Here Be Durham

Sunday, the 27th of November, 2005 - 26 past 10pm

Current Song ~ "Anything But Apples" by Pepper McGowan.

Greetings, Diary-reading pals!

Once again, I return after a simply ludicrous period of radio internet silence. This time, however, I actually have news to impart - most notably that since the last entry, I have done something quite foreign to my nature: left my beloved London for a full week.

On the 16th of July - lawks, an absolute age ago no, now, how very alarming - I travelled by train to attend the residential school of my OU music course, which took place in the Wilds of Durham.
Well, okay, Hatfield College and therefore down the road from the Cathedral and a few minutes' walk from the shops (...if one walks in the right direction...), but to a devout city pigeon such as myself, it was most definitely the Wilds.

The experience was quite bizarre; not so much because I was many miles further North than I think I've ever been before (although that was certainly peculiar), but because I found myself almost completely shut off from the world outside the residential school.
Nevermind the lack of an internet connection - I didn't even see so much as a single newspaper during the week. The window of my room was impossible to close all the way, and consequently let in passing chatter almost as well as it let in pollen, but the conversations I caught were overwhelmingly course-centric. (I doubt I shall ever hear people passing by saying things like 'well, I wasn't not sure about those augmented sixths, how about you?' with such frequency again...)
I didn't get any details regarding that week's terrorism in London until I was on the Northern line, reading over people's shoulders.

My mornings started at six o'clock; not so much because the course demanded it (seminars started at nine), but because that was when the morning deliveries (involving vans with unsubtle engines) began. And the street-cleaning. And the bell-ringing.
And people say London is noisy...!

It was also the time that I found myself grappling with the dread invading forces of Northern Pollen, which truly is a natural substance delivered directly from the heart of Gehenna.
I had fondly assumed that the worst excesses of my hayfever were over. Altogether now: Ahahahaha...

Things perked up considerably when I finally toddled along to sneeze and snuffle my way through my first seminar, as run by a splendid gentleman who I shall always and forever refer to as the Tutor of Wonder.
The week's seminars (for which we had two tutors; the other one was also good) covered the set works of the course, and practical exercises such as realising figured bass, harmonising chorales, writing Classical keyboard music, and so forth.
They occured three times a day, except for the two days set aside for Historical Style Study wherein we covered the Baroque, Classical and Romantic Periods in some detail. I emerged from that particular experience with a firey passionate love of Berlioz and a sad confirmation of my suspicion that Classical composers figured out how to make works much, much longer before they figured out how to make them any more interesting.
(I have an immensely broad appreciation for music history. It just happens to have a hundred or so years missing out of the middle of it.)

There were also an assortment of workshops and lectures during the afternoon, which included a workshop billed as 'An Introduction to the Harpsichord'.
It turned out that this was meant pretty much literally: 'The harpsichord is there - you have half an hour alone with it, and you will all have a go...'
I didn't get terribly far, as I hadn't brought my music and my keyboard-playing isn't all that hot even without memory issues and a dozen eyes watching my every finger twitch. Still, it was an interesting experience, and I discovered that the harpsichord has quite a bit more sustain than I thought it would.
I still want to build one. One day, oh yes, one day...

On the sustenance front, alas, there were even more problems than anticipated, thanks to issues with both the menu and my fellow man. I survived much of the week on a meagre ration of dried apricots and Wheat Crunchies, with one brief but glorious moment of culinary salvation in the form of the Pizza Express up the road.

The week ended with a concert the night before we left and a piano/harpsichord recital (demonstrating the versatility of the keyboard) by one of the tutors just before we caught our bus back to Durham Station.

Alas, I couldn't take part in the former, as the hayfever prevented me from joining in with even the big all-students-welcome choir. I was talked into going to one rehearsal of the chamber choir, but the notes just weren't there.
The concert was still much fun, and featured, among many other things, a great folk singer, the Northumbrian Pipes, a concert pianist, a jazz band, and some profoundly obscure music humour.

Oh! One more thing that I almost forgot: I also got to go to an organ recital at Durham Cathedral. Predictably, I can't bring to mind the name of a single piece and am not sure were I've stuck my programme, but it was all very nifty at any rate.
My most enduring memory of it is actually getting the programme, as they'd been put away before I asked for one but the assistant was very kind and retrieved one for me.
Durham seems to have more than its fair share of friendly helpful people, if the places I went into can be taken as any kind of representative sample.

So, all in all, the residential school was often entertaining and definitely a learning experience (...and one that didn't quite end with my joyous return to London, when I learnt that dragging a case on wheels across uneven pavement from King's Cross to Euston is very, very hard on the hands).

Hmm, this entry feels like it's been going on for quite long enough to try anyone's patience. I shall be continuing the thrilling saga of recent update-less months very shortly (no, really, this time I actually will!) - until then, au revoir!


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