that there are entries in wikipedia for people like Ms Sanderson and Mr Walsh?

Madam Butterfly at the E.N.O.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a music history class in college, and the teacher was talking about Puccini, and in particular, Madam Butterfly. He briefly told us the story, and then showed us a clip from a film of the opera: when it's three years since Pinkerton left, and Cho Cho San is chastising her maid for not having faith that he will return. And so, she sings Un bel di vedremo - 'One fine day we shall see'. It was so moving: even just seeing that moment from the middle of the film - it really affected me. And since then, whenever I even just think of the story, I get all choked up!

So at last I went to see it last week. It must sound strange, but I was almost dreading it - I don't know how I imagined I might react, but I thought that it might be somehow unbearably moving to see it in the flesh. In fact, I think it could have been, but as the tragic ending approached, I'm afraid I couldn't help detaching myself from it a little; it just would have been too much.

This E.N.O. production is really beautiful. The opening is particularly striking: there is compete silence as Cho Cho San emerges at the back of the sloping stage and floats gracefully towards us. Cho Cho San's child is realised using bunraku, which is a style of Japanese puppet theatre. Although the puppeteers are completely visible, they achieve such a level of expression that it's very easy to forget them and just to regard the puppet as a character in the same world as the characters played by the human performers.

That's only the second opera I've ever been to - the first one was so long ago that I'm ashamed to admit that I can't even remember what it was! I think that what put me off for a long time was that it seemed like you had to know the story very well before you went, because it's quite hard to pick up every word sung - even when it's sung in English. But these days there are surtitles (at least, at the E.N.O. there were) so this really shouldn't put anyone off anymore.