Program Music: How to put together a program

This Month I have performed at a variety of events, from a University Reception at Cardiff National Museum, to a Charity Concert at St Martin Church in Roath, to Birkenstomp at Little Man Coffee.

The Only tricky Thing

The only hard thing about being a Singing harpist, other than the whole ‘Singing while playing the harp to an alarmingly good standard’, is choosing what to do for concerts!

For background music, like this month’s drink’s reception, I have developed a standard repertoire that I can stretch over a  a number of hours so I don’t have to repeat anything and I’m providing a varied and interesting program throughout!


For Concerts I have developed a few tips to try and suit the occasion. Here are the three ‘P’s:


how to pick a piece:

1)Common Sense

This is a tricky one for musicians I know! but if you’re going to do an aria and everyone else is doing pop covers, it will be weird. If you’re following someone who’s done something very moving an profound, don’t try and jump straight into a comedy song! people need to warm up to it!


If you’re at an upbeat concert where the mood is very light and it’s a fun concert, don’t do something slow and sad. easy!

Now, I know that’s all well and good in theory but what if you have to make a drastic change of program suddenly! Here’s what you do:

I have 3-4hours worth of music that can be done as background music for receptions and weddings. about 1/4 of it is acceptable concert material. This is because it doesn’t always show the extent of my skills or is simply not thrilling enough to entertain an audience.

My rule is ‘Always have a lever change’… This is helpful for harpists, rubbish for everyone else. A lever change mid-piece is thrilling for an audience, when I perform Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Stars and The Moon’ there are about 4 lever changes throughout the piece, this coupled with the drama of the song is enjoyable for an audience. I have done many pieces where there are no changes and there isn’t as much flair to the piece.

The main point is, have something that shows off your ability. have a few different ‘great pieces’. Anyone can be amazing at playing a ‘good’ piece, but if you have something that’s personal to you, shows off your skills, range and ability then you’ll have those great pieces.

The Question you should ask yourself before going on stage is ‘would I record this?’ because if you wouldn’t, ask yourself why. Then change it to something you would!

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Like an athlete you can’t just walk into a concert and be ready! That’s not how it works. Some concerts I learn new music especially to perform at and other’s I reuse music I already have. how do I decide which to do? time and preparation! If I have a fantastic piece that’s practically perfect then I’ll go for it and perform it. It’s sometimes risky business taking a new piece out for a ride sometimes it works out well and others it fails tremendously! It’s common sense really, you know your own ability so make a value judgement on that!

rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! not until you get it right, and not (as most professionals will tell you) till you can’t get it wrong. But, rehearse until you can ‘perform’ it! there’s a huge difference watching a musicians playing a piece and performing one. It’s the reason the Met or the Royal Opera House isn’t full of 12 year olds who can sing Queen of Night and ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’…


Are you sitting comfortably while you read this? yes? that’s the level of comfort you should feel while you perform. You should have that same relaxed ‘Cup of tea in hand’ feeling when you perform.

How do you get to that?

rehearsal and performance. I can sing a moving and tear jerking rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ 16 times in my sleep because I have performed it and playing it and rehearsed it hundreds of times. Similarly, with other concert pieces I have performed them at my residency many times leading up to the performance so when I get to the concert I take a deep breath and it’s like sinking into a warm bath.

Stop worrying about it being perfect, stop worrying about the music. You should only concentrate on your message and what you want to say to your audience.


Take a deep breath, you’ve already done all the work.


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How to Pull off Daring Repertoire

This Week’s blog is all about Daring Repertoire, swagger and unleashing your natural charisma on the world! It might work just as well if you have an office job but I take no responsibility for any outcomes; be they positive or negative!

I’m going to go through the steps I take that have yielded the best results when performing tricky and fun things!

Step One: Wear something entirely inappropriate for the occasion.

By this I mean, be over dressed! If it’s a black tie affair, wear a huge ballgown! If it’s a jeans and t-shirts gig wear a cocktail dress. You are not ‘Janice from accounting’ when you are on stage you are ‘Janice La Prima Donna!’ and if you come dressed in character you have already convinced your audience of this before you even make a noise!

Step Two: Good pre-amble

Like most musicians I am terrible at pre-amble. Or at least I was terrible at Pre-amble because I always used to try and do pre-amble. Don’t try; Just do! The best pre-amble, where you talk to the audience about the piece is not rehearsed at all! It’s spontaneous, it’s fun, and it’s witty. If you plan an introductory speech about the piece you will take so much of the joy of it out. unless it’s one of those fancy recitals where historical context is important to the audience… if that’s the case then you definitely should go look up what you’re going to say and rehearse it perfectly! However, If it’s a fun concert where they have a program you don’t need to have a spiel! just be yourself!

Step Three: Don’t Make a Joke

I am a natural comedian. Everyone I meet tells me I’m funny. This has meant that I continually try and sneak jokes into my pre-amble when introducing pieces. Like UFO’s They’re always far out and I am yet to see one land. (see… exactly… no jokes).

The Comedy of a concert comes from the spontaneous banter! It’s the quick wit of having to awkwardly introduce a piece that bring the most laughter!

Step Four: Speak With Purpose!

I am a regular offender of this but it needs to be said. When you are introducing a piece you must speak loudly, clearly and stay on point. I have yet to do this effectively but I’m ‘Secret’ing it in the hopes that if I put it out into the Universe then I will achieve it! It’s just like tweeting about your diet but with public speaking..

Step Five: Face Your Fears

Be realistic about your performance. You are not going to win a Grammy for it. You aren’t even recording it professionally. You do not need to be stressed for even remotely nervous about your performance because of two things:

1) You Have rehearse and performed your chosen pieces enough that it’s not a surprise! you know how it goes!

2) The audience don’t care If you’re doing it perfectly! put on a show! Mistakes only make it interesting if you let them show!

Step Six: Werk Queen, Slay Mama

This one is for the youth! I’m still young and down with the kidz!

If you watch a drag queen lipsync you will see the extent of the human face’s ability to express all the emotions. Even though their aren’t making a sound the expression and emotion is all there. If you integrate that quality into any performance it’ll seem over the top to you but completely compelling for your audience

If you ‘Werk Queen’ with your face, you must (of course) Slay Mama with your performance, it’s only natural! By this I mean, you have to command the stage, you have to look at your performance and just say ‘Let’s do this!’ you have nothing to lose, especially if you’re not getting paid that much! So you better Werk!

Step Seven: Bow and Don’t Make It Weird

When you’re done after you’ve finished your incredible pre-amble, werked, slayed and all while in a full gown, it’s time you bow.

Tips. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain’s line is ‘have I tied my shoes today? Yes I’ve tied my shoes today’ , don’t look at the audience when you bow; it looks weird! I wish I had the flare to do a flamboyant and wild bow with some hand gestures but maybe I’ll save that for when I’m at The Albert Hall!


So: To pull off a daring piece, rehearse, take a deep breath and let the fun being! It’s called ‘playing’ for a reason!

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Buying a Harp (a Rough Guide)

This week I thought I’d talk about my harps that I’ve loved, hated, bought and sold in my quest for the perfect playing! It’s going to be story time then some practical tips!

Let’s start from the beginning.

My first harp was only £150 from a music shop in Buckinghamshire. I thought It was incredible and a wonderful instrument… It is not. It’s a fantastic instrument to learn the basics on but only the basics!

Small Lap Harps:


They are the best for beginners! they’re light weight, cheap, take up very little space and often very good quality! My student now uses my small one to learn on as she’s just starting to learn to play!


Over the winter break I decided to re-string my lap harp. I hadn’t replaced them in about 5 years and they were well worn. as I restrung it I realised, you can’t make a cheap harp sound expensive!

It’s a fantastic harp for teaching and learning and a good first stop on the way to a good harp but it is not a nice sounding harp and has a very limited range to actually use for gigs! That being said I did about 3 weddings with it before getting my big harp, so you never know!

Big Cheap Harps

After I moved into my house after uni I bought this big beast off amazon for £500… and the struggle began!

Don’t buy a cheap harp unless you have incredible pitch and even better patients! It never stayed in tune! I fought with it for about 6 months before it eventually got in tune! It did not tune easily, the levers did not work at all! and it was in an awkward size between shoulder and harp trolly!

Due to it’s poor quality and build I constantly had strings break and didn’t even bother tuning the top octave after the first 2 months as they would constantly break!

The positives was that it was a good transitional harp to my big harp from my small one as it has 36 strings and allowed me to expand my playing. It also sold really quickly once I’d put it on gumtree because I was honest about it’s limitations, If you’re going to buy a terrible harp second hand buy it off a harpist how’s honest about how terrible it is!

Would I get one knowing what I know now? Oh heavens no! it was 12 months of struggle!

Camac Harps (Korrigan)

My Live EP was recorded on my Korrigan Linked here:

I bought my Camac Korrigan second hand from a harpist on gumtree for an absolute steal! and It is the most fantastic harp in the world! It is far more reliable than any man I’ve ever met. I know that sounds like a joke but I am constantly amazed at how well it holds pitch, very rarely has string breaks and can take a beating (musically!) it has 38 strings, which means it goes all the way up to a top top C and all the way down to a Low Low A, which is great because I like a lot of bass when I arrange things but you also get beautiful clear high notes.

The only disadvantage is playing outside. It has a round soundbox/body with is quieter than a square soundbox/body. So when I took it busking it was incredibly quiet, however my square harps create a much bigger sound in poor acoustics, like outside!

(Bardic 27)

When the Lord God made the Universe he made Adam and Eve. What people don’t know is that he also made Sam and my Camac Bardic 27… That’s how wonderful this little harp is! It’s fantastic! I use it for busking mainly and it just works so perfectly! you can get a tremendous range of dynamics from it and it sounds so big and glorious even out on the street!

It’s great to play things up an octave and you still have all the best parts of a bigger harp while also being able to carry it like a backpack!

The only down side has been finding somewhere to keep all my stuff. I had a shoulder bag for about a year and it was fine but made me over balance with my right shoulder, right I have a rolling briefcase that is perfect for keeping my umbrella, music, purse, water, keys, tuner etc! And I tie my stool to the handle to make it even easier!

If you’re going to be doing a lot of teaching, busking or gigging and you don’t drive I would recommend this little wonder! it’s just wonderful! And very cheap for such a phenomenal instrument!

Pedal Harps


Pedal harps are expensive and that is why I do not have one yet! I’ve got my eye on a lovely electro-acoustic if anyone want to donate to help fund this just let me know! All donations welcome!


Buying a Harp

If you’re starting out and you have no idea if you will play it for long or if you will play it at all. buy a very small one! a Cheap small one is not going to take up much space, will sell quite quickly if you don’t want it and will give you a sense of whether or not you enjoy it!

Don’t buy a huge harp right out the gate, they take up a lot of space. If you don’t drive they are horrible to get about by foot, they also take ages to sell on!

If you’re going to take it really seriously and really want a nice harp I would suggest visiting ‘Affairs of the‘ for a good second hand harp. I really love the idea of a second hand harp as it relieves one harpist of their unwanted harp and allows you to enjoy a quality instrument at a reduced cost. It also means that harpists aren’t stuck with their unwanted harps after upgrading! It’s also the most environmentally friendly way! (Think of the wood!)

If you want one brand new then I would suggest going to the harp shop near you and trying out a bunch of different harps. there are subtle differences between harps and each one is different so make sure you have a go and experiment! Harpists are very friendly so there’s nothing to worry about!

If you don’t drive:

If you don’t drive then don’t get a big harp! it is the worst to take on trains, public transport and even taxis!

If you’re going to get a big harp, get a good trolley! mine is fantastic and let’s me strap in my harp so I can walk to the Hilton if for some reason my car doesn’t start! If you live in a city a big harp will be fine as most cities have decent pavements. However, if you’re out in the countryside make sure you can lift and carry your harp if needs be!

You can’t go wrong with a small harp! never underestimate  a good quality small harp!


That’s it for this week! I doubt that was helpful to anyone reading but I hope it was at the very least entertaining!


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February Review

This Week I thought I’d do a NewLetter Type post on how February (and the First two months of 2016) have been.

Week 1: 1-7th Feb

This time of year is always a slow one for musicians, mainly because it’s not christmas and it’s not yet wedding season. But during the first week I was lucky enough to get to do a Jam night with some very talented musicians.

Here’s a Slide show!

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I also had my regular weekend at the Hilton and some teaching as usual!

Week 2:

As Some of you might have noticed I got a new DSRL camera which means I’ve been taking A LOT of pictures of myself and videos. Here are some of the highlights… *Spoiler alert * they all look identical!

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Also I started doing custom thumbnails for my Youtube Videos  which are going to be released slowly but surely! very exciting!

On Monday I went to ‘Creative Cardiff‘s Show and Tell evening where three people who work in the creative industry come and give a 10 minute talk on their work, which was very interesting and I would recommend it to all the creatives out there!

Tuesday, I got up at 5:45am to go to a network event, which started at 6:30… in the morning! there’s early and then there’s ‘why are you people doing this to me?!’ early! It was of course the latter. But I got through it and made some ‘friends’ (I don’t like the business jargon of ‘connections’ etc because it’s trying to make something solely transactional!).

I am so glad I didn’t get an office job because I can’t stand ‘business’, it’s just such a vague word! Most people who’s work involves ‘business’ and speak in jargon and buzzwords like ‘engaging’ and ‘synergy’, often have a lot of confidence on topics they have no idea about. I found this when I was applying for jobs post Uni, when I said to one interviewer that I did music he said

‘well… If you’re going for a career in music by now you’ve either made it or you haven’t!’

This was a man who had done a degree in biology at a polytechnic and then gone into a career in Recruitment… he knew nothing about music, he knew nothing about all the different facets of the music industry but he decided that this was the best response to my stating that I did a music degree…

I hate to go all ‘angry feminist’ but I am being repeatedly told nonsense by straight white men. Can you guys please stop, it’s exhausting.

Tuesday Evening

I went to see ‘The Devil Inside‘ at the Sherman theatre in Cathays.


Consort Meeting of the ‘Cardiff Consort’ for our spring concert.

Cardiff Consort is a proffessional SATB choir I founded with 5 other lovely singers, our spring concert is on the 8th May, more details to follow!


The rest of the week consisted of House viewings and then a brief stint at the Hitlon for Valentine’s Day!

I released my Valentine’s Day Video This week as well!


Week 3: Going once?

My orchid started blooming this week!


This Week I played at Roger Jones and Co in Penarth for their welsh sale!

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Their next sale is in September!

It’s a lovely venue to perform in because it’s concert silence mixed with no one paying attention to you! which means you can play whatever you like and no one minds as long as it’s well played!

I also saw the incredible staging of The Barber Of seville at Welsh National Opera, which I would recommend to everyone! it’s such a great production!

The Final Week!

This week was a normal week! Hilton 2-4pm on the weekend and I saw The Marriage of Figaro at WNO and ‘Figaro Gets a Divorce’! which were both incredible operas!

It’s so close to St David’s Day you can taste the Welsh Cakes and Leaks!

DSC_0039That’s it for Feb! Roll on March!