Lockdown Blog 36: TV, birthdays, back-to-school & technological wizardry

Over two months has passed since I first arrived up here in Scotland to begin this crazy sabbatical, and much as spring has been arriving plant-by-plant, I feel like a few phases have come and gone through the period, but that I’m learning all the time. Even without realising it.

Firstly you may remember that I was getting really into Game of Thrones a few weeks back. Into it enough to write about it on a blog. Well, that’s all over now; our assembled company up here finished all 8 seasons (over 65 hours of television) in the middle of last week. I daren’t imagine what I could have achieved if I’d deployed those hours a different way. But I’ll always have fond memories of settling in to watch some gory back-stabbing with a glass of whisky in hand through the early Spring. We’re now embarked upon ‘Band of Brothers’ — another gory HBO creation, but this time based on real events in World War 2. The cast is dazzling, but it was filmed mainly before the cast had become dazzling, so it’s a curious insight into a few brilliant actors ‘before they got big’. Anyway, if we sustain the Game of Thrones watch-rate, I’ll be able to tell you how it all ends before the week is out!

The coming few weeks seem to be ‘birthday season’ up here in Perthshire. My sister-in-law Jo has hers later this week, then the following week is my father-in-law Ian, and then another week or so after that is Ellie. This has meant some strategic ordering of presents, storage of presents, and meal planning so that everyone will have their favourite food on their birthday (supply chains permitting). For Jo’s birthday we’re doing a murder mystery evening. For those who haven’t done one, it’s essentially a fancy dress party, over a real dinner, with scripted prompts (including the discovery of a body), which eventually leads to a Marple-like moment where everybody guesses who killed the victim. I’ve been cast as ‘Stavros Kebab’ — a suspect name for a suspect character; being cast as Mr Kebab, I’ve decided it’s only right I cook the meal. Spaghetti bolognese with a side of arsenic anybody? (Disclaimer: I don’t yet know if I am the killer. I’ll have to save that for next blog.)

An enjoyable little project at the moment has had me feeling like I’m back at university — in a good way. The other day I was asked if I’d make a video for the ‘Think Tank’ of Eric Whitacre’s new Virtual Choir 6. I was wondering what wisdom – if any – I might be able to share that would be of interest. And I’ve decided to set myself the task of explaining the history of choral singing in 3 minutes. I’m starting around 60,000 BC, and hoping to finish at 2020, encompassing as much useful information as I can in a limited time, to provide a sense of humankind’s inherent urge to sing together (and thus the importance of what these virtual choirs are preserving). It’s a real challenge, and I’m having to learn to generalise a bit in order to keep anywhere near my time-target. But it’s also been fascinating plugging some gaps in my own knowledge – particularly about pre-historic musical life.

We’re also in the midst of recording some more songs from isolation. They’re cleverly stitched together by a friend called Nick Girard – who does a miraculous job of recreating our ‘live’ sound digitally when he layers them together. Now that we’re getting used to this slightly alien way of making our music, we’re hoping to put out more and more of these. The first two were ‘And so it goes’ with the Stay At Home Choir, which has been seen almost 300,000 times in a week or so. The second was a little arrangement I made of ‘We’ll meet again’ for VE Day in the UK. The third is a piece of Tallis (you’ll see it later this week on our Facebook), and now we’re rolling into folksongs and spirituals for the next few.

So, learning all round for me at the moment! Learning about WW2 through Band of Brothers, learning about the history of human singing for Eric’s video, learning about music technology through our new recording methods. It could be worse.


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