Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Winter wonderland

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.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

UKHA fundraising cards

The United Kingdom Harp Association is celebrating 50 years in 2014.

It's run by volunteers and relies on members to keep the organisation thriving.... so if you are a harpist in the UK and are not yet a member please join and support this organisation!

It's for any harpist - whether you are a student, professional, harp business... basically anyone who loves the instrument and has a keen interest in all things harpy. We are a nationwide association covering the whole of the United Kingdom

You can also support the UKHA by buying a set of these fundraising greeting cards; beautiful images from UKHA members to celebrate 50 years of our organisation.  They are only £5 per set of 4 cards, and the cards are really good quality and can be bought online here

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Silly season

Well the silly season has well and truly arrived. I did my first orchestral Christmas concert on Sunday... yes the 17th November!! The earliest time in the year I have ever played "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" sitting on a stage next to a 13 foot snowman.

A bizarre end to a manic week of concerts with the RLPO of Debussy La Mer, La Valse, Ravel Alborado del Grazioso, a recital with my good friend (and gorgeous soprano), Anna-Clare Monk and a couple of solo harp childrens school workshops thrown in for good measure.

My music stand is bulging with music to practice for the next month and I'm on the Barroca and vitamin tablets already to get me through the season.

A countdown of Britten Ceremony of Carols, Nutcracker Cadenzas, Carol concerts with the RLPO,  Raymond Briggs' The Snowman children concerts and a Harp Duo seasonal spectacular recital thrown in for good measure.

And according to the Daily Express, we are due for 100 days of snow!!!!

Bring on the Mince Pies.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sheila Bromberg & The Beatles

Interview with Sheila Bromberg, who played harp on the Beatles track 'She's leaving home'. With Ringo Starr on the One Show.

A lovely article about her and her session work here

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Why are harps harp shaped

Very interesting article by Jon Butterworth in The Guardian and fascinating to read about it from a physics point of view.

Also in the article are links to a research paper by Chris Waltham on harp design and construction.

For the less scientifically minded the images of the harp soundwaves are fascinating.

link to The Guardian article is here

Friday, 27 September 2013

La Source

Wow - Alisa Sadikova - (9 years old) playing La Source by Zabel with real musicality.

It's a really hard piece and she makes the huge stretches in the middle section look really easy, I don't know how she does it with her small hands. 

Brilliant !!!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Playing outdoors is no good for the harp...

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!!!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

itsy bitsy spider

Yes I know it's only a tiny spider...... but in all the years I've been playing I've never had a spider drop down on my hands whilst I was playing before.

Flys, wasps, daddy longlegs - yes, but never a spider.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


One of my favourite pieces ever... By one of my favourite harpists, Rudiger Oppermann.

His duo with Park Stickney is amazing and his music is utterly brilliant, full of colour and soul. The duo version of this piece on their CD, Harp Summit is sublime and I think his solo harp version is pretty damn good too.

I was recommended to buy their CD by a friend who said it was one of the best harp CDs ever, and they certainly weren't wrong, if it isn't already in your harp collection you should get it!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Remy wins Gold!

Congratulations to Remy van Kesteren for winning the Gold medal in the 9th USA International Harp Competition!

I really enjoyed his Saxophone, Violin & Harp CD - Trio42... lovely music!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Lots of YPG

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.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Marisa Robles interview

The wonderful Marisa Robles being interviewed by Ieaun Jones at the UKHA Christmas party last year.  Marisa talks about her early life in Spain, coming to London, working with James Galway, teaching at the Royal College of Music, her views on competitions etc.

Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy - in 4 parts.... well worth viewing.

with thanks to Russell at Raws Production for the excellent videos.

If you are a harpist in the UK and you are not yet a member of the United Kingdom Harp Association, please join. It's for ALL harpists across the UK, and next year is the associations 50th year.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

digital music stand

I had to leave my bag with all my wedding music in the car a while back, and I suddenly panicked that if my car was stolen, I could replace my car..... but I've spent nearly 30 years collecting my wedding music and that was irreplaceable.

So I've spent the last couple of months, scanning all my music that I use on weddings and functions, and I thought that whilst I was doing that, I may as well see about putting all the music on iPad so I could use that instead of carrying round TONS of music to every gig.

I was a bit nervous about using the iPad on gigs. First up, my eyesight is not great and an iPad is not big. Also I wanted to have the music as I would have it on a music stand  - e.g. 2 pages side by side, and not single pages having to turn all the time. This means that the music ends up being a quarter of the size you are used to seeing.

However - and here is the surprise - because the music is backlit from the iPad, the smallness of size didn't bother me. Even with my dodgy eyesight. I wouldn't want to sight-read something that size that I hadn't seen before on the iPad, (although it's possible) but really you shouldn't be sight-reading on any gig.

I've done 3 gigs now using the iPad and they have all been ok. However, during the wedding ceremony itself, I had a hard copy of the bridal processional on the stand, which was a good call as the registrar gave me no time or notice before announcing the arrival of the bridal party and the cue for playing that piece! Not good to be thumbing through the controls of the iPad then, so better to have that piece of music on the stand.


  • Don't need music stand lights
  • Don't need pegs to hold the music down
  • Don't need to struggle with bag full of loads of music
  • Once you get used to it, turning music pages on iPad is really quick and easy.
  • Have access to your entire collection of music, more than you are used to fitting into your gig bag.


  • Security - may need to do something so that someone can't take it off your stand whilst you are playing.
  • Bright sunlight - I've not been in that situation yet, but it's worth thinking about.

I already had a good scanner, iPad and a Dropbox account. I saved all the scans into my dropbox account. I downloaded an app called ForScore onto iPad (£4.99). You can upload your scores from your dropbox account into iPad.*

Within ForScore you can make the pages 2up (display 2 pages at a time). The best thing about this app is that you can create as many key words as possible against each piece and then make set lists either in advance or on the fly using the key words. Want to play all your Welsh music? Or your Jewish music? Or all your upbeat tunes for drinks receptions? Or all your songs from the shows? If you spend a bit of time labelling all the key words against each piece, it's time well spent.

Personally I'm already finding that there are lots of tunes that I haven't played on gigs for ages... so many good tunes I had forgotten I had!

I would recommend that when you scan the music in, that you do the pedal markings on the original in red or blue pen and scan in colour rather than black and white.

I did an hour at a time scanning and labelling and it took me nearly a couple of months to get it all done. If I had sat and done it all in one go, it probably would have taken a couple of days.

Once it's done, it's done. And with it all on Dropbox, you'll never lose your music and can access it on any device through Dropbox. ForScore is for use on one device only.

* Rather than use the 2up facility in ForScore, I inserted the scanned images into a landscape Word document, then saved the word doc as a PDF into Dropbox. The reason being that if something went wrong with the ForScore app, I do then have the music in a readable format in Dropbox.

You can buy a foot pedal which you link to the iPad via Bluetooth which will turn the page on the screen in ForScore. However, I think harpists have enough pedals to think about with having another one to use.

Sorry for long post, but it's good to go digital!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

well that's cheered me up

The very lovely Athy playing one of his compositions on TV - is it me or is it hotter than 29 degrees?

lovely harmonics and what a fantastic finish on the harp.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Singapore harp ensemble

Wow! What an amazing arrangement for harp ensemble, and the playing from the girls is amazing. 

Borodin's Polovtsian Dances (and yes all the chromatic sections) arranged for a large ensemble of lever harps. Watch their hands go - flipping the levers in the chromatic sections, all from memory. Amazing stuff. 

Bravo to Magdalene Wong and her harp ensemble. Yay for lever harps!!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

my favourite things

It's great when you get to play some enjoyable music with good friends.... which is certainly the case working with Eleanor Hudson!

En and I have worked together in the RLPO for years, and we also both love arranging, so the duo is a good excuse to play new arrangements of music we enjoy.

We have a concert coming up on the Friday 7th June in Macclesfield (details here), and we'll be playing lots of our own arrangements from Bach to Piazolla to a Frank Sinatra medley!

Life is too short not to have some fun ;-)

Friday, 26 April 2013

Foden's project

Exciting news.....  my duo with soprano Anna-Clare Monk will be part of a collaborative project with Foden's Brass Band, Andy Scott and poet Lemn Sissay which will be performing at the South Bank and at the Commonwealth Games next year...

from a press release by Foden's...

"Foden's are pleased to announce that they have been awarded funding to commission a new work by the PRS for Music Foundation’s New Music Biennial. The highly prestigious and high profile scheme will present a series of commissioned works from British composers across the UK in 2014, as Scotland prepares to celebrate the Commonwealth Games.

Organisations from all over the country were invited to submit ideas for commissions, and Foden’s Band made the successful application for a new work by their composer in residence Andy Scott and leading poet Lemn Sissay. Andy and Lemn have undertaken successful collaborations in the past, including the iconic My Mountain Top, which has proved to be one of Andy’s most evocative and widely acclaimed works.

The new commission will be premiered in the North West in 2014 and will feature in a hour long programme of works by Andy Scott and Lemn Sissay that will feature Foden's, Lemn, harpist Lauren Scott and soprano Anna-Clare Monk on stage (Anna-Clare and Lauren recently set some of Lemn’s poetry to Andy’s music to create several new songs). It is hoped that a DVD of the project will also be produced."  more here
I'm really looking forward to working with Foden's, they are a great band!
I've just finished editing a couple of new videos with Anna-Clare from a concert we did recently. As it's Britten's centenary year, here are a couple of Britten songs. Not the usual harp ones!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

That's what I call a dead harp

Some will go "wow" and some will cry.....

Me; I'm in the crying camp. All I see is a lovely Erard covered in black gloss paint ;-(

Fibre Optic Harp, designed by Craig jones  "Light can be set to change colour when a pedal is pressed. Craig Jones says "The concept was to combine a traditional object with new technology and create a product which redefined its component parts and questioned their use within a contemporary setting." Find out more at www.craigjonesdesign.com 

I'm presuming like the dead parrot, it was a late Erard with no hope of resurrection.......
If you are a sad harp fanatic like me, and the sight of that ex-harp makes you glum, here's a picture of a lovely Erard to cheer you up that will soon be available from harp restorer Michael Parfett's studios.

Alex Rider and Sir Arnold Bax

A fascinating talk by Alex Rider for the UKHA about Sir Arnold Bax, the chamber music he wrote for harp, and the pioneering English harpists who premiered his works.

It is really interesting to hear about the harpists who were working in London in the early 1900's and were at the cutting edge of music of that time, and also playing on the latest instruments of the day (Erards and the very early Lyon and Healy's).

This 1 hour lecture is brilliantly researched and presented by Alex Rider, and is divided into 8 seperate videos on YouTube. Included in one video is a clip from the very first audio recording of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro conducted by the composer himself, and the very shockingly fast speed the Allegro was taken at. It wasn't a case of the music being speeded up to fit onto the limited time of the early records, the Allegro is the speed the composer wanted!

The English harpists discussed in the lecture include Miriam Timothy, Sidonie Goosens, Gwendolen Mason and Maria Korchinska.

Highly recommended viewing

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Lara Somogyi Kickstarter

Nice little Kickstarter project by Lara Somogyi - I think Kickstarter is such a good idea. It's not easy to get funding for projects so it's good to see harpists getting out there and creating and finding innovative ways of funding it.

Harp and loops.... what's not to love about this project!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Alexander Technique

My last post got me thinking about posture and harp playing and teaching.

I was lucky enough to have regular Alexander Technique lessons for 2 years when I was a teenager, so I have grown up with the need for correct posture being ingrained in me.

I try to make sure that good posture is a fundamental part of my teaching and my students probably get fed up with me going on about it all the time!

It's pretty common place now for Alexander technique to be offered as part of a harp course and there are lots of links on the web, and also lots of harpists who have trained in Alexander Technique.  I recently found this brilliant short article by Coralie Cousins who takes a regular class at the Paris Conservatoire for Isabelle Perrin.  Beautifully illustrated with lovely drawings, it's certainly a good reminder of why correct posture when playing the harp is so important.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Child prodigies

The Debussy Dances as a harp duo performed by Alexander Andrushchenko (13 years old) and Alisa Sadikova (9 years old) - May 2012, Düsseldorf, Germany

Regular YouTube harp viewers will have seen videos of Alexander performing since a very young age. A quick internet search shows that Alisa is a cousin of Alexander. 

Alisa has extensions on the pedals of her harp as she is too small to reach the pedals. Most of the early videos of Alexander show him playing a concert harp with the same pedal extensions. 

I can't imagine how hard it must be to play the pedals using those extensions, she does an excellent job considering how chromatic this piece is.

It is truly extraordinary to watch, a difficult and demanding piece for any professional to play.

But then my feelings as a mother kick in and I've got be honest, I don't know want to think.

My golden rule with teaching children has always been that they should start with a small lever harp and only move up to a concert harp when their feet can comfortably reach the pedals.

I remember when my son was very young he wanted to copy me and when I was out of the room he sat on my harp stool and pulled my concert harp back towards him to play. Luckily the harp (knee block) hit the window ledge which stopped it falling completely on top of him. He landed in a mess on the floor, but at least he wasn't squashed and injured by the harp falling on top of him. A full size concert harp is a damn heavy piece of kit.

But I digress.

The playing by the duo is truly amazing.

But I also find it difficult when I know the sheer physicality needed to play such a large instrument. If you need pedal extensions to play should you be playing a full size harp? A lot of comments on their YouTube site seem to find their size in relation to their harps as cute, but I then come back to how physically tired I can sometimes get when I play for long periods, and my harp is in proportion for my size.

But if a child has a passion to play, then .......

Friday, 22 February 2013

Free sheet music to download

Bravo to Morley Harps for making available free downloads of music from their historic Clive Morley harp collection. link here

Lots of interesting music free to download, and for those wanting to practice those valuable sight-reading skills there is now no excuse not to!

Obviously if you can sightread Parish-Alvars you don't need to practice sight-reading, but certainly lots of early classical music that can be used, even if only it is hands separately.

They also have PDFs of historical documents from their collection..... gems include a hand written list of concert programmes 1822-1829, a letter from Wilhelm Posse to JG Morley on the purchase of a harp, and instructions on how to play the Harp Guitar and Apollo-Lyre.

Happy historical harp browsing!

The Morley workshop in the 1890s.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Across the Universe

Lovely version of Across the Universe by The Beatles by Josie Rose Duncan - vocals and clarsach

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Friday, 18 January 2013

grade 6 scales practice chart

Ahh - snow.... lots of snow. That'll be my weekend of rehearsals cancelled then!

Always nice to have bonus unexpected time to catch up and do things you wouldn't normally have time to do - when you're not building snowmen that is.

So - here is a tick chart for students practicing all the ABRSM grade 6 lever harp scales, arpeggios and dominant sevenths  ;-)

To play through all of them over during a months practice you need to do at least 12 different ones each time - assuming 20 days of practice in a month. Although I think it's probably more realistic to do the cycle over a 2 month period and do 6 a day.

Double click on the images to open full version, save them to your computer and then print off.

Such Fun

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Replacing bass wires

Here's a good video showing how to replace bass wires on a harp - expertly shown by harp technician Peter Wiley. Thanks to the Sylvia Woods harp center for this excellent video.

Shown on a pedal harp but also good for replacing wires on lever harps.

Jim Munson

Very sad news of the passing of the harp repairer, Jim Munson on Christmas day.

This Pathe news video from 1961 shows a very young Jim Munson working in the workshop of John Morley. Click here to view this short video.

I have very fond memories of making the long trek via public transport on my own when I was still at school in the 80's to the Munson and Harbour workshop when it was in Kentish Town in North London to buy my harp strings. Thinking about it now, I would never have let my kids travel that distance across London on their own at that age, but it was all different then... I would climb those stairs to get to the workshop on the second floor and see them working on all the harps, and then go into the side room which was stuffed floor to ceiling with sheet music and Jackie would put up with me spending hours going through all their music, even though I'd only have the money to buy a couple of strings! 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Bride banged up

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.....