Critics, Negative Voices and Being The Worst person in the Room.

I have failed. I know it’s surprising given my unearned sense of confidence. But I have, in fact, failed in my life… Many times! I failed getting into music college for my undergraduate, I failed getting into music college for my post graduate… I then failed again getting into music college for my post graduate… and then I failed again at getting a 2:1 at my degree. I failed at learning to play piano and violin… I still can’t play a guitar! I failed at knowing how to effectively feed myself and stay active and now I’m just a chubby starving mess!

But it’s all ok!

Throughout my education I was critiqued. It’s an unavoidable part of learning, someone will tell you ‘you’re doing this wrong’, ‘you need to be doing that’ and you will take it on board and adjust yourself to fit into what that person says. Then another teacher will come along and say something different, then another and then another until you realise that everyone is wrong and right at the same time! the tricky thing about voice is that there is definitely a right and a wrong to sing, but you get to a point where you are so solid in the right way to sing that it becomes so abstract and nuanced that your teacher is teaching what they know of their voice and not what you know of your voice! I was very lucky to have such a great teacher in university that understood my voice and gave me music that I would succeed and enjoy while being challenging. My teacher was right for me because we understood our instruments the same way. We understood how our voices worked and what we needed to do to get the different technical aspects to work.

This fascinates me because you will never know how other people hear themselves or what they feel when they sing! It’s a lot like Justin Bieber saying that he’s saddened that he’ll never get to hear himself in person, which is something I relate to completely! I will never actually know what I sound like live and in person and I am so curious about it! Sure you can listen to a recording but it’s not the same!

With a harp you can play multiple instruments and you get a ‘best practice guide’ to how to sit and hand position etc because you can go and play other instruments and this is what works best for people, except I play my octaves with my 1st (thumb) and 3rd finger (middle) because my 3rd finger is just longer than my 4th and if I’m only playing a three note chord it makes sense to my hands! However, when it comes to singing, a voice teacher has only ever ‘played’ their own instrument and so only knows there own experience!

So when you get out into the real world were you are your only critic it is easy to take all of the negative things you’ve been told and apply them all and hope for the best, which is what I did, I would show up and sing in a very affected way that was based on what others had told me to do from how their voices worked rather than how my voice as an instrument works. two years down the line and I’m slowly getting to the point where I know how to sing in an effective and efficient manner that works well with what my voice naturally wants to do! I don’t need to warm up as much because my voice is happy with where it lives. However, this is where the criticism comes in and you start thinking ‘oh I could’ve done that word better’ or ‘I could’ve been smoother on that section’ and it slowly builds! Joyce Didonato talks about this a lot and it’s very true. As a singer you’re taught to critique everything, it all has to be smooth and even and your tone has to be good and diction perfect. But when you get on to a stage it doesn’t matter! People want to hear you and your words and your beautiful voice but they also want something real, they want a performance. Something I struggle with a lot is looking up at audiences, mainly because you sort of have to look at a harp occasionally otherwise I end up playing complete nonsense, but I do try! And I’ve stopped worrying about whether that makes the performance or not. I used to worry that if I didn’t look at my audience they wouldn’t engage and I wouldn’t get my message across, but I’ve stopped and I’ve realised that it just doesn’t matter! NO ONE CARES! Look pretty, Sound nice and Screw ’em if they don’t get it!

I used to restrict my repertoire a lot because I would think something was ‘inappropriate’ for work, sure, Beyoncé’s ‘Irreplaceable’ is not the most apt thing to play at someone’s wedding there are limits… But I realised most of my restrictions on things where entirely in my head! Half the time people aren’t even paying attention! I once had a man come up to me and say ‘that song seemed like you were talking to God…’ after I had performed ‘Irreplaceable’, the chorus of which is:

‘You must not know about me; You must not know about me,

I can have another you in a minute, matter a fact, he’ll be here in a minute, baby.

You must not know about me, you must not know ’bout me,

I can have another you by tomorrow, so don’t you ever, for a second, get to thinking You’re irreplaceable.’

So CLEARLY this man wasn’t listening, despite being a metre away from me and I looked him straight in the eye for half of the song. Thus proving my point! No one cares! If you’re not on a stage and people haven’t paid to see you specifically, it does not matter! You should just be trying to find your voice and make music in the most comfortable way you can!

Being The Worst Person in the Room

I’m not good at sight reading. I was rubbish at it in National Youth Choir of Great Britain. I was terrible at it all throughout school and uni and I’m still pretty crap at it now! I have come to terms with this! a few weeks ago we did a bash through with my vocal ensemble ‘The Cardiff Consort’ and I was the worst at sight reading, I never sight read in my day to day life, I was never a chorister at a church and I have never needed to sight sing anything in my professional career. However, when you’re in a group with some incredibly talented singers who have done all these things and don’t worry about not getting every note right then you end up feeling like the worst person in the rehearsal!

What you should do if you are ever faced with this situation is… SHUT UP! nothing will be solved by you apologising for being bad at sight reading, NOTHING! shut up past Sam! No one is good at sight reading, and if they are they don’t admit it, and if they do admit it then they are a very rare breed of musician and you should maybe stab them to see if they bleed because I’m pretty sure you’re in a rehearsal with a robot!

Anyway, future Sam (because no one but you will read this) stop apologising for your mistakes and learn from them instead! It’s fine to sing the wrong notes and look confused at your sheet music, just try and sing the right notes next time around! You’re a god damn professional now and you need to start lying to others about your abilities like you lie to yourself about being able to play harp every morning!

And that is how you beat criticism and that feeling of being a fraud and a failure! Lying and having an unearned sense of confidence! Hurray!

I’m Converting!

Look, I’m tired, I’m sick and I’ve been questioning myself for years… two years… since I bought my gut strung harp…. I’m changing to carbon-fibre strings. Did you think this was about something else? well… it’s not… it’s about harp strings!

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I’ve had my gut strung Camac Korrigan for around two and a bit years now and while I love it, I also hate it! It’s a great harp because while it has a great presence and looks like a real harp (like one that actually takes up space and looks professional) you can also carry it up stairs if needs be! This has been really helpful when playing at gigs with lots of stairs and it’s more than you’d think! I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t like playing at the Angel hotel because their disabled/stair-less access is terrible and doesn’t really work for harpists or people in wheelchairs because you have to physically open the doors to get in instead of just pushing a button. Anyway, the two times I have played their I have had to carry my harp up a flight of stairs and then tried to negotiate getting out of three doors that kept trying to close on my harp…. That’s not what this is about but I needed a round about way of getting there. If I played a big concert Harp It would be a real struggle to get into some buildings and that’s one of the main reasons why I’m not getting a full size harp when I upgrade… the other reason? I’m very poor…

I’m joking, I’m really just too lazy to tune 47 strings! I can barely get a handle on my 38 strings! That’s why I’m converting to Carbon-fibre strings! yep! They make sail boats, Cars, bikes, shoes, golf clubs, phones and even harps out of carbon-fibre and they also make strings! So I’m moving to the future!

Many many years ago (can you hear the harp playing whole tone scales?…

There we go)

All string instruments where made out of wood and gut, all the strings where made of the intestines of animals tightly wound together to make a pretty sound! Harp strings are still made out of natural gut! which is a good use of that part of the animal but also a little gross but hey, you can’t have burgers without killing a cow! Anyway, gut strings are the worst.

The Joke about harpists is:

‘A Harpist spends half their life tuning and the other half playing out of tune’

This is because gut strings are sensitive to their environment. They can deal with extreme cold and heat but they won’t stay in tune!

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I don’t have to deal with snow, but I do play in basically a large glass box every week at the Hilton! In the winter it’s lovely because it’s nice and warm and you get good light but in the summers it just becomes a giant greenhouse! strings get very hot and bothered!

My gut strings are one of the many pains of my life in theory! I spend more time worrying about them than actually changing them! In February when my car broke down I had to walk my harp into work and it was fine…one string broke but it was all fine! Last November I took my big harp busking and it couldn’t cope with being outdoors and was very horribly out of tune!

So I decided to buy an entire new set of strings that were carbon fibre, they would be a lower tension so easier on my hands and wouldn’t break as easily and also be significantly cheaper! (The cost of a full set of gut strings was putting me off buying a spare set for years!) So I’ve just been living dangerously and hoping I didn’t have a string break before a concert or performance! luckily this has never happened but I frequently have my strings change pitch during a set at work so I wanted to get a replacement set that would stay in tune no matter how warm or cold it was! my nylon strings on my busking harp are a great example of this. I have played in 0C degrees and 25C and it has never slipped in pitch or had a string break; It’s a great little instrument.

So, I decided to convert my string gradually when they break because then it’s less work trying to get all 38 strings to play ball when I can just change it one at a time!

It took me a good month to decided but I hope it will be worth it in the future!

 

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Pump up the Jam, Pump up the Volume

Someone Got an Amp! and that someone is ME!

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I’ve put off getting an amp for a good two years because I hate amplified music! I don’t like it when you pass a busker in Cardiff and they have a whole P.A. System just to be heard. I am very lucky in that my busking harp ‘cuts through’ very well and my voice can project and resinate well in a bad or no acoustic. So I was already pretty dubious about amplifying my harps as when I’ve amplified them in the past it doesn’t sound as nice and it takes loads of different microphones to make pick it up!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Big-Twin-Pick-Sound-Internal/dp/B0016BP8PO

So, last month I decided to sort out some amplification as I am not heard very well on very busy Saturdays at the Hilton or at busy wedding receptions etc! So I bought myself a pick up for my harp which I installed and then I bought an amp when I was happy with the sound I was getting from my pick up. My pick up, for those wondering is a Big Twin K&K which was suggested to me by a Harp trio (Schrodringers Strings)

It works really well!

Then two other harpists suggested a Rowland Cube for the amp as it’s portable and great for harps! So I got that! I didn’t, however, have a working phone or bring my camera when I went busking yesterday when I went to test out my amp with my big harp so you’ll just have to take my word for it! It works great! I can’t wait to play more busy events with it! It fits all in my harp case and makes life that little bit easier! No more ‘I couldn’t really hear it!’ because now you can turn it up and down depending on the amount of people! Roll on Wedding season!

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Doing a Vlog.

I’m going to do a vlog next week (it’ll be two weeks ago when this comes out)

It’s just because I have an interesting week and it’ll let people see what I get up to on my day to day! it’ll be just a week thing. I’m not putting that much effort into every week (I’d rather just get on with my work)

Here is just a run down incase I edit it weird.

So, Monday (weather dependent, day off usually)

Tuesday, playing at an event in Pontypridd for the Mayor!

Wednesday I’m playing at a cool event in Roath Park Pub for my friend Rosey! (haven’t planned my set yet!)

https://www.facebook.com/events/1551102738517824/

Then my usual busking Thursday, Friday and then Saturday Hilton, Followed by a potential Cardiff Consort rehearsal, then Sunday Hilton and teaching!

That’s what a typical week looks like but I think a little vlog would be a fun thing to do!

We’ll see!

 

 

Update:

Here it is!

I didn’t enjoy doing it as much as I thought… If I ever have a really good and exciting week again I’m just going to get another person to do all the filming and editing because it was a lot of effort and the best bits weren’t filmed because I was doing stuff!

 

Being a Grown Up is Hard.

I wanted to talk about buying a house. because we are in the middle of it, it will probably have taken us 6 months before we’ve even been given a key and It’s what’s occupying a lot of my mind at the moment.

This isn’t about music, being a singing harpist or anything like that, but it’s my blog and I will do what I like (because I’m pretty sure, only 4 people read this!)

So, We found the perfect house in March and put in an offer the offer got accepted, out mortgage got approved, and we were all set to draw up contracts. However, up until last week our venders haven’t been able to find a property. Which was fine because we’re in our flat until August so there wasn’t any rush. However, when you’ve been set to move for 3 months and then being told that you have another 3 months to wait until you can move it’s a lot like waiting for the latest train of your life (or the earliest depending on your view of the world). You know, when you’ve missed the last one and you have to wait 3 hours on the platform for the next one? yeah… it’s like that but it’s costing you three times as much to sit on the platform that is does to be on the train…

In my wonderful world as a free-lance musician ‘economy’ is everything. From Breath economy musically, to financial economy. Finding the best use of my time and money is really important. In our current money pit, we’re paying 3 times the amount that our mortgage will be and it’s 1/3 of my monthly income most months to cover all rent and bills. This means that there is not that much left over to actually have a life! so my days off are spent being bored and annoyed that I can’t go out and make money. Being self-employed as a musician is very feast and famine at times. So, when I’m paying three times as much for something that I don’t own verses paying 1/3 and slowly paying off the price of a building that I will own; you can see why I’m getting impatient. It’s Realestate purgatory.

This is coupled with the stress of trying to save for a pedal harp. If I were to stay in our current flat I would take about 3 years to have enough set aside for it without leaving me totally vulnerable. You have to look at the instruments you can afford and also what you can afford to spend without having a crushing fear that you won’t be able to afford to buy groceries… It’s very  stressful!

However, this whole experience has thrown myself and my housemate into the deep end in terms of ‘how to adult’. Learning all about how to buy a house, mortgages, life insurance, home insurance. All that jazz makes for a very grounding feeling! And then to have it take such a long time and be the only interesting/big project you’ve got going on in life it just sits at the front of your brain… for 6 months!

I’m doing so many great things with work but it’s just sitting there niggling away! It’s the worst!

 

Apart from this very big, life changing and adult thing, I’m also sorting out professional recording equipment for my studio and amplification so I can take my big harp busking!

 

 

It’s all going to be fine! I’m just very privileged and I should probably stop complaining about that and unpack my suitcase… you know… the privilege one and the one I packed when our offer was accepted….. that’s been sat there for a while…

 

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