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Newsletter No.5. 15th January 2016 - Ashley Carruthers

Newsletter No.5.

Hello everyone! Thanks for being a part of my monthly newsletters! It's been a very busy holiday season for me cruising for both Christmas and New Years Eve on different ships. I have been extremely busy with ships over the last few months and I've been to a number of fun places both old and new for me.

On December 7th I had my 31st birthday and I was at home for a change and it was a great chance to catch up with family and friends. It's always fun being back at home in Newcastle as I'm basically on holiday when I'm not on a ship. I always squeeze in lots of practice and writing new arrangements to add to my show, but I always love to spend a lot of time catching up with everyone at home. This amazing cake was made for me by a great friend and surprised me at my birthday dinner! 

I spent New Years Eve on the Celebrity Solstice and had an amazing time with my family (mum, dad and older sister) also cruising and coming to see my show for the first time. Also on that cruise I met a guest who is a near scientist and she asked me some questions about my playing etc. I found it very interesting and asked her if she'd consider writing a little something for my newsletter, and she agreed! A big thank you to Nicole Smith for taking the time to share some of her expertise! This is what she had to say...

Recently, I was on the beautiful cruise ship the Celebrity Solstice for a much needed holiday about the South Pacific. It was here that I first witnessed the very interesting and very entertaining Ashley Carruthers play his piano show for the cruise nightly entertainment .

I say interesting because whilst most would be caught up in his exceptional performance skills, stories and the fact that he is an awesome Australian (on a ship full of Australians!), I was caught up in watching his technique - which is very unique to be able to do for our brain. I tried to leave my work in neurology at work but running into Ashley randomly and cornering him with questions I couldn't help but ask and explain. And instead of calling me a nerd and sending me away laughing he asked me if I would write for his newsletter.

To be able to play the piano at great speed is typically not encouraged amongst the music profession. Whilst there is a performance aspect to the speed to which a song is played there is also a significant physical aspect to consider with melodies. When a piano key is struck with a finger, there are hundreds of connections that travel our brain that over time become 'plastic' or etched into our brain. But to play a piano piece, this is multiplied thousands of times just for one song which is a lot for our brain to handle.

So what happens when we speed that up?

We have all seen the childhood prodigies on YouTube who play the piano at a ridiculous pace and we all gush in awe of their ability. But in my work we see these prodigy children and adults eventually lose the ability to play the piano altogether. And when I say lose, I mean they are unable to perform basic scale drills. There fingers become clumsy and do not seem to communicate to with what they want to do.

What happens is the neurological load becomes so heavy that with thousands and thousands of key inputs from fast key strikes that the brain loses the ability to tell each finger strike apart. It is unable to create that plastic 'etch' that makes the skill automatic. So, it starts to chunk them together. One finger strike etches with another and another until the brain just sees it as one big movement. And sadly, the piano player loses the discriminate ability to play. It is sad also because this translates to other fine motor movements. Simple functional tasks like using a knife and fork become difficult and it takes years to rehabilitate.

But, what about Ashley?

Ashley is known for and can play the piano at significant speed with a unique technical style that overrides this neurological response. In speaking to him he beautifully described the way he played not by notes and what his hands do but, to the shape of the melody or the musical piece. What this means is he has taught his brain to etch bigger movements as a priority that come through his wrist, arm and shoulders in a particular shape offloading his hands and fingers. Playing the piano for him is about generating a whole body movement pattern that as a secondary is about discrete finger movements. This reduces the neurological load significantly, the brain can handle it, and makes for a very, very entertaining show and performance.

I would highly, highly recommend finding a show and seeing Ashley Carruthers. I will be following his career with interest and hope he continues to succeed  on the international scene (And work Disney music tracks into his performances).

Nicole Smith

The above photos were taken whilst onboard the Celebrity Solstice for New Years Eve. We had a great time in the South Pacific visiting Noumea, Mystery Island and Vanuatu. I spent Christmas Day on Komodo Island of all places! This year Christmas will be spent cruising the Krakatoa Volcano! 

My agent has managed to get me booked on some European Cruises this year and I'm really excited to get over to the Mediterranean and see some new places including Turkey, Albania, Greece and more! 

The album is coming I promise and it's very close to completion. The only trouble with working so much on cruises is that it doesn't leave much time in between to record the tracks! You'll be the first to know once it's finished. 

The legend James Morrison.
Nobby's Beach, Newcastle Aus.
Mystery Island, New Years Day.
Bali, Indonesia.
Huey, Dewey and Louie...
Flying in to Noumea.
Flying into Sydney.
Onboard the Azamara Quest.

Where am I? Sydney, Australia, onboard the Noordam HAL.
Next Ship? 2nd February Amsterdam Holland America.
Last Ship? Celebrity Solstice NYE Cruise.
Current Book? Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson.
Last movie? Due Date...hilarious.
Listening to? Michel Camilo, One More Once.
Looking forward to? Seeing friends again onboard this ship!
Not looking forward to? 2 Flights home from Tauranga on the 24th.
When am I home next (Newcastle)? 24th January! Australia Day coming up!
Again thank you for signing up for my newsletter! If you have any questions, suggestion or just want to drop me a line please click the contact button below or send an email to or if you are a fan of social media  please feel free to drop by Facebook, Instagram or any of the other options below.

Until next time, 
Ashley Carruthers. 
Copyright © 2016 Ashley Carruthers, All rights reserved.

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