Musings

I am writing this post from my living room.  This is unusual because I usually write from my bedroom/office/harp room.

Yes, I have been banished from my usual hide-away by two men who are re-tiling my shower.  I see it all as karma really.  The other day I was cleaning my bathroom and lamenting on the state of the tiles, then, the following day, three tiles came tumbling down while I was washing my hair… I was lucky not to break several toes!  The upshot of this is that it all has to be redone, and I am in exile for the day.  But, on the upside, I will have lovely new tiles to replace the frankly grotty old ones.

So, the Central Manchester gig I referred to in the previous post was in fact the Idina Menzel concert that took place in Manchester’s Palace Theatre.  It was so exciting to be in that gorgeous building playing for her.  Idina seemed really lovely and the concert had an amazing atmosphere.  The stage-crew were very reluctant to help get my harp out of the building – they thought it would be appropriate/possible for me to go out the front way and barge my way through about five hundred screaming fans in the rain… errr no thank you!  

Being in this line of work is definitely teaching me to stand up for what I need and to make a fuss if I don’t get it.  It makes a huge difference to stress levels on the day if staff are actually helpful in showing you where you need to be. I heard once that harpists have a reputation for being divas who insist on having things done their way.  The more experience I get, the more I sympathise.  I doesn’t matter how much you plan on the day of the gig with regards to parking, accessible entrances etc but something will usually happen that you hadn’t thought of before.

For example, a couple of days ago I had an engagement to play background music for an Army Cadet dinner.  However, the contract was written in the dim and distant past and since then, the venue had changed and nobody thought to tell little old me.  They were very sweet about it though and even made me some food!  So I munched quietly on cheddar cheese sandwiches while the cadets tucked into roast beef and Yorkshire puddings followed by what looked and smelled like chocolate fudge cake.  Torture.

But that’s the great thing about this line of work.  Every day is different.  Every gig is different.  It’s a rare gig where everything runs to perfection but that’s all part of the experience.  And, if I’m lucky, I’ll get an interesting anecdote out of it – as well as enough money to put food on the table… cheese sandwich, anyone?.

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Autumn 2012

After a worrying few weeks with no gigs to speak of, I now suddenly find myself with at least one engagement each week until December’s trip to Lanzarote (very exciting!!!).

Last Sunday I was in Leeds with the Leeds Philharmonic chorus, under the direction of Darius Battiwalla.  The only piece I was in was Hierusalem by George Dyson.  I’d never heard of it until I was asked to play it.  The parts are all very challenging considering it’s less than twenty minutes long.  Maybe that’s why it’s so seldom performed.  A couple of chaps in the first violins were kind enough to carry my harp on and off the stage for me so a big thank you to them.

Tomorrow will be a very interesting day.  I am playing in Central Manchester.  Now, I’m not worried that the entire concert will be sight-reading, nor that there is relatively little rehearsal time.  But it’s Manchester City Centre.  I know this area very well and parking to unload is going to be… tricky.  If I come away with no parking ticket I’ll be satisfied.  How I wish sometimes that I could just walk to a venue – or take public transport, it’s often a lot easier than finding somewhere to park my enormous (but loveable) car.

So yes, lots coming up.  I’ll be having my first lesson in a while to help prepare for an upcoming audition (watch this space).  The next few weeks take me to Sheffield, Rochdale, Escrick, Bolton, Doncaster, Torquay and back to Manchester.  Phew!

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CLOUDS mini-tour

Last week was spent up in Scotland with my harp quartet CLOUDS.  

The purpose of the week was to learn the material for our forth-coming album ‘water’, and to pay our way we would do four lunchtime concerts at St. Giles Cathedral up in Edinburgh Monday through to Thursday.

Learning music with CLOUDS is very different to how I was trained and it has been so good for all of us.  Esther composes the music, then, without writing it down, teaches it to us aurally in group rehearsals.

Our first CD was entitled CLOUDS and we recorded it I think two years ago now.  Water is so different, it’s much more exact whereas CLOUDS had lots of improvisation.  Water is incredibly rhythmic, and often I think it’s very hypnotic as well – I’m really excited about its release in early October (it’s also available for pre-order now! Visit http://cloudsandharps.bigcartel.com/product/water )

The first few days of the ‘tour’ were pretty stressful.  Bec’s car broke down in Manchester but she somehow managed to get up to Scotland, Esther’s car smelled of smoke every time she drove anywhere and, well, Elfair doesn’t have a car yet.  So it was up to me to transport harps and harpists to and from the cathedral each lunchtime – luckily we have found a slick way to get two harps in one car!  

Monday was easily the most stressful concert, well the concert was OK, getting there was another matter.  It was the final day of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and what we hadn’t accounted for was that the street where we had special permission to park was CLOSED!  And the traffic was at a standstill.  But luckily a very nice traffic warden man told me where to find a little side street where I could park.  Lovely.

That was with harps 1 & 2, with harps 3 & 4 our friendly traffic officer had disappeared and had been replaced by a much less nice lady who didn’t seem to understand that IT IS 12.40 WE WERE DUE TO PLAY AT 12.15 AND WE ARE ALL VERY STRESSED WHERE DO WE GO?!?!?!?!

I argued with her a little bit, most unlike me but I was stressed out!

Meanwhile, harps 1 & 2 were wondering where the rest of us were and trying to patch together a concert of solos and duets – from what I hear they did an excellent job considering the stress of the moment.

Compared with Monday, the rest of the lunchtime concerts ran smoothly – we sold lots of CLOUDS cds and got some lovely audience feedback.

Each afternoon we would learn a couple of movements of water to play the following day in the concert.  

Friday was recording day.

can’t believe we tried to record an entire CD in one day!  After choosing a room in which construction work outside couldn’t be heard we started to record at around 2pm.  We finished at 2am.

Ana – who was doing the recording for us – was lovely.  She hadn’t had breakfast or lunch but didn’t tell us this fact until around 5.30 in the afternoon!  She must have been ravenous.  Sorry Ana.

At around 11.30pm Bec and I realised that the car park our cars were in closed at midnight – with any cars left getting towed away.  What a lovely opportunity for a late night run through the streets of Edinburgh to ensure our cars weren’t taken away and crushed.

But despite the stress of the day and the situation, I think the recording went really well and I’m so excited to hear the finished product.  There were lots of tears along the way but I’m so proud that we could learn the music and record it in five days – it was intense but great as well.

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Summer 2012

I have had a week off the harp!

Yes, it’s still in its covers after the long drive up from Somerset last Saturday.  I was there for the Amadeus Orchestra’s annual week of ‘Beer and Music’ – meaning daily rehearsals and nightly free beer.  It’s taken me a while to recover.

We were all staying at Perrott Hill School – a boarding and day school for children from 3 – 13 years old.  It has to be the most impressive setting for a school that I have seen – fully equipped with tennis courts, astro-turf football pitch, cricket pitch, outdoor swimming pool and extensive grounds.

I think we were all hoping for the sun to come out, and it did a little bit, unfortunately most of the sun was on the final day while we were all packing and being kicked out by eager cleaners.  But the overcast weather didn’t stop the occasional dip in the swimming pool – I think I managed about 30 minutes before fears of hypothermia forced me to get out.

The road to the school is about one and a half miles of single track road, with convenient overgrown hedges to obstruct vision.  I got used to it by the end of the week but I wouldn’t like the thought of driving down there on a school run… I felt lucky to get back to Manchester with both wing-mirrors intact.

Speaking of my car – what a saviour – on the way down we managed to fit me + passenger, harp, tuba, both our luggage for the week, bedding, and other miscellaneous stuff such as music, stands etc in the car.  It felt a bit like playing tetris, trying to get everything in with no gaps (and no view through the back window).

Although the space in my car is amazing, bear in mind that it is Summer, and the drive from Manchester to Somerset takes about four hours.  My car has no radio and no air-con, enough said.

We did two concerts, on in Exeter Cathedral, and the other in Wells Cathedral.  Good audiences for both, actually.  It was a great week, met some lovely people – lots of good memories to take away.  It was like the best bits of doing a youth orchestra course (being taken care of, meeting new friends and hanging out, being fed) combined with the fact that you are now a grown-up (drinking, the ability to drive to the shops if you need anything, and lots of freedom).

Now that I’ve been back for a week, and the poor harp hasn’t seen the light of day, I feel refreshed and ready to start some new repertoire and get some new ideas for the next few steps in my career.  Do I want to audition for postgrad in London?  Do I want to study abroad for a year or two?  My YouTube channel could do with a few more videos, that’s all to come in the near future as well.  I could even organise a recital for a worthy cause – a chance to do something for charity while also gaining experience and contacts for the future.

So there are lots of ideas in the pipeline, I’ve got lots of thinking to do!

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RNLI Lifeboats

Last Sunday I was invited along to the Annual Presentation of Awards for the North Region and North Division of the RNLI at York Racecourse.

My Auntie Brenda had been invited because of the work she does raising money for this great cause, and her son, my cousin David, came as well as he volunteers as a crew member for his local lifeboat team.

I know my posts are usually about music, the harp, gigs etc. so I thought I’d write about something a bit different today.  The Awards Presentation happened either side of Afternoon Tea – involving scones, sandwiches and cakes!  Very English, exceedingly yummy!

We were shown a couple of films depicting dangerous rescues that have been undertaken – it’s so hard to believe that the vast majority of the amazing work these people do is voluntary!  They are literally saving lives.  Many people at Sunday’s event were receiving awards for their fundraising efforts over the years – my Auntie Brenda included.  It was really nice to be a part of the day – plus there were a few opportunities for the obligatory cardboard cut-out photographs…  We also noticed that, as people were receiving their award, the crown on the flag behind sits rather neatly on their head, and for that, I hope I am forgiven…

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Anyway, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and catch up with some family.  A big Well Done to my Auntie Brenda, thoroughly deserved Bronze Badge from a very worthy cause.

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Mahler 2

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

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

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

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

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

I have an enormous back-log of posts to write about recent gigs.  Safe to say I have been insanely busy!  But I think it is worth mentioning that this year’s 4th Year Undergraduate harpists – Alice Kirwan and Sarah Paterson – had their Final Recitals last week.  The harp department at RNCM is a lot like a little family, whose members support and encourage each other.  Even though I left last year I still enjoy socialising with the department – especially during ‘post-harp-class-drinks’.

I was – unfortunately – away playing for a wedding on the day of the actual Finals, although I was able to watch the dress rehearsals.  Both Sarah and Alice had to endure a string snapping either before or during the run-through – better it happens then than on the day… It is so refreshing to hear repertoire that I have either not heard for a while, or not heard at all!  I love hearing a Recital, because I feel like I can hear the hours of work that have gone into it.  It’s an expression of determination, hard work, and passion for the music and it’s the same with every Final Recital I watch.  Four years’ work lead up to one Recital.  It’s pretty daunting.  But we are so lucky as musicians that we can have our friends and family there at what is essentially an exam.  You don’t get maths or french students doing an exam with mum and dad cheering and clapping every time they finish a tricky essay question…

After the real Finals, we were all invited out for a meal at Pizza Express.  We had the whole basement floor of the restaurant – for the family and friends of two fourth years.  How brilliant is that?  Apart from being an amazing excuse for a party, it’s overwhelming when so many people turn up on the day to wish you well and to just be there in the audience.  

It pained me greatly to do, but I had to say no to the night out that followed the meal… I had to be in Liverpool the following day for another gig.  But that’s a tale for another post… 

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Scarborough Symphony Orchestra

Last Saturday I drove up to Scarborough to play with Scarborough Symphony Orchestra.  My dad was free that day and so was able to accompany me and make a day of it, which was lovely.

Upon arrival I found the gates of the car park were padlocked – I guess that’s the reward for arriving early and in plenty of time.  I managed to find the caretaker and asked him to unlock the gates for me.  Once inside I then had the task of finding some guys to help heave my harp up the stairs into the main part of the church (Methodist Hall, Queen Street).

I saw several other freelancers that I know from other Yorkshire gigs, not surprisingly they all knew my dad who has done a lot of conducting in and around York over the past 40 years.

The concert began with Brigg Fair by Delius – the same piece that I played the week before in Lincolnshire – coincidence??? yea, probably.  Although this year would have been his 150th birthday if my maths is correct.  It’s a lovely piece.

This was followed by Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Bass Tuba, played by Shaun Matthew – the conductor of the rest of the concert.  I’d never heard it before and tuba concertos (concerti?) are very rare.  It was as virtuosic as I’ve ever heard a tuba played and obviously showed great skill – what else would you expect from an ex-RNCM student?

After the interval was William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 2 entitled ‘Song of a New Race’.  It is believed that this concert was in fact the UK premier of this work, despite the fact that it was first performed in America all the way back in 1937.  I’d never even heard of the composer and yet it is argued by some that, while Gershwin was studying under Still, he allegedly pinched the melody of ‘I Got Rhythm’ from one of Still’s compositions.  Now that’s good gossip.

The Symphony itself was really enjoyable, well written in terms of the harp, and also fun to listen to.  Especially the upbeat third movement.

I can’t really describe the composer better than in the concert programme, so here I am quoting Frank James:

“He was a remarkable man, who achieved a whole series of ‘firsts’.  He was the first Afro-American to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra, the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the States … as well as the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the ‘Deep South’ and the first to conduct an all-white radio orchestra in New York.  He was the first Afro-American to have an opera produced by a major company in the US, and the first to have an opera televised over a national network.  All this was back in the 40s and 50s, at a time when strict segregation was still the rule in the States…”

So I feel honoured to have played in the first UK performance of this piece, and I hope it will be the first of many.  There are recordings available on Naxos and it’s well worth a listen.  Trust me.

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Market Rasen

Last weekend was unusual.  My gig was with Market Rasen Choral Society, over in Lincolnshire.  I had practised the music and was really comfortable with it, I knew parking would be no issue, I was staying overnight with a member of the choir who has a B&B and had already invited me out for an indian meal after the concert.  So there was really nothing to worry about.

This of course made me worry that something truly dreadful would happen.

But no, smooth sailing all the way, there wasn’t so much as a single step to move the harp up or down – perfect!  I also got paid on the night, hurray!!

The repertoire was Delius’ Brigg Fair (I actually drove through the village of Brigg to get to Market Rasen, such a beautiful part of the country) and Rowland Lee’s Requiem.  Rowland was present at the rehearsal and the concert, it’s always a bit nerve-racking when the composer is actually sitting there, score in hand, ready to point out what he’d like doing differently.  But actually, he was lovely and received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of what turned out to be an unusually long concert.

But it was ok, there was curry to look forward to.  I sat opposite a very interesting man and we spent the evening chatting about where we went to school and things like that.  I didn’t realise it was Ian Hogg – a quick glance at his IMDb page shows that he has been in lots of TV and Shakespeare plays http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0389707/

After dinner it was time to go back to the B&B, which was about seven miles away.  It’s in the middle of the countryside and when you breathe in you can just tell immediately that you’re not in a big city any more.  And you can see the stars!  What a treat.  It was midnight when we got back and, as I was leaving first thing in the morning I decided my harp could sleep in the car.  Midge very kindly provided a nice thick duvet to tuck it in.  I found out later that Midge (Thomas) is a published author.  She wrote a recipe book of jams and preserves for the WI that has sold over 100,000 copies!

So that was that, lovely trip, lovely part of the country that I hadn’t been to before, met some great people, and got paid to do it!  Brilliant.

May is literally jam-packed with gigs (excuse the pun) so lots and lots of posts to come I’m sure!  Watch this space.

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