A Phone Upgrade – How Necessary? (And Other Things Technical)

Next week, my phone contract ends. When that happens, I’ll sign another contact and get an upgrade phone. No problem, the cashier assured me when I went in to enquire recently.

The whole thing got me thinking about technology and the developments that have taken place over a period of twenty years.

Although I don’t agree with the sentiment, ‘We all managed perfectly well without mobile phones and the internet,’ I do wonder whether consumers have become spoilt when it comes to the technology, eagerly awaiting the latest gadget, as if it were a new toy.

Certainly, I value my smartphone and rely on it for internet usage throughout the day, especially in regards to checking the times of public transport or for keeping in touch with people.

However, I have concerns over both the constant demands placed on the consumer to upgrade (a sort of, ‘it’s never enough. You have to have more’) and the steady influx of incoming sensory information in the form of alerts, ring/media tones and adverts.

Hardware and software.

Imagine the following...middle of the day….complex situation…you sit down to write an email or text, unsure of how you’ll word it when a succession of alerts come up, all announcing themselves audibly and all intensely irritating and jarring at that moment. To add to the bombardment of information, another sign pops up saying words to the effect of, ‘do you love our app? Write a Review and rate our app.’ Would you?

In particular, I wonder whether the persistent incoming information could evoke the stress response in people, storing up the potential for periods of intense stress and numerous stress-related medical conditions over time.

Also, the more people depend on handheld devices, the less they can do with the information in terms of editing, layout and compatibility with other platforms.

IT originally centred around the ability to manipulate information, but to manipulate information adequately, a person needs bigger screen.

Despite these concerns I couldn’t envisage life without technology and the internet. I just wish developers would slow down sometimes and that people could enjoy creating worthwhile content instead of getting distracted by constant alerts, adverts and apps.

Just a few of my thoughts.

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The Humble Music Degree, Many Skills

Music graduates, like degree holders in other subjects, often experience difficulty in gaining employment, regardless of whether they wish to work in a music-related career or try something different.

Yet, many music graduates do not regret making the decision to study music at degree level.

A music degree combines several learning approaches, both academic and practical, and these may help music graduates in various other lines of work, now or in the future.

A person doing a music degree will normally study at least one musical instrument (or voice) to a high standard, although students may opt to study composition, or combine the two.

All students continue developing some level of ear training; this is extremely helpful for foreign language learning (as I’ve discovered for myself).

The academic side of the degree involves intense analytical training in a wide repertoire of works, alongside a separate study of twentieth-century music.

Some of the analysis requires an understanding of mathematics, and discussions on aesthetics and an understanding of twentieth- century general history play an integral role in the later stages of the training.

My own music degree finals consisted of:

hosting a recital of my own compositions, submitting a 12,000-word dissertation on Music Psychology, sitting a three-hour examination on twentieth-century music, providing a technical analysis of a work over a period of eight hours, and submitting a folio of compositions to the examiners.

As one can see, the humble music degree is exacting, requiring all sorts of skills that ought to help graduates as they take their places in the workplace. Or simply for pleasure.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Le Mal De Mer, And An Early Monday Start

Monday. Start of the week. I awoke shortly before six am, aware of giddiness. I got out of bed, but couldn’t walk in a straight line. I did a few basic health checks. Steady pulse. Normal blood pressure.

I tried a few meditation techniques, followed by attempts to balance on one leg, but the unsteadiness persisted.

I popped out to the local cafe for a roll and coffee and could barely walk downstairs.

It felt as though I were on a ship in rough seas – hence, the title of this post and the poem on the sister blog.

Reluctantly, I had to cancel my work for the day. A few hours later, the GP got back to me by telephone.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, he explained and suggested I look up the Cawthorne-Cooksey Exercises on google.

Eventually, I found the exercises and had a go. Five days on, the vertigo has almost completely gone.

The Cawthorne-Cooksey Exercises, considered by some to be less effective than the Epley Manoeuvre and other modern techniques, tackle the problem from a different angle.

Instead of eradicating the cause of the problem, the exercises enable a person to build up a tolerance to the vertigo in varying degrees. After a while, the nervous system stops responding to the mixed incoming signals (a result of the imbalance in the ears) and the vertigo fades or disappears altogether.

Today, I practised the piano for the first time since waking up with BPPV and I managed both Liszt’s nineteenth Hungarian Rhapsody and his first polonaise without any problems, dizziness, or auditory discomfort.

I look forward to returning to normal after the weekend.


At the start of the week, I wrote a poem entitled Le Mal De Mer, A Ship At Sea for the sister blog, in order to capture and convey an element of the giddiness. Happy reading.

MyPianoBio Blog – A Year On (2), On Stage

Just over a year ago, I started a blog about my life as a musician. Several months later, I published the material as an autobiography – My Musical Journey by Lawrence Estrey, available as a paperback and ebook from online sellers and through order at major UK bookshops.

This entry focuses on my training with an international concert pianist who coached me free of charge for two years:

I’d been in London nearly two and a half years, and lived in the downstairs of a house in Palmers Green. Life remained a series of ups and downs – unexpected opportunities and new friendships alternating with periods of uncertainty.

When the Fritz Gottlieb Memorial Scholarship came to an end, Vera Yelverton and I parted company on good terms and the international concert pianist I’d met in East Finchley agreed to take me on next, free of charge.

Under her supervision, I studied Chopin studies, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue, Debussy’s Estampes, Mendelssohn’s Serieuses Variations op54, and the demanding Liszt Dante Sonata with its octave flying sections and sobbing G minor chords in the middle section.

Apart from the Fugue from the Chromatic Fantasy, I performed all the works from memory. My entire conception of piano playing changed and I finally learnt about the correct use of the wrists. Crucial.

I gave some fifty concerts over a two year period, culminating in another recital at St Lawrence Jewry, Central London. This time, I chose the most technically demanding and psychologically daunting programme to date – Bach’s 2nd Prelude and fugue from book 1, the Serieuses Variations by Mendelssohn and Liszt’s Dante Sonata.

No problems.

MyPianoBio Blog – A Year On

Just over a year ago, I started posting about my life as a musician – hence, the title. A year on, I have reworked the narrative and published it as an autobiography – My Musical Journey by Lawrence Estrey, available as a paperback and ebook from online sellers and through order at major UK bookshops.

The following post is from the original blog and gives a flavour of what to expect in the fuller publication.

Happy reading!

It took a while, but I picked myself up. I met new people and moved to Palmers Green, north London. Summer came, and I took part in a series of piano workshops conducted by Kenneth Van Barthold at Edinburgh University, performing the first movement of Beethoven’s op 111 in the Reid Concert Hall.

September arrived. I’d been in London a year now. In the autumn, I spent three months at Hoxton Hall in Shoreditch, working on an adaptation of Captain Hook. I helped compose the background music and took part in a minor acting role, although I later pulled of the acting side due to conflicting demands on time. During the three months there, we all did a crash course in basic acting skills, trust exercises, some of which looked terrifying, and stage fighting (which most of the guys enjoyed).

On Stage

At around this time, I gave my first recital at a Methodist church in Palmers Green, north London. The next day, I played Chopin at Hoxton Hall, for a Friday evening crowd. A performance of the entire Beethoven sonata opus 111 followed (from memory) at a soiree held in Vera Yelverton’s study; then more Beethoven at Sutton House, a small concert hall in Hackney.

A Recital In The City

Finally, Central London. I gave a lunchtime recital at St Lawrence Jewry, a Christopher Wren church, playing a programme of the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, Schubert’s Impromptu op 90 no 3, Chopin’s 2nd Ballade and Liszt’s 19th Hungarian Rhapsody. Very scary indeed, though successful. A couple of latecomer friends nodded to me just as I was beginning the Moonlight and I experienced a sudden urge to get up and run out – a common feeling amongst performers, I believe!

The Word Spreads

Following a chance meeting and various follow up calls, I contacted an older man who wanted to help promote my musical career. He gave me the number of a man in Essex who asked me to come and give a recital to a small group of people. More recitals followed. Some weeks, I gave two, three, or even four concerts, going from place to place, getting expenses but never a full fee. But I loved it.

In all, I did thirty-three piano recitals that year, performing at St Brides Fleet Street, St Magnus-the-Martyr, St Martin-within-Ludgate and St Annes and St Agnes.

In the summer, I returned to Edinburgh to give a concert at St Mary’s Cathedral as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I also performed a Mozart Concerto (two pianos) at one of the soirees, and occasionally taught a student or two, although the teaching never took off in the same way

In terms of performing, I felt content.

Oxford Take Off In French

Last week, I added Oxford Take Off In French to my list of language learning resources.

Previously, I’d done Oxford Take Off courses in Russian and German, and I was eager to see how I would find the French course (French being my strongest language).

The course contains a coursebook, essential phrases and vocabulary booklet, four CDs that accompany the coursebook and a further CD that allows people to practice listening and speaking skills without the need for a book.

Unlike some language courses, Oxford Take Off focuses on speaking and listening, and not writing and reading – exactly what I wanted.

I’ve already completed a number of French courses; therefore, I’ve found the Oxford Take Off In French considerably easier than the Russian and German Oxford equivalents. I prefer the emphasis on speaking and understanding.

The vocabulary becomes more of a challenge as the course progresses, and the student gets plenty of opportunities to practise their language skills. I think the material provides an excellent opportunity to gain a basic level of competence and confidence.

The course is reasonably priced at just over £20. However, I got a Used but Nearly As Good As New copy for just under £5 via one of the sellers on Amazon, and it arrived promptly. I’ve used it for an hour a day most days.

I look forward to accessing more language resources over the coming months.

In the meantime, I’m increasing my Russian vocabulary but struggling to come to terms with some elements of the grammar (especially case endings), and am trying to get my German to the same level as my French.

Pretty challenging, but rewarding.

Till next time.

Writing A Novel, Cutting The Word Count

Generally, writers want a higher word count. 120, 000 words, perhaps. At one time, 60,000 words seemed adequate. Then, it climbed to about 80,000.

Cutting the word count might at first seem counterproductive, but the principle of getting rid of anything that doesn’t add to the story may well save the novel in question.

To do this properly, I think the writer needs to select a time in between rewrites and decide on how much they want to cut. 10, 000 words, perhaps?

First, they would back up the latest draft several times to avoid losing work they might later wish to include again.

Next, they would create a new file in a separate folder, carefully marked as a Cut Edition.

In stage three, the writer would read through the work and highlight any writing that doesn’t add to the story. The writer can afford to take a ruthless approach, as they have already backed up the story in a seperate folder.

Stage four involves converting the document and highlights to a Read-Only, such as a PDF or HTML file.

In the fifth stage, the writer opens a new file and revises the story, referring to the PDF or HTML.

Finally, the writer takes a short break from the story before reading the revised version and making a decision.

An interesting experiment, whatever the outcome.

A Hot And Busy Summer, And Total Language Immersion

The heat wave continues. I keep busy with piano playing, writing, and foreign language learning.

I recently discovered live lingua, The World’s First Total Immersion Language School Online. The School provides paid lessons through Skype or free access to hundreds of Public Domain languages websites, audios and e-books. They offer about a hundred and fifty languages, free of charge if a person opts for the second option.

I’ve chosen Metropolitan French Fast and the equivalent course in German, which I find more demanding than the French, though deeply satisfying. I’m also trying to boost my Russian skills with various books and CDs. At the moment, I’m dealing the accusative and positional case endings. Difficult.

Till next time.

Mindfulness – Is It Really That Good? (Probably)

In previous posts, I’ve outlined a simple meditation that contains two parts. In the first part, the person slows their breathing over a five minute period, letting the exhales lengthen.

In the second part, the person focuses their attention on their breath, noticing when it wanders and bringing attention back to the breath.

I also described a Body Scan, during which a person focuses on the various pulses in the body, one by one, gently and without judgement.

Apparently, simple techniques such as these can produce positive and powerful effects, such as a reduction in anxiety or depression. In this post, I offer three reasons why I believe this might be so:

First, the distinct parts of the meditation tackle two separate things. Slow breathing with an emphasis on longer exhalations encourages relaxation by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System while the focused awareness encourages choice over what thoughts to purposely entertain.

Second, learning to focus on the breath and/or the pulses in the body while accepting but not engaging with other thoughts slows down the mental clutter or inner chatter that most people have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Third, practising awareness and focus helps a person build a barrier between important thoughts (need to get to work, need to complete this report, etc) and destructive or negative thoughts (the motorist cut me up, the person jumped the supermarket queue ahead of me). Mindful awareness practice helps give the person the power to chose which thoughts to act upon.

Fourth, regular practise of the meditation helps build up emotional resilience by encouraging the idea of the breath as an achor that can keep a person steady during the storms of life.

Of course, the benefits will only come if the person practises as often as possible, but I think the investment of time is worth it.

Just a few of my thoughts.

UK Heat Wave

The heat continues, day after day, sticky and unrelenting. Apparently, the temperature will rise this weekend.

Meanwhile, I stay busy. Work has stopped for the summer. I’m polishing a piano recital list for a soiree next week. I also study foreign languages and am revising a novel I wrote a few years ago.

Till next time.