Delighted to be kick starting this years Online Advent Calendar for Scala Radio playing Silent Night arranged by Grandjany
In this very short video I demonstrate how to play an effect which I've developed and use in my piece Celestial Spirals. I've called them xylo-harmonics, but essentially they are false harmonics, and it's a handy technique to have 'up your sleeve' if you ever have a problematic string which has a stubborn harmonic and you want to produce a pure harmonic sound.
Here, you can see how they are used in context in the opening and closing sections of Celestial Spirals.
I find you can also have more control over dynamics using this effect than you can with harmonics.
I recently did a short live session and interview with Dave Graham who runs the Piano Cafe in Oakham. Its a very short interview where I briefly explain how I got into composing (in lieu of a mid-life crises) and how teaching now is so much better than it was in the 1980's!!
I recorded a short concert for the Harp on Wight Festival which you can watch below. It is introduced by Eira Lynn Jones and it also includes a short concert by Anne Denholm.
It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly 10 years since Alison Stephens died. She was the leading exponent of the classical mandolin in the UK, working at one time or another with most of the country's major orchestras, but she also did much to popularise the instrument too, through contributions to popular films (most notably Captain Corelli's Mandolin), live performances, teaching and composing.
I wrote an obituary about her for The Guardian at the time and it seems appropriate to share it again here as it lists her extraordinary career and achievements.
Ali was a grafter and everything she achieved was from sheer hard work. Whatever life threw at her, (and boy she didn’t have it easy) she tackled with grace and determination. She was passionate about music and life and always put her full energy into everything.
As well as a colleague, Ali was a good friend and 10 years on, she is still fondly remembered and much missed by all who knew and worked with her.
Alison Stephens back catalogue https://open.spotify.com/artist/4o9Jpn6cctDuD93hUYpPQH
I wasn't sure whether to post this video or not... but since it's now in Hansard and a matter of public records...
I wrote to my local MP, Fiona Bruce about my situation during the pandemic (as a freelance self-employed musician), and was extremely surprised that she read it out (nearly in full!) in the House of Commons. Fiona is an excellent local MP and has been very supportive of the arts in Cheshire.
My personal situation is no different to any other freelance self-employed musician.
I always try to have fresh flowers in my online teaching zone. Mostly it's so my ZOOM students have something nice to look at, but to be honest they are there to make it cheerful for me. As much as I love my students (I really do), and I am so grateful for the many online harp connections I have, as our post Covid life stretches out it depresses me more and more that I can't sit amongst a large group of musicians and play orchestral music. As a freelance musician the chance of any extra harp work with orchestras seems a very long way off.
I really miss playing in orchestras.
The sound of an orchestra is completely f**king awesome. To sit behind the violins and have brass and percussion playing behind you and woodwind to the side of you and play Strauss or Berlioz or Mahler.
Looking at fresh flowers every day helps me mitigate that loss of 25 years of regularly playing harp in symphony and chamber orchestras.
I find playing my pedal harp just too depressing these days. Onwards and upwards instead with a focus on lever harp and composition which is a new separate harp journey for me.
After months of sporadic online playing to be able to pack my harp up, get it into my car, drive to a venue and play music to other people in REAL LIFE at a wedding today was a much needed tonic.
Over the past 25 years I've played at the grandest to the most intimate of weddings, and yet today's was the most special. Streamed over the internet to friends and family who couldn't be there, the masked guests were witness to an event which will be remembered for many years to come.
Most weddings which had been years in the planning with huge guest lists and an array of wedding suppliers have all been postponed until 2021.
The few couples who have managed to get married in 2020 will be in a very exclusive club.
In years to come they can look back and wonder how on earth they ever managed the logistics of a wedding during a global pandemic. It will be a badge of honour that everyone who has got married this year can wear with pride.
I've just finished editing a new piece for solo harp by my husband, Andy Scott.
It's his version of the traditional tune, The Wayfaring Stranger and its quite an epic version!
Andy Scott arranged The Wayfaring Stranger for the 'Ever Open Door' CD collaboration with John Helliwell (Supertramp) which is being released October 2020 (Challenge Records). Originally scored for clarinet, string quartet and hammond organ, it takes a harmonic journey with twists and turns through many keys; fairly chromatic at times, simple and open at other times.
I absolutely loved his version for John Helliwell, so I asked Andy if I could have a go at adapting it for solo harp; and here it is!
Because of the chromaticism, it is for the advanced standard player and I have fully marked the part with pedalling and damping. It's a great solo harp companion piece to with Andy's other pieces for harp, like his flute and harp sonata and other solo piece, Crossing Waves.
It's published and available as a PDF download and hard copy from Astute Music HERE
Welcome to the new normal - hopefully you'll have found yours by now.
It's taken me a little while to find my new normal and like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. Good days include keeping to a routine and keeping myself busy.
Highlights for me are the Virtual Ceilidhs that I host every Sunday evening online. It's a lovely gathering of professional and non-professional harpists on a very low pressure basis - join a session as and when you want to - and we all play one short piece. It's a lovely way to connect by listening and sharing music with each other.
I continue to be so grateful during this lockdown that I live in a house with a garden and that we are coming into warmer weather in the UK. With four adults in my house, and no dedicated private harp room it is great to be able to retreat to my shed to play my lever harp.
We are now well into the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown and everything has changed for everyone.
On a personal level, like every other self-employed freelance musician I find myself without any income. But so has everyone else who is self-employed.
I was due to play at the World Harp Congress later this year, then various concerts in Australia, stop over in Hong Kong on the way back home. Tour with the RLPO in Japan and South Korea... but it seems all quite meaningless to have lost gigs, when one of my relatives partners mum is currently extremely ill with COVID-19 and it looks like she won't make it.
Health is more important every time. And we will all get through this. Together.
I'm extremely lucky that I have a house with a garden, and with a house full and no private music room I've re-fashioned my garden shed into a little harp hut so I can have some privacy. I am very grateful to have this space as I know so many must be really suffering during this lock down in crowded and unsafe relationships.
It's difficult to make sense of it all, but it's interesting that after 1 week into a nationwide lock down, that the emotions have so quickly gone from shock, upset to resignation and acceptance. Amongst all that is the comfort to be drawn from absorbing yourself in something that you are passionate about. In my case, music and playing the harp.
So with that in mind, here is the first of my Lock Down Shed sessions...
I always put total commitment and energy into every harp project I do, but I don't always get paid! Any support you can give is very much appreciated.
My goodness what a week! It's been a little while since my last blog on here mainly because life has gone a bit crazy, but I shall try to get back into more regular posts again...
In the meantime, I have a new CD being released on Friday this week on the Avie Records label, and it's currently Album of the Week on the digital Classical Radio station - Scala Radio. The announcement by the PRS Foundation that I have recently been selected to their Women Make Music scheme to commission a new work for harp ensemble (more about that HERE) and to top if off I'm having a private Album Launch this Friday evening and I'll be interviewed by Simon Mayo on his show on Scala on Friday morning.
This has been a HUGE project, not only doing the recording, getting a deal with Avie Records, but also composing 8 of the tracks on the albums.
I only started composing in 2018 and I'm not quite sure where 'that' has all come from, but it's been a bit bonkers and taken up any spare time I have, hence the neglect of this blog!
Lots of public thank yous are due for the completion of this album project.
To Rob Buckland for the most amazing recording - it's not easy to get a good sound recording a harp and he has done so beautifully and really captured the essence of the lever harp. Amazing recording, engineering and mastering.
To my ever patient family for being really understanding over the past couple of years when I've been physically present but mentally absent whilst composing.
To my husband, Andy Scott, who is the most amazing composer and has been so supportive and encouraging of my delving into the compositional world.
To all my wonderful harp students, for being a constant inspiration - you are all amazing!
To all my friends and colleagues in the harp community for being really encouraging and supportive of my music.
To Avie Records for producing such a beautiful physical CD. The artwork, production and attention to detail has been amazing. I'm so pleased with it!
You can listen to the playback on Scala Radio for one week online HERE
What a delight it was to be at the Perth Harp Festival at the beginning of this month! A brilliantly organised event by the West Australia Harp Society, and it was a privilege to be able to present a workshop on extended techniques for lever harp as well as a concert of my music.
It was the first time I had travelled on a plane with my lever harp and my harp certainly had some adventures on the way.
The first of which was the realisation at the reclaim baggage area at Perth airport that, after 18 hours of travel, my harp hadn't made the transfer during the stopover in Hong Kong. Maximum stress levels then ensued!!! But the good people at Perth airport sorted it out and eventually the harp made the next flight and was couriered on to me.
Now that I know that the harp might be "bumped' off flights without my knowledge because it's 'oversized', I'm prepared for future trips. Despite having a photo of a harp stuck onto the harp case, airport check in staff still came up to me asking if it was a bicycle.
Lesson learnt = always make sure there is another flight to your destination after the one you have booked, to give the harp a chance to catch up with you in case it's bumped off the flight.
The relief of the harp arriving the day before my recital was immense!!!
After the harp arrival drama, it was straight into the harp festival hosted at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts. Unfortunately I could only be there for one day, which was a great shame as I would have like to have been there for the whole event. As well as meeting lots of lovely harpists in Perth, it was fabulous to see so many different makes of harps that I hadn't seen before. I'm very grateful to the kindness extended to me by the local harpists, especially Bronwen Wallis who organised some private teaching for me, and to WAAPA for allowing me to teach in their college. Harp festivals are great places to meet with old and new harp friends, and it was good to spend a little bit of time hanging out with new harp friends including Becky Swann from New Zealand.
Homeward bound was more straightforward with my harp and it managed not to get lost this time in the airport system!
We had a few days in Hong Kong on the way back to the U.K and it was a chance to visit Ting Lau in her harp studio after meeting her the week before in Perth.
I'm really looking forward to coming back to Australia, (and hopefully Hong Kong) in August 2020 for a more extensive trip and will be working with the harp students at WAAPA and collaborating on a new contemporary harp duo project with Australian harpist, Catherine Ashley.
This CD by Scottish harpist and composer Karen Marshalsay is a firm favourite of mine and gets regularly played in my car when I'm driving.
I absolutely love everything about this CD... the sound of the three different harps she plays, the music and the ornamentation is really quite extraordinary. She has a tutor book you can buy to study the different techniques she uses HERE
I find the sound of the wire harp completely enchanting and etheral, and the sound of the bray harp is just bonkers! I'd personally love to get hold of a bray harp at some point to have a play around on, it is just the craziest sounding thing ever - I love it.
Back to Karen's CD - this is a GREAT CD. It's available on spotify etc, but I always recommend to support the artist and buy the CDs direct from the artists whenever possible. so buy it HERE
Brilliant harping, fantastic use of ornamentation, great compositions - bravo Karen!
Bravo to Keziah Thomas on yet another amazing arrangement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons - this time Summer.
Part of her project to arrange all Four Seasons throughout 2019, this is a wonderful project and so beautifully done. Really lovely stuff bravo again Keziah1 https://www.keziah.co.uk/
Vivaldi - Spring
Vivaldi - Winter
Alexander Rider has produced another great harp video - this time on Mireille Flour and a Magical Aviary: “La Volière Magique” by Marcel Tournier (1879-1951)
I haven't had any broken nylon or carbon fibre strings since I first fitted them. However one of the wires started to go 'curly' in the middle of the string and start to go out of tune. I've never experienced that curly feeling in the middle of a wire string before so I thought it was probably time to change it PDQ. Having replaced that wire string and noticed the difference in sound I decided to change all the wires and multifilament wires.
âWHAT A DIFFERENCE those new wires have made!!!
The rest of the strings still sound great, so there isn't any need to change them at all unless one breaks (which I suspect won't be for a while), I'll keep an ear on them in case they start to sound dull or out of tune, but so far they all sound good. However I think a refresh of the wires and multifilament wires every couple of years will probably be a good thing as they do seem to wear out.
I've recorded a couple of fun and easy to learn exercises for pedal harp that can be use as a daily warm up.
The first mini tutorial is called "let's get those feet moving!"
I play through the whole warm-up exercise on this IGTV post here
The harder version of that exercise is in a mini tutorial called, "One Step Beyond!", and the video for that is below...
I've been a fan of Sasha Boldachev for a while, he is simply one of the most astonishing harpists around. His technical prowess is on another level, and he is so musical. Here is his arrangement on themes from Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade. About half way through he starts to use lots of extended techniques to add (even more!) colour to the piece. My eyes and ears may be deceiving me, but I'm absolutely sure he is doing a double harmonic octave glissando in the left hand at one point. Incredible stuff!
Another wonderful video from Alexander Rider playing on his beautiful Erard harp, this time playing Rubinstein Romance Op44 arranged by harpist Virgina Ciarlone. Alex also shares some of his research about this Italian harpist who worked in Russia in the late 1890's.
Having played in a mandolin and harp duo for many years, I absolutely love the sound world that Ishtar make.
French duo, Ishtar, consist of Maëlle Duchemin as harpist and singer and the multi-instrumental skills of Maëlle Coulange on various plucked instruments.
More info about them on their website HERE
This next video is SUBLIME
I can't find a link anywhere online to buy their CD, but their soundcloud is here. I suspect that their CD is only available by emailing them. The contact details are on their website.
Scroll down for videos 👇
For the past few years the Manchester based contemporary music group, Psappha, has run a scheme for composers to write a new piece for a specific instrument or group of instruments which is workshopped with a performer from Psappha over a six month period and then recorded. Called "Composing for..." the 2019 scheme has involved new works for Eastern European Clarinets, Piano and Percussion, Solo Bassoon and Solo Harp.
Six composers, who are all at an early stage of their careers are selected for each scheme by Psappha and the overall project is supported by the Arts Council England; Garfield Weston Foundation; Idlewild Trust; PRS Foundation Talent Development Partner scheme; Radcliffe Trust; and RVW Trust
It has been a great experience to have been involved with this project and I've very much enjoyed the journey working with the composers on all of these six new pieces for solo harp.
Getting everything packed for the recording session including 3 harps, various effects pedals, my amp, lever harp stand, spare strings for 3 harps (only 1 string broke in the session), card, coils & paperclips for the prepared harp piece, assorted plectrums, iPad and page turning pedal, lots of different cables and then (most importantly) industrial quantities of fresh coffee and chocolate!
Psappha - Composing for Harp Videos
tangible/intimate/half-life by Joss Smith
PREPARED PEDAL HARP More about Joss HERE
Harp-Tronics by Daniel Ehrlich
LEVER HARP WITH EFFECTS PEDALS More about Daniel HERE
Glass Cathedrals by Grace-Evangeline Mason
PEDAL HARP More about Grace-Evangeline HERE
retina by David Nunn
PEDAL HARP (utilising quarter tones) More about David HERE
Distant Dances by Joseph Howard
PEDAL HARP More about Joseph HERE
Splitting Paint by Carmel Smickersgill
LEVER HARP WITH LIVE ELECTRONICS More about Carmel HERE
Posting about Kety Fusco got me thinking about trance like music and how emotive it can be. I played in a performance of Gavin Bryar's incredibly moving minimalistic piece a few years back with the large version of Psappha Ensemble at Royal Northern College of Music. Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a hypnotic piece which seems to connect with people in an extraordinary way. It certainly never fails to give me goosebumps when I listen to it.
I found it quite challenging to play, as it was incredibly difficult to keep the concentration going and for my mind not to start wandering whilst playing this music. As a player and a listener, it sends you into a meditative state and you start to literally hear and feel all sorts of things that make it difficult to play. Quite an incredible piece of music that gets 'under your skin'.
Words from the composer about his piece...
In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one. When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping. I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism. The piece was originally recorded on Brian Eno's Obscure label in 1975 and a substantially revised and extended version for Point Records in 1993. The version that is played by my ensemble was specially created in 1993 to coincide with this last recording. © Gavin Bryars
About the composer: Gavin Bryars has continually shunned convention, choosing to create his own distinctive and unique path: He studied philosophy at Sheffield University and became a professional jazz bassist and a pioneer of free improvisation working especially with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. In the late 1960s he worked with John Cage and this influenced his early works. He has formed fruitful collaborations with international artists from across the spectrum, from Merce Cunningham and William Forsyth to Juan Munoz and Robert Wilson. The Gavin Bryars Ensemble and GB Records continue to document his work. Serene, graceful and achingly beautiful, his music is characterized by a sense of contemplation that is revealed through harmony of underlying depth.
Kety Fusco is an interesting Italian harpist and one to watch out for.
She's on tour in Europe summer 2019 with her project called SPACE HARP.
I'm not a particular fan of electronic trance music but I think her music is very appealing. 👇
More about Kety on her website HERE
It's great to see more and more young musicians using harp in all sorts of different musical genres. Long gone are the days when harps were purely used in classical and folk music, and what a great thing that is. More power to the harp becoming a versatile genre busting instrument suitable for any type of music..
The discerning amongst you might have noticed that my lever harp has an unusual sound and the reason for that is because I have customised the string set up. I've blogged a fair bit on the re-stringing process before here on Harpyness, but I wanted to share what the final string set up is and more importantly WHY I've done this.
I've always been after a very particular sound on lever harp, and I really loved the sound of my little 27 string Camac Bardic, but I wanted a 34 lever harp with a slightly brighter sound then the Bardic, I never really found the sound I heard in my head by any of the main harp makers but I had a feeling that the Starfish Glenelle was the closest. Although it is an absolutely FANTASTIC harp, the sound of it wasn't quite what I was after though.
I was very fortunate to be given some money by my Dad after my Mum passed away, and he wanted me to do something 'harpy' with it. So after much thought I decided to place my order with Starfish for one of their harps as his gift covered the cost.. I asked them if they would make me a Glenelle but use carbon fibre strings instead of the gut strings which they are designed for. Understandably they weren't keen, but after some persuasion made the harp and strung it with carbon fibre strings.
They have a really long waiting list, and eventually the harp arrived which was mega exciting, but it just didn't sound quite right to me with the strings they put on, and some of the strings just kept breaking. I waited about 6 months thinking maybe it would settle in, and the sound would change but it just didn't work. I talked to my Dad about my reservations and that I might experiment with the stringing and he encouraged me to go for it. And so began my re-stringing journey, which I have posted about previously.
It's been a slightly scary journey to undertake, and one that I wouldn't recommend as at times it was down right terrifying to be playing about with what is essentially an amazing instrument. The scariest moment was when I had to take off the levers, plug in the screw holes with filler and re-drill new holes to re-sit the levers to get the correct regulation. I felt physically sick during the entire process with the potentially foolhardiness of the whole undertaking. HOWEVER I am absolutely delighted with the result as it's created, for me the sound I was after.
The sparkle and lightness you get from nylon in the top range...
...but with enough warmth, earthiness and graduation through the lower register to the bass without any of that brightness you can sometimes get with lever bass wires.
...but with enough strength and "guts' in the strings to be able to cope with me not only playing around doing extended techniques, but also being able to 'give it some welly' and go for it.
So WHY do this? This was of course the first question the good people at Starfish asked, what was wrong with the sound of their harp as it was? There isn't anything at all wrong with the sound. The Glenelle is an amazing harp with an incredible sound with gut strings. YES, I could have ordered a Glenelle with their stringing and I would have been really happy with the sound. BUT, and it's a very big but in the equation...
Just after my Dad gave me that money he went a bit off the rails and wasn't quite right. To be honest it was a gradual thing over many years but you just don't notice the slide really so no-one was surprised when eventually he got his Dementia diagnosis. He spent years nursing my Mum through her cancer and the caring he did for her towards the end was extraordinary. After her death he really should have had the chance to recover from his caring role and start a new life, but his dementia robbed him of that. TIME is short and you never know what is round the corner. My dad loves music and has a connection to my harp playing. He has good days and bad days, but always loves to hear me play. He's in a residential home now and with regular medication he's in the best place he can be and as happy as someone with sliding dementia can be.
Yes I ran the risk of damaging a beautiful instrument, but I also ran the risking of forever regretting and wondering "what if". I had this dream of a particular harp sound in my head. My dads gift enabled me to take this gamble to see if I could find that dream. I've never been one to sit around, but since my Mum passed away and my Dad has slid down the dementia road, I'm a great believer in just going for whatever it is that excites you because you never know what's round the corner. He's been thrilled with the Starfish journey and loves hearing me play on it and I just utterly adore the sound of it.
I REALLY don't recommend anyone doing this as I could have ruined the harp. It's been my dream of a sound, and I wouldn't expect it be anyone else's personal taste but my own. So as an aide memoire for me for when I need to order replacement strings here is what I have used.
1st A through to 4th D Nylon Strings for Carmic Bardic harps
then Carbon fibre (all Alliance Savarez) from Matthias Wagner http://www.music-strings.de
4th C - HPK136C
4th A & B - KF140A (you can get 2metre length coil of string)
4th G - KF 145
4th F - HPK145B
5th E - KF160
5th D - KF172
5th C - KF180R
5th B, A, G Folk Multi-filament from Salopian Strings (phone only UK 01386 750631)
5th F - Folk wire (for Starfish) from Salopian Strings
6th E-6th C wires from Starfish
My earlier posts about re-stringing Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Wires
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