I've been thinking a lot lately about how much of my creative output is influence by words and images. Most of my recent compositions have been in direct response to poems that have hit home to me. Poetry by Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickenson, Simon Armitage and Rupi Kaur have all inspired music in me this past year.
I've always been interested in art since my school days when I studied it at A level. At the time I was in sixth form in London and by luck my school was in Pimlico and I would regularly go with a friend to the cafe at the Tate Gallery on The Embankment. Every time we went we would do a quick tour of our favourite paintings before descending down to the cafe for a cup of Earl Grey tea. It all seemed the height of sophistication as a teenager in the 1980s!
And here I am over 30 years later, starting a compositional journey as a middle aged woman in my 50s with all the poetry and imagery I've greedily consumed over the years swirling around my head, inspiring me to make music and it makes my heart sing.
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.
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..
During the 90's I was working a lot with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and for over 10 years I always lodged with the same landlady whenever I was in Glasgow. Mrs M was absolutely lovely and I loved staying with her.
She passed away a while back at the grand age of 92. In researching family history, her daughter went through the Visitors Book that her mum kept and as I was a frequent visitor recently got in touch and has written a lovely post in her blog. I know quite a few musicians lodged with Mrs M at her wonderful apartment in one of those beautiful tenements just off the Byers Road through the 90s-00s. Being able to travel with work and meet wonderful people like Mrs M is the real perk and privilege of being a musician.
Click here to read Mum's Marbles BLOG - All photos from Mum's Marbles BLOG
Yesterday I had a white knuckle gig. Nothing to do with playing the harp, but the DRIVING involved in getting to the gig. It was in a remote venue and the drive was slightly more 'interesting' than usual as for the first time ever my SatNav decided it was not even going to pretend I was on a road anymore.
So I ended up with that nightmare of driving conditions that you don't need on the way to a gig.
Had I known it was such a remote venue I would have been mentally prepared for it. Unfortunately playing harp at weddings in the UK does mean that you get to play in some remote places, but this was a new one for me. It was that (unfortunately familiar) sinking feeling as you drive from Motorway to A road, to B road, to what is essentially little more than a track. Meanwhile you heartbeat starts to race as you go from...
"oh this is getting a bit narrow" to
"hmm, this isn't really a road anymore" to
"I'm not enjoying this" to
"actually I'm a bit scared now and my vertigo is kicking in as I go up this steep bendy hill on a narrow path with a sheer drop to the side".
The actual gig was lovely with a beautiful venue and nice people.
But I have to admit I spent most of the time thinking about the drive back home and being thankful that I would be doing the return car journey during daylight and that it wasn't raining.
Being an outdoor gig meant as well that I was fighting the wind blowing through my strings and being picked up on my amp. I took a couple of short videos on my phone and unknowingly picked up the craziest effect of my strings vibrating.
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!
Who would have thought that when we first started the Sandbach Concert Series in 2010, that it would be going from strength to strength and that we would be celebrating 50 concerts being put on in Sandbach.
What started off as an idea and involved hours of filling in lots of grant application forms whilst on breaks working with the RLPO, has developed into an amazing concert series which has the community at it's heart. With eight concerts each year, helping to organise the concerts has been a huge part of my life for the past six years.
At the start it involved friends and family all mucking in to help pull the first concert together, and very quickly volunteers from across the community came forward to help. We now have an incredible team of dedicated volunteers, without whom the concerts just wouldn't happen. I cannot stress enough how amazing it is to have so many incredible people involved in the organisation.
The set up of the concert involves a 30 minute 'spotlight concert' which involves young musicians from around the area, followed by a one hour concert by professional musicians. Incredibly we have had over 500 young musicians playing at our spotlight concerts, ranging from some who have only just started learning an instrument to those who are going on to music college. We are a welcoming and encouraging audience and all local young musicians are welcome to perform at our concerts. As you can imagine the spotlight concerts take a huge amount of organisation and rely on the support of the many dedicated music teachers in our area as well as being superbly co-ordinated and directed by music teacher and organist, Kevin Birch.
We have always had an art exhibition on display during our concerts and we now have an amazing relationship with the Sandbach Art Club where one of their artists will put on an exhibition at our concerts.
Community was always the central idea for the concerts which is why we have a 30 minute interval after the spotlight concert. Not only is it time to have a good look at the art exhibition and have a drink and catch up with friends, but we always have a local charity or good cause that we raise money for at each concert, and very often representatives will be at the concert. As well as the big household named charities, more often we support local grass roots organisations. We have raised an impressive amount for these good causes over the years with our raffles and it's always humbling to see how many good people there are, just getting on and regularly doing good things for others.
Thanks to my husband Andy Scott, and his great Artistic Director skills we have been spoilt with a fantastic range of musicians performing at the Sandbach Concert Series. From classical to jazz to folk, we have enjoyed a wide range of music brilliantly performed by amazing musicians.
From an initial idea about how to do a successful community concert series, it has grown enormously. We now have charity status, have partnerships with our local music hub, The Love Music Trust so that we can also help deliver 3 educational workshops to young musicians each year. We also recently set up the SCS 'Young Musician of the Year' competition which takes place during the Sandbach Transport Festival each year. We are very grateful for the financial support we get from many local organisations, businesses and generous individuals. I can't mention them all here, but they are listed on the SCS website.
Which brings me back to the next concert and the reason for this blog post!
As I was the first artist in the first concert (yes not only did I set up the hall I also played in it!!!), I will be returning and playing with my new trio for the 50th celebration concert on September 28th. Details here about the concert, where with Conrad Marshall on flute and Raymond Lester on viola, we'll be playing trios by Bax, Richard Rodney-Bennett and Debussy
This time I'll be able to leave the set up of the hall for someone else to do for the September concert, but I'll be back to my usual role of chair shifting and hall setting up for the October concert when we have the Martinu Trio from Czechoslovakia performing.
Thanks to all the musicians who have performed in Sandbach, all the artists who have presented their art work, all the volunteers who help to make it all happen, to all those individuals, organisations and businesses who support the Sandbach Concert Series and to our amazing audience.
It's been a pretty stressful couple of years, if you have been one of the unlucky harpists playing Russian Roulette with your spare harp strings. That sinking feeling of knowing you have a full spare set in your bag when you are on a gig, but if you happen to have a string that breaks and you go to put the replacement string on.... will it work or will it break as soon as you put it on?
I first blogged about the harp string saga nearly a year and half ago, although I've been experiencing it for much longer.
I think the thing that annoys me the most is when I see posts on facebook now from harpists who think they are just unlucky to have strings which keep breaking and that it is just them, and not a manufacturing fault.
I've always used the same make of string and when my 1st and 2nd octaves started breaking, I too thought it was just me and would be completely stressed out when I needed to replace a string before a gig and the replacement string just kept breaking as soon as I put it on. To the point where I no longer had any spare of the broken string left and had to use the nearest string I had spare - 1st octave G string on a 1st octave A etc.
I must have spent loads of money over the past few years on strings which were completely useless until I realised it wasn't me.
Then I started sending them back to the shop I had bought them from, who would send me a replacement free of charge. Then when the replacement came, the same thing would happen, it would constantly break and I'd send that string back. Over and over.
The lack of a simple stock control sticker on the individual string packet so any "dodgy batches" can be identified by whoever is re-selling the string seems to me quite astonishing.
Whilst I completely sympathise with the problems of the manufacturers, and would always normally use their strings, the fact that it is the harpists who have bought the strings that have to then play Russian roulette is really unfair. If you are a professional gigging musician and you don't have the spare strings for your instrument, it makes your life kind of tricky to say the least.
So after resorting to putting nylon strings on I had a light bulb moment, WHY NOT TRY A DIFFERENT MAKE OF STRING!
With Pirastro gut being out of my price league, I started using Camac gut and have been using them for over 6 months now and... it's been absolutely fine. There isn't a difference in thickness and they have been no problems having a mix of strings on my harps. No intonation problems at all. No difference in sound between the strings. The Camac do 'feel' a bit different, but nothing that is off putting.
The only downside to the Camac strings is that they are a bit more expensive and that they take a bit longer to get to settle and stay in tune, but once they are settled in they are fine - and they don't break as soon as you put them on.
Which to my mind is what you want when you put on a string from a new packet that you have paid for.
Over the years I have taught lots of adults who are learning a musical instrument for the first time and I always get asked,
"I've always wanted to play the harp, am I too old?"
The answer is NO.
The harp is a brilliant instrument to learn for many reasons, not least being that you can make a pleasant sound from the first lesson. Being able to flip some levers and get "hollywood" glisses by the end of a first lesson is pretty amazing.
It's good for you.
It's excellent for improving your co-ordination, a great "brain trainer" and that's without even going into the "therapeutic" healing effects from the vibrations coming from the sound board.
I'll never forget the time during a school workshop when a deaf girl came up to the front and hugged my harp with her hands flat on the soundboard and her cheek against the side of my harp. The look of joy on her face when she suddenly felt the vibration as I started to play was beautiful.
I've taught people who have had all sorts of long standing health issues, and it's possible to adapt your playing style so that you can play comfortably to suit you and your hands/health. You can get brilliant lightly strung, good quality, physically light instruments which are easy to pluck. There are just so many really great lever harps of all styles you can buy now.
You can play ALL styles of music.
It's not unusual to see a harpist playing jazz, pop or as part of a rhythm section as well as in the moretraditional folk and classicalsettings. You can learn to a high technical capability without having to play classical music if classical is not your thing.
It's easier than ever to connect with other harpists.
I was one of the first harpists to teach via Skype. Unless you are living in an Internet connection blackspot, if you don't have access to a harp teacher living near you, there is now a big choice of online teachers.
There are so many great harp festivals and harp organisations that there is no reason not to connect and meet up with other people who share your passion.
ALWAYS WANTED TO LEARN TO PLAY THE HARP?
There really isn't a good reason not to. Go on, it's never too late to learn!
God bless Ray Pool... and his brilliant Winter Wonderland book!
Every harpist should have this book for playing at Christmas parties.
I'm also a great fan of Ray Pool's harmony book "3's a chord" which is an excellent book for teaching.
How many times do I have to say that?
Considering I have a policy of not playing outdoors with my harps, I've played in some pretty funky outdoor situations this summer....
So for this one, I turned up to a private function only to find it was in a field.
After trying to explain why I couldn't play on grass, the TINIEST of stages was eventually found and some hay bales found to stop the stage from falling over on itself on the very uneven ground.
Luckily the weather wasn't too bad, a fair cross wind, but it was just light summer jacket/cardigan weather, and a fairly short duration of playing.
Romantic looking = possibly?
Sound projection across a field with a waterfall nearby = zero
Still recovering from last nights orchestral summer pops gig in an outdoor theatre, complete with tarpaulin roof but no side panels on a day with terrible weather across the country - freezing rain and howling winds.
Only 3 strings broke, and for the first time in my gigging career I kept the base covers on during a gig. Had a black scarf luckily to disguise the blue base covers a bit.
Only in the UK, would you do an outdoor orchestral gig in the rain, with the wind howling through playing patriotic favourites, wearing fingerless gloves playing "Thunder and Lightning" polka by Strauss.
NO more outdoor gigs this year - PLEASE!!!
Wow, June has sped by.... lot of gigs this month, but one of the loveliest gigs I did was a rather bizarre but brilliant educational event I took part in as part of the Barnaby Festival in Macclesfield.
It was an ingenious introduction to instruments of the orchestra, set in Macclesfield library. There were groups of string and wind players spread out on the ground floor of the library, with brass and percussion players upstairs and the harp in the corridor.
There were tours every half hour with a stream of visitors to each group of musicians. As the tour party arrived at your spot, you played your cadenza from Britten's Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra. After each tour party had heard all the cadenzas from the various instruments they could then go off and have a go on the various instruments. After playing the first cadenza, there was a steady stream of children wanting a go on the harp throughout the morning.
Luckily I had my lovely teenage daughter with me as my official roadie that day, as well as someone who had volunteered to help fend off little fingers from the harps as I was playing, and boy did I need them both!
I took my little harp for everyone to have a go on, and it was a pretty full on morning of playing YPG cadenza lots of times and then supervising lots of very young children having a go on the lever harp.
The pictures make it look a lot more relaxed and sedate then it actually was, as it was usually at least 2 children having a go on the lever harp at the same time as there were just so many of them wanting a go. It was a brilliant event and lovely to introduce the harp to so many young (and not so young) people.
Never have I been as in need of a restorative cup of tea, as after that gig.
A brilliant concept of an educational event and I was very glad to have been a small part of it.
Bride banged up for £200,000 wedding con
screams the headline in that great British tabloid The Sun tonight. link to article here
"As well as paying for a lavish wedding which included a free bar, musicians, fireworks, a magician and face-painting, Lane also used the cash to pay for a number of home improvements at the couple’s Adlington home, including items such as a 52in TV, a Tag Heuer watch, an iPod and personalised car registration plates."
Bride who stole £170,000 from her boss to pay for dream wedding is forced to repay just one tenth of the money
No mention of harpists.
However in their rival tabloid The Daily Mail tonight
Kirsty Lane hired a harpist to greet guests and put on a free bar link to article here
and The Huffington Post puts their lavish spending as
Guests to the wedding were greeted by a harpist
Having a quick look on amazon, a Samsung 52 inch TV costs £699 and a cheap Tag Heuer watch costs £950
pretty sure the harpist didn't get paid anywhere near the cost of a Samsung TV.....
Lauren Scott is a harpist & composer and has been blogging on Harpyness for over 10 years.
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