What I’m Practising: January 2016

January is a weird month.

 

As usual I seem to have very few gigs and end up praying that the money I made in December will see me through to February, when people seem to start doing stuff again, getting married for example.

 

So this year I’m making the most of this ‘time off’ by learning some new repertoire. Does anyone else find it hard to learn new pieces after graduating? Please tell me I’m not the only one! Without the regular weekly lesson and the fear of a bad performance in front of your peers, where is the motivation to learn something new from scratch?

 

Well, that changes in 2016. I’ve never properly learned the Britten Suite for harp. I can’t believe I allowed this fantastic piece to pass me by until now. I’m focussing on the first movement this month. It’s an awesome piece, and Britten is a real favourite of mine.

 

I have also started a new Bach-Grandjany Etude, with the ultimate aim of having mastered each of the 12 studies in the book. The new one is an arrangement of the Allemande from the second violin Partita and so far I love it. But what’s not to love? It’s Bach for crying out loud, arranged by Grandjany – arguably the forefather of modern harp playing. The ultimate dream team.

 

Lastly, as some light relief, I’m polishing Guitare by Hasselmans. I’ve started this before but never really polished it up to performance standard. It’s not the most challenging piece in the world, but it’ll fit nicely into my background music repertoire and is nice enough to listen to. It’ll be one that gets performed a lot as it’s very charming and ‘Spanishy’.

 

Having had quite a big break from the harp over Christmas and New Year, it’s refreshing to go right back to the start and jump in with some new pieces. The routine of doing each hand separately, in small sections, slowly until it’s comfortable has been the routine my whole life, as long as I can remember, since starting the piano at the age of three. I know I can do it, it’s what I do.

 

I used to hate practising. There, I said it. But now I love it. I think that change has to do with the fact that when I sit down at the harp, all I need to think about is the harp. Maybe it’s like meditating, or just being mindful, but it refreshes the brain and the spirit. Even if everything else in life is not going the way I was expecting, I can sit down and play and it feels normal, comfortable, predictable.

 

Musicians: what are you practising this month? Any musical goals or new year’s resolutions? How are they going? Let me know in the comments.
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New ways to keep in touch…

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Hey!

So I’ve been pretty nervous about doing this, but I’ve taken the plunge and uploaded my first vlog to YouTube:

Check it out and let me know what you think. While you’re there make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel, I’m planning on posting lots of videos of pieces I love, wedding music ideas, and vlogging what it’s like to be a harpist on the road.

If you’re more of a tweeter or an instagrammer then you can always follow me on those platforms too @harpistangelina

Happy Friday everyone!

x

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Music Business Myths #1 ‘you only get one shot’

As a new experiment on this blog, I thought I’d share what I think are some misconceptions about the big bad music world and us mere humans trying to navigate our way around it.

The first one I’d like to address is the idea that, you get one chance to really make your career amazing. It could be a big concert, a presentation, some sort of performance or audition that you feel could be a huge break for you, and if you fail or do less than your best, that’s it – career ruined, minimum wage job for the rest of your life – no more chances.

This, in my opinion, is a mindset that is so unhelpful that we need to put it to bed right now.

Sure, some gigs might lead to more work, better work, with influential people – fantastic! – but if those seemingly ‘more important’ gigs don’t go well, you can recover, you can regroup, you can carry on and learn from failures instead of thinking of all the missed opportunities.

In fact, some of my ‘failures’ have actually taught me way more than the concerts that went well. As musicians, we dedicate our lives to learning, and this is true of freelancing as much as it is true for mastering your instrument.

Having an important string break just before a big concert? We learn to always have spares of everything. Just in case.

Late to an important gig? We learn to leave enough time, even when we think there won’t be traffic.

Solo performance could have been better? We learn to evaluate our performance, see where we went wrong, practice differently, and do better next time.

Instead of looking at all our failures, all the times we went wrong, all the times we didn’t fulfil our potential, let’s look at what went well, what we can change for the better, how we can improve.

A career like this is a journey for us. A huge learning curve. Nobody starts off knowing everything, we learn by experience. If something doesn’t go well, as Taylor would say shake it off and remember tomorrow is a new day. It’s a big world out there, don’t be afraid to jump in and move forward.

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Tax advice for musicians

Having been freelancing for about four years now, I’m about to complete my fourth tax return. It can be daunting when you first graduate but it needn’t be scary. I thought I’d write this post and give some pointers and help.

Please do bear in mind that I am not an accountant or a financial expert, this is just coming from my own experience of doing my taxes for the past few years. There are lots of different ways to do your taxes, this is just what I do on a yearly basis.

The very first thing you need to do (if you are earning money from gigs and private teaching) is register as self-employed. This is straight forward but very important as if you don’t pay your National Insurance contributions, it might affect your state pension. So head on over to the relevant gov.uk page for registering as a sole trader and fill in the forms. Simple!

Ok, done? Now for the slightly time-consuming bit.

You need to keep a record of your business income and outgoings. I like to keep a file for each year, with a divider for each month, fees from a gig? Keep a note. Had to buy food at a gig? Keep the receipt and make a note. I also make sure to file away any contracts, pay & display tickets, restaurant receipts, invoices (sent and received) and anything I receive from HMRC in there, which makes it much easier to compile my accounts for the year.

As a very important side note – in order to complete your tax return you will need a P60 form from any employment you’ve undertaken with an organisation, do you have a part time job in a bar/shop/school? Without these, your accountant won’t be able to complete your tax return and you’re kind of stuck.

Got it? Awesome.

Let’s say you need to drive to your gigs. For each gig you do, make a note of how many miles you have travelled, maybe keep a monthly total.

For the first 10,000 miles of the year, you can charge 45p/mile as travel expenses, anything after that can be charged at 30p/mile. This theoretically covers fuel, insurance, car repairs and servicing, so the mileage should be the only car related expense in your records.

What about music, strings, concert clothes? Yep, keep the receipt in your folder and add it to your expenses when compiling your records. Concert clothes are a little tricky as they should only be for concerts, so if you intend to wear it on a normal day you shouldn’t really include it as an expense. If in doubt, keep the receipt and ask your accountant. I might ask mine about costume jewellery…

Then, at the end of the tax year I make a spreadsheet, one column for the type of expense (e.g. sheet music) then in the column next to it I’ll put the amount to the nearest pound (e.g. £15). A few columns later I’ll do a similar thing for income (e.g. Sheffield Wedding 10th October – £200). Then I’ll go chronologically down the spreadsheet in months.

Each month needs total values for Income, Expenses, PROFIT (Income minus expenses) and Total Miles Travelled.

Once you have compiled all twelve months – give yourself a big pat on the back and pour yourself a glass of something – you can work out your TOTAL Income, Expenses, Profit, Miles Travelled, and Mileage. If you have geeky tendencies like me you can also work out monthly averages by dividing the total values by 12. So you have a monthly income to aim for each month.

Press save, take to your accountant and the rest should sort itself out. You can also put accountants’ fees on your expenses and do bear in mind that many accountants offer cheaper services the earlier you see them. So a tax return in May or June might cost you £100 but leave it till January and you could be staring down the nose of around £250. Being organised pays off!

And that’s it! If there’s anything I haven’t explained very well do let me know in the comments and I’ll try and be more clear.

Also, it’s the time of year when students are graduating! Congratulations to everyone graduating from RNCM in particular – this post is written with you in mind. If you have any questions about life in the ‘big wide world’ so often talked about at college, leave me a comment and I will do my best to help.

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The Summer so far…

It’s been a busy summer so far. I can’t remember when my last free weekend was  – which is very good news for a harpist. Since getting back from Denmark I’ve had at least one gig every single week. Usually weddings.

I’ve also received some lovely feedback from the happy couples and their families to let me know they appreciate my playing – I love getting reviews like this! You can check them out on my lastminutemusicians.com profile here.

I’ve realised that there are benefits to arriving at wedding gigs early: Sunbathing.

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I’ve had the opportunity to go and play in my old stomping ground – the RNCM and its new concert hall – my harp looks so small from up at the back:

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I also had a concert alongside the choir that I sing with – the choir of St. Ann’s Church in Manchester city centre. This was of course followed by the usual trip to the pub, where some of us stayed out way too late – I won’t mention names at this point:

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As well as the frequent gigs, I’ve managed to find some time here and there to chill. Marten’s birthday was lovely, we went for a long walk around the Edale Valley – it was so nice to see some green and get some fresh air!

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There are lots of changes happening at the moment, lots of new ideas in the pipeline. I will keep you updated of course! But in the meantime, you can always subscribe to get my posts in your inbox – I recently changed website hosts, so if you are used to getting emails from me you may have to re-subscribe – sorry about that!

You can also follow me on twitter and instagram @harpistangelina for updates on my adventures. Send me a message and say hi! I love hearing from you.

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The Weekend.

One of the things I love about playing for weddings is that it usually doesn’t take all day – I can be home for dinner. Last Saturday’s wedding at Hilltop Country House in Prestbury was no different. I was only playing for the Ceremony itself, plus a little background beforehand, so I was done in just over an hour.

It may now be officially summer, but there was lots of rain, luckily, the venue was prepared:

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However, the rain did mean that the ceremony had to be inside, and due to the number of guests, the harp wouldn’t fit in the ceremony room itself and I was positioned in the next room in the hope that the music would ‘waft through’. I’m assuming it did.

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I was back home in time to catch a film with some friends – Jurassic World – I’d highly recommend it. Very entertaining if slightly predictable (hey, it’s the fourth Jurassic film, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it etc.) It did make me feel old to think that I remember the first film coming out over twenty years ago and I found the references to the original Jurassic Park completely adorable (who remembers the awesome night-vision goggles?)

After the film we visited HOME before going home.

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HOME is a new development in Manchester, involving a cinema, a cafe, a bar and probably lots of other things I haven’t had the chance to explore yet. It’s lovely though. There are deckchairs outside for sunny days. We stopped for a quick drink before heading back.

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On Sunday morning I was singing with choir, as usual. Then in the afternoon I was invited to a barbecue at my teacher’s house. It was so good to see her (hi Eira!), and the current harp class of RNCM (a little worse for wear after the previous night’s Summer Ball). But nevertheless we ate lovely food (thanks Steve!) and drank a few glasses of Prosecco and sat outside until it got too cold and we decided to make a tactical retreat to the living room.

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I was also introduced to the concept of putting Pringles on a barbecue and eating them with melted camembert (also from the barbie) – delicious! Try it! Thanks for the fabulous idea Bec Mills.

I don’t think the North of England has quite realised that it’s supposed to be summer now. The weather at the moment is definitely not what we ordered, send it back.

So all in all a pretty good weekend, lots of good food and good wine with good friends. I hope the summer brings many more like this (only sunnier).

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Sounds of the Cosmos II

On Tuesday 9th June I had a gig in Sheffield, playing with Sheffield’s Rep Orchestra conducted by a good friend of mine – George Morton.

The ‘rep’ we were playing was Gustav Holst’s The Planets as part of Sheffield’s ‘DocFest’ or Documentary Festival.

The concert was in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, which was exciting in itself – we used to take school trips there to see plays from time to time. Í’ve played The Planets in Sheffield so many times in the past few years, but this was definitely a special gig.

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Behind the orchestra was a big screen, showing visualisations and photographs of outer space, the planets, and different types of star. It was completely fascinating. This visualisation in particular just blew me away.

As is becoming my habit, I arrived in Sheffield an hour and a half early so I grabbed a quick coffee and a pain au chocolat in the nearby cafe Marmadukes – it’s a small but lovely place just around the corner from the theatre. The staff were great and talked me through their extensive choice of coffees. I sat for a while and caught up on some reading (Needful Things by Stephen King) before heading back to the theatre to set up and tune.

We rehearsed for just over an hour then had some time to get ready for the 8.30pm concert. Quite a late start but I heard there were over five hundred people there. There are two harp parts for the Holst and the other harpist was the lovely Alley York:

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The performance went really well, we even got a little standing ovation, but as it was a late start it was well after midnight when I finally got home to Manchester. Long day but so worth it.

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Harpists don’t travel light.

My parents know I don’t travel light. When I go to stay with them for a couple of nights I always take way too much stuff – enough to go on holiday for ten days (wishful thinking?) and I’m starting to think that it might have something to do with being a professional harpist and just needing a lot of stuff when I’m out and about.

I envy the pianists/organists of this world who can just bring music and they’re done. I know it’s a pain to never be able to perform on your own instrument, but you can take the train! Yes, I see that as a perk – I guess the grass is always greener.

I played at a wedding today, here’s what I had to take with me, and what I take with me when I have any sort of gig:

– car (ok this one is obvious)

– harp (again, pretty essential)

– music stand

– tuning machine

– tuning fork

– tuning key

– spare tuning key

– ipad

– ipad charger

– spare sheet music

– spare strings

– spare string anchors

– harp trolley (almost forgot!)

– bicycle pump for harp trolley

– pencil

– pencil sharpener

– rubber

– duster

– stand light – in case of a power-cut or, you know, nightfall

– clothes pegs in case I have to clip music to my stand in high winds

– concert dress

– concert shoes

– make-up

– business cards

– my laminated ‘Do Not Touch’ sign. Indispensable.

– snacks – I try to keep these as healthy as possible, usually a banana or some cashew nuts

– book to read – currently reading Needful Things by Stephen King

– phone charger

– special chemical hand-warmer thingies – these.

– normal handbag and all its usual contents.

Phew! See what I mean? That’s a lot of stuff and I have needed it all at some point or other. I’m always finding new things that I need to bring with me.

Harpists – what do you always need with you at a gig? Do share and together we can be the most thoroughly prepared harpists the world has ever seen!

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Copenhagen

It’s taken me a long time to write this post, I’ve done plenty to try and procrastinate and put it off – yoga, watching Gossip Girl, eating what must be millions of calories in galaxy bars – but now it is time to put on my big-girl-shoes and tell you what happened in Denmark.

I was offered an orchestral audition in Copenhagen. It might be unfair to publicly broadcast who it was for but nevertheless it was an incredible opportunity, here was my actual dream job, all I had to do was nail the audition and I might just maybe possibly be in with a shot! Hell yeah I’d move to Copenhagen! Learning Danish? Just tell me when to start. Seriously, I felt like I would do anything to get that job.

So I booked five days in Copenhagen with my wonderful Mum who offered to keep me company. Here we are having one of many meals out along the way.

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I had been very busy learning two pieces for the different audition rounds: the Debussy Danses Sacrée et Profane and Fantasie by Spohr. The Spohr was the first round so I knew the panel would definitely hear that. Debussy would be on day two, but if I got that far then obviously I still had to do my best.

About a month before the audition I received a list of the orchestral excerpts I needed to prepare. All 143 pages of them. Thirty-one excerpts in total. Everything was there, from the cadenzas all aspiring orchestral harpists need under their fingers (Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Verdi) to excerpts I knew to be extremely difficult and/or had never even heard of (the ever-present Wagner, Elliott Carter, Albeniz). I had one month to learn all of them, that’s one a day.

I’m not going to lie, that month was not fun. It was not fun at all. I all but stopped socialising, I almost injured myself by practising until my arms hurt, taking a break, then starting again. But you know what? I pretty much got them ready, and regardless of what happened, that stands me in good stead for the future.

So off we went, we were staying with a lovely couple we met through AirBnB – Anne & Jakob – their flat was fab and very close to the metro and the concert hall where the audition was due to take place.

The audition was on the first full day we had in Denmark, first thing in the morning. It was a blind audition, which I am totally in favour of. Basically the panel sit behind a screen and the idea is they have no clue who you are, they just pick the best players, rather than the ones they know, or teach, for example.

They actually stopped me during the Spohr, which I’ve always been told is a good sign – they’ve heard what they need to hear – if you’re terrible then the panel is obliged to hear until the end, perhaps something went wrong and you’ll fix it before the end, it would be unfair to stop you. So I was happy with that, then I just had to play the cadenza from Waltz of the Flowers, which I learnt about ten years ago so I was really confident with that.

After I played I was told to pack up and wait upstairs, which we dutifully did. We waited for about ten minutes and then I found out I hadn’t been chosen ‘Sorry’.

Talk about brutal.

So mum and I got out of there as soon as we could and I started to think about all the work I had put in. All the money we had spent to get there. All for twenty minutes on a Saturday morning. I just couldn’t believe it. No feedback, no interview, just ‘See ya!’ and we were on our way.

Looking back on it now, I’m so glad this was on the first morning of our trip. This meant we had another five whole days to explore Copenhagen! It’s a truly beautiful city with a wonderful, chilled out vibe. The food is also to die for.

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We explored as many art galleries and museums as we could – there is a lot to do!

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This picture above was taken at Helsingør – the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – so it was absolutely fascinating to have a look around. It’s pretty cold and windy up there too!

So yes, lots of lessons learnt, I worked so hard for the audition and I’m proud of that. I also got the chance to visit a new city, which was wonderful.

I’m going to keep striving for the orchestral jobs – that is what I want to do. But, I have to be comfortable with the fact that this may never happen for me. I may just stay in my little world in the North of England, teaching, working with my fabulous CLOUDS Harp Quartet, playing for weddings and small orchestras, and that’s OK too. I know I can be happy either way and for now I’m just enjoying the journey.

As ever, thanks for reading – and please do share your experiences of auditions! I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you.

x

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Edinburgh International Harp Festival 2015

I’m spending four days up in Scotland this week to take part in Edinburgh’s International Harp Festival 2015 with my harp quartet CLOUDS. Today is Sunday, day one.

I took the train up from Manchester. So I’m here, with no car, and no harp – totally at the mercy of my fellow CLOUDS members to look after me – they’re doing a brilliant job so far I must say.

It was awesome having some alone time on the train, time to read my book, time to stare out of the window, time to get very annoyed by the drunk hen party trying to get us all to do shots at 2pm.

I arrived in Edinburgh and shared a lift to the festival with Bec and we had some snacks and quickly got to rehearsing for our concert on Tuesday.

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Great thing about a harp festival – you can go shopping and you know it’s all useful stuff. Ergonomic tuning key for a fiver? We’ll take as many as we can thanks!

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There are so many harp-related things/music/t-shirts/postcards/jewellry/CDs/mugs/aprons! I need to remember not to spend too much money while I’m here.

Speaking of dilemmas, here’s one:

I have so much practice to do – seriously – I have a very  important audition next month and sooo many notes to learn. So what do I do? Experience the festival properly by going to everything – knowing that I have all the more work to do when I get home – or hide myself away and try to practice? Maybe I’ll try and find a happy medium tomorrow.

But for now, I’ve eaten a lovely dinner thanks to Esther’s mum and am now tucked up in bed – let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Monday – Day Two

Today has been a long one. We arrived at the festival just after 10am, my fellow CLOUDS were booked in for a masterclass with the lovely Eleanor Turner but I:

a) wasn’t organised enough to get a ticket

b) actually quite wanted to just hang out at the festival, see the exhibitions, go shopping etc.

So until lunchtime I visited the showroom and looked at lots of new harps & harp accessories (my weakness!) I bought some awesome tape that has manuscript on it so if you want to re-write something enharmonically you just tape over it! What a find! I also bought some nice arrangements of wedding music that’s bound to come in handy. I think that’s all I bought today (not including food – oops).

I also went for a little walk down to the village of Colinton, about 15 minutes walk from the festival – I saw a couple of very nice looking restaurants that I’d love to try if I was staying for longer.

Anyway, we all met up for lunch – it’s so nice to see lots of RNCM harpists here  – then CLOUDS went along to the class Esther was teaching to demonstrate some of the improvisation we do in our music. The class were so lovely and appreciative!

I’m ashamed to say that after the class, more shopping took place. We were shown some amazing carbon fibre lever harps (try saying that out loud – it’s hard!) which are unbelievably light and seemingly impossible to damage. These harps are the future! You can lift it with one hand easily, which we did, several times:

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There is so much to see. Listing all the stands would take forever! There’s harp makers, harp music, harp cases, harp insurance, harp amplification, jazz harp, baroque harp, harp jewellry, greeting cards, stools, stands, tuning keys, bags, tuners, the list goes on and on and we want all of it!

Oh and there seem to be pots of Haribo everywhere too – what’s going on?!

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I managed to squeeze in about half an hour of practice (shameful but better than nothing!) before CLOUDS began our last big rehearsal before our concert tomorrow night. We are borrowing beautiful, brand new harps from Holywell so we’re a bit nervous about doing all our usual extended techniques in case we break them! But we do it to our own harps all the time and I’m sure the lovely folks at Holywell trust us completely (cough).

At around 7.30pm we called it a day and headed back to Esther’s place in Peebles, lovely Peebles! I wish I was here for longer to spend some time just walking around and take in the breath-taking scenery – but we’re at the festival all day and when we get back we just have dinner and crash.

Tomorrow is concert day! Yayyy!

Tuesday – Day Three

For most of Tuesday morning/afternoon we took it quite easy to save our energy for the evening concert. We rehearsed for about an hour but for the rest of the time we mainly ate and chilled out. Bec and I found a lovely pub called the Spylaw Tavern so we thought we should take the opportunity and eat while we still had time. All the harps were moved for us by David from Holywell – which was brilliant.

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The concert itself went really well. We had a great time and the hall was almost completely full. We got lots of lovely feedback too. After the interval we helped ourselves to a celebratory glass of wine and watched the second half of the concert – Eleanor Turner – who was fantastic, we are all in awe of her amazing playing!

Immediately after the concert the festival had laid on some wine and snacks for us. All my favourite foods were there: goats cheese, houmous, coleslaw, it was brilliant!

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We then decided to carry on the party in Edinburgh at The Jazz Bar, where we stayed and danced to live jazz until just after 3am. Some of the current RNCM harpists came too and we had a really good catch up on all things harp/life related. I am slightly worried that we were a little rowdy when we got back to our rooms, we did our best to be quiet! Kind of…

Wednesday – Day Four

All of this brings us to Wednesday, day four. We knew we would need breakfast this morning but they only serve food until 9am – so this means we got around four hours of sleep. All we could do this morning was eat, pack, check-out of our rooms, and get to the city centre ready for my train.

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So here I am at the Waterstones cafe on Princes Street, Edinburgh. My train is in a couple of hours and then I’ll be back in Manchester and it will be time to get back to work!

This has turned into a mammoth post – but these past few days have been great: lovely people, inspiring music and performances, great setting.

Harpists, if you are debating whether to go to this harp festival, I strongly urge you to go! There is something for everyone, whatever standard you are. If you like the harp, you’ll fit right in, trust me!

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