The show(s) must go on.

I am writing this from my home for the week in Newcastle.  This week I’m playing for the Newcastle Musical Theatre Company’s production of Sound of Music in Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.  The first performance is tonight, which is very exciting!  Here’s my harp in the pit:

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I left my pillar cover on just to be on the safe side… the ceiling is really low!  This is probably the easiest pit I’ve been in recently.  This month I’ve also been playing with the National Festival Orchestra for the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton Opera House, which is beautiful:

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The technical team in Buxton move harps all the time (or so they told me) and thought it best to lower my harp down into the pit from the stage.  Oh my.  It was crazy – but actually – if you have enough people helping it’s not too bad.  Here’s my view from the pit once I was in:

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I was there to play in Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow.  What a fun operetta!  It’s still going round in my head most of the time.  The performances were separated by a day, and instead of being able to leave my harp in the pit I had to heave it out to go up to Scarborough to take part in a concert organised by the lovely Christine Cox, playing alongside Simon Lindley, Keith Swallow and Phillip McCann.  It was lovely to do some solo performing:

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After Buxton, Merry Widow was also performed in Harrogate’s Royal Hall – the pit was even more tricky than Buxton!  The harp had to be lifted over a waist-level rail before being lowered into the pit – thankfully again I had loads of people helping me (by helping me I actually mean doing it all themselves while I try not to freak out too much).  And I couldn’t even leave the harp there because in between performances I had to drive up to Newcastle for the first Sound of Music bandcall!  Yes this week has been mental.  I enjoy playing for shows so much though it’s worth all the driving, no question.

So here I am, in Newcastle for the week.  I thought I was being sensible by buying lots of healthy food to cook for myself (I’m staying in university halls of residence) but I didn’t realise that the kitchen is devoid of any pans/pots/cutlery!  I think some band members are donating stuff to me for the week, but tonight I’m afraid I’m having garlic bread and pizza, shove in the oven and eat.  As simple as you can get!

So that pretty much brings us up to date.  As ever, thanks for reading!  Lots of exciting projects coming up in the near future!  I can’t wait to tell you all about them.

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Lovely CLOUDS review

As part of the CLOUDS tour that happened a few weeks ago, we did a concert in Eastgate Theatre in Peebles.  This concert received a wonderful review and we are all really proud.  I wanted to share this with you…

‘CLOUDS ARE STARS!

A feeling of expectation fills the darkened room, lit by tiny flickering candle flames. A young woman floats in, the candle in her cupped hands lighting the folds of her many coloured silks. She asks us to go with the stars to the furthest cosmos and, like a butterfly, flutters down behind one of four huge harps, where her fingers pluck out a tinkling ostinato. She is joined by three more beautiful silk butterflies and the four harps blend the magical sounds of ‘Interstellar Clouds’, transporting us all to stars beyond imagination.

It is two years since I heard a concert by Clouds Harp Quartet. Then their music delighted, intrigued and moved me. I looked forward to hearing more. The four harpists, Elfair Dyer, Rebecca Mills, Esther Swift and Angelina Warburton, have grown up and developed with their music. They have been together for four years and have built a strong ensemble in which the chemistry between then is almost visible. They give more than a concert. It is a complete performance, the music enhanced by subtle lighting, costumes, props and seamless introductions with charm to draw us into the magical musical world of Clouds. These four lovely girls still look absurdly young, which belies their assured adult musicianship – for it is not simple music that they play.

Peebles’ own Esther Swift has composed much of the music, which makes use of the many voices of the concert harp – not all of them familiar or traditional. The extended technique uses plucking strings with fingers, finger tips or nails; glissandos; harmonics; sliding and striking the strings; tapping or banging the soundboard; even slipping card or metal inserts behind the strings. One harp creeps in with an insistent ostinato, which grows until all four harps play as one, the give and take of rhythm building sound and mood. The regularity of the ostinato lulls us into a false sense of security to be shattered by a sudden intense volume of sound – hands urgently slapping strings and soundboard. It is exciting, strong and dramatic. Esther’s music is not just pretty tinkling harp strings – from tiny, almost inaudible
sounds to huge crescendos; lilting folky rhythms to jagged syncopation – she makes the 188 harp strings speak and sing… 

‘Interstellar Clouds’ was composed by Esther and it was excellent to have another chance to hear her ‘Clouds’ inspired by a walk up the Sware and her father’s poem about the clouds.

And whose mother would not be delighted with a Mothers’ Day gift of an original composition – a song for voice and harp?  Deeply moving.

The main work performed was Esther’s latest composition ‘Water’, which took us from
the single raindrop that starts a river, through a delicate snowstorm to the ocean. From the rippling burn to the strong river currents the music really sounded wet, climaxing in the strong and aggressive pull of the moon on the high tide.  Finally, as earth and water come together, all four players left their harps to sing softly in harmony close to their rapt audience. It was an unforgettable musical journey full of colour, drama and mood swings.

Throughout the concert we shared the fun and joy that the players obviously get from their wonderful instruments. A quartet of concert harps is unusual (and must be a logistical challenge!) but this girl band really is something special, as many will discover on this tour.’

Claire Garnett – thank you so much for this wonderful review!

CLOUDS and beyond

So I ended the previous post saying I was going to be driving up to Edinburgh after the final Les Mis show a week last Saturday.  What I hadn’t bargained on was the weather.  After glorious sunshine for what felt like ages, that Saturday afternoon the rain started.  While packing for the CLOUDS tour I even wondered if I should bother packing jeans or just stick to summer dresses as I had been doing.  So glad I packed jeans!

Elfair and I left Runcorn at around 11pm for Edinburgh.  The rain was constant and very heavy – we arrived sometime around 5.30am.  I have little memory of actually arriving, the concentration required for driving in the pouring rain had completely drained me.  But we had a sleep in the following day to recharge our batteries.  That evening we had a concert in Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.  

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It was such a beautiful space, really blue!  They keep the front pew roped off as that’s where the Queen sits when she visits (sadly she decided not to attend our concert).  The following lunchtime we played in Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral.  We love playing here, there were so many tourists coming in and out all the time but lots of them sat down to listen to us (we also sold lots of CDs!)

After St. Giles it was time to drive down to Peebles in the Scottish Borders for an evening concert the following day at the Eastgate Theatre.  It was here that we had the idea to start the concert in complete darkness.  We go to the harps and start playing one by one, each holding a candle.  Our first piece is entitled ‘Interstellar Cloud’ so the candles look like twinkling stars as we play.   It’s also the bonus track on our new CD – WATER which can be purchased here  http://www.cloudsandharps.bigcartel.com/product/water

Here we are at Eastgate:

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We had lots of people commenting on our dresses, Rebecca (on the left in the photo) actually got these for us while working on the Queen Elizabeth cruiseship.  Two are from Costa Rica, one is from Malaysia and the other is from Mexico!  We loved how coordinated they are while still being individual.

After Peebles it was time to head down to Newcastle for a Wednesday evening concert in Trinity Church – another beautiful venue, followed by a Thursday lunchtime concert in Brunswick Church right in the city centre.

The rest of the day was spent driving down to Mynytho in North Wales.  I adore this area and luckily the weather was fabulous when we were there – there was even chance to paddle in the sea in Abersoch!

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We had an evening concert on Friday in Pwllheli (a concert that included lots of delicious cake in the interval!) followed by an afternoon concert on the Saturday in Llanbedrog at the Art Gallery.  This was a really special concert as we played outside in their little amphitheatre!  I’m sure you can imagine that the value of our harps means that conditions have to be perfect, but on that day we had the chance to play CLOUDS under the clouds!

On the Sunday we all went our separate ways, I headed back to Manchester, Esther set off for London, Elfair went to compete in the Eisteddfod and Rebecca went to support – Elfair actually won the Blue Riband so a huge well done to her for that!  What a way to end the week.

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So it’s been nearly a week since the tour ended and it’s back to reality – this is the first ‘free’ week I’ve had since I left Long Tall Sally.  There’s still lots to keep me busy though!  It’s amazing to not have to set an alarm for the morning, but it is rather alarming that my body wants to sleep until 11am some days!  Need to get some sort of schedule going – maybe next week!