How we can all support The Arts

We are living through an age of austerity. Spending cuts threaten the funding that major orchestras rely on. Cuts to school budgets mean that music and other arts subjects get side-lined in order to prioritise subjects like maths, science, and english. Yet it has been shown that actually increasing the amount of music in the timetable is hugely beneficial for students and increases their performance in all subjects. Check out what happened at this school in Bradford.

As the cost of living feels like it’s getting higher all the time and wages don’t keep up with inflation, people are feeling the pinch, and possibly not going to concerts or hiring live musicians for their events in an attempt to save money.

So what can we as ordinary citizens do to help support the arts? Here are a few ideas:

 

Attend more concerts

Perhaps this is the most obvious and immediate way we can help. If you live in a big city like London or Manchester, chances are there are free concerts all over the place. Here in Manchester there is a huge choice of free concerts, from organ recitals at St. Ann’s Church in the city centre to lunchtime concerts at Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music. If jazz is more your thing, find your local jazz club, look on the website and find something you fancy.

Have a think about where you live, is there a local orchestra that perhaps does a few concerts each season? Could you perhaps consider attending one?

Of course, there’s more to the arts than just music. Many art galleries now allow you to look around for free, and theatres will probably have cheap matinee tickets on offer.

You could even set yourself a challenge of seeing something creative once or twice a month. Try to go for things outside what you would normally go to. Avid Handel fan? Go to a Gospel Choir concert. More of a jazzer? Go and see a Mahler symphony. Only ever seen Andrew Lloyd-Webber shows in the theatre? Try some Gilbert & Sullivan. You might find a new passion. At the very least, you’ll have more to talk about the following day than who got kicked off X-factor or what time your cat stayed out until. Going to see new things broadens the mind and you know that you are doing your bit to support hard-working, creative people.

 

Hire live musicians for your event

This may seem obvious, but having a live musician playing during your wedding/social function is far, far superior than having someone press ‘play’ on a cd player. It adds so much to the atmosphere that someone is there, playing just for you. Plus, you are supporting that person in a very real way. So please, hire musicians, pay them a decent fee, and perhaps give them snacks at your event? Maybe even talk to them at your event and thank them for playing for you? These things make such a difference – trust me.

While we’re on this topic, please, never, EVER, ask a professional musician to play for free (or worse, purely for the ‘exposure’). It’s insulting and completely undermines the fact that we have trained for years to play to a professional standard, and we deserve to be remunerated as such. For more details see the MU page http://www.worknotplay.co.uk/

 

Get invovled in the creative process

The internet really is an amazing place. Most of us are familiar with crowdfunding, where anyone can donate towards a creative project to help it get off the ground, and in turn they receive a reward and a glimpse into behind the scenes of the project itself.

As well as crowdfunding, there is a website called Patreon where you can support creatives on an ongoing basis – rather than for one big project as you do with crowdfunding. You can either donate monthly or per piece of content released (with a monthly cap so you don’t donate any more than you want to). Donations are generally much smaller (say $1-5 dollars) and patrons have access to a ‘patron-only feed’ of news and behind-the-scenes updates of the creative process.

My Patreon page is geared around making videos of harp pieces, both on and off the exam syllabus. Rewards include having your request played, recorded and uploaded, early access to videos and blog posts, and credits at the end of my videos.

 

Encourage your kids to get creative

Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, taking them to a dance class, or encouraging them to perform in the school play, encouraging kids to get involved with the arts will do wonders for their confidence and academic achievement (assuming of course that they don’t actively hate it – don’t force anyone here – keyword is encourage). Many musical organisations now place a lot of focus on outreach work, bringing music into the community and enabling people to get involved who normally wouldn’t be able to. See what’s going on in your local area, and if you are a musician and have the opportunity to get involved, do it.

Encouraging kids to learn an instrument may lead to them finding their passion in life, or at the very least, might improve their grades and give them an interest in music that they otherwise would not have had. Regular practise also encourages self-discipline and gives them time away from their phones, which we could probably all do with.

If there is not much music going on in your area, it might be time to…

 

Get vocal!

If you think your child’s school needs more music provision, tell them. If your local music service is desperately in need of investment, how about writing to your local MP to let them know how important this is to you? Would you love to go to more orchestral concerts but find that you can’t afford the ticket price? Write to them.

Musicians: see if you can join some sort of trade union (I’m in the MU but have heard lots of good things about ISM too). Get involved in the decision-making process and have your voice heard.

People aren’t psychic, and if they don’t realise there’s a problem, nothing will change.

If we value the arts in our society, we must look after them and invest in them. It makes all of our lives richer.

 

 

I really hope this has given you some ideas of ways we can support the arts and have our lives enriched in the process. I’m aware that this has been a bit of a long post! Thank you for reading and well done if you’re still here. A big thank you as well to those of you who contributed ideas via facebook and twitter. If I’ve missed anything, please do speak up in the comments. Let’s start a conversation.

Chat soon,

Ax

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How to Practise – reduce distractions

Practice – if you’re a working musician, it’s part of your life. But some of us feel like we can’t really talk about it – we ask ourselves ‘what if everyone else is doing more than me?’ or worse, believe that having to do more practise makes us a worse musician. Ever heard the phrase ‘practise is cheating’? I know I have. Musicians are often a bit cagey about how much they’re doing, which can lead people to feel almost as if it’s a taboo subject – let’s try and end that. End the stigma, people!

I’d like to share a few practise tips that I’ve learned over the years. I hope you find them helpful.

One of the biggest ways to increase the quality of your practise is to reduce distractions in your immediate surroundings. I may have mentioned the Pomodoro technique on this blog before but basically, it’s the idea of concentrating without distractions for twenty-five minutes, followed by a five minute break. This is repeated four times so you have four periods of totally focussed work in two hours. You wouldn’t believe how much you can get done in twenty-five minutes just by removing distractions.

The main distraction in most of our lives is our phone, and yet it sits there next to us, notifying us of things that don’t matter right now – oh hi Instagram! – so what I try to do is put it on Do Not Disturb, put a timer on for twenty-five minutes, and then put the phone out of reach.

In my opinion, twenty-five minutes is long enough to practise one, maybe two pieces. If you are reeling through more than that it might be time to ask yourself if you are practising or just merely playing pieces through, mistakes and all… So try and have everything you need to work on for the next couple of months in a pile, and work through it slowly in twenty-five minute chunks. This works much better than ‘I’ll work on it until it’s better/perfect/fluent’ – this is not a quantifiable goal and you’ll end up unsatisfied. Instead, work for your allotted time, say ‘well done’ to yourself for working hard and without getting distracted, and pick up where you left off next time.

Practice is a bit like exercise, it can be hard to get the motivation to start, because it is hard work (if you’re doing it right). However, it’s worth remembering that the only practice you’ll regret is the one you skipped. Trust me, I’ve been down that road many times…

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Autumn Update

Hello lovelies,

Autumn is here – my favourite season – and we’re all getting ready to snuggle down while the nights draw in and the weather turns chilly.

For myself and for most of the harpists I know, wedding season is drawing to a close. I am currently taking bookings for weddings in 2018 and 2019 so please do get in touch if you want to chat about hiring a wedding harpist. Personally I think autumn/winter weddings are absolutely beautiful and probably what Tim and I are going to go for. Having played for so many weddings in my career so far, I have lots of ideas for things I would like at my own wedding and am so excited to start planning!

 

This brings me to my next life update – we are buying a house! Not sure when we’ll be in at this point but fingers crossed we won’t have to wait too long. Having been engaged since May it’ll be lovely to actually live together at last. It’s been tricky to find the right place as we were looking for somewhere with a separate downstairs room to be my music room (the trials and tribulations of a harpist’s life!) but we have found a place we love and hopefully it’ll be ours soon enough.

Back to harp-related news now, I have a few lovely gigs coming up, which provide a wonderful excuse to practise some really fantastic repertoire. Hasselmans La Source, Grandjany Aria in a Classic Style, Faure Requiem & Cantique de Jean Racine, and my favourite: Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols – such good stuff coming up! Make sure to follow me on instagram to follow the adventures of a Manchester harpist. I’m planning to record some more material for my youtube channel too so head over and subscribe for some of my favourite harp music.

One final piece of news, I’ve enrolled in a Foundation Course with the British Wheel of Yoga. Very much enjoying it so far and who knows, it may even lead to teacher training sometime in the future. That would be a wonderful extra string to my bow (harp?). Yoga is absolutely amazing for musicians as we spend so many hours hunched over our instruments (and increasingly, our laptops), it’s easy for niggles to creep in. Yoga also gives us a bit of mental space, being a musician isn’t like your regular 9-5, it’s a lifestyle and you’re probably thinking about it 24/7. Yoga involves practising clearing the mind of these thoughts and turning the attention inwards, practising mindfulness and meditation, it is so refreshing and really worth doing.

I think that’s enough from me for now! Harpists: how was wedding season for you? Musicians: do you practice yoga and find it beneficial? Let me know in the comments.

Bye for now,

A xx

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What I’ve been up to…

Over the past couple of weeks, my harp quartet CLOUDS have been on tour all over Great Britain.

Of course I had to document the time some way or other, and here are a couple of videos showing a little bit of what we got up to while we were away:

 

But even though our tour is over, the concerts continue over the next month or so in Manchester. Here’s where you can see us:

Tuesday, June 27th at 7.30pm as past of Didsbury Arts Festival. More details here.

Tuesday, July 11th at 7.30pm in St. Ann’s Church, Manchester City Centre.

Thursday, August 3rd at 3.30pm in Manchester Central Library as part of Manchester Jazz Festival.

Sunday, August 6th at 3pm in the Whitworth Art Gallery. More details here.

Please do come along and say hello if you attend one of our concerts.

I also wanted to just say a massive ‘thank-you’ to everyone who supported us along the way on our recent tour. Our parents looked after us a lot and kept us well-fed (largely with garlic bread – my request) and the staff and teams at the various venues for welcoming us with open arms and encouraging the locals to get involved and support us.

And (I’ll try not to get emotional here) thanks to my fellow CLOUDS for being amazing and inspiring musicians and fierce friends. I love you all so much x x x

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Six days to go…

This time next week, I’ll be in the Scottish Borders with CLOUDS Harp Quartet, preparing for the first gig of our Summer Tour 2017.

We have launched a kickstarter to ask for your support towards our travel costs, and there are just six days left.

If we don’t reach our target, we get nothing.

The reason we are asking for support is that we absolutely love the music that Esther Swift writes for us, and we want to bring it to as many people as possible. Over the course of the tour we will be driving 1,500 miles each. That’s 6,000 miles of fuel we need to cover. In real terms, that’s £2,700 we need to make just to cover mileage.

We are literally driving the length and breadth of the country to play for as many people as we can. Just keep your fingers crossed that our cars can survive!

Thing is, we can’t really afford to do this if we don’t make any money from it. Of course we are passionate about the music but we need to support ourselves too during increasingly uncertain times.

This is the biggest tour we’ve undertaken since the quartet formed in 2008 and we are SO EXCITED to get out there and release this new music to you. Even if you can’t support us via kickstarter, please have a look at the concert dates and come along if you can.

Our kickstarter page can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cloudshq/clouds-harp-quartet-summer-tour-2017

As ever, thanks for reading, we’ll hopefully see you very soon!

A x

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Britten – Interlude from Ceremony of Carols

My exam piece project has reached Grade 6. We’re getting into the higher grades now and the music leaves plenty of room for interpretation and individuality.

I often hear this piece performed very slowly, but if you look at the metronome mark it should actually move along a bit.

First thing’s first, you need to be confident with your harmonics in this piece. Really make them as beautiful as you can. You’re in all flats so they should ring really nicely – Britten knew what he was doing.

The rhythm is tricky but exceedingly important, spend some time looking at the music away from the harp and really work out where each right hand chord should be played. In my opinion the entire first page is a slow build up to the climax of the piece at the top of the second page, so really play as quietly as you dare at the beginning.

There’s a section in which the left hand plays straight chords while the right hand is playing spread chords, I remember this taking a long time to master! It’s an important skill though and well worth the time invested.

The final line is also open to interpretation, some harpists stick to Britten’s exact markings in terms of the right hand glissandi, while others gliss more freely. I think this performance falls somewhere in between, trying to stick to Britten’s markings but also keeping the gliss flowing as much as possible.

If you haven’t heard the rest of the Ceremony of Carols, listen to it immediately (if you can listen to Christmas music in May). It’s atmospheric and very moving.

Do you play or teach this piece? Please leave any tips for students in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

Chat soon,

Ax

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I was so ill!! Vlog #6

Sometimes, as musicians, we are reminded of the fact that we do not get sick pay. It’s not possible for us to pull a certain number of sick days and know that we’ll still be paid our salary.

This has been my story this week, last Wednesday I literally could not get out of bed because of achiness and fever. The following day, I had to play for a wedding. Leaving a couple without music on their wedding day is not an option – so I had to go and do it.

It’s now a full week later and I’m still not 100% but I’m much better than I was. Thank goodness!

 

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February on #YouTube

It’s been another month of regular YouTube uploads! Thank you to those of you who have subscribed to my channel. We are slowly growing and already I’ve had a surge in enquiries so that’s absolutely brilliant.

The first video to be uploaded onto my channel in February was a tutorial giving a basic overview of how to sit at the harp and how to actually play the harp:

Next up, Vlog #5:

This was a big week as it was the first week of being completely freelance after quitting my part-time ‘side-hustle’. So give it a watch and follow along for a week of musical adventures. This was the first time I’ve attempted a weekly vlog and I had no idea how long it would get! I had to cut out a lot of footage to keep it a reasonable length. Let me know what you think.

I’ve talked about this next video in a previous post but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share it again – I made another CLOUDS video:

CLOUDS are going on tour in June and we are very excited to be bringing you a whole new programme of music (I’m sure some old favourites will be in there too). We’ve been busy rehearsing and learning all the new music that Esther has written ready for summer. Tour dates are up on our website so check those out.

Last but not least, I couldn’t let the month slide by without uploading a classic wedding favourite. Here is my performance of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. I get asked to play this very often, and it’s particularly fitting for the couple’s exit from their Wedding Ceremony:

I had the bright idea of recording these videos from memory. I know this piece so well and yet it still took ages to get a full take! I think it’s definitely worth the extra work to have memorised performances, but what do you guys think? Also, I’d like to say a big thank you to my housemate Chris for letting me use his fancy DSLR to record this last video. I love the quality but still need to learn how to use the camera properly (beyond just zooming in and pressing Record).

I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you for reading, watching, and just generally supporting me along the way. I know some of you have been reading this blog since it started back in 2012 – that’s five years folks! Your support is much appreciated. I adore having a writing outlet and getting the chance to share my musings with you.

Chat soon,

Ax

p.s. I’d also like to ask you for some feedback. If you received this post via email, did the links to the videos work ok? Did you just receive the one email? I’m transferring my email list to MailChimp so please bear with me while I sort any niggles out!

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