It begins in two weeks from now
And I am getting all excited, if slightly terrified, about this whole journey thing.
‘This whole journey thing’ is my upcoming trip with a Celtic harp. The trip that I chose to name From Heath to Glen: A Musical Journey with the Harp
My itinerary. You can follow me here
Confession: I’ve been trying to write this first blog post for months now. Yes seriously, months. I don’t really know why it’s been such a struggle – but somehow blogging (or starting to blog?) has proven to be tremendously difficult. I have so many things I wish to say about this trip, and whatever I write feels like either too much or not enough. Or both. Or neither.
But hey – I’m all into challenges, and come what may – this blog post shall be written! Having written more than five blog-entry-beginnings by now, I’ll try to make this one simple, because maybe simplicity is what works best (gosh, I’m not good at keeping it simple!): in this entry, this first blog post (very first! I’ve never written a blog, not only this blog), I’ll just try to briefly tell you, my mysterious (and at the time of writing these lines yet nonexistent) readers, what this trip – and this blog – is all about. Just as if you were standing in front of me and listening. Let’s see how it goes.
So this summer I'm grabbing my harpsicle harp and going on a little adventure - a cross-UK musical journey. I will be leaving my cosy university accommodation room On July 15th and travelling with my backpack and my harp, south to north UK, mostly along the western parts of the British isle, for 28 days. The plan is to start at Plymouth in Cornwall and slowly ascend all the way up to Inverness in Scotland – from Heath to Glen – eventually descending back towards Cambridge (my home these days) through the exciting Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll be zigzagging my way between cities and the countryside, between busy streets and serene sceneries – imagining that I am a bard, a wandering and wondering harp player of old times (and hoping that I give no one a headache with my barding attempts).
Playing on the streets and drawing inspiration from landscapes
In cities and towns, I’ll be busking, that is – playing on the streets! I am doing this with the intention of both challenging myself into doing something that takes some guts (dare I play in a street full of strangers?? What will people think? How many insults a day can I take?); and exploring the fascinating medium of street performance.
In such performance the audience is what I call a ‘spontaneous audience’ – people who did not intend to go see a musical performance, but got it by surprise; who find themselves in the middle of an improvised ‘music venue’ and can choose what to do about it – stay or walk away, listen or ask the performer to stop playing.
I’ve never busked before, but having played both solo and with a now-good friend at a harp and flute duo, I often found myself playing to such spontaneous crowds. The interactions created between me as the performer and the ‘surprised’ audiences were always fascinating – people felt the need to tell ‘musical stories’ (or just stories, really) from their own life, or share with me previous experiences they’ve had of hearing or seeing harps. Some wanted to touch the harp, many had questions regarding its structure and methods of playing, and almost none remained indifferent to this curious instrument.
spontaneous audiences - once upon a time, playing on a very hot day at a very beautiful place (we were called to do that, were told we'd have to play 'only when there were people around'... people didn't stop coming for five hours!)
One thing I’m hoping to do in this blog, then, is write about the adventures that street playing brings my way, as well as some ideas and insights about performer-audience interactions as are created in such performance setting!
Between cities, I’ll be exploring landscapes – the same landscapes (in part) that have provided the inspiration for many of the traditional compositions I play on the harp. There’s something truly unique in the experience of sitting in the middle of a meadow or a forest, or on the banks of a river or a lake, and playing a musical instrument. With the harp this feeling is even stronger – it is as if this instrument was just made to travel (well wait! it is not ‘as if’ – it was indeed made for travels and travellers!). Many Celtic pieces (and in particular the Scottish ones) are named after places. True – oftentimes they commemorate battles that took place in these locations – but almost always they bear the scenic airs of the locations as well as the dramatic airs of the occasions – the tranquillity of waters, greenery of forests, breeziness of hills – these are all deeply embedded in these musical/poetic pieces.
To an extent, it feels almost rude to play the pieces without having been to some of these places. So here’s what I am going to do – I am going to go to the places that inspired the composition of some of the pieces I play, and go to other places that I hope will inspire me into writing some music of my own. I will play ‘The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond’ on… that’s right, the banks of Loch Lomond, and hopefully will document in this blog what it felt like, maybe even throw some sound samples here and there, who knows…
So how am I going to do it??
My general conceptualisation of travelling is that:
You should plan it all
And always be ready for surprises…
So I have it all planned… Dates, places, transportation, accommodation… And it looks something like this:
created with http://www.travellerspoint.com/
But plans are plans, and reality is reality, and I am ready to change my route as it wishes to be changed. Anyway, if you happen to be in one of these places in the above dates, and are interested in hosting me or just hanging out – please give me a shout!
To make sure I am on the clear legally (and not managing to breach the law by playing the harp), I am looking up the busking regulations of each of the towns or cities where I intend to busk. Most of them do not even require a busking permit, but do require some thoughtful behaviour – asking shop owners before playing near their shops, not playing in unreasonable hours or at an unreasonable volume and so on. Definitely fair enough!
Financially speaking – many people ask me whether I am going to depend on my busking for my living during that month – I am hoping that the money I make from busking will support my trip, however I am not entirely depending on this, as I want to enjoy a somewhat stress-free voyage. So I do rely on funds of my own (and not having to pay rent for this month definitely helps :) ) in addition to the moneys of the generous passers-by.
This is also the opportunity to thank St John’s College of Cambridge University – my institute, my home – for their own financial contribution to this trip in the form of a travel grant, which has been of great help to me already.
Documenting my way up the British Isle:
So now I’ve started this blog. I am hoping to write my way up to Inverness, as well as harp it. This way, this journey will be documented in text as well as music. One more bit is that of visual documentation – apart from taking photos myself – I am also going to let the audience do it! I plan to put a little sign next to me when I play asking people to send me some pictures if they’ve taken any. The idea behind it is that I get to document a musical process through both the eyes of the performer and the eyes of her listeners. I am really excited to see what comes out of it – can’t wait to see how it goes (now let’s just hope that people will indeed send me some photos)!
The most recent photo of me playing publically. Photo credit: Johannes Hjorth
So here I go. This blog post is another step on the way of bringing this crazy idea to realisation. Until now it was just me in front of a computer screen, in front of my music sheets, with my harp – but this is where it becomes not only mine, but also other people’s.
And you there, on the other side of the screen – whether you are a harpist/performing musician of any kind, a travel-blog enthusiast, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, or my mum (hi mommy!) – I invite you to follow me on my journey, make comments and send your moral support. I hope you can bear with my occasional (or numerous) grammatical mistakes, and that you may find some interest in this blog.
Shall we begin then? Ready. Steady. Click. Publish.