Seems an especially poignant day to be playing harp at a Citizenship Ceremony with all the political turmoil going on, but it was good to be part of something which shows respects and welcomes new citizens to the UK.
I played at the very first citizenship ceremony for my local council when they started way back in 2004.
Since then I have played at lots of these events, and I may be biased, but I do think my local council does a lovely ceremony which is really welcoming to the new citizens.
Today's ceremony consisted of people from 12 different countries. Very often you will get several members from the same family (some being young children) all taking part in the process at the same time.
When they arrive prior to the ceremony, the harp is set up in the room where they have refreshments and I will play some music whilst they have some tea and coffee.
The Mayor and a representative of either the Police or Fire Brigade, as well as the Queens Representive (either the Lord Lieutenant or one of the Deputy Lieutenants) will usually then mingle and chat to the new citizens prior to the ceremony. They then each give a short speech during the ceremony about the responsibilities of citizenship and being part of the community.
Being the Queen's representative normally requires a bit of 'pomp' and over the years I've seen some great outfits worn by the Lieutenants. Everything from spurs, to velvet buckled shoes, to wearing a sword, to lots of lace and very big hats. It's great to have a bit of drama and personally; I love it!
After the refreshments, it's a quick pack up of the harp and dash to the room where the ceremony is being held to play the dignitaries into the room. Then it's into the ceremony itself with the oath taking and the pledging of the allegiance to the Queen and the UK.
I'm always very moved by these ceremonies. Often these new citizens have had a very long and hard journey to get to this stage, and this is always recognised within the ceremony.
After playing more music whilst each new citizen goes up in turn to receive their certificate, sign the book and get their photo taken, the main event for the musician at these ceremonies is playing the National Anthem. It's a simple piece to play, but I'm always aware that this is very special moment for the new citizens as they all stand to listen to it. This is the end of the ceremony and the start of their journey as a British citizen.
I always come away from these ceremonies humbled, and glad to be part of a country which shows respect, tolerance and welcomes new citizens.
2016 ended with a bang (literally), when one of my big gut strings decided to unexpectedly snap during a really quiet piece in a New Year eve's concert at the Bridgewater Hall. Luckily it was near the end of the concert, but I've never had such a big string go during a concert before and it was all a bit shocking, for everyone including me! What a noise!!
December 2016 has been an intense month of work with lovely people. It's such a joy to play good music, in good company. The majority of the month has been all about SNOWMAN with the wonderful talented people who run Carrot Productions.
I'm not sure who looks more scary here... me or the Snowman!!!
As well as the Snowman and seasonal favourites, this year's tour included The Nutcracker as well as a new production of Cinderalla with music brilliantly composed by Dan Whibley.
The whole ethos of the Snowman show is so brilliantly devised and produced by Rachel & Dan and involves performing to so many young children and families, many of whom will not have heard a live orchestra before. It's not often you get such job satisfaction!
We played 30 performances of the Snowman across Derbyshire, York, Hull, Sheffield as well as in Coventry and Chester Cathedrals, and finally ending at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. For me the highlight was a special performance at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital.
Prior to the Snowman tour, flutist Nichola Hunter and myself had done some outreach work for Carrot Productions at the Childrens hospital as well as in a Dementia unit in Manchester.
Immediately after the Snowman finished Nichola and I did 4 performances of "a flute and harpy Christmas" which included one public performance and 3 private performances at eldery care homes in Cheshire; two of which were specialised dementia homes. Nichola is so wonderful and an absolute joy to work with and everywhere we played everyone loved her, especially when she brought out all her hand percussion for people to join in with us!
These were very special performances and although it came right at the end of a busy work schedule just before Christmas, I'm so glad we made time to do them as it was an appropriate way to "give back" to our community. It's doing these kind of performances away from the concert hall and in the community that really brings it home how important music is for the mind, body and soul.
A timely reminder that music is just magic!