Advice for new performers

Posted In: Performing

  • Participant
    Elizabeth Webb on #188975

    Hello all, I’m working on compiling a list of advice for harpists who have good technique but are new to playing gigs. Think straight out of music school, or even students who have been taking lessons several years but never played for a paid gig.

    Please share what you wish someone would have told you when you started doing gigs, or maybe a question you still have. Can be business related, etiquette, scheduling, equipment,… whatever you think the new gigging harpist needs to know that they likely did not get from their harp teachers.

    catherine-rogers on #188980

    Contact a working harpist in the area where you’ll be working to find out the going rate for various jobs and do not undercut that rate. Most harpists will be glad to give you that information specifically so that you won’t charge too little. Some will be very friendly and give you lots of info. To paraphrase, “Keep your friends close and your competition closer.”

    Sylvia on #188981

    Here are a few I thought of:

    Repertoire appropriate for the event and the audience.
    Appropriate clothes.
    Travel. How long to get there, set up, change clothes (if necessary), tune, etc.
    A good dolly and easily portable bench.
    Sound equipment. Is there a system available, or do you need to provide your own?
    Outdoor playing. Is there a solid surface for you and the harp (so you can
    be level, not tip over, and not sink down in)? Do they have a Plan B in
    case of bad weather?

    I started playing jobs a long time after I was out of school. Whatever it was, I did it wrong before I did it right. It’s easy to get caught up in the general discomforts and hard work involved, so over the years, I’ve learned to try to concentrate on what the harp is there for…to enhance the event by providing beautiful music.

    Gretchen Cover on #188984

    All that wonderful recital music practiced for months then played to high standards? No one wants to hear it – unless, perhaps, you play it at church or a wedding…learn pop, jazz, standards and music you can play over and over.

    Remember you are an ambassador for your instrument – people will be curious. Keep a friendly smile and have business cards on you. You don’t have to play everything perfectly. ALWAYS take a music stand light on a gig.

    balfour-knight on #188986

    I agree with all that has been covered here! In addition, BE A PERSON OF YOUR WORD–honor the gig, no matter what other, more attractive gig comes up, and be early or at least on time! Act like an angel always. You ARE an ambassador for your beautiful instrument!

    Best thoughts,

    Gretchen Cover on #188987

    One more thing: Learn ‘Stairway to Heaven’. You will be asked often if you can play this. It falls into the same category as “Don’t you wish you played the flute?” which you will also hear a lot.

    balfour-knight on #188988

    That was good, Gretchen! The first time I was ever asked to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the harp was for the funeral of an 18-year-old boy who committed suicide because he thought that no one cared about him. His poor little 75-year-old grandmother, who had raised him, came up to do the eulogy, looked out at the packed church, and said, “and he thought no one cared about him!” Everyone cried. “Stairway to Heaven” had been the boy’s favorite piece, so I played it in church, even though that particular church did not usually allow pop music to be played.

    You will be asked to play that piece. It must have something to do with the harp as a heavenly instrument!

    Good wishes to all of you,

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #188994

    Answer all your email and voice mail the same day or, at the latest, the day after. If a concert promoter has to wait to hear back from you, he or she may call someone else in the mean time. Leave for the gig in plenty of time to get lost, unload everything, tune and warm up. Find out in advance where to unload and park. Have a contract for every engagement. Only take the amount and difficulty of work that you can do well.

    Sylvia on #188995

    I’ve NEVER been asked to play Stairway to Heaven, and I’ve been out working jobs since 1982. Repertoire depends on your location, your audience…. Most people are Hispanic here, and they probably wouldn’t even know the song. I don’t know it either.

    Elizabeth’s right about getting lost, but it’s much easier these days with Google maps. You don’t have to depend on some dopey bride giving you directions from the south when you are coming in from the north, or get directions from them like… turn at 3rd stop light from the Burger King, etc.

    Also, have two phone numbers…the main contact and a backup one …in case there is any delay, like wrecks on the Interstate where traffic is backed up or re-routed.

    Another thing is to be sure the place will be open when you get there because you have to arrive early. Usually churches are, because the florist has to get in. I had one event center years ago that refused to open or let anyone in until time for the event to START. What a hassle. The next time I went there, they had wised up and let people in.

    Expect the unexpected to happen. It probably will.

    Jerusha Amado on #188999

    I’ve only been asked to play “Stairway” once in 10 years of performing background music. I didn’t happen to have it with me at the time and only knew the first few lines by heart, which normally would be better than nothing but the man who requested it became angry and walked away in a huff when he learned that he wasn’t going to have the entire song performed for him on cue. I’m not a jukebox where you can put in a quarter and get whatever song you want!

    balfour-knight on #189010

    Sylvia, I have been performing professionally since about 1962, and “Stairway to Heaven” came out in 1971. It was done by Led Zeppelin, and truthfully, it is about the only song they did that I like! You can “google it” on YouTube and listen to it, if you like. There are many versions of it on YouTube, even on harp! Sylvia Woods once told us that she thought that it was the most-requested piece for harpists, ever! Since I have always tried to make my public happy by learning their “requests,” I had to keep up with all this “stuff.” I am semi-retired now, so I don’t have to!

    Best wishes,

    Gretchen Cover on #189011

    Since I brought up ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ I feel it appropriate to ask that this topic be dropped in favor of getting back to giving gig advice to inexperienced harpists. Or start another thread on most requested gig music. Please?

    balfour-knight on #189012

    That sounds great, Gretchen. Start one on “most requested gig music,” please. Sorry we got off track!
    Best thoughts,

    Elizabeth Webb on #189015

    Thanks for all the great ideas everyone has been sharing. Please keep them coming! While it is true that everyone will have different experiences, the more advice we can come up with, the more likely we are to cover what inexperienced harpists will encounter.

    I will add to the list of ideas to create a business name and brand, complete with a bank account in that name. It will help with clients seeing you as a true business as opposed to a person who just plays harp for fun, and it will also help you separate your business expenses from personal expenses.

    balfour-knight on #189016

    Thanks, Elizabeth. My sweet wife thought of another suggestion: try to check out the venue ahead of time, as far in advance of the actual gig as you can, before you actually have to take your harp! That way you can be better prepared and can visualize the entire situation before you do the gig. This can also help to calm nerves, getting to actually be in that place without having to perform yet. It also lets you know where you have to unload the harp, how many steps/ramps you must climb, how many doors you have to roll the harp through, whether there is an elevator conveniently located, whether there will be amplification supplied, etc.

    I know that this isn’t always possible, particularly when the venue is a long way from your home. But it is well worth the time/gas if it isn’t very far to travel! Be sure to contact the place to see if it is open before you go, though!

    Thanks for not being “cross” with us for sidetracking your forum, and it has been great fun to be a part of it.

    Best regards,
    Balfour (and Carol Lynn)

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