North Finchley Festival

Live music in the local community. Bars. Cafes. Pubs.

Yesterday, I played live piano at M’S Place on the High Road, N12, as part of the North Finchley Festival (known also as the North Finchley Fest).

An internet television channel interviewed me before I began and later recorded coverage of me playing Clair de Lune by Debussy. It was a strange moment and I felt both nervous and confident as I concentrated on my breathing and the idea of the breath anchoring me, in order to remain calm and focused.

I played for about forty minutes, a mixture of classical piano, ragtime and lighter songs from the shows.

I look forward to more opportunities for taking part in events like these, participating in the local community, and gaining invaluable experience in gigging.

Till next time.

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A Stand Up Musician, Sort Of

We’ve all seen or heard stand up comedians. They get up and do a slot in venues, gaining valuable experience and exposure.

In the past few months, I’ve been working on an equivalent in small settings in suburban north London, UK. Generally, I do a mixture of classical piano and ragtime, lasting between seven and thirteen minutes.

If the mood is right, I’ll start with the third movement from Beethoven’s fourth Sonata in E-flat, then follow with the Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin. I might end with a popular like I Love Paris by Cole Porter or add another short classical piece (time permitting). Chopin works sometimes, but not always. Each audience is different.

I enjoy these opportunities to share my piano playing with others and I value the chance to begin with a technically challenging Beethoven movement, which people always seem to appreciate.

Till next time.

Hay Fever Season – Again

The title sums it up. Scratchy throat and itching, like a summer cold.

Since quitting smoking nearly six years ago, I’ve taken a key interest in health issues, particularly relaxation and breathing practices.

Opinions vary on how to breathe correctly. As I don’t hold any qualifications in health science, I don’t feel I can recommend specific breathing exercises. Incorrect practise leads to problems. A person with uncontrolled high blood pressure, for example, should not hold their breath as part of a breathing technique.

Nevertheless, slow and relaxed breathing with an emphasis on the exhale should not create problems. I attach sole importance to the exhale and regard the inhale as unimportant (although breathing, clearly, includes both an inhale and an exhale).

For me, it’s a question of mental focus (as opposed to not breathing in) and I believe that a person must comfortably get as much air out before drawing a breath in. The person must remain calm and always listen to their own body – in other words, no striving or panicking during the exercise.

Just a few of my thoughts.

An Encouraging Moment Along The Way

Indie authors can often feel discouraged. They have no major publishing house backing them and they have to do all the promotional work, including the selling.

This morning, I visited my local bookshop, Muswell Hill Bookshop, to pick up a couple of copies of my latest book, My Musical Journey by Lawrence Estrey, an autobiography. The paperback had arrived at last.

As the title suggests, the narrative centres around my musical studies and Indie career ( although pianist Ashkenazy gets a mention and I win a scholarship shortly after arriving in London, plus give lots of piano recitals).

I think I will need to do a great deal of further work in promoting this book, but seeing my own work in print today gave me an unexpected boost and I think it’s a case of just getting on with things, no matter how easy or difficult.

Meanwhile, readers in many parts of the world can now get the book online or order through major bookshops.

Till next time.

A Poetry Blog?

Words convey magic. They rhyme, some sentences sing. Changing the position of a preposition can add a poetic feel to a sentence. Having recently completed my third book ( an autobiography), I miss the act of writing on a daily basis, and wonder whether I should start a poetry blog.

I would create the blog under the same username for this blog and the sister blog MyPianoBio and would use a similar calming template for fewer distractions.

I need to give it some thought, but possibly a new blog will emerge in the summer.

Till next time.

“Living French” – London Charity Shops And An Unexpected Treasure

A person can find unexpected treasures in a charity shop. A few weeks ago, I found a copy of the paperback Living French by T W Knight in a north London charity shop.

I remember the book from my childhood, although the translations and exercises always seemed out of reach then. Not anymore. This particular version contains keys to all exercises, so the student can check their progress. And progress is possible for an adult learner, as I’ve seen for myself.

The book provides an excellent introduction to the French language, touching on more advanced grammatical points at times. The vocabulary is far from simple, requiring an eye for detail. Having completed numerous conversation-only courses, I value the opportunity to delve into a somewhat more old-fashioned approach – although I continue to listen to up to date French on a daily basis.

I believe in translating all French exercises into English by speaking (rather than writing), and by going over previous exercises at regular intervals. I also regard listening as crucial; therefore, I’m complementing Living French with studying the dialogues from the Intermediate course: French Experience 2.

Meanwhile, I hope to get my German and Russian up to a good level as well.

Till next time.

Take A Risk And Do It Anyway

Fear. Angst. Regret. A famous self-help book makes an interesting point. Although pursuing a dream or aspiration invariably involves fear (sometimes intense), not pursuing the dream brings a different type of angst: regret.

A case of, do it anyway, even if it doesn’t work out.

The Stats Don’t Lie…(Some Encouragement)

Like lots of Indie artists, I get discouraged by the progress of my endeavours (or lack of progress).

Music. Writing. The journey goes on, as I wrote on a blog post elsewhere. For most artists, that journey is rarely smooth.

Times change, though, and the last couple of decades have seen something of a revolution in opportunities for Indies, many of those opportunities free of charge, apart for the cost of the internet connection.

I think that a WordPress blog is an excellent tool in expression of the arts via a publishing platform and I have maintained a WordPress blog for more than nine years. I suppose that, like some people, I had reservations about blogging when I first considered it, seeing it as being somehow unprofessional. Since then, the humble blog has grown and developed into a powerful promotional tool for many. And so has self-publishing.

Although I don’t often pay attention to the WordPress Stats, this evening I took a look at the figures for this blog for the past year (2017) and noticed (to my pleasant surprise) that readers from 102 countries had clicked on links to blog posts I’d written. It seems a lot for an Indie. A bit of encouragement.

Till next time.

A Deep Breath? (Or A Slow One?)

Contradictory advice. Take a full breath, inhaling as much as possible. Take slow but shallow breaths. A person needs more oxygen. Healthy people already have enough oxygen; the problem rests with the relationship between oxygen and carbon dioxide. A lack of balance.

I have taken an active interest in slow or deep breathing since giving up smoking five and a half years ago. Although no one can truly gain an accurate record of their breathing rate, I averaged between fifteen and seventeen breaths a minute at the time. Normal is between eight and twelve.

At first, I followed the method of inhale for some, hold, exhale more than the inhale, hold. This brought the breathing rate down slightly.

Then I tried Buteyko, but struggled.

Along the way, I’ve practised pranayama, Coherent Breathing and Pursed Lips Breathing, and have managed to average between nine and eleven breaths approximately, going down to about four and a half after several short rounds of breath work.

Holding the breath does not help in my case.

Now I’ve heard of a new technique to address stress and hyperventilating – normal breath in through the nose, followed by a sighing exhale through the mouth. Repeat as required/for a few minutes if necessary. A natural tranquilliser, so people claim.

Does it work? I have no idea, but I think it’s worth trying for a while. In any case, there are so many ideas on the internet and in self-help books about the correct way to breathe, many contradictory. No one really knows whether we should breathe in more or breathe in less.

Just a few of my thoughts.