Harping, Running, Yoga.

I can’t believe another week has gone by. I spent a good few days relaxing and taking it easy on myself following the events of the week before, and my car also needed a bit more work doing to make sure it was 100% safe.

I had a gig on Valentine’s Day in a lovely little restaurant in Blackburn called Gioia Italiano:

It was so nicely decorated, and not too crowded either.

The following day I decided to record a video. I want to be uploading to YouTube more regularly than of late. I’m quite pleased with this effort because it’s the first time I’ve attempted more than one camera angle:

Please subscribe to my youtube channel if you haven’t already – I’m closing in on 100 subscribers, which is rather exciting.

Aside from music, I’ve been keeping up with my 10k running training. I can’t believe that this time in two weeks I’ll have done the race. Eeek! I can definitely feel my legs getting stronger and my endurance is getting better as well. I’m still probably the slowest runner you know but that really doesn’t matter that much to me. If anything, I’ve stopped exercising to try and look good, it’s more about my mental health now. Running and yoga offer me peace and quiet from my mind, which never seems to switch off. That voice in my head telling me I should be practising or working, that I should be further on in life than I am, that I’m failing, that I’m not earning enough, can’t get to me if all my attention is on keeping my body in motion out on a run, or keeping my body and breath calm and still in yoga.

I’m also trying to get into the habit of meditating daily – starting with just five minutes – so I’ll let you know how I get on with that.

Speaking of yoga, last Saturday was day six of the British Wheel of Yoga Foundation Course that I’m enrolled in. I’m absolutely loving it and seriously considering taking my studies further into Yoga Teacher Training at the end of the course. All I can say is ‘watch this space’!

Thanks as always for reading and supporting. I’ll leave my social media links here in case you want to see what I’m up to until the next post!

Bye for now,

Ax

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La Bohème – The Opera That Goes Wrong

This past week I have been playing for La Bohème with Leeds Youth Opera, conducted by Tom Newall. It’s been a bit of an unbelievable week, so I thought I’d take you through it day by day.

Day 1 – Monday

I got into my car on Monday morning ready for my weekly shift at Chets, only to find that my car’s battery was completely dead. Victor wasn’t going anywhere. Time to run for the tram.

This was very concerning as obviously I needed to get my harp to Leeds for the dress rehearsal that night, and it wouldn’t fit in anyone’s car but mine. Luckily, Tim’s client that morning is a car mechanic and he agreed to look at Victor that afternoon. He diagnosed a dead battery, and ordered and fitted a new one that day! So I was able to take my harp to Leeds. Hurray!

I agreed to give three members of the orchestra a lift back to Manchester that night, and as I was putting the back seats upright in my car, I managed to drop my car keys down the gap between the seats and the floor of the boot. Time for another mini-panic. Managed to eventually get them out and off we went. I just assumed this was ‘one of those days’.

Day 2 – Tuesday

It snowed all day on Tuesday, and I hate driving in the snow, luckily for us it didn’t settle and we got to Leeds and back with not too much drama. Really enjoying the music and being back ‘in the pit’.

Day 3 – Wednesday

Wednesday was performance number one so everyone was feeling a little nervous. We had pretty much a full house at the Carriageworks Theatre and it went really quite well for a first night. Puccini melodies are swimming around my brain and probably will be for quite some time.

Got home around midnight, straight to bed.

Day 4 – Thursday

Another morning shift at Chets, and I was definitely beginning to feel like I was burning the candle at both ends. The car starts but the battery warning light is on, and that meant the battery wasn’t charging, which points to a faulty alternator. I tried to ignore it. I’d agreed to give Sara, Elliot and Ethan a lift to Leeds and you can’t bail just because a warning light comes on.

Amazingly, the light went off as I was going home at lunchtime so I just put it down to the light coming on for no reason.

I picked up my passengers and off we went. Once we hit the motorway, there it was again, the battery warning light. I wasn’t sure how long the battery would last without being charged, maybe we could make it to Leeds?

Nope.

Firstly, the heated back window stopped working, then the car’s heating failed. Not good when there’s four people in the car and it’s misting up fast. My windscreen wipers stopped working, that’s really not what you want going over the M62 in the pouring rain. The lights on my dashboard went out and finally I lost power steering. Time to pull over and assess our options.

Try not to panic.

Try not to cry.

I’d never broken down before, and I’d never ever been unable to make it to a gig because of my car. I felt awful, like I was letting the orchestra and the cast down, but there was nothing I could do except call my breakdown cover. They eventually arrived around 7:30pm (the start of the show) and told me they couldn’t fix it by the side of the road, where did I want them to take the car?

I could only see one option here, to get the car back to Manchester, what good is a dead car in Leeds? Where would I sleep? How would I get it fixed? We decided to head back to Manchester (at a cost of £90) and performance two happened with no harp, no bassoon, and one fewer violin and one fewer trombone.

I got in touch with Paul, who fitted my new battery on Monday, and he let me drop the car at a garage in Chorlton, ready to be looked at in the morning and fitted with a new alternator. Paul is a hero.

Unbelievably, around this time, a coach I follow on YouTube released this video, is she psychic?

Seriously, go and follow her, she’s amazing.

 

Day 5 – Friday

I asked Tom to give me a lift on Friday as my car was clearly going nowhere. I quite enjoyed the novelty of not being a designated driver. I’m so used to being the driver, it feels weird to not have that control and to just let someone else do it for a change.

I was really feeling very zen about it all until we got about half way home after the show (which, by the way, went really well). Tom’s car started making a weird noise. It got louder and louder until he had to pull over.

Flat tyre.

I mean, what? Stuck on the M62 two days in a row how did this happen?! We waited in the freezing cold for over an hour while a new tyre was fitted. Got home at 1:30am. Am I cursed?

The funny thing is, we could not stop laughing about it. You literally could not make it up. I’m glad that I wasn’t on my own when my car broke down, and that Tom wasn’t alone when his tyre punctured. When you’re with people it’s easier to see the funny side at it and just marvel at why the universe might be doing this.

 

Day 6 – Saturday

The final show! Feeling pretty tired and drained by this point. Managed to get there in my car with no warning lights or other drama. Gave Sara a lift home and drove through some pretty horrid fog, wind and rain, but by that point I felt like if I could handle the week up until then, I can handle this.

Home by 11:30pm. Time for sleep and rest. I need rest.

La Bohème is a fabulous opera and it was a great show. I so enjoyed being a part of it. Here’s the funny thing though, the music, and the playing, are the easy bits. It’s the bits in between that provide the biggest challenges. I laugh too at the idea that people in the audience see me sitting behind the harp looking serene, have no idea of the drama involved in actually getting there.

 

Just one more thing to mention in this week’s post (well done for getting this far!) For those of you who support me on Patreon, they’ve released Lens – part of the mobile app that acts like Instagram Stories. I love Instagram Stories, as you probably know if you follow me, but the idea of stories especially for Patrons is fabulous!

So if you haven’t already, download the Patreon app and have a look. In line with my intention to be releasing more content over there, I’ve changed the structure from donations per video to donations monthly. This means patrons will only be charged once per month, even if I release more than one video. Patrons also get early access to these blog posts and my videos.

So there we are! What a week. I’m spending Sunday recharging and taking it really easy on myself. Cooking some wholesome food, doing some yoga and having a long bath will all probably occur at some point.

I hope your Sunday is a restful one. I’ll see you here next week! Don’t forget to follow me on twitter, instagram and youtube too.

Chat soon,

A x

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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

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Secret Live Stream – and a blog update: things are changing.

As I may have mentioned already, I’ll be doing a short live concert on Sunday, 28th January at 5pm, from my youtube channel. I’ve invested a fair amount of time in my channel over 2017 and I’m almost at 100 subscribers. I’ve promised myself that when I reach that milestone, I’m going to buy a camera with a front-facing screen so I can actually see what the heck I’m doing when I’m recording harp videos for you. I believe that subscribers get a notification when I go live, so hit subscribe to be reminded when the concert begins and hopefully I’ll see you there. I’ll be playing some fun stuff, a bit of Jazz, a super-easy set of pieces that are suitable for any level, and some popular tunes that everyone knows, which are very popular wedding choices.

Anyway, bearing in mind that I’d never actually been live on youtube before, I thought it would be best to get some practise in. So, I did a ‘secret’ live stream, without telling anyone, just to get a feel for how it all works. It felt pretty weird at first, especially when the number of viewers goes from zero to one, and you realise that someone out there is actually taking the time to watch you! I enjoyed the immediacy of it though, and the fact that the internet allows you to reach a (potentially) global audience. Spreading live music has to be a good thing – see my post on How we can all support the Arts.

Moving on from YouTube, I’d like to get back to posting regularly here on my website, and to my email subscribers (hi there!) I’m proud of the archive of posts I’ve written since 2012 (have a browse down the right hand side of the page and pick a month to see what I was up to). My aim is to go back to posting weekly about my freelancing adventures, and give you a glimpse behind the scenes of the realities of being self-employed. There are exciting times around the corner as Tim and I get closer to buying our house together, and I’ll be able to bring you updates on that. I’ve always wanted a music room/office of my own where I can go to practise and do my admin, then close the door when I’ve finished and have it separate from the rest of the living space – and I am within touching distance of that dream.

As ever I’d like to thank you for reading, and watching if you’re enjoying the harp videos on my youtube channel. If you’d like to subscribe to my blog and get these posts in your inbox, just pop your name and email address into the boxes at the top right of this page. It’d be great to connect with you in that way.

Let’s chat soon,

A

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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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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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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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