Back after a break!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here.  I have been insanely busy.  I knew this would happen – I’d get a job and lose all my spare time trying to juggle everything.

The income is great though, I’ve been on holiday with some lovely friends to Cyprus for ten days.  I’m starting to slowly climb out of debt (the pace of the climb has increased since the holiday) and there is light at the end of the tunnel!

What I’m focussing on now is the fact that I reallllly really want to do some travelling – or at least live abroad for a while.  Playing on the ship in Southampton that went nowhere has made me desperately want to play on a ship that does in fact travel with me on it.  I’m also chasing the possibility of doing some sort of residency in a luxury hotel in Dubai – the money would be great and the lifestyle would be fabulous. 

So I work in the shop four days a week, that means I have to squeeze the rest of my life into three days (plus evenings when I’m not in the gym/too tired to function).  It is so challenging – and this Summer is going to be busy.  I’m playing for Les Miserables in Runcorn, The Sound of Music in Newcastle, various weddings, as well as a tour with my wonderful harp quartet CLOUDS (more about that to follow in a separate post).

Juggling work + music is going to be very tricky for the next few months, but I daren’t hand my notice in because September, October and November are looking pretty shocking gig-wise at this stage.  I’m waiting for an email/phone call regarding a cruise or an international residency sometime in the next few weeks, until then I’m going to try and not act rashly.  Keep up with life admin (letters, emails, staying organised), practice (for gigs as well as various concerts and recitals coming up) as well as working in Long Tall Sally.  

Main challenge will be to hang on to my sanity.  It’s not going well.

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April 18th

Last week I spent five days aboard the Saga Sapphire in Southampton:

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While docked, it acted as a hotel, allowing passengers to experience what Saga have to offer.  I was booked to play for them, but I had no idea what would be expected when I got down there.

I gave a lift to the trombone player in the band – Matt – and we set off from Manchester at just after 5am on Wednesday.  We arrived pretty much bang on time but had to wait a while before boarding.  I got numerous comments of ‘don’t you wish you’d played the violin?’.  One day I swear, someone will say that and I will respond ‘wow, YES!  Why did I not think of that before, here, take my harp, I’m leaving to find a better life!’

Basically, I had no idea what was going on, how long I would be playing each day, where I’d be staying (i.e. in a ‘crew’ room or a ‘guest’ room) or where I’d be eating.  Once on board I was told the lifts weren’t working and I was to take my harp to the 8th deck (are you KIDDING?!) they sent me down to 4th deck to find my cabin, only there was a man in there watching telly, so I trundled back up to reception and asked for another room.  They gave me this lovely room on 8th deck:

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Not sure why I got a twin room but at least my bags had somewhere to sleep.  The weird thing about it was, as it was an inside room (no windows) you can turn off the lights at any point during the day and it feels like night time!  Ideal napping territory.

I was told that I was to eat in the restaurant, with the guests, and oh my, the food was divine.  Wine was included with dinner (dangerous):

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The steak was also to die for, I had chocolate cake, lots of chocolate cake every day and it was amazing.  And yes, I may have gained a little weight while I was there but I was having such a lovely time it didn’t matter!

So my job on the ship was to play background music while the guests were having afternoon tea.  Every day we had different guests and every day they were really receptive and I got lots of applause (rare for background music) and I was also thanked by the Cruise Director several times, which was lovely.  So I would play for an hour, have some coffee and pastries, then play for another hour, have some cakes, then play for the last 45 minutes or so.  Dream job?  Yes.  Here’s my harp on stage:

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In the evenings, from around 6.30, there was a cocktail party in the lounge where champagne was on tap – uh oh – and the guests were welcomed by the Captain and the Cruise Director.  Dinner was after that (did I mention the amazing steak?)  Then at 9.30pm Steve Terry would sing his Cabaret set, Bobby Darin, Michael Buble, things like that, I loved it!  At around 10.30pm the dance troupe would start their Mo-town show, all singing, all dancing – I saw this maybe twice or three times while I was there and really enjoyed it, then at 11pm the UpBeat Beatles started playing and everyone danced.  They finished around midnight, when I would go up and listen to the cocktail pianist/piano entertainer Martin Orbidans play until around 1.30am.  Any song you can think of, he knows – he even managed to get me behind the microphone singing Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man – I was having a great time and no one walked out, amazing!  On the last night I managed to get a photo with Steve and Martin so here we are:

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So the evenings were pretty full, in the mornings I was either sleeping, or having a swim in the spa on the second deck, which I pretty much had to myself…

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So yea, had a lovely few days and didn’t want to return to normal life really – I wanted to stay on the Sapphire and sail to the Med!  Never mind, I would jump at the chance to do some more work for them.  It’s also got me thinking how much I’d love to travel and play – I’m discussing the possibility of going out to somewhere in the Middle East/Asia to play in a luxury hotel for 3-6 months.  I mean, it sounds too good to be true, all food/accommodation/flights/visas paid, I would get to stay in a swanky hotel and play every day – and I would earn good money doing it – more than I make now, working every day either in the shop or teaching or gigs.  I’m seriously thinking about it.  I turned it down last year, don’t think I’m going to be turning it down this time.  Watch this space!

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Week 14

Wow, again it has been a while since I’ve written anything in here.  I have become one of those insanely busy people who rarely has a minute to spare.

Job is going well.  Trying to fit everything else I need to do into the time I’m at home is a big challenge.  I LOVED mine and Elfair’s recital in St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, thanks to everyone who came, it was a lovely evening.  I’ve also had gigs in Blackpool and Parbold, Lancashire over Easter weekend.

The next thing on my agenda is a trip to Southampton next week!  To play on a ship!  I’m very excited, the ship isn’t actually going anywhere but I’m hoping it will lead to other cruisey type gigs in the future – which would be GREAT – financially and in general, I would love to be able to travel and get paid to see the world.

The gym is also adding to me being incredibly busy – I joined basically first thing after my first payday.  And since then I’ve been three times each week – a record that will end next week as I am away, but I’ve been really enjoying it.  My programme that was given to me at my induction and which seemed impossible is now fine, I feel loads fitter after five weeks of regular exercise.  

So yea, lots of excitement coming up in the near future.  I will be posting more regularly as well so watch this space.

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Being prepared…

So last week I completely forgot to write a post!  There goes my system of numbering the weeks as they go by.  Never mind.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the things I’ve been learning since starting my new job, and how they translate into my musical life.

Being in a new role as I currently am, there are lots of questions, and I don’t particularly like asking questions as I don’t want to seem silly (although that’s possibly a lost cause) BUT, which is worse, asking and looking silly for a minute, or not asking, never quite being sure and looking very silly further down the line?

As you get comfortable with certain aspects of the job (for example, cashing up, using the till etc) there will be things that I’m not as comfortable with (say, handling refunds or exchanges).  But the quickest way to get past that nervousness is to do the things that make you a little edgy.  I was a little nervous the first few times I answered the phone at work as I wouldn’t know who it would be or what they’d need, or if I’d been given the training for what they require.  The only way I could get over that is to make sure that I answer the phone as much as I can so I get used to it – avoiding things won’t make them any easier, only getting used to them will.

On another note, I have a Recital coming up on March 12th, in St. Ann’s Church in Manchester – myself and the wonderful Elfair Dyer will be playing solos and duets from 7.30pm until around 9pm.  More information can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/events/606208226062404/

While practising and memorising music in preparation for this concert, the same principles apply – I have such limited time to practice that I have no time to waste by staying inside my comfort zone.  I have to go straight to the sections that aren’t quite up to scratch and work on those.  If I don’t feel like playing a piece through, I just tell myself that it must be because I’m worried it won’t be securely from memory – which would mean more work needs to be done (sounds pretty lazy doesn’t it?) but I have been playing it again anyway – just to make sure – and then once more for luck.  And you know what?  Pretty much all the notes are from memory and I still have a week to go.  I have one more day off work between now and the recital so it’ll be a case of squeezing in concentrated practice before and after work.  

Bring it on!

So it seems, in work, in music, (and maybe in life?) the only way to get comfortable with things that we are nervous about is to just do them anyway.  Mistakes are good because they show what needs work, and that’s how we learn and improve.  

 

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Week 8

Another week has flown by, and somehow I’ve managed to find the time to fit in two gigs, five full days at work and two trips to the pub!  

The first gig was on Valentine’s Day – yes my V-day was spent setting the mood for loved-up couples having dinner at the restaurant in the lovely Lowry Hotel.  I actually managed to leave work at 6.15 and be at the venue at just gone 7!  Unbelievable – I had my new dress:

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As you can see from the above photo, I was to get changed in the spa changing rooms, the whole place seemed lovely, really clean and spacious:

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I began playing at around 7.30pm.  The restaurant wasn’t too crowded, which was nice – after each set I had a (non-alcoholic) drink in the bar:

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So yea, that was pretty much that.  The manager mentioned getting me in to play for the occasional afternoon tea up in the restaurant, which would be lovely!  Watch this space.

The other gig I had this week was on Saturday, playing at Manchester University’s Martin Harris Centre.  I was feeling very delicate on Saturday morning but somehow managed to pull myself together for the evening concert.  We were doing Debussy’s Iberia and Ravel’s La Valse – I had done the Ravel before in college so I knew I was in for a treat.  The Debussy was great as well.  Harp 1 was played by Sarah Paterson (hello Sarah!) I can’t believe we had three years at RNCM together and yet last Saturday was the first time we played in orchestra together!  It was a pleasure, it’s lovely to have some company in the harp section!  Luckily for us Debussy and Ravel were before the interval so we could ‘clock off’ early – which makes little difference to me as I only had to drive 2 minutes and I was home, but Sarah had quite a trip back over to Yorkshire so it’s always nice to finish early!

Every spare minute I have had this last week has gone into practising for my upcoming Recital.  On 12th March I will be performing in St Ann’s Church at 7.30pm alongside the wonderful Elfair Dyer.  More information coming very soon so watch this space.

One final note, my blog has been in existence for a whole year now!  A big thank you to everyone who has been reading along, and commenting along the way.  I am a whisker away from 3,000 views and those can’t possibly all be from my parents so thank you!  I’ve really enjoyed writing and look forward to continuing to do so in the future.

Thanks!

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Week 7

I’m about to go to bed and I’m so excited!  I love going to bed knowing that I’m going to sleep really well.  I have taken to putting my alarm away from my bed so I have to get up when it goes off – it really works!

Since last week’s post I’ve been working a lot and I’ve also had two gigs.  Plus I have two more this week – I am insanely busy for the next few weeks.

Saturday’s gig was a wedding at Oulton Hall in Leeds – incidentally I’m pretty sure this was the venue of one of my outdoor gigs last ‘summer’ that I moaned about – luckily this was inside.  I wore my new dress!  It actually reaches the floor which, on my 6 foot frame is quite marvellous.  

As usual I took a few pics of the building:

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The amazing wedding car:

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And the golf course:

ImageThe Bride was half an hour late!  I was providing background music ‘while the guests were congregating’, they basically sat in silence and got a free concert.  Not that I minded particularly – but I felt bad for the groom, he was definitely getting a little edgy.

Tonight’s gig was in the MetQuarter in Liverpool – parking was tricky but there was a bunch of guys on hand to help (tough job but someone’s got to do it) and they were lovely – showing me where to park, helping to carry things, paying for my pay and display ticket!  Liverpool is friendly!  Wore my new dress again, I did I mention that I have a new dress??

The gig was an art exhibition to raise money for the Princes Trust – only a small gathering of around 25 people but it was a lovely event.  I did manage to get locked into the bathroom where I was getting changed, it can only be locked from the outside but someone thought no one was in and locked me in!  So my helpers were wondering where I’d disappeared to and I was frantically giving them all missed calls and worrying what time they lock up at night.  Luckily I did get out as you may have gathered.

I listened to the Les Miserables soundtrack all the way there and back and LOVED IT.  I also bought the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack at the same time, and no, I’m not ashamed.

So I got home tonight at around 9pm after having worked at the shop 10-3 and then gone straight to a gig – when I get an evening in, it often consists of chilling out and watching DVDs (usually Sex and the City) with my flatmate (hello Josephine!) and just zoning out before bed, I enjoy the feeling of being so busy – it forces me to organise my time meticulously – and stick to it!  But it also allows me to appreciate the chilling time.

So I’d like to finish this post by wishing everyone a wonderful Valentine’s Day!  In case you were wondering, yes I have plans!  But more about that next week. 

Have a good one!

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Week 6

I had a day off work today.  Still really enjoying it but I needed today as a sorting out day.  One of those days where you send emails you’ve been getting around to, pay bills that need paying, spend time filing away papers, alphabetising music instead of keeping it in a pile on the floor and, most importantly, I was able to do a good stint of practice.  Yay!

So, last Saturday I was in Sheffield playing some Wagner with Sheffield Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dane Lam (hi Dane!).  There were two harps!  Myself and the lovely Alley York.  I’ve never been a big Wagner fan to be honest – haven’t grown into it yet.  But we were doing excerpts from Wagner’s Ring Cycle so that was that.  Only, some of it looked a tad tricky:

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And the hilarious thing is, you can hardly even hear it! Arghh! The top photo is a close up showing the ridiculous number of pedal changes in that passage. If Wagner was here right now I would (on behalf of all harpists) give him a serious talking to – and a book about appropriate writing for the harp.

I’m never quite sure of the best way to drive to Sheffield from Manchester, Snake Pass (twisty and turny and often shut) or M62/M1 (crazily long detour) – I went back the snakey way in the dark just to keep things interesting and to see how my new car handled it. I think he enjoyed it!

Alley hadn’t been given the music for one of the excerpts so we had to resort to modern technology:

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All in all the concert went well – when the harps could be heard we pretty much doing what we were supposed to be doing, and with Wagner, maybe that’s all we could have hoped for.

 

 

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Week 3

How is it week three of 2013 already? 

Something crazy happened in the last seven days.  In my last post I remember saying how I need a part time job as a little extra income – well, I’ve got one!  First interview was last Friday, then second interview was yesterday (Monday) then yesterday afternoon I got a phone call offering me the job!  Exciting!

It’s four days a week in a specialist clothing store for tall ladies like me – they don’t need me on Saturdays so I can still accept the majority of the gigs I’m offered which is a huge plus.  Also, we get a clothing allowance each season so we can wear their clothes to work – so I will regularly get to pick out lovely clothes that fit really nicely!  It’s so perfect for me.  I start a week today – next Tuesday.  

I’m so excited about saving some money!  Finally!  This year I’ll be able to buy decent Christmas presies for my family instead of having to knit them because I had no spare cash.  I’ll be able to have the occasional night out in a nice bar and not freak out if I spend £30 on drinks – not that I ever do that *cough*.  My life won’t have to grind to a halt if a couple of gig payments take ages to arrive – December gigs this means you!

It’ll also be nice to be around people during the day – not that I get lonely – but I sometimes wish I had the chance to have more social interaction during the week.  The shop itself is lovely as well, really friendly, not too busy and the clothes are good quality – it’s almost like a boutique.

So all this has changed the feel of this week – it now feels like my last week off before I suddenly become very very busy.  Somehow I’ll have to fit in my running, admin and practising for gigs in amongst working 25-30 hours a week.

I’m so excited!

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Torquay

I will never forget last week. When I wrote the previous post, I was waiting to hear back from the garage about my car’s MOT test. Seconds after clicking publish the phone rang. My car’s engine had died. I could either replace it for £1200 or put the money towards a new car. I can’t believe I was freaking out about money before this phone call! I burst into tears on the phone (I really love my car) and said I’d have to think about it.

But I had to think fast, I was due to drive the 250 miles to Torquay in 3 days. I knew I didn’t want to rush into buying a new car so I got consent from the event organisers to hire a car. The problem was, I’m under 25, car hire companies don’t generally give estate cars to youngsters like me. However, with a little eyelash fluttering I was soon driving this beauty:

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Yep, a brand new diesel Vauxhall Astra Estate. Getting the harp in was a bit of a squeeze – new cars always seem narrower on the inside – but I managed it and (a tad gingerly) set off for the South Coast. The car was lovely to drive, 6 gears, a working radio and a really quiet engine all helped to make the journey fly by. Five hours later I had arrived at my destination.

The Riviera Convention Centre, Torquay, was hosting the 2012 Festival Dinner for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB). The reason I had agreed to travel sooo far to do this gig is that the RMTGB, or to be specific, the branch of RMTGB known as TalentAid gave me a grant to cover the cost of my harp. It is because of them that I’m even in this business. So, I thought the least I could do would be to drive down and play during their annual dinner, plus, the exposure surely wouldn’t do any harm either.

I dropped the harp off at the centre and drove the short distance to the hotel. The RMTGB had very kindly put me up in a room at the Grand Hotel overnight. The car park was more like a big garage, with rows of expensive cars so close together it was difficult to navigate my huge car in amongst them – especially as it was an unfamiliar hire car that, if scratched, I would be charged heavily for.

Playing for the dinner went very smoothly, there were 600 people there and I only had twenty CDs to sell, I thought I’d get rid of them all in minutes. Nope. 595 people walked past me and my little CD stall on their way out, five stopped to buy a CD. Wow.

Anyway…

Am I the only one who gets really excited at having a hotel room to myself?

This was the hotel:

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This was the room:

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And this was the view!

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In the morning, the sun was beating in through the window. It honestly felt like Summer. Leaving Torquay was so hard, it was so beautiful. The air was clear, the sea was blue, no clouds in the sky. A complete contrast to Manchester – the weather here is usually pretty grim.

I’ll just put in one more photo that I took just before leaving – I think next time I go to Torquay I’ll have to take a suitcase and stay there a good deal longerImage:

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Fresh Starts and Money Dilemmas

Last Sunday was my birthday.  I guess I am now in the category of ‘mid-twenties’ – or simply ‘old enough to know better’.

Today’s task is to get my car through its MOT.  Today’s mission is to pay for it.  I am so happy with what I do as a career but I am also sick of worrying about money!  Gig-wise, it’s either feast or famine.  I’m either driving myself crazy trying to fit everything in or freaking out as I see the empty pages of my diary looming – right before rent goes out.

It all seems to be averaging out though, I guess the feasts get me through the other times.  But I feel like my bank balance is just ambling along – a certain amount into my overdraft.  I have to ask myself, will I ever make a profit?  Will I ever get out of debt?  Should I have gone to Dubai when I had the chance?  Will I ever have a savings account with more than 75p?  Yes that’s the actual amount I have saved for you know, emergencies such as car repairs and MOTs.

So what do I do?  Keep plodding along with the belief that somehow it’ll all turn out fine?  Or do I get a real job with a real salary and the possibility of disposable income?

There are pros and cons to each possibility of course.  I have so much freedom now to organise myself and my schedule that it wouldn’t be the same without that flexibility.  I am meeting new people all the time and every week is different.  Plus, if work isn’t coming all that easily or frequently, there is always more I can do to put myself out there.  

Freelancing is the kind of job where, at the end of the day you can never say ‘I’m finished!’  … more often than not what I’m thinking at the end of the day is ‘Have I done enough?  What more should I have done?  What do I need to do tomorrow?’  There isn’t the work/home distinction that comes with a more corporate job.

But, all in all, when I’m actually doing the gigs – orchestras and shows in particular, that’s when I think yes, this is my place, this is what I’m meant to do.  I guess it’s just the in between times when worries set in – and the only way to diminish them is to do more in terms of self-publicity and pushing for those all important gigs.

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