+ 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.

Music does something to us. To all of us. No one can really explain how or why, but there is something in sound waves that can make profound emotional connections in each one of us. It can make us happy or sad. Bring back memories of places or people. Hype us up to go to the gym (although I’m not too familiar with that sensation…!) or relax us during a spa day. However it does it, music can take any situation to another level simply by being there. Of course, this is also true of wedding days. Music enhances all aspects of such a special celebration, from some light background entertainment during dinner to partying the night away to a band or DJ. Music can be one of the hardest (and costliest!) parts of your wedding planning, deciding how best to create the perfect atmosphere and occasion with that medium that we all connect with: music.

That moment of the entrance of the bridal party at any wedding will be mesmerising, but to really make it truly magical you should choose the music that is played at this point particularly carefully. Any music will create an emotional response in all who listen to it, so not only is it important that you like it, but remember that the effect that it will have on your guests. Traditionally chosen music, such as Wagner’s Bridal March (frequently know as ‘Here Comes the Bride’) will stir a certain set of emotions or memories within your guests. Not everyone is a fan, and what you can be certain of is that at least half of those listening will be thinking about someone else’s wedding when they hear it, rather that focussing on yours! Instead, use your entrance music to create an atmosphere that is truly unique to your wedding day, to you and your partner and to connect everyone in the room with that time and place.

Depending on the theme of your wedding, you may wish to consider different types of music. For those who wish to have a more traditional piece, but aren’t sold on the idea of ‘Here Comes the Bride’, consider something gentle and elegant, such as Pachebel’s ‘Canon in D’. This piece has become a popular choice for bridal entrances due to its elegant nature, good walking pace and gradual build up as the piece goes on.

If that doesn’t create a connection in you and if you prefer more modern music then it’s really important that you think about something that will. How about the song that you have chosen for your first dance? Having an acoustic version as you walk down the aisle creates a lovely unity for the special music for your day, without having exactly the same version of the song twice. Others will choose family favourites, pieces that perhaps parents, or even grandparents had played on their wedding days, such as this love-song classic, ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’.

Some couples chose music from their favourite films, or that go along with their wedding theme. Alan Menken, for example and his colleagues at Disney have written some fabulous love songs over the years, and I regularly am asked to play pieces from Disney films (the good ones are the old ones!) as they create a connection with family and childhood memories which is always so special on your wedding day. Only recently I was given a list of a fabulous selection of Disney music, from ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ through to ‘Married Life’ from the new(ish!) movie Up! for a wedding ceremony in a Kentish Castle! For another wedding this summer that I was priviledged to play at, the bride (as a surprise to the groom) requested the theme from their favourite film The Holiday which I arranged especially for them (see her comment on my testimonials page).

If a specific film or song doesn’t spring to mind, how about something that connects you to being you. A hobby or interest; you would be surprised how you can find music that connects to a whole range of things. I have played football themes for dedicated fans, the music from the British Airways advert for one of their pilots, and even music from a Japanese computer game for an expert gamer! In all of these instances, several guests came up to me afterwards and commented on the choice of music as they understood the connection with the couple, which were made even more memorable having been performed live on a harp! Some of these I have continued to play to this day and are still in my repertoire  – click here to have a look at the current list.

Whatever you choose for your wedding ceremony, make sure that it represents you and your wedding in some way. Something that, for years to come, all of those who were honoured enough to be in attendance will hear the same piece of music and think about your magical moment.