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:
- Pack up harp watch that velco! Remember, you are wearing tights.
- Load harp into car
- Drive car to uni
- Unload harp and find someone to guard it
- Drive back home
- Contemplate the ridiculousness harpists have to go through sometimes
- Walk back to uni
- 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…
Valentine’s Day. For girls like me who aren’t in a relationship, it can be a tricky one. Do we pretend it doesn’t exist and try not to be insanely jealous at all the romantic things guys are doing for their girlfriends? What do we do when the evening draws in? Luckily for me I had plans months in advance this year: playing the harp to set the mood in a romantic restaurant in Chorlton, Manchester.
I remember thinking this morning sure, I set the mood for the restaurant, but who sets the mood for me?
The restaurant was The Lead Station in Chorlton and I would thoroughly recommend it. It was beautifully decorated and very romantic. Lots of candles and roses. The harp was placed right in the middle of the eating area – and as you can see from the picture I think it looked lovely. The staff were also lovely and very helpful with my harp and its covers. Finn, the manager and Nick, the owner in particular were really welcoming.
Background music is a funny one. As a harpist, I’m frequently called upon to play background music for events like this, or weddings, plus the occasional corporate function or fancy office party. We sit there making (hopefully) beautiful music while the party happens around us, with nobody really listening. But tonight was different, the restaurant was really quiet and I got applause. Applause!! For background music. This was quite radical.
I also was given a complimentary meal from the special menu for the evening. So I chose beetroot and spinach risotto with goats’ cheese (I can hear my mum’s mouth watering at that) followed by a beef burger – and I’m not kidding, this was the best burger I’ve ever eaten in my life! I asked for it medium cooked because I was so shocked they gave me a choice! But seriously – excellent food and free drinks all night, shame I had to drive home.
Yes, it can be hard not having that special someone to spend Valentine’s Day evening with, but just because you’re not being taken out, doesn’t mean you are not loved. It was a really good feeling to know that I was adding something to numerous couples’ Valentine’s Day – but never mind that, I earned some much-needed cash!
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?
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…
The harp that I play is a Lyon & Healy Style 30 – Natural finish.
Here it is pictured at a gig I was doing this New Year in Sheffield. I adore this harp, I have had it for nearly two years now. It has 47 strings and 7 pedals, and weighs around 36kg.
To transport it I have a large estate car with the back seats almost permanently laid flat. So to wheel it around I need a trolley – and stairs present quite an issue, especially if there are a lot of them!
I quite often need to ask people for help while moving the harp, which is not always such a bad thing, it’s a good ice-breaker and a way of meeting someone new (it also makes sense to ask the man who looks like he’s the strongest/fittest to help me, I don’t mind that so much – for obvious reasons!)
Maybe this is part of the reason harpists have a reputation for being divas. If you ask us to play on an upper floor and there is no lift, we will be annoyed, likewise if we are asked to play outside, next to a radiator or a fire, or anywhere that is freezing or too warm. It’s bad for the harp!
The question I’m most often asked when I’m out and about with my harp is, ‘how much does it cost?’ to which I usually reply ‘it’s not for sale’. But if you are looking for a harp like this, you’re looking at the £18,000 area. People say to me ‘why don’t you sell it and buy an amazing car/holiday/deposit on a flat/whatever’. That is to me like saying ‘why don’t you sell your left leg?’ Well, yes I could live without it if I had to. But why would I want to?
I am a 23 year old harpist, living and working in Manchester. I am writing this blog to document my adventures in the world of the music business.
There are many areas of my life that will be included in this blog – as a freelance musician you have to wear several different hats, each hopefully contributing to either your development or your bank balance (ideally both).
I wear lots of hats right now, including:
- concert harpist
- orchestral musician
- harp teacher
- chamber musician
- wedding harpist
- business woman
- bar staff
Having just graduated last year this is my first year being ‘out in the big wide world’ and it is scary. I am on my own and responsible for my own success or demise. My parents – who have always shown their support in every way and I will be eternally grateful for all their continued support and help – have re-assigned my bedroom into a lounge. So giving up and moving home is not an option.
This is it. Sink or Swim.
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.