February is here!

Hello and happy Monday to you! I’m actually writing this on Sunday evening, so it’ll be ready to go live on Monday evening as I’ll be playing in Leeds (more on that later perhaps).

But firstly, we made it to February! Let’s all give ourselves a pat on the back for making it through January. The days are getting longer, the sun is occasionally actually visible and it’s generally not quite as grim as it has been. Personally for me January was a month of house-hunting, running, yoga, practice and teaching.

The past few days have included much more intense practice than usual, as I’ve been called up to play the harp for La Boheme in Leeds next week – starting on Monday. I’m so excited about it but it’s meant marking up and learning sixty-three pages of music in less than a week. Actually it’s been fine and I’m really looking forward to it. Times like this are made easier by the fact that I like to practice for everything I’ve got coming up in the next six weeks – even if it feels silly and as though I’ll be ready in heaps of time – you never know when you’ll get a last minute call and have to drop everything for a few days.

Speaking of practice, I’m now up to day twenty-one of the #30daypracticechallenge on instagram, so give me a follow if you’d like to see what I’m up to.

Those of you who read last week’s post will know that I’ve signed up for Audible to get me through the training runs in preparation for the 10K I’m doing next month. Well, I finished The Girl on the Train and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I was slightly disappointed to guess who did it quite early on but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. I’m now eagerly waiting for the end of the month and trying to decide which book to listen to next. Until then I’ll be reading The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, I was so into His Dark Materials so am really looking forward to this.

Yesterday (Saturday) was a complete break from the usual schedule (well I still did a little bit of practice), as we had a family day over in Blackpool, my dad’s hometown. We spent some time with my uncle and two aunties, two cousins & a fiancee, my sister and my dad – yea my family is huge but they are all so special to me and I really cherish the time we spend together. The photo at the top of this post is my dad practising for Sunday morning’s church service at Highfield Methodist Church in Blackpool, and my sister Joanne singing along.

So I think that’s it from me this week. Next week’s post is likely to be a run-down of shenanigans that went on in Leeds over the course of the week. I’ll see you there.

A

x

p.s. as well as subscribing to this blog, you can follow me on twitter, instagram & youtube.

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Live YouTube Concert and life update.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a live ‘concert’ on YouTube last Sunday evening. I finished playing feeling rather pleased with how it had gone, only when I watched it back I realised that the sound quality was nowhere near what I’d like it to be:

So have a watch if you like, but chances are I’ll switch this video to private shortly as I can definitely do better than this. Thing is, I don’t know where the issue is, was it the internet connection? Was it the microphone on my laptop? I’m not tech-savvy enough (yet) to be able to livestream from my digital camera. Maybe someone who knows about these things can explain it to me in words of one syllable?

Currently, I have a couple of options, scrap the idea of a livestream and just record a video on my camera to upload later, still in a concert format, but not live, or just go back to videos of individual pieces. What do you reckon? I’d love some feedback on this.

No gigs to report this week (thanks, January) but plenty of teaching is happening, which is good. Have you ever thought about having harp or piano lessons? If yes and you live in or around Manchester, please get in touch and we’ll have a chat about harp or piano lessons.

In other news, the house hunt continues, and to be completely honest, it’s been an emotional week. We put an offer on a house and it wasn’t accepted, by which point I’d already decided how I wanted to decorate it and how I wanted to arrange my new music room:

But we’re having to leave it and have found a couple of other houses that we’re very interested in, so I will try to remain detached and just see them as piles of bricks until I have a set of keys in my hand.

I’m learning a lot about patience in this process. We thought we’d found our home last July but it wasn’t meant to be. Now I’m glad that house fell through because we’ll end up somewhere much better for us.

Moving on, I’m currently in training for a 10K race in March. I signed up for it last year thinking it’ll be a great deadline to make me get out and do some running over winter. Ha. I’ve never been ankle-deep in mud so many times in a single month than I have this January, but my partner Tim (of Chorlton Personal Training) has devised a programme for me and I’m pretty much sticking to it. It’s hard but I just think to myself that the harder the training runs feel, the easier the actual 10K will feel, right?!

I think I’m becoming delusional.

So on all these training runs, I have to admit I was getting pretty sick of my ‘Gym’ playlist on Spotify – although do feel free to check it out – it’s all songs I love but by now I’ve just heard them too many times. In a quest for something different to listen to, I’ve signed up for Audible and downloaded my first audiobook – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’ve almost finished it and am loving listening to it while I’m out and about. If you have audible (or if you just love books) please leave me some recommendations that I can add to my wishlist.

As ever, thanks for reading and don’t forget to give me a follow on instagram, facebook, twitter & youtube! I’m currently halfway through a 30 day practice challenge on instagram so I’m posting a little video each day of what I’m working on. Maybe I’ll catch you there?

Let’s chat soon,

A

x

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Winter Update

It’s time for another seasonal update. I’m back in Manchester after a very varied and busy December. December is always a hectic time and 2017 was no different. I had three concerts that included Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, two of these were delightfully close to where my sister Joanne lives, so it was lovely to spend some time with her. I accompanied her singing some solo carols for these concerts and for the York Annual Community Carol Concert. Here we are in the Parish Church of Hampton-in-Arden.

Playing for the Annual Community Carol Concert was a very special day. My dad was taking part for the 39th and final time, having been the musical director for many, many years. The concert has been a mainstay of my Christmas for my whole life and it always marked the start of Christmas. Happy memories of dad getting an audience of over a thousand to stand up and sit down several times in quick succession (“stand when you sing!!”) and telling us all off for not singing with enough gusto… When I was a child my school choir was asked to take part, I’ve played for the concert with my harp quartet CLOUDS and then last month Joanne and I contributed to the effort – in front of 1300 people and on York Hospital Radio. I am so proud of what my dad has done for the concert and the great causes it supports. You can read more about the concert here.

Following the Community Carols (the very next day in fact), it was time to fly to Norway for some much-needed R&R. Tim and I spent a snowy Christmas with family, we ate all the food and I drank all the wine. I tried skiing for the first time ever:

 

Following Norway it was time to spend the New Year with my family in York. We somehow managed to cram pretty much my whole family (over thirty of us) into my parents’ house for the annual party, so that was a great chance to catch up and enjoy ourselves.

As for Tim and myself, I mentioned in the last seasonal update that we’re house-hunting, and… we still are. Apparently these things take a while! We’ve looked at some gorgeous houses but we haven’t found the right one just yet. Fingers crossed it’ll happen soon.

Looking to the future now, plenty of weddings are already in the diary for this summer, but I do have availability so if you’d like to chat about hiring a Manchester harpist, please do get in touch. You can also subscribe to my youtube channel or follow me on twitter or instagram – where I’m currently taking part in a #30daysofpractice challenge.

As ever, you are more than welcome to come over and visit me on Patreon and check out what’s going on over there.

I think that’s all from me for now. I hope you all had wonderful Christmases and New Years, let’s catch up soon yea?

Thanks for reading!

Ax

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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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10 Reasons to Love the Freelance Life

As you may have seen in this week’s YouTube video, I wanted this post to be a list of reasons to love living and working freelance.

Having recently quit my part-time retail job, I can now safely say that all the work I do is either self-employed, or, if it is employment, it’s still music related, it’s still helping my career.

If you have any additional points to add to this list – let me know in the comments, why do you love the freelance life?

  1.  Effort put in is directly proportional to Results & Success.

    When you’re working for minimum wage, it’s easy to feel like you’re just paid to ‘be there’. You get paid the same amount as the colleagues who perhaps don’t pull their weight, leaving you to pick up the slack. However hard you work, your hourly pay is the same.

    Not exactly motivating is it?

    What’s your incentive to work hard if you’re getting paid just as much as if you literally do nothing except stand there?

    When you’re working freelance, the amount of time and effort you put in is directly proportional to your success. You’ve gota put in the hustle, baby

    2. Financial freedom.

    You decide your pay at the end of each week/month. For example, I like to put all my earnings into a separate account (my accountant likes it that way) and then pay myself a set amount each Friday. That works for me because I like the feeling of having constant, regular income. If another way works for you, do that. We decide how it works.

    I also use what’s in my business account to reinvest in my career with new music, gear, and keeping my harp and car in tip-top condition. My profits go back to me and my business, not to a boss, CEO or shareholder. Imagine if more companies did that? Reinvesting the profits rather than lining other people’s pockets is just the sensible way to go and it increases your intrinsic value.

    3. Setting your own schedule – or not setting a schedule at all!

    Some people (and by some people I mean me) absolutely love working to a schedule. Other people work best when they can go with the flow. Some people do their best work early in the morning, for others 2am is ideal. When you’re freelance, you’re not bound by anyone else’s schedule and can work at a time that’s best for you.

    I’m currently experimenting with the Pomodoro Technique and will let you know how I get on with it.

    4. YOU ARE THE BOSS.

    Have you ever had a job where you hated your boss or a particular colleague? It’s pretty difficult to hate yourself to the same extent.

    I’ve worked for bosses before and luckily most of the time we’ve got on fine, but the feeling of being your own boss is pretty difficult to beat.

    5. The possibilities are endless – no need to convince anyone except yourself.

    If you have an idea for your business, and if you are confident you can pull it off, nothing can stop you going after your goals. Want to move in a different direction? Narrow down or change your niche? As long as you can convince yourself, go for it!

    6. You choose your clients and set your own fee, plus you only accept the work you are happy to take on.

    This may not exactly be the case when you’re starting out. But as you get more and more work you can start being selective with what you take on (if you want). If someone doesn’t want to pay your fee or says it’s too high, just let them go. If you believe that your rate is reasonable (and I hope that you do) then trust that if this particular client won’t pay your fee, then you can politely decline the work and leave the date free for someone else who is wiling to pay for the value that you are offering.

    7. You choose your own holidays.

    I’ve worked jobs before where there’s a flat-out rule of ‘no holidays in December’. I don’t really enjoy having my time dictated to me like that. When you’re freelance, if there’s an important event (a family wedding for example), if you have enough notice, and it’s important enough to you, you can block that day out and say no to anything else that comes in. You don’t need to worry about fitting your holiday in between those of everyone else at work – all you need to worry about is what’s best for your situation.

    8. The satisfaction of knowing that your success is down to YOU.

    When I pay myself at the end of every week, that money goes into my account and I feel so proud that I created that income. I found the gigs, I wrote the contracts and invoices, I spoke to the clients and got to know them, I did the practice, I performed, I handled any logistics necessary. Maybe I’m just fiercely independent and hate relying on anyone else, but it’s a great feeling to be steering your own ship.

    9. You’re never finished.  There’s always more you can do.

    Freelancing isn’t for those who just want to leave work ‘at work’. It follows you everywhere, it’s always on your mind. It’s a lifestyle. All you can say is ‘I’ve done enough for today’, and know that tomorrow, you’ll pick up where you left off. Let’s not even talk about how much more practice all of us musicians could be doing. I’m choosing to see this as a positive. If you’ve got the drive and the energy, nothing can stop you.

    10. FREEDOM.

    The idea of freedom encapsulates everything I love about being freelance. You choose the work you take on, you choose the days you take off, you have total control over every aspect of your business. From what time you get up to how much you get paid, it’s all up to you.

As ever, thanks for reading. Don’t forget to pop your email in the box to subscribe and get future posts in your inbox (never more than once a week).

Catch you in a bit.

Ax

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2017 Intentions

By the time I hit Publish on this post, it will be 2017. But for now, as I lie in bed with Spyder the cat sleeping on my lap, and a glass of Shiraz and various chocolate baked goods next to me, I’m enjoying the final few days of 2016.

But as well as relaxing and switching off, I’ve also been looking ahead to 2017 and thinking about what I’d like to achieve in this coming year.

As a general rule, I think New Year’s Resolutions are bad news as a ridiculously high percentage of them fail, which makes us feel like failures.

Not a good way to start the year.

I believe any day is a good day to set some goals and intentions for the future, but hey, it’s the new year, so instead of strict resolutions that are guaranteed to make me feel like an idiot when I fail, here are some intentions of things I’d like to work towards this year.

Quit my minimum wage, part-time job

So last August I freaked out about money, and started working in retail, part-time. Now, I want to schedule this post for Thursday, 5th January, that means I will be handing in my notice on Wednesday, 4th January. Scary! But (and I will probably dedicate a future post to this point) time is worth so much more than £7.20 an hour. Please know that I’m not saying my time is worth more than anyone else’s – everyone’s time is worth more than this.

I could teach a few more hours a week and make more, and I would be so much happier. Even just looking for other work would be a better use of my time. Don’t get me wrong, I love my coworkers, but I am not cut out for retail. I am a musician, and while I have this safety net I will always feel like I’m not doing myself justice.

I refuse to stay simply because I’m too scared that I need it. I will find something better. I will. I have to.

Practice the harp 7 hours every week

This may seem pathetically low to my musician pals who probably do two or three times that, but I’m starting easy so I can increase the hours once I’m back in the swing of it (see my above mini-rant on New Year’s Resolutions). Due to the nature of freelancing, daily practice targets don’t seem to work for me any more, I’m not going to practice for two hours before heading off to a gig to play background music all night. Instead I find it much easier to schedule in practice for the whole week, so I can see what the next seven days are going to look like at a glance. See also my previous post: How to Practice: Schedule it in

The trap I fall into (and please comment if this is you too!) is, if I don’t have many gigs coming up, or, if I only have background gigs for a few weeks, I ease off the practice.

That has to change in 2017.

As well as practising for upcoming gigs, I will be investing much more time into my YouTube channel and to generally building up my repertoire ready for competitions/auditions/potential recordings.

Watch out 2017 – I will be upping my game!

Keep hunting for more work, even in the good times

I may have mentioned this before, but it’s tempting to lay off looking for work when you have plenty of things in the diary. But what happens when empty months loom ahead and you don’t have any sort of safety net to fall back on? Pupils cancel, gig organisers find other players and suddenly your income dries up.

Potential nightmare.

In 2017 I will keep hustling, even in the busy times. Gigs and teaching will be my main focus. I’d rather sometimes be crazily busy if it means I have enough to see me through slower periods.

Sure, freelancing can be hard, but it’s also amazing and I am completely in love with it. I love being my own boss, having the power to find my own work and decide how much I earn. I’m not ready to give that up yet.

Here’s to a prosperous, exciting and rewarding 2017!

Ax

p.s. what goals and intentions are you setting for 2017? Leave me a comment and let me know. Also, pop your email in the box to subscribe and receive future posts in your inbox (never more than once a week).

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HARP DIARY | Mytholmroyd & Stockport

Last weekend was another packed weekend with gigs on both Friday and Saturday. This December is proving to be one of the busiest ever and I have to say that I’m loving being busy with harp-related activities:

Friday’s gig was so last minute – but I suppose that’s often the case with funerals. The church was in Mytholmroyd and was flooded last year, so has had a complete re-furb and is all pretty new. My job was simple: a touch of background music while friends and family gathered, and then Debussy’s Clair de Lune during communion. I do find funerals difficult to play for though – they are never easy are they?

Saturday meant Stockport Symphony Orchestra, and a lot of notes. And I do I mean a lot! I’d been sent the music a week or so before the concert with a little note from the other harpist saying ‘impossible bit! Play what you can!’ I personally hate being told something is impossible so dutifully worked on the notes until I could play them, only to find that once I was in the rehearsal it went about triple the speed I had been practising. Oops. It was unfortunately a case of ‘grab any strings you can’. You can see from the video that the inside of the Town Hall is very pretty  – and the orchestra had made it suitably Christmassy by putting tinsel on the music stands and several instruments. Christmas hats also featured in the second half of the concert. Unfortunately I missed that memo.

So another busy weekend! Do check out the video and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos of my harpy adventures. Please also sign up to receive these posts in your inbox by popping your email address in the box when asked.

Watch this space for next week’s video and post – it’s going to be a good one!

Ax

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HARP DIARY | GIGS ALL WEEKEND

Last weekend was a busy one. As well as having gigs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I was busy making a new video too:

If you have yet to visit Don Giovanni’s restaurant in Manchester city centre – make it a top priority. It’s been one of my favourite restaurants for as long as I’ve lived in Manchester (longer than I care to admit). Although I will say that playing whilst hungry is not a good idea when you are literally surrounded by the sight and smell of your favourite food (garlic bread).

Friday’s wedding in Lymm was a relatively short gig as I was only playing for the ceremony. Big congratulations to Amy and Peter for a beautiful day. Amy’s dress was stunning and took up the whole aisle. I actually thought the staff were kidding when they said I would have to move my harp to make way for The Dress.

Saturday’s gig was an orchestral concert in Southport. I mention in the video but I want to say here as well that, after learning the cadenza from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers years and years ago, playing it with an orchestra is always such a treat. It makes me so happy. What also made me happy was the children’s choir who were also performing. To see them utterly mesmerised by the music was absolutely wonderful. Hopefully the orchestra will have inspired them to carry on with music and to keep learning.

December 2016 is shaping up to be one of the busiest ever. Watch this space for more exciting projects, videos and gigs.

To get my posts in your inbox (never more that once a week), enter your email in the Subscribe box when it appears. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Cheerio for now!

Ax

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Porto!

I’m back! Freshly tanned and totally refreshed from ten days staying in Porto with some of my lovely friends. So I thought I’d post about it and let you know what we got up to (and make you just a little jealous).

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, Porto is beautiful. Not only that, the food is amazing and the people are super friendly.

We sampled the local delicacy known as the Francesinha – basically shove as much meat as you can into a sandwich – sausages, steak etc, top with a fried egg, cover the whole thing in cheese, drown it in a sauce – the main ingredient of which is booze, then add fries.

Yea, don’t eat these every day:

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We drank a lot of red wine, and a lot of port – it’s rude not to, right? We took a tour of the Cockburn’s port cellars and tasted some of their port afterwards.

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Everything is so cheap out there. In a supermarket you can get a lovely bottle of wine for €2.50, a bottle of nice port for €8 – and a proper meal out in a restaurant can be between €5 and €10. It’s ridiculous! Apparently in England we just get ripped off when we buy anything.

We had a day trip to see a Medieval Festival, which was fabulous.

Lunch: 1 rabbit.

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Wine: 1 Euro.

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I got the chance to read some books that I’ve been meaning to get round to for ages.

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I (finally) finished Stephen King’s Needful Things  – very creepy. Then I read Life of Pi which was fantastic, one of those books that you just can’t stop thinking about after finishing. I then started Solar by Ian McEwan, which is very good so far. I intend to keep reading as much as I can now that I am back. I so enjoyed not having my phone at all for those ten days, and only sporadic internet access to check for emergency emails. It meant that the group spending time together meant conversation, playing cards, cooking, and just enjoying each other’s company as you can clearly see here:

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We played the card version of Monopoly – Monopoly Deal – for hours and hours. It is so addictive and well worth checking out if you haven’t seen or heard of it.

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I also finally learned how to play poker! With Monopoly money of course…

So all in all, a fantastic trip. Big thank-you to Artur Pereira for hosting us so generously – we love you! Here’s to the next time 🙂

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