Behind the Scenes at "The Pheasant's Eye"!
Our first performance of our new Arts Council England funded project, "The Pheasant's Eye" was at Newcastle University. The University has a fantastic music department, and a really well-established Thursday lunchtime concert series in the Kings Hall, a large and beautiful venue with the perfect acoustic for Early Music. We were delighted with the performance; the hall was full, and the audience was very enthusiastic indeed. Most importantly, there was a beautiful wooden floor for our dancer, Kathleen, and so everything was absolutely perfect for our collaboration!
Of course, there have been months of preparation for the tour, and for this concert in particular. Managing all the logistics of a concert tour is not a task for the faint-hearted! From start to finish, there are seemingly endless tasks. First, designing the project and getting all the musicians on board; researching the repertoire; creating a convincing concert programme (tricky!); contacting promoters and persuading them to express interest (sometimes even more tricky!); then applying for funding (which included a crowdfunding campaign on this occasion). Only then might one actually get round to rehearsing with music and players!
When our Arts Council funding came through, the real hard graft started! Now it was time to contact our promoters, finalise dates, formats, ensuring that all 5 performers were free for each concert. Then printing parts, organising initial rehearsals, booking a dance studio (a bit unusual for us!), and figuring out how our planned programme was *really* going to work. This was the fun bit - it was absolutely thrilling to be able to work with Kathleen, and to see our music come to life through her choreography. Then comes logistics. Each concert has its own requirements, and despite this being a tour of the one project, it is really important to make sure that we work closely with each promoter, and tailor our performance to their needs. Some concerts are lunchtime concerts, some evening performances with two halves, and some of course will include Highland dance workshops with Kathleen! Then we have travel... No-one really thinks, when attending a concert, "How did the musicians get there?" "Did they come by train, by car, by tube, from another country?" "Did they travel on some terrible overnight coach, trying to sleep upright on the world's most uncomfortable seat whose only saving grace was that it cost £5?" And of course, quite honestly, we're glad, because such thoughts could be a sign of boredom during a concert, and might rather take away from the magic of our performances! But in fact all these questions are incredibly important, not only from a practical point of view, but also an psychological one. It is very difficult to perform well as a musician if you are physically tired. Arriving the day before at a distant concert venue is ideal, and preferably having some 'down time' before rushing to rehearsal.
Fortunately, I relish the challenge of booking complicated train journeys, and getting tickets for the cheapest possible price (that's the Scot in me, ever counting the pennies) - and so our train tickets were booked far in advance. Most of us arrived in Newcastle at a reasonable hour, the day before the concert. We were staying with some of my parents' old friends, who gave us the warmest possible welcome, not to mention a lovely home-cooked dinner (including apple crumble!). Tom and I drove up with the harpsichord in the car - which was rather more exhausting. This was the longest journey we had ever driven, and we became pretty familiar with the service stations on the M1... We recommend Moto service stations, as they have the excellent 'Arlo's' pantry, serving the most delicious curry for £5.99. We arrived, however, just as the train party were pulling in to Newcastle - and were treated to a much needed cup of tea and biscuits by our lovely hosts.
Bringing your own harpsichord to concerts has many benefits. Tom, our harpsichordist, will be able to play to his best; we all know its sound quality, and are used to the way it 'feels' in the ensemble. Yet there is the inevitable tuning conundrum. Tom is super-fast at tuning these days, but ideally a harpsichord needs to be in a venue around 24 hours before the performance to get used to the temperature and humidity in the room - otherwise, no matter how well-tuned, it will slip during the performance. So we went to drop the harpsichord off at the Kings Hall as soon as we arrived on the previous day, and left it sitting happily next to the brilliant new Aubertin organ. It was love at first sight. It was warmer in the hall than at home, so we were glad to have done this - by the morning, it was very flat, and Tom had to tune it twice before the concert!
On the day itself, we rehearsed for a couple of hours in the venue, actually enjoying ourselves! We had great support from the Arts department at the University; a lovely green room, and excellent recommendations for lunch at the university cafe. I used not to eat before performances (too nervous), but now I force myself - it makes a lot of difference to energy levels during a long programme. So, it was a baked potato (beans and cheese if you're interested), and a take-away tuna and mayo for Tom (still tuning!), and then suddenly, we were on! I had put out the mailing list and our Demo CDs outside the venue (many of which I had burnt in the 6 hour car journey the previous day!) - never forget the marketing! Being a musician in the 21st century is definitely at least 50% marketing, and social media promotion.
And then, all over. Chatting to the lovely audience members afterwards, selling out of the CDs, then getting on the road back to London. Dear readers, we arrived home at midnight, and I had to teach the following morning in Hampstead at 9am. Welcome to the life of a musician!