Sunday, 14 December 2014

In the bleak midwinter

A lovely Christmas video - featuring Tine Thing Helseth on Trumpet, Birgitte Volan Håvik on harp and Elise Båtnes on violin.

I had the pleasure of playing this arrangement with Tine when she was special guest with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for their series of Christmas concerts a couple of years ago. It's a really well arranged carol and she is a really fabulous player.

This is the first year for some while now (8 years I think?) that I'm not playing with the RLPO for their run of Christmas concerts. This year, instead of doing RLPO carol concerts, I'm working with a fantastic group of players presenting special one hour performances of the film "The Snowman" with live orchestral backing. Before the film, it's a seasonal introduction to the orchestra and excerpts from the Nutcracker Suite. We are currently on the final part of the tour and it's been pretty full on with 19 performances of the Snowman (and the Nutcracker cadenza) in 7 days!!!!

The Snowman is such a lovely film and the music is so wonderful and perfectly scored. Some tickets are still available for shows this coming week if you fancy a seasonal treat.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Paul Mitchell-Davidson's epic suite for mandolin and harp is now on soundcloud.

It's a real journey of a piece and I remember after one live performance a member of the audience came up to me and said, "I've never been to a classical music concert before... that last piece was like surfing a wave!"

Dance of Limewood, Smile of Ash is very still and etheral with astonishing harmonies.

A Joy of Wild Asses is my personal favourite, quirky and pretty manic.

Harvest of the Quiet Eye is a beautiful "folky" and evocative piece.

A Full Moon Rising Red is a real whirlygig epic, full of spirit & feverish dances and is the piece which inspired the "surfing" quote above.

Tapestry by Paul Mitchell-Davidson
Alison Stephens - mandolin
Lauren Scott - harp

Monday, 17 November 2014

Silent Night

A brilliant gliss-tastic arrangement of Silent Night by Graham Fitkin, beautifully played by Ruth Wall and available on her new CD, The Three Harps of Christmas available from this link.

Carols re-arranged by Graham for concert harp, bray harp and Gaelic wire strung harp.

I bet the harpists out there will be trying to figure out the pedal settings for all the gliss chords after listening to this!!!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Little Big not Blue

I have a new harp!!! I finally finished paying off for my Salvi Iris, so I thought it was a good time to take the plunge and take out another loan whilst I still could and get this lovely harp... a Camac Little Big Blue.

It's an electro-accoustic harp and I'm really delighted with it. The acoustic sound is much better than I thought it would be, and it's perfectly usable as an instrument as it is without any amplification. I'm still getting used to the pedals as they feel very different from my Salvi, and of course the string spacing at the top is also different. But after a couple of weeks of playing I'm not finding it too difficult to go between playing this and my Salvi.

I particularly went for the smaller model - only 44 strings, as I wanted a smaller harp which was easy to move about. I really didn't want to take a blue coloured harp out on a gig, as I didn't want it to look any different from a normal acoustic harp, so I ordered a maple one. I've also bought a small battery powered Roland amp; more about the amp in another post.

I haven't had a chance to play around with loop pedals yet, but will do when work calms down a bit and I have some time to experiment.

However, I have used it already on a couple of weddings and it's been absolutely brilliant. It's so much lighter to move around, it really makes a huge difference. Using the amp has taken a little bit of getting used to, as I'm just not used to being able to simply turn a switch to turn the volume up. It still feels a little bit alien to play at a normal level and the extra sound coming out of the amp a distance away from the harp. But that's just a basic thing I need to get used to having only ever played acoustic instruments my entire playing career!

The major benefit was that I found it was so much easier when playing for long periods of time, and I definitely felt physically less tired.

Viva la revolution!

Camac - Little Big Blue (in maple finish!)

A pick up on every string

Where you plug in the lead

Sunday, 19 October 2014

UKHA 50th Anniversary concert

It's been a busy old week and a very enjoyable one! In between some freelance work in Birmingham, I managed to fit in a trip to London to see Sioned Williams performing at the Purcell Room. It was a fantastic concert, brilliantly conceived and performed and it was very well received by the near capacity audience.

The concert was put on by the Park Lane Group and was also part of the UKHA 50th birthday celebrations. And what a fantastic turn out by harpists from across the country who came to the concert. Playing the harp can be a solitary affair and it's not often we get the chance to all meet up, so it was lovely to meet up with so many harpists. I met some harp friends that I hadn't seen for nearly 20 years!!

It's been 18 months now since I became Chair of the UKHA and I was really pleased to meet so many young harpists at the concert. There is a real sense of a new generation of younger harpists coming through and being active in the UKHA, which bodes well for any organisation going into it's 50th year. For any organisation to have 80% of the committee being made up of people in their 20s and 30s is quite remarkable.

We have a new bursary scheme which is being launched in January, and we hope to be present at more harp events across the UK in the coming year.

Belonging to the UKHA is a fantastic way for harpists in the UK to connect with other players, whether they are a student, amateur, professional or harp maker. If you love the harp, join the UKHA and network with other harpists across the UK.
Setting up the UKHA table in the foyer of the Purcell Room before the audience arrived ;-)

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Bartok concerto for orchestra

I've just been practicing two lots of recital music I have coming up with flautist Clare Southworth and my trio Caliente, when I had a niggly feeling I really should be looking at some music for orchestral work I have in a couple of weeks with the CBSO.

 I'm very glad I've dug it out! I do think this has to be one of the hardest second harp parts out there.

There aren't that many notes to play, but every passage has it's scary moments when you play it in the orchestra.

Especially the ones that look like they should be easy on paper.

Last time I played this was with the RLPO and the conductor took off like a rocket for the last section. I nearly had a heart attack!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hark, a Lark

I've finally got round to sorting out finishing off some demo recordings with my fantastic singing partner, Anna-Clare Monk.

What a voice!

We are working on some new recital programmes at the moment which is great, you can't beat a really lovely song. It's so good to be working with a singer, especially one as fabulous as Anna-Clare.

Next up on the to-do list, getting some more gigs... I really need a P.A

Monday, 8 September 2014

Spiral of Discovery and Adventure

If you are in London next month, Tuesday October 14th, do go and see this concert at the Southbank Centre featuring Sioned Williams playing 6 new pieces by English composers.

A concert put on by the Park Lane Group, it also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the United Kingdom Harp Association of whom Sioned is president.

You can book tickets here and it will be great opportunity to meet up with harp friends old and new!

Friday, 29 August 2014

have harp, will travel

A harp you can pack in your suitcase?

What a great idea for keeping your fingers in shape whilst away on holiday!

I love the way it fits in the suitcase, although that does look like a pretty big suitcase.

Pretty nifty travel harp made by Don Peddle of randomsound music in Canada and it sounds ok as well.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Delta Harp

This looks extremely cool - a new electric harp which has a bridge and more bass end - so a cross between bass guitar and harp? These are really going to take off.

Unfortunately not much in the way of videos on the internet at the moment which showcase the possibilities of what you can do with it, with slides and bending notes, but no doubt there will be soon. I really like the way you can wear it like a guitar as well as a harp.

Very cool photos of Remy van Kesteren playing one on the Delta Harps Facebook page

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

psychedelic harp & mushrooms

A fantastic video from Erin Hill, with some pretty awesome production!

Erin and her psychedelic harp, (otherwise known as a black Big Blue Camac harp) has made this video as result of crowd funding through Kickstarter and has a new funding scheme to make more videos through a tax-deductible scheme in the US

I hope she gets to do more videos from her album as they are great songs and she also has the funkiest of CD cover designs, which is available to purchase here

Come on British Government, why don't we have tax-deductible schemes for sponsoring the arts here in the UK?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

tuning key

What a great idea! A clever clip on tuner embedded onto a tuning key by Dusty Strings - very nifty!

The concert version fits Lyon & Healy, Camac, Salvi harps etc. The universal has an adapter to fit all types of harps, not sure how strong and effective that would be though.

What I like the most is that the tuner can be tilted with your thumb to get better viewing angle whilst you are tuning, as well as the usual things like calibration and standard LED display you can see in the dark.

At $85 for the concert harp version that's not a bad price, and it's available from Sylvia Woods Centre. Birthday present anyone??

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A Greek in Spain

I love this video by Maria Christina - great use of loop pedals and a fantastic vibe to "A Greek in Spain"

Her Music is a mixture of Greek traditional music, jazz, blues with experimental sounds.

Nicely done - more please!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

how gut strings are made

Some nice little videos from the Hong Kong Harp Centre of a tour round the Bow Brand Factory.

When you get a string out of the packet, it's easy to not realise the process it's taken to get to you.

I had the pleasure of a good long tour round the Bow Brand factory some years ago which was amazing. If you ever get the chance, do go and visit them. It's brilliant to see how skillful all the wonderful people who make our strings are... the smell is quite something though! The chemicals not the workers!!!

The whole process is on this video produced by Bow Brand in 2010, which for some bizarre reason, sounds like it is narrated by a time traveling man from the 1940s.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


I struggle a little bit with the concept of a piece which you can't quite hear as too many years of sitting in front of the percussion section in orchestras has had it's toll on my eardrums.  Personally, I like my music to be of a volume that I can actually hear it.

But it's always good to push the boundaries and open a debate about music.

Shoals Duo
Martino Panizza (harp) and Alice Purton (cello)

Charlie Sdraulig, hush (2011-12)

Score available here:

More about the notation:

Engineer: Erik Nyström

N.B. This work is extremely soft. Where possible, try to listen to this piece in a quiet environment on a good set of speakers or with headphones.

Studio recording:

Monday, 14 July 2014

All about the harp

Always good to see a well written article about the harp online - a nicely written article by Alexander Rider with good examples of harp music on the Sinfini Music website here

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

breaking strings

Very interesting post I've just seen on the Vanderbilt website.... I thought it was just me having problems with gut strings continually breaking in the 1st & 2nd octaves.

Turns out that new EU regulations have meant that gut from younger cows has recently been allowed to be used in the manufacturing process. Gut from younger cows is not as strong as gut from older cows.

According to Vanderbilt, Bow Brand have made an agreement with their suppliers to go back to only getting gut from older cows, so string quality should be back to normal soon.

I was beginning to wonder whether I needed to change over to nylon strings on my top octaves as I've been getting so many breakages.... PHEW!!! Just need to wait it out then.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Let them eat cake

Happy 150th birthday Lyon and Healy and what an AMAZING cake!

and check out the Salzedo Song of the Night sheet music!

Hat's off to the cake makers - Jewell Events Catering in Chicago - who have made the most amazing harp cake EVER! Apparently it took only 2 weeks.

What were the strings made of?

Monday, 9 June 2014

The mother of invention

Listen up (I'm on my soap-box here) harpists have being doing pretty amazing things with the instrument for a very, very, very long time. Alice Coltrane (1937-2007) anyone? You just have to watch Harpo Marx (1888-1964) in action on YouTube to know that he was pretty awesome in his day, and is still awesome now!!

The harp does not need "re-inventing", nor is it a "girlie" instrument. There are plenty of guys out there playing harp.

It's a pretty damn cool instrument that can do rhythm, melody and bass and just about anything else you can think to do with it too. It's no longer unusual to see a harp in a band, and being played in just about every genre of music.

We don't need to re-invent the harp, we need to discover what is already out there.

(I'm off the soap-box now!)

I was blown away when I saw these videos of Zeena Parkins online. She is an awesome musician, doing some incredible things musically - it just happens to be on a harp.  :-)

and here she is with the brilliant Björk

and here she is talking about contemporary music using graphic scores

and excerpt of piece with percussion

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Can't get enough of Alexander

So here's the thing... back in December 1999 I had an accident which left me with whiplash injuries in my left arm pit, across my chest and up the back of my neck. I was bed bound for over a month, and couldn't play my harp for several months and only started to vaguely get back into light gigging about 6 months later.

I never went public with my injuries as I was (probably quite rightly) worried that if anyone knew, I wouldn't get booked for gigs anymore. It was just about ok to not be available for gigs for 6 months and yet not get completely forgotten about on the freelance scene.

I suffered from weakness in my left shoulder for nearly 10 years and an occasional 'ticking' which was intermittent nerve pain across my chest and also up the back of my neck, usually not at the same time. The weakness was separate from the nerve damage, and I am thankful that my nerve pain was intermittent and not continuous.

I eventually learned how to deal with it (ibufrofen and a complete relaxation both physical and mental), and became assiduous in having correct posture and technique in my harp playing, because the only way I could play was to have no stress on my neck, shoulders and arms. I had weakness in my left shoulder, but it didn't affect my playing in my left hand. It was a bit weak for the first couple of years but I managed to hide that with the types of gigs I took on.

I did absolutely no exercise of any form until about 4 years when I took up running. Haven't managed more than 10k yet, but still for me that is pretty epic.

Then last summer I joined a gym. I can now proudly do an hour in the gym and use all the weight machines. They might be on the lowest setting, but for someone who has for the past decade never carried a heavy bag or put any strain on my left arm/shoulder it is a revelation. I feel I have finally got control over my body again after all these years! I am no longer supporting an injury. I can take those weights on my left arm and shoulders.

Q. So how have I managed to continue earning a living playing the harp all these years?

A. Alexander technique. Drummed into me whilst I was a teenager learning the harp.

Lower back in, shoulders down, chin down, lift the head. Posture, posture, posture.... and ibuprofen for when the nerve pain occasionally kicks in.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Sine waves

Wow - great video of the harp strings vibrating!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

It's life Jim... Live Long and Prosper

Q. What's better than Spock playing the harp?

A. The Harp Twins playing the theme tune to Star Trek

It's all white...

What is it with white Budin carbon fibre single action harps? I suddenly come across two of them on the web in one week.

Latest edition of Harpers Bazaar magazine has a "Marie Antoniette" style fashion shoot by Karl Lagerfeld with the model draped over one.

I can see why they didn't go for the real thing....

One of Marie-Antoniette's harps - this by Naderman

Hot harp

What a beauty, and yes I am referring to the strangely levitating Lyon & Healy, although Jayne Mansfield is not bad looking either!

Might have to order a framed one of these prints this for my harp picture collection. Shame about the saxophone spoiling the picture 😀

Thursday, 24 April 2014


Having just done a review for the Harpologie Series by Sabien Canton in the the latest UKHA magazine, I've just found a nice video trailer online.

The video is in German, but it does the job!

Harpologie, and Harpolgie 2 are extremely useful books for anyone teaching beginner to intermediate level harp. Each book comes with a play-along CD, which is quite a rarity for beginner harp students. What makes these books invaluable as teaching aids is the fact that not only are the pieces themselves well thought out and structured from a harp playing point of view, but the quality of the compositions and the production values of the backing tracks are exceptional. Witty and fun accompaniments which manage to lift the spirits of both student and teacher! The first book is aimed at the beginner (2nd finger only) to approximately grade 2 standard. The second book is approximately grade 2 to 4 standard. The play-along tracks come in several versions for each piece. Some have a half (studio) tempo, and then a full speed version. I have found these books useful to use in lieu of sight-reading at the end of a lesson. Although aimed at the early levels, they are especially good for anyone who struggles with sightreading up to grade 5 level. Originally published in Dutch, the books have been translated into various European languages. My books are in French and the CD is in Dutch, but nonetheless these 2 books are always my most used books in my teaching bag. I ordered my copies very simply and quickly through Le Magasin de la Harpe . Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Child Like You

Only a couple of weeks to go to the premiere of "A Child Like You" at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on the 2nd May at 8pm.

It will be my first time playing harp with a brass band, and it's a real privilege to be playing with a band as amazing as Foden's Band! The piece features my wonderfully talented soprano, Anna-Clare Monk who will be singing and narrating.

"A Child Like You" is a 15 minute work written by Andy Scott for Soprano voice/narrator, harp and brass band and will be the centre piece of the first half of the concert on the 2nd May in Manchester. It will then be performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank on 6th July, and at the Concert Hall in Glasgow as part of the Commonwealth Games celebrations on the 2nd August.

If you can come along to any of the dates to support this project that would be brilliant!

brave new world

OK fellow harpists..... what is this?

I think....  it's a Budin carbon fibre single-action harp (I saw a couple of black ones in the Budin shop in Paris a few years ago) with some Do-It-Yourself colour changing LED strips stuck on the edges of the soundboard.

But I may be wrong....

Carbon fibre lever harps are now available in the UK and although they are an interesting harp which would have some really useful purposes being extremely light and able to use in almost any temperature etc, it's currently at a £6,000 price tag for a 36 string harp.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Admin overload... again

22.55 and I have just finished SOME (not all) of my very overdue admin.

I think I much prefer getting blisters.

At least it means I'm actually playing the harp instead of catching up on the never ending admin.

(BTW that's not a picture of my desk. I'm too embarrassed to upload an actual picture of my desk/chaos/madness)

According to the Daily Telegraph - "Having a messy desk makes you 'more creative'..." Yeah, right. Doesn't give me more time to do what I want to do which is PLAY MY HARP, not bloody admin.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

blisters.. again!

I've been learning a new piece which has a long passage right in the top octaves.

Combine that with a couple weeks of orchestral work and I now have a bruised 4th fingertip, remnants of a blood blister on my thumb and a puffy blister on my second finger.


Interview with Daphne Boden

Daphne Boden was the special guest at the 2013 UKHA Christmas party.

An influential harp teacher in the UK - and member of the board of Directors of the World Harp Congress, talks about her harp life with Cecilia Sultana de Maria

Grab a coffee and enjoy!

Friday, 17 January 2014

how to get a concert harp into a small hatchback

I scream each time I watch this - I defy any harpist not to watch this without screaming!!!

Epic scene getting harp into a small car from 0:58 seconds in.

I have got a harp into a small hatchback back in my pre-college days before I learnt to drive and had to rely on lifts. However we took the front passenger seat completely out and then (CAREFULLY) lifted the harp in so that it went in backwards with the pedal end into the foot well of the passenger side.

I used to regularly get taxis and then the overground train to gigs, which shows my age as I'm sure you certainly wouldn't be allowed onto a train with a harp now. I even ended up locked in the guards van once (with my harp) on a train from London Victoria to Canterbury.

Ahh... those were the days!