End of February…

Phantom finished last Saturday.  It was a really fun week and all the performances were completely sold out – and most got a standing ovation at the end!  I was particularly impressed with the lad playing Phantom, must only have been 16 or 17 but he improved so much as the week went on…

I feel like the most important part of the whole week was the post show trip to the pub down the road.  A lot of the players in the band asked for my number and mentioned that they knew someone who needs a harp for something or other.  So I made lots of new contacts, which is great!  All the internet-networking I do pales into insignificance compared with the work I get through word of mouth recommendations.

Phantom of the Opera is in fact coming to Manchester next month… I wonder who is sorting out the band for that… I’m pretty Phantomed out but I’d definitely get over that for a chance to play for a professional show!

Yesterday I was in Liverpool at the Liner Hotel for an audition for an agency that sends musicians on cruise ships, and to luxury hotels and corporate events etc.  As I do lots of background music anyway I thought I’d give it a go and see what comes of it.  Most of the acts auditioning were singers, songwriters, magicians or comedians.  I was the only harpist, and I have been invited to take part in the agency’s ‘Showcase’ in October – which is a brilliant chance to play for the people who book musicians for cruises, corporate work etc.  Personally I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s a luxury hotel in the Maldives that needs a harpist all Summer, that’s the dream anyway.

When I think about the place I was in a month ago, the difference between then and now is like night and day.  In January, I went home to my parents and cried my eyes out – I was worried about work, money, where to live, if music was really what would make me happy.  I had applied for a full-time job in arts administration and had two bar jobs.  I had hardly any gigs in the diary and had no idea what I was going to do and if I’d be able to succeed.  My parents have always had faith in me and are totally behind me, ready to fight my corner, they just told me to have faith and trust that things will pick up – no matter if it’s hard right now it will get better.

Now, my diary is filling up very nicely and there’s always something I’m working towards, something going in the diary.  I am so happy that I’m doing what I love, and so happy that my life cannot be pigeon-holed into an everyday 9-5.  I can sleep in when I want to, going to the pub can be justified as networking (brilliant!), I am my own boss and in charge of my own finances, I can never get fired!  I hardly ever have to battle through rush hour traffic or be up before 8am, plus I decide how much to pay myself.  I feel so free!  I have a career that is interesting to talk about and I have no idea where it might lead, or what I might be doing in a year, two, five, ten years time.  Sure, money is still tight, but I am getting by and I truly believe that if I keep doing what I love, the money will come.


Phantom of the Opera

This week I am travelling to St. Helen’s to play for a youth production of Phantom of the Opera.  I have been really excited about this as it’s one of my favourite musicals, and the film adaptation with Gerard Bulter and Emmy Rossum is one of my favourite films.

There are four performances, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings and Saturday afternoon – and by the looks of things they are all virtually sold out, which is great!  The band is made up of about a dozen of us and we are on-stage as opposed to being buried in a pit.  It’s really refreshing to be able to see what’s going on on the stage.  Last year I played for a rather more jazzy musical – 42nd Street – it was a lot of fun but the only action I was aware of was the sound of thirty tap-dancers pounding the stage.

The strange thing about Phantom is that, as well as a band, there is a backing track.  Andrew Lloyd Webber obviously leaves nothing to chance and provides the tricky-sounding organ part on a ready made CD as not all theatres come with built-in pipe organs.  It definitely adds to the texture of the music, which can sound quite sparse without a string section.

The Phantom’s mask for the Masquerade scene is particularly scary.  Although it was made less scary by the fact that the cast had to sit in the auditorium in full costume to hear the director’s notes before the dress rehearsal.  There it was, very scary skull mask, listening attentively to stage directions, resulting in hilarity and most of the band in fits of laughter.

Playing for shows is one of my absolute favourite things to do as a professional harpist.  There’s the camaraderie of being in a band that meets several times in one week.  The music itself, and lucky for me the harp often gets the most beautiful music to play – ‘All I Ask of You’ springs to mind – plus several glisses to add that extra sparkle.  And don’t get me started on the pre, during and post show drinks on offer…

We’ve had the technical and the dress rehearsal now, so fingers crossed it’ll all be alright on the night…


This lunchtime, my flute, viola and harp trio played in a lunchtime concert at Manchester University.  We performed Debussy’s Trio Sonata – a beautiful piece and definitely a classic for this ensemble.

Our trio is relatively newly formed, and it involves myself, Matthew Howells on flute and Joe Bronstein on viola.  We get together about once a week to rehearse.  Chamber music is something I didn’t do too much of at college, but I’m finding it can be a really refreshing way to make music and get to know other musicians… it’s almost like socialising!  Even though this was unpaid, it was definitely worth doing for the experience of playing this beautiful music.

A couple of things happened that are worth recording.  Getting the harp there was a little fiddly as Manchester Uni don’t let humble musicians park at all.  So my morning was spent doing the following:

  1. Pack up harp watch that velco!  Remember, you are wearing tights.
  2. Load harp into car
  3. Drive car to uni
  4. Unload harp and find someone to guard it
  5. Drive back home
  6. Contemplate the ridiculousness harpists have to go through sometimes
  7. Walk back to uni
  8. Unpack harp careful with the velcro covers near tights! – be ready to start rehearsing.

This process can be reversed to describe accurately what to do after the concert.

The playing actually went really well, the audience was enthusiastic but sadly quite few in number.  I guess you can’t have everything.  Better to have a small welcoming audience than a large, hostile one.

I did manage to put the piano stool on my dress as we were setting up during the concert, only to try and walk away and find myself rooted to the spot.  I finally freed myself and tried to push the wrong door to get off-stage.  Slightly embarrassing – but nothing compared to what happened after the concert.

So there I was, getting changed out of my dress, and I’m told that I need to move the harp now,  the hall is needed for another rehearsal.  Cue me, trying to get dressed allegro molto only to be told by Joe a minute later that I’d forgotten to fasten my skirt!

I think ‘mortified’ covers it pretty well.

The things we do for our art…

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day.  For girls like me who aren’t in a relationship, it can be a tricky one.  Do we pretend it doesn’t exist and try not to be insanely jealous at all the romantic things guys are doing for their girlfriends?  What do we do when the evening draws in?  Luckily for me I had plans months in advance this year: playing the harp to set the mood in a romantic restaurant in Chorlton, Manchester.

I remember thinking this morning sure, I set the mood for the restaurant, but who sets the mood for me?

The restaurant was The Lead Station in Chorlton and I would thoroughly recommend it.  It was beautifully decorated and very romantic.  Lots of candles and roses.  The harp was placed right in the middle of the eating area – and as you can see from the picture I think it looked lovely.  The staff were also lovely and very helpful with my harp and its covers.  Finn, the manager and Nick, the owner in particular were really welcoming.

Background music is a funny one.  As a harpist, I’m frequently called upon to play background music for events like this, or weddings, plus the occasional corporate function or fancy office party.  We sit there making (hopefully) beautiful music while the party happens around us, with nobody really listening.  But tonight was different, the restaurant was really quiet and I got applause.  Applause!!  For background music.  This was quite radical.

I also was given a complimentary meal from the special menu for the evening.  So I chose beetroot and spinach risotto with goats’ cheese (I can hear my mum’s mouth watering at that) followed by a beef burger – and I’m  not kidding, this was the best burger I’ve ever eaten in my life!  I asked for it medium cooked because I was so shocked they gave me a choice!  But seriously – excellent food and free drinks all night, shame I had to drive home.

Yes, it can be hard not having that special someone to spend Valentine’s Day evening with, but just because you’re not being taken out, doesn’t mean you are not loved.  It was a really good feeling to know that I was adding something to numerous couples’ Valentine’s Day – but never mind that, I earned some much-needed cash!

Brit Idol

Today, I had an audition for ‘Brit Idol 2012’ – a nationwide talent show with a prize of £1000 plus performance opportunities.  I came across the competition through starnow.co.uk.

As I live in Manchester, which is quite a large city, I was expecting the audition to be packed.  I was also expecting to be sitting around for hours.  So I took a new book with me, Stephen King’s The Stand, I’ve only just started it but I can tell I’m going to enjoy it.

So anyway I turn up at the Zion Arts Centre and the place is … well … pretty much deserted.  Eventually a man comes out with a clipboard and calls a register.  His register is only about a dozen names but half of those hadn’t turned up – luckily there was a friend of mine from RNCM also auditioning so we could sit and chat while we waited for our 5 minute audition.

I had arrived at 11.45am, by the time they start taking people in for auditions it was already 1.15 and I’d had to sneak out to buy a sandwich.  They didn’t call me in until 3.55pm!  I went in and did my thing (will post a video as soon as I work out how to transfer it from my phone to the internet).  The judges were a singer, a cellist and a pianist, and the only piece of constructive advice they gave me?

Smile more.

I waited around for FOUR HOURS and you are telling me to ‘smile more’ ? ? !

I could not believe what I was hearing, the piece I chose was jazzy and light-hearted, but what do they want me to do – grin like the cheshire cat because I’m playing happy music?  So frustrating…

So I’m just going to chalk it up to a learning experience – still can’t believe I paid £10 and waited all afternoon to be told that I look too intense when I play.

Nevertheless, onwards and upwards as usual.  I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner tonight so I can forget about this waste of a day…

The Harp


The harp that I play is a Lyon & Healy Style 30 – Natural finish.

Here it is pictured at a gig I was doing this New Year in Sheffield.  I adore this harp, I have had it for nearly two years now.  It has 47 strings and 7 pedals, and weighs around 36kg.

To transport it I have a large estate car with the back seats almost permanently laid flat.  So to wheel it around I need a trolley – and stairs present quite an issue, especially if there are a lot of them!

I quite often need to ask people for help while moving the harp, which is not always such a bad thing, it’s a good ice-breaker and a way of meeting someone new (it also makes sense to ask the man who looks like he’s the strongest/fittest to help me, I don’t mind that so much – for obvious reasons!)

Maybe this is part of the reason harpists have a reputation for being divas.  If you ask us to play on an upper floor and there is no lift, we will be annoyed, likewise if we are asked to play outside, next to a radiator or a fire, or anywhere that is freezing or too warm.  It’s bad for the harp!

The question I’m most often asked when I’m out and about with my harp is, ‘how much does it cost?’ to which I usually reply ‘it’s not for sale’.  But if you are looking for a harp like this, you’re looking at the £18,000 area.  People say to me ‘why don’t you sell it and buy an amazing car/holiday/deposit on a flat/whatever’.  That is to me like saying ‘why don’t you sell your left leg?’  Well, yes I could live without it if I had to.  But why would I want to?

a little about me

I am a 23 year old harpist, living and working in Manchester.  I am writing this blog to document my adventures in the world of the music business.

There are many areas of my life that will be included in this blog – as a freelance musician you have to wear several different hats, each hopefully contributing to either your development or your bank balance (ideally both).

I wear lots of hats right now, including:

  • concert harpist
  • orchestral musician
  • harp teacher
  • chamber musician
  • wedding harpist
  • self-publicist
  • business woman
  • bar staff
  • waitress

Having just graduated last year this is my first year being ‘out in the big wide world’ and it is scary.  I am on my own and responsible for my own success or demise.  My parents – who have always shown their support in every way and I will be eternally grateful for all their continued support and help – have re-assigned my bedroom into a lounge.  So giving up and moving home is not an option.

This is it.  Sink or Swim.