Manchester, or a Study in 7ths and Other Things

I look forward to Saturday. Not only will it contain my last performance in the sunny old England but also my final visit to Manchester (though I will be briefly passing through it to the airport later next month). This final concert features George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the North Cheshire Wind Orchestra and me/I, and it is a strange coincidence that I played the exact same piece with wind orchestra in my last concert before leaving Australia in the first place. Then I return to London and eventually after a few months back to Australia 😀

Made using pebbles

‘Map of the World’ made using glass pebbles from a beach in Sicily! Not to scale and sincere apologies to Cuba and Spain. The second pebble from the right (the orange one) represents Norfolk Island.


While I find the Rhapsody great fun to play – it is to be brought to the attention of anyone who reads this far that Gershwin’s later Piano Concerto (albeit scored for symphony orchestra) is objectively a dwarfing-ly superior work in ALL regards. The only thing it doesn’t outperform the Rhapsody in is popularity. And even then it should. Go and listen and update your aesthetics.

***End Disclaimer***

In any case, it will be particularly interesting to hear two equivalent-quality (Zoom) same-concerto (Rhapsody) recordings of my playing on either side of this whole England jaunt. I almost succeeded in doing so with Carl Vine’s piano concerto in 2008 and 2010: the first performance had a good recording but the latter (at the Queensland Conservatorium) was of somewhat bizarre audio quality. One must assume the trained monkeys they normally used had smallpox™ that day and so they brought in Plan B – the music technology students.

Cohort of '09

Mutech Cohort of ’09

The ‘Mutechs,’ as they are ‘affectionately’ known, are a special breed. Part heavy metal enthusiast, part computer nerd, and equipped with no practical musical experience or knowledge. Only the most inexperienced first-years were ever allowed to participate in the concert-recording ritual – once they matured or showed signs of competence they were taken off this duty and, well, we never saw them again. There were rumours that a select few managed to survive up on the Conservatorium’s third floor, but I’m sure that colony would have died out (much like the smallpox virus in the late 1970s) when that floor’s vending machine broke in 2011.

On this occasion when miking the auditorium, one of the Mutechs widely interpreted the term ‘piano’ as ‘glockenspiel’ – they both look kinda similar after all – and so miked the crap out of it. Secondly, they somehow acquired a consumptive nonagenarian for the concert, gave him a microphone to hold and asked him to sit at the back of the hall and cough regularly into it to make sure it worked. No other mikes were deemed necessary. Ah, good times.

Anyway I digress. Digress from what? Oh yes, last trip to Manchester. I’ve been getting to know London intimately and for the last two days have spent an hour-and-a-half weeding (or de-weeding?) this overgrown Mill Hill backyard, to the bemusement of a neighbour’s cat. You don’t really get to know a place intimately until you spend a lot of time doing menial tasks and thinking up blog ideas in it. Such is life*.


“What a nice little garden”

*Fact: not actually Ned Kelly’s last words. According to Wikipedia his execution morning dialogue went thus:

“Such is life” -> “What a nice little garden” -> *mumble* -> death

So in summary you can update your general trivia that A) Gershwin wrote a piano concerto THAT IS NOT Rhapsody in Blue(and for that matter several other solo/orchestral works), B) smallpox no longer exists and C) the next time you’re praising someone’s landscaping prowess, try and retain Ned Kelly’s sense of existential resignation.

It is late so I must leave you there. One last thing: extra points if you know what quasi-famous and surreal London monument this is a terrible photo of?

To be confirmed

To be confirmed…

Mai Tai Suggest…

Gathering round.

Gathering round.

Gather round/around children.

It is time to reveal two of the more thoroughly terrible cocktails I’ve invented over the years. They were un-inspired by the rather arbitrary and heavily formulaic Drinkify website, which apparently ‘matches’ music with alcoholic beverages by generating random ingredients and putting your search term in “Quotation marks” with a “The” in front of it purported as the drink’s name.

It appears almost all classical composers are recommended to be listened to with a glass of “Their Name” – the sole ingredient of which is almost invariably red wine, aka “The Ludwig Van Beethoven,” “The Gustav Mahler” or “The Arnold Schoenberg.” One wise exception they did seem to make was “The Franz Joesph Haydn,” which is a cup of water. To be served ‘neat’ for the more adventurous.

Anyway. I made some of my own creations in this similarly randomly-generated manner, preserving the recipes for posterity.

Exotic Cocktail Inventions:

“The Battery Hen” … “A delightfully acidic and perplexing combination of ingredients that look much better on paper than in a glass. It will get you intoxicated, but takes the more direct, uncomfortable route through the poorly-regulated poultry slaughterhouse of jarring distastefulness in the open-air rickshaw of regret.”


When worlds collide…


-45ml Vodka

-45ml Gin

-Laughably inexpensive Champagne

-Any lime-flavoured carbonated beverage.

To Build: Combine all at once and serve in whatever comes to hand as long as the containers don’t match when making two or more. (You may mix in an egg for protein as a breakfast substitute).

“Sex with Einstein on the Beach” … “Close your eyes and take yourself back to the 1940s. You’re on a romantic beach at sunset, but something’s wrong. You look at your drink. It’s all fuzzy and you don’t feel comfortable. There are weird bits all up in it and ‘is it even alcoholic?’ you cry. You can’t really tell, but you do know the glass doesn’t seem to be getting any emptier, no matter how much progress you’ve made.”


Have a relatively good time.


-45ml Gin

-Creamed coconut

– Some actual double cream

– A half-hearted attempt at procuring pineapple juice, whether this be from the leftovers from the can of pineapple you opened two weeks ago, to a juice or any liquid that may have ‘had pineapple in it’ as a minor ingredient or artificial flavouring.

To Build: The proportions don’t really matter (mostly juice though) just give the cream time to congeal and give it all a good shake to get the coconut floating around. Serve warm and under poor lighting.

Returned to Sender

Belated apologies and what have you!

It has been a very hectic time these last few weeks/months with PhD applications, major recitals, moving to London and a production of the Sound of Music. All within the space of a week though all these demands (and more!) suddenly ended and it’s only now that I can catch up on the shameless and questionable art that is blogging. There will be more frequent posts now and I thought I’d provide my recent recital program notes to make up for the lack of it! It was quite an elaborate 3-piano/electronic/percussion set-up as shown:


Masters Program Masters Program2

Que Sol-fa, Sol-fa

Solfa and Solfege, or more accurately Sol-fa and Solfège, are the names of the two sides, teams and/or factions currently participating in one of the more one-sided conflicts in musical history. The Sol-fa-ites relentlessly wage a bitter and furious campaign of condemnation upon the peace-loving Solfege community, fuelled possibly and probably by feelings of inadequacy and also the fervour of their revered Hungarian forebears ringing in their ears. This post … I write this post not only in defence of the Solfegers, but in offence at the Sol-fa-ites, those fanatical zealots (as opposed to your indifferent, garden-variety zealots).

This is neither

The conflict is fundamentally between the fixed (Solfege) and the moveable (Solfa) Do (pronounced dough), yet even the spelling of Do (Doh for solfa) cannot be agreed upon. While both parties have distant medieval origins over this note-naming, fixed Do grew naturally and gradually out of this system, while the moveable version began abruptly as the musical love-child of Sarah Ann Glover and John Curwen. Before we go further let’s discuss what it’s all about:

What is a ‘Do’?

Well dear reader, that is the crux of the pickle. In fixed Do, the pitch of C is Do. In moveable Do, any pitch that is the tonic of the key is Do. Are you stirred into a rage by one of these options? If so congratulations – you are a Sol-fa-obsessed, irrational extremist. Don’t care? Fixed Do it is then.

Why does it matter?

Well dear reader, it all comes down to what you want to use it for. And by that I must add the disclaimer that most well-adjusted musicians never really find, or indeed look for, any practical use for such knowledge beyond passing it on.


If you use Solfege (fixed), it allows a simple and rapid singing of syllables – like reading note names but better – as opposed to saying “C sharp, E flat, D natural etc.” It does make singing relative intervals a little less conducive if the piece isn’t in C, so for instance, you’d probably have to know what a major 7th up from the So (G) sounds like if the piece was in G Major.

If you use Sol-fa (moveable), well this automatically takes care of it – if G was Do the major 7th interval is Do-Ti rather than So-Fi in fixed. But.


Most of the fiercest advocates of Sol-fa are those who learn in schools that base their teaching on Bartok and Kodály – particularly the latter’s method. I cannot but gaze like a puffin at the cumquat of irony that these (relatively mildly) modernist composers, who were alive and writing at the cusp of significant, irrevocable changes in tonal theory in the early 20th century, became representatives of the fundamentally tonal movable Do system. It’s as though they invented a car that runs exclusively on blue whale fat, and said invention becomes wildly and bafflingly popular. Soon, the proponents are spending all their time hooning around and shouting obscenities at the Solfege citizens in their electric hybrids, blissfully unaware that their fuel supply and cars are both about to come to a complete standstill.


But. Moveable Do becomes starkly meaningless when there IS NO TONIC. C will always be C, so fixed Do is permanent – indeed all the chromatic notes are accounted for Do, Di, Re, Ri etc, and there’s room for microtones if you care inordinately. But moveable Solfa is self-limiting. Do you pick a random note if there is no Do? Why not choose C by default (or any other note for that matter) Yes. That ‘fixes’ the problem.

Beluga Wail

Artist’s depiction of typical Solfege/Solfa interaction

So dear Sol-fa-ites, give yourselves a nice hug, and the next time you meet someone who uses fixed Do or perhaps just doesn’t care about note-syllables as much as you do (aka: someone who uses fixed Do) before you slice, halve, crimp, carve, gut and starve your adversary, perhaps just smile and remember how patronising I’ve been to you.