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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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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