Week 2

So it has been 2013 for a week now!  I still haven’t decided whether to say two-thousand-and-thirteen or the slightly more concise twenty-thirteen.

So I want to post every week this year.  During this week I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to write and sort of formulating the ideas in my head so I can just write it and it’s done!

This isn’t the post I thought it was going to be.

I thought I’d be writing about how getting up early really impacts on the whole day, about how I feel much better and much more organised.

I do still believe that getting up earlier results in these things – I feel as organised as I could be, the flat is clean & tidy, I’ve had time to cook healthy and somewhat interesting meals, I’ve even been running a few times.  But I think what I was looking for is a sense of control.

Control over how I organise my time, control over the money that comes in, and the gigs I’m offered.  But I’ve been really unsettled at just how out of control I have felt recently.  Take for example, a pupil who, for whatever reason, no longer wants lessons.  Fair enough but I then have to find that money from somewhere else – usually just as I’m reaching some sort of equilibrium between income and spending, something happens to tip the balance, having to buy a new car for example, or suddenly receiving a bill I’d forgotten about.

There is also the fact that I’m still owed money from gigs I did over Christmas – I hate that I have to nag to be paid in a reasonable amount of time.  I’d actually rather they give me a cheque on the day which is dated in the future – at least then it’s in my hands ready to be put in the bank.

I hate living from month to month like this – it’s only half a life!  Only just making enough to get by – I need something else, a part time job somewhere – just something during the day, during the week while I’m not really doing anything apart from pottering around trying to sort my life out.  I have no money for socialising or clothes or anything really that’s not a bill or rent or a car payment.  I know people younger than me who have bought their own property – wow – that’s just amazing.  I wish I was in that situation.

I don’t want to put a downer on anyone who reads this!  But posts like this are important – this is not an easy career to go into – I’m still deciding if it’s one I even want to stay in for the long term.

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Happy New Year!

Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone who reads this a happy and prosperous New Year.  And, I also want to thank those who have been reading my blog, and a big thank you to those who leave feedback in the form of comments – or in person.

On New Year’s Eve I decided to take a very last minute trip down to Hampton-in-Arden to see my sister.  I’d already had a gig – performing at Sunrise Senior Living Retirement Home in Bramhall as part of their holiday celebrations.  I had what I thought was a clever idea that we could sing some carols for a bit of audience participation.  This was not met with much enthusiasm, or indeed, singing.  Never mind!  I tried.

I was actually in Hampton last New Year’s Eve too, in the same pub!  That led me to ponder the things that have changed in 2012 for me and my career.  My bank balance is probably pretty much the same, I’ve had to change my car (rest in peace Bertie), but what I have gained is experience in terms of gigs and teaching.  I just hope it’s all heading somewhere – and that I’m heading in the right direction.

Anyway, moving on!  I’ve made a few resolutions – some of them will only begin once I get back to Manchester later this week:

  • Start running regularly, 3 times a week – I didn’t go for a single run in December so I’m looking forward to getting back into it.  I also have the target of the Great North Run to aim for.
  • Get up earlier Monday-Friday, days are ridiculously more productive if I drag myself out of bed earlier, every day needs to be like that.
  • Get out of overdraft and start saving – this will be huge if I manage it.
  • Write in my blog more often!  Once a week – even if it seems like nothing noteworthy has happened!

So, what are your resolutions? How long will they last? Do let me know!

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This has been a week of choices.  Isn’t it weird how they all seem to come at once?

After a mad couple of shifts in the bar at the RNCM for freshers week, I decided that, if I really don’t enjoy working there that much, I should just quit.  I need to be earning money doing things that take me in the direction of my dream.  It isn’t my dream to work in a bar forever, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and lose the safety net of having that bit of extra cash each month – in favour of pushing myself to do more for my music career.

So that’s it!  I never have to pull a pint again.  I’ve worked in one bar or another for my whole student life, and now I feel like the time has come to move on.

And doesn’t the universe work in mysterious ways, on the morning following my final shift, I got a phone call from the Chethams School of Music asking if I’d be interested in doing some harp teaching there.

Of course I was!  I taught my first lesson there last Friday and loved it, hopefully it will lead to working there regularly.

The day after the phone call day, I got an email from a hotel asking if I’d like to stay with them and provide background music for a few months… in DUBAI!  Sounds too good to be true and the money is exceedingly tempting (enough to invest in a lever harp and take lots of the financial pressure away).  But it would mean being away over Christmas and New Year, and I’d miss a certain trip to Lanzarote in December as well as various gigs and family commitments.  So basically, I’ve said I’m very interested but maybe another time.

I had to think about it so carefully, but I need to be here, in Manchester right now.  I need to be gigging and building up my contacts and getting better gigs.  My dream is to be an orchestral musician, and while the money from providing background music is fabulous, I’m not sure I would want to do it all the time.  What I love about my career so far is the variety.  Every day is different and brings its own challenges.  Not going to Dubai was a really tough decision but hopefully I will look back and be glad I stayed.

Maybe I could have gone to Dubai and could have stayed working at Brodsky.  Had I done so my bank balance would definitely thank me.  But at the end of the day, maybe I’m choosing the less profitable choice right now, but maybe it will pay dividends in the future?  I have noticed that each day since turning down Dubai I’ve been contacted about doing a gig in the next few months.  It’s going to be ok.

Maybe there is no right or wrong decision.  But I’ve made mine and now my job is to make the best of my situation and keep moving towards where I want to be in the future.

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Mahler 2

Last weekend I had a gig in Sheffield, with Sheffield Symphony Orchestra.  The only piece on the programme was Mahler’s Second Symphony.  Now there are two harp parts for this epic piece, however, it seems I was the only harpist that could be booked for this day.  Mahler’s writing for harp (that I have experienced) is lovely.  Sometimes it’s quite sparse, but you can hear 95% of the notes.  And that, for what is usually an instrument buried underneath more forceful instruments – looking at you, brass and percussion – is unusual.  But it left me in a little pickle.  Both harp parts are important, how on earth do I set about putting them both in?

Should have got double the fee in my opinion but apparently that’s not how it works.

Anyway, there were a couple of places that I had both parts on my stand and was piecing it together in what I hope was a convincing manner.

The Symphony is nick-named ‘The Resurrection’, the fourth movement includes a solo voice, and the fifth includes an entire chorus – I’ll include the English translation of the text, it really is as uplifting as the orchestration:

Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.
To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.
—Friedrich Klopstock
O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!
O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!
What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You masterer of all things,
Now, are you conquered!
With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Its wing that I won is expanded,
and I fly up.
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God will it lead you!
—Gustav Mahler
I must say a massive well done to Dane Lam – the conductor.  He did a marvelous job of this epic piece – I would imagine that conducting Mahler 2 is a big dream of any aspiring conductor.
While I am dishing out mentions, I must say a big thank you to Simon Passmore.  Not only did he keep me company in the car, he got out in the rain to reserve me the most ideal parking space, bought me lunch, dinner, and snacks (I think he’s trying to fatten me up) and just generally was a massive help on the day.  Thank you!
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Outdoor Concerts

Outdoor concerts, are there any two words that strike more fear into a harpist’s mind?  This weekend has been crazily busy – apparently something has been going on – a national holiday of sorts, something to do with the Royal Family.

Anyway, Friday I had a wedding in North Yorkshire, very questionable weather, under a marquee.  Wonderful.  Saturday’s wedding was extremely lavish.  In a gorgeous hotel near Ripon, not only had they booked me, there was also a string quartet, singing waiters, and a pianist.

Sunday, oh my, Sunday.  I was called upon to play for ‘Proms on the Pitch’ at Macclesfield Football Ground.  It would have been such an amazing gig had the weather been ok.  But as it was, it poured down all day and yes we were under cover but it was exceedingly cold. We went to a lovely Michelin starred pub/restaurant for dinner called Sutton Hall if I remember correctly.  Excellent food, shame as usual I couldn’t enjoy a little glass of wine but nevermind.  I worried a lot about my harp as very cold weather causes the strings to contract, increasing the chances of cracks in the soundboard – eeek – having said that, it was great fun playing Proms-style classics, 1812 Overture, Entry of the Gladiators, Pomp and Circumstance etc.  But what shocked me more than anything was the fact that we had an audience!  People had come out in the rain and wind, to sit outside and wave their union jacks for us to celebrate the Jubiliee.  I just thought it was absolutely amazing and very heart-warming – even though I was in fact probably a few degrees away from contracting hypothermia.  At least the audience could dance to keep themselves warm (they did).

Then Monday rolled around, hurray, third outdoor gig in one weekend – my poor harp.  But – who’d have thought it, it was bright sunshine in Liverpool!  A very nice man arranged for me to park for free all afternoon – bonus – and I could get from car to stage using only lifts and ramps – amazing.  So that was a really nice day – a mixture of Debussy, Vaughan Williams and Stravinsky for Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s contribution to ‘Proms in the Park’  – at Chavasse Park – to a large audience, soaking up the sun on deck-chairs and eating ice-cream.

So I ended the weekend feeling very patriotic and as though I’ve made my small contribution to the Jubiliee celebrations, but I was absolutely exhausted.  I will admit my harp has been in its covers since Tuesday evening – I need a few days off to refresh my brain!

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Black Dyke Band in Sheffield

The easiest part of yesterday was the rehearsal and the concert.  I was lucky enough to be playing with the Black Dyke Band in Sheffield City Hall.

I say that was the easy bit because I had learnt the music (Philip Whilby’s ‘A Bronte Mass’) and it was fine – actually it was more than fine it was lovely.  I’ve never played with a Brass Band before and they are loud compared to little old me on harp.  I was eventually placed right at the front of the stage so the audience had a chance to hear me (prima dona moment).

There was a teeny weeny panic just before the concert, my stand and music went missing.  I was amazed that someone would have moved a stand with my name and my music on it!  But, the matter was resolved, the stand was found on the other side of the stage, and I found my music, ummm, in my bag *sorry*.

Another nice bit of the day was going for dinner in between the afternoon rehearsal and evening concert.  I figure I’m in an unfamiliar city and a meal is on expenses so why not have something nice?  AskItalian was my venue of choice and the meal was amazing.  Goats cheese and fresh bread for starter and then pasta with chicken, mushroom and white wine sauce – no desserts as I’m being a good girl at the moment.

So there, that’s the nice part of the day covered.  Now for the nightmare.

Driving + unfamiliar one-way system + Saturday night revellers + useless satnav = Lots of tears + about an hour spent driving in circles

I had to get my harp to the loading bay at the city hall, which is impossible to find as it’s all pedestrianised and you can only get at it by going a really long, convoluted way round.  I eventually found it before the rehearsal, only to be told I couldn’t have a parking permit and would have to find my own parking.  Gee thanks.  I found it unfair that other instruments who had to load and unload i.e. percussion seemed to be allowed to stay the whole day but apparently harpists can manage.  Grr…

Perhaps it’s due to my lack of geography skills/sense of direction but when I went to pick my car up after I’d finished playing, I couldn’t find the concert hall again.  Simon was very sweet and got the train from Newcastle down to Sheffield to keep me company on the drive back to Manchester (awww) and if he hadn’t been there directing me, calming me down and thinking of new routes to find the *expletive deleted* loading bay, I would probably still be there now, crying and driving round in circles trying to get to my harp.  I have no idea what it cost me in petrol and wrinkles that I didn’t have before, but I feel it’s unfair that I should have to go through that and it spoilt the otherwise great experience of playing with an amazing band.

I jokingly said that next time I want a parking permit, and the reply came ‘ha, wouldn’t we all’.

I think my need might be greater than most?

Anyway, enough ranting.  Apart from the car troubles it was a great day, playing good music with a lovely conductor (thank you Darius Battiwalla) and a great ensemble, I hope I get the chance to play with them again soon.

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Summer Term

Ok so I’ve graduated and ‘term dates’ don’t mean that much to me any more.  But it seems like a good time to refresh my goals and just get organised with all that’s going on.

May is looking busy.

I’ll be at Chets (Chetham’s School of Music) working in the Practice Department for 6 days, 2 orchestral gigs, a wedding, teaching at the weekends, and a solo recital in Scarborough that I’m really over-excited about.

On top of all that, I need as many shifts in the bar as physically possible to help me get back on track.

So lots of practice is happening at the moment, and it feels great to have lots of things to work towards, I’ve also been brainstorming ways of improving my business and getting lots more work.

Current ideas include:

  • getting a lever harp and busking on free days
  • putting together a demo video to send to anyone who might give me work
  • recording an album for general release
  • emailing lots of orchestras, music services and schools with my CV and seeing what comes up
  • looking into harp therapy and possible qualifications to be gained
  • getting more teaching work

So yes, after a very restful and relaxing Easter holiday I am ready to throw myself back into all things harp-related.  And I need to work out how to come up with the cash for a lever harp… all ideas welcome.

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Easter Holidays and too much time off.

I was playing at a wedding today down in Staffordshire, about an hour’s drive from my house so not too bad.  The whole day went very smoothly and I got paid (yay!)

But instead of blogging about another background gig – I’m going to talk about the holidays in general.  I got a bit emotional yesterday, tears may have been involved, and I couldn’t put my finger on what was upsetting me.

I eventually came to the conclusion that it must be a number of things:

  • having lost my phone and shelled out for a new one, all the financial progress I’ve made recently has been pretty much cancelled out.
  • my  harp has a buzz 🙁 nothing serious  but it needs sorting – I’m currently waiting for a technician to get back to me on that.  Harps are so complex and have so many moving parts that occasionally these parts can vibrate against each other to make a buzzing sound when a particular note is played.  It’s not serious and it’s easily fixable but extremely annoying!
  • All my current gigs seem to be background music – yes it’s easy money but it leaves me rather unfulfilled.  My place is in an orchestra.  I’ve known this for some time now but it’s definitely time to start really pushing for this and sending emails and hopefully getting some auditions.
  • I’m scared that if all I ever do are background gigs, I’ll lose all the progress I made in my four years at the Royal Northern College of Music.  I didn’t study for all that time just to play cringe-worthy arrangements of cheesy music for people who don’t listen or care.
  • I haven’t had a harp lesson in nine months and I can definitely tell, I’m going to focus now on learning some new repertoire for an upcoming recital and resuscitating some old favourites so I feel like I can still actually play the harp with a good level of skill.

Maybe it’s just the holidays, and current lack of work, but things definitely need a push right now.  I’ve hit some sort of plateau that I haven’t experienced before.

So yes, sorry this post is decidedly less cheery than others, but this blog is about the whole picture of being a freelancer.  Hopefully over time I’ll see that the good times far outnumber the hard.

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