Monday, 25 January 2016

Harpyness is MOVING!

After over 5 years of Harpyness on Blogspot, it's moving to a new address!


The archive is currently being moved to this new address. There will be no new posts here on Blogspot, although you can still visit the archive - over 5 years of posts.

Thanks for visiting and hope to see you at the new HARPYNESS blog address

Friday, 4 December 2015

Duet for dog and harp

The London Philharmonic Orchestra's principal harpist, Rachel Masters with her fabulous singing dog :-)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Russian roulette

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.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Harp microphones on a live gig

I've written before, briefly, about microphone position but it's a subject always worth coming back to. I suppose it's a bit of a "holy grail" type thing for harpists; like wind players in the search of the perfect reed! Every harpist will have their own preferred set-up with microphones.

There is a really good article online from DPA microphones about miking up a harp. Definitely worth a read, despite it being about selling their particular brand of microphones.

I haven't done any CD recording sessions lately, but I have been miked up a lot on stage for live gigs.

Interestingly, the only microphones I'm given by sound guys now when I turn up on stage, are the small omni directional DPAs, the likes of which you see singers wearing on stage either in their hair, or just discretely on the side of their face.

Unlike the image above, (from the DPA website), I wrap (carefully) the lead around that strut (?) of the harp and then use a bit of gaffer tape over the wire to hold it in place on the inside of the harp so that it is held dangling about one inch inside the harp.

When I work with the NSO on the Katherine Jenkins gigs, the whole orchestra is miked up. For those gigs we use the small DPA above, wrapping the mike inside the harp, with the addition of an AKG pencil mike (or similiar) on a stand sitting on the right hand side of the harp and pointing to around middle C.


It picks up every finger noise on the string. It's fine when playing tutti and playing high in the harp. But playing completely solo below middle C is a nightmare. You get that FUTT noise as you place your fingers on the string, and you have to do LOADS of damping just to play a single solo line without it sounded rubbish through the PA.

On the latest KJ tour, during the sound check one of my strings snapped whilst I was miked up. That was interesting!

Since I got my lovely Camac Little Big Blue last year, I've been using the Camac harp all the time on solo corporate gigs, plugged into a battery powered Roland amp.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE playing on a harp where every string has it's own individual pick-up. A really round and gorgeous amplified proper "harp" sound.

I didn't use the Camac on this years KJ tour, as it's still sounding a bit "new", and although it's fine for solo corporate gigs it's not quite ready for taking out on pro orchestral-pops gigs yet.

However, next time, I will take my Camac and see what the sound guys make of that.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Electro-magnetic harp

Folie a Deux is a very exciting new opera for lever harp, electro-magnetic harp, and 2 vocalists by Emily Hall and Sjón by the Mahogany Opera Group.

It's been on tour and will be performed in London at the Spitalfields Festival 6th and 7th of June. details here

So what's an electro-magnetic harp?

It's designed and built by David Sheppard and Jonathan Green, and I'm very much hoping that we will be able to get an article in the forthcoming UKHA Harp magazine about this exciting project!

Am I too old to learn?

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 more traditional folk and classical settings. 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!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

gravity harps and more

OK - not harps as such, but.....  a fascinating video interview with Andy Cavatorta, talking about the new instrument he's creating which is a magnetised piano-harp

Andy is the creative genius behind the Gravity Harps which he built for Bjork's Biophilia Tour which featured Zeena Parkins on harp.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

David Watkins on a steam train

Oh my goodness!! A lovely article in The Journal & video about David Watkin's father, Donald Watkins who was a locomotive pioneer and amongst other things, designed the dead man’s handle safety device for train drivers.

It was seeing David Watkins in concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank when I was 6 that made me decide that I wanted to play the harp. The next day I drew a little picture of him playing the harp at the concert and my mum sent it to him. He was so kind and took the trouble of sending me a signed photo and kept up a little written correspondence with me for a while always making the effort to reply to the fan letters I sent him. Lovely man, a true gentleman.

Playing at the zoo

Another lovely little news item, this time about therapeutic harpist and zoo volunteer, Teri Tacheny who plays once a month at her local zoo for the primates, big cats and polar bears. Teri says the Guerrillas show the most appreciation!

Click on image for video.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

How to fix a Harpo trolley with a teaspoon

I don't think I am alone in suffering some "disappointment" when the wheels from my lovely Harpo trolley first started to fall off.

The trolley IS really good and has lots of PLUS points. But the wheels falling off are a real design flaw. (This is of course a massive understatement on how annoyingly frustrating the wheels are.)

But here is how you can fix the Harpo trolley using just a cheap metal teaspoon.

The design problem is very small... it's the teeth on the metal disc which turn the wrong way round with use, meaning that rod can't go full length into the trolley.

The teeth should be pointing towards the tyre and flush with the wheel - the wheel below is ok

If it looks like this (below) then you need to fix it

Grab a metal teaspoon rather than a screwdriver as you don't want to accidentally break off any of those teeth, you just want to push the ring down and at the same time try to push the teeth so it's going inwards towards the tyre. 

BE CAREFUL NOT TO BREAK THOSE TEETH - don't use a small screwdriver  - use the teaspoon as it's less likely to cause breakage. 

Make sure you pull the rod towards you so that it is extended to it's fullest and carefully push that ring down.

and voila! The pesky wheels go on the trolley first time without any fiddling about.

It's a 10 minute job and saves hours of cursing at your trolley when you try to get it out of the car and the trolley decides to be a pain... and the wheels keep dropping off... and you're trying to get the harp unloaded... and it's raining... and you're annoyed because you spent so much money on this expensive trolley and.....