Sounds of the Cosmos II

On Tuesday 9th June I had a gig in Sheffield, playing with Sheffield’s Rep Orchestra conducted by a good friend of mine – George Morton.

The ‘rep’ we were playing was Gustav Holst’s The Planets as part of Sheffield’s ‘DocFest’ or Documentary Festival.

The concert was in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, which was exciting in itself – we used to take school trips there to see plays from time to time. Í’ve played The Planets in Sheffield so many times in the past few years, but this was definitely a special gig.

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Behind the orchestra was a big screen, showing visualisations and photographs of outer space, the planets, and different types of star. It was completely fascinating. This visualisation in particular just blew me away.

As is becoming my habit, I arrived in Sheffield an hour and a half early so I grabbed a quick coffee and a pain au chocolat in the nearby cafe Marmadukes – it’s a small but lovely place just around the corner from the theatre. The staff were great and talked me through their extensive choice of coffees. I sat for a while and caught up on some reading (Needful Things by Stephen King) before heading back to the theatre to set up and tune.

We rehearsed for just over an hour then had some time to get ready for the 8.30pm concert. Quite a late start but I heard there were over five hundred people there. There are two harp parts for the Holst and the other harpist was the lovely Alley York:

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The performance went really well, we even got a little standing ovation, but as it was a late start it was well after midnight when I finally got home to Manchester. Long day but so worth it.

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Harpists don’t travel light.

My parents know I don’t travel light. When I go to stay with them for a couple of nights I always take way too much stuff – enough to go on holiday for ten days (wishful thinking?) and I’m starting to think that it might have something to do with being a professional harpist and just needing a lot of stuff when I’m out and about.

I envy the pianists/organists of this world who can just bring music and they’re done. I know it’s a pain to never be able to perform on your own instrument, but you can take the train! Yes, I see that as a perk – I guess the grass is always greener.

I played at a wedding today, here’s what I had to take with me, and what I take with me when I have any sort of gig:

– car (ok this one is obvious)

– harp (again, pretty essential)

– music stand

– tuning machine

– tuning fork

– tuning key

– spare tuning key

– ipad

– ipad charger

– spare sheet music

– spare strings

– spare string anchors

– harp trolley (almost forgot!)

– bicycle pump for harp trolley

– pencil

– pencil sharpener

– rubber

– duster

– stand light – in case of a power-cut or, you know, nightfall

– clothes pegs in case I have to clip music to my stand in high winds

– concert dress

– concert shoes

– make-up

– business cards

– my laminated ‘Do Not Touch’ sign. Indispensable.

– snacks – I try to keep these as healthy as possible, usually a banana or some cashew nuts

– book to read – currently reading Needful Things by Stephen King

– phone charger

– special chemical hand-warmer thingies – these.

– normal handbag and all its usual contents.

Phew! See what I mean? That’s a lot of stuff and I have needed it all at some point or other. I’m always finding new things that I need to bring with me.

Harpists – what do you always need with you at a gig? Do share and together we can be the most thoroughly prepared harpists the world has ever seen!

Copenhagen

It’s taken me a long time to write this post, I’ve done plenty to try and procrastinate and put it off – yoga, watching Gossip Girl, eating what must be millions of calories in galaxy bars – but now it is time to put on my big-girl-shoes and tell you what happened in Denmark.

I was offered an orchestral audition in Copenhagen. It might be unfair to publicly broadcast who it was for but nevertheless it was an incredible opportunity, here was my actual dream job, all I had to do was nail the audition and I might just maybe possibly be in with a shot! Hell yeah I’d move to Copenhagen! Learning Danish? Just tell me when to start. Seriously, I felt like I would do anything to get that job.

So I booked five days in Copenhagen with my wonderful Mum who offered to keep me company. Here we are having one of many meals out along the way.

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I had been very busy learning two pieces for the different audition rounds: the Debussy Danses Sacrée et Profane and Fantasie by Spohr. The Spohr was the first round so I knew the panel would definitely hear that. Debussy would be on day two, but if I got that far then obviously I still had to do my best.

About a month before the audition I received a list of the orchestral excerpts I needed to prepare. All 143 pages of them. Thirty-one excerpts in total. Everything was there, from the cadenzas all aspiring orchestral harpists need under their fingers (Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Verdi) to excerpts I knew to be extremely difficult and/or had never even heard of (the ever-present Wagner, Elliott Carter, Albeniz). I had one month to learn all of them, that’s one a day.

I’m not going to lie, that month was not fun. It was not fun at all. I all but stopped socialising, I almost injured myself by practising until my arms hurt, taking a break, then starting again. But you know what? I pretty much got them ready, and regardless of what happened, that stands me in good stead for the future.

So off we went, we were staying with a lovely couple we met through AirBnB – Anne & Jakob – their flat was fab and very close to the metro and the concert hall where the audition was due to take place.

The audition was on the first full day we had in Denmark, first thing in the morning. It was a blind audition, which I am totally in favour of. Basically the panel sit behind a screen and the idea is they have no clue who you are, they just pick the best players, rather than the ones they know, or teach, for example.

They actually stopped me during the Spohr, which I’ve always been told is a good sign – they’ve heard what they need to hear – if you’re terrible then the panel is obliged to hear until the end, perhaps something went wrong and you’ll fix it before the end, it would be unfair to stop you. So I was happy with that, then I just had to play the cadenza from Waltz of the Flowers, which I learnt about ten years ago so I was really confident with that.

After I played I was told to pack up and wait upstairs, which we dutifully did. We waited for about ten minutes and then I found out I hadn’t been chosen ‘Sorry’.

Talk about brutal.

So mum and I got out of there as soon as we could and I started to think about all the work I had put in. All the money we had spent to get there. All for twenty minutes on a Saturday morning. I just couldn’t believe it. No feedback, no interview, just ‘See ya!’ and we were on our way.

Looking back on it now, I’m so glad this was on the first morning of our trip. This meant we had another five whole days to explore Copenhagen! It’s a truly beautiful city with a wonderful, chilled out vibe. The food is also to die for.

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We explored as many art galleries and museums as we could – there is a lot to do!

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This picture above was taken at Helsingør – the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – so it was absolutely fascinating to have a look around. It’s pretty cold and windy up there too!

So yes, lots of lessons learnt, I worked so hard for the audition and I’m proud of that. I also got the chance to visit a new city, which was wonderful.

I’m going to keep striving for the orchestral jobs – that is what I want to do. But, I have to be comfortable with the fact that this may never happen for me. I may just stay in my little world in the North of England, teaching, working with my fabulous CLOUDS Harp Quartet, playing for weddings and small orchestras, and that’s OK too. I know I can be happy either way and for now I’m just enjoying the journey.

As ever, thanks for reading – and please do share your experiences of auditions! I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you.

x

Edinburgh International Harp Festival 2015

I’m spending four days up in Scotland this week to take part in Edinburgh’s International Harp Festival 2015 with my harp quartet CLOUDS. Today is Sunday, day one.

I took the train up from Manchester. So I’m here, with no car, and no harp – totally at the mercy of my fellow CLOUDS members to look after me – they’re doing a brilliant job so far I must say.

It was awesome having some alone time on the train, time to read my book, time to stare out of the window, time to get very annoyed by the drunk hen party trying to get us all to do shots at 2pm.

I arrived in Edinburgh and shared a lift to the festival with Bec and we had some snacks and quickly got to rehearsing for our concert on Tuesday.

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Great thing about a harp festival – you can go shopping and you know it’s all useful stuff. Ergonomic tuning key for a fiver? We’ll take as many as we can thanks!

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There are so many harp-related things/music/t-shirts/postcards/jewellry/CDs/mugs/aprons! I need to remember not to spend too much money while I’m here.

Speaking of dilemmas, here’s one:

I have so much practice to do – seriously – I have a very  important audition next month and sooo many notes to learn. So what do I do? Experience the festival properly by going to everything – knowing that I have all the more work to do when I get home – or hide myself away and try to practice? Maybe I’ll try and find a happy medium tomorrow.

But for now, I’ve eaten a lovely dinner thanks to Esther’s mum and am now tucked up in bed – let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Monday – Day Two

Today has been a long one. We arrived at the festival just after 10am, my fellow CLOUDS were booked in for a masterclass with the lovely Eleanor Turner but I:

a) wasn’t organised enough to get a ticket

b) actually quite wanted to just hang out at the festival, see the exhibitions, go shopping etc.

So until lunchtime I visited the showroom and looked at lots of new harps & harp accessories (my weakness!) I bought some awesome tape that has manuscript on it so if you want to re-write something enharmonically you just tape over it! What a find! I also bought some nice arrangements of wedding music that’s bound to come in handy. I think that’s all I bought today (not including food – oops).

I also went for a little walk down to the village of Colinton, about 15 minutes walk from the festival – I saw a couple of very nice looking restaurants that I’d love to try if I was staying for longer.

Anyway, we all met up for lunch – it’s so nice to see lots of RNCM harpists here  – then CLOUDS went along to the class Esther was teaching to demonstrate some of the improvisation we do in our music. The class were so lovely and appreciative!

I’m ashamed to say that after the class, more shopping took place. We were shown some amazing carbon fibre lever harps (try saying that out loud – it’s hard!) which are unbelievably light and seemingly impossible to damage. These harps are the future! You can lift it with one hand easily, which we did, several times:

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There is so much to see. Listing all the stands would take forever! There’s harp makers, harp music, harp cases, harp insurance, harp amplification, jazz harp, baroque harp, harp jewellry, greeting cards, stools, stands, tuning keys, bags, tuners, the list goes on and on and we want all of it!

Oh and there seem to be pots of Haribo everywhere too – what’s going on?!

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I managed to squeeze in about half an hour of practice (shameful but better than nothing!) before CLOUDS began our last big rehearsal before our concert tomorrow night. We are borrowing beautiful, brand new harps from Holywell so we’re a bit nervous about doing all our usual extended techniques in case we break them! But we do it to our own harps all the time and I’m sure the lovely folks at Holywell trust us completely (cough).

At around 7.30pm we called it a day and headed back to Esther’s place in Peebles, lovely Peebles! I wish I was here for longer to spend some time just walking around and take in the breath-taking scenery – but we’re at the festival all day and when we get back we just have dinner and crash.

Tomorrow is concert day! Yayyy!

Tuesday – Day Three

For most of Tuesday morning/afternoon we took it quite easy to save our energy for the evening concert. We rehearsed for about an hour but for the rest of the time we mainly ate and chilled out. Bec and I found a lovely pub called the Spylaw Tavern so we thought we should take the opportunity and eat while we still had time. All the harps were moved for us by David from Holywell – which was brilliant.

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The concert itself went really well. We had a great time and the hall was almost completely full. We got lots of lovely feedback too. After the interval we helped ourselves to a celebratory glass of wine and watched the second half of the concert – Eleanor Turner – who was fantastic, we are all in awe of her amazing playing!

Immediately after the concert the festival had laid on some wine and snacks for us. All my favourite foods were there: goats cheese, houmous, coleslaw, it was brilliant!

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We then decided to carry on the party in Edinburgh at The Jazz Bar, where we stayed and danced to live jazz until just after 3am. Some of the current RNCM harpists came too and we had a really good catch up on all things harp/life related. I am slightly worried that we were a little rowdy when we got back to our rooms, we did our best to be quiet! Kind of…

Wednesday – Day Four

All of this brings us to Wednesday, day four. We knew we would need breakfast this morning but they only serve food until 9am – so this means we got around four hours of sleep. All we could do this morning was eat, pack, check-out of our rooms, and get to the city centre ready for my train.

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So here I am at the Waterstones cafe on Princes Street, Edinburgh. My train is in a couple of hours and then I’ll be back in Manchester and it will be time to get back to work!

This has turned into a mammoth post – but these past few days have been great: lovely people, inspiring music and performances, great setting.

Harpists, if you are debating whether to go to this harp festival, I strongly urge you to go! There is something for everyone, whatever standard you are. If you like the harp, you’ll fit right in, trust me!

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The ultimate guide to booking a harpist for your wedding.

So you’re getting married? Congratulations! You’d like a harpist to play for your wedding? You obviously have excellent taste. I thought I’d write this guide for happy couples to try to answer some of the questions I get asked when being booked to play for a wedding.

The first thing to do is email me (my email address is angelinawarburton@gmail.com). I’m very friendly and would love to hear from you. We can chat about anything you like but it’s helpful if I have the following information:

1. The date and venue of your wedding

This is vital information to know from the start as I’ll be able to tell you immediately if I’m available. Knowing the venue from the start is great too as it means I can give you an accurate quote (see my page of standard fees). There may be a small extra charge if a change of venue is required (for example, if your ceremony is in a church but your reception is in a hotel).

2. Which part of the wedding would you like harp music for?

There’s lots of choice for you here. Most weddings have three main ingredients:

  • Ceremony
  • Drinks reception
  • Wedding breakfast

I am able to play for any combination of the above. When it comes to the ceremony, obviously the music is of utmost importance – let me know your choice of entrance and exit music as soon as you have decided, if you have a specific choice for the signing of the register, let me know that too and I’ll get practising!

p.s. ask me to email you my repertoire list too

Drinks reception and Wedding breakfast both simply require background music (up to two hours for drinks or three hours for breakfast).

3. Are there any special arrangements needed?

Aha… here’s the tricky bit.

A harp is worth anywhere between £16,000 right the way up to £50,000 and more, so we need to look after them very carefully.

Ideally, a venue will have the following:

  • A reserved car parking space near an accessible entrance – stairs are the enemy here. Think like a dalek. If there are a lot of stairs it’s not the end of the world, we may just need to make sure some staff are on hand to help me with any heavy lifting I may need to do. That’s what the best man is there for, right?
  • A place for the harp to be played that isn’t in anybody’s way but also isn’t too near a radiator/open fire

A little note about playing outside – it is possible, if the following are available:

  • Shelter from the sun/rain – lots of venues have parasols that can be put up – trees aren’t enough I’m afraid
  • Somewhere nearby to put covers and my trolley just in case the weather changes and I need to make a dash for it

Having said all this, if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to accommodate your wishes. I’m here to enhance your special day.

Ok, next. We’ve arranged the date, venue, any music requests and agreed on the fee, phew! Almost done, now we just need to make it official.

All harpists will have a different system here. But here’s mine:

  1. I’ll email you a contract to confirm all the details of your wedding
  2. A 50% deposit will be payable immediately
  3. The remaining fee is due two weeks before the big day
  4. The big day arrives, wonderful music happens, happiness ensues.

So there you have it! The ultimate guide to booking a harpist for your wedding. I really hope this helps, if you have any questions, just drop me an email – I’d love to talk through any queries you may have.

December 2014 catch-up…

This post is a continuation from last week’s post in which I raked over the glowing embers of November 2014, I originally wanted to put November and December into one huge post but alas, there was just too much to put in! So here’s a run-down of December 2014.

The first gig of the month was a solo recital! Yay! This is what it’s all about: performing lovely repertoire for a large, appreciative audience. Many thanks to Philip Scowcroft at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery for inviting me back to perform – I always have a lovely time. Thanks also for inviting me and Marten to do a joint recital next year – time to find some harp and piano repertoire, suggestions in the comments please!!

On December 5th I had a background gig at Manchester Art Gallery. Those of you who know Manchester will be aware that there is very little parking around there. Pretty much none in fact. So I thought it would be a clever idea to get an estate car taxi to take me there – what could possibly go wrong?

I called the taxi company at least twice during the day to check the booking, 5pm estate car taxi to the city centre. Emphasis on the estate car part. Five o’clock rolls around, no taxi. At quarter past my phone rings to let me know the taxi’s outside, so I trundle out with the harp and all my bags.

It’s not an estate car.

Cue one diva-strop.

Car goes away, angry phone call to Radio Cars, an estate finally arrives. I’m now behind schedule. Trying to hold it together.

I arrange with the driver that he’ll come and pick me up after I’ve finished playing so I don’t have to go through that again. I’ve been asked to play downstairs in the foyer. But all that happens is people come in, hang up their coats, and head off upstairs to the party.

I’m providing music for the hanging up of coats. This has to be a new low.

Fast forward to the end of my set. No taxi.

Cue another massive diva-strop (I’m getting good at these) and phone call to Radio Cars “Yes, it’s the lady with the harp” to request an estate asap.

Taxi turns up, it’s not an estate.

By now I’m rather upset, I finished playing an hour ago and have gone nowhere. Another strop, another phone call and the driver who stood me up sheepishly apologises for not showing up when he said he would, and takes me home, where a party is currently underway, that I am hosting, that I am also very very late for.

Time to start drinking.

Luckily, by comparison the next few days went very smoothly. An hour of background music in Middlewich for a community Christmas buffet-type-thing (I had a lot of the cakes, they were excellent). Then on the Sunday I had the first Ceremony of Carols of the year down in Wilmslow – conducted by Lloyd Buck.

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The Ceremony of Carols is a very special piece – written by Benjamin Britten. I’m sure it is special to many harpists, it’s just for treble voices and harp – although it has been arranged for a full choir.

The following weekend also had engagements on both days, so I decided to get my first ever spray tan in preparation (even my winter foundation for very pasty skin is now looking quite orange on me – I need some sun asap) I went for the lightest tan you can have (they call it ‘Glow’) and yea, it was fun for a few days, until it started coming off. In patches. Starting with my hands. Bad times.

Anyway

On Saturday 13th December I was playing for a wedding banquet, in a marquee. A marquee in December? Sounds crazy but was in fact surprisingly cosy. Who knew?

The following day  I headed over to attend York’s Annual Community Carol Concert. My dad has been conducting this event for decades. It usually attracts a crowd in the region of 1,500 and raises money for several good causes in and around York. They get a school band, a couple of school choirs, a church choir and a ‘novelty item’ (in 2013 it was my Harp Quartet CLOUDS) and we spend an afternoon together singing carols and being entertained by the wonderful Revd Andrew Foster. Father Christmas usually makes an appearance to hand out sweets. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this wonderful event. Long live YACCC!

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We are now half-way through the month, almost there. Believe it or not December 2014 was comparatively quiet for me… I’ve had much busier Christmas seasons – I’ve also had quieter ones where I’ve had to live on frozen vegetables with rice due to lack of money. 2014 was a very happy medium, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure I had a chest infection (or just the worst cough of my life) and sounded like I was dying for the whole month.

On Friday 19th December it was time to head over to York again for the Masonic Carol Service that I always play for – this time I brought my own page-turner with me. Doesn’t he scrub up well?

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This is another lovely event that takes place every year. We have a small service of lessons and carols, then claim a glass of sherry or three and head downstairs for a Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings. Just what we need. The evening then always finishes with my parents reading from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s predictable, it’s the same every year, but we love it and for me this evening is what starts Christmas off.

Saturday, 20th December was my final gig of 2014, and it was a Ceremony of Carols (what else?) in Rochdale.

Cantare Programme

I also contributed to this concert by playing a solo, Marcel Samuel Rousseau’s Variations Pastorales sur un vieux noel. One of my favourite solo pieces, but sadly it’s christmassy so I can’t really perform it any other time of year. It was so lovely to work with Michael Betteridge for this gig – his energy is fantastic – I do hope I can work with him again soon *hint hint*.

So there you have it. I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a 1000+ words epic but there you go. The rest of December was spent either with my parents in York, or with my sister down in the Midlands, lots of food was eaten, lots of wine was tasted. All in all a lovely Christmas, and for that I am very thankful.

I hope you all also had wonderful Christmasses and New Years. How are those resolutions going? Next week I’ll be gauging the success (or otherwise) of mine. Eeek.

November Catch Up…

This blog has been quiet for a while so I thought this week’s post should address that and get you all up to date with the last few months of 2014 – my favourite time of the year for a number of reasons.

For the first gig of November I was playing for a Vintage Wedding Exhibition at the Bowden Rooms in Altrincham with the lovely flautist Anna Rosa Mari.

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We definitely kept it professional (profesh??) at all times:

Instant Anna Rosa and me

Next on the agenda was Bonfire Night – a rather weird claim to fame I can make is that I went to the same school as Guy Fawkes. I think everyone who went to St. Peter’s School in York has to mention this at some point during November 5th.

Now then, I am a tall girl, but in the huge crowd that gathered in Platt Fields Park in Manchester to watch the bonfire all I could really see was the fire, on the screens of the smartphones of the people around me. I don’t get why you would take a picture or a video of a big fire? Just enjoy it guys! Anyway, after the fireworks we rushed off for a Rusholme curry on the way home, the perfect way to warm up after standing outside for most of the evening. I think this needs to be our new Bonfire Night tradition.

The day after Bonfire Night is my Dad’s birthday so we decided to make the drive over to York to surprise him – these are appropriate for a man in his early eighties right??

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The following weekend I had three gigs! Three gigs in two days! The first was a Fauré Requiem in Doncaster in honour of Remembrance Day:

Lest We Forget

Then on Sunday I was playing for a wedding in Bury:

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This was then followed by another Fauré in St. Ann’s Church in Manchester.

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I’m sure you’ll gather that this weekend was slightly crazy – it’s so good to be busy though.

On Tuesday 11th November it was my birthday so I decided to visit Dough in the Northern Quarter with a few friends, the food was amazing and we had a really lovely evening:

Birthday Dinner

I also received this beautiful necklace from Marten, I don’t think I’ve taken it off since then! I love it:

Birthday necklace

The rest of the birthday week could have been a little more pleasant to be honest – it involved a dentist visit and spending a lot of money on my car to get it through its MOT. But enough of that! Let’s move swiftly on to the 22nd of November. I had a gig in Sheffield (my favourite) to play the Debussy Nocturnes and Holst’s The Planets. This gig was rather exciting as the other harpist was Calum Macleod and we could fit both harps in his van! So that meant no driving for me! I could definitely get used to that.

I’d never played the Nocturnes before, they are amazing – especially the third movement Sirènes, you can actually hear the mysterious song of the Sirens over the swirling sound of the sea and the waves – it’s breathtaking. The Planets will always be a favourite of mine too, the violence of Mars, the beauty of Venus, the mystery of Neptune, and Jupiter, the tune of which used to be a favourite hymn at school (who remembers the classic 295 ‘I Vow to Thee my Country’?)

Planets 22nd Nov

Fast forward to the end of the month, the final gig of November was at Leeds Uni, playing Stravinsky’s Symphony in three movements. This piece is very cool and I suggest you have a listen if you’re unfamiliar. There’s lots of harp and the part is substantial so it’s a really good project to get stuck into.

This post was originally going to be November and December but it’s become so big I’m going to have to split it into two separate posts. Stay tuned for more craziness in December’s catch-up post.