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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Escape

I’ve been thinking recently about the idea of escape.

Practice is, for me, often an escape.  I go running three times a week in the mornings to clear my head and yes, escape.  People do many different things, some may dance or draw, some go walking in the countryside, some do yoga, but a lot of the time they feel like it is an escape.  Obviously there are ways of escaping some people use that are not good for them, excessive drinking, drug abuse, or other destructive habits.  But maybe their reasoning is the same?  Maybe they want to escape to a place where current problems are no longer at the forefront of their minds.

If I’m upset about something, practice is a chance to – as my teacher says – leave all those little niggling things in your mind in a box by the door.  You can’t practice effectively while worrying about your bank balance, nor can you practice well while wondering what he or she meant when they said whatever they said.  It is a chance to focus the mind and it is a retreat from that voice in your head that tells you you’re inadequate (we all have that, right?)

Practising is like putting yourself in an entirely different mental state, a more creative state – whilst also being on the lookout for what can be improved, enhanced or changed for the better.  I never feel like I should be doing anything else while I’m practising, it’s when I’m doing other things that I feel I should be practising.  It’s nice to tell that voice to quiet down a bit, too.

Surroundings can matter a lot during practice – I’m not sure why – I cannot practice in a messy room, I just can’t, sorry.  The act of tidying the space around me somehow clears my head and makes me ready to sit down and work.  If I’m at the harp and all I can see is mess, it plays on my mind til I tidy it away anyway.  De-cluttering the space around me de-clutters my mind in a lot of ways.  Maybe that’s another escape?

I’m about to embark on week six of a fourteen week running plan with the aim of being able to run for an hour at the end of the plan.  I have an amazing app on my phone that tells me exactly when to run and when to walk, and I can listen to my music at the same time (usually cheesy upbeat dance music circa 2003).  It’s called 10K runner: couch to 10K in 14 weeks or something like that.  Definitely worth buying if you’re into that sort of thing, or indeed, you are looking to get into it.  I’ve been using it for five weeks and I love it, running three mornings a week is becoming a habit and one I intend to keep for a long time.

Anyway, I digress, running for me is a complete escape from normal life, at school I was fair to rubbish at sports, and was always near last at the dreaded cross-country races we had to do.  But now that I can set the pace and I’m not against anybody, I can just see it as a chance to stretch my legs and get out in the fresh air, I can feel myself getting fitter already and with each run it gets a bit easier to go just that little bit further.  It is a complete change in my routine – not that my usual days have much routine to them…

Maybe it’s not escape I’m after, I’m perfectly happy where I am right now, why would I want to escape?  I’m doing what I love for a living, I have my health and a lovely family and great friends.  Believe me I count my blessings every day.  Maybe it’s a change.  A change is as good as a rest, or so they say.  Changing what we’re doing refreshes the mind and invigorates us with new energy.  The last thing any of us need is to sink into indifference, lethargy and mediocrity.  Maybe the way to stay on top of things is to keep moving, keep doing new things and pushing ourselves to be the absolute best we can be, and to use our little escapes as stepping stones along the way…

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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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Page-turning debut

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It’s been another quiet week with not many gigs. In fact it’s been a week off. And it’s been great! Apart from losing my phone and having to fork out for a new one that is.

So tonight a friend of mine, and very talented organist – Simon Passmore – was playing the organ for a performance of Fauré’s Requiem given by Eboracum Baroque in Whitefield, Manchester.

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I even had a couple of notes to play as all of Simon’s limbs were accounted for with pedals, manuals and stops. For anyone who may not have heard the piece I highly recommend it.

I will never forget the staircase leading up to the organ loft. They will hereafter be referred to as death-stairs.

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There was a rather awkward moment right at the end of the concert before the audience started clapping in which my tummy rumbled. It was very difficult to stifle my giggles until the silence was broken.

All in all an amusing evening, topped off in style with Chinese takeaway. Excellent!!

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Harrogate revisited…

I have wondered whether or not to write about this gig, because the whole day was just pretty stressful and I try to keep negativity out of this blog.  But as this whole thing is about being honest about what the music business is like, I’ve decided to include it.

Let’s start with the good:

  • My parents came to watch the concert – it’s always so lovely to see them and to have some supporters in the audience, someone to play for.
  • The playing itself was lovely, it’s music I enjoy playing – particularly the Agnus Dei from Howard Goodall’s Requiem, that’s a really nice part to play.
  • There was wine in the interval.

Ok that’s done, onto the rest of the day:

  • Harrogate, despite being a small town, seems really difficult to find your way around – due to all the one-way systems that my sat-nav is too old to know.
  • Once I’d found the church I had to unload, up a few steps but no big deal.  The next task was to find a car park.
  • Found one!  Full.
  • Found another one!  The machine gave me a ticket before letting me in and I dropped it on the floor!  So embarrassing, I had to actually stop the traffic after parking to go and pick it up from where I’d dropped it.

Once I’d found my way back to the church (thank you smartphone GPS) I just turn around to put my bags down and turn back around to find a man I’ve never seen before grab my harp and say ‘ooh it’s pretty heavy isn’t it!’  Cue a rather annoyed ‘excuse me I’ll do that!’ from myself and he wanders off smiling to himself – infuriating!

The conductor – a lecturer from Leeds Uni, asked me to go to the other side of the podium once I’d got settled down – I wish he could’ve introduced himself to me and asked me to set up there when I’d first arrived.  I’m pretty sure he had no idea of my name until I gave him my business card after the concert.  Being referred to as ‘harp’ all day is a bit depressing.  There are some more things I could say but I will leave it there.

The second half of the concert was a performance of Carmina Burana by what was frankly a gigantic choir including a school choir – I’m sure several of whom didn’t sing a single note.  I watched from the front row with my parents.

Oh, and one more thing, music geeks will relate to how annoying this is.  The audience applauded after every movement.  I’m sure it added at least 20 minutes to the overall running time of the concert.  I found the perpetrator who started the applause and glared at her several times to no avail.  My mum and I couldn’t stop ourselves giggling due to the fact that my dad had brought a score along so he could sort of ‘read along’ with the concert – and he sniggered to himself every time something went wrong – in the front row.  Amazing.

So after the concert all the was left to do was get paid (yay!) and drive home through what was probably the worst fog I’ve ever seen.  Ever.  So as you can imagine I was very relieved to arrive home to a nice glass of sherry and a catch up with the parents.

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Majestic Hotel, Harrogate

This is probably the last thing any harpist wants to see upon arrival at a gig:

Was there a lift?  Of course not!  So I do my usual thing of asking to get a small team together to carry the harp up the stairs.  The man who seemed to be in charge walked straight up to my harp and grabbed it before asking ‘is it heavy?’  Cue one huge heart attack.  The man was busy telling me exactly what the best way to lift it would be until I managed to get a word in edgeways and remind him that I move my harp on a daily basis and maybe, just maybe, have a little more experience in that area than he does.

Long story short, the harp got up the stairs, my way.  I win, harp is fine.

I’m amazed that, when I called the hotel earlier to ask about parking near the door, I asked ‘are there any stairs?’ and got the answer ‘no, just a couple to get in the door then you should be fine.’

Slightly misleading don’t you think?  See above picture.

Anyway, the gig was background music for a dinner.  I was playing with a lovely flautist Jenny Dyson – in her first year of a Masters course at RNCM.  We did a mix of Welsh folk songs (all of which are still dancing happily away in my brain and will continue to do so for some time I’m sure) and popular serenades (Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet etc.)

It was so nice to have some company in the car to and from the gig, especially the journey there – battling rush hour traffic on the M62 is never fun, so at least there was company, good conversation and an assortment of confectionery items.

This week is crazily busy, this post will have to be cut short as I’m about to rush off to London to play a gig tonight at the Royal Courts of Justice with the lovely Esther Swift.

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End of February…

Phantom finished last Saturday.  It was a really fun week and all the performances were completely sold out – and most got a standing ovation at the end!  I was particularly impressed with the lad playing Phantom, must only have been 16 or 17 but he improved so much as the week went on…

I feel like the most important part of the whole week was the post show trip to the pub down the road.  A lot of the players in the band asked for my number and mentioned that they knew someone who needs a harp for something or other.  So I made lots of new contacts, which is great!  All the internet-networking I do pales into insignificance compared with the work I get through word of mouth recommendations.

Phantom of the Opera is in fact coming to Manchester next month… I wonder who is sorting out the band for that… I’m pretty Phantomed out but I’d definitely get over that for a chance to play for a professional show!

Yesterday I was in Liverpool at the Liner Hotel for an audition for an agency that sends musicians on cruise ships, and to luxury hotels and corporate events etc.  As I do lots of background music anyway I thought I’d give it a go and see what comes of it.  Most of the acts auditioning were singers, songwriters, magicians or comedians.  I was the only harpist, and I have been invited to take part in the agency’s ‘Showcase’ in October – which is a brilliant chance to play for the people who book musicians for cruises, corporate work etc.  Personally I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s a luxury hotel in the Maldives that needs a harpist all Summer, that’s the dream anyway.

When I think about the place I was in a month ago, the difference between then and now is like night and day.  In January, I went home to my parents and cried my eyes out – I was worried about work, money, where to live, if music was really what would make me happy.  I had applied for a full-time job in arts administration and had two bar jobs.  I had hardly any gigs in the diary and had no idea what I was going to do and if I’d be able to succeed.  My parents have always had faith in me and are totally behind me, ready to fight my corner, they just told me to have faith and trust that things will pick up – no matter if it’s hard right now it will get better.

Now, my diary is filling up very nicely and there’s always something I’m working towards, something going in the diary.  I am so happy that I’m doing what I love, and so happy that my life cannot be pigeon-holed into an everyday 9-5.  I can sleep in when I want to, going to the pub can be justified as networking (brilliant!), I am my own boss and in charge of my own finances, I can never get fired!  I hardly ever have to battle through rush hour traffic or be up before 8am, plus I decide how much to pay myself.  I feel so free!  I have a career that is interesting to talk about and I have no idea where it might lead, or what I might be doing in a year, two, five, ten years time.  Sure, money is still tight, but I am getting by and I truly believe that if I keep doing what I love, the money will come.

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