Running vs Practice

Last November I turned 25. As a result, I decided it was time to look after myself, and my health. So on December 1st 2013 I restarted my running. I ran over 40km that month and am on course to beat that in January. I’m working my way through a Couch-10K app for anyone who is interested.

The regular practice of running has led me to ponder the similarities between running and music.

Firstly, I am not a gifted runner. Anyone who went to school with me can testify to that. BUT, having been working at it for a number of weeks I’m a lot fitter than I used to be. So if someone who is naturally gifted at running never trains, could they still beat the less talented but conscientious trainer? I’m not so sure.

You can apply this analogy to music. I admit that from an early age, teachers seemed to think I had an aptitude for the harp, and this, coupled with years of practice has allowed me to get to where I am now. But, had I not practiced and just trusted my ‘gift’, I wouldn’t have got anywhere.

This comes back to the whole nature/nurture debate. When people tell me how lucky I am to have such a talent (implying that I was somehow born being able to put on a full evening recital), I want to tell them actually no it’s not luck – I worked damn hard to be able to do this (I don’t actually say that, it comes across as rude for some reason). I feel that putting achievements down to talent alone is inaccurate and insulting to those who work hard every day to be able to do what they do.

The same with running, right now there is no way I could run a marathon (or even a half), but with training and regular practice, who knows how far I could go (pun intended). Maybe what we are born with is the potential, what we do with it is up to us.

Another similarity between the two disciplines. You can practice for years and it never feels any easier. What was hard for me in the first week of December I now do regularly, but now I am working on more challenging things. When practising, you are always pushing yourself to be better, to achieve more, to go faster, to improve technique. As a result, practising will always feel hard. It is about finding your own weak spots and putting them under a microscope. It’s a search and destroy mission to remove weaknesses in performance. It is mentally and physically draining, and if you aren’t passionately committed to it, it will be very unpleasant.

Still, it’s a voyage of discovery. It’s satisfying to be able to do things you were previously unable to do. A future post will be talking about how to practice effectively (musically speaking). Proficiency in any discipline is very satisfying, not to mention absolutely vital if you are attempting to make a career of it.

ready for my close-up…

After having driven back from London last Wednesday night, I hoped in vain for some sort of lie-in on Thursday morning. This was not meant to be, however, as I was booked in for a Skype meeting at 8am with my lovely fellow members of CLOUDS Harp Quartet. I can’t complain too much though, how many of us can boast the fact that we can have an early morning meeting from bed, complete with dressing gown, coffee and Alpen?

We have a lot to talk about. But first thing’s first. We had this weekend to sort out. My role in CLOUDS is something of ‘tour manager’ when we are together, so that means I get to do the schedule! I love schedules! Sadly I’m not being sarcastic, I actually do. So we needed to talk about who is staying where, whose harp is staying where, and when we are going to rehearse, eat etc. – organising the logistics of four harps can be challenging!

First thing Sunday morning we went for a photoshoot with the lovely Julie Harris.. We needed some publicity photos for an upcoming concert in April in Caernarfon as part of the International Harp Festival (yes we are super excited). We thought we could get it done in an hour. We were slightly deluded. Three hours later we left the building. Julie taught us how to stand and look good in a photo. It felt quite awkward at times, but then you look at the photo and somehow you’ve become thinner, but with curves in all the right places… I think Julie might be some sort of wizard. In fact I went back to see her on Wednesday morning for some solo shots.

After CLOUDS’ photoshoot we immediately went for a meal as Esther was about to keel over. We went for a spot of Thai food at Manchester restaurant Umami, then went back to my place to rehearse. But how do you rehearse when you’re so full you just want to sleep? We couldn’t stay lazy for long though, we have new music to learn! Esther has written a four movement piece for Caernarfon and, as is the CLOUDS way, none of it is written down. Esther teaches it to us by demonstration and explanation and we try to cram it all into our brains. But it’s fine, we’ve been learning music together this way since 2008, and we love the freedom it gives us.

Monday morning we rehearsed again, 9-12. We were reminding ourselves how lucky we are that this is our Monday morning, no hideous traffic, no getting up at the crack of dawn, just learning some great music and playing together over coffee and good company.

We had a meeting Monday evening with our fantastic teacher Eira Lynn Jones. A couple of hours later we left, stuffed full of home-made macaroons (thanks Bec!) and bursting with new ideas for future projects… I can’t wait to share some of them when the time comes!

So that’s about all my news for this week, it’s been another busy one! Maybe things will calm down soon… not that I would want them to of course!

Erm, where’s my time off?

I hope everyone is settling in to the New Year nicely, who is keeping their resolutions?

So I just looked back to my ‘Week 2’ post of last year. It makes rather depressing reading. I was struggling financially and needed a part time job to tide me over. I felt out of control regarding my earnings and hated living month to month, not knowing if I’d be able to pay rent next month.

Well, a lot can change in a year.

I had so much work in November and December of 2013 it was absolutely fantastic, as well as a bit frantic. I admit I was looking forward to the quiet of January. I knew I’d made enough money to feed myself even if I got no work this month – which happily isn’t the case. I also feel a lot more in control of my finances since using the iPhone app ‘Back in Black’, which I talk about in the post Will We Always Feel Skint?

So rather than wallowing in the lack of work and freaking out about the future, I’m taking a different approach this year. I’m being generally a bit more on it, getting stuff done regarding admin, practice and other life-stuff that needs doing. I’m also using this time to take stock, to think about possible projects for the upcoming year and setting myself some targets. More info coming on those projects as and when… but I’m pretty excited already! So basically, when I thought January would be something of a holiday, I was wrong, it’s a holiday from three gigs a week but there’s still so much to do!

This last week I’ve been playing down in London, but annoyingly I’m not allowed to say what I was doing! This will definitely be the subject of a post around April time so keep your eyes peeled. This photo was shared on Facebook so I guess I’m allowed to share it here, check out the beautiful paper birds:

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But that’s literally all I can say at this point, so watch this space!

In other news, my harp quartet have been brainstorming ideas for this year too. 2014 is going to be an exciting year. If you haven’t seen our website yet you can visit it here.

Happy New Year!

I’d like to start by wishing all those who visit this page and read my blog a very happy and healthy new year.

I brought the new year in by playing with the British Concert Philharmonic Orchestra in a New Year’s Eve Gala in Buxton Opera House. The gigs I do with this orchestra tend to involve getting the music on the day and spending the rehearsal sightreading, then practising like mad in the breaks and hoping for the best in the gig. NYE was no different. The first half felt like back-to-back harp solos. O Mio Babbino Caro, The Pearl Fishers Duet, Meditation from Thais, it was never ending! These are pieces that I learnt the part for years ago – while at school – for ‘the future’. Well, I’m glad I did but even so the rehearsal was rather stressful. I spent the time between the rehearsal and the concert drinking coffee and note-bashing.

Weirdly enough, the gig itself went really well. Must have been that sneaky practice I did before. Part of me loves these gigs where you turn up and sightread, it means you can’t get stressed before the day because you don’t know the programme yet. On the other hand, I can’t hang a sign on my harp that says ‘I’m sightreading!’ just so the audience (and the players) will forgive my mistakes. Having the chance to fully prepare is obviously preferable.

The concert finished at around 12.30am at which point it was time to drive back to Manchester for a few chilled out New Year drinks (lemonade only as I was driving).

I’ve made a few New Year’s Resolutions, firstly, be less messy, secondly, carry on running three times a week (which I successfully achieved in December – woo!), thirdly, wear dresses more often, and finally, stick to working hours during the day (see my previous post on keeping schedules).

In fact, on the subject of running, here’s a photo from my run on the moor near my parents’ house. It was a gorgeously crisp morning, a little icy, but beautiful none the less:

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