5 Reasons why you should go to Royal Albert Hall’s Classical Coffee Mornings

Royal Albert Hall’s Classical Coffee Mornings in the Elgar Room, a Sunday music event I’ve been following for a while now, began the year 2017 on a fabulous high note with a performance by Pierre Frapier and Jennifer Hughes from the Royal College of Music.

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I always enjoy this series and come out of it invigorated but this last experience was so good, I had to write up this piece and spread the word about it. So here goes… 5 Reasons why you should go to Classical Coffee Mornings:

  1. Classical can be casual

Yes, it’s great to go to fancy piano recitals at Wigmore Hall and dress up every now and then. And the musicians there of course deserve that respect of not showing up in torn up jeans. But classical music can also be leisurely enjoyed in sneakers with a cup of coffee and a pastry. Personally, I also occasionally feel like aside from the actual music, there’s some “see and be seen” going on at larger concerts, which takes away the focus from the music. That’s definitely not the case at Classical Coffee Mornings, where you just grab the best table available and sometimes share one with others who are all there to enjoy an hour of music on a Sunday morning.

  1. Get a glimpse of the future of classical music

We all know who the living greats are. Even if we may not necessarily be able to pick them out ourselves, the fact that they are at the Barbican, the Royal Albert Hall or other great venues with critics and a lifetime of success that confirms their greatness, we know what we’re getting. Some of them can be very young too and some performers at this series have also played in those halls. But at this concert series, you’re always presented with young musicians from the Royal College of Music. No beginners of their craft with impressive resumes for sure but certainly still at the beginning of what is hopefully a very long career. You can become one of their earliest fans and look forward to follow their growth. Isn’t that fantastic?

  1. It’s just an hour (and £12.50)!

Going to an evening concert always makes it the foimg_0813cal point of the day. You don’t just pop by, this is what you’re going for. While I do enjoy a full concert that goes on until half past nine, it does also require from the audience a whole lot of energy and focus. After twelve hour days at work that start at 7am, I’m not always in the mood for that and can’t handle it too often. An hour on a Sunday morning though? Easy enough. Also, if you have a loved one or friend who might not be too familiar with or finds classical music too boring or stiff (I’m not one of them! But let’s be honest, enough people feel that way), they might be put off by the idea of a concert. Why not gently introduce them to this beautiful world with a shorter performance? You can even tell them about Elton John’s Big Red and lure them in with that pop connection!

  1. Challenge and inspire yourself with diverse repertoire

I must confess that I’m not the most educated classical musician, so one of my New Year’s resolutions was that I wanted to expose myself to more diverse music and push myself to listen to more and new music I don’t know. At the Classical Coffee Morning series, there’s so much diveimg_0749rsity. One day I heard Natsumi Ikenaga perform well-known pieces such as Bach’s Partita No. 2 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. But on my favourite Sunday so far, I had the pleasure to experience an American themed piano and violin performance with compositions by Dvorak, Ravel, Provost and Frolov. If I had to summarise this repertoire, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. So much beauty I didn’t know! So, whether you’re a musician yourself or not, go and find fresh creative inspiration here and take home some of that youthful energy from these wonderful performers.

  1. Make it a day out in South Kensington

The Classical Coffee Morning could be your energising creative start to a day out in South Kensington. My last one was followed by a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” (until Feb 26) which was fittingly an exhibition driven by music. There are so many other choices within walking distance such as the Science Museum’s new mathematics wing, the Winton Gallery or the Natural History Museum’s “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” (which I check out every year), there’s bound to be something for you. I completed my day with a lunch at Bumpkin. There are plenty of other delicious options to pick from to complement your day, where you can sit down, discuss and digest your morning experience alongside good food. And while in the winter months, this might not be recommendable, you can always walk it all off with a stroll through Hyde Park. There you go! Your full Sunday planned!

So, here are my 5 reasons to check out this music series! Three more events scheduled until April. I hope to see you there and perhaps even share a table with you soon!

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Liar’s League – Creativity on the 2nd Tuesday

Expanding on my recently developed passion for creative writing, I had a new London experience yesterday going to Liar’s League, an event partially run by my last creative writing tutor, Katy Darby. No, Liar’s League is not some criminal association, but a themed monthly fiction night where selected short stories are read out by professional actors.

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Their motto is “Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everybody wins.” And despite not being much of a performing arts lover myself (usually rather feeling like I just wasted a few hrs of my life knowing I’ll never get them back), I must admit I quite enjoyed this experience (apart from the food served…).

The themes are advertised in advance and writers who are interested send in their unpublished work between 800-2000 words related to the topic at hand by the given deadline to then be judged and chosen by the committee (care to give it a shot?).

There’s an unpublished longlist and shortlist, whereby writers receive some feedback on their work. Finally around 5-7 stories get picked for the night in question.

The event takes place at The Phoenix@37 Cavendish Square, conveniently located just 5 minutes from Oxford Circus. Doors open at 7pm and entry is £5, where you get stamped on your wrist. The evening starts more or less at 7.30pm.

The theme for my night was “Life & Limb” and contained 6 works in total spread over about two hours with a 15 minutes interval in between (with a book quiz and a chance to win one of three books! This time, three short story collections including a Granta edition on travel).

Surprisingly many stories involved falling. Maybe this is the typical risk situation people imagine? But the diversity in which the theme was treated was impressive, starting off with a rather comical punchy story, followed by two emotionally deeper stories of which the second was a very literally artistic piece. In the second half again we had a mix, finishing off with an extremely energetic story funnily treating the theme of sex.

Maybe it’s just my ignorance? But I was utterly surprised at the range of emotions and moods the actors displayed, giving the stories real life just by reading them out. I was initially disappointed, since I somehow thought it would involve actual acting out but really in the end the readings were nothing short of totally engrossing. It was just as much about the writing as the acting.

Anyone would have at least found one story to their liking and would have still found utmost respect for the creativity put on display here in all works by writers and actors alike.

So, unless you’ve got other plans, mark your calendar for the second Tuesday of the month and give it at least once a try!

City U short courses – a £230 door to a new world?

What was the trigger really? I’m not sure. Was it the poster up the stairs out of Barbican station that beckoned me? At least that’s how I found out about the short courses at City University. Browsing through all the course listings I found myself narrowing down to “Creative Writing.” Some distant dream from childhood bubbled up: I imagined myself being a writer. As an adult, I had scraped that dream just a tad by becoming a financial reporter and had sort of ticked it off as done. But what if I gave it another shot? After all, my clients seemed to truly enjoy my tiny morning anecdotes that I posted every day.

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And so it came that in January of this year, I enrolled for the 10 weeks class “An Approach to Creative Writing”  taught by Caroline Natzler.

This being my first creative writing class, I did not have any grounds to compare it to nor expectations. My initial impression of the class was that it was extremely diverse (with neither positive nor negative connotation, just diverse). The lack of any requirements when joining apart from being proficient in written and spoken English made it an accessible class for almost anyone willing to spare some time and money during the week after work. There was a veteran English journalist wanting to write something creative at one end of the spectrum and a totally novice black young writer whose ambition was to publish a children’s book by the end of the year on the other (I know to not judge a book by its cover but the latter even though I sincerely applaud the courage seemed rather unrealistic).

In retrospect, I believe the class was good as an entry point because of its low requirements. It was like a kindergarten class, not necessarily driven towards anything, just providing the caring parental guidance while letting us sniff at how creative workshops work, similar to kids seeing numbers and letters, singing songs for the first time.

Without this class, I would have probably never made the next step to keep on writing and sign up to “Novel Writing and Longer Works”  the following term. It may be too early to make such a bold statement but I already believe this course has changed my life.

This course, just as the previous one, had no entry requirements and my naive reasons for signing up for it then were 1. I wanted to continue the creative writing path and 2. it ran at the same time as the first course I’ve taken, making it easier to coordinate with my work colleagues.

This course though once it started, was very different from the first one I had taken. It wasn’t a Kindergarten anymore, but closer to an A-level class. Just as much as Katy Darby taught us, we were also expected to perform. Goals were clearly set. Goals which were much higher than I had expected at first. A 500 word synopsis of our novel idea was the first hurdle that hit me. Following that, we then had the first half of the course to finish up the first chapter or up to 5000 words of our novel. The same deadline for all of us, works to be printed out and sent to everyone. After the first half of the course tackling specific topics on writing, the second half was then almost fully dedicated to workshopping our chapters à la UEA style (something Katy adapted from her UEA MA experience). Katy is very encouraging, pushes you to believe in yourself but also expects you to perform at your best. Katy is clearly an A* at what she does.

But as important as the teacher is in this setting, so are your peers who are going to review your work and whose work you will learn from. And so I consider myself truly lucky to have met all of those on my course, reflecting an incredible diversity (in the most positive sense!) in life (ranging from a young Indian primary school teacher to an English librarian in her sixties) as well as in writing topics and styles (from Brazilian prostitutes in London to dystopian futuristic science fiction novels). Those that were not 100% into this dropped out rather quickly, leaving a very dedicated crowd. It wasn’t only their writing that was great. They were the sort of people that in trust exercises, you’d be happy to let yourself fall backwards knowing that they would catch your fall. Creative writing is an extremely personal experience and having people there you can trust, to whom you can open up is really what you need.

I went in with the goal to just keep on writing and came out with a synopsis, a written and revised first chapter and the sudden belief that I could possibly write an entire novel. Backed by all the encouragement, I have now sent in my work the UEA-Guardian Masterclass “How to complete the first draft of a novel”  and was accepted. No matter what comes from here, City University’s short courses were the first step.

So did it have to be creative writing? For me I think the answer is yes. But part of the course experience was to meet people I may not have met otherwise who still had one passion in common with me. This is probably true of any subject. I won’t vouch for the quality of any other City University short courses but for £230 (£23 for each week?) it was well worth it for me.