Merry Christmas!

Well that’s it. I have finished all my gigs before Christmas!

It’s been pretty frantic over the past few months. Five Ceremony of Carols, a week of concerts with my harp quartet CLOUDS, and several other background and orchestral gigs too. I have two more engagements in 2013 – a funeral on December 30th and a New Year’s Eve Gala in Buxton.

My last gig was in Bradford Cathedral doing Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, which was being conducted by the lovely Alex Woodrow – an old school friend of mine from St. Peter’s in York. I was looked after exceptionally well. Convenient parking, coffee on arrival, a leisurely rehearsal schedule, a successful performance and pub&curry afterwards! Met some lovely people and generally had a great day. Good gig!

Just thinking back to this time last year, I had such a quiet Christmas it was unbelievable, I cried numerous times over having no work and worried constantly about the lack of money coming in. Compared with this year the difference is like night and day. I know that, even though January is quiet I won’t be living off couscous and frozen vegetables. Hurray!

2013 has definitely been a learning year. The first half was dominated by my job in Long Tall Sally, the second half dominated by lots and lots of work. In amongst all that there’s the constant uphill struggle of trying to ‘sort my life out’ – which is often on my to-do list. Is any musician’s life truly sorted at this stage? Looking back, some decisions I’ve made this year have been for the best and some have been downright silly. But all we can do is learn from the mistakes and do better next time. I’m so lucky that I have such a supportive family… and someone special in my life who I can talk to and lean on (gently) when things feel difficult.

So I’d like to wish all those who read these posts of mine a very Merry Christmas. I hope those of you who need to travel are able to do so safely despite the stormy weather, and let peace, goodwill and festive cheer be with us all. Somebody pass the mulled wine…

CLOUDS Christmas Concerts

The last seven days have been devoted to my harp quartet CLOUDS. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we rehearsed in my living room (having four harps in one room is far from normal). We were rehearsing for four concerts that made up our mini Christmas Tour.

The music we play is written by fellow CLOUD Esther Swift. It’s got a lot of folk influence. Think folk mixed with Steve Reich mixed with a tiny sprinkling of dub. None of the music is written down, this means Esther teaches it to us by demonstrating and explaining. It also means we have to remember it from one tour to the next, the amazing thing is we manage it.

It all started when we were at music college together, the four of us (myself, Elfair Dyer, Rebecca Mills and Esther Swift) were put in orchestra together to play Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. We had so much fun rehearsing together that when Esther mentioned that she’d written a piece for four harps we jumped at the chance to play more music together and it’s grown from there. I don’t think any of us (apart from Esther) had much experience with playing folk, learning by ear or improvising so for all of us it is a real learning experience and, personally, it has opened my eyes to new ways of learning music.

Bearing all of this in mind, it was fitting that the first concert of our tour was in the RNCM. The Studio Theatre to be exact:

20131216-201417.jpg

The current members of the harp department came along to support, which was lovely! There was an interesting moment when an astrophysicist came up to us at the end to correct our definition of an Interstellar Cloud. But how amazing that he saw that one of our pieces was called Interstellar Cloud and that made him come along to hear us!

This gig went pretty smoothly, ignoring the fact that a certain CLOUD managed to leave her shoes at my flat and had to run back and get them five minutes before we were due to be onstage. Not looking at anyone in particular (Esther).

The following day Elfair, Esther and myself headed to Long Marston in North Yorkshire for our second gig. We spent the day making sure we could play our programme with just three of us and playing through extra duets that expanded the programme from the previous evening.

Long Marston is a really special church for me, my parents were married there, my dad still plays the organ there and I was also Christened there. Having said that, it is one of the coldest and most spidery churches I’ve ever been in. We were ready for mulled wine and mince pies in the interval!

On Saturday we were playing for a sell-out concert in All Saints Church in Brandsby. Rebecca joined us for the rehearsal beforehand but it soon became clear that she was too unwell to perform (if you’re reading this Bec, get well soon and I’m sending you lots of cuddles!) so we made a last minute decision to play our Long Marston trio programme again as we’d already prepared it. Coming from a city like Manchester, Brandsby feels so rural, no street lights meant we were wheeling our harps in complete darkness – interesting. Plus we had to get four harps home in three cars.

Saturday was a little bit stressful.

On Sunday, we were booked to play for York’s Annual Community Carol Concert. I’ve been going to this event practically every year of my life. My dad, John Warburton, is the Musical Director of the event. The three of us arrived really early to set up, tune, sort out microphones etc. We found our dressing room, had some lunch and got ready for the concert. Everyone had remembered their shoes, we were unstoppable.

The afternoon itself was lots of fun, community carols sung by an audience of over 1,400, two school choirs, the beautiful Rebecca Newman, a brass band and of course CLOUDS all contributed to a lovely afternoon of Christmassy joy.

And then it was time to say goodbye, Elfair, Esther and Rebecca, you are all legends and I love you. Can’t wait til the next tour!

For more information about CLOUDS visit www.cloudsharpquartet.com where there is a link to buy our CDs!

December …

Well, Thursday of this week came and went and I couldn’t find the time to post. Naughty.

I am writing this from a rehearsal in Holy Trinity Church in Southport, with the Southport Bach Choir – I should say that I’m not rehearsing right now – that would be rude.

20131207-165106.jpg

Everything I’m involved in has been rehearsed so now my job is to amuse myself until the second half of tonight’s concert – I’ve been told there’s a Wetherspoons nearby so I’ll be fine.

But enough about today, let me take you through the adventures of the past week-and-a-bit.

A week last Friday I was doing some background music in Ormskirk at the Chapel Gallery as part of their Christmas celebrations. The staff had all come in fancy dress (including elves, witches and two ugly sisters). This was an exciting background gig for me as it was the first time I used my iPad instead of sheet music. A while ago a spent an afternoon scanning all my background music into the computer so I could put it on an app called ForScore. This handy app allows me to crop the music to get rid of white space around the edges, I can also make setlists (currently I have two; ‘background’ and ‘background – no Christmas’).

I received some lovely feedback from this gig and I think it was partly due to the fact that my presentation was neater than usual – no piles of music, no flicking through books trying to decide what to play next – it was all very slick.

20131207-165357.jpg

I’m still waiting for payment from this gig – quite tempted to name and shame the person who booked me for this as they are also a musician! If payment is going to take two weeks or even a month – fine – I’ll manage. But don’t tell me I’ll have it in five days when that isn’t going to happen, I just want an honest date on which I’ll be paid. Grumble grumble.

Saturday’s gig was at Leeds College of Music with the National Festival Orchestra. I had a great day. The programme was fabulously harpy, as you can see I had pride of place – centre stage:

20131207-165408.jpg

We were doing Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine and Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio (plus some Rutter that I wasn’t involved in). The Saint-Saens was quite a challenge but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I got some wonderful feedback about the Britten too. I just wish they had attracted a bigger audience because they deserved to have the place sold out.

…continued from the previously mentioned Wetherspoons…

I have left the cold of the church for the local pub. In a bit I will face the tricky situation of leaving my table to order food and hoping no one will claim said table before I sit back down.

Last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I was playing for a concert version of Phantom of the Opera at Cowley International College in St. Helen’s.

20131207-165415.jpg

Sunday rehearsal then Monday and Tuesday performances. It was the same group who did Les Mis this summer and Phantom early 2012 (right about the time I started this blog). I do like going back, the conductor – Shaun – and Danny the director are both absolutely lovely and we always have a good time. Again they deserved much bigger audiences simply due to the passion and enthusiasm that the staff and performers bring to the show. There was an unfortunate incident on Tuesday that involved the smoke machine causing the fire alarm to go off but apart from that the shows went smoothly. The appalling traffic on Tuesday caused me to be late – very unlike me, but I only held up the show by ten minutes…

So that brings us to Wednesday, when I was booked to play more background music at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester.

20131207-165423.jpg

Another outing playing from the iPad. Another gig where I was told I would be paid ‘by 10am tomorrow’ and am still waiting – four days later – for my money. The organisers brought in some arcade ski-simulator games, there was quite a surreal moment when I realised that we are all, in fact, still children at heart. I was playing Disney on the harp while grown men in suits played arcade games.

So a very busy week, but on Thursday I was taken to Cloud23 in the Hilton for cocktails. We got very dressed up and drank our drinks while enjoying the night time view of Manchester. Here’s the obligatory photo of me with my exciting cocktail that included chocolate covered raspberries.

20131207-165432.jpg

So that’s it for this week, thanks for reading, and hopefully I will have been paid for some of these gigs by the next time I post!