The PSP Association

I’d had this gig in my diary for a long time, labelled only as ‘PSP Gig’.  It wasn’t until the event was imminent that I actually found out what PSP stands for.  It stands for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, which is a terminal, degenerative, motor-neurone brain disease – often mis-diagnosed as MS.  I was chatting with some families at the event and they were telling me that it affects around 10,000 people.  It leaves the mind completely intact yet gives the victim less and less control of their muscular movement.  Symptoms include  backward falls and problems with vision, eventually, patients may lose the ability to walk, talk, see or swallow.

It sounds absolutely heart breaking.  Yet its causes are unknown and there is no current treatment or cure for the condition.  I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it.  Lots more information about PSP and the PSP Association can be found at http://www.pspeur.org or pspassociation.wordpress.com

The event I was providing music for was a fundraising evening held at Garrowby Hall.  Situated in the Yorkshire countryside, it has to be one of the most beautiful places I have seen.  Rolling hills, beautifully manicured lawns, horses, sheep, and a pig!  The house itself was exquisite as well.  We were asked not to take photographs but it felt like I’d walked into a Jane Austen novel.  I was playing in the drawing room, filled with comfy sofas, a writing desk, tasteful vases of flowers and beautiful antique chairs.

For the first half of the event, the sun was shining so everybody was outside mingling, leaving my only audience – a black labrador who  I believe goes by the name of Teddy – to enjoy the music alone.  The organiser came and told me I may as well mingle with the guests and eat some canapés – I was certainly not going to complain about that!  During the second half of the event, a lot of the guests came back into the drawing room and sat in silence while I played some Debussy and Bach for them to listen to.  It’s always surprising when you go expecting to play in the background and everyone listens attentively!  I felt like I was giving a mini-recital.

So, all in all, this was a most enjoyable gig, for a really good cause that deserves more publicity than it currently receives.

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RNLI Lifeboats

Last Sunday I was invited along to the Annual Presentation of Awards for the North Region and North Division of the RNLI at York Racecourse.

My Auntie Brenda had been invited because of the work she does raising money for this great cause, and her son, my cousin David, came as well as he volunteers as a crew member for his local lifeboat team.

I know my posts are usually about music, the harp, gigs etc. so I thought I’d write about something a bit different today.  The Awards Presentation happened either side of Afternoon Tea – involving scones, sandwiches and cakes!  Very English, exceedingly yummy!

We were shown a couple of films depicting dangerous rescues that have been undertaken – it’s so hard to believe that the vast majority of the amazing work these people do is voluntary!  They are literally saving lives.  Many people at Sunday’s event were receiving awards for their fundraising efforts over the years – my Auntie Brenda included.  It was really nice to be a part of the day – plus there were a few opportunities for the obligatory cardboard cut-out photographs…  We also noticed that, as people were receiving their award, the crown on the flag behind sits rather neatly on their head, and for that, I hope I am forgiven…

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Anyway, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and catch up with some family.  A big Well Done to my Auntie Brenda, thoroughly deserved Bronze Badge from a very worthy cause.

Mahler 2

Last weekend I had a gig in Sheffield, with Sheffield Symphony Orchestra.  The only piece on the programme was Mahler’s Second Symphony.  Now there are two harp parts for this epic piece, however, it seems I was the only harpist that could be booked for this day.  Mahler’s writing for harp (that I have experienced) is lovely.  Sometimes it’s quite sparse, but you can hear 95% of the notes.  And that, for what is usually an instrument buried underneath more forceful instruments – looking at you, brass and percussion – is unusual.  But it left me in a little pickle.  Both harp parts are important, how on earth do I set about putting them both in?

Should have got double the fee in my opinion but apparently that’s not how it works.

Anyway, there were a couple of places that I had both parts on my stand and was piecing it together in what I hope was a convincing manner.

The Symphony is nick-named ‘The Resurrection’, the fourth movement includes a solo voice, and the fifth includes an entire chorus – I’ll include the English translation of the text, it really is as uplifting as the orchestration:

Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.
To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.
—Friedrich Klopstock
O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!
O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!
What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You masterer of all things,
Now, are you conquered!
With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Its wing that I won is expanded,
and I fly up.
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God will it lead you!
—Gustav Mahler
I must say a massive well done to Dane Lam – the conductor.  He did a marvelous job of this epic piece – I would imagine that conducting Mahler 2 is a big dream of any aspiring conductor.
While I am dishing out mentions, I must say a big thank you to Simon Passmore.  Not only did he keep me company in the car, he got out in the rain to reserve me the most ideal parking space, bought me lunch, dinner, and snacks (I think he’s trying to fatten me up) and just generally was a massive help on the day.  Thank you!

Outdoor Concerts

Outdoor concerts, are there any two words that strike more fear into a harpist’s mind?  This weekend has been crazily busy – apparently something has been going on – a national holiday of sorts, something to do with the Royal Family.

Anyway, Friday I had a wedding in North Yorkshire, very questionable weather, under a marquee.  Wonderful.  Saturday’s wedding was extremely lavish.  In a gorgeous hotel near Ripon, not only had they booked me, there was also a string quartet, singing waiters, and a pianist.

Sunday, oh my, Sunday.  I was called upon to play for ‘Proms on the Pitch’ at Macclesfield Football Ground.  It would have been such an amazing gig had the weather been ok.  But as it was, it poured down all day and yes we were under cover but it was exceedingly cold. We went to a lovely Michelin starred pub/restaurant for dinner called Sutton Hall if I remember correctly.  Excellent food, shame as usual I couldn’t enjoy a little glass of wine but nevermind.  I worried a lot about my harp as very cold weather causes the strings to contract, increasing the chances of cracks in the soundboard – eeek – having said that, it was great fun playing Proms-style classics, 1812 Overture, Entry of the Gladiators, Pomp and Circumstance etc.  But what shocked me more than anything was the fact that we had an audience!  People had come out in the rain and wind, to sit outside and wave their union jacks for us to celebrate the Jubiliee.  I just thought it was absolutely amazing and very heart-warming – even though I was in fact probably a few degrees away from contracting hypothermia.  At least the audience could dance to keep themselves warm (they did).

Then Monday rolled around, hurray, third outdoor gig in one weekend – my poor harp.  But – who’d have thought it, it was bright sunshine in Liverpool!  A very nice man arranged for me to park for free all afternoon – bonus – and I could get from car to stage using only lifts and ramps – amazing.  So that was a really nice day – a mixture of Debussy, Vaughan Williams and Stravinsky for Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s contribution to ‘Proms in the Park’  – at Chavasse Park – to a large audience, soaking up the sun on deck-chairs and eating ice-cream.

So I ended the weekend feeling very patriotic and as though I’ve made my small contribution to the Jubiliee celebrations, but I was absolutely exhausted.  I will admit my harp has been in its covers since Tuesday evening – I need a few days off to refresh my brain!