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.