Where did it all begin?

Playing the harp is a rather unusual choice of hobby for a girl from Maidstone, and so this is where my career all began…

As a small girl I was regularly sent off to sleep listening to cassette tapes (yes, I am that old!) of harp music played by my mum’s university colleague. I decided that being a harpist meant that clearly you were an angel and therefore that’s what I wanted to do! Rather sensibly, my parents said ‘No’, and instead they arranged for 4-year-old Nikki to have piano lessons as we already had a piano at home. After ten years of hard graft, I had managed to take all of my grade exams (and several on the flute as well) and they finally agreed to take me to London for a trial harp lesson.

Harpists, and therefore harp teachers, are a fairly rare breed and therefore my parents knew that this was going to be a serious commitment in terms of attending lessons regularly. What they didn’t exactly appreciate was the change in lifestyle that having a harpist in the house meant… Not only was the front room rearranged to accommodate our new instrument, but we even had to go and buy a new car to move it around in!

Once we had found a harp, a car and a teacher I begun to learn the instrument that has become my professional world. This simple little piece was one of the first things that I learned to play and I still include it in my warm-up every time I sit down, more for the memories than the technicalities!

I am incredibly lucky that my long-suffering parents gave me the opportunity to play this wonderful instrument. I know how much of a big ask it was to commit to something like this, and will be forever grateful for all of their (continued) support with my mad-cap ideas! At least this one paid off ok in the end…

Let them eat cake!

Personalising your wedding day is a hard thing to achieve without losing the elements of the day that make it a traditional English wedding.

You can have readings in your ceremony that you have chosen, you can choose a colour scheme, food that you enjoy and (of course!!) music that is personal to you. But there are some things that are more difficult to make unique to you. Cakes for many years have been white and tiered with flowers that fit with your scheme, either made from icing or fresh. Wedding cakes have been a staple part of weddings for thousands of years as a symbol of prosperity as sugar has been (historically) an expensive commodity. In Victorian times white iced cakes became the norm, which is a tradition that is still very common today.

It is, however, one element of your day that you can truly personalise. Everyone likes a nice piece of cake in the evening of a wedding, so keeping the sweet treat as a centrepiece is a lovely idea (as long as you like cakes yourselves! Cheese towers, or pork pie towers are options for those with more savoury palettes). It is possible, however, to take this idea away from it’s white origins and make it truly your own. Wedding suppliers LOVE doing something different and personal, so once you have chosen who will make your yummy tiers of goodness, get talking to them about ideas that really identify you apart from other couples. Here are some examples of cakes that I have seen recently that have really been sensational centrepieces, and are truly unique!

On the left is a painted cake for a couple heading off on safari for the honeymoon. Then a bronze and apricot example which fitted beautifully in with the colour scheme for the wedding day. The next cake, unsurprisingly, was for a couple of amateur rugby players and finally a wedding that was taking place on 4th July (can you see the link?!).

In short, don’t feel that you have to go with ‘normal’, whilst white has been the norm, don’t be afraid of making this traditional centrepiece something truly stunning and unique.

Lights… Camera… Action!

The world is a visual place now. We follow people on Instagram. We follow people of YouTube. Therefore this month I have (finally!) decided to move with the times and have set myself the task of recording some videos of me playing so that you can all see what I am all about.

Firstly, I had to decide where to film. Filming at my house in Epsom, Surrey is a bit tricky, as we constantly have the noise of traffic, trains, emergency services and life in general from living in suburbia. My parents, however have ‘retired to the country’ and have moved to the pretty market town of Petworth in Sussex. The only noise that they have to contend with is the occasional squawking pheasant, so their living room was chosen for the ‘set’.

Next was deciding what to play. Naturally I have a lot of pieces of music ‘under the fingers’ at any one time, but there are issues with recording a number of them. Firstly is copyright. Any music written in the UK is under copyright laws for at least 70 years. This means that technically if you are caught performing a piece of music that is written after about 1950, you could be sued by the composers or performers as the music is their property. There are many performers out there who risk it, but I am rather risk adverse so I have chosen to record pieces that are older than this, so that no-one tells me off! The other consideration, however, was that I needed music that people want to listen to – some classical music is technically very interesting, but not that nice to listen to, so I didn’t want to worry about that! I came up with fifteen pieces that I wanted to do and so off we went.

Went tried filming from several different angles, but I loved this one close up of my hands of Eric Satie’s ‘Gymnopodie No 1’, a piece originally written for piano. As the camera only takes a certain number of frames per second, you can really see the vibration of the strings, almost in slow motion!

It was a tiring day, with several retakes, either because I wasn’t happy, or something went wrong. We were doing well with a recording of Camille Saint-Saens’ ‘The Swan’ when my harp decided it had had enough – and shot the Swan! (Well, it sounded like it, in fact one of my main strings went bang!). I was playing the final flourish when it decided to break, scaring the living daylights out of me! Strings breaking has only ever happened to me twice before when I’ve been playing, usually it happens when I’m moving the harp, or when it’s not being played, so I certainly wasn’t prepared for it!

Over the next few months I will be sharing some more of the videos from that day, but if you can’t wait, I’ve posted a few on my YouTube channel. Enjoy and watch this space for more!

Is a timetable for our wedding really necessary?

Wedding guests come in two types: those who have been to seventeen in the last six months, or those for whom your wedding will be the first they have attended. This means two things: half of your guests will have preconceived ideas about what will happen and the other half won’t have a clue! It may be useful to prepare for this…

Every wedding has a combination of some similar events. Firstly there will be a ceremony (or ceremonies), then some time where photographs are taken and guests mingle (often termed ‘Drinks Receptions’ by suppliers and venues), some food will be served and finally the party will really get going, possibly including music and dancing (and more drinks and food might be served). The difference is that all of these things can take place in a variety of orders and for different amounts of time. But does that matter? Why do the guests need to know what is happening? As long as we have a Master of Ceremonies, won’t this be enough? Absolutely, it can be, but you may need to think about a couple of things…

None of us like not knowing things! Human nature is such that we like to be prepared for what is going on. It means that we can hang our coats up, use the facilities and find our chairs in plenty of time for any big event. This is quite helpful for you at a number of times during your day. Most couples will start their wedding day with the ceremony, and so guests are informed of the time that this will start, but after this things can get a bit blurred. Not all of your guests will be needed for all that goes on during the day, however you really want them all to be around for the group photographs and to sit for the meal. You don’t want them disappearing to the bar or out for a cigarette at this point! It may be useful therefore to have a way of communicating this to all in the way of a timetable. Some couples put up a blackboard simply outlining the timings of the key points during the day. Some print them for the guests to have a copy, possibly on the back of the Orders of Service. Other ideas I have seen are sets of vintage clocks with little signs, to show what will happen when, which I loved.

Apart from your guests, your wedding suppliers will also appreciate the clearly set out plan. Photographers, in particular, are always quite tight for time and therefore them being able to see the timetable will help them to keep to time. At venues with accommodation, for example, guests need to be clear about when they can check in, or they may miss you throw the bouquet or when you cut the cake.

Having said that, is it better to keep everything a surprise? You’ve spent months, or possibly years, preparing for the most special of days, perhaps keeping everything under wraps would be more fun for all…?