+ Nicola Veal Wedding Harpist

Behind the Scenes

One question that many of my friends regularly ask me is, “Yes, but what do you actually do?”.

The life of a musician is a slightly odd existence to many (including my better half, who doesn’t really know what I get up to, even when we are currently spending months together in lockdown during the Covid-19 crisis!!). I thought that I would take this opportunity to tell you a little more about my day-to-day life and the sorts of things that go on behind the scenes, which enables me to appear – as if by magic – on your wedding day and play you down the aisle.

Practise Makes Perfect

Yup. After all these years of playing, I still have to practise. Lots of people seem to believe that it just stays in the fingers. But ultimately, my fingers are like Wayne Rooney’s legs – they need to keep in shape (hmmmm!!) and therefore need to train every day. To be able to arrive and play for several hours, bluntly take hours of prep. I usually set aside one full working day per gig of practise time, just to make sure that my fingers are ready and raring to go. Some days I practise more, some less. Partly it depends what state my fingers are in, but it all adds up and is absolutely necessary to ensure that I’m always ready to play. And that’s without…

Arranging Music

Included in all of my fees are the ability to have music arranged by me specially for your event. This can take hours, to find some suitable sheet music, work out how I can make it work on the harp and finally learn the notes. Each new piece that you would like takes the same, time-consuming process. But it makes it special. That’s why I do it. For every new request I have (or any new Ed Sheeran song which I imagine will be a wedding hit!) I spend about a day creating a version that I’m happy with.

Telling the World I’m Here

Advertising. Every small business’ Achilles’s heel. We all hate it. But we all need to do it or we would have no customers. For me, this includes time posting on social media, creating and maintaining a website, writing advertisements for industry-related magazines and improving my search engine rankings. It also includes attending wedding fairs, which take up about two days for each fair, once I’ve got all the printed material sorted, arranged a set-list to play and got everything ready. All of this roughly works out to be an hour a day, just spent staring at my computer… one of my most hated activities!

Looking after the Babies

The Babies (Baby and Baby Baby), are the affectionate and somewhat ironic names of my two 6-foot tall concert harps. These beauties are my life. Without them, I just can’t do my job. Sadly, harps do not appear in your life as if by magic. Concert harps are some of the most expensive instruments money can buy, and coupled with their relative rarity, means that many harpists have to invest in two of the beasts, just in case something happens to one as ‘courtesy harps’ just don’t come with the insurance policy…! Each of them requires an annual service (honestly!), fully comprehensive insurance and new strings (especially when the weather becomes suddenly much hotter / colder / wetter / drier, which is errr… all the time!!) along with much tender, loving care to keep them in good shape. Imagine the time and costs associated with buying and running your family car, multiply it by two, and you’ve just about got it. This of course has to be added up and averaged out per booking, just to make sure that everything makes sense financially.

Maintaining the Transport

Okay, so it’s just a Ford Mondeo, but I still need it to get me to each and every gig. Without the Tank (I seem to have a lot of names for inanimate objects in my life), I can’t go anywhere, so making sure it’s in tip-top shape is part of the day-job. I just can’t risk it not working… and so I guard my AA membership card with my life!

Paying the Mortgage

Yes, I know, we all do that. However, to enable me to house the Babies, plus practise and teach I have to have a Music Room. Sounds grand… but really it’s just my office. This space, however is a crucial part of my life and enables me to work (as anyone who claims ‘use of home as office’ from the delightful HMRC would understand). Any house move that we make, we have to budget for me to have a downstairs space, with flat access to the front door and an off-road carparking space. Easy? Well. Let’s just say, estate agents don’t always know what a harp is…!

Talking to You!

Each and every client who I am lucky enough to receive an enquiry from, I obviously need to reply to. Sometimes that by phone, sometimes email. Sometimes it’s Facebook or Instagram. Each enquiry takes time to read, process and respond to, along with all of the follow up communication to ensure that everything is just right for your booking. And that’s if I am lucky enough to become your harpist. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out and a booking isn’t made. But it’s still time that needs to be accounted for and takes about another hour a day. If you imagine that each message that you send me takes ten minutes to read and reply, plus creating booking forms, music lists, etc, then multiple that up to the number of emails that each booking rightly needs, that’s quite a lot of time sitting at the laptop dealing with paperwork!

I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I play music at weddings, I mean, it’s not exactly a miserable existence! But it is my job. A job I love. But still a job and so it has to make financial sense. If not, I might as well do something that doesn’t take me away from every family and social event for nine months of the year. I’ve been married myself (a long time ago, and in fact would have been married for a second time had the Covid Crisis not happened!) and appreciate that sometimes it’s easy to forget that all of your suppliers are not there just to make your special day perfect. Of course, that’s what makes us tick. But the bottom line is that we are all at work. Yes, wonderful work. But it’s still what puts food on the table for all of us. Hopefully this little post will give you a little insight into some of the logistics of what working in the wedding industry means and how we all exist to make it all perfect for your special day.

+ Nicola Veal Wedding Harpist

What really is a Civil Wedding Ceremony?

I’ve attended literally hundreds of wedding ceremonies. I would love to say that I was invited – but actually I was being paid to be there! Even so, watching all these wonderful couples go through this most romantic and life changing moment has been a privilege and an honour. I can almost recite the words by heart, but do you really know what goes on at a civil wedding ceremony? Hopefully this will help a little if you don’t!

What’s it all about?

In England, Wales and Scotland couples can choose to be married, or have a civil partnership (see the government information about this here). There are differences in the ceremonies, but since the government allowed same-sex couples to have a ‘marriage’, more couples are choosing this option and this is what I will focus on here. Legally, they are very similar, but in a civil partnership ceremony couples do not take vows, instead legally committing to their relationship, rather than making additional promises. For both ceremony types the following process is followed, but you would need to check with your local registry office regarding which is more appropriate for you.

What happens first? Choosing your venue (sorry, roof)!

You’re engaged! Yippee! You’ve decided that for whatever reason a religious ceremony isn’t for you, and therefore you are going to have a civil ceremony. This will be organised and conducted by staff from your local registry office, either in the Register Office itself, or somewhere else that holds the correct licence.So the first thing to do is choose your venue.

Many hotels, golf clubs, restaurants and pubs in the UK now have a wedding licence. It is relatively easy and inexpensive for them to get and it enables their clients to legally marry on the premises, meaning that your whole day can happen in the same place. Many registration services produce a list or magazine detailing all of the venues in the district that they will travel to (be warned – some counties, such as Kent, are split into more than one district, so you might need to contact a couple of offices!). It may be easier to find your wedding venue first, as the wedding co-ordinators there will be able to tell you which registry team to contact.

In the UK, unlike those American films we all know and love, you have to get married under a licenced roof. Yes. A roof. This means that a venue will need to get a licence for each and every room that they will allow couples to get married in. It also means that if you want to get married outside, there needs to be a gazebo or similar that has been approved for use as a wedding location. If you have your heart set on a garden wedding, just make sure that your chosen venue has a licenced gazebo. Some venues cheekily publish mocked-up pictures of garden weddings, even though they don’t actually have the right licence for you to get married outside. Many venues now have multiple licences, so that there are several ‘roofs’ for you to choose from, but do check as not every room will have a licence, so you won’t have completely free choice, even with an exclusive use booking.

Once you have chosen your venue and date, you will need to apply to the Registration Service to attend. Many wedding venues will give you the form and / or apply on your behalf, but just check that this is happening – you don’t want to find that your wedding isn’t in the Register Office’s diary!

Step 2 – Giving Notice

In the olden days when everyone got married in a church, this was known as ‘Reading the Bans’. The current equivalent is ‘Giving Notice’. You make an appointment at the Register Office, when you both take all of your (hundreds!) of ID documents to prove that you are who you say you are. Often these appointments are only Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, so you may have to factor in taking a day of holiday to get this done!

Once you’ve had this all approved, your names will be displayed in the Register Office for (at least) 28 days, giving the general public the opportunity to tell the registrars if they object to the marriage. This doesn’t ever happen, but this is how some journalists find out about celebrity weddings before they take place!!

Step 3 – Deciding on your ceremony choices

Most registration services will send you a script with various options for your ceremony. These will include:

  • Whether you have traditional wording, or a more modern, simple text
  • Whether you would like to include any readings or poems to personalise your ceremony
  • Whether the bride is being given away
  • Whether you are giving and receiving any wedding rings
  • Whether you would like to kiss to seal your marriage!

Often these are a tick form, that is then sent back to the Register Office in advance. Once they have sorted out who will be conducting your ceremony, the chosen registrar will telephone you to go through what you have chosen and check that they have understood your wishes correctly. The most important thing to remember is that nothing can have any links or suggestions of anything religious (not even the title of a piece of music with no words), so just remember this when you are making your choices.

On the day – The Preparation

On the day of the wedding itself, several things have to happen, which you wouldn’t necessarily realise. The ceremony room needs to be set up, with one table (or two, depending on which Registration Service it is, as they have difference requirements) at the front. Some also ask for two chairs in front of the table, but most just ask for two behind. Also in the ceremony room should be glasses of water and boxes of tissues (provided by the venue) just in case you need them during the ceremony. If you are not having live music (and why not!!?) the sound system will also need to be set up and sound levels checked.

The two registrars will arrive between 30 minutes and an hour before your chosen ceremony time. There will be one person to lead the ceremony (known as the celebrant) and another who is actually more important, as they are the registrar who records your marriage in the marriage register and writes your certificates. They will both need to see all of the following people, so make sure that they are all on hand during this time, as it always a bit of a rush. If they can’t find these people, you run the risk of being late!

  • The couple getting married. Both of you will be interviewed separately before the ceremony, one usually in the ceremony room itself, and the other either in the Bridal Suite where you are getting ready, or in a separate interview room so that you don’t see each other. The purpose of these are for the registrars to check that they have the people that they are expecting to and will check the contact details that you gave at the Office when you Gave Notice. They will also talk you through what will happen during the ceremony.
  • The witnesses. For every marriage in the UK there needs to be two adult witnesses. They will need to have a quick chat with the registrar, as sometimes they are asked to stand at the front for part of the ceremony and will then need to be on hand to sign the register. It is usually best to warn your witnesses in advance of what is involved and give them a reserved seat on the end of a row.
  • Any person who might be ‘giving away’ one of the happy couple. This is an old tradition in the UK, which does not have to be part of your ceremony, where a member of your family ‘gives’ you away to your betrothed. You do not have to follow this custom, but if you do, the celebrant will want to have a word with whoever has got this job!
  • The readers. If you have chosen to have readings as part of your ceremony, the celebrant will want to see the readings (if they haven’t been sent through prior to the day) and chat with the readers to explain where in the ceremony their moment of fame is.
  • The photographers / videographers. There are certain parts of the ceremony that cannot be photographed and therefore the registrars will want to talk to your photographers to make them aware of this. If you have chosen a professional photographer, they will already know, but will also be used to the registrars wanting to talk to them and will make enough time.
  • The musicians (or person controlling the iPod!) such as …. me! As music will play a key part of the ceremony, including the entrance of the bridal party, during the signing and finally for the exit, the registrars will need to chat to the musicians to make sure that they know their cues.

Right, now we are FINALLY ready to start…!

THE ACTUAL CEREMONY!!

Yes, I know, that’s what you thought that you were reading about! But without all of the above, the ceremony itself isn’t possible, so I hope that you found it useful.

Between 15 and 30 minutes before the ceremony is due to start, the guests will be asked by members of the venue staff to take their seats. It is worth considering this if you are thinking about having drinks and / or entertainment beforehand, as this can get cut short. The more guests that you have, the longer the staff will allow to get everyone seated. If I am booked to play for a wedding ceremony, I always ensure that I am set up ready to play in the ceremony area for whenever the guests come through. I do tend to suggest that I don’t play before this point due to having to see the registrars, which can take some time with all of the people that they have to see! The registrars will then disappear to check the bridal (processing) party are ready, then come back, tell everyone to turn off their mobile phones and then…

Here comes the bride! The registrar will ask all of the guests to stand, which is then the cue for the entrance music to start. Once at the front, the music will stop, and the guests will be asked to sit. The legal wedding ceremony is actually incredibly short. All that legally has to happen is that you both say the following in front of the registrar and your two witnesses:

The Declatory Words
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I [name] may not be joined in matrimony to [name]
The Contracting Words
I call upon these persons here present, to witness that I [name] do take thee [name]to be my lawful wedded wife / wife-husband / husband.

That’s it. All that there is to it! Everything else, such as rings, promises to love each other, etc., is just to make it nice. All that you need to do is say the above and you’re done! Of course, many people find this too brief and impersonal, hence the addition of readings, music, additional promises and the giving of rings. But technically this is all that you have to do!

Once you have got to the end of the spoken ceremony, you and your new husband or wife will need to sign the register. This precise moment cannot be photographed in any way and therefore the registrars will suggest that you choose some music to entertain your guests whilst this is happening. After you and your witnesses have completed the paperwork, the registrars will give you a ‘mock’ register to then pose for photographs with. Due to this extra ‘stage’ this part of your ceremony can take as long as fifteen music, so do chose enough music to cover all of this. I usually suggest choosing four songs, which is often plenty.

Once all of your guests have had the opportunity to come and take your picture, the celebrant will stand you both in front of the register table and present you with your marriage certificates. Once these have been safely stowed away (or given to someone trustworthy to look after), your guests will be asked to stand and greet the happy couple. The music will start and off you go back down the aisle, having made this enormous commitment by saying a few  words and signing an old-fashioned book!

I hope that this is in some way helpful to planning your wedding day. Some registration services will provide you with a lot more information than others, and they don’t all quite follow the same process, so do check well in advance to avoid confusion.

Photograph taken by Louisa Dettmer Wedding Photography at The Orangery, Maidstone, Kent.

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Are you qualified to do that?

21st century living requires proof for everything. We want to know where our cucumbers were grown, down to the farmer who picked them. We trawl social media sites for proof that our friends did have that holiday that they say that they did. We ask for read receipts on our emails to make sure that the person who you sent it to, really has got it so there is no excuse for them not to action it. And, more than ever before, we want to know how well qualified everyone is to do their jobs.

The number of qualifications we all have to have now is incredible. Fifty years ago, 1 in 50 school leavers went to university. Now it’s 1 in 3. That means that more and more, on top of GCSEs, A-Levels and swimming badges, you have to go the extra mile to be ‘qualified’ to do something. Many of my friends have almost collected qualifications; from Masters degrees to accountancy exams, first aid certificates to cake decorating diplomas, just to show that they really can do what they say they can do. But how does this work if you are a musician?

What are music exams?

Music is one of the few art forms where there are clearly structured sets of qualifications that show how good you really are. These are known as graded examinations and go from beginner level (Grade 1, which you take after playing about 1-2 years), through to graduate level music diplomas. Not everyone who plays professionally has these,  as they are not compulsory to become very good, but if you had ‘normal’ lessons on musical instrument as a child, there is a very good chance that at some point you were forced to sit at least one of them! In recent years, the government have included them on their list of official qualifications (some government department called ‘Ofqual’…!), alongside GSCEs, BTECs, degrees, etc., which just goes to show how much work really goes into them. The have now decided the following equivalences:

  • Music grades 1, 2 and 3 are ‘Level 1’, which equates to GCSE grades D-F
  • Music grades 4 and 5 are ‘Level 2’, equivalent of A*-C at GCSE
  • Music grade 6, 7 and 8 are ‘Level 3’ which is the same as an A-Level (and actually carry UCAS points if you want to try to go to university)
  • Music Diplomas are ‘Level 6’ which equate to degree level

All of these exams require the applicant to learn several pieces of music, play a piece of music which they have never seen before (called ‘Sight Reading’), play some technical exercises (called ‘Scales’ and which put more people off taking exams than anything else!) and then you have to answer questions about some music that you have to listen to. These all have different numbers of points, but to pass requires a score of 67%, 80% gives you a ‘Merit’ and if you’re incredibly good and get 87% you get a ‘Distinction’. To prepare all of this lot takes months of lessons and daily practice (usually completed under a lot of nagging from one’s mother… well mine certainly was!).

Now that you know what it is all about, you can decide for yourself whether I am qualified enough for my job.…!

Piano Exams

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistThe first instrument that I began to learn aged 4, was the piano. I had some lovely teachers, before finally finding Mr Sams, who patiently put me through the piano grades. Under his tutelage I earned 8 qualifications, seven graded exams from Grade 2 to 8, and one advanced diploma by the time that I left school, which said far more about his teaching ability than my piano skills!!

Flute ExamsNicola Veal Wedding Harpist

After playing the piano for a while, I took up the flute, where again I rattled through some exams. As I could already read music by the time that I started, I jumped in a Grade 2, skipping Grade 7… but then taking Grade 8 twice (long story!).

Harp Exams

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistFinally we’ve got to the harp! The cost, logistics and general awkwardness of playing the harp meant that I actually started this the latest, and so I took just grades 5, 6, 7, and 8 on this instrument (sounds like a song from my youth!).

 

 

DiplomasNicola Veal Wedding Harpist

Two of my biggest achievements academically, were gaining my musical diplomas. These are given the same weight as a degree, and I have one on the piano and one on the harp, and these are the reason that I can put some extra funny letters (CertGSMD(P) and LTCL) after my name.

Odds and Ends

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistAlong the way, I’ve also managed to collect a Grade 5 Music Theory (like a written music paper… very dull!!), Grade 1 Saxophone (that I took as part of a charity fund-raiser at University – we learned new instruments and were sponsored for charity) and Grade 2 Clarinet… which I seem to have taken for fun!!

 

The normal stuff

Nicola Veal Wedding Harpist
Like a lot of other people, I do have a collection of 11 GCSEs, 3 A-Levels, 2 AS-Levels (which are a sort-of half A-Level, that only existed for a few years!), a degree in Music and a PGCE (Teaching Qualification) also in Music.

 

In short….?

That means that I have, in total…

  • 1x Grade 1 exams
  • 2x Grade 2 exams
  • 2x Grade 3 exams
  • 2x Grade 4 exams
  • 4x Grade 5 exams
  • 3x Grade 6 exams
  • 2x Grade 7 exams
  • 4x Grade 8 exams (although one doesn’t really count, as I retook one to see if I could get a better mark!)
  • 2x Performance Diplomas

Ignoring the hours and hours of time slogging through exercises and boring my poor family silly with the same pieces for months on end, in today’s money this lot cost an incredible £1,892 in exam fees alone! And that’s without the cost of lessons and instruments…

But does it matter?

In short, no. What matters is that you like the musicians that you wish to engage for your wedding or function. Listen to them play. Do you enjoy their music? If ‘yes’ is the answer, then does it matter if they have the pieces of paper to prove it? But just in case you wondered what it takes to be a professional musician (or what it takes to be the PARENT of a musician!!), now you know!

PS Thank you mum and dad… sorry that we cost you a fortune (as my sister has just as many!).

+ Nicola Veal Wedding Harpist

It’s NOT all about the music…

Whilst at University and later studying for my advanced performance certificates, no one really sat me down and told me about being a harpist. I could play the harp. I liked playing the harp. I had a harp. They seemed to be the only things that mattered when it came to deciding about what to do with my life. Over a decade later (sob!), it is interesting to look back and see what I’ve learned about being a harpist… and what I should have learned about before I embarked on this career, apart from how fast I could play my scales!

1. How to blow my own trumpet

Ego is everything. If you meekly arrive at a venue, do your thing and go home, however well you have played, no one will remember you. Without people knowing who you were, they won’t recommend you and you won’t get any work out of that venue. What it took me several years to realise, was that some of my competitors (and friends, so this is no slight on them!) had the guts to rock up to a venue, business cards in hand and start handing them out to anyone that they laid eyes on, venue managers, caterers, photographs, car park attendants, etc., and in this way create networks of wedding professionals. I still feel very uncomfortable at doing this, which is rather frustrating as I know full well that by not being as forceful I am missing out on making contacts. Whilst I know that I can play a mean Pachelbel’s Canon in D, I am actually quite shy at heart, and don’t find it easy to bowl up to a complete stranger and tell them who I am and why I’m great. I’m not sure that this will ever change, but I have been surprised how much it is all about personality, rather than necessarily how well you can play…!

2. How to be an accountant

Naturally, as any sole trader or business person needs to, I have to keep a record of my finances. I am rather lucky that all the other members of my family are accountants and therefore I have been able to have free advice and my tax returns are done over a glass of wine, but even so, a knowledge of how to keep clear records, both of income and more importantly expenses (which are often tax-deductible and therefore rather useful to keep a record of!) for each financial year is so important. What I also didn’t really process, was having to set aside money from each payment that I receive so that I can then pay my tax bill twice a year. This is very strange for anyone who has a ‘normal’ job, as your income will be yours to spend. Mine, however, has to be first cut in half, so that I can put aside enough to cover my expenses and then my tax bill. Rather disappointing really…!

3. How to be a car salesman

Yes, you read that correctly! Without my car, I wouldn’t be able to be a harpist. ‘The tank’ as it is affectionately know, gets Baby and I around to gigs across the south of England and therefore it is important that I have something that is both reliable and practical. One would therefore be surprised at how differently designed estate cars are. What you need when you are a harpist is something that has a wide, flat loading boot (or trunk, if you are reading this from the west of the Pond), with, most importantly, widely set wheel arches. This means that you can slide the harp in without having to try to lift it over the wheel arches. Yes. How boring. When car shopping, it became apparent very quickly that many of the smarter car brands have stupidly wide wheels, which means that the gap between them on the inside of the car isn’t then wide enough to get the harp into the car. I can now smoothly make conversation about the differences between the wheel arches of a range car manufacturers, perhaps I should suggest it as a feature on the new series of Top Gear…?

4. How to use social media (!)

Ok, ok, I don’t want to sound like a dinosaur, but this is a really mad one. I get work from the pictures that I post on line. Yes, that’s right, not the sound of my music, but the pictures that I post. Back in 2005, I was one of the first batch of people in the UK to use Facebook, as I was at Nottingham University when it was launched. Back then you could only sign up with an academic email address and it was a relatively ‘safe’ environment, as there were so few people using it. What a lot has changed. I am not very ‘good’ at social media, to be honest I don’t have time, all of the reading, commenting, liking, etc., and without a boring train commute every day, I don’t really have an opportunity. A good friend, however, pointed out that I was potentially missing a gap in the market by not using these things for my work. I now have an Instagram account, alongside a Facebook page, but have drawn the line at Twitter, as I really can’t see what I can say about the harp that people would want to read in 150 characters!

5. How to build a website

The world revolves through Google. Only about ten years ago, as a harpist you spent time and money producing beautiful glossy brochures. Now you pay for an ‘adaptable’ website (I now know that this is something that can be viewed on any size of screen, from Smart Phone to laptop!) that can easily be found on search engines. My first website I had built by a computer engineering friend at university and simply had a biography and pictures taken by my mum. When that then got outdated, I found a brilliant web designer to build one for me. But only a few years later, this too was out of date. This time, I decided to take matters into my own hands: I will always need an up-to-date website and if I continue to pay someone else to build it for me, it will cost me thousands of pounds with all of the changes that will inevitably happen over the next few years. A year ago, therefore, I taught myself! The website you are now looking at, I am rather proud to say, I built! Yes, I use a very helpful site called WordPress as a starting point, but I can now add videos, links, buttons, widgets (no, I didn’t know what these were either!) and all mention of formatting, so that I can keep my site current and interesting (and, more importantly, without spending a fortune!).

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My Booking Process Explained

Ok, possibly not the most entertaining of subjects, but I hope that this will help to explain how you can make sure that I can be part of your special event.

Check out my website – am I what you want?!

Firstly, have a good rummage round my website and social media accounts. I try to make sure that what I post and write is an accurate reflection of what you would experience of my services, so make sure that you like what you can see!

Make contact!

Using the contact me page, drop me a message with your email address and telephone number. I will aim to respond within 48 hours of initial contact, so if you haven’t heard from me, please do check your junk emails as sometimes my replies end up there. Do please include an approximate location and date of your event as those can really help me to check my diary to make sure that I can help.

I will give you a quote

Once we have made sure that I am available on your desired date, I will need to know how long you would like me to play for. I don’t tend to quote by the hour, but by the ‘part’ of your event (see my FAQs for more information), so that if timings change it won’t affect your booking with me. I also only take one booking per day so if timings change completely, that’s never a problem! The quote that I provide you includes all travel costs (I have standard fees for all events in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire). The only potential additional charge will be for extra music choices (see below).

You accept the quote!

Once you are happy with the quote and would like to proceed with a booking, let me know and I will pencil you into my diary. I am afraid that I cannot hold a date without receiving a signed booking form and deposit, so please don’t assume that the date is yours at this point!

I send you a booking form

To make a firm booking, I will ask you for some details (names, address, telephone numbers, address of the venue and timings of the day) and then send you a booking form. Why do I ask for all of this, rather than sending you a blank form? Well, that’s partly because I used to find it a little difficult to read some people’s handwriting (!) but more importantly so that you can check that I have interpreted everything as you were expecting.

You sign and return the form, along with the deposit

Once you are happy that I have the correct details, you need to sign the booking form that I have sent you and return it with a deposit. I ask for 50% of the agreed fee as a deposit. This is non-transferrable and non-refundable as it’s to hold a specific date in my diary, however if things do change I can always see what I can do. The deposit can be paid by bank transfer or a cheque with the booking form. Once they have arrived I send you receipt of the payment, and confirm that everything is in place.

What happens next?

At any point after your booking is confirmed, we need to start sorting out the finer details. These will include confirmed timings, location of where you would like me to set up and, of course, your choice of music. The number of pieces that I will need confirmed from you will vary according to the type of event, and you are more than welcome to leave me to make a choice of music that I know would work well, but we can see what you would like to definitely hear (or not!) and go from there. If you would like to come and have a chat with me personally about this, just let me know and we will get a date in the diary for you t pop over. At the latest, I will need all the details finalised by no later than two months before the date of the event, as this will then give me enough time to ensure that all your music choices are practised and ready to go! I also ask that you settle the remaining 50% of the fee by this point as well, just so that everything has cleared into my account before the Big Day.

The Big Day!

We are there! All the planning and panicking (well, maybe just a little!) is over and you can sit back and enjoy your event, knowing that you will be able to enjoy some relaxing harp music! By getting everything confirmed before will mean that I won’t need to bother you on the day, and you can enjoy the music. Please do come and say ‘hello’, it’s always nice to meet you!

Every event is different (which is why I have the best job in the world!) so this process may not quite fit for you, which is absolutely fine. Just let me know how things would work best for you.

+ Nicola Veal Wedding Harpist

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Harps

The concert harp is a pretty unusual instrument of choice and many people don’t know much about them. Here’s ten things that might come useful in next month’s pub quiz…

1. They have 47 strings

Yes, a mad number, but that is what it is! When the harp become a fashionable ladies’ instrument amongst the well-to-do back in the eighteenth century, different makers had different sizes of harp. Over time these have become more standardised and now they have 47 strings, so that they can play almost as many notes as a piano.

2. The strings are different colours

With so many strings it’s pretty hard to work out which is which, so we have coloured coded them! In music, we use letters to name the notes from A to G (and then they repeat all they way from the bottom to the top). On the harp, the Cs are red and the Fs are black (or sometimes blue) so that we can quickly work out what to play!

3. The strings are made out of animal guts!

Well, not all of them, but the majority of the harp strings are made of animal gut. Even though there are synthetic alternatives nowadays, they still don’t compare for consistent tension and depth of sound as animal gut and so we are still using this traditional material. The bass (lowest and therefore longest strings) are made of steel wires wrapped in cotton and then more steel, and some harpists choose to put synthetic strings at the top of their harps on the tiniest strings, but still the majority are a little gruesomely made out of gut!

4. They have 7 pedals

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistTo allow the harpists to play lots of different music, harps have seven pedals, one for each musical letter. Each pedal has three positions (flat, natural and sharp). When a player needs a different note (accidental) they move the pedal, which they sets a mad system of mechanics in play that shortens or lengthens the strings using pins at the top of the strings. Once I had mastered this lot, it made learning to drive a piece of cake!

5. Harps are hollow

Whilst they look like heavy monsters (and they are pretty heavy!) the big bit that goes in between the harpist’s legs (where the strings go into the middle) is in fact a huge soundbox, and therefore it is hollow. This means that a concert harp is between 35-40kg (just under 6 stone!), rather than being any heavier…!

6. Harps have to be tuned every time that they are moved

… and sometimes even more often than that! Due to the delicate nature of gut strings, they are easily affected by temperature, humidity, and generally easily knocked. This means that every time that they are moved, they need to be retuned.

7. Harpists have 8 fingersNicola Veal Wedding Harpist

Due to the way that you hold your hands when you play, a harpist cannot get your little fingers on. This means that we only play with four fingers on each hand, not all ten like a pianist would.

8. Harp music looks like piano music

As harpists use two hands with multiple fingers, our music looks like piano music, so that one hand plays one line of music whilst the other hand plays from the other. The only different being that we can’t play as many notes at the same time, but at first glance, it looks identical.

9. It is on the Queen’s flag (and a certain beer bottle…!)

The harp has been the political symbol of Ireland for many centuries. As a result, it is portrayed on the Royal Standard of Great Britain, as the quarter that represents Northern Ireland. Since 1862 it has also been used as the symbol for Guinness Stout, and still appears on their bottle labels.

10. Harping on…

The term ‘harp on’ means to ‘go on and on’. I imagine that those who know me might think this appropriate, so until next time…! x

 

 

 

Happy Christmas!

Well, what a year! It’s been full of lots of wonderful weddings and functions. Thank you to those of you who have started followed my little Blog, I hope that it has given you a little insight into the world of being a professional musician, or helped you to have some ideas for your weddings or events.

Back in September, on a warm Thursday afternoon, I lit a fire and put on a Christmas jumper and filmed a few Christmassy numbers. I must admit, I didn’t feel at all festive at the time, however they seem a little more appropriate now that we are here in the midst of the annual madness! Here’s a little sample…

I hope that you enjoyed that and that you all have a wonderful Christmas. Keep in touch and I look forward to continuing to update you all about my world in 2018!

Love and best wishes,

Nicola xxx

How do I know you are who you say you are? A guide to choosing your suppliers…

When you are arranging your wedding or function, there are so many decisions to make, and your suppliers are some of your most important. There are literally thousands out there, from florists to photobooths, hairdressers to harpists, so how do you choose a good one and how can you guarantee that they are the right supplier for you.

1. Have you experienced it yourself?

The best thing to do is to check it out yourself. Wedding fairs or Venue Open Days are a great way to get ideas about the sorts of things that you could have at your wedding or function. Not only do they give you ideas, but you can talk to the supplier and sample their services (watch them do a magic trick, eat some of their cake, or listen to their music!). It’s not a very personal way to meet your suppliers, however it is a good starting point. Once you have chosen the sorts of things that you would like to include, consider asking if you could meet them in person to discuss your exact requirements. I am always more than happy for clients to visit me at home so that we can have an uninterrupted conversation about their event, whilst also giving them the opportunity to listen to some music in blissful isolation from other people! Do be careful – some suppliers will try to charge for any appointments, but make sure that you don’t agree to anything that you don’t think is reasonable. It is very useful for them to meet you in person too, as you can never get all of the information correct through email, so don’t be afraid of questioning their pricing methods!

If you can’t get to meet them (for example, if you live abroad) try to speak to them on the phone, or perhaps see if there are video examples of their work. This is more challenging with things such as cakes, as a photograph could be provided by anyone and there is no guarantee of whether it tastes any good. Many forms of entertainment, however, have video links so that you can see them in action on sites such as YouTube. It’s fairly tricky to fake a video of you performing a magic trick, or playing a musical instrument, so this is an excellent check if you can’t meet someone in person. If your supplier doesn’t seem to have anything available, don’t be afraid to ask as sometimes they would prefer to email examples, rather than have things publically available.

2. Do you know someone else who has used them?

The best way of ensuring that you have a good quality supplier is ultimately through a recommendation of someone that you trust. This is easier with some suppliers that with others. For example, you may be happy to use the same wedding cake maker as your friend as you enjoyed their cake, but know that you can have it decorated in a different way so that it doesn’t look the same. Your photographer, similarly, need to be someone that you know that you could work with and get on with, and therefore one that you have seen work is a good start, as well as being able to ask your friends to see their work. Entertainment, however is more difficult as you are likely to not want to have anything at your function that a friend or family member has already had. This means that you need to do some investigating yourself…

3. Can you find some reviews or recommendations from trusted sources?

Firstly, contact your chosen venue. All reputable function venues have listed of recommended suppliers, where they have built up relationships over the years and know that the quality that they will provide will be in keeping with the venue itself. Just a word of warning: check how often your venue updates their lists! The venues that I work with most closely update their supplier directories every year, to make sure that everything is kept fresh (and it keeps us suppliers on our toes too, which is no bad thing!).

Once you have chosen some people to investigate, most suppliers will have testimonials on their websites. It is, however, very difficult to verify these as ultimately they have been typed by the supplier! (Mine are completely legitimate, by the way!). A more accurate review system is to check out wedding planning websites, such as Hitched. Whilst these provide suppliers a platform to advertise, they also have opportunities for clients to provide reviews. Reviews can only be posted by having an account with the website, or by signing in using Facebook, which means that it is very easy to see whether they appear genuine or not.

Another, fairly recent, addition to the world of reviews is Google Business. Businesses can now be listed on Google (assuming that they meet Google’s requirements and security checks) and then members of the public can rate and review their services. This, of course, applies to many types of businesses, but legitimate wedding suppliers should be registered as a business with Google, so that you can see what their reviews are.

4. How can you confirm that they are a trusted professional?

Sometimes it is appropriate for suppliers to have qualifications or memberships to professional organisations. Don’t be afraid to ask if your supplier has any of these. Those of us who have completed rigorous training in our areas of expertise would be more than happy to explain what we have achieved and at which level. There are suppliers out there who have happily turned professional from starting out with a hobby. This does not mean that they are in any way less proficient, however you need to make sure that they are as good as they might appear and that they have completed any relevant training that their industry might require. If they haven’t, you may like to ask yourselves why they haven’t. Some professionals will have a degree in their chosen area. Or you would, for example, expect a magician to be a member of the Magic Circle, or a musician to have a range of exam certificates, to show that they can perform at a good level (with an exam board such as ABRSM or Trinity Laban).

You also need to check that they have any relevant insurances or certificates to perform at your venue. Any supplier that you use should have Public Liability insurance, and anyone using electrical equipment should have certificates of safety. Don’t be afraid to ask to see these, or for copies (many venues ask for them anyway, so you may well need to pass them on).

5. Have you checked them out on social media?

I’m not very tech savvy. Not at all, in fact. However what I can tell you is that social media can actually be incredibly useful when trying to find out about a person or organisation!

There are sites such as Facebook where suppliers post what they are up to, which can give you an insight into what they really get up to. Are they posting regularly? Do they always go to the same places? Do they have any comments from other people? Do they have lots of ‘Likes’ (people who have actively chosen to keep an eye on what they get up to)? All of these things can give you an idea about how active your supplier is and whether people like to stay in touch. Also look at what they like to share, or copy from other parts of the internet. Is it relevant to their profession? What does this say about them?

Another good one is Instagram. This is a site where people can post pictures of what they are getting up to. Yes, quite a lot of people seem to post pictures of babies or what they are having for dinner, but it can give you a good idea about how active (and how professional) your suppliers are. As with Facebook, are they posting regularly? Are other people commenting? Do they have a lot of followers? Are their posts entirely professional or do they seem to be mixing in their home life and their professional life onto their one account? What does that tell you about them? How do you feel about that? I personally keep my personal and professional ‘faces’ very separate – I don’t even follow my own pages! I find this useful on two levels, as firstly I think that it appears far more professional, and secondly I don’t have to worry about what my friends say on my accounts! However, you may feel that you would prefer suppliers who have a more relaxed attitude, but either way, their online status can tell you quite a lot about the person that you are considering employing…!

6. Do they fit into your budget?

Sadly, you have to be realistic. We would all love to have Elton John perform at our function (well, perhaps not everyone…!) but the cost to have him there would be out of 99% of people’s budgets. Once you have found some suppliers that you like the look of and are sure would provide you a professional service, contact them for more details. Make sure that you give them as much information as possible, such as dates and locations, along with timings (if applicable). Suppliers usually have a fairly wide area in which they operate, but it is still possible that you might be contacting someone who lives at the other end of the country, so make sure that they have as much information as possible so that they can come back to you straight away with ideas of cost. Suppliers come in varieties of shapes and sizes, with different experience levels and therefore different prices. To a certain extent, you do pay for what you get, but do be careful as there are some naughty suppliers trying to overcharge when they first enter the industry to make them appear more experienced than perhaps they are. As long as you have done some background checks, however, this should be fairly clear so you know what to expect.

7. Do you like them?!

Not only are you going to be imparting some of your well-earned cash to this individual or business, but they are going to be part of a very special occasion. Therefore it is so incredibly important that you actually like them! It may sound silly, but so often I hear of people who have gone with a supplier because they thought that they were the only one, or because that was who they were recommended by someone, or because they didn’t think that there were any others. Don’t be forced into using anyone who you don’t want to. Listen to their voicemail message (slightly creepy, but it is amazing what you get a feel for from it!). See how detailed and informative their emails are. Do you feel like they have copied a standard response or have they written a specific reply? Some of these things are more important to some people than others, but in such a competitive industry, you can afford to be fussy of your function and wedding suppliers – there’s always an alternative, so don’t accept anything except the best.

Here comes the… music to make your bridal entrance magical

The most magical moment of any wedding day is right at the beginning, when a bride or groom walks down the aisle on the arm of their attendant and meets the eyes of the person who is about to become their partner for the rest of their life. You spend hours (and a lot of money!) choosing your outfit, practising your hairdo and deciding who will walk with you, so here are some things to think about to make it even more special. Continue reading “Here comes the… music to make your bridal entrance magical”

To theme, or not to theme, that is the question…

photo 5

Can you see me?

In traditional Western weddings, the Wedding Breakfast (a formal sit-down meal) is one of the main features. To attempt to cater for a wide range of tastes, likes or dislikes (not to mention dietary requirements) of the 80 or so guests, many wedding venues have tried to make these as easy to manage as possible, which can result in some fairly similar outcomes! One way of making your wedding different to other people’s is to try and make this more personal. The menu may be limited by different factors, however how you dress the Dining Room and tables for your guests can create a real sense of occasion.

The Wedding Breakfast has its origins in late Georgian times, when the wedding ceremony always included a Holy Communion. This would have required the bride and groom to have fasted (not eaten) since the night before so that they were deemed eligible to receive the Holy Sacrament. As part of the Communion the priest would have blessed and distributed a selection of wine and bread or cakes, therefore meaning that the bride and groom would ‘Break Fast’. This over time developed into a meal at lunchtime, after the morning marriage service, and now we still use the same term to describe the large, formal meal that takes place (usually about 4.30pm!) during an English wedding celebration.

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistOften dining rooms are set with round tables for 8-10 guests, each with a series of place settings, name cards and copious quantities of glassware. In the middle of each table is a wide expanse of nothing-ness which you can use to your own means to create a centrepiece for your guests to admire. Often florists jump in and create some stunning works of floral art for your guests to admire, surround with candles or similar. These can create beautiful coordination as they will match the flowers that the bridal party carry, and other decorations around the venue. The will also follow your colour scheme of your stationery and bridesmaid dresses, both creating and completing the ‘look’ of your day. Flowers are romantic and versatile as they can be moved around during the day, so these make a fabulous focal point. Don’t be afraid of adding to them, or around them, however with items of your own to create something more personal.

Table names are a great way of putting your mark on things. Catering teams will need some form of name or number for your tables so that they can make sure that the correct guests receive the right food. Numbers, however, can be a little problematic. Being seated on table 2, for example, can give your guests a sense of importance, but being placed on table 14, may not result in the same reaction! To combat this, table names are an easy alternative, as no one can guess which is more important that the other! I have seen many different themes; many people go with places that are important to them, or films that they have seen together, but here are a couple more that I have seen recently that I have quite liked!

On the left was a wedding reception themed with the couples’ favourite books. The top table (of course!) was Beatrix Potter’s ‘Peter Rabbit’, and other table included ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Each table had a beautiful, hard-backed edition of the book in question, presumably so the guests could read aloud to each other in between courses! A good party theme was different types of sparkling wine. Each table had an (empty!) bottle wit the name held into the cork and then every guests’ name card was itself mounted onto a champagne cork. A lovely keepsake, and a suitable theme for a wedding celebration!

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistIf, however, you would prefer the more traditional table numbers, try to think of way that you can still add in something personal to them. I saw this at a wedding this summer, which I thought was priceless: each table number had two photographs, one of the bride and one of the groom, but both as babies or toddlers. (This was also a great way of getting in ‘those’ embarrassing photographs, without the need for long PowerPoint presentations as part of the speeches…!)

Whatever you choose to do for your wedding, remember one thing: your day is unique because it is yours. Your friends and relatives know you, so no matter whether you have booked a Castle or a Cabin to celebrate in, by creating a theme and personalising the things that you can, you will make the day truly unique just by being there. But try to make it different, and a day that everyone will always remember.

 

Dum Dum Di Daaaaaa!

Wedding Ceremonies in Western Culture have for the best part of a century frequently featured the same two pieces of music, but why?

No-one ever doubts what is about to happen when the opening bars of Wagner’s ‘Wedding March’ from Lohengrin is played; the bride is about to make her entrance into the most important day of her life. The piece is originally from an opera by Wagner written in 1850 and is sung when the women of the bridal party accompany the heroine Elsa to her bridal chamber.

Our most popular wedding recessional (when the bride and groom leave the ceremony) is the Wedding March by Mendelssohn. Felix Mendelssohn, another German composer, like Wagner, wrote a suite of music to be played for a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and this Wedding March is one of the pieces.

Both of these pieces became popular as wedding standards after they were used at the wedding of Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria) to Prince Frederick of Prussia in 1858. The ‘Kate and Will’ of the day, once this royal pair had used this music, everyone wanted to copy and it became the wedding standard processional and recessional that we know and love.

Whilst these two pieces of music keep being requested (and for good reason) don’t forget that your music for your wedding need not be traditional if you would prefer it not to be. Make it as personal as you like – but there is a reason why everyone likes to hear ‘Dum, Dum di Daaaa!’.

“I’m just a little black raincloud…”

We live in a temperate climate here in the UK, and that means one, important thing – it rains. A lot.

We can never really predict the weather in this country, and this summer seems to have been worse than most. We have had cloudy days and many days with a sprinkling of rain. If you are currently planning your Special Day for next year, please remember these days! Sadly, it is absolutely no reflection on either you or your wedding if it rains on your Big Day – it is just down to luck. As we can’t predict the future, the easiest and safest plan is for your wedding to be weather-proof.

Having played at well over a hundred wedding venues over the years, at more than 500 weddings, it really is the venue that makes or breaks a wet wedding day. Some venues are well set up so that if you and your guests can’t be outside in the sunshine, there are pleasant spaces as alternatives inside. This is really important. We have all been to weddings where the heavens have opened and the guests are crammed into a bar in a basement with not enough room to swing a cat, let alone a canapé. Whilst I would NEVER suggest that you plan your wedding for the sole benefit of your guests, make sure that all of the rooms can fit all of your guests in, if the need arises.

Outside wedding ceremonies in beautiful gardens are increasingly popular, with many venues building stunning gazebos for the ‘I Do’ moments. Do be aware, however, that these are far less pleasant sitting on a soggy chair under an umbrella. Many registrars simply will not conduct ceremonies outside in the rain as they have to be incredibly careful about the registers themselves getting wet. This means that if you would like to have a ceremony outside, you absolutely must have a wet weather plan. Sadly, I have played for wedding who don’t and then 30 minutes before the ceremony is due to start, it’s all hands on deck to move tables, flower arrangements and chairs to create a ceremony space inside. This never makes for a calm start to your day, so  make sure that there is an alternative inside. With so many wedding venues now available, make sure that you look around and think about what might happen if the weather does decide to have an off-day!

Two stunning weddings from this month, one at the Westerham Golf Club, Kent (left) and the other at Rivervale Barn, Hampshire, both on days that completely poured down with rain. The set-up, however in both venues was simply stunning and whilst I am sure that it would have been lovely to be outside, it didn’t detract from the special day for either Bride and Groom, or guests.