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.
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:
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!
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.
So you’re getting married? Congratulations! You’d like a harpist to play for your wedding? You obviously have excellent taste. I thought I’d write this guide for happy couples to try to answer some of the questions I get asked when being booked to play for a wedding.
The first thing to do is email me (my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m very friendly and would love to hear from you. We can chat about anything you like but it’s helpful if I have the following information:
1. The date and venue of your wedding
This is vital information to know from the start as I’ll be able to tell you immediately if I’m available. Knowing the venue from the start is great too as it means I can give you an accurate quote (see my page of standard fees). There may be a small extra charge if a change of venue is required (for example, if your ceremony is in a church but your reception is in a hotel).
2. Which part of the wedding would you like harp music for?
There’s lots of choice for you here. Most weddings have three main ingredients:
I am able to play for any combination of the above. When it comes to the ceremony, obviously the music is of utmost importance – let me know your choice of entrance and exit music as soon as you have decided, if you have a specific choice for the signing of the register, let me know that too and I’ll get practising!
p.s. ask me to email you my repertoire list too
Drinks reception and Wedding breakfast both simply require background music (up to two hours for drinks or three hours for breakfast).
3. Are there any special arrangements needed?
Aha… here’s the tricky bit.
A harp is worth anywhere between £16,000 right the way up to £50,000 and more, so we need to look after them very carefully.
Ideally, a venue will have the following:
A little note about playing outside – it is possible, if the following are available:
Having said all this, if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to accommodate your wishes. I’m here to enhance your special day.
Ok, next. We’ve arranged the date, venue, any music requests and agreed on the fee, phew! Almost done, now we just need to make it official.
All harpists will have a different system here. But here’s mine:
So there you have it! The ultimate guide to booking a harpist for your wedding. I really hope this helps, if you have any questions, just drop me an email – I’d love to talk through any queries you may have.
Well, Thursday of this week came and went and I couldn’t find the time to post. Naughty.
I am writing this from a rehearsal in Holy Trinity Church in Southport, with the Southport Bach Choir – I should say that I’m not rehearsing right now – that would be rude.
Everything I’m involved in has been rehearsed so now my job is to amuse myself until the second half of tonight’s concert – I’ve been told there’s a Wetherspoons nearby so I’ll be fine.
But enough about today, let me take you through the adventures of the past week-and-a-bit.
A week last Friday I was doing some background music in Ormskirk at the Chapel Gallery as part of their Christmas celebrations. The staff had all come in fancy dress (including elves, witches and two ugly sisters). This was an exciting background gig for me as it was the first time I used my iPad instead of sheet music. A while ago a spent an afternoon scanning all my background music into the computer so I could put it on an app called ForScore. This handy app allows me to crop the music to get rid of white space around the edges, I can also make setlists (currently I have two; ‘background’ and ‘background – no Christmas’).
I received some lovely feedback from this gig and I think it was partly due to the fact that my presentation was neater than usual – no piles of music, no flicking through books trying to decide what to play next – it was all very slick.
I’m still waiting for payment from this gig – quite tempted to name and shame the person who booked me for this as they are also a musician! If payment is going to take two weeks or even a month – fine – I’ll manage. But don’t tell me I’ll have it in five days when that isn’t going to happen, I just want an honest date on which I’ll be paid. Grumble grumble.
Saturday’s gig was at Leeds College of Music with the National Festival Orchestra. I had a great day. The programme was fabulously harpy, as you can see I had pride of place – centre stage:
We were doing Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine and Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio (plus some Rutter that I wasn’t involved in). The Saint-Saens was quite a challenge but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I got some wonderful feedback about the Britten too. I just wish they had attracted a bigger audience because they deserved to have the place sold out.
…continued from the previously mentioned Wetherspoons…
I have left the cold of the church for the local pub. In a bit I will face the tricky situation of leaving my table to order food and hoping no one will claim said table before I sit back down.
Last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I was playing for a concert version of Phantom of the Opera at Cowley International College in St. Helen’s.
Sunday rehearsal then Monday and Tuesday performances. It was the same group who did Les Mis this summer and Phantom early 2012 (right about the time I started this blog). I do like going back, the conductor – Shaun – and Danny the director are both absolutely lovely and we always have a good time. Again they deserved much bigger audiences simply due to the passion and enthusiasm that the staff and performers bring to the show. There was an unfortunate incident on Tuesday that involved the smoke machine causing the fire alarm to go off but apart from that the shows went smoothly. The appalling traffic on Tuesday caused me to be late – very unlike me, but I only held up the show by ten minutes…
So that brings us to Wednesday, when I was booked to play more background music at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester.
Another outing playing from the iPad. Another gig where I was told I would be paid ‘by 10am tomorrow’ and am still waiting – four days later – for my money. The organisers brought in some arcade ski-simulator games, there was quite a surreal moment when I realised that we are all, in fact, still children at heart. I was playing Disney on the harp while grown men in suits played arcade games.
So a very busy week, but on Thursday I was taken to Cloud23 in the Hilton for cocktails. We got very dressed up and drank our drinks while enjoying the night time view of Manchester. Here’s the obligatory photo of me with my exciting cocktail that included chocolate covered raspberries.
So that’s it for this week, thanks for reading, and hopefully I will have been paid for some of these gigs by the next time I post!
Last week I spent five days aboard the Saga Sapphire in Southampton:
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:
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):
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:
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:
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…
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!