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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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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I’ve been spoilt rotten.

Musically speaking, that is.

This past week has been a week of inspiring, amazing music, and I wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

Firstly, I spent three days with CLOUDS Harp Quartet. We are learning a brand new programme for our upcoming tour in June (more details on that to follow). Spending time with CLOUDS is without doubt one of my favourite aspects of my career to date. Esther‘s music is challenging and beautiful and the act of learning it is making us all better musicians. Here’s a little video I made of a tiny snippet of the music that we’ve been learning:

At the end of the three days, Elinor and I went to see Swan Lake at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. Despite having a mild obsession with Tchaikovsky I have to admit that I’d never seen a professional ballet production in my adult life.

I absolutely love the music and it was such a treat to see the ballet as well. Although, hearing the harp cadenza being played on electric keyboard was a disappointment. Playing in a ballet orchestra is a huge dream of mine and when even Moscow City Ballet don’t think it’s worth having a real harp in the pit, it’s a little demoralising to say the least.

The following day I had a gig in Sheffield (my favourite). The drive over was a bit scary and involved fog, wind, and snow. Nevertheless, Hallam Sinfonia needed a harpist for their performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. If you haven’t listened to this work before, do it right now – especially the Adagietto – it is gorgeous and heart-breaking. Sometimes I can’t believe that my job is to practice and perform such beautiful music.

To finish off the week, I was singing for Sunday’s morning service with my choir at St. Ann’s Church, directed by Simon Passmore. Not only was the setting composed by one of our members – Dr David Liggins – the music for the anthem Lead, Kindly Light was written by our late director of music – Canon Ronald Frost – in the form of the hymn tune Loppergarth. I’m trying to find a recording of us singing this gorgeous and emotive piece, leave it with me… Ronald was a wonderfully kind and talented soul and all of us in the choir who knew him, miss him greatly. It’s such a blessing that we can carry on performing his music in his memory.

I have to say that I feel so grateful and lucky that I have such wonderful music and wonderful people in my life.

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

Chat soon,

Ax

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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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January on #YouTube

Recently I’ve been investing much more time into my Youtube channel. My aim is to upload videos weekly so make sure you subscribe (after you’ve subscribed to this blog of course).

My first video of 2017 is a short introduction to how the harp actually works:

I get so many questions when I’m playing and gigging about how the harp works and how it’s played, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the instrument and answer some of those questions.

Moving on, the next video is a firm wedding favourite and one that is often requested – Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight:

I’ve invested in some new lighting for my videos so do let me know what you think.

Next up: I’m continuing my project of recording pieces from each of the ABRSM grades. Here is my first offering from Grade 4:

I remember playing this for my Grade 4 back in the day (time to update the syllabus, perhaps?)

I’m one of those strange people that actually enjoys studies and scales. They are such a good way of measuring your progress, work on your sound, and hone your technique, which brings us nicely to my Grade 5 video:

This is another piece that I remember playing when I was doing my grades. A lot of harpists dislike Naderman but I’ve always found his music rather enjoyable – just the right amount of twee mixed in with some drama, and of course, plenty of scales and arpeggios to keep those fingers warm. This may not be the last piece by Naderman we see on this project.

So that was January on YouTube. Do you have any requests for upcoming videos? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’d love to have your input as I seek to grow my channel. I particularly enjoyed making last month’s CLOUDS video, so maybe there are more of these vlog-style videos coming up too.

 

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