Last night I played at a concert in Stonehaven, a small seaside town on the North East coast of Scotland.
The only time I’ve ever been further north than that was when I went to Skye a couple of years ago. And that was North West, so a slightly different kettle of fish.
I had hoped for a sunny day so I could enjoy the scenery as I drove up the A90. Sadly the weather forecast was somewhat different and promised fog, mist and more mist.
I arrived for the afternoon rehearsal and was welcomed by everyone I met. This being Scotland, where everyone knows each other (or so it seems), I met someone who had been at my concert on Wednesday night – in fact she was a fellow RCS student’s mum, and soon I recognised said student’s dad too. I’ve not been anywhere so warm and friendly in such a long time, I had so many offers of help and I felt very special.
Despite being dwarfed by a large musical instrument and carrying several bags, a piano stool and a music stand, I am often ignored or trodden on and doors are regularly shut in my face or worse still, on my harp. I’m never sure why this is, but it does mean that when someone so much as offers to hold a door open let alone carry something, my heart is instantly filled with gratitude. Yesterday was different.
The sun just started to come out as I went past the turning for Brechin, and I wondered if I would get to see the sea after all. I wasn’t disappointed, and after a good rehearsal, I headed to the beach to enjoy a beautiful spring/summer evening.
I’d been offered a meal with a member of the choir, but I normally prefer to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before an evening concert so I took a little wander in the hope of finding the sea. It didn’t take long at all (it’s not a very big place, and the seagulls were a fairly reliable indicator of where the sea front might be) and I found a suitable seat on a suitably bottom-shaped rock on this beautiful beach.
It was a hazy, slightly misty evening. It was warm and it was so good to feel the sun on my face after so long. The sea was blue and almost indistinguishable from the sky.
The last time I’d been at the beach was on an internet date, on the west coast. He was lovely but not really for me, and clearly I wasn’t for him either as I received the “thanks but no thanks” message a couple of days later.
I spent a lot of my summer evenings at Clacton or Frinton last year, and the sea proved to be one of the things I missed most when I moved up here.
The last time I’d been at the beach in between a rehearsal and a concert, was at Aldeburgh. I was playing at the stunning Snape Maltings, I’d just taken delivery of a brand new harp and I’d just cancelled my wedding. I did manage to enjoy my fish and chips though.
After my far too brief trip to the seaside, I headed back to the church to tune up and have a brief run through of the solos I would be playing later. The church was empty, and the sun had dropped sufficiently to get a good shot of a stained glass window I’d noticed earlier. I managed to catch it just as the sun was streaming through. I was initially drawn by the music notes, but then saw the little Scottish thistles below. I had a few moments silent contemplation by the window, and then went to my harp and sat down to play.
The concert went really well. The tenor was a fellow RCS student who I had seen performing in the opera Merry Wives of Windsor the previous weekend, the tuba soloist was fantastic, and the choir, brass and percussion sections were wonderful. It was great to hear some music I’d never heard before, and although I felt nervous, the audience were very appreciative and so I was looking forward to playing.
My first piece was Kontrapunkts (Counterpoint), by a Ukrainian composer, Hennadiy Liashenko, very unusual and very modern. I wasn’t sure how it would go down at all as it’s far from what people would expect to be played on the harp, but it proved extremely popular and I really enjoyed playing it. I think it helped that I had followed an extremely offbeat tuba piece – the audience were in a state of disbelief and so this was as good a time as any to play a piece with no time signature, barlines or key signature. The only recording I’d found was by a Russian boy on youtube. I hope to record my version very soon. It needs conviction, stage presence and drama and I hope I provided this.
My second piece, Lolita la danseuse by Marcel Tournier, is better known, at least by harpists. This was appreciated too, but Kontrapunkty was definitely the favourite, and I played the first one much better.
I also had the opportunity to play Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus with the choir and Raoni the tenor. This is rarely performed especially outside Hungary, and it has a beautiful harp interlude in the middle of the work. An extra touch of excitement was added with a couple of unexpected gunshot sound effects – a bass wire string on my harp had snapped in rather a big way.
The concert was a great success, and I loaded up to get back onto the A90 for the long drive back home.
Even at 9.30pm, this was an east coast sunset, the likes of which I hadn’t seen in months, and it reminded me of what used to be home.
I wanted to stop to savour it, but my bed was calling and I had a 2 1/2 hour journey ahead of me.
The mist had made the ground and the sky impossible to separate. Trees and houses seemed to float as I drove past.
I’ve always loved driving on my own late at night. There’s a different energy on the road then, people have different reasons for being there, but the humdrum of the daily commute is gone and I always wonder who else is out and where they are going and why.
I hope to return to Stonehaven soon, and not just because it is reportedly the birthplace of that great Scottish cultural icon, the deep-fried Mars Bar. It reminded me of the simple joy of being Beside the Seaside, and of the need to sit and pause and watch the waves every now and then. It’s a bit of a drive (and getting across Dundee seemed to take forever) but well worth it.