How we can all support The Arts

We are living through an age of austerity. Spending cuts threaten the funding that major orchestras rely on. Cuts to school budgets mean that music and other arts subjects get side-lined in order to prioritise subjects like maths, science, and english. Yet it has been shown that actually increasing the amount of music in the timetable is hugely beneficial for students and increases their performance in all subjects. Check out what happened at this school in Bradford.

As the cost of living feels like it’s getting higher all the time and wages don’t keep up with inflation, people are feeling the pinch, and possibly not going to concerts or hiring live musicians for their events in an attempt to save money.

So what can we as ordinary citizens do to help support the arts? Here are a few ideas:

 

Attend more concerts

Perhaps this is the most obvious and immediate way we can help. If you live in a big city like London or Manchester, chances are there are free concerts all over the place. Here in Manchester there is a huge choice of free concerts, from organ recitals at St. Ann’s Church in the city centre to lunchtime concerts at Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music. If jazz is more your thing, find your local jazz club, look on the website and find something you fancy.

Have a think about where you live, is there a local orchestra that perhaps does a few concerts each season? Could you perhaps consider attending one?

Of course, there’s more to the arts than just music. Many art galleries now allow you to look around for free, and theatres will probably have cheap matinee tickets on offer.

You could even set yourself a challenge of seeing something creative once or twice a month. Try to go for things outside what you would normally go to. Avid Handel fan? Go to a Gospel Choir concert. More of a jazzer? Go and see a Mahler symphony. Only ever seen Andrew Lloyd-Webber shows in the theatre? Try some Gilbert & Sullivan. You might find a new passion. At the very least, you’ll have more to talk about the following day than who got kicked off X-factor or what time your cat stayed out until. Going to see new things broadens the mind and you know that you are doing your bit to support hard-working, creative people.

 

Hire live musicians for your event

This may seem obvious, but having a live musician playing during your wedding/social function is far, far superior than having someone press ‘play’ on a cd player. It adds so much to the atmosphere that someone is there, playing just for you. Plus, you are supporting that person in a very real way. So please, hire musicians, pay them a decent fee, and perhaps give them snacks at your event? Maybe even talk to them at your event and thank them for playing for you? These things make such a difference – trust me.

While we’re on this topic, please, never, EVER, ask a professional musician to play for free (or worse, purely for the ‘exposure’). It’s insulting and completely undermines the fact that we have trained for years to play to a professional standard, and we deserve to be remunerated as such. For more details see the MU page http://www.worknotplay.co.uk/

 

Get invovled in the creative process

The internet really is an amazing place. Most of us are familiar with crowdfunding, where anyone can donate towards a creative project to help it get off the ground, and in turn they receive a reward and a glimpse into behind the scenes of the project itself.

As well as crowdfunding, there is a website called Patreon where you can support creatives on an ongoing basis – rather than for one big project as you do with crowdfunding. You can either donate monthly or per piece of content released (with a monthly cap so you don’t donate any more than you want to). Donations are generally much smaller (say $1-5 dollars) and patrons have access to a ‘patron-only feed’ of news and behind-the-scenes updates of the creative process.

My Patreon page is geared around making videos of harp pieces, both on and off the exam syllabus. Rewards include having your request played, recorded and uploaded, early access to videos and blog posts, and credits at the end of my videos.

 

Encourage your kids to get creative

Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, taking them to a dance class, or encouraging them to perform in the school play, encouraging kids to get involved with the arts will do wonders for their confidence and academic achievement (assuming of course that they don’t actively hate it – don’t force anyone here – keyword is encourage). Many musical organisations now place a lot of focus on outreach work, bringing music into the community and enabling people to get involved who normally wouldn’t be able to. See what’s going on in your local area, and if you are a musician and have the opportunity to get involved, do it.

Encouraging kids to learn an instrument may lead to them finding their passion in life, or at the very least, might improve their grades and give them an interest in music that they otherwise would not have had. Regular practise also encourages self-discipline and gives them time away from their phones, which we could probably all do with.

If there is not much music going on in your area, it might be time to…

 

Get vocal!

If you think your child’s school needs more music provision, tell them. If your local music service is desperately in need of investment, how about writing to your local MP to let them know how important this is to you? Would you love to go to more orchestral concerts but find that you can’t afford the ticket price? Write to them.

Musicians: see if you can join some sort of trade union (I’m in the MU but have heard lots of good things about ISM too). Get involved in the decision-making process and have your voice heard.

People aren’t psychic, and if they don’t realise there’s a problem, nothing will change.

If we value the arts in our society, we must look after them and invest in them. It makes all of our lives richer.

 

 

I really hope this has given you some ideas of ways we can support the arts and have our lives enriched in the process. I’m aware that this has been a bit of a long post! Thank you for reading and well done if you’re still here. A big thank you as well to those of you who contributed ideas via facebook and twitter. If I’ve missed anything, please do speak up in the comments. Let’s start a conversation.

Chat soon,

Ax

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I’ve been spoilt rotten.

Musically speaking, that is.

This past week has been a week of inspiring, amazing music, and I wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

Firstly, I spent three days with CLOUDS Harp Quartet. We are learning a brand new programme for our upcoming tour in June (more details on that to follow). Spending time with CLOUDS is without doubt one of my favourite aspects of my career to date. Esther‘s music is challenging and beautiful and the act of learning it is making us all better musicians. Here’s a little video I made of a tiny snippet of the music that we’ve been learning:

At the end of the three days, Elinor and I went to see Swan Lake at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. Despite having a mild obsession with Tchaikovsky I have to admit that I’d never seen a professional ballet production in my adult life.

I absolutely love the music and it was such a treat to see the ballet as well. Although, hearing the harp cadenza being played on electric keyboard was a disappointment. Playing in a ballet orchestra is a huge dream of mine and when even Moscow City Ballet don’t think it’s worth having a real harp in the pit, it’s a little demoralising to say the least.

The following day I had a gig in Sheffield (my favourite). The drive over was a bit scary and involved fog, wind, and snow. Nevertheless, Hallam Sinfonia needed a harpist for their performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. If you haven’t listened to this work before, do it right now – especially the Adagietto – it is gorgeous and heart-breaking. Sometimes I can’t believe that my job is to practice and perform such beautiful music.

To finish off the week, I was singing for Sunday’s morning service with my choir at St. Ann’s Church, directed by Simon Passmore. Not only was the setting composed by one of our members – Dr David Liggins – the music for the anthem Lead, Kindly Light was written by our late director of music – Canon Ronald Frost – in the form of the hymn tune Loppergarth. I’m trying to find a recording of us singing this gorgeous and emotive piece, leave it with me… Ronald was a wonderfully kind and talented soul and all of us in the choir who knew him, miss him greatly. It’s such a blessing that we can carry on performing his music in his memory.

I have to say that I feel so grateful and lucky that I have such wonderful music and wonderful people in my life.

As ever, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to pop your email address in the box to subscribe and receive these posts in your inbox (never more than once a week).

Chat soon,

Ax

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How to Practice: Schedule it in

If you’re anything like me, sometimes it’s hard to practice. Some days, the motivation just isn’t there, it just seems like too much. So we end up procrastinating and putting it off until eventually the day is over and it’s too late (who else does this?)

I think that the reason for this is the fact that practice – good quality practice – is mentally tiring. You’re always thinking, always trying to improve, actively looking for imperfections and then trying to iron them out. It’s not easy! It takes effort. That’s why I think it’s hard to get started sometimes.

So I’d like to use this post to make a list of things that seem to help me to practice (even when I don’t want to). If you have any of your own tips please leave them in the comments – let’s help each other with this.

Find what time works best for YOU

For me, it’s first thing in the morning, before I’ve had chance to get distracted by emails and other commitments. Straight after breakfast, sit down and play. I find that I focus much better in the morning and practice is much more productive (in fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s probably twice as effective as afternoon or evening practice).

I realise that with family and work commitments, morning practice isn’t always possible, but even if it’s a couple of days a week, morning practice could make a massive difference to your overall progress. Give it a try.

Set a weekly practice target

We all have busy, crazy days where practice just ain’t gonna happen. Let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Instead, set a weekly target of how much practice would be ideal and try and stick to it. Start small, how about four hours a week? If you get to the end of the week and find you want to do more, increase it. If you find your target was way too high and you’re feeling guilty for missing your target, relax a little and find an amount that works for you. If your practice is good quality, you may not need to do as much as you think.

Schedule your practice in for the week

So you’ve decided how much practice you need to do this week, now let’s schedule it in. Ahh I love a good schedule and I’ve written about this subject before. But trust me on this. Schedule your practice in and you remove the guilt of always feeling like you ‘should be practising’. Turn it into a commitment – you wouldn’t be late for a coffee date with your bestie or a flight to go somewhere exciting, so don’t be late for practice. Show up, get it done, and then reward yourself…

Reward yourself for staying on track

I’m still not very good at this, but there are lots of ways to reward yourself if you are really struggling to get your practice done. Obviously improving your playing is a reward in itself but thinking more short-term – when you hit your practice goal for the week reward yourself with a treat. Fancy hot chocolate with mashmallows and whipped cream? Watching your favourite tv show? Buying some new music? Having a super-long bath with fancy oils and a glass of bubbly? Whatever you fancy, if it’ll make you do your practice, it’ll be worth it.

Set specific targets for each session

Look at what’s coming up in your diary. Any gigs in the next six weeks should be your priority. If you’re just playing for a hobby, why not set yourself a deadline of when you want a piece to be ready for? Your next lesson is an excellent goal to work towards and gosh I miss that weekly lesson to kick my behind into gear and focus my mind on what I need to improve.

Have a goal for each hour of practice. Even if it’s just ‘I want to play the first line of my piece from memory’ or ‘I want to be able to play fluently at x speed with the metronome’ or ‘I want the left hand to be smooth in this section’, set a target so you’re not just playing a piece through and hoping it’ll get better. Focus on the bits you can’t yet play and practice them until you can’t get them wrong (practising until it’s correct is not enough – practice starts when it’s correct). Whatever you’re working on, see if you can play it ten times correctly before moving on – if you make a mistake on the ninth time, it’s back to the start for you (sorry).

So there we have just a few tips on how to improve your practice – if you have any thoughts or anything to add please do comment and let me know what you think. Or at least let me know that I’m not the only musician out there who sometimes doesn’t want to practice!

As ever, thanks very much for reading.

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What I’m Practising: November 2016

Here we are in the best month of the year (birthday month) and I think it’s high time for another ‘What I’m Practising’.

I feel very spoilt this month as I have plenty of lovely things to be getting on with, yet it’s not so much that I’m feeling overwhelmed – a good balance.

I’m currently working on some solo repertoire for a gig in Halifax on the 9th of November. Solo gigs are the perfect opportunity to polish up old favourites and maybe challenge yourself to learn something new too. As I’m very keen to have enough music to fill the required time I’ve actually ended up with too many pieces and have had to cut one thing out of my programme. Sorry Grandjany – your fantasie will be getting an airing soon, but not next week. The pieces that made the cut are Watching the Wheat by John Thomas (apologies for the ancient video but check out my tan! Thanks Italy), Bach-Grandjany Etude 12 and Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

The 9th will be one of those wonderful gigs where dinner is provided, and I get to bring along a guest for harp-help and moral support too. It’s highly likely I’ll be posting all about it on Instagram so follow me there for updates.

Next up, an orchestral gig in Todmorden on Saturday, 12th November (also known as the day after my birthday). The rep is Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique – one of my absolute favourite orchestral parts. Have a listen to the second movement (the harpy one), conducted here by Leonard Bernstein.

So those are the main players in my practice at the moment. Good times! Other gigs looming are mainly background music and weddings – so that’s nicely under control too.

Thanks for reading and have a lovely November all!

x

 

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Orchestral Etiquette: how to get conductors to like you

You think being excellent at your instrument automatically makes you an asset to your orchestra?

Well… not necessarily.

I started playing with orchestras as a child, going away for week-long orchestral courses for IAPS and NSSO. These early experiences of playing in an orchestra are absolutely fantastic and get you into some great habits. As a young harpist, I was lucky to receive guidance from many amazing harpists – all of whom I still know and respect today (Honor, Gabriella, Eira, Rachel, Georgina and Anita to name just a few).

The following is a list of some of the things I’ve learned about playing in orchestras, if you are new to orchestral playing, following these tips will certainly help you make a good impression. 

If some of these seem stupidly obvious, please forgive me, it’s my attempt at being thorough. Please know that this isn’t me being ‘holier than thou’ – believe me I’ve often fallen short of these standards. But I believe this is what we should all strive for.

Being on time is not good enough

First thing’s first. If a rehearsal starts at 10am, turning up at 10am means you are late and inconveniencing the conductor. I’d recommend if you have a large instrument (harp or percussion), aim to arrive AN HOUR before the starting time of the rehearsal. Everyone else, half an hour. 

Hear me out here.

Arriving sufficiently early means you have time to find somewhere to park, unload, sort any potential disasters, find where you are going, settle in and tune before wind and brass start warming up, and maybe even grab a coffee too. By the time 10am rolls around, you’re relaxed, warmed up, caffeinated, and good to go. Plus, with traffic and the (very real) possibility of getting lost, we often arrive later than we expect – so this plan at least gives a good margin for error

No chatting, NO PHONES, no reading, unless the orchestra is rehearsing a movement you’re not in.

I get it, you’re not playing for a hundred bars and you need the gossip from last night. Maybe just send a quick text to see what’s going on. 

No.

Conductors see everything and being on your phone in a rehearsal is unprofessional and rude. Just don’t do it. If you’re not playing for a whole movement that’s perhaps different but in general, keep in off, in your bag, away from you so there’s no temptation. Personally, during movements I’m not in a prefer a good book or a crossword/sudoku.

Whispering and chatting to your deskie while the conductor is talking is also a no-no, it’s obvious and distracting to others.

Tune quickly and quietly, when it’s your turn, and stop playing when you are in tune.

Oh, the joys of getting an orchestra in tune. Harpists, sit back and hope that you tuned to the same A that the oboist is now playing – personally I prefer 440 Hz but different orchestras might do things differently (441 or in some places even 442 *shudder*). Everyone else, tune when directed to do so, but please do it as quietly as you can (so as to be considerate to the players around you who are also tuning) and stop playing as soon as you are in tune – to make it easier for those still tuning.

Practise the music beforehand

I hope this one is obvious, particularly for harpists. If you can get your hands on the music in advance, do it! What helps me a lot is finding the score online (try imslp.org) and then listening to it on spotify. Notice any tricky or solo passages and work on those. Mark up your part as necessary. The better you know the music, the better prepared you are on the day. Preparation is key and no one wants to get caught out.

Be prepared

Have a specific bag that you bring with you to rehearsals, or keep these bits in your instrument case. A couple of 2B pencils (darker lead and easier to rub out), a wire stand in case there aren’t any at the venue, and a folding light just in case the light is poor for the concert. 

Depending on your instrument of course you will need other bits and pieces, for me, I take my gig bag, the contents of which I list here.

Having these bits with you just puts your mind at ease that you won’t be caught out. It’s embarrassing to not have a pencil when you need to mark important instructions (cuts, repeats etc.)

Always, always, count.

So you’re not playing for a hundred bars, cry me a river and just make sure you count. All the time. SO many times I’ve been counting for what feels like hundreds of bars only for the conductor to stop just before I come in. Classic. But it’s still useful. You learn and can note down any important cues and get so much more of a feel for the music this way – and ultimately – that will add to your confidence when it comes to the performance. You’ll know exactly where to come in – and the conductor will love you.

Never rely on getting a cue from the conductor.

I say this with love, I really do. Conductors have so much to think about I don’t know how they do what they do. They won’t always be able to bring you in for your entry. This is why you need to count 100% of the time. Still WATCH the conductor at all times, but don’t be afraid to come in if they don’t give you a cue.

Harpists and other lone instruments: if you are not sure about your entry, come in anyway, if it’s wrong, it can be addressed, if it’s right, great work! Have the confidence to just come in, even if you’re not completely sure where you are. This comes with time and experience.

After a concert, sit when the leader sits, leave only when the leader leaves.

All this bowing, clapping, and standing after a concert has finished can seem silly, I mean, some of us actually have homes to go to, homes that are really far away. If in doubt, do what the leader does, when they sit, you sit, when they have left the stage, you can leave the stage.

Just don’t actually bow, you’ll feel ridiculous and you’ll be the only one. Smile at the audience and stand up straight, act like you are proud of what just happened.

Long Black is more professional that All Black.

Ladies, when it comes to concert clothes, let’s keep it decent. You don’t want the audience thinking you must be going clubbing right after the concert. This is less of an issue in winter, when church concerts make you want to put at least ten layers on as well as a hot water bottle and mittens.

But seriously, smart, professional, and long is best in my opinion. No miniskirts. ESPECIALLY if you straddle your instrument (I’m looking at you, cellists and harpists).

I used to love flouncing around in a black ball-gown at every orchestral gig I did. Nowadays I prefer smart black trousers, a black plain top and a black cardigan for smaller concerts and I keep the dresses for the bigger concerts halls and solo gigs.

So there you have it! Just a few tips to help make a good impression on your colleagues at orchestral gigs. Thanks for reading and I hope you find them useful.

Do you have any others that I’ve missed? Leave them in the comments below. 

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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.
x
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Tax advice for musicians

Having been freelancing for about four years now, I’m about to complete my fourth tax return. It can be daunting when you first graduate but it needn’t be scary. I thought I’d write this post and give some pointers and help.

Please do bear in mind that I am not an accountant or a financial expert, this is just coming from my own experience of doing my taxes for the past few years. There are lots of different ways to do your taxes, this is just what I do on a yearly basis.

The very first thing you need to do (if you are earning money from gigs and private teaching) is register as self-employed. This is straight forward but very important as if you don’t pay your National Insurance contributions, it might affect your state pension. So head on over to the relevant gov.uk page for registering as a sole trader and fill in the forms. Simple!

Ok, done? Now for the slightly time-consuming bit.

You need to keep a record of your business income and outgoings. I like to keep a file for each year, with a divider for each month, fees from a gig? Keep a note. Had to buy food at a gig? Keep the receipt and make a note. I also make sure to file away any contracts, pay & display tickets, restaurant receipts, invoices (sent and received) and anything I receive from HMRC in there, which makes it much easier to compile my accounts for the year.

As a very important side note – in order to complete your tax return you will need a P60 form from any employment you’ve undertaken with an organisation, do you have a part time job in a bar/shop/school? Without these, your accountant won’t be able to complete your tax return and you’re kind of stuck.

Got it? Awesome.

Let’s say you need to drive to your gigs. For each gig you do, make a note of how many miles you have travelled, maybe keep a monthly total.

For the first 10,000 miles of the year, you can charge 45p/mile as travel expenses, anything after that can be charged at 30p/mile. This theoretically covers fuel, insurance, car repairs and servicing, so the mileage should be the only car related expense in your records.

What about music, strings, concert clothes? Yep, keep the receipt in your folder and add it to your expenses when compiling your records. Concert clothes are a little tricky as they should only be for concerts, so if you intend to wear it on a normal day you shouldn’t really include it as an expense. If in doubt, keep the receipt and ask your accountant. I might ask mine about costume jewellery…

Then, at the end of the tax year I make a spreadsheet, one column for the type of expense (e.g. sheet music) then in the column next to it I’ll put the amount to the nearest pound (e.g. £15). A few columns later I’ll do a similar thing for income (e.g. Sheffield Wedding 10th October – £200). Then I’ll go chronologically down the spreadsheet in months.

Each month needs total values for Income, Expenses, PROFIT (Income minus expenses) and Total Miles Travelled.

Once you have compiled all twelve months – give yourself a big pat on the back and pour yourself a glass of something – you can work out your TOTAL Income, Expenses, Profit, Miles Travelled, and Mileage. If you have geeky tendencies like me you can also work out monthly averages by dividing the total values by 12. So you have a monthly income to aim for each month.

Press save, take to your accountant and the rest should sort itself out. You can also put accountants’ fees on your expenses and do bear in mind that many accountants offer cheaper services the earlier you see them. So a tax return in May or June might cost you £100 but leave it till January and you could be staring down the nose of around £250. Being organised pays off!

And that’s it! If there’s anything I haven’t explained very well do let me know in the comments and I’ll try and be more clear.

Also, it’s the time of year when students are graduating! Congratulations to everyone graduating from RNCM in particular – this post is written with you in mind. If you have any questions about life in the ‘big wide world’ so often talked about at college, leave me a comment and I will do my best to help.

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Harpists don’t travel light.

My parents know I don’t travel light. When I go to stay with them for a couple of nights I always take way too much stuff – enough to go on holiday for ten days (wishful thinking?) and I’m starting to think that it might have something to do with being a professional harpist and just needing a lot of stuff when I’m out and about.

I envy the pianists/organists of this world who can just bring music and they’re done. I know it’s a pain to never be able to perform on your own instrument, but you can take the train! Yes, I see that as a perk – I guess the grass is always greener.

I played at a wedding today, here’s what I had to take with me, and what I take with me when I have any sort of gig:

– car (ok this one is obvious)

– harp (again, pretty essential)

– music stand

– tuning machine

– tuning fork

– tuning key

– spare tuning key

– ipad

– ipad charger

– spare sheet music

– spare strings

– spare string anchors

– harp trolley (almost forgot!)

– bicycle pump for harp trolley

– pencil

– pencil sharpener

– rubber

– duster

– stand light – in case of a power-cut or, you know, nightfall

– clothes pegs in case I have to clip music to my stand in high winds

– concert dress

– concert shoes

– make-up

– business cards

– my laminated ‘Do Not Touch’ sign. Indispensable.

– snacks – I try to keep these as healthy as possible, usually a banana or some cashew nuts

– book to read – currently reading Needful Things by Stephen King

– phone charger

– special chemical hand-warmer thingies – these.

– normal handbag and all its usual contents.

Phew! See what I mean? That’s a lot of stuff and I have needed it all at some point or other. I’m always finding new things that I need to bring with me.

Harpists – what do you always need with you at a gig? Do share and together we can be the most thoroughly prepared harpists the world has ever seen!

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Copenhagen

It’s taken me a long time to write this post, I’ve done plenty to try and procrastinate and put it off – yoga, watching Gossip Girl, eating what must be millions of calories in galaxy bars – but now it is time to put on my big-girl-shoes and tell you what happened in Denmark.

I was offered an orchestral audition in Copenhagen. It might be unfair to publicly broadcast who it was for but nevertheless it was an incredible opportunity, here was my actual dream job, all I had to do was nail the audition and I might just maybe possibly be in with a shot! Hell yeah I’d move to Copenhagen! Learning Danish? Just tell me when to start. Seriously, I felt like I would do anything to get that job.

So I booked five days in Copenhagen with my wonderful Mum who offered to keep me company. Here we are having one of many meals out along the way.

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I had been very busy learning two pieces for the different audition rounds: the Debussy Danses Sacrée et Profane and Fantasie by Spohr. The Spohr was the first round so I knew the panel would definitely hear that. Debussy would be on day two, but if I got that far then obviously I still had to do my best.

About a month before the audition I received a list of the orchestral excerpts I needed to prepare. All 143 pages of them. Thirty-one excerpts in total. Everything was there, from the cadenzas all aspiring orchestral harpists need under their fingers (Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Verdi) to excerpts I knew to be extremely difficult and/or had never even heard of (the ever-present Wagner, Elliott Carter, Albeniz). I had one month to learn all of them, that’s one a day.

I’m not going to lie, that month was not fun. It was not fun at all. I all but stopped socialising, I almost injured myself by practising until my arms hurt, taking a break, then starting again. But you know what? I pretty much got them ready, and regardless of what happened, that stands me in good stead for the future.

So off we went, we were staying with a lovely couple we met through AirBnB – Anne & Jakob – their flat was fab and very close to the metro and the concert hall where the audition was due to take place.

The audition was on the first full day we had in Denmark, first thing in the morning. It was a blind audition, which I am totally in favour of. Basically the panel sit behind a screen and the idea is they have no clue who you are, they just pick the best players, rather than the ones they know, or teach, for example.

They actually stopped me during the Spohr, which I’ve always been told is a good sign – they’ve heard what they need to hear – if you’re terrible then the panel is obliged to hear until the end, perhaps something went wrong and you’ll fix it before the end, it would be unfair to stop you. So I was happy with that, then I just had to play the cadenza from Waltz of the Flowers, which I learnt about ten years ago so I was really confident with that.

After I played I was told to pack up and wait upstairs, which we dutifully did. We waited for about ten minutes and then I found out I hadn’t been chosen ‘Sorry’.

Talk about brutal.

So mum and I got out of there as soon as we could and I started to think about all the work I had put in. All the money we had spent to get there. All for twenty minutes on a Saturday morning. I just couldn’t believe it. No feedback, no interview, just ‘See ya!’ and we were on our way.

Looking back on it now, I’m so glad this was on the first morning of our trip. This meant we had another five whole days to explore Copenhagen! It’s a truly beautiful city with a wonderful, chilled out vibe. The food is also to die for.

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We explored as many art galleries and museums as we could – there is a lot to do!

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This picture above was taken at Helsingør – the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – so it was absolutely fascinating to have a look around. It’s pretty cold and windy up there too!

So yes, lots of lessons learnt, I worked so hard for the audition and I’m proud of that. I also got the chance to visit a new city, which was wonderful.

I’m going to keep striving for the orchestral jobs – that is what I want to do. But, I have to be comfortable with the fact that this may never happen for me. I may just stay in my little world in the North of England, teaching, working with my fabulous CLOUDS Harp Quartet, playing for weddings and small orchestras, and that’s OK too. I know I can be happy either way and for now I’m just enjoying the journey.

As ever, thanks for reading – and please do share your experiences of auditions! I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you.

x

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