Impromptu Performance

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to return to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, to work with their incredibly talented M.A. in Musical Theatre group. I do adore returning to this amazing place, being submerged back into a college of music, constantly alive and buzzing with sound or practice, performance and general musical hubbub, it is a truly magical place to work.

But whilst being in the homeland, I also managed to make a trip to Swansea Jazz Club to see one of my mentors/idols from my Jazz years perform. Tina May has, I believe, one of the most incredibly flexible and emotive voices around. She effortlessly scat sings across all areas of the voice, imitating and mimicking instrument sounds, and all with faultless pitch and exciting rhythmic phrasing. And she is one of the most genuinely lovely people that I have had the absolute pleasure of working with.

On arrival at the club she gave me the warmest of welcomes but uttered the spine chillingly terrifying phrase, “you will sing with me won’t you?”….. Now younger me was in her element, I mean, one of my inspirations to sing asking me to sing with her….. :D…..  but now me thinks, “I haven’t sung a full jazz gig for a few years now and scat singing has never been my most comfortable means of performing” a.k.a. no way! So I politely declined and brushed it off… until mid way through the first set, Tina happily announced to that there would be a special guest performance in the second set. Argh! So I spend the first part of her amazing second set, partially enjoying her performance, and that of the incredibly house band, the Dave Cottle Trio, and partially panicking in an attempt to recall the lyrics for the song we chose in the interval.

Long story short, I sucked up my fear and did it. And, amazingly, nobody stoned me or burned me for ruining jazz and some of the jazz club patrons seemed to really like it (although I could feel the tentative inhalations from them as Tina passed me the mic) … so all in all a great night.

Do something everyday that pushes you out of your comfort zone, you never know where it might lead 😉

And here it is, a small clip of, “Autumn Leaves” with Tina May and the Dave Cottle Trio at Swansea Jazzland, January 2018.  (The French is all her!)

Choose life :)

So over a year ago now I had my website changed to a WordPress host, with the intention of keeping it regularly updated and starting a blog. My fabulous cousin sorted all of this for me and is an unending support for my ridiculous lack of tech knowledge. Clearly this well intentioned plan is going well, as over a year later I’m sat in Dublin airport typing out my first entry….. good work Angharad! But nevertheless, I’m here now and intent on finally keeping my website updated and fairly regularly blogged when I can J

Like everyone I know, I’m always full of great new year intentions, in 2017 I was going to keep a blog and update the site regularly, I was going to do be a “new me”, more positive, more productive, making more time for my friends and family, achieve a work/life balance …… sound familiar? I know so many people in our industries, both performing arts and teaching, who every January state these well intentioned resolutions, only to find December roll around and still being run off their feet, stressed and the same “old me”.

So I am not going to tell anyone about creating a “new me” in 2018; I’m still Angharad, the same one as I was last year and the many years before that, I’ve still got the same old wobbly bits, same multi coloured hair, (by nature rather than choice) and a ridiculous laugh, but I’m endeavouring to be a more balanced me. Something happened for me in 2017, and I wish I could tell you it was a revelation that I could pass on, bottle and/or sell (I’d be rich, I’m sure) but it was none of those things. I simply finally heard what my body and infinite friends, family and doctors were telling me and I made a big decision to just be healthier. Not to change my ways or berate myself for being unhealthy or “not enough”; as the now famous song states, the feeling of being “Never Enough” is universal I fear.  I regularly hear friends and students saying they aren’t tall/thin/good/reckless/brave etc. enough.

So in July 2017 I did the, then, unthinkable and I joined the gym. Now for me this was a big deal, I’ve always affectionately deemed myself a jelly baby, mostly to stave off the inevitable teasing before it began. I’ve never had a great deal of self confidence and standing next to a sculpted 20 year old guy showing off his rippling pecks in the mirror whilst I sweat my self stupid lifting a dumbbell, in a gym full of 20 somethings, in London, did not do wonders for my confidence. So I joined a gym in the sleepy city we now reside near; I chose to eat more healthily and then I made the, some might say, stupid decision to leave the teaching job I loved so well and have worked tirelessly to progress through. Yep, in December I left the degree course that I had rewritten and gotten validated and fought tooth and nail to get up and running and just walked away into the freelance dawn.

Now I said above I was striving to be more balanced and healthy, and now I’m saying that I left a perfectly good (PAYE, sick pay, holiday pay…. all the things) job for the unreliable world of the freelance musician – some would say that I’m nuts. BUT let me just assure anyone who does think I’m nuts, I am really not. Since December I have done a lot of miles for my freelance work, (I kid you not that I am typing this whilst waiting in Dublin airport for a taxi, having gotten up at 4 a.m. to get a flight here to work with some amazingly talented young singers, only to fly back home from the same airport at 7 p.m. tonight) but I am now infinitely happier and healthier.  My sleep patterns have all but returned to normal, I don’t wake up in a panic that someone needs me, that I have failed to do something essential for them, I no longer get emails through the night from some administrator or other demanding that I complete a million different forms, in triplicate, immediately on pain of being a failing teacher if I didn’t, or from students in blind states of panic about various issues, ranging from “I don’t have sheet music for “On My Own” [or some other widely available piece of music] and I need it for tomorrow” (….. my unofficial response…… “Dude, google it, buy it, I’m not your personal library”) or “what’s the UCAS course code” ( … again…. “google it”) or my favourite “what time do I have to come in tomorrow?” (…. same time as always!). In short, I have reclaimed just a little quality of life! (***disclaimer: I am now editing this back in the airport at 6 p.m. waiting for my flight home. Some would doubt that this is quality of life, but I’m so happy to be in control of when I work and how I work, it is well worth the hours. I have spent an amazing day working with super talented students for a school who always make me feel so welcome, supported, in fact, treasured, as my lovely Irish taxi driver pointed out earlier!)

And in all of this craziness of my previous teaching posts, I was certainly not alone. The pressure cooker of stress and anxiety that our teachers in the U.K. are being thrust into, is, in my opinion, crippling! Over the past few years I have experienced stress levels beyond a G.P.’s comprehension and been expected to deal with, not only the daily stresses of running various courses, but being used as a metaphorical punching bag for students and their parents, who think that they are being treated unfairly when asked to submit the pre requisite course work (for example). In the past I have been accused by a parent at one drama school of “ruining” the place, because the director of the show I was M.D. for hadn’t given their child a solo (how this is my fault I don’t know, I didn’t cast the solos!!), I became the central port of call for students suffering vast amounts of crippling anxiety and panic attacks in adult hood due to bullying from other students and egotistical staff in early life, or simply they cant cope with the transition to adult hood. I have experienced the parents of mature students calling me to discuss why their child didn’t get the mark they wanted, why can’t I pass them when they’ve done no work, can I complete applications for them (it goes on…) In total over the past few years, I have been yelled at, sworn at, threatened, bullied and intimidated; and those are just a few instances of the issues that teachers in the U.K. are expected to deal with, alongside full time teaching hours and a, basically, full time admin job.

BUT I kept on keeping on, because for every one of these stresses there was a highlight; A student who achieved beyond their wildest dreams and unlocked a part of them that was dormant, there were students who found their strength and found their confidence through performing arts. There is no better feeling to me than seeing the light bulb moment some students get when things just “click” and then meeting the confident, capable and flourishing adult that these students blossom into.

Sadly though, at the end of 2017 I just couldn’t cope with this level of stress and pressure any more, so I chose the freelance life.

Who knows where the bill payments will always come from in the future, but for right now I’m so grateful, happy, rested (despite the 4 a.m. get up) and healthier for the ability to say no to work that is too much and to not have the weight of an institutions success or failure falling on my shoulders, to not have the responsibility for being mentor/teacher/safeguarding officer/prevent duty officer/counselor/life coach/surrogate parent on my shoulders. I have nothing but fond memories of many of my students and colleagues of the past few years and don’t regret a day of working with them, but now it has become important to just be me again. Loving my freelance teaching, loving the chance to travel and loving my life again, not dragging myself through daily struggles and feeling constantly on the edge of panic that I haven’t achieved yet another unattainable “quality” goal imposed by administrators and a government that, in my opinion, have no clue the damage they are doing to our young artists and the teachers of this country.

So here I am, in Dublin still, hoping that my experiment in life balance will pay off over the next year, but even if it doesn’t, right now I’m happy and healthy and I hope that all of you are too! I’ve spent January and February working with some amazing young performers and some incredible creatives…. bring on the next few months for more!!

I will endeavour to “blog” it up on a fairly regular basis, with whimsical thoughts from a creatively baffling brain! But if not, see you in the real world for catch ups over coffee 😉

Be well internet world!