If you watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, you’ve already heard harpist Claire Jones, who served as Royal Harpist to HRH Prince of Wales from 2007–2011 and got to perform for the legendary ceremony in 2011. (See a list of other Royal Harpists here.) The position helped launch Jones’ career as a rising star, but a diagnosis with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME) in 2013 slowed down her plans. With her new album release, Journey, Claire celebrates getting her life and harp career back on track. We asked her to tell us more about the release and what she’s been doing lately…
So, tell us about your new album release! How did you choose the music, and are some of these pieces your own arrangements?
I’ve been out of action and suffering from ME Chronic Fatigue syndrome for the past 18 months or so. Thankfully, I’m now recovered and preparing to return to the international concert platform, and release this new CD. As you might imagine, the music on it is relevant to the journey I’ve been making towards wellness. In a way, it’s the soundtrack to my recovery, a stirring collection of pieces from the world of classical music alongside famous solos for harp, well loved themes from film soundtracks and wonderful folk melodies and national airs from across the British Isles. Many of the pieces have been arranged for harp and strings by my husband, composer Chris Marshall. I hope the music on this new album will be as soothing and as uplifting for listeners as it has been for me.
Which is your favorite track on the album?
I have many favorites but I guess “Scarborough Fair” stands out. Chris has created a thrilling version of this well-loved folksong, and it’s a lot of fun to play! It’s virtuosic in places, and really shows how wonderfully harp and strings can work together.
Tell us about the new composition by your husband. Has he written for the harp before?
Chris has written several solo and chamber pieces for harp. He also arranged my last album Girl With The Golden Harp which got to No. 3 in the classical charts. It’s great for me, because together we’ve created a soundscape for the harp, and he really understands how I play and how I like to stretch myself musically and as a performer. I’m delighted that he’s been able to arrange the pieces for harp and strings on this album, and compose a brand new piece, “Bluestone/Carreg Las.” It was inspired by the Preseli Hills near my childhood home. This is where Stonehenge’s bluestones were mined many thousands of years ago. It’s a wild landscape, full of ancient magic and was very important to me as I recuperated and began to be able to take walks into the hills once more.
Can you tell us a about your experience with ME? How does this condition affect you as a harpist?
The past two years have been the most difficult of my life. Being so ill has been a frightening experience, particularly the early months as no-one could tell me what was going on with my body. I was diagnosed in 2013, however the symptoms and warning signs had been there for a good 3–4 years before then. It’s taken me 18 months to recover from the worst point of the illness, which saw me bed bound for a few months. I had extreme fatigue, severe migraines, and pains throughout my entire body. I ended up in hospital on more than one occasion and no one could give me a definitive diagnosis. After a few months my mother discovered a link to a clinic in London which specializes in ME, and they soon identified my condition as being ME/Chronic fatigue syndrome.
It was a very difficult illness to deal with on a day to day basis, emotionally and physically. As my energy levels were so low, and I was in so much pain it prevented me from walking about and there was just no way I could play the harp, which was a terrible wrench, and there were very dark times when I thought I would never play again.
You just don’t expect to get so sick in your 20s. I’d been on such a high, enjoying my role as the Royal Harpist, playing at he Royal wedding, recording solo albums, travelling the world doing concerts week after week. But, I was stuck on a crazily hectic treadmill, and would never take time to recover after journeys, and performances. I was always on to the next thing. Perhaps it was inevitable that something would have to give. In a way, I can now see my illness as a blessing. It made me realise what’s important in life, and at 28 health became a sudden priority. Without it we have nothing.
My story isn’t unique. Lots of young musicians work crazy hours and drive themselves hard. I guess I hope that anyone who recognizes a little of their own lives in reading this will take a moment to look hard and realize that our energy and wellbeing has limits, and that we must take care of ourselves as well as our careers.
Is the new recording a way to raise awareness for this condition?
Absolutely! This album is my way of raising awareness of ME Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There are some 250,000 people in the UK alone diagnosed with this condition, and about 17 million world wide. Many people I’ve spoken to know of someone who has had ME, but have been told they just have to live with it! I know that I’ve been very lucky to find and be able to afford private treatment which has successfully led to my recovery. Not everyone is so fortunate. I feel that by talking more openly about this, and the possibility of recovery, it may encourage others to seek help, as it is out there.
You’ve had quite an exciting career thus far, including serving as Royal harpist and playing for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011! Where do you see yourself going from this point forward?
It’s been a fantastic roller-coaster since I graduated, the appointment of Royal Harpist was a wonderful platform, and a springboard to my career. I have such great memories of playing privately and at state events for the Royal family and of course performing at the Royal Wedding. It also really gave me great experience of working with the world’s media who gathered to report on each and every tiny aspect of the wedding. Since leaving my role with HRH Prince of Wales, I’ve focused on my recording and performing career, which are my passions. Going forward I’ll continue to perform internationally, and this new album, Journey will be released in the UK on March 1 and then in the U.S., China, and in other international territories later this year, with all that entails in terms of concert tours, so 2015 is going to be a busy year, but I’ll make sure to plan in rest times as well.
Anything else you want to tell Harp Column readers?
Just that if you or someone you know is suffering from ME Chronic Fatigue syndrome, or you think it might be the case, I’ve teamed up with the Optimum Health Clinic in London who treated me, to compile a free fact sheet that you can download from my website www.clairejones.co.uk. Also, look out for some new “Bluestone/Carreg Las” inspired jewelry from Clogau later this year. I’ve been having fun helping to design a new collection, which includes pieces of Preseli bluestone in the design.
Oh! And I’ll be on tour across the UK this coming year and heading over to China and the U.S. this coming autumn. Dates and venues will be in the Diary section of my website so please keep checking to see if I’m somewhere nearby and please come and say hello. There’s just so much good stuff going on in my life, I’m very glad to be healthy again to enjoy them to the full.
To read more about Claire Jones visit www.clairejones.co.uk.
Journey Track List
1. Ladies In Lavender
2. La Danse des Sylphes
3. Si Hei Lwli Mabi (Go To Sleep My Baby)
4. Nocturne No.5 in Bb major H.37
5. Scarborough Fair
6. Silent Noon
7. The Planets, Op.32 II: Venus, the Bringer of Peace
8. Bluestone (Carreg Las)
9. A Farewell to St Petersburg: No. 10. The Lark
10. 10 Woodland Sketches, Op.51: No. 1 To a Wild Rose
11. Toss The Feathers
12. Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op.78: Fantasie On Themes