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New Score, New Head-Baton, and Ready to Make Some Noise!

This is my last blog article before the conducting development week at The Royal Academy of Music and things are hotting up. The score is ready and we now have a brand new version of the head baton.

It has been interesting preparing the parts for the four instruments all be it challenging at times when my computer decided to freeze before saving the work I'd done! One of the many tasks I completed this weekend was to tidy up the layout for each of the parts, minimising the clutter of unnecessary dynamic markings. This was time consuming but also a great learning experience on logic, in terms of creating a nice, easy to read score.

The next stage is to mark-up the score in order to remind myself which instrumentalist I might need to encourage or hold back at different points in the music.  Having had a few lessons from Sian, I allocated different colours to each instrument (or voice) and highlighted the first note of each of the instrument's entry point.  

Now, I had to find a way of doing this digitally. As I'm unable to fluidly handle paper in a practical manner, I could have dictated my markings to my assistant who could mark them on the pages. The issue I have with dictation is that it can sometimes lead to my mind becoming disassociated with the creative process, especially if it requires me to subsume myself with it. A weird bit of psychology there!  

As a result, I used Adobe Acrobat's highlighter and textual commenting features to mark-up PDF versions of my score. In addition, I used Microsoft Word into which I copied and pasted the text from the text boxes I created in Acrobat.  

This enabled me to re-format the text before cutting and pasting it back into Acrobat.  Otherwise, all of the text mark ups I added in Acrobat would have remained the default format: Helvetica, sized 12, and Red in colour. A clunky but effective workaround!  Whether my mark ups make sense in the sessions is yet to be discovered, as I have done it purely based on common sense and how I think the players who I've yet to meet will naturally interpret their parts. It's likely that my initial mark-up will change to fit the reality once I start working with the players.

The other big news, as previously mentioned at the start of this post, is that I now have the latest version of my head-baton!  I am so grateful for the support from everybody including Drake Music. Drake has been key in developing the head baton.  

Particular thanks to Gawain and Luis both of whom have put so much work into the design and build of it. The fact that it started as a clunky head pointer, the design for which has now been developed into something so light and tiny is amazing. Through this process, I have got to know a community of music technology enthusiasts through DMLAB - a Drake Music group who meet up every month and discuss various inventions which they've been working on to make music creation more widely accessible. 

I've been going along to these sessions for the past year and a half and I keep being amazed with the ideas and gadgets people come up with. The new head baton is really light and is transferable between different glasses. This minimises the weirdness of having something attached to my head.

This is so important as I need to do as much as I can to 'fit into' a role which is surrounded by pre-defined ideas and traditions. By saying this, I don't deny the fact that what I'm doing is inherently questioning the pre-conception of what a conductor looks like, but I just need to look like and be human being. And Drake is helping me with this!

Right, that is it for now! I must go and make last minute preparations before actually starting the project. I'm so excited!

Thanks to DAO for hosting this blog for me – they’re amazing!  You can follow my twitter account @jamesrosetweets where I’ll be posting updates during the Conducting Development Week in week starting Monday 2nd May using #jroseconducting. Further details on the project can be found at http/:/

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 3 May 2016

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 3 May 2016

The Learning Process

Image - james_rose_olympic_park.jpg

Transitioning from a visual-centric way of thinking to the audio equivalent has been an interesting journey. It has entailed a change in the priority of what senses I use and ultimately how I think. With film, theatre, and dance, one can visualise their intentions before making them a reality.  But with sound, it's different - somehow more ethereal and generating the ideas forces you to explore the deepest crevices of one's mind. Well, it does for me anyway! 

Ear training has been key to making this journey a success. Repeatedly listening to different notes being played and learning to identify the size of intervals  (or gaps) between them has helped me to 'think musically.' 

At the time of writing, I am able to identify all intervals, depending on state of mind. My aim is to develop to the stage where I can imagine the different intervals in order to create sound narratives in my head. Before training ears, I watched the film Amadeus and was in awe of how Mozart was portrayed as dictating his final piece of music on his death bed. Now, I'm still in awe but with hope that I might be able to do the same... hopefully not on my death bed though!  

A lot of my 'training' has been a mixture of an hour of tuition per week plus a great number of hours sifting through YouTube videos. And… oh yeah… practicing doodling and writing music.  I’ve written a list of YouTube Channels which I frequently watch as a part of my training at the end of the article.

It has been a little tricky getting on to some courses because of the inherent uniqueness of my approach to music (causing other people to over-think how I am going to do the course). While most people have been well-meaning, it has been a tad frustrating at times. 

Thankfully, both of my music tutors over the years have been amazing. I also seem to attract amazing (personal) assistants who have been happy to play the keyboard, guitar, or even glockenspiel for me (for ear training).

If anyone out there is interested, I use the app – Perfect Ear 2 – which is available for Android. Using these kinds of apps is a good way of filling in those ‘inbetweeny’ moments on the underground or when recovering from being chased by a tiger!  No, seriously, ear training – like learning a language – relies upon regular exposure and practice, and works better if you somehow integrate it into your life; making it a natural activity.

I have also been lucky enough to have Sian who has guided me and believed in me since we met in November 2014.  Being surrounded by expertise has been a great help.  I need to be careful here so as to not make this a list of thanks!

People’s lack of confidence in the conducting conquest has also been a great help. There have been countless times where others have lacked belief that this would work, and after a while, it becomes yet another motivator to prove that things are not as black and white as people think they are.  After all, the cave person who discovered the circle might have been laughed at before his mates realised how revolutionary it was going to be to them and to future generations!

As with any learning, this is very much a transient process and so it continues!

Some of my music course materials on YouTube…
I have listed YouTube channels that I frequently watch as a part of my exploration of music.  Subjects covered include music theory, composition, ear training, history of music, instrument familiarisation, and general creative thought provoking videos.  I have loosely used these categories to organise them below.  However, there are many crossovers spanning a lot of the listed channels, so you can decide which ones are the most relevant to you. 

Music Theory – Music Matters – musictheoryguy – myhistoryofmusic – Dave Conservatoire

Composition – Art of Composing – artofcounterpoint

Conducting – Michelle Willis

Ear Training/ Music Theory – Rhythmic Canada - musicwithnoopain

Instrument Familiarisation - The Online Piano and Violin Tutor – Lemon77ug (Yehudi Menuhin Violin Tutorial playlist)

General Creative Thought Provoking – The RSA - Leonard Bernstein – James Humberstone

Thanks to DAO for hosting this blog for me – they’re amazing!  You can follow my twitter account @jamesrosetweets where I’ll be posting updates on the progress in the run up to and during the Conducting Development Week in week starting Monday 2nd May.  Further details on the project can be found at http:/

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 18 April 2016

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 April 2016

The Physicality of Conducting

Whilst at the Royal Academy of Music, I have learnt many things. Whilst watching a conducting student practicing and being taught by Sian Edwards (RA Head of Conducting), you’ll often see the other conducting students moving their hands and or batons in the air internalising the instruction and music. At first, I was hesitant to join with the worry of looking crazy when moving my head.  However, I soon overcame this nonsense paving the way for some real analysis and learning.

Almost all coaching Sian gives is to do with facial expressions, movements of the arms, or the angle of the baton at different times depending on the conductor’s musical intentions.  The facial expressions are no problem for me…well, no more of a problem than anyone else.  Baton angles and movements serve a challenge for the missing number of joints.  

When conducting using a baton held by a hand on an average length arm, there are around eighteen joints to be manipulated and used to create movement:
1.    Shoulder (Glenohumeral Joint facilitating seven types of movement)
2.    Elbow (facilitating four types of movement)
3.    Wrist (condyloid synovial joint facilitating five types of movements)
4.    ‘Lower Knuckles’ (metacarpals…the thumb facilitating five types of movements and the remaining four ‘glide.’
5.    ‘Mid Knuckles’ (metacarpals phalangeal joints…five of them facilitating four types of movements)
6.    ‘Top Knuckles’ (interphalangeal joints – proximal and distal both of which facilitate two movements)

This facilitates approximately twenty-seven different movements being available for you to use in order to manipulate the baton or hand.  In my case, I have up to twelve movements available to me instead of twenty-seven – six from my neck and six from the waist. From a simplistic and a pessimistic point-of-view, mathematically, conducting using the head is surely to fail.  However, this is not so because the eyes and facial indications compensate for the lack of movement.  

Upper-body stretches can also help by improving core strength and flexibility.  The intention is to refine and isolate different movements in my neck, back, and waist to achieve detail with ease.

So, I have developed a routine of stretching my upper body and neck to achieve maximum subtlety:
Lean forward in the wheelchair from the waist aiming to touch.  Slowly bend forward during a count of five.  Then aim to touch your toes for another count of five before coming back up slowly.

Stretch left arm up and over to right side and let the upper body follow.  I do this slowly during the count of five.  Then, in the exact same manner, I come back to the centre.

Stretch right arm up and over to left side and let the upper body follow count of five.
Sit up straight and push shoulders back count of five.
Sit up straight and tilt the head forward gently.

These exercises are specifically for me and I am not recommending them to anyone else.  I’ve listed a few videos which I have used as a reference. Enjoy!

  1. Wrist and Hand Joints - 3D Anatomy Tutorial
  2. Shoulder Joint - Glenohumeral Joint - 3D Anatomy Tutorial
  3. Elbow Joint - 3D Anatomy Tutorial
  4. Cervical Activities Booklet The Six Movements of the Neck

You can follow my twitter account @jamesrosetweets where I’ll be posting updates on the progress in the run up to and during the Conducting Development Week in week starting Monday 6th May.  Further details on the project can be found at 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 7 March 2016

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 21 March 2016

Why Conducting?

So why get into a really weird and specialised art form about which few people understand? I have set my sights high in committing to the journey of music conducting, I know, but it feels right. 

Whilst I was preparing my application to the Arts Council, I was asked to write how the conducting was related to my past work, which is in primarily film-making. I wrote about how I used to conduct to music when I was little (when no one was looking!) using my head pointer. Plus, explained how I have this musical drive, which has been kept hidden under a dreamy veil.  

Although I started peeling the veil away four years ago, in truth, I have been practicing a young age without realising it. This shows a personal passion but ignores how my experience in film-making relates to conducting.

Well… after leaving uni in 2008, I ended up in film making – in particular, directing and editing. Both roles are frequently arbitrary as you now tend to become multi-skilled facilitating numerous roles in the evolution of mobile technology.  

I spent a lot of time sat in front of a computer putting video clips into a logical narrative structure, looking at transitions, colour grading as well as sound.  For the most part, this is an autonomous but lonely role.

With conducting, you already have a structure that being the scored composition. This leaves the transitions and the colour (or energy driving the presentation of the piece) which is what a conductor oversees. For this, the conductor needs to convey the right kind of drama and sensitivity to the talented players.  

This is where my experience in theatre and dance comes into play when physicalizing musical intentions using eyes and arm movements.

One major difference between editing together a film and conducting is the evanescent nature of music instead of having a fixed configuration of clips and effects which will remain consistent without further input from oneself.  The other major difference in conducting is the people element and the fact that you work with a team to create something.

This journey has also lead to composing music which has been like learning a language, which is what music is…a language.  The difference between music and any other ‘foreign’ language is that I already understood it. I am just learning and applying the theory behind the meaning and feeling.  

My experience in dance has also played a role here relating to how one composes. It’s all about patterns, setting expectations, and then teasing the listener before rewarding them with a satisfying conclusion… well, sometimes anyway! I have had the support of John Lubbock (Orchestra of St John's Artistic Director) and others from the start to whom I am grateful. I look forward to working with John in May. He was the one of the people went along with my idea of conducting and gave my first lesson.

With any ‘journey’ there have been a few bumps on the way and there will be loads more, I’m sure (aw…look, a rhyme!).  The next few months will be exciting!

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 February 2016

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 9 February 2016