The Piano Guys

I’ve used the Piano Guy YouTube videos in hundreds of my music lessons. They make classical music more accessible to the kids, so I used them a lot to illustrate a specific point or technique, but also as a way of getting pupils into the classroom fast and sat down listening before the register, because they seemed to find them almost hypnotic! So I know a lot of their videos in great detail! When my husband bought us tickets for my birthday at the Royal Albert Hall, I was really excited!

I really enjoyed the concert. Jon and Steven were the ones on stage most of the time, joined by Al and Paul for a couple of pieces. They have a typical ‘dad’ sense of humour, but also talked a lot about how music had influenced them in their lives and some of the stories behind their arrangements. They’re clearly musicians rather than a gimmick, you can tell by the way they perform the socks off even simple melodies. 

The musical snob in me instantly worked out that they weren’t playing all of the parts we could hear, because physically they couldn’t be. But then they didn’t keep that a ‘secret’- Steven explained about his different cellos and the loop pedals he used in the first half and in the second half he talked about how they use technology to give them the multi tracks alongside their live performance. However, for a while I felt a bit outraged that they weren’t playing all of it live. Which is really stupid! Clearly they can play all of the parts, they’re incredible musicians, so it’s not their talent which I was questioning. The only conclusion I could come up with was the fact that in my head classical music/piano and cello music ‘should’ be played live. If I’d gone to watch a pop singer I wouldn’t be remotely bothered if they sang live to a backing track.

Then I started looking at the performance in an even more different way. Actually, these guys are bloody geniuses. They combine live music and technology to create their sound. They’ve got loop pedals attached to a cello and they use all elements of the piano when they perform. That takes incredible imagination and their arrangements are so creative and clever if you pull them apart. And they played all of it with passion and commitment, which you don’t always see. There’s no way you could accuse them of being stuffy classical musicians trying too hard to be cool by mixing in pop songs, they’re actually trying to make classical music accessible to the masses and get people excited about it. 

Which I guess I knew when I was teaching, otherwise I wouldn’t have used their videos in every lesson for years. But for some reason I lost sight of this to start with when I saw them live. I was enjoying the concert until I corrected my perception by the third song, but after that I was totally absorbed and loved every minute of it. I kind of wish I was still teaching because I could think of so much material to use! 

I loved all of it but favourites of mine were the Taylor Swift Coldplay medley of Love Story/VivaLa Vida, I want you Bach (Jackson Five and Bach) and Fight Song/Amazing Grace. We had their version of Love Story playing as I walked down the aisle at our wedding so that was a particular highlight for me seeing it live. The encore was One Direction What Makes You Beautiful with all four of the guys on stage, which was amazing. That video was one of the kids’ favourites so got played multiple times (per lesson usually), so I know every second of that in detail and it was the exact same live as on the video- incredible!

It was a brilliant concert and well worth seeing if you get the chance. I already have some Piano Guys albums but I’m very tempted to download more now! 


Photo Credits: Paul Anderson 

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The People v O.J. Simpson

I’ve watched my way through all the comedies and light hearted TV series on Netflix, so have moved onto dramas and ‘real life’ stories. I quite like law and medical dramas anyway, but hadn’t come across The People v O.j Simpson until a friend suggested it. 

I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to scary things. There’s a running joke with my friends that if it’s an 18 I can’t watch it and I should vett 15s before watching them- I can’t handle  scary things at all but I find legal and crime stories interesting! This had a ‘me friendly’ certificate on Netflix so I thought I’d give it a go.

I got seriously hooked. It wasn’t remotely scary, a little bit creepy in some places, but if I could cope I’m sure most people could! I’m not old enough to remember the original trial so I had no idea as to the outcome. Basically, the writers have taken evidence, court room testimonies and statements made by people involved in the trial, and produced a dramatised version. It’s really well done. Not all of it takes place in the court room though, so you actually get to see the defence and the prosecution developing their strategies and how the twist and turns unfold. It took a while to get over the fact that the actor who plays Ross Geller from friends was a major role, but other than that I got completely absorbed. (I half expected him to shout ‘we were on a break’ at some point). 

It also made me realise that a lot of being convicted in America isn’t to do with the actual evidence but how you tell your story to the jury. Even things like the jury not liking your lawyer can be enough to convict you. Scary! The show also highlighted how stressful it must have been for the jury living with a gagging order and supervision for the duration of the trial. I can’t believe that DNA evidence wasn’t fully considered as ‘proper’ evidence, considering how much we know about it now and how it’s relied on so heavily! 

I thought the choice of music was good- there was the right amount of silence versus sound track, plus added audio such as ticking clocks or heart beats to represent action on the screen. The camera work varied between inside the court room for the dramatised version that we were watching, but also recreating how it was broadcast to the country on the news by the camera angles used e.g. High up shots or off to the side where cameras would be positioned in a real trial. 

It was really interesting and it made me want to read more about it. I’ve since added some more legal and crime things to my Netflix list because of it! 

Network image 

Harry Potter in Concert

The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra is currently touring the UK performing the Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone film score live at the same time as the film is played. I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and particularly love the Harry Potter film music, so I loved it! 


We went to see it in the Albert Hall. There were performances closer to us, but I incorporated it into part of my 30 things list and I thought the atmosphere would be amazing. And it was. It was a great mix of people- film lovers, orchestra fans, Harry Potter geeks dressed in robes, children… it was really good fun. And audience participation was encouraged! 

I studied conducting at university, but never did any film or screen conducting. I found it interesting to watch it being performed live with the film, because it obviously has to be really precise, but usually when the film score is recorded, it’s done with cues and times. This conductor must have really internalised his score and the film to be able to get it so spot on in front of a live audience. Incredible. And the musicians were amazing too. An entire film score, especially the length of a Harry Potter one, is a lot of playing to do in one concert! 


There was also a choir with wordless parts throughout. You know their bits exist when watching the film, but because it was live their parts added more depth to the soundtrack. In fact, in general there was more depth to the music, especially in the lower brass. I guess it’s partly because I haven’t watched the first HP film on a large screen since it originally was released and the sound gets compressed a lot when it gets turned into a DVD. I also noticed a lot more of the musical devices used and our perception of some of the characters was different, which was interesting! All because the music was played live and more of a focus rather than in the background. 

I think my favourite bit was actually the credits because they played them in their entirety and people stayed in their seats and listened unlike at the cinema. The orchestra played all of the themes we’d listened to for the last few hours and it just rounded it off nicely. And also got a really loud round of applause. 

It was a great day out. We managed to get street parking right outside the Albert Hall (£14 ish for 4 hours), and the congestion charge doesn’t apply on weekends. Because I’m not up to walking far, we decided to have lunch in the Italian restaurant at the Albert Hall, which was a bit of a gamble because we hadn’t reserved and it could have been ridiculously expensive, but it turned out to be really reasonably priced and a nice meal. Plus we didn’t have to rush because we were already at the venue. I’ve only been to the Albert Hall once before so I loved being in such a historic venue. The same orchestra are performing the Chamber of Secrets next year so I’m tempted to see that too! 

Banner photo: taken from the Albert Hall box office 

Review: Sunbridge Lounge, Bradford

I’ll be honest from the beginning; my brother owns and runs this bar, which was the only reason we were in Bradford in the first place. However, if you know my brother and me, we’re often each other’s harshest critics, so if it wasn’t up to scratch, I’d be the first to tell him! 

Sunbridge Lounge is located in the new Sunbridge Wells development in Bradford, where the old Victorian tunnels of the city have been converted into shops, restaurants and bars. It’s not immediately obvious where or what it is from the street, but while we were there, there was a steady stream of people visiting the complex, so it’s clearly well known by the locals. 


Sunbridge Wells Complex


Tunnel in Sunbridge Wells

Sunbridge Lounge is upstairs and is a Craft Beer and Tapas Bar. I don’t know anything about Craft Beer because I don’t drink beer, but the Sunbridge Lounge has a huge range of craft beers available from all over the world, as well as serving alcoholic, soft and hot drinks. 

We went for lunch on a Sunday and tried out the food menu. There was an impressive range of tapas or small plates to choose from, as well as side dishes like chips or salad and a specials menu, which is changed regularly. We ordered 6 small plates/tapas and some of the twice cooked chips and patatas bravas between 4 of us, which was the perfect amount of food. Everything is cooked to order, but the great thing was that it all came out at the same time, which isn’t always the case with tapas places.

I was really impressed. My favourite by far was the sweet potato bhajis, which lots of people had been raving about on Facebook and Trip Advisor- we ordered 2 plates. It came with a minted red onion, yoghurt and coriander dressing, which worked really well. 


My husband said his favourite was the salt and pepper squid, which was a special that day. 


We also had Tandoori black tiger prawns, which were really good (we ordered 2 plates). They were spicy but not overpowering and came with yoghurt. The flavouring was really well done, in that you could also taste the spices and herbs used, not just the heat.


Halloumi was the final small plate we had. My only criticism of the meal was that I thought the halloumi was sliced a bit thickly, but my husband disagrees and says it wasn’t and I’m just being fussy! The patatas bravas, also in the picture, were really good- we should have probably ordered 2 portions of that with hindsight! 


The service was quick and the waiting staff were friendly. Most of the plates are between £3-£7 and the produce is all sourced locally. The place was relatively busy for a Sunday afternoon, and I know from Facebook that you have to book to guarantee a table in the evenings. Because it’s tapas, it’s perfect for a quick meal if you’re popping in before the theatre, but the bar has a laid back feel to it so you can have a leisurely meal too. 



The interior is modern, fitting in with the industrial feel outside in the complex. I liked the fact that it had a bit of a nod to Bradford’s Victorian background and history, but still managed to seem up to date and trendy.

It would have been great if there had been some kind of dessert but apparently other people weren’t buying them so it didn’t make sense to keep serving them. The tapas more than made up for that though- it was amazing food and we had a great lunch there. Well worth a visit! 

The Night Shift

Good grief, you do not want to work in this hospital. There’s at least some kind of natural disaster, gunman, industrial accident or just general peril every night which the staff have to deal with. I thought Meredith had a disproportionate amount of bad luck in Grey’s Anatomy, but I think the staff here just manage to beat her! Also like Grey’s Anatomy, there’s a disproportionate amount of attractive staff who work there!

The Night Shift is a medical drama set in San Antonio following, unsurprisingly, the Night Shift working in the hospital (for the most part). A lot of the staff were deployed abroad with the armed forces at some point, so bring military experience to the job. I’m not sure if San Antonio is a military area in real life or not, but there were also a lot of soldiers who came in as patients from nearby bases. So while it’s a medical drama and you see a range of emergency cases, the show focuses on some of the problems soldiers face as part of their reintegration into civilian life. There are also regular flashbacks to when the doctors were working in military and field hospitals, which help you understand more about a character, or shows where their skills and insights are directly transferable to the general public, even if it’s not immediately obvious what they’re looking for to start with.

Medically, it mostly seemed accurate to me. I mean, when they said ‘BP is down’ it actually was going down on the monitor and they didn’t try to shock asystole (like they did on ER). Having said that, someone nearly always needed to have surgery ‘in the field’ every episode, and there’s no way that all of them would have survived infections they were bound to get from them having sterilised a pen knife with some vodka (for example). So realistic but with a massive pinch of salt. 

It was easy to watch and the characters were likeable enough. I did find the military background interesting- I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it as much if that wasn’t there. There were also some storylines which tackled every-day discrimination which I quite liked: e.g. Don’t ask don’t tell in the military, male nursing staff, racism. I particularly liked the fact that they had a few mental health storylines which forced the doctors to review the way they treated patients- some were adamant that mental health was a waste of time and neglected to see how it impacted on physical health until it was ‘too late’, forcing their opinion to change as to how to treat patients in the future. There were 2 ‘shoutouts’ to my rare medical condition- one time they got the facts wrong, the other was much more accurate, so not sure what happened to the researchers in between! A couple of characters did seem to just disappear though, either I wasn’t paying close enough attention or they just got written out quickly. 

I liked the fact the series tried to develop the characters and we saw their histories through flashbacks. I also liked that it was very obviously a flashback because it was set in war zones rather than the hospital, meaning I could keep up! I wouldn’t say it’s like Grey’s Anatomy, where you’re missing out if you haven’t watched it, but The Night Shift helped me pass a rainy rest week in my pjs quite happily 🙂 

Photo: NBC

Heartland 

I was brought up in the countryside (in the UK) so ‘farm life’ isn’t a foreign concept to me, but I am in in no way an animal person. And definitely not a horse person. So why, you might be asking, did I decide to watch a Tv series about a ranch and the surrounding community, where pretty much every scene features a horse? Well, I’d just finished Gilmore Girls on Netflix and wanted another show that had a lot of series on there, and it was in the ‘because you watched…’ section. So I thought I’d give it a go. 

And then I got hooked! It’s the first Canadian show I’d watched, so the accents took a bit of getting used to, but I loved it. Sadly only seasons 1-6 were on Netflix in the uk, and season 7 just got released, which I binge watched within the space of 2 days. I *need* the rest to be uploaded soon! (Please!)

Amy is a teenager who loses her mum in an accident, and who also has inherited her mum’s gift with horses. She’s not a horse whisperer (she doesn’t like being called that), but she does more than just train horses. Once Amy recovers from the same accident which killed her Mum, she takes over the day-to-day business at the ranch (heartland) that her mum used to do, supported by her business-minded sister Lou and her grandfather, Jack. A ranch hand called Ty, who is on probation for petty crimes, also comes to live and work there, and the horse-crazy ‘next door neighbour’, Mallory, drops in so often she basically lives there- I love Mallory as a character! Amy and Lou’s dad becomes a permanent fixture in their lives, and a lot of screen time is devoted to happy (and some eventful) meals around the Bartlett/Fleming dinner table. Other characters come and go as the story progresses through the seasons. 

So why do I like it? It’s easy watching but with enough ‘drama’ that you want to find out what’s happening. The characters are loveable- Jack appears to be a grumpy old man, but is actually anything but, and I even started to like Tim, who I hated in the beginning. The scenery is stunning- I really, really want to visit Canada now! But it was also really interesting learning about ranch-life and how to look after horses. We don’t have ranches or rodeos in the UK, so it was really enlightening to see what cowboys actually get up to, rather than their outfits just being seen at fancy dress parties like they are here. Plus I like programmes where theyre factually accurate e.g. the vet and medical stuff. 

It’s the kind of show that I’d watch again from the beginning because I like the characters and the world they live in. In fact, if I can’t sleep, I put Heartland on because the familiarity of the music and voices helps me relax! I also particularly liked that the actors all can ride- some of it must be done by stunt people, but there are lots of shots where it’s clear it’s the actors riding. 

The storylines might not be the most sophisticated in the world and some are pretty predictable, but actually, I quite liked that. And Heartland definitely beats Eastenders or Coronation Street anyway…! If you want to watch something heartwarming with beautiful scenery, then Heartland is a good show to watch! 

Now I just have to wait for the rest to appear on Netflix 😦

Photo: Studio Image

Their Finest

I really liked this film. I love films and stories that are about WWII because I find that period of history really interesting, but it’s not often I get so absorbed in a film that I forget that I’m in the cinema surrounded by strangers (I get really annoyed by other people making noises very easily!). 

By way of a brief synopsis, Mrs Cole finds herself offered a job in London as a film writer for the war effort. The government is concerned that people aren’t having access to ‘authentic and optimistic’ stories when they watch the news or films at the cinema, and they want someone who can get across their important messages, but do it in a way that people can relate to. Mrs Cole is that person, along with a small team. The film follows the team through the process of researching, creating, writing and filming. I won’t write any more because there were actually a lot of twists and turns and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! 

Mrs Cole is (obviously) a woman, so the aspect of women ‘being allowed to work’ was covered as part of the film as well. It was quite nice to watch a war-time film that followed the ordinary people during the war, as a lot of movies recently have focussed on the bloody and violent parts of war where all of the action takes place. But actually, being constantly under siege by bombs and having to make do with rations and poor living conditions is also a challenge. 

Because Their Finest is about making a film, it was quite artistic in the way it was communicated to us. So the film they were making became intertwined with the characters’ storylines and you could make links between what the writers were thinking and feeling and how it impacted directly on their work. As an ex-head of faculty for the the creative arts, this appealed to me massively because the creative process often gets left out of or forgotten about, with the focus being on the final product. I enjoyed watching the brainstorming sessions and seeing where ideas came from, as well as how they adapted their ideas when things were going wrong. I did find myself thinking two thoughts a lot throughout the film: firstly ‘I’m so glad laptops don’t weigh as much as typewriters- can you imagine having to lug that thing around?!’ and secondly, ‘I’m so glad we can edit things on laptops rather than having to type the whole lot out again if it needs redrafting!’

There were some funny moments with typical British humour – self depreciating/sarcastic with a good measure of ‘keep calm and carry on’. The Norwegian/American actor who really couldn’t act and Bill Nighy’s eccentric character both provided lots of humorous bits. And what would a war film be without a sing-song around the piano and a bit of a love story? I don’t cry at films, but this one nearly caught me out- like I said, I was absorbed fully in what was going on. A really good film! 

Photo: Film Advert 

Power Rangers

I think that nostalgia played a part in why I liked this film. It was ‘alright’, I was kind of indifferent about it, a bit like I am with most action films. But because I grew up with the Power Rangers on tv, played with the action figures and even owned a Power Ranger costume (when I was 6, I hasten to add), it seemed quite a fun film to see. I was the pink Power Ranger, obviously. 

There were a couple of things I really did like about it. Firstly, it wasn’t filled with endless fight scenes and battles which lead nowhere. Of course they had to save the town (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that), and naturally the baddy rose from the dead and they had to re-pool their resources and learn important lessons about collaborating, but it wasn’t hours and hours of endless bangs and crashes and peril. Plus the fight took place outside Krispy Kreme’s to save the contents hidden there, which, in my opinion, is a very good reason to defend something. Even if it was a crystal and not the doughnuts! They might have saved the town, but like every action film, it was completely flattened. Why does no one ever get annoyed at the super heroes for destroying their town entirely?!

Another good point was the fact that there wasn’t any romance between the characters. It really irritates me when film makers feel the need to create a love interest as part of the storyline, particularly when it usually results in girls being ‘protected’ by the male characters. They looked out for each other, but as friends. Friendships and the relationships formed from them don’t always get enough storylines! 

It also showed that jocks can be nice and stick up for the little guy, the little guy, who is also autistic, can be popular and have a great sense of humour, and the ‘bad guy’ and ‘moody girl’ who everyone steers clear of do have backstories that make them who they are- don’t judge a book by its cover. I Also liked how an underlying ethos was ‘labels can be useful to work out what you are but you don’t have to stick to them or even associate with one at all if you don’t want to’. Billy was autistic but his friends didn’t make a point of it- that’s just who he is. Trini isn’t perfect and may or may not be gay, but again, that didn’t matter. 

Random side note, thanks for including a cover of ‘Stand by Me’ as part of the soundtrack. I don’t think a year went by when I was a music teacher where I didn’t use this song while teaching pop music or covers, so music teachers everywhere will be glad for an up to date version! 

I didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t enough fake karate chopping and silly ‘it’s morphing time’ phrases like in the original. Maybe they’re being saved up for the sequel or perhaps it’s because it’s a reboot and modern kids aren’t impressed by dodgy acrobatics and fake smoke like we were but an enjoyable part of watching the Power Rangers was the quirkiness. The ‘go go Power Rangers’ theme didn’t feature enough for my liking either and instead we had a random theme that sounded a bit like it should have appeared in Tron. 

I was grateful for a storyline which wasn’t just ‘we have to save the world’ like other action films and I liked how the characters and their sub-plots were relatable to today’s kids. We also spotted 2 of the ‘old’ Power Rangers masquerading as normal people after the battle scene, which amused us. I wouldn’t say I’d watch it again, but it was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon (providing you liked the original series!). 
Photo: box office poster 

Finding Dory

Finding Dory was mostly intended as a ‘friendly’ alternative to seeing the latest Bourne film (totally not my scene). However, once we got past the first half an hour, which was quite slow, it turned out to be a pretty good film!

Finding Nemo obviously was about Nemo, so there had to be some ‘catch up’ involved to set the scene in order for Dory’s story to make sense. This bit was a tad slow, although the film is aimed at kids, not adults, so it might have been the perfect pace for them. In general though, it was a long film for a children’s film. The gist is, Dory gets lost and and Nemo and his Dad have to find her. But, as the story unfolds, it turns out that Dory got lost years ago from her parents, so it becomes a story of her finding herself as much as about her being found.

Once the story moved to the ‘fish hospital’, the pace picked up and a lot happened. (Spoiler: they find Dory). I liked the octopus character, an unlikely but warming friendship, and the perfect ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ moral right there. There was some pretty awful parenting from Nemo’s dad, with a clear reminder that adults do get it wrong sometimes and can learn a lot from their children. Plus some great team work involved with the help of a shark and a whale (I loved these characters) showing that help can come from even unlikely or unexpected sources.

Two main lessons came out of the film for me: everyone has value and a ‘place’, even those with poor memory (or SEN if I put my teacher hat on); and family is just as much about who you choose as who your parents are. There was a lovely moment at the end where Nemo said something along the lines of ‘Dory would work it out, she never gives up. Think about what Dory would do and we’ll solve the problem’. And he was right- everyone came together as a team to help find Dory and for Dory (and everyone else) to realise her value is worth more than being ‘just another fish in the sea’.

Ghostbusters

I loved this film. It was funny, had a good balance of action to dialogue, wasn’t too long and had some awesome characters.

When ghosts start to appear in New York, Scientists Abby and Erin join forces with Holtzmann, an engineer, and Patty, a New York City expert to firstly convince officials that ghosts do actually exist, and secondly, to eliminate them from the city. They hire a lovely but pretty useless receptionist, Kevin, to ‘help’ them with their work, who later becomes possessed by a ghoul, which complicates their power-struggle with the phantoms somewhat.

I read several online blogs beforehand about the film, some saying that they approved of the ‘girl power’ gender-role reversal, some saying they thought it ruined it. I’m all for females being strong characters and existing in films for more than just the purpose of being ‘saved’ by a male leading character, but I didn’t actually see them as four women kicking out ghosts. Gender didn’t really come into it for me, they were Ghostbusters doing a cool job, who also happened to be women. Likewise with Kevin, there was nothing weird about his role or his job as the receptionist, he was ‘just Kevin’. This was clearly down to great directing and producing.

The music score was great. It kept the original theme, which appeared throughout, with hints of either the bass riff or the main hook in the score. I thought it was a great mix of more ‘popular’ sounds and an orchestral backing.

Holtzmann was my favourite character because she was clever, witty and completely unafraid. There were glimpses of the original film, by including the actress who played the original receptionist as a new character. I loved the dance scene, which is shown in the end credits, starring Kevin. This was originally supposed to be in the main film itself, but didn’t go down well in test screenings, so it was cut. I’m glad it wasn’t cut completely though!