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.

Back To The Editing Board

Book four. Silent: a psychological thriller aimed at a younger audience.

After eighteen months, I have returned Silent with a view to submitting it somewhere.

Having distanced myself from the writing for more than a year, I can now see some of the issues that need addressing.

I would describe the main problem as meandering — i.e. the narrator straying from the point instead of focusing on the issue at hand.

Like in the past, I’ve encountered the same editing dilemma this time round — i.e. ruthless editing in the form of pruning strengthens the structure and argument, but the removal of the meandering material presents new problems, including a loss in the quality of the prose.

I expect it’s a question of balance. Every sentence must contribute towards the story, but some sentences require greater effort than others.

Till next time.

Staying Calm And Focused In A Stressful World

Alert. Focused. Calm. Difficult in today’s world.

In recent years, I’ve developed an interest in methods of relaxation.

It began shortly after I started CBT with a therapist, and deepened a few months later when I successfully quit smoking after years of heavy chain-smoking.

Long term smokers suffer the consequences of their actions. In my case, lingering problems propelled me to seek methods of self-improvement, both physically and mentally.

Setting A Goal (even for relaxation)

Here I outline some simple tools designed to improve psychological and physical health.

First, setting an intention for relaxation practice. A goal.

For instance, I decided to give up smoking purely for health reasons. Similarly, I have pursued various relaxation and breathing techniques for health alone.

Second, deciding on how much time needed on a regular basis. I believe that ten minutes each day could potentially bring benefits.

The Tools

Selecting one or two methods. My preferred are:

Slow breathing, bringing the breath to a rate of between five and six breaths per minutes.

Personally, I like to work with Pursed Lips Breathing, as I feel it’s a kinder, less stressful technique that helps ex-smokers gain greater control over their breathing, thus activating the relaxation response.

To do PLB, blow out softly through the mouth, then take a gentle inhale through the nose. Over several minutes, practise blowing at an imaginary candle, never extinguishing the flame, only moving it gentle, gradually increasing the length of the exhale and inhale.

Next, move to a simple Body Scan, paying attention of the various pulses in the body, one by one.

Toes. Feet. Ankles. Knees. Stomach. Chest. Fingers. Elbows. Throat. Lips. Temples.

If time permits, expand awareness by repeating the Scan at a faster rate to include all the pulses simultaneously.

Awareness of Breath. Finally, return to the breath, observing it for a few minutes. Focusing. When the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the breath.

Day To Day

People can combine various practises to suit their busy schedules.

For instance, a combination of slow breathing, body scan and breath awareness in the morning (12 minutes), followed later in the day by short awareness of breath meditations on sixteen breaths (lasting about 4 minutes in all), and a simplified slow breath combined with mindful aware of breath after work or in the early evening (lasting about 5 minutes).

Just a few of my thoughts.