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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Trio

This lunchtime, my flute, viola and harp trio played in a lunchtime concert at Manchester University.  We performed Debussy’s Trio Sonata – a beautiful piece and definitely a classic for this ensemble.

Our trio is relatively newly formed, and it involves myself, Matthew Howells on flute and Joe Bronstein on viola.  We get together about once a week to rehearse.  Chamber music is something I didn’t do too much of at college, but I’m finding it can be a really refreshing way to make music and get to know other musicians… it’s almost like socialising!  Even though this was unpaid, it was definitely worth doing for the experience of playing this beautiful music.

A couple of things happened that are worth recording.  Getting the harp there was a little fiddly as Manchester Uni don’t let humble musicians park at all.  So my morning was spent doing the following:

  1. Pack up harp watch that velco!  Remember, you are wearing tights.
  2. Load harp into car
  3. Drive car to uni
  4. Unload harp and find someone to guard it
  5. Drive back home
  6. Contemplate the ridiculousness harpists have to go through sometimes
  7. Walk back to uni
  8. Unpack harp careful with the velcro covers near tights! – be ready to start rehearsing.

This process can be reversed to describe accurately what to do after the concert.

The playing actually went really well, the audience was enthusiastic but sadly quite few in number.  I guess you can’t have everything.  Better to have a small welcoming audience than a large, hostile one.

I did manage to put the piano stool on my dress as we were setting up during the concert, only to try and walk away and find myself rooted to the spot.  I finally freed myself and tried to push the wrong door to get off-stage.  Slightly embarrassing – but nothing compared to what happened after the concert.

So there I was, getting changed out of my dress, and I’m told that I need to move the harp now,  the hall is needed for another rehearsal.  Cue me, trying to get dressed allegro molto only to be told by Joe a minute later that I’d forgotten to fasten my skirt!

I think ‘mortified’ covers it pretty well.

The things we do for our art…

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Brit Idol

Today, I had an audition for ‘Brit Idol 2012’ – a nationwide talent show with a prize of £1000 plus performance opportunities.  I came across the competition through starnow.co.uk.

As I live in Manchester, which is quite a large city, I was expecting the audition to be packed.  I was also expecting to be sitting around for hours.  So I took a new book with me, Stephen King’s The Stand, I’ve only just started it but I can tell I’m going to enjoy it.

So anyway I turn up at the Zion Arts Centre and the place is … well … pretty much deserted.  Eventually a man comes out with a clipboard and calls a register.  His register is only about a dozen names but half of those hadn’t turned up – luckily there was a friend of mine from RNCM also auditioning so we could sit and chat while we waited for our 5 minute audition.

I had arrived at 11.45am, by the time they start taking people in for auditions it was already 1.15 and I’d had to sneak out to buy a sandwich.  They didn’t call me in until 3.55pm!  I went in and did my thing (will post a video as soon as I work out how to transfer it from my phone to the internet).  The judges were a singer, a cellist and a pianist, and the only piece of constructive advice they gave me?

Smile more.

I waited around for FOUR HOURS and you are telling me to ‘smile more’ ? ? !

I could not believe what I was hearing, the piece I chose was jazzy and light-hearted, but what do they want me to do – grin like the cheshire cat because I’m playing happy music?  So frustrating…

So I’m just going to chalk it up to a learning experience – still can’t believe I paid £10 and waited all afternoon to be told that I look too intense when I play.

Nevertheless, onwards and upwards as usual.  I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner tonight so I can forget about this waste of a day…

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Hi there,

So, this is my first post here.  Still working out how this site works.

The title of this blog is slightly tongue-in-cheek.  ‘Living The Dream’ is the name for what we recent graduates of music college do for a living.  But this living the dream is likely to be very different from anyone else’s living the dream.

For a musician at the start of his/her career, living the dream frequently means doing as many gigs as possible, trying desperately to pay the rent and to still have enough money left over for food, staying on the computer for hours emailing everyone and applying for a million different things related to gigs or potential gigs, chasing up fees that no one wants to pay, all the while trying to find the time to practice and have a life at the same time.

Dream or Nightmare?

With that in mind, the aim of this blog is to follow my personal experiences in this crazy world, trying to forge a career in a difficult but challenging field.  Where will I end up?  Who knows.

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