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:
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!