Back at it Again!

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A couple weeks ago I took part in a waste of time.

It was called ‘Classical revolution’ and it took place at one of my favourite Coffee shops, ‘Little Man Coffee’. Looking at their social media and their videos it looked pretty good, it looked like there was a good number of other musicians coming together to do little concerts and perform works they hadn’t yet played for an audience. So naturally I said I would do a couple pieces, because I am slowly trying to get back to some good classical repertoire.

However, when I got there one sunny afternoon, it became apparent that I was the only person performing at this concert that I wasn’t being paid for… the organiser was half an hour late as well.

This organiser was the definition of ‘Mediocre white Man’. He started talking to me after I had done a 30 minute set and I assumed he was just a random member of the public coming to tell me how much he enjoyed it… he was the organiser…. we had not brought his instrument, he had effectively missed his own concert, and he mumbled. The Mumbling is what got to me. Here I was, a confident and professional musician, hosting my own concert, by myself, not being paid for it, and I wasn’t even in charge! This mediocre man then told me that he would say something after my ending set… I was amused by this, did my final 10 minutes and starting packing up while this man mumbled to a now almost empty coffee house… like, most people had gotten up and left when I’d finished my first set.

 

A couple weeks later I performed at Pontypridd museum… I organised everything, I did all the promotional work, all the flyers. And people actually came, people also watched on the live stream, which was great. But people came! and they even donated! So, we actually made a small profit!

So, after this I became more frustrated with the fact that I had organised a successful solo concert and managed to get people to turn up for it, and yet this man had managed to organise a monthly concert series…. soooo… Now I’m doing one. Because….

If I’m not being paid, I might as well be in charge!

It’s true though, if I’m not going to make any money from doing this guy’s concert then I might as well be in charge of my own concert.

So, ‘Mid Week Music’ was born! It’s the same model as the pontypridd concert, being donation based. but it’s designed so that people can come and see some live music on their lunch break and also be able to eat their lunch at the same time. (Also, one of my other favourite coffee places is in Castle Emporium so that helps too! honestly gang, if you’re still buying coffee from Starbucks, Costa or any other chain and you live in a city like Cardiff, what are you doing? Go local! Go independent! they need the money more than the tax avoiders!)

Anyway, so the first one is 7th June, 1pm. We’ll be live streaming it too! Don’t worry! but also, we’ll be doing it every month (if it’s successful!!!!) with different artists and performers each month who will all get to share their wonderful talents with you!

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So! You can come see it live! watch it online! and follow it on twitter!!!!! also tell a friend! and please come! Please!!!!

 

Sam Hickman – Back At IT AGAIN!!!!

Garden Chat: April Update

Here’s a non-harp post so show the range and variety in my life…yeah…? yeah.

so, when we last left our garden it looked like this!

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Lil planty looked like this:

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Since then the weather’s gotten a lot warmer and out lovely little garden looks like this!

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Planty got a new pot!

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It’s going pretty well!

The old rose that was here when we bought the house is going to bloom this year! I assume for the first time in a very long time, and we don’t know what colour it’s going to be!!! so that’s the main excitement!

Other than that, our herbs are doing well and we should get some pees, blueberries, raspberries (depending on how quickly it grows) and who knows what else we’ll plant.

One idea is to put a raised bed on the patio (once we’ve gravelled it to level it out) and have a bed specifically for growing our own vegetables!)

Another great gardeny project I’m in charge of is putting planters in my area, full of herbs and things people can pick and take home! which is a fun idea! I’ll probably do a post about that when it comes as it’s quite exciting!

 

ooh! also, we had a bbq!!!!!

Remember that weekend when it was really lovely weather?

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We had a BBQ!!!!

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A very pinterest thing I saw was to put lanterns along your garden to create a little bit of light as the sun goes down. It combines my two favourite things, Lanterns and gardening. It’s fundamentally useless and doesn’t really do anything, if you wanna see your garden path at night, get some lights. But if you wanna feel like a fancy lady of leisure as you drunkenly stagger to your bathroom after too much rosé, get some lanterns!!! Also, you can use the hooks for bird feeders and bird baths as I do, so that it’s not only decorative but also good for the birds!

That’s all folks!

Early Spring Gardening

This is not a harpy/musical post… this is about my garden! I know! change and variation is what you come here for!

I actually managed to take some photos for before and afters! but we’re still mid-progress so I’ll do another post in July-ish to see my garden in full glory!

 

 

So, bare in mind that I moved in in mid-August and there was nothing here but a giant rosmary bush (like HUGE!) and a climbing rose that they had just let grow straight up over the fence…

This is what it looked like, but there was a tomato plant that was riding the struggle bus all the way through august. And loads! (and I mean LOADS!) of beanpoles EVERYWHERE! for some reason they were everywhere!

So when we moved I dug up all my plants, put them in my car and drove over.

This is what my garden looked like in the old house

Maybe a better photo!

So I chopped up my roses, fuchsia, lavender, raspberry and blackberry and brought them over.

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And surprisingly, most of them survived!

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My Rose in early march looks a little happy and my fuchsia is gradually coming back.

Sadly my lavender died a death! it didn’t survive the move as well as the rest of the gang! So this week I had to buy a new one for that spot.

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With the second flower bed I trained the rose, which is very old and is growning very healthily, which is great! and we planted some herbs, flowers, another lavender and hopefully some peas will grown for a tasty spring treat!

In the middle of my garden is ‘planty’ a young elder tree Sarah picked up for free from last year’s eisteddfod. Now he’s grown up nice and big!

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Finally I planted out some bulbs to give some early spring colours!

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Can’t wait for spring either way!

 

So what projects are left for the garden?

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So in the coming spring, I’m hoping to gravel over the uneven payment of the patio, we think a shed used to live there and then they just ripped it up and left all the uneven concrete.

The second project is to put up a screen where the beanpoles have been set up to give a more secluded seating area. So, when I’m sat eating my lunch I’m not staring directly into my neighbours kitchen and then straight into my other neighbours garden. So, I’m going to put some fence posts in and then a trellis across and grow some evergreen climbers to make a little screen that doesn’t block out any light on the second flower bed but still makes the patio seem cosy and secluded. This is in leu of putting up a big fence on the wall because that would deeply upset my neighbour and ruin the lovely relationship I have with them.

 

The third project, which will probably happen next year is to build a corner pergola for my roses to climb up and over, but this is a big project that might need a lot of work.

 

Anyway, that’s my garden, late march! looking forward to spring!

Talking to Strangers. Making Wild Assumptions About The Woman Busking With A Harp.

Busking. Talking to Strangers. Being Mansplained to. Getting Gigs.

I felt like I had to write this today because I had two very strange interactions with members of the public while busking today, and it’s not rare that I get people asking me questions or coming up to talk to me and I think it’s great that people are curious about my instrument and my work and want to know more! that’s great! what isn’t so great is having to deal with all the nonsense people feel they have to tell me.

Normally, if someone wants to talk to me for a gig, or about my harp and my work, they will wait for the end of a song or if they are in a rush apologise for having to interrupt while they grab a card (tip for buskers: leave your cards out so people can help themselves! You’ll be surprised how many people take one!). These interactions are usually quick, lasting up to 2 minutes, and both parties walk away from it with a clear and productive attitude. ‘How many Strings is that?’, ‘Is that a welsh harp?’, ‘Do you Do Weddings?!’ all of these are classic Frequently Asked Questions, and I’ve memorised a pretty comprehensive spiel for each one. I like getting asked these questions because they show that people see my work as work and as a performance, not as anything else. Just a woman with her harp and a song in her heart!

Less impressive questions sometimes arise ‘Are you A Student?’, ‘Are you at Royal Welsh?’ I’ve just started lying and nodding because at this point stopping to explain ‘Well I graduated around 3 years ago, I was the resident harpist at the Hilton Cardiff for two years and I’m still and currently working as a free-lance musician, this is my real job, thanks!’ is too long and just opens up more questions for people. I’ve just started smiling and nodding whenever people say things to me because, quite frankly, if someone has something good and important to say to me they will make sure I hear it… otherwise they will shout it from 5 metres away…. you get the response you deserve.

So in my work I have two main obstacles when members of the public approach me. Firstly, I wonder ‘Does this person want a card?’ and I constantly think this until they put some money, say ‘That’s lovely’ and wander off. Secondly, if they do come and talk to me I have to make an instant judgement ‘Is this person worth talking to?’. I know! It sounds horrible, and making assumptions about people on face value is a terrible thing to do. However, when you’re trying to work and someone is interrupting you they better have a good reason… (the reason is usually money… give me money! please! I work so hard!)

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During my time I’ve had a lot of great interactions with people who love music and just want to tell me how much they enjoyed my playing… this is not about them. This is about the people who do not see what I’m doing as a legitimate musical expression in an unlikely venue… These are the people who think all singers are born from X Factor and all talent is found on Britain’s Got minimal Talent.

Making snap judgements about people is not an exact science but I think in my case it’s a very valid form of retaliation. For example, the first incident happened when I was just setting up, I had my harp out, my sign, my stool and my amp and I was getting ready to sit down and tune. This elderly couple had be standing in front of me since I’d gotten my harp out, watching and so as I sat down I said ‘Oh! I haven’t tuned yet sorry!’ and the “gentleman” replied with ‘Do you speak english.’…….

I was taken back for a moment and said ‘well what do you think I just spoke to you?’ and followed it up with ‘What kind of a question is that? of course I speak english I started speaking to you!’ It wasn’t a ‘Are you welsh?’ or a ‘siarad Cymraeg?’, which are both very good questions to someone playing the harp in the welsh capital… It was ‘Do you speak english?’ in an odd tone that had odd assumptions attached. But it’s not the first time that sort of question has ever come up.

I have a fairly interesting accent and back story, coming from London to Texas to London to Wales is pretty interesting if you also sing and play harp! The unfamiliar accent juxtaposed with the harp promotes this question a lot, almost on a weekly basis. I think half of it is people just being curious creatures, which by design, we are! But I also feel like they should just say ‘Oh! you aren’t from around here’, and just cut through all the nonsense and get to whatever they want to get out of asking a question.

I think it’s better to ask that than say ‘Oh where in America are you from?’ because if you ask that question I will lie to you and say ‘Oh no I’m Canadian’ because I like to play games too. This happened at the supermarket last week and I simply replied ‘No. I’m not’ and all polite conversation stopped. My new lie-response is going to be ‘No! I’ve immigrated and I’ve come to steel your jobs!!!! MOOO HA HA HA HA!!!!!’ Because, again, I like to play games too.

Anyway, this gentleman asked this question and I responded and once we had gotten passed whatever point his first question had, he told me the most tedious story about how his second-cousin’s sister’s wife’s dog’s grandmothers’ uncle’s niece rent’s out larger harps than the harp I was playing. To which I replied ‘well… good for you…’ BECAUSE I DON’T CARE!!!! Unless you have something genuinely interesting or cool to say like ‘I worked with Deborah Hensen-Conant’ or ‘would you like a bunch of money to do this gig in two weeks’, I don’t really care…. We’re in South Wales, everyone has seen, played, touched or looked at a harp. You don’t need to tell me about it, it won’t go anywhere.

Similarly, I hate it when I bring up that I’m a harpist and someone tells me about a harpist they had at their wedding. I will immediately ask you how much that person charged. Because that is the only useful part of your boring story! Also, it’ll never lead anywhere! If I have to have a 5 minute conversation with you and you start with ‘oh I like the harp, my sister had a harpist at her wedding’ There is NO WHERE to go from there! NO WHERE!!!! You’ve basically set it up that I have to talk about your sister’s wedding harpist, which is not an interesting topic of conversation because, guess what, You can’t remember any of the details about it!!!! If you bring up a topic with a stranger, you better know more than ‘I was physically there and there was this’ because otherwise there is no conversation to be had!

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But enough about me getting annoyed at networking events and people having boring things to say to me. Today, I got mansplained to… about my own work… from a man who had seen me before. This man came up to me and said ‘Oh I’ve seen you before, in the hayes, you’re very good’. I said ‘Thank you’ like a normal person. He continued ‘Do you have any CD’s’ I replied ‘No, I’m all out sorry’, he said ‘Oh I would’ve given you more money if you had CD’s on you’, which is understandable… duh of course you would I am giving you a CD… He continued ‘You know, you should get on Wizz.com’… ‘they let you share your music and people will give you money for it’, I replied ‘Oh like Itunes, Amazon Music, Spotify and my online store on my website ‘CardiffWeddingharpist.com’ ?’ (I gestured to my sign with all my social media things on it). He continued for around 2 minutes on this website that is basically bandcamp… he added ‘They will also help you set up a website’… ‘I have a website…’ I again, gestured to my damn sign!

‘Anyway, you must not earn a lot from this’,

I replied ‘No, I earn a really decent amount’.

Him, ‘No, but you must not make enough’

‘I make around £20-£50 an hour… it’s pretty good and I get a lot of private work from doing this.’

‘Yeah but you must not make that much to live off’

‘ummm. No I’m doing fine thank you’

‘yeah but you must be putting it all on the credit cards by the end of the month’

‘No, I don’t have credit Cards and I’m very financially stable, I own a home’

‘Yeah but You could be earning more’

‘I’m aiming to make £20k this year, and this is only my third year of doing it full time’

‘Yeah, but you could be making more’.

By This time I was playing so loudly that he was having to shout. Because when someone starts talking to me for too long and are just wasting my time I do what the Oscars does and ‘Play them off’, start quiet so they think ‘Oh they are just noodling away’ and then at the 3 minute mark, slowly crescendo until the point where you can’t hear them and they have to shout over your harp to be heard. Usually they get that you want to get back to work because there is not going to be any tangible outcome of this interaction and you’d rather be working than having to have a pointless conversation.

In his closing 2 minute remarks, he reiterated his belief that I am a poor struggling girl in massive debit (which… honestly… what?.. GIANT LEAPS from this guy), reprised his nonsense about this site that would cure cancer or whatever he thought it does. And then finally left. HE DIDN’T GIVE ME A PENNY!!!!!!!!!!! He took 5 minutes from me and didn’t give me a damn penny! I’m pissed about it even two weeks later!

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So, there you have it, two strange interactions with strangers making weird assumptions about a nice middle-class white lady playing harp in the street…. honestly, I have more questions about this but I know they will never be answered.

These sorts of interactions are very rare thankfully, and I know this is me coming with privilege to complain about something so minimal when there are real issues in the world! But I had to put out a blog post this month and NOTHING INTERESTING HAS HAPPENED TO ME!!!!!! So this is me whining for 1800 words! (sorry).

I love having good interactions and conversations with strangers on the street. I like when people come up to me with cool projects or interesting events they would like me to get involved with! Love it! But sometimes I just want to sit down and do my work… I think I’m at the point where busking is just another day at the office. I enjoy the work and I am thankful for it everyday, but it’s not a crime to want more and better.

 

So, Here is a checklist of things that I will happily talk to you about and/or you should approach buskers with:

  1. ‘Wow! You’re really great! Ok, bye now!’ (Keep it sort and sweet!)
  2. ‘Do you have a Card?’ (Look around the busker for this.. because they will probably have them out for you to take one! easy!)
  3. ‘Can I take a photo of you?’ (Asking to take pictures of strangers is the right thing to do)
  4. ‘Can I take a photo of your sign?’ (Why not take a card new friend? here ya go!)
  5. ‘Do You do weddings? (Says so on my sign!)
  6. ‘I see you do weddings, How much do you normally charge for a ceremony?’ (Good question)
  7. ‘I see you do weddings, I’ve taken a card, How much do you normally charge for a Ceremony on a Saturday in August?’ (I’m not a calendar… I don’t know dates off the top of my head… I’m not science! just say the day and the month, please!)
  8. ‘Will you play at my chairty event for free?’ (Simple Answer, ‘NO!’ Complex HERE And HERE )
  9. Be clear and to the point please. Just because I didn’t come out to talk to you I came to play my little awkward songs and make some money and get some giiiiigs!

 

Bye!

 

 

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Hilton Cardiff Residency, Part 3, What Did I learn?

Hello and Welcome to the final chapter of this exploration of my time as the Resident harpist at the Hilton Cardiff and everything I learnt during the 22 months there.

This final section is devoted to everything I learnt from my time and what I would’ve done differently given the opportunity.

So, we shall start with what I learnt.

The main thing I learnt was WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN!!! This was the down fall of getting out of this gig was that I had no written confirmation of bookings so when they said ‘We don’t want you anymore’ I had no formal writing to back up me billing them for cancelling bookings. which is a shame. If you find yourself in a contract-less informal gig like this get every single booking in writing the month before because otherwise you get screwed on the dismount.

I learnt that you need to throw your weight around and ask for what you want. Unfortunately I never actually applied this to my work there but I learnt that you need to do it next time around. otherwise you don’t get treated like a person.

The two most important things I learnt were; firstly, these people are not your friends. They are not. They are a big company or hotel chain or whatever your particular situation may be, they are not your friends asking you to help them out. They are not your friends asking you to play for a charity. They aren’t a charity you care about and want to volunteer your time for. They are a business and, guess what? Surprise, surprise, YOU are a business. This is the most important thing to remember. If you come off as a total butthead who has insane demands that might be a little intimidating… so maybe not a full 10/10 but a cool 7 or 8/10 when you have meetings and reassessments is important. During my time I was too busy hoping they didn’t fire me that a year and a half in I was still being paid £30 and cancelling more lucrative work because I felt I had some sort of ‘duty’ to this place I ‘Worked’.

Secondly, I learnt that it’s important to perform as if you’re getting fired that week! I spent too long being a quiet singer and trying not to be too loud and when I finally knew my time was coming to a close (I guessed, they actually were very rude and abrupt with cancelling their bookings with me, more on that later.) I started performing! Really performing and I got applause every time because I wasn’t just playing in the corner.

What I would’ve Done Differently:

This is very easy looking back and I could just say one word,

Contract

When you start a grown up job you are given a contract, you have a trial period of about 6 months and then you are either let go or given the job. Now, in the free-lance world it’s a little different because gigs don’t usually last for 22 months, but a contract for work that you are going to be doing is important if you’re going to be there. It happens with Music in Hospitals and it happens with some of my private events that I will get contracts and confirmation before the event. If you’re going to be doing a residency that’s longer than six months at an international company, get a contract! You can actually get some form of basic benefits! set dates, set hours, a definite beginning and end date, sick pay, maybe a discount to the gym! All I wanted was a discount to the gym and not to have to come in when I’ve just thrown up. Which, for the record, happened twice… I threw up in the morning or was incredibly sick, came in for my two hours and went home to throw up some more or continue being ill and had to do it all again on the Sunday. Honestly, if you’re been at a place for almost an entire year at that point you deserve to be able to not have to suffer through that. Similarly, you can actually get some advertising and acknowledgment for your work. At the Hilton they would just advertise with ‘Our resident Harpist’ as if they had 5 or 6 on rotation… nope, it was just me. and for their Mother’s Day advertising this year (after being there a year I asked them to put my name next to the advert and they did).

This brings be to my second thing I would’ve done differently, it links to them not being your friend.

THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND!

Throw it! You want to come into the restaurant and have a space specifically for you. THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND And tell them that they need to do that before you get there. You want a glass of water waiting for you every week? THROW YOUR WEIGHT! make a member of staff cry! why not?! …actually… don’t do that… that’s a little extreme. However, the one thing I would have done differently is not been afraid to make a lot of noise about what I wanted and what I needed to be able to work. I spent too long trying to be quiet and liked and hoping that people would hear me and they didn’t. Take up space! I find this is a real issue when I’m busking as well, I will be all alone in a big wide street and I will take up the smallest amount of space possible…and I play the harp… which is not a space saving instrument… They can make space for you. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you’re there every week…

The final thing I learnt was that I shouldn’t have given them priority over my other bookings. I didn’t take a lot of weddings this summer because I had already confirmed with the Hilton that I would be there every weekend in the summer as I thought I had some job security there due to the fact that they said I would be there after the refurbishments…. I was not and they didn’t give me any notice once the refurbishments were done. So I had turned down better paying work for something I had thought was more permanent.

If they are not going to give you any benefits or any real reason to give them priority over other bookings that may come your way, then don’t give them it. It’s a give and take and during my time at the Hilton I gave far more that I took.

Next time, here are my demands:

(this is a small collection of things I will be, at the very least, asking for if I get another residency)
  1. I want a Latte waiting for me every time I come in. I screwed it up only asking for water, I want a Latte and if it’s late afternoon I want a G&T.
  2. I want a Gym membership and unlimited access to the pool…. Not a discount, a full membership, I might not even use it but I will ask for one!
  3. a raise every year. This is a serious one, I didn’t ask and I didn’t get. The childhood saying ‘Want doesn’t get’ is wrong, you need to be able to say to whoever is in charge of you ‘I want a raise’.
  4. my car cleaned every month… you have a valet… one of them has a vacuum cleaner somewhere and I’m very VERY lazy and don’t wanna do it myself…
  5. SICK PAY! I want to not have to come to work when I’m sick, I get sick once a year and it’s a horrible nightmare. I don’t want to have to come to work with the flu. Very simple and basic employment right really…
  6. Advertising/Promotion. I got none of this at the Hilton, with it’s thousands of twitter followers and facebook likes, I would’ve loved a mention monthly, bi-annually…EVER!
  7. I want a chair waiting for me, even if I brought my own chair, I want one waiting for me. or at the very least a designated space.
  8. I want all the staff to know me and fear me. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single person who worked there that I didn’t email. I was at the Hilton Cardiff for 22 months (1 year, 10 months) and I don’t know anyone’s name who worked there. The Valets that I had witty banter with every week, the bar staff… the lounge manager… couldn’t tell you! So next time around I would like all the staff to know my name and be very fearful of my vengeful wrath! like a 16th century church sort of fearful! I want them to know that I could get them fired for looking at me funny…. again, this is a ridiculous request that is a joke and would never be brought to an actual business meeting. But in an ideal world I would like the staff to be a little afraid of me so they don’t walk so damn close to where I’m playing. Honestly, the Hilton was a mess, they would put me in stupid places where large parties would have to walk past and there was around two feet of room between me and the closest table, wheelchairs, pushchairs, groups of 15 people would all have to come right past me through this tiny gap because they didn’t thing of just bringing them the other way round the restaurant to make life easy… because they didn’t FEAR ME! so… it makes sense now doesn’t it!
  9. The ability to stay and/or work anywhere I wanted for free… I wish this had happened when I was working at a large multi-national hotel chain where the staff can actually do that. They can work anywhere in the world… I talked to one girl who had worked at the Birmingham Hilton…. WILD and far fetched I know! But anyway, I would’ve really enjoyed being able to do that! Take my harp and play all over the world! how fun would that have been!!!
  10. scheduled breaks. It’s really awkward when you’re playing and you stop. So the solution to this, in my mind, is to just keep playing… and I did for the first year, I played for two hours straight, like a crazy person! In my next residency I want scheduled, union mandated breaks. Like a person and not an animal in a circus.

I think I covered everything… I’m sure I’ll add things as I learn and grown as a professional. The most important thing to remember is, you are a person not a commodity. you are not a dancing monkey they throw peanuts at, you are a well trained, experienced musician who deserves more.

That’s all folks!

NEW MUSIC FRIDAY! :D

This week (by this week I mean the 11th december! I know it’s all the lie!!! nothing is real!!!! trickery!) I went to see Kiss Me kate at WNO! which was great! and I have a cole porter song book sooo that is why I’m using actual paper music! physical paper sheet music is just the worst! so impractical!

 

I’m sure there will be more harpy ones to balance out the pianoy ones!