In late march I saw an advertisement from a UCAS email calling for musicians around the UK to audition for Youth Music Theatre for their summer programs. After responding to the email I received an audition date and by early april I auditioned in Kings Cross, London. Famous for their alumni including Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, I thought it would be a good opportunity and experience to audition in front of a professional panel. I also did it because the skills required to play in theatre were far from what I have been used to in my playing career and would mean learning new things and would also grant me the opportunity to play and learn with other musicians and Musical Directors. The requirements for the audition were to take a prepared piece and have technical ability over and above grade 8. I arrived with my most recent prepared piece entitled 'Queenz' by Anika Nilles and found time to get a practice session in a studio near Waterloo the day before. I played it through then was asked to improvise and then was questioned on various aspects of my playing and reading.
After getting accepted on to the program a week later I received an information pack on where I would be playing and other dates and times. I was playing in a production called 'The Dirty Stop Outs', a production based on real life experiences of our grandparents era in their younger adolescent years. The production was based in West Yorkshire and the shows were based in Halifax. As I was planning on travelling right up until the production I did not have much time to look over anything apart from the location and dates.
I arrived 6 weeks later in Halifax train station after a 12 hour flight and 5 hour train and took a taxi to Fulneck School in Pudsey. After a brief introduction to some members of staff I met the Assistant Musical Director (AMD) Naomi, bass guitarist Tom and guitarist Wiza to enter rehearsals for the rest of the evening. As this play was being made at the time of the production a lot of the songs were still being written. The first thing we learned was the introduction song of the musical 'Dirty Stop Outs' a crossover between theatre and rock genres. As the band was only there for one week before the shows the rehearsals lasted around 9 and a half hours a day. In rehearsals we would usually be given 3 songs a day to learn, rehearse and then play through for the cast in the evenings. It was a cast of 32 actors and actresses aged 15-21.
Mid week we rehearsed nightly with the cast and ran through all the numbers, then towards the end of the week we ran through two tech rehearsals in Fulneck School and sorted out any faults as we went through. On the thursday night we transported all of our equipment over to The Square Chapel in Halifax where we were to play 3 shows that weekend. We set up on the stage and ran through a few more technical rehearsals whilst the lights and stage manager sorted out the arrangements for lighting and other parts of the show.
On the friday we ran through the full show whilst the lighting was being arranged and sorted out dynamics for the band. As the production was 'in the round' meaning the audience surrounded the cast it meant that the projection of the actor/actress could not always be heard which proved difficult for us as we had to lower our volumens substantially in order to keep with the cast. The songs ranged from latin to soul to shuffle and swing, and that was one song in particular with all 4 genres in one. The others did not prove that difficult but it was a very new experience taking instruction from a conductor who also played with the band meaning we constantly had to be aware of tempo and dynamic changes. This proved an extremely valuable experience however.
The shows went (mostly) without a hitch and the ensemble and cast actually scored 98% on the Guildhall Trinity Grade 8 Theatre and Performance exam and we also covered by the BBC. The changes in songs took some getting used to as we had to use a script to follow and indicate when we were next playing, or where the next underscores were coming in. Learning under our professional Musical Director Alex, it allowed me to progress and develop as a musician in a few ways. It firstly gave me the valuable lesson of complete openness to immediate change in tempo, bar structure, dynamics and phrasing. A lot of the time we would be changing bars just before the next tech rehearsal or show so you would really have to pay attention to counting bars. It also gave me the experience to follow cues and to work closely with a conductor meaning I had to know the music well enough to not look at it for more than four bars a time. Lastly it improved my dynamic playing hugely. Having to play songs which went immediately from very loud 60's rock to very quiet cross stick required a lot of control which I found developing over the time spent working with Alex.
I found the cast of 32 extremely talented, very promising and really good fun to work with. They were also very welcoming to the new band as we arrived a week later then they did. After three excellent shows on the saturday and sunday I left Halifax with a very heavy heart and great new experiences. I would like to thank everyone involved for such an amazing experience and opportunity.
I would hugely recommend any musician to apply and audition for Youth Music Theatre. Here is some advice on enhancing your time there and preps for the audition.
Reading was a huge part of learning new material at YMT. If you are a confident, or not so confident reader in your instrument I would strongly advise brushing up or learning how to, especially on counting bars. It makes learning new material and following scores so much easier and would most likely enhance your chances of getting through the audition. Whilst there your reading will improve tenfold automatically, as you have to follow most songs bar by bar in order to keep track of where you are so you don't miss cues or anything else.
Upon arrival I realised that the equipment provided for the band was not the best I was hoping for. A battered old CB kit with old heads on it. I did the best I could with the tunings but opted to go back to Newcastle where all my kit was to bring some of my breakables down including my drum stool, kick pedal, cymbals and cymbal washers and clamps. This could have been avoided if I turned up with my own equipment in the first place. The advice then is to take everything you think you might need as you will most likely use it at some point. I also find playing on your own equipment, even if it is just a stool, kick pedal and cymbals enhances your confidence and comfortability.
I realised quite early on that things like arrangements, bar structures, chords, beats, cues, scripts and pretty much everything else gets changed around a lot and very regularly, especially with a project that was being written at the time. This meant that being stubborn or unwilling to change would not have worked at all. Learn the songs given thoroughly but with 100% adaptability to change.
Music in Shows
During the shows the changes between songs would sometimes be seconds, meaning you would have to be extremely quick with getting your sheet music out ready for the next song. I organised every song into a different polly pocket in a ring binder folder which meant it was easily accessible on stage at any time and was all kept in the same place. I left the folder on a chair beside my floor tom and after every song ended I immediately put the next sheets out. This seems obvious but it can be easily overlooked. I then would place the song just performed on the floor in a pile next to my hi hats and took the time after the show to put them back into order in the folder ready for the next show.
I would also advise spending some time looking over the script with your musical director, or sit in on rehearsals and write in any cues for your songs or underscores the page before they happen to give you a pre warning, then highlight the places and pages you are playing in a bright highlighter. This was simply because it was easy to know what was coming up as and when it did, especially with the non transcripted cues and underscores which linked directly to the dialogue.
I hope all of this helps! And good luck for the auditioners, you won't regret it!
Song of the Week
During the easter break from university I purchased my first (used) electronic drum kit. Having two drum kits can be extremely hard on your pocket, and is undoubtedly a luxury, but for those of us that live in a home where the noise of an acoustic drum kit is a major issue an electric kit can be hugely beneficial to practice and teach. In this post I will give my 5 tips to buying an electric kit, getting the best deal and knowing what to look for.
As my Gretsch Brooklyn acoustic kit was in university I felt it was time to purchase a kit I could practice on at home, so I searched for a few weeks wanting to find a reliable and good kit that was in my price range of £400. I decided I wanted all mesh heads as the feel is very similar to that of an acoustic. I also decided to go with Roland's V-Drum series due to their reputation and quality, which leads me on to the first tip.
1. Go with a well known reliable brand
There are many good reasons for going with a well known brand which is applicable to buying anything in truth. I would say the three major electronic drum brands to go with are Roland, Yamaha or Alesis. The first reason for going with brand is, in the case of fault, part missing or something is broken on your kit a major corporation will have entire departments dedicated to your issues and will get it sorted a lot quicker. Also this links in with the second point of online communities with dedicated help pages, youtube demonstrations and other useful help pages if you have queries on the kit, setting up or how to use anything. When it comes to the time of resale people will also then be looking for reliable well known brands, making it easier to sell along the line.
2. Spend sufficient time looking for it
Don't panic buy. Spend time looking for a kit at a good price, and don't settle for something you feel so/so about. Write down exactly what you want and then make a point of finding it. There is always leeway on pricing when buying used items so offer the lowest you think reasonable and work from there. You will always be guaranteed a good price this way.
3. Visit and pick up in person (if possible). Know what you're looking for upon arrival
Pictures can be deceiving. Check the kit in full before agreeing to buy. You can always change your mind once you have seen the kit. Maybe a little obvious but when you're there in person you might be a little eager and overlook any faults you find when you get home. So be thorough in checking and take every manual, box and guide the seller has that came with the kit. Also you have every right to email and ask the seller for more pictures and more in depth shots of the kit if you are buying abroad or even if you are visiting.
Making sure you have enough space wherever you are setting your kit up may seem obvious, but the last thing you need is to underestimate the space needed, come home, and find you can't set it up properly. Although naturally an electric kit won't take as much 'floor space' with cymbal, snare and tom stands, it can be wide. I underestimated the width of the kit and when I picked it up I was surprised at the width, as its a mini rack pretty much. So if needs be ask the seller how wide and tall it is to work out the floor space needed before hand.
5. Setting up
One thing I have seen a lot of is electric kits set up poorly. This will not only lead to potential damage to the kit, but it may be detrimental to your playing style and may make it harder for you to re-adjust when you cross back and forth to an acoustic kit. Set the kit up exactly as you would if you were doing so with your acoustic. keep the toms, cymbals and snare in the same position as your acoustic. This has been really helpful for me. Obviously in most cases the electric pads will be smaller but position wise this will help when returning to the acoustic.
Here is a list of sites I recommend using.
Facebook Drummers Buy/Sell UK Page
Ebay (make sure the seller is 100% reliable)
'Song of the week'
This summer I was more than fortunate to attend the world renowned Berklee College of Music. I never got round to writing about my experience there and feel it would be good to add some tips and advice for those interested in applying.
Firstly I would say, if you can afford the trip then I would say 100% go. Any experience to go and study abroad stretches far beyond just what you learn in the classroom of the institution your in. This is just to recount a few of the things I got up to and the people I met.
In the first initial stage after deciding you would like to attend Berklee you can apply to the summer school directly on their website. The application is very friendly and once the initial fees have been confirmed they send you everything you need, from booklets, to information on visa applications, to actual directions from the airport and highways.
The longest and most draining part of the entire process is the U.S Visa Application. Which you are required to have to enter the United States. As I'm from the UK I had to attend an interview in the U.S Embassy in order to finalise the visa. I would say don't be put off by the amount of paperwork and the interview stage, these are just minor set backs to the overall experience.
Once that has all gone through you can start to look at your flights and prepare to go!
In order to prepare fully for the first phase I would advise;
- Don't be afraid to e-mail the summer program department at Berklee numerous amounts of times. They are there to help you and they are used to answering even the most basic questions ,from flights to class timetables.
- Create a Berklee folder from day 1. This was an idea of my mums. From the first initial e-mail to your visa files to your flight tickets, print everything! Then save it on your laptop and store the print outs in your folder so you have two copies of everything. Luckily Berklee have a list of the things you need to bring and other practical things to travel with so you can just print that and tick off each item once you have done it. It is much better to have too much information than not enough.
- If you can, fly into Boston a few days before you start. This will help you feel more relaxed. When you know your bearings (however brief) you naturally feel more comfortable in any place. Go for a walk around the shops and parks and locate Berklee if possible so you know where about it is.
Halls and Classes
Having a roommate was a complete new experience for me, especially as I have not slept in a bunk bed since I was 5 years old. Luckily Berklee actually listen to the applications and room you with, Someone your age (or close to) and Someone with the same instrument. So naturally there will be a lot to talk about.
Again luckily my roommate spoke great english, played the drums and was also 20. He was also one of the nicest, funniest guys I've met, which made the entire experience a lot easier.
I was located in the 270 Commonwealth Avenue halls which were for over 18's only. This was cool as you were not surrounded by younger teens who had never been left alone in halls before and the halls were off campus.
Classes started on the Monday after the introductory weekend talks and information. This is where we picked up our schedules and met most of the staff. As you pick what classes you would like to attend you actually look forward to getting up and studying your instrument on a Monday morning. As far as classes are concerned I would say to:
- Ask and ask again questions you have been wondering or questions as they come to you to your teachers and especially instrumental tutors. Thats what they are there for. They have a wealth of knowledge that you are paying for and never be afraid to ask a question you might feel is stupid or of no worth.
- Try not to get drawn in to the 'Music College' competition system. Competition is good as long as its healthy. You are not there to compete with every music student there to become the best. You are there to leave a better musician than you came. Keep this in mind at all times. There will be many talented musicians and if you like their style or the way they play try to incorporate the things you like into your own playing rather than trying to compete with them.
- Talk to the full time Berklee students. Ask them their advice and get to know them. They are extremely valuable in knowledge and in their playing skills and overall are very nice open musicians willing to help the '5 weekers'.
Making the Most of it
Making the most of the trip is the most important thing to think about. Spend time with the friends you meet and socialise as much as possible. Say yes to every opportunity to jam or hang out or sit with people at the cafeteria. The more people you meet the better.
Boston has a lot to offer in terms of activities and music. It also has amazing greenery and a thriving sport community. I was extremely lucky to attend the biggest rivalry in baseball. The Boston Red Sox vs The New York Yankees. Among that experience I went Kayaking on the Charles River, visited Harvard University and visited the coastline.
Things to do:
- Baseball. The Boston Redsox stadium is extremely close to the Berklee campus and commonwealth avenue, the stadium is fantastic and the atmosphere is even better. Take a tour, go to see a game and visit the humungous shop ! An all round amazing experience plus tickets are pretty cheap.
- Kayaking. There is a kayaking dock about 40 minutes away from campus if your walking but totally worth the trip. You get the best views of the Boston and Cambridge skyline and its a nice break from class on the weekends.
- Cafe 939 and the Caf Shows. Take advantage of all the music gigs that are available. There are loads of Caf shows and loads of gigs at Cafe 939 that will hugely benefit you and will influence your music in ways you didn't think of.
- Visit the parks. The parks at the end of Commonwealth Avenue are gorgeous. Grab a handmade lemonade and watch the world go by.
- Visit Cambridge. Two of the best universities in the world are on the other side of Berklee. MIT and Harvard. You pass MIT on the way to the Kayaking port but Harvard is a subway ride away. It was one of the best experiences of the entire trip. I would strongly advise the Harvard University Tour run by current students at Harvard. They give you an extremely in depth knowledgable tour that you would get with no other company.
- Socialise. Go to the open mics, go to the caf shows and the Berklee Performance Centre and meet as many people as you can. You will find people who inspire you and your music and make friends you never thought you would have.
- Practice. As your there and being taught by the best music teachers on the planet you will definitely want to impress them. This comes from practicing what they give you. Once you go to the practice rooms it's hard to leave anyway, as everyone you will get to know will be booking rooms every day and this will keep you focused to practice.
People I Would Like to Thank
Just a short list of the many people I met there. The people mentioned were in my close group. A huge thank you to everyone who I met though mentioned or not. But here they are:
- Sebastian Diaz - The first person I met who turned out to be the best roommate I could have ever asked for and someone I will remember for life. Also bravest person I met.
- Mathéo Techer - One of the youngest but best musicians and people I met out there. Also kept me working hard after seeing him in practice.
- Begoña Cors - The loveliest third musketeer I know. Put up with both my roommate and myself for over 6 weeks but loved every minute of it.
- Luke Stanton - One of the coolest guitar players and truest guy I've met for a long time. Also a huge Ben Howard fan.
- Hannah and Annie - Can't name one without the other. Amazing girls and musicians alike.
- Matteo Ruperto - Insane composer and musician. Amazingly smart and nice guy too.
- Nico D-V - Very talented songwriter and guitarist who I hope goes a long way. Loved his songs and attitude. Someone who was nice from day one and the same by the end of the 5th week.
- Andrew Peck - Hands down the nicest full time Berklee student I met. Hard worker and overall great person. Someone who gave me a lot of sound advice and inspired me with his playing. Also put up with a lot of questions about nothing half the time.
Others: Sarahi and Antal. Matt Dapsit. Nik Lukassen. Oliver and George. La Baguette (Jean-Phillippe Koch). Carlos Calvo. Noëlle. Eduardo.
Thanks to all. Make sure to check out my songs of the week as I post!