2015 Resolution Update

Hello all!

This week’s post is a round up of the New Year’s Resolutions I made for this year, and how they are doing now, almost a month later.

The first resolution was to make this month alcohol free. Yep. Dry January, who else was doing this? How did you find it? For me, it has been mainly quite uneventful. I did have a night off last Sunday so I could have a wee dram to celebrate Burns Night…

Burns Night

…but apart from that I’ve been good. I don’t even miss drinking in pubs – I like saving the money and just drinking loads of water – but it’s hard not having a glass of wine with dinner, or when friends come round with a bottle of wine to share and I’m stuck with Asda Price Low Calorie Ginger Ale (other brands are available). I haven’t really been a huge drinker since my days as a student (honest!) but I’ll enter February with a new appreciation of a glass of wine to relax in the evening.

My second resolution was to have a ‘mid-week weekend’ on Tuesday and Wednesday as I’m usually gigging on the weekend. Well, I’m not too sure about this one. I tried it for a few weeks and dutifully had my days off Tuesday and Wednesday, then the weekend came round, and I didn’t want to work then either! There’s definitely a different vibe on a Saturday and Sunday, treating them like working days just feels wrong to me. So I can’t have Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday off! I’ll have to stick with the regular weekend. I’m working on practising more in general, so having Saturday and Sunday off practice still creates a distinction. Crikey I love my schedules don’t I? Maybe my 2016 resolution will be to stop being so OCD about everything…

So just a short one for you this week. Next week I’ll be telling you about the little gadget I bought myself for Christmas last year – my fitbit one.

Happy New Year 2015

So here we are, 2015, can you believe it?

This is the third Happy New Year post I’ve done – time flies – so I’ll try and make this one a little different (check out 2013 and 2014).

It’s natural at this time to assess the previous year and to look forward to what we want to achieve in the future. Last year I moved in with my boyfriend so that has been the biggest change. We are absolutely loving having our own space just to relax and spend time together. He probably does 90% of all the cooking, which leads to me eating far too much of his delicious food (carbonara is my favourite – I may steal the recipe for a future blog post, leave a comment below if you’d be interested in this).

Work-wise, things still seem to be ticking along nicely. I’m making enough to stay afloat, woohoo! I’ve started saving 20% of everything I earn, which comes in really handy at this time of year when my tax bill is due.

I haven’t been running quite so much as I used to and have joined a gym instead. I wanted to work more on strength but also I wanted the variety of being able to do things like Yoga, Body Pump and Spinning, then be able to swim and have a jacuzzi/sauna afterwards. I also like doing classes as once they are in your diary you treat them like appointments, so emails, phone calls etc. just have to wait until you get back. End of story. I can’t help it. I just love prioritising ‘me time’. Having already done two classes this week I can’t believe how much busier the gym is! So many people on their New Year’s Resolutions. I miss the old days before Christmas with Yoga classes of six and spinning classes of two!

So now for some resolutions, I don’t want to commit to too much and then fall off the wagon later, but here goes:

1. Dry January

No booze in January. I’m tweaking this ever so slightly and doing January 5th to February 5th to allow for a large family party last weekend. I’m doing it to stretch my self-control, and possibly save a bit of money. In addition to that, I’m trying to lose a bit of weight and I’m interested to see if quitting the drink for 31 days will help give me a headstart.

2. Have a ‘weekend’ during the week

Ok this is an odd one but bear with me, I nearly always have gigs at the weekends, so I’m trialling a system of making Tuesday and Wednesday my weekend – and treating Saturday and Sunday like normal working days. Normal working day means getting up at a reasonable time, and either practising, doing admin, going to gigs or something useful during the working day. Weekends mean sleep in, practise if I want to, go to the gym, go for walks, maybe cook a nice meal and generally potter about. I’ll be reporting back on this after a few weeks. Obviously it won’t be completely clear cut – I have pupils who can really only do Tuesday for example. But we’ll see how it goes. I may just end up binge-watching Sex and the City on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Let’s hope not.

I’m also aiming to publish a blog post once a week (on a Thursday, just in case you’re interested). So watch this space for more musings during 2015. It’s good to be back!

March 2014

I’m writing this from Victoria Hall Methodist Church in Sheffield. Today I’m playing in a concert production of Bizet’s Carmen. Wonderful music.

Anyone who knows me or who reads this blog will gather that I seem to get into scrapes whenever I have a gig in Sheffield. What is it about this city? Why are its streets so confusing for sat-navs and AA route planners alike? Well, I made it to the rehearsal (just) and am now waiting for the concert.

In times gone by this would be an excellent pub opportunity. But, in the spirit of frugality I’ve brought my own dinner (salad wraps of course), my ipad to play on, and a book to read. The only other people to have this brilliant idea are at least fifty years older than me – oh dear. Also, I don’t drink that much anymore – my wallet can’t afford it and my brain can’t handle it as well as it could when I was a student.

Yesterday I was in Leeds playing Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, an absolutely brilliant piece, incredibly uplifting. I mean uplifting in a very literal sense here – we had to heave two harps onto one of the risers in Leeds Town Hall. Once we were there though, we had an excellent view and I would guess that the sound of the harps would carry much better from our raised vantage point. This was a ‘pub and meal between rehearsal and concert’ gig, mainly because some college friends were there and I also couldn’t resist the siren-call of Thai Green Curry.

So that’s this weekend. Next weekend I’m over in Scunthorpe playing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Long drive, but good music.

The legal dispute I alluded to in my last post has still not been resolved, and just to warn you, there will be a big rant coming when it’s over.

There’s nothing else to report at this point. I’m seeing that as a good thing. I’m booked every weekend for at least one gig until the end of May, I have a big thick pile of music to be practising, and my private teaching in between. Things seem to be ticking along very nicely. This makes for a slightly dull blog post but in real life it’s great. On days with no gigs I can practise in the morning, do emails and admin in the afternoon and spend the evening cooking dinner and relaxing, it’s lovely.

There are exciting summer plans this year for my harp quartet CLOUDS. That’s coming up in the next post.

Until then, wishing you all the best,

Angelina x

Freelancers’ Guilt, and what we can do about it.

This week’s post is addressing something I think a lot of freelancers feel.  That is the guilty feeling hanging over us, telling us we’re not doing enough, should do more.  

I hate the word should, I should get up earlier, I should be doing this or that, I shouldn’t go out because I should be being productive, eugh, it’s awful.  It SHOULD be banned from our internal monologue (I know we all have one).  

I have some theories as to why we feel this (I’m assuming I’m not the only one).  Here they are:

  • We often work from home, so there is little work/home separation.
  • There are no immediate negative consequences for getting up late/having an unproductive day.

Obviously long term there are consequences for lack of productivity – but there is a time delay – we pay for laziness later in ways we often can’t predict.

  • There is never a point that we can say ‘I have finished everything I have to do!’  There is an infinite amount to be done, freelancers are never finished, sometimes it can feel like a huge mountain to climb each day.
  • If there is nothing set in the diary, it’s easy to feel we can start later and before we know it, the day has gone.
  • With constant interruptions from phone calls/emails/technology/social media – it’s very easy to get distracted and not realise how much time is passing.  

What can we do about this?  Now I’m no expert, I only graduated a couple of years ago but I’m learning a few tricks that help my productivity immensely.  This is obviously written from the perspective of a musician.  These tips may work for you or they may not, but when it’s really important that I get as much as I can done, here’s what I do:

  • Write a schedule for the day, the night before.  Begin by listing everything that needs doing (I include things like ‘pay electicity bill’ and ‘laundry’ as well as ’emails’, and ‘admin’).  Decide when to get up and what is going to be done each hour.  For musicians – don’t just write ‘Practice’ actually write what is going to be practised, be specific.  This helps because if you have scheduled 3 hours for practice, it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you miss one.  But, if each session has a specific purpose, you’re more likely to get it done, as it might be the only chance you get that day to look at that certain piece/section/excerpt.
  • Set an alarm and put it far away from your bed!  This helps so much I’d actually say it’s the most effective way to increase productivity.  When the alarm is right next to the bed, it is too easy to snooze, then before you know it hours have passed and you’re still in bed.  Great.  This has another advantage as well, for most of us, our smartphone is our alarm – by placing it on the other side of the room it means we don’t google/facebook/tweet away half the night and can actually get to sleep a lot quicker.  I am a real sleepaholic (sleepophile?) so this one is difficult for me but it is so worth it!
  • Actually stick to your schedule.  Hopefully you’ve made it realistic and given yourself plenty of time to do what you wanted to.  Tick things off as you do them, and if you get ahead of schedule – great!  Time to chill later.  I generally do mine in hour blocks but half an hour can work too.
  • (This may be controversial) Keep your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ during working hours and set a time in your schedule to ring/text people back or listen to voicemails (put your email address in your voicemail greeting so people have another way of contacting you).  This also has the added bonus of stopping your phone going off every time something happens on Facebook – a potentially huge time-sap.  If you need to – schedule an hour at the end of the day purely for social media – particularly for freelancers who are trying to build an online presence.  
  • Try and get up at the same time each weekday.  For those of us who work from home (can be a blessing or a curse) it’s good to have a routine.  For example, you could get up at 8am every weekday, 9am on Saturdays and whenever you fancy on a Sunday… that way the weekend still feels like the weekend rather than each day feeling exactly the same.
  • If you can work somewhere else, do.  It is one of my dreams to have a separate bedroom, office and music room.  Three rooms.  Or maybe even an out-house where I can go specifically to do admin or practice.  Unfortunately this is the real world and I live in a small flat.  My bedroom has my harp and all my music in one corner and my desk and laptop in another.  It takes self-discipline to go to one zone and not get distracted when everything is just there – being all distracting.  You just sit down to practice but oh! laundry needs doing, ooh so does this morning’s washing up – ahh while I’m here I may as well tidy the kitchen… you can lose days like this so we must be strong and do one thing at a time.  Schedule a time for housework and do it later.

*My mum will be reading this and realise that I am in fact, turning into my father – I’m so sorry*

So these are the things I try to do, but I also try and remember the following:

  • Nobody is perfect.  We’re all just trying to make a living.  Let’s all just do the best we can, get stuff done then get on with enjoying ourselves.  None of this ‘should’ nonsense.  No more guilt.  You Only Live Once.
  • Mealtimes are rest times – no emails/phone calls during mealtimes.  It seems like ages but I always try to give myself an hour for each meal – it spreads the day out and gives time to prepare something vaguely healthy.
  • All hail wondrous coffee – there’s nothing like it to regain focus if you’re flagging mid-afternoon – or just struggling to wake up mid-morning.  I bought my first coffee machine a few weeks ago and have been more or less wired ever since.

So there we have it – freelancers, how do you increase/maintain productivity?  Please share tips & tricks in the comments!  

The show(s) must go on.

I am writing this from my home for the week in Newcastle.  This week I’m playing for the Newcastle Musical Theatre Company’s production of Sound of Music in Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.  The first performance is tonight, which is very exciting!  Here’s my harp in the pit:

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I left my pillar cover on just to be on the safe side… the ceiling is really low!  This is probably the easiest pit I’ve been in recently.  This month I’ve also been playing with the National Festival Orchestra for the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton Opera House, which is beautiful:

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The technical team in Buxton move harps all the time (or so they told me) and thought it best to lower my harp down into the pit from the stage.  Oh my.  It was crazy – but actually – if you have enough people helping it’s not too bad.  Here’s my view from the pit once I was in:

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I was there to play in Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow.  What a fun operetta!  It’s still going round in my head most of the time.  The performances were separated by a day, and instead of being able to leave my harp in the pit I had to heave it out to go up to Scarborough to take part in a concert organised by the lovely Christine Cox, playing alongside Simon Lindley, Keith Swallow and Phillip McCann.  It was lovely to do some solo performing:

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After Buxton, Merry Widow was also performed in Harrogate’s Royal Hall – the pit was even more tricky than Buxton!  The harp had to be lifted over a waist-level rail before being lowered into the pit – thankfully again I had loads of people helping me (by helping me I actually mean doing it all themselves while I try not to freak out too much).  And I couldn’t even leave the harp there because in between performances I had to drive up to Newcastle for the first Sound of Music bandcall!  Yes this week has been mental.  I enjoy playing for shows so much though it’s worth all the driving, no question.

So here I am, in Newcastle for the week.  I thought I was being sensible by buying lots of healthy food to cook for myself (I’m staying in university halls of residence) but I didn’t realise that the kitchen is devoid of any pans/pots/cutlery!  I think some band members are donating stuff to me for the week, but tonight I’m afraid I’m having garlic bread and pizza, shove in the oven and eat.  As simple as you can get!

So that pretty much brings us up to date.  As ever, thanks for reading!  Lots of exciting projects coming up in the near future!  I can’t wait to tell you all about them.

Lovely CLOUDS review

As part of the CLOUDS tour that happened a few weeks ago, we did a concert in Eastgate Theatre in Peebles.  This concert received a wonderful review and we are all really proud.  I wanted to share this with you…

‘CLOUDS ARE STARS!

A feeling of expectation fills the darkened room, lit by tiny flickering candle flames. A young woman floats in, the candle in her cupped hands lighting the folds of her many coloured silks. She asks us to go with the stars to the furthest cosmos and, like a butterfly, flutters down behind one of four huge harps, where her fingers pluck out a tinkling ostinato. She is joined by three more beautiful silk butterflies and the four harps blend the magical sounds of ‘Interstellar Clouds’, transporting us all to stars beyond imagination.

It is two years since I heard a concert by Clouds Harp Quartet. Then their music delighted, intrigued and moved me. I looked forward to hearing more. The four harpists, Elfair Dyer, Rebecca Mills, Esther Swift and Angelina Warburton, have grown up and developed with their music. They have been together for four years and have built a strong ensemble in which the chemistry between then is almost visible. They give more than a concert. It is a complete performance, the music enhanced by subtle lighting, costumes, props and seamless introductions with charm to draw us into the magical musical world of Clouds. These four lovely girls still look absurdly young, which belies their assured adult musicianship – for it is not simple music that they play.

Peebles’ own Esther Swift has composed much of the music, which makes use of the many voices of the concert harp – not all of them familiar or traditional. The extended technique uses plucking strings with fingers, finger tips or nails; glissandos; harmonics; sliding and striking the strings; tapping or banging the soundboard; even slipping card or metal inserts behind the strings. One harp creeps in with an insistent ostinato, which grows until all four harps play as one, the give and take of rhythm building sound and mood. The regularity of the ostinato lulls us into a false sense of security to be shattered by a sudden intense volume of sound – hands urgently slapping strings and soundboard. It is exciting, strong and dramatic. Esther’s music is not just pretty tinkling harp strings – from tiny, almost inaudible
sounds to huge crescendos; lilting folky rhythms to jagged syncopation – she makes the 188 harp strings speak and sing… 

‘Interstellar Clouds’ was composed by Esther and it was excellent to have another chance to hear her ‘Clouds’ inspired by a walk up the Sware and her father’s poem about the clouds.

And whose mother would not be delighted with a Mothers’ Day gift of an original composition – a song for voice and harp?  Deeply moving.

The main work performed was Esther’s latest composition ‘Water’, which took us from
the single raindrop that starts a river, through a delicate snowstorm to the ocean. From the rippling burn to the strong river currents the music really sounded wet, climaxing in the strong and aggressive pull of the moon on the high tide.  Finally, as earth and water come together, all four players left their harps to sing softly in harmony close to their rapt audience. It was an unforgettable musical journey full of colour, drama and mood swings.

Throughout the concert we shared the fun and joy that the players obviously get from their wonderful instruments. A quartet of concert harps is unusual (and must be a logistical challenge!) but this girl band really is something special, as many will discover on this tour.’

Claire Garnett – thank you so much for this wonderful review!

CLOUDS and beyond

So I ended the previous post saying I was going to be driving up to Edinburgh after the final Les Mis show a week last Saturday.  What I hadn’t bargained on was the weather.  After glorious sunshine for what felt like ages, that Saturday afternoon the rain started.  While packing for the CLOUDS tour I even wondered if I should bother packing jeans or just stick to summer dresses as I had been doing.  So glad I packed jeans!

Elfair and I left Runcorn at around 11pm for Edinburgh.  The rain was constant and very heavy – we arrived sometime around 5.30am.  I have little memory of actually arriving, the concentration required for driving in the pouring rain had completely drained me.  But we had a sleep in the following day to recharge our batteries.  That evening we had a concert in Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.  

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It was such a beautiful space, really blue!  They keep the front pew roped off as that’s where the Queen sits when she visits (sadly she decided not to attend our concert).  The following lunchtime we played in Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral.  We love playing here, there were so many tourists coming in and out all the time but lots of them sat down to listen to us (we also sold lots of CDs!)

After St. Giles it was time to drive down to Peebles in the Scottish Borders for an evening concert the following day at the Eastgate Theatre.  It was here that we had the idea to start the concert in complete darkness.  We go to the harps and start playing one by one, each holding a candle.  Our first piece is entitled ‘Interstellar Cloud’ so the candles look like twinkling stars as we play.   It’s also the bonus track on our new CD – WATER which can be purchased here  http://www.cloudsandharps.bigcartel.com/product/water

Here we are at Eastgate:

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We had lots of people commenting on our dresses, Rebecca (on the left in the photo) actually got these for us while working on the Queen Elizabeth cruiseship.  Two are from Costa Rica, one is from Malaysia and the other is from Mexico!  We loved how coordinated they are while still being individual.

After Peebles it was time to head down to Newcastle for a Wednesday evening concert in Trinity Church – another beautiful venue, followed by a Thursday lunchtime concert in Brunswick Church right in the city centre.

The rest of the day was spent driving down to Mynytho in North Wales.  I adore this area and luckily the weather was fabulous when we were there – there was even chance to paddle in the sea in Abersoch!

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We had an evening concert on Friday in Pwllheli (a concert that included lots of delicious cake in the interval!) followed by an afternoon concert on the Saturday in Llanbedrog at the Art Gallery.  This was a really special concert as we played outside in their little amphitheatre!  I’m sure you can imagine that the value of our harps means that conditions have to be perfect, but on that day we had the chance to play CLOUDS under the clouds!

On the Sunday we all went our separate ways, I headed back to Manchester, Esther set off for London, Elfair went to compete in the Eisteddfod and Rebecca went to support – Elfair actually won the Blue Riband so a huge well done to her for that!  What a way to end the week.

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So it’s been nearly a week since the tour ended and it’s back to reality – this is the first ‘free’ week I’ve had since I left Long Tall Sally.  There’s still lots to keep me busy though!  It’s amazing to not have to set an alarm for the morning, but it is rather alarming that my body wants to sleep until 11am some days!  Need to get some sort of schedule going – maybe next week!