Monday, August 27, 2012

Bees and blossoms

This post is brought to you by the letter B!

Yesterday was a sunny Sunday, so I had fun experimenting with Dad's camera in the garden. We parked the tripod near the plum tree which is just starting to bloom, zoomed in and focused on a cluster of blossoms, and waited for bees to come and pose for their portrait...

(click to enlarge photos)

When I had plenty of bee photos, I abandoned the tripod and went on the hunt for other wildlife. I got lucky with a monarch butterfly, which was resting on the ivy, and a tui which obligingly presented its profile.

As usual, Hazel the cat had been accompanying me around the garden, so I got a few shots of Her Majesty in her domain. :)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

So long (for now)

Wellington, it's been a great 13 years! (Has it really been that long?)
See you again soon.

Now for a couple of weeks of R&R at my favourite holiday destination, Mum and Dad's house in Whakatane. And then on to Melbourne!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Vespers II

Well, last night I had my final singing occasion at St Mary's before I cross the ditch. We had a sung Vespers, followed by a short concert which included a big, big solo for me in Mendelssohn's 'Hear My Prayer'.

The Mendelssohn piece was a kind of send-off for me - definitely going out on a high note, hurr hurr. But it really was! It's the longest solo I've ever done. It was great fun to sing, and having a really good accompanist (Tom) made it easy to relax and get into it. I love it when I flick into 'performance mode' and stop feeling self-conscious, and the rhetoric just comes naturally. It was also nice to have Willie and Rowan in the audience for moral support, and the three of us had a good feed afterwards at Satay Palace, one of our old-fave cheap-and-tasty places on Cuba St.

I don't usually listen to recordings of pieces I'm preparing to perform (at least, not too close to the performance), because it makes it harder to come up with my own interpretation. But it's fun to do when the performance is all done and dusted! I found this 1980s recording with Kiri Te Kanawa, a singer who a certain primary-school teacher of mine adored. ;)

It's a very different singing style to mine, but it really brings out the chocolate-box aspect of the music! Good fun.

I'm really going to miss being part of St Mary's Choir. Such a lovely (and interesting) group of people! It's hard to believe, but I joined a whole decade ago, during my honours year at uni. I was attracted by the prospect of singing Medieval and Renaissance music, and I was studying Latin at the time and loving it. I started out in the alto section, with almost no voice - no resonance, dodgy tuning, pretty much bad all round! But I could read music, and I was keen, and over time I got better. ;)

Robert, the choir director, really inspired me with his passion for early music, and when I started having voice lessons with him and working seriously on my singing, it all got easier and easier (and more and more fun). Now, I feel like I'm in a good position to try the waters in a bigger pond - I finally have the confidence to have a go at pretty much anything. As long as I keep practising! And I'm looking forward to joining in with St Mary's choir on my trips back to NZ.

Monday, August 13, 2012

New pattern: Bright Side

My new shawlette pattern is now available: Bright Side!


With its raindrop lace and its bright striped edge, Bright Side is a picture of a rainbow on a rainy day. The story behind this design is that just as new and exciting things in life often take stress and hard work to achieve, you can't have a rainbow without rain - hence the name Bright Side. :)

See my previous post 'Rainbows make everything better' if you want to know more about how this pattern came to be...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Vespers I

My last two Wellington gigs (for a while, anyway) are both Vespers services, but rather different in terms of music, performers, and style!

On Saturday evening I took part in a semi-regular 'Bach Cantata Vespers' at a local Lutheran church. Different Wellington choirs are invited to sing at these, and this time the Tudor Consort provided the singers. We did Cantata No. 102, 'Herr, deine Augen sehen nach den Glauben', which has a great opening chorus, solos for alto, tenor, and bass, and of course a closing four-part chorale. On the instrumental parts, we had a quartet of modern strings, two modern flutes, and organ.

We were only two-to-a-part, which was nice - good clarity (which you really need in Bach choruses), and we each had a buddy to sing with. We weren't able to rehearse together except on the day of the Vespers, so we liked having that extra safety net of someone singing our part with us. If we'd had more time, we would have done most of the chorus with solo voices, with the others joining in when appropriate.

Here's a recording of the opening chorus by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir. They have a larger number of singers (not my preference), and period instruments (jealous!):

As I said, it's an awesome chorus! Nice and fast and exciting to sing. Well worth the hour-and-a-half church service. ;)

Vespers II will be at St Mary's on Wednesday night. I'll get to sing solos in Mendelssohn's cantata 'Hear my Prayer', and Monteverdi's 'Ave Maris Stella'. Luckily we'll get a bit more practice time for this lot.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recorder recording (recommended)

A Baroque recorder player of my acquaintance has put together a short solo album, 'Ayre, Divided', to raise funds to help keep him studying in Salzburg, and to help fund some future projects that sound seriously cool. You can read about it all in his blog post here.

On the recording, Brendan plays some beautiful melodies taken from English lute airs and madrigals, and continues them with 'divisions' he's devised himself. The art of playing divisions (or variations) on popular melodies was an important skill for Baroque instrumentalists, and I have great respect for those who take up the challenge today. As Brendan notes, the tradition of improvisation is one of the neat parallels between Baroque music and jazz.

You can listen to 'Ayre, Divided' and purchase the tracks here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Excavation: Part II

More finds from the land of packing...
  • A handwritten uni essay draft! It appears to be from my big honours-year Research Essay, on music and science in 17thC England. Also, an actual floppy disc!
  • An alpaca scarf composed of forty crocheted flowers, which I made last year after performing in Tallis' 40-part motet Spem in alium. It was a Really Big Deal for me, and I wanted to commemorate it somehow. Being a bit of a weirdo, I chose crochet. :p
  • Costumes from various events I've attended and/or organised over the years. Highlights are my attempt at a 14thC outfit for the Feast of Fools, my Blackadder-esque creation for The Queen's Revels (and Willie's outfit!), and my Mrs Bennett costume for Yvonne's Time Travellers' Ball. We have a such kick-ass dress-up box.

Singing some Hildegard, with psaltery (Feast of Fools, 2009)
Dancing the Tedesca (Feast of Fools, 2009)
Two 'gentlemen' dancing (The Queen's Revels, 2009)
Galliards are fun!

The Doctor and Mrs Bennett (Time Travellers' Ball, 2010)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rainbows make everything better

I decided to knit something special for myself as a pick-me-up, because the process of moving house is pretty darn stressful for me. Moving is not my favourite thing...

... but rainbows just might be! Right up there with ducklings, anyway. ;) 

The concept for my new shawl is a rainbow appearing on a rainy grey day. A timely reminder that there's a bright side to all this upheaval - a shiny new life in a new place.

This is my first shawl design. I've knit several shawls, some lacy and some not, and have found them a fun and rewarding thing to knit: you can get something really spectacular out of just one skein of yarn, and the transformation after blocking a shawl is simply magic. I gained confidence with the shaping of different kinds of shawls at a class I attended recently ('It's a Wrap', taught by Morag of Vintage Purls).

I came up with the raindrop-lace stitch myself, after lots of test-swatching. Because this stitch only looks like falling raindrops when knitted from the bottom up, I made the shawl a bottom-up design: you begin with the rainbow edge, and the rows get shorter as you go.

I wear my shawls wound around my neck, scarf-style, so I went for a long, crescent shape which is easy to drape in different ways. Both sides of the shawl look good, which is important for wearability. Actually, I'm still not sure which side I prefer! Right now I'm leaning towards the purl side.

The raindrop lace on the 'knit' side

The raindrop lace on the 'purl' side

This was my first time using the lovely local Knitsch Sock yarn, dyed by Tash of Holland Road Yarn Company. I've been hoarding this for a special project! Five mini skeins were included with the main variegated-grey skein, in this limited-run set called 'Rainy Day Rainbow'. Knitsch Sock is a high-twist merino yarn that comes in a range of amazing colours. It's smooth and soft, but also hard-wearing. Just as well - I predict I'll be wearing my rainbow shawl to death...

The pattern for this design will be available soon. Stay tuned. :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A cosy laptop

After a three-day struggle with the sewing machine, I have a sensible, sturdy bag for my laptop! In my world, sensible totally includes granny-square-printed fabric. ;)

I partially based it on my everyday satchel, which I made back in January using this tutorial. It's a great functional bag with lots of pockets (and, crucially, is much lighter to carry than my old leather satchel). The laptop bag differs in that it has roomier front pockets with velcro closures, but no zip, no inner pocket, and no back pocket.

A peek under the flaps...

Everyday bag: quick-access front pockets for bus card etc.

Laptop bag: velcroed front pockets for cords; no zip.

To get the size right, I made a paper template by drawing around the laptop and then adding an inch to each side to allow for seams and a bit of extra roominess. I made the lining first because it seemed like a more straightforward place to start, and then made the strap and front pockets. The strap is made of corduroy, which means it has less of a tendency to slide off my sloping shoulders. I first tried the corduroy trick on my everyday satchel, and it's made a big difference! I love finding solutions to little niggling things like that.

I attached the front pockets to the main front piece of the bag, and then basted some cotton fleece to the wrong side of the main front and back pieces, and sides+bottom strip. This gives the bag some sturdiness, and will protect the laptop against minor bumps and knocks.

The finishing-off part of the process (attaching the lining) was a bit of a brain-bender, but referring back to the tutorial helped. I certainly don't find sewing bags easy, but I do love the end result of a custom-made bag that's just what you need. :)