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We caught up with the Welsh harpist Claire Jones, who shared her experiences of playing for royalty, and answered your burning questions about the harp
A wedding, a new album, and playing for royalty. It's been a whirlwind year for harpist Claire Jones, but she found the time to chat to our listeners and Tim Lihoreau, shedding a bit more light on the mysterious and beautiful instrument that is the harp.
Tim Lihoreau: Morning, Claire. Thank you for joining us. First a quick question…are you a morning person? Have you charged up on strong coffee and fruit, like me
Claire Jones: Morning Tim! Well unfortunately, I'm not really a morning person but I find tea with lots of sugar helps! I normally feel charged and ready to work by about 9 am… however if I have been playing a concert the night before I tend to get up a bit later than that!
Kirsty Anne Mitchell: Is playing the harp anything like the other string instruments or is it a completely different style? I've always admired harpists but never had the opportunity to learn.
The harp is different because you have 47 strings to deal with and also 7 pedals near your feet! So the greatest challenge is to co-ordinate both your hands and feet. I was a violinist when I was younger and actually gained a place at the RCM in London so know a little about the violin. The biggest difference is that on the violin you have to find the precise note and tuning. Also many people feel enchanted by the harp, and I would thoroughly recommend that you give it go...!
Tim Lihoreau: Harp is totally different to just about every other instrument, isn't it? Quite fiendish. How does it all work?
The full size concert harp has strings, coloured in red , black and white. The red strings are called 'C', black are called 'F'. There are 7 pedals on the base of the harp (near your feet), and every pedal has 3 slots! The top slot is a sharp, middle is a natural, and bottom is a flat, so that's how I am able to play all the notes that a piano can. The pedals give me the ability to play for example - C sharp, B flats etc. (for those of you who have had a little experience with reading music)
Tim Lihoreau: Amazing. And can I ask, what harp do you play. I know it's golden, but is it like the Stradivarius of the harp world? And am I allowed to ask the 'Antiques Roadshow'...'for insurance purposes' question?
It is indeed one of the top end harps - it is called an IRIS and it is by an italian company called Salvi. It is priced at approximately £35,000!
Tim Lihoreau: It was 2007, wasn't it, when you became the harpist by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales. Did you just get a phone call from Prince Charles? And what was it like working for royalty?
Well, in 2007 I was shortlisted to audition for the role of Official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales. First I had to audition for a panel of distinguished harpists and the Prince's private secretary, and then I was put forward for a private audition with the Prince of Wales. It was pretty nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time! I had always dreamed of becoming his harpist and it was something I was very determined to do. After my private audition with HRH, Clarence House called to say that he would be delighted to have me as his next harpist.
Tim Lihoreau: Wow. What a scary process. From then on, what was a typical week like? Or, as Royal Harpist, is there no such thing?
I was initially appointed for 2 years, and I was supposed to play around 8 times a year, but it ended up that he extended my role to a total of 4 years and I played over 170 times for royalty. It was so fascinating, it was like dipping into another world really. Two or three times a month I would pop into Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, St James' Palace, all the residences, and there I would be alongside with His Royal Highness and his guests. He would often ask me to do a 15 min recital after dinner for his guests, so then I would introduce my pieces as I would do in a concert situation. It was such an honour and I will never forget those performances. I once had to play for Her Majesty...with just the two of us in the room! It was very surreal, His Royal Highness would write to me and always keep up with what was happening in my career. It was always lovely to chat to him and his wife - he still keeps in touch now...and in fact our first wedding present (we got married on 8 September) was from Their Royal Highnesses!
Tim Lihoreau: On that subject: it's been a big year for you, again, this year. The Girl with the Golden Harp came out. And there was the small matter of your wedding. Fitting in wedding plans is hard at the best of times. How was it?
It has been one of the best years of my life, and Girl with the Golden Harp was such an exciting project to work on together with the lovely team at Classic FM. My ambition has always been to take the harp to the masses. The CD was released on 3rd September and our wedding was on the 8th! We had the most amazing day - Chris, my husband, was apparently blown away by the dress - who my great friend David Emanuel designed. Our rings were also made by Clogau. We had shire horses, vintage cars and flowers everywhere so we could not have asked for more! I also ate too much wedding cake in the following week! We tried hard to co-ordinate the wedding and the CD at the same time... it was pretty crazy! I could not have done both events without my family, their support was invaluable, and we did take a few days off after the wedding to recharge which was lovely.
Tim Lihoreau: And you are the 'face of Clogau', is that right? Does that mean you are adding modelling to your CV?
It's been such a pleasure to work with Clogau who have their roots firmly planted in Wales, and I am an ambassador for them as well as the face of their Heartstrings jewellery collection. It contains some of the very rare welsh gold and are truly beautiful. Lovely for harpists or harp enthusiasts of any age.
Elaine James: Is there any music you've not yet played and would love to it?
Oh yes, definitely, there are so many pieces I would love to play in the future. There are still parts of the harp repertoire I have not yet recorded like the Rodrigo Concerto, Ravel Introduction and Allegro, but I am also very interested in new works for the harp. A secret little dream of mine is to have a piece written for me by John Williams!
Elaine James: What did you play for your audition for Prince Charles?
I had to play a few different pieces and there was also an interview. If I remember rightly I played some Handel, Faure and Mathias, and also a special little piece that I arranged for solo harp - Poem by Fibich, which Chris my husband has later arranged for solo harp and orchestra - The Duchess of Cambridge chose it as a piece to be played at the Royal Wedding, we have included it on the new album Girl With The Golden Harp.
Maaz Hasrawenergy: Hello! Music played by the harp is good for motivating me at the start of the day. All the best Ms. Jones!
Thank you so much Maaz! What is your favourite piece?! Great to hear from you!
Maaz Hasrawenergy: Danses Pour Harp Chromatique - Danse Profane [Debussy], I was listening to it last night as well!
Wonderful such an epic piece! SO well written!
Tim Lihoreau: Claire, many thanks for your time this morning. We all wish you the best for the rest of this year. (Can't wait to see your wedding photos!) Hope all goes well. Have a great day.
Thank you so much Tim, so lovely to speak to you, look forward to seeing you soon.
Don't forget, we'll be hosting another web chat with a classical artist at 9am next Wednesday, so be sure to come back and find the answers for your burning classical music questions!