An unimpressed pigeon and a scaled-down oratorio

I’ve been busy playing at lots of lovely weddings. What a treat to have had such good weather too - so lots of playing outside. A new venue for me this summer has been Branxholm Park Hotel in the borders, and then I’ve been back at Prestonfield quite a bit. The last time a peacock was putting on his full display in an attempt to dazzle a pigeon - who seemed to be (unlike myself and my family) singularly unimpressed!

Composition-wise, I was delighted to hear ‘Cantata for Saint Triduana’ come to life back in March. Thanks so much to all who were involved, and also to those who came to listen. I am currently polishing off a drastically scaled down version of my 2013 work ‘Songs from Luke’. The instrumental ensemble has been replaced by simple piano and violin, which makes the piece much more suitable for performances in small venues. The first performance of this new version will be on 17th November at 3pm in Carlops Village Hall, with local singers. Do come along!

Cantata for Saint Triduana

My new piece will be premiered on 23rd March at The City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9BX, at 7pm by The Linton Singers under the baton of Murray Campbell.

Hit the ‘Composer: about’ tab to hear Hannah chatting about the project - both the music and also the inspiration behind the project and her collaboration with the poet Lynsay Downs.

From Quirky Saints to Love Island winners

I have had a busy couple of months. Bizarrely, in August my harp shared the stage with the recent 2018 winners of 'Love Island', a popular show that has been running on ITV. (I'm afraid I've never watched it but I didn't tell them that...) That was as part of the recent Edinburgh Television Festival, where I was delighted to have once again been asked to perform as part of the 'Sky Arts channel' exhibition stand. Alongside me was the super-talented and very personable Samira Addo, Portrait Artist of the Year 2018. She was busily painting the portraits of said winners. It was fascinating to speak with her and to watch her work. What a pleasure to meet such an interesting young woman.

Composing-wise I have recently finished my latest composition, a cantata (work for soloists, choir and orchestra) called 'Triduana'. I am excited that this will be premiered on 23rd March 2019 in central Edinburgh. The work is based on the life of a quirky saint, with libretto by Lynsay Downs.

I also have a couple of concerts coming up soon. You can catch me in the beautiful surroundings of Crichton Collegiate Church on Saturday 15th September, 5pm, performing alongside the Eternity Singers as part of a project by Edinburgh Christian Heritage. (Tickets on the door). The choral music will include works by Tallis, Bruckner and Mendelssohn. The same programme will be performed again at St Mary's in Haddington on 14th October at 4pm.


Instrumental at VOCAL

Vocal harp 1.jpg


I played for such a lovely event last night that I felt I wanted to tell people about it. I was asked to play for a wonderful small charity called 'VOCAL'.

(And by the way, apologies for the title, I just couldn't resist the play on words!) The truth is that the instrumental ones are definitely the amazingly dedicated staff and volunteers at VOCAL.

VOCAL do brilliant work supporting carers in Edinburgh and Midlothian, and last night they were having a celebration to mark their entry into new premises on Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Although I always think of Leith Walk as being very busy and noisy, the new Edinburgh Carer's Hub is set back from the clamour of the street and even has a beautiful garden for carers to relax in. The event itself had a very special atmosphere - one of peacefulness, compassion, generosity and joy. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. The Chief Executive of the charity commented to me that amongst those people present in the room there were around 500 combined years of caring experience, and I think this came across clearly. What a privilege to be part of the celebrations!

VOCAL harp 2.jpg

Happy New Year 2018

Late last year I enjoyed playing the clarsach for a wedding at Edinburgh Castle and for a number of Christmas events, including two 'Contact the Elderly' parties. In December I also had the privilege of using my harp to accompany local school children in a performance of 'Walking in the Air' which was lovely. Since my last entry I've written a novel (a gentle comedy). Watch this space for further details.

This evening I've been mucking around on the piano and came up with the following new piece (a preview of the first page is shown here.) Any budding pianists are welcome to get in touch if they'd like me to send them the sheet music.

Have a wonderful 2018!

Piano Sketch for New Year's Day - Full Score.jpg

From 360 degree TV to copper sculptures of mosquittos

I've recently enjoyed playing at familiar venues alongside some new discoveries. In August I was excited to be asked to perform as a soloist on the Sky Arts stage at the Edinburgh International Television Festival 2017. Other artists showcased included Calum Ingram, and Molly Keane (from Sky Arts 'Master of Photography' series). We were also treated to an impromptu piano performance by Channel 4's Jon Snow!

The Sky Arts stand was also demonstrating possible viewing options for the future, including 360 degree TV. You can see the gadgets on the table at the front of the photo. I did have a shot, but I have to confess it made me feel rather dizzy!

Tuning up at the Sky Arts Stand, International Television Festival 2017

Tuning up at the Sky Arts Stand, International Television Festival 2017

International Television Festival 2017

International Television Festival 2017

I love playing for small family parties just as much as at more high-profile events, and it was lovely to be part of the silver-wedding celebrations of a wonderful couple in Stathaven a couple of weeks back. It was a busy day, as I then went on to play at an exhibition opening in the evening at the Dancing Light Gallery. I was lucky enough to listen in to Sue White Oakes speaking about her love of engineering and how this has influenced the development of her particular methods of working in copper to produce intricate and beautiful sculptures. I also leant that the methods used to make bronze casts of her work are almost as time-consuming and demanding as those involved in the production of the originals. It was absolutely fascinating, and I loved the way that nothing seemed to hold her back - if she wished to produce a particular effect in the metal, and was unable to do so because of the limitations of the available tools, she simply designed and made new tools and machinery to fit the bill! Fascinatingly, her original inspiration for a series of insect sculptures came from the conjunction of a desire to find a use for old copper piping, alongside the discovery of a dead beetle in her workshop.


In costume at Crichton

Herewith photos from the recital at Crichton Collegiate Church I wrote about in my blog entry yesterday. The concert was put on as part of Midlothian Heritage Week. A really lovely setting, great acoustic and also my first attempt at playing the harp in Medieval costume. I had to work out how to tie the sleeve ribbons so that they didn't get in the way!

The story-telling by Paul from Edinburgh Christian Heritage was a lovely touch, linking the music to the history and folk-lore of the area. The evening began with a booming and dramatic, "In the mists of time, fire formed Edinburgh and seven hills arose..." Exciting stuff!

In costume at Crichton, with Isolde James-Griffiths (soprano) and her husband, story-teller Paul James-Griffith (as Saint Cuthbert)

In costume at Crichton, with Isolde James-Griffiths (soprano) and her husband, story-teller Paul James-Griffith (as Saint Cuthbert)

A little windswept before the performance!...

A little windswept before the performance!...

On Plant Paradises & Legends coming to life.

It's been the usual fun and busy round of summer events, with gorgeous weddings at Dunglas Estate, Norton House, Tuilibole Castle, Peebles Hydro & the Secret Herb Garden; celebrations at the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Pollock Halls and a fun musical send-off for a group of lovely would-be charity runners at Biggar bowling club.

The Secret Herb Garden in particular is an undiscovered little oasis for a less-formal small wedding or party, with weaving paths though a glass paradise filled with trailing leaves and hanging bunches of grapes. I absolutely loved it, and went back on a later date to admire all the plants and plan my herb purchases!

Enjoying the sunshine: setting up for a summer ceremony 

Enjoying the sunshine: setting up for a summer ceremony 

Alongside this there have been musical highlights for me on the composing / recital fronts: way back on 24th March I was privileged to play alongside Leon and Heather Coates and others in an atmospheric evening of music at St Mungo's Church in West Linton, in the Scottish Borders. Leon treated us to some beautiful solo piano music, and Heather and I gave the first performance of my recent work for harp and 'cello, 'Rondeau'. My plan is that eventually this will be a three movement work, with the 'Rondeau' being the finale. The first draft of the middle movement, entitled 'Breathing Space' is now also complete.

May saw both the first performance of my first musical, 'King David and the Stag' and also a beautiful summer evening's harp and voice recital at Crichton Collegiate Church, as part of Midlothian's heritage week. What a fantastic acoustic in a little-known gem of a building. I accompanied the soprano Isolde James-Griffith in a programme entitled 'Music Through the Ages' with music ranging from Rabbie Burn's 'My love is like a red red rose' and tunes from Turlough O'Carolan, to 'Lift Thine Eyes' by Mendelssohn and the awe-filling, 'Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silent'. We ended with the ever-popular and upbeat 'Highland Cathedral'. Isolde's husband, the story-teller, Paul James Griffith also used the acoustic to great advantage as he recounted the history and legends of the area.

It was wonderful to see and hear 'King David' come to life, and for the wonderful local performers to be so confident and clearly enjoying themselves that I treated myself to joining the back row of the chorus in the performance.

The article in the Peebleshire News, earlier this year, when 'King David and the Stag' was still a vision rather than a reality!

The article in the Peebleshire News, earlier this year, when 'King David and the Stag' was still a vision rather than a reality!

The very talented Brian Davidson (piano) accompanied a chorus of local singers, both adults and children, and the show was complete with costumes, props and a beautiful forest mural painted by local artists Charlie Welsh and Debs McHaffie.

We were joined by guest soloists Matthew Todd (tenor); Philip Todd (baritone); Tembu Rongong (baritone) and Janet McKenzie (Soprano) for a fun afternoon show, retelling the Scottish legend behind the founding of Holyrood Abbey. For those not familiar with the tale, I've included the synopsis here:







At Norton House, summer 2017

At Norton House, summer 2017

Whilst out hunting in the forest with his friends in around 1127, King David 1st of Scotland became separated from the rest of his party. He fell from his horse and was charged by a stag. As he raised his hands in an attempt to defend himself from the beast's antlers, he had some kind of mystical experience. Accounts vary as to the exact nature of this - but he either 'saw' or 'felt' (or both) the cross of Christ. Amazingly, King David was able to return home completely unscathed.

King David had been advised earlier in the day by his spiritual advisor, Alkwine, not to go hunting, because it was the “Feast of the Holy Cross”. (Presumably this special day came with concomitant duties with which he was supposed to busy himself and/or with activities/entertainments which were supposed to be abstained from). Perhaps, given the circumstances, David could have interpreted his fall as being sent by nemesis to reprimand him for a supposed misdemeanour. But thankfully grace doesn’t work like that: instead, he was vouchsafed a profound, uplifting and deeply-moving (if, admittedly rather strange!) experience. In order to celebrate this, and also what he considered to be his miraculous escape, at Alkwine’s suggestion, King David founded Holyrood Abbey in 1128.

Most of the songs concern King David. However, we also decided to go back, before King David's time, to his parents: mostly because I wanted to have a strong female character and we found that in David's mother, Queen Margaret. So near the start of the mini-musical, we are introduced to this young woman, born in Hungary, with whom King Malcolm of Scotland falls head-over-heels in love. As queen, we envisage she was rather busy - running soup kitchens in the palace, caring for orphans, organising ferry-crossings for pilgrims to Dunfermline Abbey ... besides having 2 step-children and 8 more of her own...

Drinks Reception, May 2017

Drinks Reception, May 2017

On being scrutinised by professors from the past

I can't believe it's February already.

Christmas was busy. One of the highlights was again playing for 'Contact the Elderly'. The Edinburgh branch of this charity has now expanded so much that to accommodate all their guests they needed two separate parties, on consecutive Sundays. If you haven't come across contact the elderly before, it does great work, organising regular tea-parties for folk who live on their own. This often results in firm friendships.

Each year they have a Christmas extravaganza (although this year it was two!). I have been lucky enough to be going along to play for these parties every year since December 2012. It's lovely to see the familiar faces again, and to have fun entertaining the guests with my harp and singing some carols together.

More recently, it was great to play at the Playfair Library (Old College, University of Edinburgh) again last week. The scale of the room, and of the whole place, still surprises me, even after all this time (my first gig there must have been well over a decade ago).

In the library itself, it's always fun (but also slightly nerve-wracking) to imagine that I am being scrutinised by various eminent professors and thinkers from the past. In fact, it's hard not to have this sense, as throughout the vast hall there are busts on plinths of various noteworthy scholars. They all look rather imposing!

At the Playfair Library, January 1017

At the Playfair Library, January 1017

On the composing front I have been busy. The mini-musical now has a name: 'The Legend of King David and the stag'. Now I need to get on with organising the first performance!

In January I also wrote a piece for 'cello and harp called 'Rondeau', which has (as all rondo's do!) a theme that recurs throughout the piece, interspersed with different musical material. My main theme is supposed to sound a bit like a child's wind-up musical box.



Masked Balls, Bells and Mini-Musicals

My last few performances have been at Assembly Roxy, Melville Castle, The George Hotel and St Peter's RC Church in Morningside. Quite a variety there!

I've played at Melville Castle and the George Hotel (now re-named 'The Principal') many times over the years, but Assembly Roxy and St Peter's were new to me. The gig at Assembly Roxy was a themed masked ball for a 30th birthday party (what fun!). What really struck me about the venue was how incredibly friendly and helpful the staff were.

The building itself is a converted church, and it retains some of that atmosphere - I love looking at all the old plaques on the wall and imagining the people who would have worked and worshipped there in the past.

St Peter's was lovely. One notable thing about the wedding that I played for at St Peter's, last weekend, was that rather than the ceremony beginning with the familiar words, 'can everyone please stand for the entrance of the bride', the service began with no words at all, just the simple chiming of a bell. That was my cue to begin the Bridal March. It was a lovely gentle start to a beautiful ceremony.

A wee composing update:

I am in the process of polishing off my historical mini-musical. This has been so much fun to do. I don't yet have a title, so my husband (who wrote the words) and I are still thinking on that one. The piece is scored for choir and piano, and there are a few solos amongst the other numbers. Ideally I'd love to perform it with a children's choir. Watch this space.

The full symphonic version of my 2016 score 'This is My Beloved' is now complete, and I am looking forward to a future performance by the Sydney Contemporary Orchestra in Australia.

A small extract of this work (re-scored, for oboe, organ, choir and clarsach) will form part of a special service this Sunday, at St James' Church in Pennicuik, under David McGavin. I went to hear the choir rehearse last Thursday, and it was so special to begin to hear the music take shape and come to life.


Welsh cheesemakers; and wheelbarrows at Seton

Today I was playing at Seton Collegiate Church. I hadn't played at this venue for a couple of years, and I'd forgotten how lovely it is and how well it suits a summer ceremony.  It feels so spacious and airy, and I love the way the light comes through the coloured glass of the large windows. With the high ceiling, the acoustic was brilliant: the clarsach was sounding with a lovely ringing tone.

Although the couple had arranged to host their main reception elsewhere, there was time for a few drinks on the lawn outside the chapel, and so I picked up my clarsach and re-positioned myself outside to continue to play.

The chapel is a fair distance from the carpark. Well, actually, it's no distance at all I suppose - but it certainly feels it when you are carrying a heavy clarsach! Thankfully, on my way back to the car, the wonderfully helpful Lesley (from Historic Scotland, who run the site) gave me a helping hand by literally carting some of my kit for me... in her trusty wheelbarrow!

On a totally different note, last weekend I was in Wales. Amongst other things, I visited a wonderful cheese-maker (bizarrely it was actually a post-office-come-cheese-maker... as you do!) The cheese was yummy, particularly the smoked cheese, and the establishment is well worth a visit if you are ever in Pembrokeshire. Anyway, the reason I mention this is because I really wanted to include a picture of their sign, which made me smile!

This made me smile!

This made me smile!




At Seton Collegiate Church, September 2016

At Seton Collegiate Church, September 2016

Light streaming in: clarsach at Seton.

Light streaming in: clarsach at Seton.

Summer weddings, and being in the audience at the Fringe

Today I was playing at Dunglass Estate again - the second time in as many weeks. It's quite an unusual venue, surrounded by an open, uncluttered landscape. The collegiate church (the old stone chapel where wedding ceremonies are held) isn't quite open to the elements - there is a roof to hold off any rain, but there's no door, nor any glass in any of the windows, so it has a great inside-yet-outside feel to it - very atmospheric. And the occasional fluttering breeze meant I was pleased I had bulldog clips with me in my briefcase, so I could secure my music to its stand, just in case!

            Getting ready before the guests arrive. Dunglass Estate, Cockburnspath. August 2016

            Getting ready before the guests arrive. Dunglass Estate, Cockburnspath. August 2016

A lovely touch today was the old-fashioned Rolls Royce ice-cream van that greeted guests as they exited the ceremony. Perfect for a summer wedding - and not something I've seen before.

On another theme, This is the first time in many years that I haven't been involved in a series of concerts or theatre performances at the Edinburgh Fringe. We recently moved house and so I decided to pass this year, although the harp and voice recitals at St Columba's, just down from Edinburgh Castle, have been a regular part of my musical year for a long time. And I can't believe it's already a year since the memorable 'from-scratch' performance of my piece for choir and harp A Moment of Eternity (2012) in the iconic St John's Church on Princes Street, and also a year since Tembu Rongong's beautiful rendering of my 5 pieces for baritone and piano, at the premiere of my song cycle, Dappled Things (2015).

This summer however I got to be a member of the audience for a change: I went to a great Fringe concert in Edinburgh's Royal Overseas League a couple of nights ago. The super-talented London-based harpist Oliver Wass was joined by young international musicians in a lovely concert of French music. Oliver played two pieces by Ravel, both of which were originally written for piano, but which sounded gorgeous on the harp. The rest of the programme featured piano, flute and violin pieces from Debussy and Saint-Saens. And there was a glass of wine included. What more can you ask for? Thank you Oliver for your beautiful playing. Hopefully you'll be back in Scotland for another concert in 2017. 


Peacocks at Presonfield

Have you ever heard the sound a peacock makes? If not, it's difficult to describe: something between a squawk and a car horn. Despite having played there literally dozens of times, the distinctive cries of the avian inhabitants of Prestonfield House never fail to astonish me.

Today's wedding was beautiful: glorious sunshine and my clarsach, along with the chairs for the ceremony, set out on the lawns, in the dappled shade of a huge tree. The drinks reception which followed took place up on the balcony which leads off from the Tapestry Room, at the front of the venue. 

During the ceremony the lovely wee flower-girls ran around amongst the guests. They carried several framed photographs of the couple, which they showed to the bride and groom's friends. The pictures tied in with the story the of how the couple had met, and their journey together so far. This was so much more intimate than a slideshow or powerpoint could ever be - a really lovely touch which I haven't seen before.

During the wedding today I had an idea to have a regular slot in this blog: sharing recent comments about my playing that have either moved me, or made me laugh. Here goes:

Most touching recent comments:
"Your music took me back 25 years to my own wedding day"
and, from a lovely elderly lady, "Both my mother and my sister (who are no longer with us) played the harp; and it was so lovely to hear the beautiful sound of the instrument again."

Most entertaining recent comment:
"It would have been an even better effect if you had played your harp from up that tree."
(I couldn't think of an answer to that one....)

Thanks for reading,

Hannah's Recent Harpenings

Performing Update:

Last Thursday night it was great to be part of the Charity Variety Performance in Bonnyrigg, in aid of Coeliac UK and the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association.

It was a chilly evening as I arrived with my clarsach, but it was warm and welcoming within the church - a packed house. It was a snug fit for the performers too, but I felt very relaxed sitting on stage waiting my turn, tapping my foot and enjoying the other first half acts: the Can't Help Singing choir, the Bonnyrigg and Lasswade Brass Band, and in particular the brilliant Matthew Maclennan on his accordion. 

I played two sets, interspersing well-known tunes such as 'My Love is Like a Red Red Rose' and 'Skye Boat Song' with less familiar Scottish melodies and also some O'Carolan favourites.

Composing Update:

The chamber orchestra version of my 2016 score 'This is My Beloved' is now complete. I have been engrossed in the writing of this work since mid 2014. It has undergone quite a few changes in that time (including a change of title). Watch this space for details of future performances.

In terms of new projects, I have had an idea for an historically-themed piece for children's choir and piano. Nothing on paper yet, but again, watch this space.