Thriving Semester for RNCM Harps

Digital Ambassador Jess Hughes shares with us about life in the RNCM Harp Department and looks ahead at what’s to come for the rest of the year.

If you’ve never seen the unique sight of the RNCM Harp Department trundling our harps along in convoy over the Ida Carol walkway, arrive at College at about 8.15 on a Thursday morning and you might just spot us on our way to class! Or, if we’re not putting the world to rights over coffee and cake in the refectory between our busy schedules, you’ll find us in Room 359, where all the magic happens.

RNCM harpists

This semester has so far given us countless fun performance opportunities and exciting new experiences, but the most notable happening has to be the appointment of our new Head of Harp, Dr Anne-Marie O’Farrell. After bidding a fond farewell to our previous tutor Eira Lynn Jones, we were delighted to welcome Anne-Marie to the RNCM, and have so far valued the lessons and classes we have had with her.

We were also excited to welcome first year postgraduate student Baohui Fan to the department. After spending the first semester in China and taking part with classes over Zoom, it was great to finally meet her in person!

At the RNCM, we are very lucky to receive tuition from visiting professional harpists. On Thursday 3 March, we had a fantastic masterclass on ballet music with Sue Blair, the Principal Harpist of  Glyndebourne Touring Opera and Garsington Opera. We spent the morning looking at the harp parts in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, discussing the collaboration of the orchestra and the dancers, significant moments in the ballets for the harp and how to split the parts between two harpists. Learning the ballet excerpts and performing them with Sue was a rare and brilliant opportunity and we are very grateful to have been able to work with her – thank you Sue!

RNCM harpists masterclass

In January, the harp department was invited to collaborate with the RNCM School of Composition, in which we performed solo and ensemble harp pieces by RNCM composers. We were able to work one-to-one with the composers, offer our suggestions as to how to improve the idiomacy of their pieces, and give a presentation on the dos and don’ts of composing for the harp. We had a very enjoyable afternoon and we all learnt a lot about the possibilities of writing for our instrument in this day and age.

As individuals, we each have our own commitments and therefore have our own personal highlights! My favourite moment from this semester is performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra, with soloist Yiyi Su and conductor Anu Tali. The harp cadenza in this piece is a staple excerpt requirement in orchestral auditions, so to be able to perform it to an audience as part of the orchestra was a real treat! I also enjoyed performing at St Peter’s House for The Invisible Thread Project organised by vocal student Charlotte Baker – an initiative to combat loneliness and bring people together through the power of music. It was lovely to perform some of my favourite pieces to an appreciative audience. As well as this, my colleague saxophonist Nathan Holroyd and I have been busy preparing for a Spotlight Concert on Friday 1 April for our Creative Project – a showcase of Romantic French arrangements we have written for our saxophone and harp pairing, Aaben Duo. We are looking forward to sharing all the hard work we have put in this year!

RNCM harpist Jessica Hughes performing in a church

Third-year harpist Angharad Huw has also had a busy semester so far. She recalls performing with the RNCM Wind Orchestra and playing some fun orchestral arrangements of game music with The Manchester Video Game Orchestra for the RNCM Young Explorers. She also recently spent a weekend working with the National Children’s Orchestra, leading the harp sectionals and supervising the children, which was great fun! On Monday 7 February, Angharad and I performed with our harp ensemble, Tegid Duo, at St John’s Church in Sandiway – a wonderful occasion! Our duo will make up the harp section for the RNCM Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday 19 March.

This semester has also been a busy time for first year postgraduate student Imogen Garnett. On Monday 17 January, she and flautist Naomi Robinson presented their flute and harp duo in a lunchtime concert with a programme of French music. She also recently gave a solo lunchtime recital in Buxton, and worked with the RNCM Brand New Ensemble, workshopping pieces by RNCM composers. She is looking forward to performing in Carme Ensemble’s debut concert on Friday 1 April – an orchestral concert organised by violin student Ammal Bhatia.

RNCM harpist with Session Orchestra

For the second-year harp students, this whole academic year has been a very different experience from their first year, which was almost entirely online due to the pandemic! On Friday 25 February, Holly-Alice Morton took to the stage with the RNCM Session Orchestra, and had a wonderful time collaborating with the pop students! Zoe McNamee participated in the tribute concert for the late RNCM composer Lucy Hale, and alongside Ellie Wood, played Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the RNCM repertoire orchestra.

To sum up, it has been a very productive semester, and our diaries are already filling up for the next one! As well as our end of year assessments, we are all very excited to perform as an ensemble in our Lunchtime Recital on Thursday 5 May, and during the World Harp Congress in July!

Jess Hughes
BMus Harp

15 March 2022