Harrogate revisited…

I have wondered whether or not to write about this gig, because the whole day was just pretty stressful and I try to keep negativity out of this blog.  But as this whole thing is about being honest about what the music business is like, I’ve decided to include it.

Let’s start with the good:

  • My parents came to watch the concert – it’s always so lovely to see them and to have some supporters in the audience, someone to play for.
  • The playing itself was lovely, it’s music I enjoy playing – particularly the Agnus Dei from Howard Goodall’s Requiem, that’s a really nice part to play.
  • There was wine in the interval.

Ok that’s done, onto the rest of the day:

  • Harrogate, despite being a small town, seems really difficult to find your way around – due to all the one-way systems that my sat-nav is too old to know.
  • Once I’d found the church I had to unload, up a few steps but no big deal.  The next task was to find a car park.
  • Found one!  Full.
  • Found another one!  The machine gave me a ticket before letting me in and I dropped it on the floor!  So embarrassing, I had to actually stop the traffic after parking to go and pick it up from where I’d dropped it.

Once I’d found my way back to the church (thank you smartphone GPS) I just turn around to put my bags down and turn back around to find a man I’ve never seen before grab my harp and say ‘ooh it’s pretty heavy isn’t it!’  Cue a rather annoyed ‘excuse me I’ll do that!’ from myself and he wanders off smiling to himself – infuriating!

The conductor – a lecturer from Leeds Uni, asked me to go to the other side of the podium once I’d got settled down – I wish he could’ve introduced himself to me and asked me to set up there when I’d first arrived.  I’m pretty sure he had no idea of my name until I gave him my business card after the concert.  Being referred to as ‘harp’ all day is a bit depressing.  There are some more things I could say but I will leave it there.

The second half of the concert was a performance of Carmina Burana by what was frankly a gigantic choir including a school choir – I’m sure several of whom didn’t sing a single note.  I watched from the front row with my parents.

Oh, and one more thing, music geeks will relate to how annoying this is.  The audience applauded after every movement.  I’m sure it added at least 20 minutes to the overall running time of the concert.  I found the perpetrator who started the applause and glared at her several times to no avail.  My mum and I couldn’t stop ourselves giggling due to the fact that my dad had brought a score along so he could sort of ‘read along’ with the concert – and he sniggered to himself every time something went wrong – in the front row.  Amazing.

So after the concert all the was left to do was get paid (yay!) and drive home through what was probably the worst fog I’ve ever seen.  Ever.  So as you can imagine I was very relieved to arrive home to a nice glass of sherry and a catch up with the parents.


end of the week

Remember the post about how last week was really quiet?  This week has been the total opposite.

I’ve been to:

  • Harrogate
  • London
  • Stockport
  • Sheffield

and ended the week in my hometown of York.

The Stockport gig was fun.  Only instead of putting the church in my satnav I actually put the vicarage – so you can imagine my confusion upon arriving down a random street in suburban Stockport with no church in sight.

I swear I must be really thick to be able to get lost even with the assistance of my faithful tomtom.  I eventually found the church (maybe it was a miracle?) only to find there was one space in the whole car park – at the far end.  There was a line of cars jostling for it and the conductor – Jim Cooke – was standing in the space, reserving it for me.  How sweet!  I have no idea what I would have done had he not been there.  One of the basses from the choir very kindly paid for my parking as well, Stockport may not be the prettiest of places but it certainly was friendly.

The rep for the concert was Janáček’s arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer, and Howard Goodall’s Requiem (which, by the way, I’m also performing this coming Saturday in Harrogate – has everyone gone Goodall crazy?).  I had never played either of them and actually they are both beautiful pieces.  The arrangements were for harp, organ and choir.  I don’t envy the choir though some parts sounded challenging to say the least…

So that brings me to yesterday.  Mothering Sunday (Happy Mothers’ Day to my wonderful mummy).  I was playing in a retirement home called Brunswick Gardens in Sheffield for their Mothers’ Day Lunch.  A number of people came up and said they enjoyed my playing, and some even took my demo CD.  Upon hearing my rendition of the Welsh folk-song Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn a lady came up and requested a different folk-song, and I had to sheepishly say I didn’t know it.  How embarrassing.  Still, onwards and upwards.

As Sheffield is kind of in the middle of Manchester and York I decided to drive to York to see my parents, I went for a walk with my mum in the early evening sunshine and then, for some (rare) piano sight-reading practice, me and my dad worked our way through Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite for piano duo.  My skills are definitely getting a little rusty, I have now decided I’d like a piano with me in Manchester – the only question is how to get it there?


Yesterday I spent the afternoon snoozing on the train down to London Euston.  I had a background gig in the Royal Courts of Justice with the lovely, talented, Esther Swift.  We form half of the harp quartet Clouds, I’m sure I’ll be writing lots more about us in the upcoming months but only two of us were available on this occasion so we were the Clouds duo.

Before smartphones, I have no idea how I found my way around London.  I love going to visit and see the sights – I always have to visit the Natural History Museum, that’s the geeky part of me – but I had no idea where to find the Royal Courts of Justice.  Google maps, what a life saver.  Also being able to google ‘nearest tube to courts of justice’ proved very handy.  All of which resulted in me arriving one and a half hours earlier than I needed to.  Luckily there was a nice looking cafe right opposite so I sat in the window and took some photos:

This was after the first attempt, a car drove past me at the wrong moment and it just looks like a nice photo of London cab:

Anyway, Esther arrives and we decide to make our way into the building, past the security checks and then we had to wait for the harps to be delivered.

A note here, thank you so much to Holywell Music for allowing us to hire a couple of lovely harps for the evening.  I’ve driven to gigs in London before with my harp – so not worth it – I had a run in with a traffic warden who made me cry (I was in a designated loading bay!)  And just finding parking that’s accessible with harp is so difficult.  London-based harpists… I salute you!

So hiring harps meant we could get the train down – very cheap – and I could have a drink after the gig!  Amazing!

We were provided with exceptional canapés, which looked so good I had to take a picture:

I’d like to add that that’s apple juice, not whisky.

We were playing on a balcony overlooking the Great Hall, the view was fantastic:

The whole hall was packed for the event, luckily we were mic’d up so apparently we could actually be heard.  It really did look fantastic.  I gave my card and demo CD to a man who organises weddings in Rhodes… what an amazing gig that would be!

Finding a stair-free way to get the harps onto the balcony was interesting, everyone was telling us different things and I don’t think anybody really knew if there was a way.  But we found one, unfortunately we found it after taking a harp up a lot of stairs, only to have to bring it back down – it would be comical if it wasn’t so annoying!

A big thank you as well to Ben Lloyd-Evans at Sternberg Clarke for sorting it all out for us.  We had a great time!

Majestic Hotel, Harrogate

This is probably the last thing any harpist wants to see upon arrival at a gig:

Was there a lift?  Of course not!  So I do my usual thing of asking to get a small team together to carry the harp up the stairs.  The man who seemed to be in charge walked straight up to my harp and grabbed it before asking ‘is it heavy?’  Cue one huge heart attack.  The man was busy telling me exactly what the best way to lift it would be until I managed to get a word in edgeways and remind him that I move my harp on a daily basis and maybe, just maybe, have a little more experience in that area than he does.

Long story short, the harp got up the stairs, my way.  I win, harp is fine.

I’m amazed that, when I called the hotel earlier to ask about parking near the door, I asked ‘are there any stairs?’ and got the answer ‘no, just a couple to get in the door then you should be fine.’

Slightly misleading don’t you think?  See above picture.

Anyway, the gig was background music for a dinner.  I was playing with a lovely flautist Jenny Dyson – in her first year of a Masters course at RNCM.  We did a mix of Welsh folk songs (all of which are still dancing happily away in my brain and will continue to do so for some time I’m sure) and popular serenades (Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet etc.)

It was so nice to have some company in the car to and from the gig, especially the journey there – battling rush hour traffic on the M62 is never fun, so at least there was company, good conversation and an assortment of confectionery items.

This week is crazily busy, this post will have to be cut short as I’m about to rush off to London to play a gig tonight at the Royal Courts of Justice with the lovely Esther Swift.

the quiet weeks

This week is almost completely empty in my diary, scary!

With the exception of a bit of teaching on Saturday and working at the bar on Sunday night, the rest of the week is my own.  It’s hard to believe it’s already Thursday, without the structure of gigs/places I have to be, it’s a challenge to actually schedule myself to, you know, do stuff.

While it is great to take it easy for a few days, get up late, stay up late, go shopping, watch films, I’m finding that this is the best time to do all the admin type stuff that comes with being a freelance musician.  Emails, wow I wonder what it was like when everything happened by letter?  I get so many emails to sift through on a daily basis – not that I’m complaining – once upon a time my business email account was something I checked every so often, while my personal account was the one I always checked.  These days, my personal account has become the place where spam email goes to die.  I live my life through my business account.

Sorting out the diary is another big job, making sure I have all the details of upcoming gigs, checking that I haven’t forgotten to get some vital piece of information like the venue for example (it has been known).

And now the nice bit – I have time to practice nice music!  I have time to practice solo pieces!  It’s just so nice to sit and play without any sense of not having enough time or being in a hurry or under pressure.

It can be tricky organising myself to stick to a schedule, especially when no one will know if you stick to it or just decide to laze around – not that I ever do that *cough*.  Tell me, what are your tips for staying motivated to get all those little jobs done?

Background Music

Yesterday evening I received a phone call asking if I was free this evening to play some background music for a dinner.

It is so unusual to get gigs this late notice (thank you to the lovely Alice Kirwan for giving my number to the guy sorting it out).  The fee was less than I would charge for background music at a wedding, but, still half a month’s rent so I went for it.  And here it is:


The dinner was at The Midland Hotel – right in the centre of Manchester.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous hotel.  Only problem was there were fifteen steps (yes I counted) to the room where the dinner was taking place.  Nowadays all hotels have to be super-duper accessible so this surprised me.  The staff were very enthusiastic in helping me though so I can’t complain.  They also got me a diet coke and didn’t complain when I immediately spilt it all over the carpet (oops).

Background music is just so different to normal performing.  In lots of ways it is a lot freer, as no one is listening that intently you can put in lots of repeats to err, pass the time (don’t tell anyone).  But after about half an hour I realised that this was as calm as I’d felt all day.  Just playing beautiful music to set the atmosphere.

Considering the fact that I’m a musician, I spend a large proportion of my time ‘sorting things out’, posting contracts/invoices, getting hold of music, replying to and sending emails, it feels good to chip away at these things but sometimes it feels as though for every little thing I get done, three more suddenly need doing.  So it is actually very therapeutic to just play.  Not to worry about the ‘to-do’ list that day or what I have to get done, just enjoying the sensation of making music allows my brain to be quiet for a few minutes, almost like meditation.

It’s a chance for the voices in my head to just be still and quiet… not that I have voices in my head, you understand…