Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Richard Rodney Bennett

Very sad to hear that Sir Richard Rodney Bennett passed away on Christmas eve. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times when my husband was performing his sax concerto for his 70th birthday concert at the QEH, he was such a lovely man.... a true gentlemen.

We spent an afternoon at his apartment in New York and I had a good chat with him about his writing for harp, including his trio for flute, viola and harp, "Sonata after Syrinx" (great piece) and he showed me his brilliant harp box tool which he always used when he was composing for keeping track of what key the harp was in as he was writing for it.

I've been making his little harp boxes and giving them to composers ever since as they are a brilliant aid for writing for harp - link to post here about how to make them -

I made a slight change to his design as with his, rather than have the pedals with flats at the top and sharps at the bottom he had his in reverse. When I pointed out to him that his diagram was the wrong way round to how the pedal box was on the harp, he replied, "my dear, I have them the logical way round, it's you harpists who think the wrong way round."

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dr Who

The Theremin has got to be one of the truly bonkers instruments - and incredibly difficult to play.

Here it is played by the grand-niece (?) of the inventor of the instrument, Lydia Kavina with the Radio Science Orchestra and the wonderfully talented Joy Smith on harps.

Not much for Joy to do on this particular video, but who can resist the Dr Who theme?

Happy Holidays ;-)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Remembrance of Naples

This is a lovely video of Letizia Belmondo playing Rimembranza di Napoli by Giovanni Caramiello.

Such sensitive playing and she makes it all look so effortless... wonderful!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Annoying advert

Things like this shouldn't annoy me, but they do.

I wonder whether the harpist couldn't be bothered miming playing on the correct side of the harp, or whether she was asked to sit the wrong way round for "artistic" reasons by the director?

I really hope she just couldn't be bothered...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Israel Harp music

Something a bit kinder on the ears needed after my previous post - a nice mix of some of the set music in the forthcoming Israel Harp Competition.

Good luck to all involved - especially the UK harpists, Lizzie Bass and Tamara Young.

Fright night

Feeling brave?

Be afraid, very afraid.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Caliente - Big!

Another video to post of my trio ;-)

Caliente, with Clare Southworth on flute and Andy Scott on saxophone, playing one of Andy's pieces - Big!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Caliente - Ibert

I've been doing quite a few videos this past month to go up on YouTube.

Here is the first one!

It's the Ibert Interlude with my trio, Caliente. Clare Southworth on flute and Andy Scott on Saxophone...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

ultimate sight-reading

You just can't beat a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio and chilling out on the sofa watching Family Guy.....

especially after an evening of sight-reading two contemporary operas on a gig.

Maybe 2 glasses?

Monday, 5 November 2012

bonfire night

How quickly can you pack up a concert harp and get it out the house?

Well it seems that I can do it less than 90 seconds....

Last night my shed caught fire - who knows why? Electrical? Stray firework? The shed is right up against our converted double garage, (which has LOADS of my business equipment in, plus all my husband's instruments and his life times collection of sheet music), which is right next to our house.

So when the shed caught fire and the flames were 20 feet high and licking the roof of the garage it seemed like that was going to go up in flames too.

First thought after calling the fire brigade was - EVERYONE OUT.

That's our 2 teenage kids, our dog, student (that my husband was teaching in the garage at the time) and her mother out on the opposite side of our street watching the flames coming from behind the garage.

Whilst my husband and a neighbour were moving as much gear as possible before the fire engines got there (without getting anywhere close to the fire of course), I suddenly panic about the fire spreading to the garage... and then to the house.... and know that I have to get my harp out of the house now.

FFS - I know - very stupid, but it seemed logical at the time.

So apparently not only can I find my outer harp cover in the dark (as all our electricity was out), I can move the harp at speed without it being strapped properly to the trolley, get it out the door without the special door ramps which are essential for getting it over the awkward door threshold and out across the road in about 90 seconds.

Luckily 2 fire engines and an hour later, no one was hurt, only one corner of the garage roof had started to catch fire, and they put that out without any water damage to any of our gear in there.

How lucky are we? No one hurt and our ability to carry on our business intact.

Unfortunately I found out today that I had done something last year which I had never done before, and that is to forget to re-new our buildings and contents insurance. SIGH.

The whole experience was so GOD DAMN scary and happened so fast, that thank god, due to the fantastic fire service we are all ok.

The fact that we are going to have to live off tin beans for god knows how long whilst we pay to get the building repaired is a moot point.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Sometimes you come across something unexpected that just puts everything in perspective.

I came across this wonderful audio slideshow interview with harpist Annie Mawson on the BBC wesbite. She founded a charity twenty years ago called the Sunbeams Music Trust which works with children and adults with varying levels of disability.

A truly remarkable woman whose charity has been doing amazing things with music therapy in Cumbria for many years.


Click on the image below to watch the interview, it's wonderful.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Far Beyond the Stars

My husband was in the middle of writing a euphonium concerto for Glyn Williams and Fodens Band when Ali Stephens died a couple of years ago.

He subsequently arranged the second movement of that piece for guitar, harp and string orchestra for myself and Craig Ogden (Ali's other duo partner) to play at her memorial concert at Trinity College of Music.

Last year Craig and myself recorded a demo version of it with the RNCM strings - appropriate to post up now it's 2 year anniversary of Ali losing her battle with cancer. A remarkable woman who achieved an enormous amount in her 40 years.

Far Beyond the Stars by Andy Scott
Craig Ogden - Guitar
Lauren Scott - Harp
RNCM Strings directed by Chris Hoyle

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Robert Maxwell

I've just come across a really good article about Robert Maxwell on the jazz harp website.

I must admit to buying a copy of his Ebb Tide when I was a teenager (which I know is lurking somewhere in one of my music cupboards), but never really playing it as I found it too cheesy and preferred playing Misty.

Born in 1921, he studied at the Julliard under Grandjany and became a popular showman harpist and songwriter, apparently more popular in his day than Harpo Marx! Another good article about him here where his music is listed as exotica lounge - Nothing quite like exotica lounge harp - FANTASTIC!!!

Accidental Slip on an Oriental Rug by Robert Maxwell, His Harp & His Orchestra

brilliantly bonkers and of course Ebb Tide 

Still not mad on the tune but great orchestration!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

harp boogie

A "pop video" from the late Forties - harpist Adele Girard and kooky dancer!

Lovely comments on YouTube about this video - worth reading!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

keep smiling

  • Don't you wish you played the flute? - 1

  • Bet you can't get that under your chin? - 3

  • Which way to the toilets? - 4

That'll be the number of times asked those questions on a gig... 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Flog it

Before you ask I wasn't at Tatton Park trying to flog my harp....

My little stint on BBC Flog It which I did in May has finally aired on TV.

I played for 20 minutes in total, and 20 seconds was aired!

I love the unsubtle edit the BBC has done and must remember to do that next time I play the Dussek Sonata.

Monday, 10 September 2012


The highlight of August for me, was playing my tiny lever harp at a family wedding on the wonderful Isle of Iona - part of the Inner Hebrides.

Getting there was quite a journey! Long drive to Oban, than a ferry to the Isle of Mull. There are no visitors cars allowed on Iona, so you have to leave your car on Mull, and carry your luggage onto a smaller ferry over to Iona - hence the lever harp, and handy rucksack case for my Camac!

The wedding was in the historic Abbey on the island....

which you can also just make out in the picture below from the boat. (The only large structure on the centre right of the picture). Total population of Iona is 130 - info here

We made a family holiday out of the week, and had a lovely break on Mull and Iona. A truly wonderful place and we will certainly be going back there. The weather was fantastic, the air was pure and because there are no street lights, the most amazing night sky.

It's an hour by boat from Iona to the Isle of Staffa, and of course Fingal's Cave. It was worth the effort to see why Mendlessohn was so taken with it - it's an incredible place.

photo inside Fingal's cave - which was a bit of a slightly daunting trek across the basalt rocks!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Waltz of the Flowers

as you have never heard it before!!!

On googling Mario Lorenzi I came across this astonishing bit of footage (1:48) from 1947 of his playing of Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers. He makes the chromatic sections sound complete effortless!

It's a British Pathe film and the sound doesn't always sync with the recording, the close up of pedal work is quite funny considering the speed his feet must have been going at. However the sound recording is very good.

All that sound from an Erard.

Mario Lorenzi (1894–1967)

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Harp weekend in Saltaire

Harp weekend coming up next weekend in the fabulous Salts Mill in Saltaire.

Organised by the Early Music Shop and Camac, it features a weekend of workshops and recitals by Sarah Deere-Jones and Louise Thomson.

(click on images for to view in detail)

Sunday, 26 August 2012


Lovely music from Affiniti who are an Irish Classical crossover trio with Aisling Ennis on harp, soprano Emer Barry and violinist Emer Barry.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Inappropriate noise

Q. What's the worst noise that, as a harpist, you can make at a wedding?

A. A wire string snapping whilst the bride is waiting to say "I do"?

I very rarely have any wire strings break on me... I change them regularly every year and a half and I can count on the fingers of one hand how many have snapped on me. It's like a gun shot when they snap and even though it's a rare occurrence it quite freaks me out!

Half way through the signing of the register today (and the wedding guests were very quiet), there was a loud crack which is the horrible precursor to a wire string snapping.

Luckily I managed to draw to a close very quickly the piece I was playing and then jump up and slacken off the offending wire before it snapped. PHEW!!!

After a crazy month of being really busy and being stuck in the pit at Buxton Festival, I think my harp was trying to tell me I need some time off!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

asbestos fingers

After spending most of my life obsessing about the state of my finger tips (too soft?... too hard?), you'd think I'd have tried most things to avoiding getting blisters?

Well it turns out not.

I'm doing a couple of operas at the moment, one is a bit of a pedal work-out, and the other one is a finger shredder.

(double click on image for closer view)

Kaschei the Immortal by Rimsky-Korsakov is a great little opera, which is really enjoyable to play.... apart from the 4 pages of solo (loud) harp glisses at the start (which you can't use felt picks for!)

After the dress rehearsal my fingers were SO SORE that I didn't know how I was going to get through the run over the next few weeks.

In fact they were so sore, they felt bruised to the touch, which was when I had the brain wave of using arnica cream.

Hallelujah! Had the first show last night and my fingers were fine - not sore at all.

Came home and rubbed a bit of arnica cream into my fingertips, and so far so good.

Fingers crossed (no pun intended) that arnica cream will be the answer to keeping the blisters at bay over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The case for wedge heels

Played in a church yesterday, and this was the only place to set up..... and the holes in the grate were just large enough for the heels of your shoe to slip into!!

Now if I had been wearing wedges or flip-flops it would have been fine....

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Blazing pedals

Sensible shoes only please...

Definately no wedges or flip-flops!

(double click on image for closer view)

I had thought re-writing this little bit from 2nd act of Intermezzo by Strauss so that you aren't reading enharmonic notes, (my personal pet hate) might make it easier.

Figure 94 in 1.

80+mm per bar!!!

Maybe shoes with little booster rockets are in order?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Locking string onto the tuning pin

A while back I posted some videos which I found online on how to tie a harp string, brilliantly demonstrated by Lyon & Healy technician Steve Moss.

However I only posted his videos on how to tie the anchor knots. Here is the other important end - locking the string on the tuning pin.

I never used to do it this way, but since using Steve's method it is brilliantly simple and straight forward, and better still, really easy to describe.

The quality of the video is a bit fuzzy, but if you listen carefully to what he says it is really simple!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Alan Stivell

Wow - great what you can find on YouTube! Footage from 1982 of Alan Stivell with Angelo Branduardi on fiddle.

I've always loved his harp playing. A great (unofficial) website about Alan Stivell here with a page of pictures of all the different harps he's played, plus info about him through the years. Site's in French, but you can google translate it.

His official website here..

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

electric envy

I see the harp twins have a lovely pair of Lyon and Healy Silhouette electric harps.

I was drooling over the black version of this harp a while back......

.... I did have a quick side swipe at lusting after a see through electric harp

before remembering that I really can't afford another harp until I've paid off for my lovely Iris.

And the bride would like....

lots and lots and lots and lots of requests

Monday, 21 May 2012

Rock on!

The indomitable Deborah Henson-Conant demonstrating her homework for the Berklee Music Online 12-week course in the guitar techniques of Steve Vai.

Blue Skies

Finally after what seems like months of rain..... blue skies!!

I took the dog for a lovely long walk yesterday along our favourite bridle path and took the opportunity to listen to Sarah Deere-Jones CD Soirbheas.

A really interesting CD of music for harps with aoelian (wind blown) harps. With the ambient noise of these aoelian harps recorded in different parts of the British Isles you also have sounds of the sea, a church bell, thunder as well as the rhythmic beat of a wind turbine. On top of this, Sarah has cleverly weaved celtic harp music & improvisation.

It would be easy to dismiss this CD as another "new age" recording, but it is so much more than that. Taking you to an "other world" it is a beautiful CD that is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it reminded me a bit of "Peiwoh" CD by Arianna Savall for it's purity of sound.

Definitely recommended - download the CD to your iPod and go for a long walk listening to Soirbheas. You'll feel rejuvenated!

Sarah is doing a concert up at Salt Mills at a harp day at the Early Music Shop in September, put the date in your diary!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Big Bang Theory...

is the best show on television.

And just when you think it couldn't get any better (joy!) they introduce harp playing Amy in Series 4!!!

Hair raising

Just had a lovely (and slightly bonkers) lunchtime, accompanied by my charming daughter in the rather splendid setting of Tatton Park in Knutsford.

I had a call from a BBC researcher 10 days ago wanting me to play some Victorian harp music as a little musical interlude during the filming of the antiques show, Flog It! which is going to be aired some time in June.

Seeing a good opportunity to dig out my costume for my Queen Victoria Parlour's project, I've spent the past week whilst I was working up in Scotland with the RSNO practicing Victorian harp music during the breaks. And also obsessing about what to do with my hair.

After a life time of having long hair, I have recently had my hair cut short. Short, as in, doesn't really successfully tie back into a small pony tail kind of short. And if you are going to wear a rather silly Victorian costume, you have to go the whole way and do something appropriate with your hair!!

Luckily, thanks to google, I found a really helpful wig shop in Crewe yesterday and the very helpful shop assistant found at the back of the shop, a clip on hairpiece in the shape of a large bun :-) Thanks to half a can of hairspray this morning and a dozen clips, I managed to scrape my hair back and attach said bun, so it looked like a formal hair style that could have passed for Victorian.

The fact that in the end, 5 minutes before filming they didn't want me to wear my Victorian dress after all seemed a moot point. I'm now the proud owner of fetching hair piece, and you never know, there might end up being more than 1o seconds of my playing ending up on film and not on the cutting room floor!

My daughter is currently sporting my bun in a rather Lady Gaga sort of way, and as she said to me on the way home - if I bought a matching one, I could wear them on either side of my head and look like Princess Leia. Now there's an idea, a Star Wars solo harp project...... I wonder if there is any mileage in that?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Charlie the Kitten

I found this brilliant teaching book for beginners whilst browsing through the sheet music at that treasure trove of a harp shop in Paris, Le Magasin de la Harpe.

Play the Harp with Charlie the Kitten by Isabelle Frouvelle

I've been using it for the past year for teaching my (very young) students and it's perfectly paced, with a good balance of music theory, little tunes and cartoons.

Each chapter section introduces one technical idea at a time in a progressive way, with a couple of preparatory exercises and then a little tune with fun titles like Charlie goes to School, Charlie goes for a bike ride, A Flea in Charlie's coat etc.

For when little minds start to wander, you can talk about the cartoons on the page as Charlie has lots of different adventures as well little 'spot the difference' cartoons. You can very easily just work through the book in page order, but after about 30 pages in you can start to incorporate into the lessons the duets as well as the more in depth theory and exercises at the back of the book.

For teaching regular weekly half hour lessons, you can cover technique as well as music theory in an engaging way without "boring" the student, or indeed them even knowing that they are doing so. It's an excellent book for teaching young students. Also an added bonus is that you can work from just the one book for some considerable period of time, so students only need to remember to bring one book with them to lessons!

Interestingly enough I've used this book teaching young girls as well as boys, and it has worked well with both genders. Sometimes harp books for young players can be very "girly" with 'twinkly' titles, but this book appeals to both boys and girls.

It comes in various European languages, so make sure you buy the book in the English language version. I haven't found it in music shops in England yet, but it's very quick and easy to order online from the shop in Paris here.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

the genius of Harpo

Harpo Marx from the 1946 film A Night in Casablanca.

He's such a brilliant harpist and he makes it all look so effortless. The sound quality is a bit hissy, but overall not too bad on this clip and doesn't detract from his amazing harp playing.

They used to show Marx brother films on TV a lot when I was a kid. I loved the way he always use to fashion a comedy harp out of whatever prop came to hand in the film.

scroll to 5:32 in clip below

I remember my very first (elderly!) harp teacher saying that she saw him play live at the London Palladium in the late 1940's and that he played 'straight' (no comedy) harp solos and was AMAZING.

He was completely bonkers in his films, but he had such a lovely gentle humour whenever he played the harp. The scene with the multiple harps in the mirrors always stuck in my memory banks from watching his movies as a child.

What's not to love about Harpo?

A lovely website all about Harpo set up by his son here

Friday, 30 March 2012

X marks the spot

Hidden treasure??

No - just a handy guide for teaching good articulation and finger position.

I ask my students to touch the two crosses when they play, so that they get a full finger articulation. One cross on the index finger for a full thumb articulation, and the cross on the palm is just a general reminder to pull their fingers right into their palm.

The lines on the fingers are an extra guide to act as a reminder for correct placement of finger on the string.... i.e. line up the harp string with the lines on the fingertips.

I also use an orange as a teaching aid.... I'll leave that as a teaser for another post!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Shrek Finger

Apologies if you have just eaten, in which case it's probably not a good idea to look at this photo...... which is how my left hand 4th finger looked 6 weeks ago!

As well as swelling to twice it's usual size, the heavy bruising eventually went down after about 4 weeks, but it still hurt like hell and my knuckle now is definitely not the shape it used to be. (I'll never be able to get a ring over my knuckle again!)

Although I had movement in it, there was no strength in it - I could just about pluck a string on my little clarsach but it couldn't cope with the tension of my Salvi.

Needless to say, I've had a pretty stressful time ever since it got busted going through all sorts of emotions whilst waiting to see if my finger would ever get better.

I've spent the last 6 weeks not playing on it all, despite having gigs in the diary which I couldn't cancel. This past week though I have finally started tentatively playing on it again, although it's still not yet back to full strength. But at least I know now that it works.

Luckily, it happened just after a big run of work whilst I had 5 days off, during which time my finger went through all the colours of the rainbow. It was a lovely vivid green when I had some children's concerts which I had to explain away to the kids as my Shrek finger. I managed to somehow get through 2 flute and harp recitals, and have just finished doing 4 performances of Berlioz Symphony Fantastique with the RLPO.

The big solo scale down in the Berlioz was the first time I've used my fourth finger since it happened, but I still had to do all the left hand octaves using my third finger and thumb. Not ideal.. But I have some time off now from playing, so a chance to rest it properly for a couple of days and then build up the strength doing some slow technical exercises.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Extreme harping

That's got to be one hell of a harp trolley she's got there to get the harp over those rocks.....

Great music from Quadro Nuevo, and brilliant harp playing from Evelyn Huber in this European tango quartet, which has (quite rightly), a seriously busy concert schedule.

But enquiring minds want to know, how did they get the harp there? Even off-loading it from a boat it makes the mind boggle. This has to be a record for the most extreme place to get a harp.

Any takers for a more whacky place to play a harp?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

bad gliss notation 2

Following on from an earlier post about bad glisses, here is another gem I found on my music stand a while back that I had to sightread.

(double click on image for a closer view.....)


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Gliss Fest

A day off for me today, and a chance for my fingers to recover!

I've just spent the last two days rehearsing and playing in a concert with the RLPO consisting solely of music by legendary film composer, John Williams.

Great music, and great harp writing. Fun to play, but - a very hard slog to play a whole programme of his music, and with some very tricky passages of harp writing thrown in too.... Close Encounters symphonic suite, Schindlers List, ET and then of course there are loads of glisses, and loads of different types of glisses.

Who knew there were so many?

Scary glisses - low circular gliss on the bass wires at the beginning of Jaws.

Spooky glisses - Harry Potter

Irregular big solo glisses - my least favourite, as you need to keep counting like mad to stay in the right place in the score but still play a gliss that is not in tempo - ET

And then you have everything in between. Slushy romantic glisses - Superman, to big strident glisses - Raiders of the Lost Ark. Making sure that they don't all sound the same, but are in the right character, right key and the right place.

Hats off to the Hollywood harpists who do this sort of thing all the time!

I'm pooped and having a day off from playing before doing it all again on a repeat concert in Liverpool on Saturday.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


I should be doing my accounts right now, but instead just found this great YouTube video of dutch harpist Remy van Kesteren's trio42 playing C├ęsar Franck - Trio op 1, no 1, Andante con Moto

Brilliantly arranged and played music for harp, saxophone & violin.

Can't wait to get the CD!

I think the easiest way to get hold of it is to download it from CDBaby here

Practice timetables for young students

A new year, a new start. This week it's all been about practice timetables with my students.

I'm a big fan of less and more often, rather than a big splurge of practice a day before a lesson.

I find with many of the young people I teach, harp is just one of many instruments and extra-curricular things that they learn. It's genuinely a bit of a nightmare trying to fit practice in with everything else they do.

Once someone has "the bug" then you'll never be able to get them off of whatever they are doing. My son has the music bug, and can be playing his bass all day if he didn't have to go to school.

But how many people ever really get "the bug?"

So, until then - practice timetables.

I recommend 3 practice sessions a week, plus a harp lesson, and 4 practice sessions a week if there is no harp lesson that week.

A practice session is 20 minutes and consists of
  • 5 minutes warm up exercises / scales / arpeggios
  • 10 minutes work set by teacher
  • 5 minutes FUN! This can be anything: improvising, trying out different sound effects, playing through some pop songs, or just playing through some solo pieces previous learnt. Whatever is found to be fun by the student, and is not set by the teacher.
This can be scaled up into longer practicing sessions but it should remain near enough in the same time proportions and order.

Exercises, scales and work set by the teacher are easy to do when practicing but it's the "fun" stuff that can sometimes can be left out of daily practice.

Why do people want to learn an instrument? Because they want to have fun.

Fun = Enjoyment = wanting to play / self motivation, and it's that self-motivation that will lead to improvement.

20 minutes may not seem a lot of time to recommend, but it's do-able to fit into a young person's schedule and won't frighten them off from practicing more regularly. Personally I think it's better than that quick burst of practice the day before the next lesson!

And you never know, they might get the bug.......