Monday, 30 April 2012

Mountains to move

So.... I got in! I haven't formally accepted yet but the decision is made and I have started the battle plan. In 5 months time I will be getting ready to start my 2nd week at the RCS.

If I think about things too hard, it all becomes rather overwhelming, and so I am trying to concentrate my energy on concrete things that need doing and sorting out - my house needs finishing off and putting up for sale, and I need to find somewhere to live north of the border. I've found this year that throwing myself into something distracting is a good way of combating any nerves!

In the mean time, I have a birthday gig for my harp buddy coming up this Friday, a pupils' concert later in May, and a faintly Jubilee themed recital in June.

My practice is becoming more and more focussed and I am loving the feeling of general satisfaction and productivity that is coming as a result. It's been a long time coming.

I've reduced the number of weddings I'm taking on this year, and boy was that a good idea in terms of overall workload and things to pack into my weeks. However the last one that I did was wonderful - beautiful surroundings, friendly guests and helpful venue staff. Best of all the bride wore an incredible and  very unique frock - and as a closet fashionista, I have to confess that a huge part of the excitement for me is seeing what the bride is going to wear!

Last Friday morning, I was thrilled to receive a really beautifully written thank you note for playing at a castle wedding in March. This was much appreciated as while the venue is stunning and the acoustics incredible, the logistics of getting the harp up to the ceremony room are not pleasant.

Overall, many small shifts are occurring - and I was really pleased to notice last week that I had a whole practice session where I felt physically relaxed while playing.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Back to reality

This is my first normal 5 day week at work for quite a while. In some ways, it's been good to get back to earth and try and re-establish a bit of a routine. My dogs have been in and out of the kennels, I've had a parking ticket and managed to go over my overdraft limit - both unlike me and entirely accidental. But it's definitely been a sign to just watch things a bit.

I've done some really good intense practice the last few days, and tonight was the best for a long time. I'm working on some duets for my harp buddy's birthday party in a couple of weeks, and working on some bits for my next recital which is in June. The audition has been a really good experience in so many ways, but mainly it has proved that when I really put my mind to it, I can achieve a lot in a short space of time. I can't keep that pace up indefinitely, but I have taken a lot from it and will be able to use this for a spot of re-balancing. (again!)

I'm working on I Feel Good, a piece written by Monika Stadler. I was incredibly lucky to work with her in Italy last year, I found her very inspirational and supportive both at and away from the harp. I Feel Good is probably my favourite of the pieces she has published, it starts so simply and then gets rather more complicated all the way through. It's pretty infectious and when she plays it, I can't help tapping my feet or clicking my fingers or something along with it.

Lastly, here are some photos from last weekend - it feels like so long ago already, I can't believe it was just a week ago. Our rather talented friend Natasha took them for us.

I did a gig on the Friday with John and Frankie, a real mixed bag where we did a mixture of jazz standards and blues songs, plus I did a couple of harp solos. I was begged to play Stairway to Heaven which went down rather to well - I'm hoping to get some video footage of this.

This was our last gig together for a little while, as Frankie was about to leave for Liverpool. It was an emotional night, and we all went that little bit further with our music and it really came off - the pub was packed, we had people dancing along while we played and the atmosphere was just brilliant. So we had a little photocall at the end of the night just for a souvenir, and I love this picture of all three of us together.

On the Sunday night, Frankie had a bit of a farewell jam night - she is a rather well connected girl so many local musicians came along to join in and see her off. 

One of my fantastic friends had built me a new stand for my electric harp, and seeing as this harp had brought me and Frankie together (I was playing it at an open mic night in town), it was really fitting that I played it the last time I would see her in her current incarnation. I broke my own golden rule, I was super tired and went out with dirty hair so looked a bit scruffy, but again I love the picture.

It's so sad to think we won't be together for a while - I have learnt so much from playing with Frankie and John. But it's hopefully been the start of something wonderful, and I plan to find some other poor unwitting souls to play with soon.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Extremely Relieved

Well I survived the audition!

After a reassuring practice the afternoon before, I took myself out for dinner and popped round to a new harp buddy's flat for supper. The day arrived, I managed some breakfast and had a good warm up. One of the girls at the conservatoire had texted me to ask which harp I wanted to use which was a really lovely touch, and really helped put me at ease. The harp I had used to practice on was really wonderful to play, and so I asked for this one again as it was now familiar.

To say I was incredibly nervous would be an understatement. But I got through, I played well in places and was pleased with how it went (compared to how I was afraid it might go, it was a breeze!).

I promised myself something nice to eat and drink afterwards, so after a little amble around the city centre, I found a nice little chocolate cafe in the St Enoch centre. I was feeling distinctly faint but managed to restrict myself to a large piece of Rocky Road and a pot of tea. I did this before I wandered around the rest of the shop, which was a smart move as I would have spent a LOT of money if I'd done it the other way round.

I was rather taken by the words on the side of my tea cup - advice for life indeed!

I had a little wander around some more, and then found myself in the stunning Frasers building.... wow. I love a department store, and this was one of the most beautiful I have ever been in. Don't ask me how I ended up strolling past the mens underwear (I swear it was the beautiful carving and glass!) but I happened to locate the champagne bar. It would seem that you can take the girl out of Essex but you can't take the Essex out of the girl!

Compared to down south, the prices were quite reasonable for a cocktail, and then I spotted a cocktail that ingeniously combined champagne AND gin, so I pulled up a chair and settled in. The cocktail was far too sweet, and the burger I ordered was rather too big after I'd tucked into the Rocky Road, but I was celebrating and I enjoyed every mouthful.

A massive weight has been lifted now, and I feel a lot more free again. My dogs are still in the kennels until tomorrow morning, so I am enjoying having the sofa to myself. But I have missed them terribly and I can't wait to take them for a good long stroll at the weekend.

I started working on an idea for a composition when I got in from the station tonight (long day in London for the day job) and am looking forward to getting more stuck into this now my audition is out of the way.

I have a rehearsal with my favouritest harp buddy on Saturday afternoon and can't wait to see her. Harp life is good if exhausting... mind you, check out my poor blistered right thumb! Yuk! Truly a warning to keep on top of your practice!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Bit of reflection

I have just done my last major practice session before my audition on Wednesday. So much logistical stuff to get through before then, but hopefully this should take my mind off things if nothing else!

I've had an incredible weekend - Friday was a gig at a lovely pub just on the edge of town, and was the last one with Frankie and John.

As ever there were a few random things in amongst the jazz and blues numbers, the audience was incredibly appreciative and the harp rather stole the show when Frankie asked me to play Stairway to Heaven! I'd played it at a restaurant the week before and it had gone down a storm. I normally hold back because it's such a guitar cliche, which is a shame as the harp arrangement by David Ice is brilliant.

I always think of my dad when I play this - having thought he was mostly a Bowie/Beatles/Abba fan all my life, he recently owned up to his Led Zep passion. He helped me at a photo shoot last year and Stairway was one of the pieces I was playing while the photographer did her thing. I am very much a daddy's girl so thinking of my dad while playing is always quite emotional. I had lots of compliments which has made my heart soar!

Saturday was a wedding - the bride wore a stunning dress (and believe me I have seen plenty in my time!) and the guests were lovely and so appreciative.

Last night was Frankie's farewell - another pub, and this time I got to take my electric harp out to play! One of my friends from my racing days has built me a stand for it and it did the trick. One of Frankie's friends took some brilliant pictures which I will put up when I get them. I met some great people and made some fab contacts which bodes well for what happens now Frankie is moving on.

Back to the audition.... I'm playing a Bach-Grandjany Etude (Sarabande from Violin Partita No 1 - just beautiful, and very slow and expressive which is right up my street), La Source (which can be a bit of a harp cliche!), and the Firedance by David Watkins (which my dad hates, and I have to say after years of loving this piece, I am on the verge of seeing what he means!). Plus a famous cadenza from the Nutcracker.

I haven't prepared as much as I would have liked, but I have done my best in the time available. I hope to relax my hideously tense muscles and go with the flow.

I read this blog post by Deborah Henson-Conant about 'Glide' and this has helped me visualise my performance and understand what I enjoy about performing. It's a great way of describing something that I've always found impossible to relate to others (and I'm thrilled she replied to my comment).

I am a big Harry Potter fan and have always loved the description of how he feels when he first chooses his new wand in the first book - the stars shooting out of his hand etc. I try to visualise this when I think about my performance.

Also the scene in Billy Elliott where he is asked in his audition how dancing makes him feel, and he struggles but eventually describes it as being like electricity.

And the fabulous scene in The Red Shoes where Victoria Page meets Boris Lermontov and the following exchange takes place after he is rather sneery:

Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?
Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don't know exactly why, but... I must.
Vicky: That's my answer too.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Being a Daily Musician?

Because of the rapidly approaching audition, and the impending return to my day job (I go back on Tuesday after a week off), I have been thinking hard about my status as a musician.

It's not my main profession, and I'm not sure I would describe it as my passion. Currently it's something I love doing when I'm not bogged down in the logistics (travelling/scheduling/admin/loading) element of playing a bulky and rare instrument.

I adore the performing aspect, and when I am really in the zone for playing, or the flow, or whatever people prefer to call it, there are few things like it.

I am having a bit of a sofa day today, and have just read the following article: Blur's gig after the Olympics to be their last?

In the days where it was Blur v Oasis, I always came down on the side of Blur although I wouldn't describe myself as a huge fan.

What I found fascinating was Damon Albarn's description of Graham Coxon as a Daily Musician.

I don't know exactly what he meant by this, but I took this to mean someone who plays/listens to music every day, is involved in new music and their whole life is defined by their art.

I'm nowhere near that at the moment. I listen to music in the car but only as a background to my commute. I don't have the energy to seek out new bands to see what's exciting. I'm just working out what my own influences are and where I want to go with my music.

I do know that I love playing live though, preferably with others.

The guys I play with (well, guy and girl!) at the moment are on the move and so I need to get out there and find some others. I went to a great gig on Friday night which really inspired me - in a pub in town that has a great reputation for music and is a brilliant place for connecting with other musicians. Looks like I need to get back in the habit of going regularly!

I think I'll aspire to being a Daily Musician.... certainly given me some food for thought.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


I'm just back from the Edinburgh Harp Festival, having been for the first time ever.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it was lovely to catch up with the lovely folks from Pilgrims,  Morleys and my new friends from Accusound who I met at a Jazz Harp workshop in Rotterdam. I recently bought a pickup for my harp from them, it's fantastic and I was keen to see them again to tell them how pleased I was with it. Oh... and I knew they are always good for biscuits :)

I saw some friendly faces from a Clarsach society weekend back in October when things were rather bleak - one particularly wonderful person was bowled over with the news of my audition and gave me the "eeeek, omg that's so exciting!" reaction I was hoping for!

I also made some new acquaintances - I was put up overnight by someone I'd never actually met, other than via the power of the internet. We shared many hours of harp chat and giggles over stupid orchestral parts and even more stupid conductors. I happened to sit down for lunch next to another lady who had moved to Glasgow from Wales many years ago, and we swapped numbers and she promised to help however she could, should I end up there later this year.

My week has been incredibly tiring - although I am out of the normal routine and drudge of the day job, it doesn't seem to have given me any energy back.

I did a gig at a restaurant in Woodbridge last night which was great fun (and rather silly towards the end, in a good way!). Today I listened to a couple of new Park Stickney CDs I bought in Edinburgh - they have inspired me to start thinking about a spot of composition. I've not done very much before so it will be exciting to have a go.

I'm looking forward to a long, lazy Easter weekend - I have a LOT of de-junking to do, shedding some things from the old life and preparing for a new one... possibly, if I practice hard and get through my audition!