I was so ill!! Vlog #6

Sometimes, as musicians, we are reminded of the fact that we do not get sick pay. It’s not possible for us to pull a certain number of sick days and know that we’ll still be paid our salary.

This has been my story this week, last Wednesday I literally could not get out of bed because of achiness and fever. The following day, I had to play for a wedding. Leaving a couple without music on their wedding day is not an option – so I had to go and do it.

It’s now a full week later and I’m still not 100% but I’m much better than I was. Thank goodness!

 

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2017 Intentions

By the time I hit Publish on this post, it will be 2017. But for now, as I lie in bed with Spyder the cat sleeping on my lap, and a glass of Shiraz and various chocolate baked goods next to me, I’m enjoying the final few days of 2016.

But as well as relaxing and switching off, I’ve also been looking ahead to 2017 and thinking about what I’d like to achieve in this coming year.

As a general rule, I think New Year’s Resolutions are bad news as a ridiculously high percentage of them fail, which makes us feel like failures.

Not a good way to start the year.

I believe any day is a good day to set some goals and intentions for the future, but hey, it’s the new year, so instead of strict resolutions that are guaranteed to make me feel like an idiot when I fail, here are some intentions of things I’d like to work towards this year.

Quit my minimum wage, part-time job

So last August I freaked out about money, and started working in retail, part-time. Now, I want to schedule this post for Thursday, 5th January, that means I will be handing in my notice on Wednesday, 4th January. Scary! But (and I will probably dedicate a future post to this point) time is worth so much more than £7.20 an hour. Please know that I’m not saying my time is worth more than anyone else’s – everyone’s time is worth more than this.

I could teach a few more hours a week and make more, and I would be so much happier. Even just looking for other work would be a better use of my time. Don’t get me wrong, I love my coworkers, but I am not cut out for retail. I am a musician, and while I have this safety net I will always feel like I’m not doing myself justice.

I refuse to stay simply because I’m too scared that I need it. I will find something better. I will. I have to.

Practice the harp 7 hours every week

This may seem pathetically low to my musician pals who probably do two or three times that, but I’m starting easy so I can increase the hours once I’m back in the swing of it (see my above mini-rant on New Year’s Resolutions). Due to the nature of freelancing, daily practice targets don’t seem to work for me any more, I’m not going to practice for two hours before heading off to a gig to play background music all night. Instead I find it much easier to schedule in practice for the whole week, so I can see what the next seven days are going to look like at a glance. See also my previous post: How to Practice: Schedule it in

The trap I fall into (and please comment if this is you too!) is, if I don’t have many gigs coming up, or, if I only have background gigs for a few weeks, I ease off the practice.

That has to change in 2017.

As well as practising for upcoming gigs, I will be investing much more time into my YouTube channel and to generally building up my repertoire ready for competitions/auditions/potential recordings.

Watch out 2017 – I will be upping my game!

Keep hunting for more work, even in the good times

I may have mentioned this before, but it’s tempting to lay off looking for work when you have plenty of things in the diary. But what happens when empty months loom ahead and you don’t have any sort of safety net to fall back on? Pupils cancel, gig organisers find other players and suddenly your income dries up.

Potential nightmare.

In 2017 I will keep hustling, even in the busy times. Gigs and teaching will be my main focus. I’d rather sometimes be crazily busy if it means I have enough to see me through slower periods.

Sure, freelancing can be hard, but it’s also amazing and I am completely in love with it. I love being my own boss, having the power to find my own work and decide how much I earn. I’m not ready to give that up yet.

Here’s to a prosperous, exciting and rewarding 2017!

Ax

p.s. what goals and intentions are you setting for 2017? Leave me a comment and let me know. Also, pop your email in the box to subscribe and receive future posts in your inbox (never more than once a week).

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January 2016 Gigs

Only a couple of gigs to report on this month. Both background gigs. The first was at Bolton’s Museum and Art Gallery – a drinks reception for KBL Solicitors. It got a write up online that you can read here.

http://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/business/14221652.Bolton_law_firm_celebrates_30th_birthday/

I have to say I was looked after so well in Bolton, I was given a plate of delicious canapés and everyone always made sure I had a soft drink of some sort. That makes such a difference. I often have to travel to somewhere totally unfamiliar, greet people I’ve never met or spoken to before so little things like food and somewhere to change my clothes really make a huge difference.

The next gig was down at Alton Towers Conference Centre. This was an unusual event. Firstly, I’ve never been to Alton Towers before. Yep. Never. I had no idea that it’s actually in the middle of nowhere! It was already dark when I arrived and I hadn’t seen another car for several miles (the same happened on the way home, quite spooky really). Oh, and the building seemed deserted when I arrived, walking down empty corridors in a strange building after driving down empty roads in the dark for ages is so weird!

Anyway, I did eventually find where the dinner was taking place and wow, it looked pretty cool:

Enchanted Forest dinner, Alton Towers.

The whole evening had an Enchanted Forest theme, and I wish I could have taken pictures of the guests – a lot of effort went into the costumes! Everyone was there, chimney-sweeps, Snow White, Aladdin, Captain Hook, it was crazy!

DSC00370harp in the enchanted forest. Alton Towers.

So that’s pretty much it when it comes to gigs this month. Luckily I had loads of work in December, and because of the way I now organise myself financially I’ve been able to keep paying myself each week as usual. Looking back on previous January blog posts, it’s interesting to see how things have levelled themselves out now. No panicking if a gig doesn’t pay for a while, not too much stress if there’s a quiet time with not many gigs, hey, they’re pouring in now! I guess that, after freelancing for over four years now, I’m learning that it’s all going to be ok. There is work out there. There are jobs out there. There are opportunities out there. And I intend to grasp all of the above with both hands.

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What I’m Practising: January 2016

January is a weird month.

 

As usual I seem to have very few gigs and end up praying that the money I made in December will see me through to February, when people seem to start doing stuff again, getting married for example.

 

So this year I’m making the most of this ‘time off’ by learning some new repertoire. Does anyone else find it hard to learn new pieces after graduating? Please tell me I’m not the only one! Without the regular weekly lesson and the fear of a bad performance in front of your peers, where is the motivation to learn something new from scratch?

 

Well, that changes in 2016. I’ve never properly learned the Britten Suite for harp. I can’t believe I allowed this fantastic piece to pass me by until now. I’m focussing on the first movement this month. It’s an awesome piece, and Britten is a real favourite of mine.

 

I have also started a new Bach-Grandjany Etude, with the ultimate aim of having mastered each of the 12 studies in the book. The new one is an arrangement of the Allemande from the second violin Partita and so far I love it. But what’s not to love? It’s Bach for crying out loud, arranged by Grandjany – arguably the forefather of modern harp playing. The ultimate dream team.

 

Lastly, as some light relief, I’m polishing Guitare by Hasselmans. I’ve started this before but never really polished it up to performance standard. It’s not the most challenging piece in the world, but it’ll fit nicely into my background music repertoire and is nice enough to listen to. It’ll be one that gets performed a lot as it’s very charming and ‘Spanishy’.

 

Having had quite a big break from the harp over Christmas and New Year, it’s refreshing to go right back to the start and jump in with some new pieces. The routine of doing each hand separately, in small sections, slowly until it’s comfortable has been the routine my whole life, as long as I can remember, since starting the piano at the age of three. I know I can do it, it’s what I do.

 

I used to hate practising. There, I said it. But now I love it. I think that change has to do with the fact that when I sit down at the harp, all I need to think about is the harp. Maybe it’s like meditating, or just being mindful, but it refreshes the brain and the spirit. Even if everything else in life is not going the way I was expecting, I can sit down and play and it feels normal, comfortable, predictable.

 

Musicians: what are you practising this month? Any musical goals or new year’s resolutions? How are they going? Let me know in the comments.
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December 2014 catch-up…

This post is a continuation from last week’s post in which I raked over the glowing embers of November 2014, I originally wanted to put November and December into one huge post but alas, there was just too much to put in! So here’s a run-down of December 2014.

The first gig of the month was a solo recital! Yay! This is what it’s all about: performing lovely repertoire for a large, appreciative audience. Many thanks to Philip Scowcroft at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery for inviting me back to perform – I always have a lovely time. Thanks also for inviting me and Marten to do a joint recital next year – time to find some harp and piano repertoire, suggestions in the comments please!!

On December 5th I had a background gig at Manchester Art Gallery. Those of you who know Manchester will be aware that there is very little parking around there. Pretty much none in fact. So I thought it would be a clever idea to get an estate car taxi to take me there – what could possibly go wrong?

I called the taxi company at least twice during the day to check the booking, 5pm estate car taxi to the city centre. Emphasis on the estate car part. Five o’clock rolls around, no taxi. At quarter past my phone rings to let me know the taxi’s outside, so I trundle out with the harp and all my bags.

It’s not an estate car.

Cue one diva-strop.

Car goes away, angry phone call to Radio Cars, an estate finally arrives. I’m now behind schedule. Trying to hold it together.

I arrange with the driver that he’ll come and pick me up after I’ve finished playing so I don’t have to go through that again. I’ve been asked to play downstairs in the foyer. But all that happens is people come in, hang up their coats, and head off upstairs to the party.

I’m providing music for the hanging up of coats. This has to be a new low.

Fast forward to the end of my set. No taxi.

Cue another massive diva-strop (I’m getting good at these) and phone call to Radio Cars “Yes, it’s the lady with the harp” to request an estate asap.

Taxi turns up, it’s not an estate.

By now I’m rather upset, I finished playing an hour ago and have gone nowhere. Another strop, another phone call and the driver who stood me up sheepishly apologises for not showing up when he said he would, and takes me home, where a party is currently underway, that I am hosting, that I am also very very late for.

Time to start drinking.

Luckily, by comparison the next few days went very smoothly. An hour of background music in Middlewich for a community Christmas buffet-type-thing (I had a lot of the cakes, they were excellent). Then on the Sunday I had the first Ceremony of Carols of the year down in Wilmslow – conducted by Lloyd Buck.

Barnby C of Cs

The Ceremony of Carols is a very special piece – written by Benjamin Britten. I’m sure it is special to many harpists, it’s just for treble voices and harp – although it has been arranged for a full choir.

The following weekend also had engagements on both days, so I decided to get my first ever spray tan in preparation (even my winter foundation for very pasty skin is now looking quite orange on me – I need some sun asap) I went for the lightest tan you can have (they call it ‘Glow’) and yea, it was fun for a few days, until it started coming off. In patches. Starting with my hands. Bad times.

Anyway

On Saturday 13th December I was playing for a wedding banquet, in a marquee. A marquee in December? Sounds crazy but was in fact surprisingly cosy. Who knew?

The following day  I headed over to attend York’s Annual Community Carol Concert. My dad has been conducting this event for decades. It usually attracts a crowd in the region of 1,500 and raises money for several good causes in and around York. They get a school band, a couple of school choirs, a church choir and a ‘novelty item’ (in 2013 it was my Harp Quartet CLOUDS) and we spend an afternoon together singing carols and being entertained by the wonderful Revd Andrew Foster. Father Christmas usually makes an appearance to hand out sweets. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this wonderful event. Long live YACCC!

Daddy Barbican

We are now half-way through the month, almost there. Believe it or not December 2014 was comparatively quiet for me… I’ve had much busier Christmas seasons – I’ve also had quieter ones where I’ve had to live on frozen vegetables with rice due to lack of money. 2014 was a very happy medium, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure I had a chest infection (or just the worst cough of my life) and sounded like I was dying for the whole month.

On Friday 19th December it was time to head over to York again for the Masonic Carol Service that I always play for – this time I brought my own page-turner with me. Doesn’t he scrub up well?

Marten and me at lodge

This is another lovely event that takes place every year. We have a small service of lessons and carols, then claim a glass of sherry or three and head downstairs for a Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings. Just what we need. The evening then always finishes with my parents reading from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s predictable, it’s the same every year, but we love it and for me this evening is what starts Christmas off.

Saturday, 20th December was my final gig of 2014, and it was a Ceremony of Carols (what else?) in Rochdale.

Cantare Programme

I also contributed to this concert by playing a solo, Marcel Samuel Rousseau’s Variations Pastorales sur un vieux noel. One of my favourite solo pieces, but sadly it’s christmassy so I can’t really perform it any other time of year. It was so lovely to work with Michael Betteridge for this gig – his energy is fantastic – I do hope I can work with him again soon *hint hint*.

So there you have it. I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a 1000+ words epic but there you go. The rest of December was spent either with my parents in York, or with my sister down in the Midlands, lots of food was eaten, lots of wine was tasted. All in all a lovely Christmas, and for that I am very thankful.

I hope you all also had wonderful Christmasses and New Years. How are those resolutions going? Next week I’ll be gauging the success (or otherwise) of mine. Eeek.

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Decisions

This has been a week of choices.  Isn’t it weird how they all seem to come at once?

After a mad couple of shifts in the bar at the RNCM for freshers week, I decided that, if I really don’t enjoy working there that much, I should just quit.  I need to be earning money doing things that take me in the direction of my dream.  It isn’t my dream to work in a bar forever, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and lose the safety net of having that bit of extra cash each month – in favour of pushing myself to do more for my music career.

So that’s it!  I never have to pull a pint again.  I’ve worked in one bar or another for my whole student life, and now I feel like the time has come to move on.

And doesn’t the universe work in mysterious ways, on the morning following my final shift, I got a phone call from the Chethams School of Music asking if I’d be interested in doing some harp teaching there.

Of course I was!  I taught my first lesson there last Friday and loved it, hopefully it will lead to working there regularly.

The day after the phone call day, I got an email from a hotel asking if I’d like to stay with them and provide background music for a few months… in DUBAI!  Sounds too good to be true and the money is exceedingly tempting (enough to invest in a lever harp and take lots of the financial pressure away).  But it would mean being away over Christmas and New Year, and I’d miss a certain trip to Lanzarote in December as well as various gigs and family commitments.  So basically, I’ve said I’m very interested but maybe another time.

I had to think about it so carefully, but I need to be here, in Manchester right now.  I need to be gigging and building up my contacts and getting better gigs.  My dream is to be an orchestral musician, and while the money from providing background music is fabulous, I’m not sure I would want to do it all the time.  What I love about my career so far is the variety.  Every day is different and brings its own challenges.  Not going to Dubai was a really tough decision but hopefully I will look back and be glad I stayed.

Maybe I could have gone to Dubai and could have stayed working at Brodsky.  Had I done so my bank balance would definitely thank me.  But at the end of the day, maybe I’m choosing the less profitable choice right now, but maybe it will pay dividends in the future?  I have noticed that each day since turning down Dubai I’ve been contacted about doing a gig in the next few months.  It’s going to be ok.

Maybe there is no right or wrong decision.  But I’ve made mine and now my job is to make the best of my situation and keep moving towards where I want to be in the future.

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The PSP Association

I’d had this gig in my diary for a long time, labelled only as ‘PSP Gig’.  It wasn’t until the event was imminent that I actually found out what PSP stands for.  It stands for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, which is a terminal, degenerative, motor-neurone brain disease – often mis-diagnosed as MS.  I was chatting with some families at the event and they were telling me that it affects around 10,000 people.  It leaves the mind completely intact yet gives the victim less and less control of their muscular movement.  Symptoms include  backward falls and problems with vision, eventually, patients may lose the ability to walk, talk, see or swallow.

It sounds absolutely heart breaking.  Yet its causes are unknown and there is no current treatment or cure for the condition.  I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it.  Lots more information about PSP and the PSP Association can be found at www.pspeur.org or pspassociation.wordpress.com

The event I was providing music for was a fundraising evening held at Garrowby Hall.  Situated in the Yorkshire countryside, it has to be one of the most beautiful places I have seen.  Rolling hills, beautifully manicured lawns, horses, sheep, and a pig!  The house itself was exquisite as well.  We were asked not to take photographs but it felt like I’d walked into a Jane Austen novel.  I was playing in the drawing room, filled with comfy sofas, a writing desk, tasteful vases of flowers and beautiful antique chairs.

For the first half of the event, the sun was shining so everybody was outside mingling, leaving my only audience – a black labrador who  I believe goes by the name of Teddy – to enjoy the music alone.  The organiser came and told me I may as well mingle with the guests and eat some canapés – I was certainly not going to complain about that!  During the second half of the event, a lot of the guests came back into the drawing room and sat in silence while I played some Debussy and Bach for them to listen to.  It’s always surprising when you go expecting to play in the background and everyone listens attentively!  I felt like I was giving a mini-recital.

So, all in all, this was a most enjoyable gig, for a really good cause that deserves more publicity than it currently receives.

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Background Music

Yesterday evening I received a phone call asking if I was free this evening to play some background music for a dinner.

It is so unusual to get gigs this late notice (thank you to the lovely Alice Kirwan for giving my number to the guy sorting it out).  The fee was less than I would charge for background music at a wedding, but, still half a month’s rent so I went for it.  And here it is:

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The dinner was at The Midland Hotel – right in the centre of Manchester.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous hotel.  Only problem was there were fifteen steps (yes I counted) to the room where the dinner was taking place.  Nowadays all hotels have to be super-duper accessible so this surprised me.  The staff were very enthusiastic in helping me though so I can’t complain.  They also got me a diet coke and didn’t complain when I immediately spilt it all over the carpet (oops).

Background music is just so different to normal performing.  In lots of ways it is a lot freer, as no one is listening that intently you can put in lots of repeats to err, pass the time (don’t tell anyone).  But after about half an hour I realised that this was as calm as I’d felt all day.  Just playing beautiful music to set the atmosphere.

Considering the fact that I’m a musician, I spend a large proportion of my time ‘sorting things out’, posting contracts/invoices, getting hold of music, replying to and sending emails, it feels good to chip away at these things but sometimes it feels as though for every little thing I get done, three more suddenly need doing.  So it is actually very therapeutic to just play.  Not to worry about the ‘to-do’ list that day or what I have to get done, just enjoying the sensation of making music allows my brain to be quiet for a few minutes, almost like meditation.

It’s a chance for the voices in my head to just be still and quiet… not that I have voices in my head, you understand…

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Valentine’s Day

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!

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