Thursday 10 December 2020

Teach in an international school: Should I stay or should I go?

Is now really the time to think of going overseas or should you stay put?

The current restrictions on movement and the risk to our health mean that applying for an international job needs very careful consideration. Even so, the challenges due to the Covid-19 virus are an extreme version of the ones we have all faced when first exploring the idea of teaching away from home.

Whatever the temporary circumstances, there are vital steps we need to take before even filling in the template cv on any recruitment site.

Know where you’re going

@EarthPix could be a great way to spark your imagination. Once you have fallen in love with the photo there will be some serious research to do before you start looking at schools. Africa looks so beautiful, so much nature to explore. Great, so now find out how many different countries there are in Africa, check the distances to those countries from your home, the languages spoken and the long and recent social history of the area that is starting to catch your attention. Once you have clicked off Instagram you could make regular hits on the World News sections of your regular news medium: if you do not regularly follow world news then now will be a good time to start.

Know what you’re doing

Planning for teaching internationally needs to include the three stages of before you go, while you are there and when you leave. 

The excitement of applying for jobs needs to be underpinned by a long- haul mental set, making sure that proof of your qualifications is readily available, that senior colleagues at your current and previous school are willing and available to respond to requests for references, recent evidence that your health is in good shape and that you have the time and resources to apply for visas. 

While you are there planning includes living arrangements: does the school provide single or shared accommodation? Are you comfortable sharing if so required?  Is the school close to the city centre or on an out of town campus? If you are planning to use your new base as a springboard for regional travel, research visa arrangements in the neighbouring countries in good time and make sure that your health insurance, if provided by your new employer, will cover recreational travel. 

Think ahead to the next but one stage in your career: international teaching tends to have a high turnover. If you hope to return to your home school or district, find out the attitudes to returning applicants and be clear what kind of professional development you need follow in order to be an attractive candidate on your return.

Know who you are

What kind of teaching and learning environment suits you? Here are examples of two real life international school settings you could experience. 

Classes of 15 students from nearly 100 countries wearing their own choice clothes in an open plan room with break out rooms, every student with iPad or laptop and phones available if needed, working in a pupil centred, flexible curriculum promoting collaborative learning with continual assessment shared via an online platform with students and parents in real time. 

On the other hand, groups of 30 students dressed in strict uniform in a face-front desk arrangement where IT equipment was available by arrangement only and phones were prohibited in the building, teacher centred teaching in a restricted curriculum with largely individual study with frequent tests, summative exams and end of term reporting communicated to parents. 

When you read this you will feel more attracted to one or other of these models and you need to be clear about which kind of school you will be comfortable in. If your preference is for one kind of school and you hope to accept a job in another kind of school expecting to change it to suit you, it is unlikely to be a positive experience. 

Be aware that your lifestyle choices will be welcome in some countries and schools and will be rejected in others. 

If you are committed to a religion you will want to check the arrangements for participating in activities both with fellow internationals and with local citizens. 

If you were an adult in time to hear Should I stay or should I go? when it was new in 1982, the number of potential destinations will be limited, but not zero, so don’t give up. 

To stay or to go is a massive question and it will be helpful to find the support of consultants at one of the numerous recruitment organisations: some are free and others charge a fee. Their advice will undoubtedly play a part in helping you to make your next moves in this life changing adventure. 

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Piano & Cocktails and Piano Brunch sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Sunday 22 November 2020

Skyline pigeon and the Liver Bird: fly to distant lands


Skyline pigeon is a song from the Elton John Empty Sky album, almost an antique since in appeared in 1969. The Liver Bird, which you can see if you look closely at the glass, is a mythical figure that really exists on key buildings on the Liverpool waterfront. Liver is pronounced like fiver, driver, arriver (?)

Listen here

So there we were, painting walls and ceilings in the family home we had just moved into and Radio City had a special evening or day or weekend, be patient this was a long time ago, when every other song they played was an Elton John song. Wow! Only nod wisely if you were born before Youtube and Spotify when you had to wait for your favourite singer at the mercy of the radio station planners, hang on until Top of The Tops on Thursdays at 7.30 or, painfully expensive, go to a shop and buy the record

So there we were, the most enthusiastic painters you could imagine: enthusiastic yes, fast no because we wanted to spin things out to be able to catch as many Elton songs as possible before lunch, supper, homework, bed or other interruption

And there it was, this strange song with unpop instruments including a harpsichord. I am not sure there even was a harpsichord in the whole of Liverpool in 1970, though the University Music Department might have had one very carefully locked away somewhere so that nobody could get to it.

I am resisting the temptation to retell the description of the sound of the harpsichord as per famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, which has something to do with a tin roof, skeletons and intimate physical activity. You can Google it and laugh. In 1972 Elton recorded the song again, with piano instead of harpsichord, so perhaps Sir Thomas’s was not the only one to think that about the skeletons

Never mind the strange instruments, just listen to the Bernie Taupin lyric: 

Turn me loose from your hands

Let me fly to distant lands

Over green fields, trees and mountains

Flowers and forest fountains

Home along the lanes of the skyway

Our Grandad, like many Liverpool grandads, had travelled to distant lands, sometimes on merchant ships and then on Royal Navy ships bravely risking their lives escorting ships which brought food supplies to under resourced UK families. But those days were going or gone, shipping was not what it used to be thanks to containers, and the chance of flying to distant lands seemed more of a relief of teenage angst, which we didn’t have in those days (!) than a real possibility

So here we are now, thanks to EasyJet, RyanAir and EU free competition rules, and members of our family have travelled the world, sometimes for trips and other times to stay and work

The only reason the Liver Bird has not flown away is because it’s held down by strong iron supports. Otherwise, I am sure it too would have followed us and soared away to fly to distant lands

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Monday 9 November 2020

Andrew Lloyd Webber: not a phantom, live and kicking


No need to detail the devastating effects of the virus on theatres around the world and the difficulties faced by performers, technicians and administrators

One of the bright spots for me has been to see how Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, aged 72, has been so energetic in his response to the situation. He has taken to posting numerous videos on Facebook, starting with responding to fans’ requests and playing his piano from home during the UK lockdown earlier this year, and then to mounting an online campaign to convince the government in London to take steps necessary to allow theatres to open, or at least have a reliable plan for reopening

One of my favourite clips   is from the original home of Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace in London. Sir Andrew has taken advantage of the shutdown to carry out some renovations to the theatre, and we see him in the hollowed out building, with a bare stage and numerous seats removed. He talks about Hal Prince, original director of the show, and how they used some of the Victorian era gadgets which they discovered under the stage in the production

He passionately argues for the importance of live theatre, the uniqueness of the moment, as he says Every performance is different

In another clip shows him promoting his new show, Cinderella, which was due to open this year and is facing a very uncertain future 

This is the label for the clip:

A little surprise for you all. Here is Far Too Late from my new Cinderella, performed by Carrie Hope Fletcher in an empty Her Majesty's Theatre. - ALW

This is a lovely song  where the rising, full of hope melody line seems to contradict the lyric, making the musical effect even more poignant Far too late to sing a love song, you’re in someone else’s arms

The singing is gorgeous, Carrie Hope Fletcher ’s pure voice soars wonderfully, and there he is, age 72, playing his own fabulous music at the piano and in a way that already helps you imagine the orchestral sound that will accompany the song when it finally appears on stage. It's so much more moving to see the performance taking place on this empty stage, bare right to the back wall, with rows of empty seats where an appreciative audience should be  

I am full of admiration for Sir Andrew, as a campaigner for live theatre and for musical theatre in particular, as a composer of some of the most beautiful music for the stage, as a performer, still superb, and most of all, as a decent human being, not only not a phantom, but very much live and kicking.

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Ed Sheeran: that’s exactly what I wanted

You could say that Perfect is a perfect pop song, it has everything. There’s the lilting, swaying rhythm that gives it a relaxing, almost lullaby effect, the arch shaped melody, in small phrases and over the phrase I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms, and the lyric which talks of long term commitment, making a home and having children together

Technically you could explain these points by talking about the 12/8 time signature and the octave   octave leap upwards followed by a return to the starting note, and so on. Probably better just to listen and enjoy

Of course the solo version is great, but I love the clip of  Perfect Symphony with Andrea Bocelli. There’s a look of admiration from the singer as he watches maestro Bocelli following his Braille score and another as he checks out the photos with personalities on the wall. At the end Sheeran thanks the team and says That’s exactly what I wanted  

This ambition to get what he wants is clearly part of Ed Sheeran’s success. You can see this tremendous desire to achieve the best result in the clip of Thinking Out Loud. When you see him with dancer  Brittany Cherry   you can see that there is real dancing going on here and the match of movements between the two of them is fantastic. In theory, Ed Sheeran is not a trained dancer but when you watch Thinking out loud  Behind the scenes  you can see his determination to get what he wants shine through

The choreography is not baby steps, it’s a real routine by two of the the world’s leading choreographers, as their representatives  say  

Married director/choreographer duo Tabitha and Napoleon, commonly referred to as Nappytabs, are two time Emmy winners (2011 and 2014) for Outstanding Choreography on So You Think You Can Dance

Watching the behind the scenes video you see Ed Sheehan take on a massive challenge and work away at it until he succeeds, brilliantly supported by dancer Brittany Cherry

So there you are, if you want to be Perfect, take a leaf out of Ed Sheeran’s book and work at it until you can say That’s exactly what I wanted

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Friday 30 October 2020

Adele and Mary Elizabeth Bowden


So difficult to choose a favourite Adele video. I really enjoyed the Graham Norton Show performance a couple of years ago when she sang with a superb orchestra and included the Skyfall song premiere.

One of the favourites has to be When we were young live at The Church studios in London

Her singing is wonderful and the vibe is very relaxed and productive in such a beautiful setting. So many great musicians making so much musically from simple ingredients.

Adele’s songs are fine to play alone at the piano because they seem to have been written at the piano rather than, say, with guitar at hand. To sound good you just have to play the notes and let the melody speak for itself.

Here’s a thing, I have many LP records and cd’s, too many, of my heroes from long ago and it is a real struggle to do a worthwhile clearout. I don’t have any physical copies of Adele’s recordings, I have never paid a penny to listen to her gorgeous voice. Well, I have watched it all online so somewhere along the line some wiz tech geek has probably been stealing my data, but I have not consciously paid for any LP or cd.

Maybe it was about time I bought a copy of her songs, so here is the songbook for 25. Even so, I like to play Make you feel my love, for which I only every had lyrics and chords. Speaking technically, there is a lovely descending chromatic scale over six notes with chord inversions to make the smooth moves in the verse. No idea what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, just enjoy the music


Adele’s success lies very much in working with top class musicians. Because of my interest in the trumpet I follow Mary Elizabeth Bowden on Facebook. She is an expert trumpet player and teacher, she works as a soloist and as a member of the Seraph Brass Ensemble and teaches at top level schools in the USA and online with the Apex Trumpet Symposium. I admire her especially for the incredible persistence earlier this year during lockdown when she set out to do 100 days of practice videos online. Each day I took inspiration from her honest approach to playing and practising, some days jubilant and others not so. A couple of days ago Mary Elizabeth Bowden  posted a memory from her time in 2016 playing on Adele’s US tour in Philadelphia, Detroit Atlanta and Texas.

There you are, two of my musical heroes that I thought were in different worlds, together on stage making great music. 

Thank you Mary Elizabeth for your inspiration and thank you Adele for 25 and 33, and here’s to more up to 105

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Emily in Paris …. And her dad


There is nothing that Phil Collins cannot do. He is like a walking history of British pop music. Founding Genesis, creating endless memorable tunes and clever lyrics. Working as a solo artist, thoughtful songs including Another Day in Paradise and many more, playing successfully in so many styles, drumming and singing his way on and on. The only artist to perform for Live Aid in London and Philadelphia on the same day, thanks to Concorde.

If you are too young to know about all this, google it. If you are old enough to remember all this, be happy to have been able to witness such great moments, even though, like me, it might have been from a distance.

Then there is Emily, well Lily Collins, star of the Netflix series. I loved watching the whole thing and  laughed a lot, in the right places I am sure. Sight seeing around Paris from home, even taking a weekend trip to the countryside to visit a chateau with matching vineyard, the food, the restaurants, the clothes, the Opera, brilliant.

Some people have complained that it is not a realistic picture of Paris. They are welcome to read the World Bank statistical reports if they want realism, but this show is perfect for these crazy times.

Also great to see so many wonderful French actors. I recognise some from Call my Agent, which is also set in Paris and is so good I am looking forward to another series. If you want more views of Paris, but of a more gritty nature, look out for The Eddy, a brilliant series set in a Parisian jazz club. Great actors and superb original jazz music, written for the show.

Hoping to hear and see more of daughter and father soon

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Thursday 29 October 2020

Elton John: Me

Me is Sir Elton John’s autobiography from 2019, as written up by the journalist Alexis Petridis.

I read this shortly after seeing the Rocketman film and it almost seems as if the book was part of the process of preparing the film, and reading the book almost felt like watching the film again, but in print, if you see what I mean.

Happily, the book has a lighter touch and more positive energy that the film, well done Mr Petridis, and the many elements to celebrate in the great Sir Elton’s life are there for all to see, not so much overwhelmed by problems as in the film.

There are fun references to meeting big name artists, or, in the case of Andy Warhol, not meeting him: read the book to find out why.

The meet up with Elvis Presley is told as a bizarre encounter. EJ is enthralled with the legend EP, while EP seems to wonder how he went  so wrong that he is playing to show bars of hundreds of  fans while EJ is filling the Dodgers stadium. In fact they represent a fascinating tableau of the past and future in popular music: EP apparently totally dominated by his manager, surrounded by “his people” and vulnerable to manipulation of his artistic and financial affairs, while EJ wrote and sings his own songs, owns his own record label and took successful control of his financial affairs.

Watching Sir Elton so many times over the years saying and doing the right thing and being such a great personality, I’m thinking of seeing him live and of the Royal Opera House concert fundraiser for the Royal Academy of Music in London, thanking all the right people, remembering the early collaborators, sometimes you think, is he for real?

In the end, it looks like the answer is yes. 

One of the sweetest moments in the book is where he writes about the Lion King film, where he worked with Tim Rice, which is another story, and acknowledging his gratitude that the Lion King introduced him and his music to en entirely new generation, like giving him a new lease of artistic life. While Elvis Presley watched his audience grow smaller and older in Vegas, Sir Elton’s lovely songs for the Lion King like Circle of Life and Can you feel the love tonight are being sung by school choirs around the world.

Loads more to talk about here, but for the moment thank you Sir Elton for the film, the book and most importantly the wonderful music all these years….

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Happy stories: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road


This photo tells not just one happy story, but numerous happy stories. First because the LP itself is packed with so much great music that stays fresh long after its release in 1973.

Then there are so many happy memories of listening to this music with school friends as a teenager, and loving how the songs resonated with our adolescent angst.

Then there’s the twin story of a class mate, let’s call her M. She was as madly a fan of Elton John as the rest of us and one day in late 1974 she was absent from school. We were never absent, nobody ever stayed home, so this was remarkable. Even more remarkable when word got out that she had taken the day off to go into the city centre to queue for tickets, yes a quaint custom from days past, to queue for tickets for the Elton John Wembley concert planned for June 1975.  She ended up with real tickets for a real stadium show, and this was a big deal for our Liverpool tribe.

Jealous is not the word.

As it turned out, Sir Elton’s headline act was something of a damp squib, as he explains very honestly in his autobiography, no need for details here.

Still, M made the trip to London and had a great time, and we were glad for her.

End of story, no.

A couple of years ago I was given a birthday gift of a beautiful glass figure by my sisters. They said they had seen it in a classy shop of specialist pieces in glass sculptures in the Albert Dock area of Liverpool city centre, and recognised the entrepreneur/owner, and it turned out to be my old friend M. 

So here you have one photo with lots of happy memories.

I don’t know where you are now, M, but I hope you are very happy and that you still enjoy listening as much as I do to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo

Wednesday 28 October 2020

New song/old song: I love you baby by Surf Mesa feat Emilee

When is a new song not a new song?

In the car recently I heard a cool new song, very chill beat with a contemporary electronic sound. It was extremely easy to sing along and the melody was memorable. Musically speaking, it’s built on a cycle of fifths, but you don’t need to worry if that worries you, just enjoy the music.

Well, if you enjoy this song, you are enjoying the music, but not all of it. Please be patient. Here’s the 


Okay, you have heard it, repeated it, loved it, the rest is history.

It’s history because it’s a massively popular song, with more than 77 million youtube views in the official upload by Surf Mesa - ily.  The ily is really important because you might not remember it after hearing the song, no, joking, the lyric is repeated over and over as the 8 bar phrase is  kind of looped. The singer is Emilee, relaxed and chill.

It’s history too because this song has been around before.

You might like this version by Lauryn Hill from 


Surprise, there’s more to this song than Surf Mesa’s 8 bars. This is a guitar and organ mix with of course superb vocals, and passion and energy in the performance with bah bah backing vocals. As always with Lauryn Hill, it’s thoughtfully planned and expertly, beautifully performed.

But let’s go even further back, to Andy Williams and his superb version in 1968. It was really Frankie Valli who got there a year earlier, but I prefer Andy Williams and his smooth voice, meaning smooth as honey. And just listen to the orchestra building from 1’10” and the next 20 seconds, complete with bass trombone …. wow!!! Some of us started learning the trumpet just to play music like this   

This is Andy Williams showing it’s ok to sound passionate and powerful in performance. 

There’s a fun thing about the change from 68 to 20, I mean 1968 to 2020, via 1998: has our concentration span has shrunk so much we can’t manage more than a single 8 bar phrase looped endlessly?

Are we getting to a moment where we can’t sound as though we are making any effort in falling in love, it’s just got to be chill, cool, easy?

Okay let’s not think too much about it. New song/old song, it’s all lovely music whether it’s trumpets or auto-tune. Enjoy

I play music by Adele, Elton John, Robbie Williams and many more at my regular Cocktail & Piano sessions at the Urso Hotel & Spa, Madrid @hotelurso 

Follow me on Instagram for updates @piano.tjo