Sunday, November 29, 2009

London Underground and Tube Information - Including tube map, underground route planner and other useful links.

As a regular visitor to London I got fed up searching for tube and underground information from my smartphone so I created this page to help me when I am on the move. I also put in some tips based on my own experience of using the tube and helping tourists and visitors to the city.

So if you are looking for London Underground information this site is worth bookmarking:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to Choose a Cornet Mouthpiece

"I wear size 9 shoes so you should too!"

If I was to say that to you, you would think it was daft, yet we hear this sort of advice about mouthpieces all the time.

I used to play on big mouthpieces (I played a Wick 2 in the front row in first section and championship section - what a mad fool I was), but after I changed my embouchure set up to get a smaller aperture I had to shift to smaller mouthpieces. I actually play on a 4B now. Its not ideal. I would prefer to play on a 4 or a 4 1/2 but my cornet has to have the shanks turned down slightly to get the gap right so changing mouthpieces is a chore, and I can't pass them on to anyone once they have been cut. This is entirely my fault as the instrument was gapped for a Bach mouthpiece when it was made - a huge error and not easily corrected on this particular cornet.

Some of the issues that affect mouthpiece choice:
  • Need for endurance (brass band cornet players play like violins in an orchestra so there is more need for endurance than with the trumpet meaning that rims are likely to be wider or flatter than trumpet).
  • Need for flexibility (thinner rims give more flexibility but increase attack, this is why I think the Wick rims are the way they are - to prevent very brassy attacks without sacrificing flexibility too much).
  • Resistance requirement (in general tighter feeling instruments work better with slightly more open mouthpieces and visa versa - this also has a lot to do with the mouthpiece gap). 
  • How much pressure you use when playing.
  • Whether you are required to play after the point when your lips have gone (a serious issue for brass band and big band players who have no choice in the matter!).
  • The sound model you are aiming for.
  • Physiology of the lips (children have smaller mouths and need smaller mouthpieces, people with big lips can't play on really shallow mouthpieces without adopting odd embouchures).
I think that resistance is the key. An instrument set up feels best is when the resistance of the whole system from the lips through to the bell is optimal for that particular player. This is where adjusting the gap can make a huge difference. By gap I mean the distance between the end of the mouthpiece and the beginning of the leadpipe. This has a huge effect on resistance and the feel of the instrument.  Incidentally, old cornets with  removable shanks usually have no gap so this is a relatively new issue (past 30 years or so).

That's my thoughts on the subject as someone who has been through more mouthpieces than hot dinners.

For a survey of cornet mouthpiece throat sizes and a discussion about how this affects resistance see this article:
cornet mouthpiece throat sizes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to make a Tin Whistle or Penny Whistle in E

To make an E whistle get hold of a cheap Clarke Meg whistle in D.

Measure up from the first hole (the one nearest the mouthpiece) 20mm and make a mark with a fine permanent marker.
Cover the mark with clear tape or tap very lightly with a centre punch to help the drill bit grip.
Drill a 5mm hole using very light pressure and a high drill speed as you don't want to buckle the tubing.

Measure down from the third hole (the third one down from the mouthpiece - the original third one, i.e. the fourth hole you now have in the tube) 14mm and mark again with a permanent marker and tape.
Drill a 5mm hole.

Now cover the original fourth hole with a bit of insulating tape (you may be able to get a bit the same colour as the whistle). This is a small hole anyway so its not much to cover.

Your whistle now has seven holes. Put your fingers on the top six holes and you should get a scale of E.
If you use your pinky to cover the seventh hole you will hear a concert D.

It may be safer to start with a 4mm drill bit and test the tuning as making the holes bigger sharpens the notes.
You could then file out to 5mm with a round needle file.
You can also give a few strokes across the new holes with a half round needle file to take off the sharp edges from the drilling.

The hole spacing is a bit irregular but it works.
Now t0 make a D whistle from a C whistle with a bottom hole for the concert C!

Monday, November 16, 2009

How many instruments can I actually play?

Someone asked me this yesterday so I did a quick tally:

Instruments I can play to an advanced/professional level:
Flugel Horn
Soprano Cornet
Piccolo Trumpet

Instruments I own and can play to a reasonable amateur level:
Tenor Horn
French Horn
Natural Trumpet

Instruments I own and have a basic ability on:
Guitar (8 or 10 chords and a bit of picking)
Voice (tenor -  amateur standard)

Instruments I can pick up and get some sort of useful tune out of:
All of the other brass instruments

So I can't play any reed instruments or stringed instruments that are played with a bow.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is This It? - More on The Alpha Course

Posters like this are appearing outside churches across the UK as part of the Alpha Course. There is one outside Morningside Baptist Church which I pass every day. This has made me think further about the issue so I present these thoughts as additional to my previous article on the subject.

Is this it?

What exactly is "this"? Its not explained on the poster so presumably we are to make up our own minds. I am sure that the people behind Alpha would say that the question is about existence and the meaning of life, but clearly it is aimed at our satisfaction with the substance of every day life as its during every day life that we are passing and reading this poster. The provocative question seems to be aimed at people who are disatisifed with life. Not just marginally disatisfied with some aspect of their life, but thoroughly disatisfied with everything, and possibly even depressed.

Evangelical churches are increasingly relying on exploiting people's disatisfaction with life rather than celebrating what life has to offer. They seem to have got into the business of telling people that life is pointless without God (or more properly their very narrow depiction of God). This is all very negative. What about people who simply don't have the ability to believe in God or people who live genuinely fulfilled lives without God? This is the crux of the matter. I know lots of people who are perfectly contented without any religious belief.

This advertising campaign by Alpha - like much of evangelical Christianity - is misleading, because it makes the unsubstantiated claim that without believing in God and Jesus there can be no satisfaction, enjoyment or fulfillment. Clearly this is not true. Most people have no fervent religious beliefs, but live generally happy lives whilst many people with religious beliefs feel unfulfilled and unhappy. There seems to be no connection at all between personal fulfillment and religious belief.

So how did the church get here? The simple answer is "lifestyle evangelism".  Evangelicals facing an ageing church membership and declining numbers moved away from concentrating on the issue of sin, with all its negative connotations, to a strategy of attracting people to the faith through other Christians who displayed themselves as examples of how enjoyable and fulfilling life could be. Its not quite flirty fishing, but its heading there. The problem is that "it" does not work for everyone. Churches are themselves full of people who do not feel particularly fulfilled so its a strategy which is bound to fail.

This has done untold damage to battalions of people who have filtered through churches and found that "it" did not work for them. This is why most growing evangelical and charismatic churches are full of very confident, clean cut, younger people with professional occupations. Its not God that has made them like this. They have self selected themselves because they already fit that lifestyle and like attracts like.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Edinburgh City Mission - Another Example of Creationism Becoming Mainstream in British Evangelicalism

Edinburgh City Mission has always been an evangelical organisation, but recently it has moved to a more aggressive American style fundamentalist position.

A look at its web site shows two projects which are specifically aimed at promoting creationism rather than helping people in need (which was always its primary objective).

On their
Cultural Ministries page I found:

"Literature Table - Edinburgh University

An estimated 12% of the cities population are students, 26,000 of which are part of the University of Edinburgh. Although the university was founded by John Knox and the Reformers, the Enlightenment of the 18th century gave birth to the Humanism, Evolution and Atheism of Hume and Darwin. Today the University probably stands as the world stronghold of humanistic evolution, and the International Science Festival gravitates around it.

ECM has a table outside the library and hot drinks are served to hundreds of students. Using literature and thought-provoking questions on posters, a natural bridge is built along which the Gospel is freely shared. By this means a small, but growing number of students are becoming Christians, and many are being deeply challenged."

And under Partner Ministries (since removed) I found:

"The Edinburgh Creation Group

In November 2006 ECM co-pioneered a special outreach to the scientific and intellectual community based near the University. Deeply concerned about the godless attitudes around them, which can be traced back to the Enlightenment and Evolution, they sought to set up an effective ministry to dismantle the humanistic idol and present the truth of Creation and of Christ. In this way Edinburgh Creation Group was born, the team being made up of scientists and an historian. Since then leading scientists and experts have given regular weekly term-time talks using PowerPoint presentations to classes of students and others. These have been filmed and put on the Edinburgh Creation Group's website. The result of this has been that over 20,000 people world-wide have now watched the talks via the internet videos."

This is another example of creationism becoming a prime focus of British evangelical Christianity. This just further alienates anyone with a brain from engaging with Christianity and it turns these groups into fringe cults.

Its interesting that the current Executive Director of Edinburgh City Mission attends a church which has had internal strife over the whole creationism issue in the past and (as far as I am aware) does not hold a creationist position at the moment. 

What we are seeing here is the tip of an iceberg. An iceberg of struggle going on within evangelicalism in Britain on a range of issues from Christianity to Israel - all, of course, imported from the USA as part of their political agenda often through the funding of ministerial positions and Christian organisations in the UK from the USA or the promotion of US based preachers here.