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

Continue Reading

Six days to go…

This time next week, I’ll be in the Scottish Borders with CLOUDS Harp Quartet, preparing for the first gig of our Summer Tour 2017.

We have launched a kickstarter to ask for your support towards our travel costs, and there are just six days left.

If we don’t reach our target, we get nothing.

The reason we are asking for support is that we absolutely love the music that Esther Swift writes for us, and we want to bring it to as many people as possible. Over the course of the tour we will be driving 1,500 miles each. That’s 6,000 miles of fuel we need to cover. In real terms, that’s £2,700 we need to make just to cover mileage.

We are literally driving the length and breadth of the country to play for as many people as we can. Just keep your fingers crossed that our cars can survive!

Thing is, we can’t really afford to do this if we don’t make any money from it. Of course we are passionate about the music but we need to support ourselves too during increasingly uncertain times.

This is the biggest tour we’ve undertaken since the quartet formed in 2008 and we are SO EXCITED to get out there and release this new music to you. Even if you can’t support us via kickstarter, please have a look at the concert dates and come along if you can.

Our kickstarter page can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cloudshq/clouds-harp-quartet-summer-tour-2017

As ever, thanks for reading, we’ll hopefully see you very soon!

A x

Continue Reading

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!

 

Continue Reading

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).

Continue Reading

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.

x

Continue Reading

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

 

Continue Reading

What I’m Practising: February 2016

Bach Fugue

After the relative quiet of January, there’s a lot to be getting on with this month.

When I’m practising, I like to look ahead in my diary and see what orchestral gigs are coming up in the next six weeks or so, and then work on the music for those things. Background gigs don’t need specific practice unless there are special requests that I need to learn. Solo recitals will obviously need more than six weeks too.

I like to spend the first half an hour warming up. Typically this will involve exercises and Bach. I’ve been really enjoying revisiting the Fugue I played for my Final Recital back in 2011:

Bach Fugue

I find that starting my practice in this way really helps me focus and get into the zone before getting my teeth into new stuff.

The main concert I’m practising for is in March in Chesterfield. Lots of English music is on the programme, and a few pieces I’ve actually never done before:

DSC00378

We are playing a different arrangement of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, which feels really strange! I know the traditional harp part so well that it seems weird to learn a different part to the same piece…

DSC00377

I’ve also been getting back into the habit of daily piano practice

Up until recently the most piano playing I would do is sight-reading through duets with my dad when I visit my parents in York. I still do that of course but I have been loving getting back into regular practice.

I could do with ideas for new repertoire to learn on the piano, as I’ve been doing the same four Czerny etudes for about ten years! Please comment below with suggestions. Am really enjoying clattering through the last movement of Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Prelude in D major and Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat.

I’d like to do more duets, and I’d like some piano lessons. I will investigate and report back next month.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Music Business Myths #1 ‘you only get one shot’

As a new experiment on this blog, I thought I’d share what I think are some misconceptions about the big bad music world and us mere humans trying to navigate our way around it.

The first one I’d like to address is the idea that, you get one chance to really make your career amazing. It could be a big concert, a presentation, some sort of performance or audition that you feel could be a huge break for you, and if you fail or do less than your best, that’s it – career ruined, minimum wage job for the rest of your life – no more chances.

This, in my opinion, is a mindset that is so unhelpful that we need to put it to bed right now.

Sure, some gigs might lead to more work, better work, with influential people – fantastic! – but if those seemingly ‘more important’ gigs don’t go well, you can recover, you can regroup, you can carry on and learn from failures instead of thinking of all the missed opportunities.

In fact, some of my ‘failures’ have actually taught me way more than the concerts that went well. As musicians, we dedicate our lives to learning, and this is true of freelancing as much as it is true for mastering your instrument.

Having an important string break just before a big concert? We learn to always have spares of everything. Just in case.

Late to an important gig? We learn to leave enough time, even when we think there won’t be traffic.

Solo performance could have been better? We learn to evaluate our performance, see where we went wrong, practice differently, and do better next time.

Instead of looking at all our failures, all the times we went wrong, all the times we didn’t fulfil our potential, let’s look at what went well, what we can change for the better, how we can improve.

A career like this is a journey for us. A huge learning curve. Nobody starts off knowing everything, we learn by experience. If something doesn’t go well, as Taylor would say shake it off and remember tomorrow is a new day. It’s a big world out there, don’t be afraid to jump in and move forward.

Continue Reading