Harpy Magic

The older I get the more I want to recede into magic! When I say magic I specifically mean the magical world of storytelling. I’m midway through a project that started earlier on in the year with an advert on Insta for a ‘Storyteller’ required for a small community theatre in Eastbourne called Printers Playhouse, and to my delight I got the job! Four years ago when I started playing the harp I set a few dreams of possibility – to accompany myself, create my own music and use the harp for storytelling. Slowly these dreams are becoming a reality.

Though I found the early process of learning the harp challenging, my optimism overrode the sore fingers, brain and bruised ego! If only I could have inserted a sim card in my head to fast track. It was also a particularly difficult year personally as two family members were struggling with their health, so I retreated to the harp to escape, as the focus I needed stopped me worrying. My relationship with the harp became very intense and I tried not to slip into ‘if only.’ The harp became such a love affair – “where have you been all my life?” style.

Fast track to now, with this Saturday’s show I reached a new milestone – I used my harp in a children’s storytelling setting! I think as a freelancer you have to have these moments to check in and say! “Hey….you did it” and do a wee happy dance! Our story was based on an imagined ‘Planet Aviary’ where the birds had put themselves inside an aviary and locked the humans out!!!! The subject of birds gave a kaleidoscope of musical opportunities. It was wonderful to try my hand at underscoring, improvising a theme for a character, setting a song to music and accompanying everyone singing with my harp. Harps are brilliant for sound effects by using your hands in less harpy ways with nail flicks, bashes, pinches, knocks and even singing into the back of the harp! The harp has an ancient tradition of being the storyteller’s friend.

I’m overjoyed with the positive feedback from my harping storyteller ‘debut.’ It is so important for children to see harps up-close and personal. I often liken them to unicorns…..they have a mystical, fantasy kind of magical aura; they are heard of but rarely seen! It’s quite different in Scotland or Ireland where harping is deeply entrenched in the culture but down here in the South many folk don’t get to experience harp magic. After the show one audience member said to me “You may have inspired a little future harpist today.” That’s a lovely thought.

Astronaut Aurora!

Leading me back to my initial opener: the older I get the more I want to recede into magic. To be in a position to create a spark, a pause, an opportunity to open up the imagination or bring in a little magic through the world of storytelling is a beautiful thing: it fills the soul and is a wonderful privilege. My mind is bursting with ideas of how to move forward beyond this project….. and I’ll keep sneaking in the harp wherever I can!!!!!

Thank you for sharing this moment with me.

S x

The Gossamer Threads Project

‘Deepening our connections to nature and each other through creativity’

If you are interested in our work and want to catch the last 3 shows ‘Playtime at Printers.’

If you would like to learn the harp and find a teacher or hire a harp I recommend Pilgrim Harps as a great first port of call. I hired my first lever harp from them and the are super lovely and supportive.

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A Call for Action Through Song

Last Friday I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see Sam Lee and his band as part of the Charleston ‘Festival of the Garden.’ Sam was not only performing but also promoting his debut novel ‘The Nightingale, Notes on a songbird’ which I’ve been eager to get in my hands.

It was all a magical turn of events that led me to this beautiful evening. My storytelling colleague and I had booked a rehearsal for our ‘Planet Aviary’ story and she needed to get to Charleston afterwards. I offered her a lift and then when I found out why she was visiting…..well, I just had to gatecrash and somehow managed to get a ticket for a sold out event!

What a perfect ending to our ‘Aviary’ exploration.

It was my first time seeing Sam live in the flesh! I am a bit of a latecomer to his work. I first saw him perform in an online festival called ‘The Pillow Fort Folk Festival’ last year during lock-down where we were invited to hunker down in our own pillow forts at home. Like many folk I made some amazing musical discoveries during this period through the generosity of event organisers and contributors. Sam lit up our screens that evening with his wonderful stories of folk song collecting, tales of meeting gypsy song keeper legends and wooing us into ancient times with his soulful voice and the deep visceral connection he has to the songs of our past, making them part of our now.

The weather has been chaotic and wild down here on the South Coast but we were charmed on Friday night. We were all basking in the joy of being outside on a summer’s evening in a beautiful country setting surrounded by beaming faces without masks! It was an intoxicating atmosphere. The deprivation we have felt for not having experienced live music, the joy and exuberance of the performers to be ‘back,’ the peace we found to be in a magical world of riding the thermals of music and stories in a collective experience. Sam and his band were brilliant honouring the nightingale and creating a metaphorical campfire for the telling of stories and the sharing of new material unheard by the public before. We truly felt spoilt.

But….all is not well and Sam Lee enlightened us. In fact as I write this my nose is prickling as I try to hold back the tears. The climate emergency is escalating and with it he warned that we may not be hearing our avian songbird stars on our own shores in as little as 30 years. “The nightingale is the canary in the mine!” It’s already a challenge to hear a cuckoo, nightingale or turtle dove and through the smiles and joy of the evening I was hit hard by this devastating fact.

Many of us agree so much was taken for granted pre-pandemic and it seems we have been doing the same with our songbirds. Some folk are waking up to the crisis, the ones that already blaze bright for nature and tread lightly on this world, blaze even brighter with more fury as they activate and initiate practical solutions, but others are riding through life blissfully unaware or remain unconnected to the potential loss at hand. Performers such as Sam Lee are so vital for the message. Mary Poppins style – “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,”  strengthening my conviction that creativity infused with knowledge may be an opportunity to tip some thinking, shift change or offer an opportunity for deeper connection and understanding or at the very least appreciation.

In May I was blessed with a double whammy to hear both a cuckoo and a nightingale sing at the same time, which I managed to capture on my field recorder during a visit to Knepp re-wilding project. I honestly felt so lucky considering it was daytime, and the rarity of both birds, but then Knepp has been doing everything in their power for nature. The last time I heard a nightingale sing was in the middle of the night as I lay in semi-dreamland…..it  was in the mid 90s and one of those experiences that marked my soul. This recent encounter inspired a ‘Postcard’ so I’m able to share the sweet magic of these birds with you.

So what next?

I for one will be seeking out the nightingale every year from now on, and never again can I have such a drought from his song while I have the privilege to be able to hear it. I am going to pledge my continued support for Knepp, the RSPB and artists such as Sam Lee – check out The Nest Collective and his events including concerts with the nightingales!

Do you want to join me?

Sam Lee’s book is absolutely beautiful and everything I had hoped for. The perfect companion to prepare for finding and being with nightingales during their serenading season, beautiful illustrations and every obvious and less obvious connection we have to this beautiful elusive bird with his golden voice.

Thank you for reading,

S x

To purchase ‘The Nightingale, Notes on a songbird’ by Sam Lee

On Reflection

Last December I had a special birthday and I was lucky enough to just slip in a magical walk on the Downs with my daughter and close friends. As there was the rule of six it was vastly different to the imagined ‘party’ I was going to have. Looking back half a year on I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful adventure. Wild winds, winter sunshine, hot coffee and cinnamon buns, sitting on a hill looking out to sea taking a pause from the Christmas chaos.

Following is poem I wrote after a magical moment during our walk. A single feather drifted down from high above and stopped us in our tracks. Looking back there must have been a drop in the wind for it to descend with such grace. My friend ran after the feather and bestowed it to me, I took it home and memorialised it by pressing it into clay and burnishing it with gold. I then wrapped the feathers in the poem and gave each one of my birthday team a memento of the experience.

It’s been lovely to take this moment to reflect. The laughter, camaraderie, the feeling of specialness reverberates in my soul.

Gifts are all around if you are willing to receive them. Capture them, let the pleasure radiate ❤️

Sowing the Seeds of Intention

I have so much to share but I figured the best place to start is “Why The Gossamer Threads Project?” It all began at the Auckland Folk Festival after a midnight jam with some incredible NZ artists back in January 2020. I had recently been through a life changing event with my children losing their father. My son insisted I took the family camper van and I felt like I was 19 again heading off on an adventure with the whiff of diesel as I chugged north in a van I probably shouldn’t have been driving! I have always felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole but going to the festival I found my musical heart again. I was a bit out of date on the scene, so I was totally blown away at the quality and diversity that I experienced. Before I left the festival I spoke with one of the singers from the jam about my struggle to ‘fit in.’ I have this folk heart, soprano voice and cabaret career! She simply said “Be it all, don’t worry” and set me a challenge…. “We need more songs about women.” As I drove back to my son my creative brain fired up. Lyrics were flying out of my head and I had to keep recording them on my phone. I love these recordings as you can hear the van rattling and the engine humming. I made a deal with myself that I would write a collection of songs to celebrate my 50th year on this planet, so I had the deadline of my birthday in December in my head. The big difference this time was I wasn’t thinking commercially, I am firstly writing them for me with the hope that others will enjoy them or I may be able to perform them. To cut a long story short I returned to the UK in February and started the treadmill again…. then Covid struck and I lost pretty much all my work. If there was a time to really take on this project it was now. Previously song writing was something that just happened once in a blue moon. Before I took up the harp it was difficult to say the least as I don’t play guitar or piano so I was reliant on others. The harp has opened up a big beautiful world and is a perfect fit for me. One of my songs is called ‘Gossamer Threads.’ It celebrates my beautiful soul sisters I have made on my journey. To be honest I couldn’t have coped so well with the challenges before me without my New Zealand sisters. Like magic they found me, held me, fed me, encouraged me and listened. Now back in the UK I still feel their love….. those “gossamer threads weave through the sky.” Now I am moving towards a recording date and I am looking for a home to place my songs. They don’t fit under my Forget-Me-Not banner and I have let my soprano site go. Taking the song title ‘Gossamer Threads’ suddenly felt the natural choice and by going under a project title it is ongoing and so much more. This umbrella brings together all the things I have already been doing but now I am putting forward the idea this may be a new way of working not only on my own but with others. Music, visuals, collaboration, events, skill sharing….. It’s endless. Connection is at the heart. I see this page as a holding space for those magic threads to weave. Thank you for the big read. I promise my posts won’t all be this long!

Gossamer Threads