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…
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.
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.
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!
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:
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
It’s getting to that time of the academic year when music students are preparing for end of year recitals. For some of those students it will mean the end of formal education and the beginning of life in the big wide world.
During my last year at college I was mainly wondering how on earth I was going to make ends meet without my trusty student loan to get me through. Where was I going to find all this work I would need in order to pay the bills – council tax, what’s that??
I think it is natural to wonder what life will be like ‘on the outside’. With music, everyone’s experience will be different, I’m writing from the point of view of a harpist so my career will be different to other instrumentalists.
The first thing to expect when leaving music college is that there will be scary times. Times when money is way tighter than is comfortable, times when you look in the diary and realise there are no gigs three months from now. There are ways to overcome this fear: working hard and having faith. I’m not going to get all religious on you here, by faith I mean confidence in the fact that the work is out there somewhere – you just have to get out there and find it (that’s where the hard work comes in).
The second thing to expect after graduating – you will at some point be asked to play for free. This is a highly contentious issue and we all have to make the decision for ourselves. Personally, I don’t play for free for anyone except family. I don’t want people in the music world to know me as someone who will work for nothing. The most important reason I don’t play for free is: I can’t afford it.
Thirdly, you need to stay on top of emails/phone calls/voicemails.
The admin side is so important if you’re going to be successful as a freelancer. I’ve lost gigs because I forgot to answer a text or an email went into my junk mail instead of my inbox. Those are lost gigs. That is money down the drain. That is someone who won’t recommend you to their friends and who definitely won’t book you again. Make a ‘Needs Action’ folder for emails that need action and work your way through it meticulously.
Speaking of being meticulous – you need to watch your income and expenditure carefully.
Being a freelancer means you can earn vastly different amounts each month so it’s vital to know if you need to watch your spending during a rough patch. Try to squirrel away money when you can – for emergencies. A perk of keeping note of income and expenses is it takes no time at all to complete your tax return (go to an accountant) – I’ve already done mine for 13-14 and it took 15 minutes – Boom!
When I left college I found that I really missed my weekly lesson with my teacher.
I missed the little weekly targets and challenges. Once you graduate it’s easy to get into the rhythm of just practicing for the gigs you have coming up. One way to overcome this is to make sure you stay inspired – go to festivals, have lessons if you want to, go to lots of concerts, listen to solo repertoire and challenge yourself to keep adding to your own rep.
You may be about to leave formal education, but in those first few years out of college you will learn so much it’s unbelievable. I graduated three years ago and I still feel like I learn something new every day. I learn about what works and what doesn’t work in terms of organising myself and my working hours. I learn about how to work with different people and different personalities. I learn how to stand up for myself and say ‘no’ to gigs that don’t pay a reasonable fee, in good faith that I will find something better. My dad always says ‘you don’t learn to drive until after you’ve passed your test’. I think the same is true for freelancing. You have to make the jump and trust that you are capable of supporting yourself, you’ll learn the particulars along the way.
This way of life is so inspiring, you really are the master of your own destiny. Thing is, no one is going to gift-wrap a career and hand it to you on a plate, you have to get out there and find it for yourself. It’s daunting, but exciting.
A closing thought; remember that quote from American Beauty?
In order to be successful, one must project an image of success.
When it comes to social media, it’s all about projecting the image you want people to see. I’m talking about band/musician pages here – not our personal pages. Make your twitter page interesting, talk to people, build relationships with others in the same boat as you. Get really good photos taken and use them.
I’m not just talking about our online presence though. I mean in real life too. Do you show up to rehearsals late/scruffily turned out/hungover? Is that making the best impression? It sounds awful but sometimes it’s not just about the music. If you are rude to a fixer or you don’t get back to them, they won’t call you again and you’ll be off the list. If you get back to them promptly and are friendly and helpful on the phone – even if you are unable to do the gig they will probably call again. You need to be showing the best of yourself as much as you humanly can. Look your best, stay healthy, be friendly and polite and doors will open for you.
So there you have it, thoughts on leaving music college. Music graduates – do you have anything to add? Leave a comment below.
Finally I want to wish all the RNCM Harpists the best of luck with your upcoming recitals! I can’t wait to come and hear you (and celebrate with you afterwards).
Ok, this isn’t a post about gardening, sorry to anyone who stumbles across this post looking for lawn maintenance tips.
Having worked in retail, and in various roles as a musician, the phrase the grass is always greener on the other side comes to mind from time to time.
When you’re a freelancer, it’s so easy (pretty much unavoidable) to dream of the pension plans, stable income, job benefits, and general security that come with a full-time job. I’ve been there, I went and got the job. But when you’re on the other side of the fence expecting the wonderful life of having a payday each month, suddenly you begin to dream of the freedom to follow your passion, to travel, to be creative everyday, to not have a boss to contend with (my boss was lovely by the way!)
Basically, whatever you do, there’s always going to be a tempting alternative. So I think, instead of always looking around the next corner to see if something better is on the horizon, why don’t we look around us now and think ‘ok, how can I make my current situation better for myself?’ That way we won’t end up running so far from one extreme that we tumble off the other.
Do you remember that film called ‘The Secret’? A lot of people dismiss it as nonsense but in my opinion a lot can be learned from its principles. We have to be grateful for all the good things in our lives in order for us to have more to be grateful for. We need to do more of what we love and move in that direction. So for me, I love orchestral playing, I also want to travel. I love writing my blog and may someday investigate doing some sort of freelance writing. I love the freedom of setting my own schedule, fixing my own diary and taking responsibility for myself. I need to focus on these things that I love and do as much of them as I possibly can.
Things I’m not so keen on – feeling skint all the time. Well… I was still skint when I had my retail job. Also, you don’t need money to be happy – it helps – but I believe you can be happy when you’re low on funds. The skint-ness can be fixed by careful spending (check) and working harder (an ongoing process). As I’ve mentioned before, I have a wonderful app on my iPhone called Budget – Back in Black. So as long as I keep a record of income and outgoings, and stick to my savings goals, I can sort of trust that the money will come if I keep focussing on doing what I love. To a certain extent I can stop worrying about the money side of things. Worry is such a useless emotion.
I guess a good goal would be to stop wishing to be on the other side of the fence, and instead for each of us to cultivate our own side to the extent that we wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else.
This week’s post is addressing something I think a lot of freelancers feel. That is the guilty feeling hanging over us, telling us we’re not doing enough, should do more.
I hate the word should, I should get up earlier, I should be doing this or that, I shouldn’t go out because I should be being productive, eugh, it’s awful. It SHOULD be banned from our internal monologue (I know we all have one).
I have some theories as to why we feel this (I’m assuming I’m not the only one). Here they are:
- We often work from home, so there is little work/home separation.
- There are no immediate negative consequences for getting up late/having an unproductive day.
Obviously long term there are consequences for lack of productivity – but there is a time delay – we pay for laziness later in ways we often can’t predict.
- There is never a point that we can say ‘I have finished everything I have to do!’ There is an infinite amount to be done, freelancers are never finished, sometimes it can feel like a huge mountain to climb each day.
- If there is nothing set in the diary, it’s easy to feel we can start later and before we know it, the day has gone.
- With constant interruptions from phone calls/emails/technology/social media – it’s very easy to get distracted and not realise how much time is passing.
What can we do about this? Now I’m no expert, I only graduated a couple of years ago but I’m learning a few tricks that help my productivity immensely. This is obviously written from the perspective of a musician. These tips may work for you or they may not, but when it’s really important that I get as much as I can done, here’s what I do:
- Write a schedule for the day, the night before. Begin by listing everything that needs doing (I include things like ‘pay electicity bill’ and ‘laundry’ as well as ’emails’, and ‘admin’). Decide when to get up and what is going to be done each hour. For musicians – don’t just write ‘Practice’ actually write what is going to be practised, be specific. This helps because if you have scheduled 3 hours for practice, it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you miss one. But, if each session has a specific purpose, you’re more likely to get it done, as it might be the only chance you get that day to look at that certain piece/section/excerpt.
- Set an alarm and put it far away from your bed! This helps so much I’d actually say it’s the most effective way to increase productivity. When the alarm is right next to the bed, it is too easy to snooze, then before you know it hours have passed and you’re still in bed. Great. This has another advantage as well, for most of us, our smartphone is our alarm – by placing it on the other side of the room it means we don’t google/facebook/tweet away half the night and can actually get to sleep a lot quicker. I am a real sleepaholic (sleepophile?) so this one is difficult for me but it is so worth it!
- Actually stick to your schedule. Hopefully you’ve made it realistic and given yourself plenty of time to do what you wanted to. Tick things off as you do them, and if you get ahead of schedule – great! Time to chill later. I generally do mine in hour blocks but half an hour can work too.
- (This may be controversial) Keep your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ during working hours and set a time in your schedule to ring/text people back or listen to voicemails (put your email address in your voicemail greeting so people have another way of contacting you). This also has the added bonus of stopping your phone going off every time something happens on Facebook – a potentially huge time-sap. If you need to – schedule an hour at the end of the day purely for social media – particularly for freelancers who are trying to build an online presence.
- Try and get up at the same time each weekday. For those of us who work from home (can be a blessing or a curse) it’s good to have a routine. For example, you could get up at 8am every weekday, 9am on Saturdays and whenever you fancy on a Sunday… that way the weekend still feels like the weekend rather than each day feeling exactly the same.
- If you can work somewhere else, do. It is one of my dreams to have a separate bedroom, office and music room. Three rooms. Or maybe even an out-house where I can go specifically to do admin or practice. Unfortunately this is the real world and I live in a small flat. My bedroom has my harp and all my music in one corner and my desk and laptop in another. It takes self-discipline to go to one zone and not get distracted when everything is just there – being all distracting. You just sit down to practice but oh! laundry needs doing, ooh so does this morning’s washing up – ahh while I’m here I may as well tidy the kitchen… you can lose days like this so we must be strong and do one thing at a time. Schedule a time for housework and do it later.
*My mum will be reading this and realise that I am in fact, turning into my father – I’m so sorry*
So these are the things I try to do, but I also try and remember the following:
- Nobody is perfect. We’re all just trying to make a living. Let’s all just do the best we can, get stuff done then get on with enjoying ourselves. None of this ‘should’ nonsense. No more guilt. You Only Live Once.
- Mealtimes are rest times – no emails/phone calls during mealtimes. It seems like ages but I always try to give myself an hour for each meal – it spreads the day out and gives time to prepare something vaguely healthy.
- All hail wondrous coffee – there’s nothing like it to regain focus if you’re flagging mid-afternoon – or just struggling to wake up mid-morning. I bought my first coffee machine a few weeks ago and have been more or less wired ever since.
So there we have it – freelancers, how do you increase/maintain productivity? Please share tips & tricks in the comments!