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Millennial musicians: the world of harp playing with Olivia Jageurs

By Isabella Gerber — May 01, 2017

Olivia Jageurs is a professional harpist based in London. After studying music as an undergraduate at Manchester University, she completed her Masters degree at the Royal Academy of Music. Since finishing her studies in 2013 she has steadily established a varied and busy freelance career that includes playing in orchestras, teaching and creating her own projects, to critical acclaim. After doing internship programmes with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Sinfonietta she has gone on to perform with orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Last year she became one of only two harpists working full time in a West End show. Also in demand for high profile events, Olivia plays each year for guests of the Royal Box at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, and is the resident harpist at The Orangery, Kensington Palace.

Last year Olivia launched a social media project called “15 second harp“. It has recently been shortlisted for a Royal Philharmonic Society award. The RPS Music Awards, presented in association with BBC Radio 3, are the highest recognition for live classical music in the UK.

In October 2016 she also launched a new monthly series of Classical Brunch concerts called “Bachn & Eggs“, in one of the last original railway arches underneath London Bridge station. The series was created to appeal to young Londoners who like to brunch and experience new music.

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We had the chance to sit down with Olivia and ask her about her new initiatives 15secondharp and Bachn&Eggs

Tell us a bit about 15secondharp?  

@15secondharp is a social media project (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) to encourage people of all ages and experience to write for the harp. People send fifteen seconds of notated music and I video record them and post them online with feedback. Last year I pledged to post all entries by 5pm the next day.

How did the idea for 15secondharp come about?

Thanks to an addiction to Instagram I realised there was nobody out there putting content up that appealed to my interest in music by living composers. I was already effectively doing the project in private as composers would often send me music asking if it worked for the harp, so I decided to open up the process on a public forum to help others learn about the harp. The interesting thing is that many composers don’t know how to compose for the harp as it’s such a different instrument compared to all others.

It was also a way of sharing my playing in a way that made me feel comfortable. The focus here is on the music itself, rather than me. Additionally, the music industry is so competitive that you’ve got to keep coming up with interesting and relevant ideas for the music community and beyond. If you can engage your peers and other musicians, that’s a great start!

For a long time I didn’t post any of my playing online as I wasn’t sure what to share and was riddled with doubts: the saying is true, musicians are their own worst critics. If you can create something that engages your peers and other musicians first you won’t feel any embarrassment putting it out there to the wider world.

What does 15secondharp mean for the music world and contemporary musicians? 

I hope it’s a useful educational tool for composers to write better for the harp. I want to keep contemporary music on people’s social media pages, as it is the easiest way for musicians and non-musicians to have some exposure to it. Harps have seven pedals and its pedal mechanism to change the pitch of the strings was only designed 200 years ago. The instrument is therefore relatively modern compared to other string instruments, which means most harpists are interested in new music. Thanks to the internet we will see more and more lessons being given online, and opportunities for people to connect through music.

How about Bachn&Eggs?

Bachn&Eggs is a series of monthly classical brunch concerts. Every second Sunday of the month, you get a chance to have your avocado toast and flat white whilst listening to top level classical musicians. The harp is a constant, however my musical partners change month on month. Some examples of brunches I’ve organized so far are: harp and marimba – a blend of classical and more contemporary music pieces; a Valentine’s Day brunch which included the oboe, harp and an actor who read romantic poetry – that one also involved some audience participation with the audience writing some of their own poetry that was spoken too!; and in April we hosted established ensemble The Hermes Experiment (soprano, double bass, clarinet and harp).

The idea initially started when I was trying to find a time that would appeal most for musicians to go to concerts – we usually work in the evenings, so when you have a night off you are reluctant to go out. I also thought it would be a good way of appealing to my non-musician friends who go to brunch on Sundays as a regular activity. It’s fun to share the experience of music and enjoy it with others.

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How would you describe the importance of social media to drive a movement like 15secondharp?

It’s completely driven by social media – it has spread all around the world thanks to it. There is a forum on Facebook called Orchestration Online (it’s for composers and orchestrators to ask questions). When I posted my pledge on there, and overnight I had 10 pieces sent to me. I’ve had pieces from Jakarta, Brazil, Venezuela, New Zealand and more.

 As the creator of 15secondharp and Bachn&Eggs as well as being a professional musician, what does your typical day look like?

The important thing for freelancers is to create a structure for yourself, because you don’t have a team or colleagues. I practice in the morning, after posting a piece for 15secondharp. In the afternoons will likely be a rehearsal or teaching future harpists, followed by a concert in the evenings. Saturday is a work day for musicians. As a musician, it’s very hard to separate work and play. Given my harp lives in my bedroom, I’ve experimented with several ways to get some distance, even adding a screen between the harp and my bed! I sometimes even take a walk around the block and buy a takeaway coffee to feel like I am re-entering an “office”. In London, I have performed in venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall, and my job involves lots of driving to venues around the U.K. As a harpist I am lucky to have event work as one of my income streams, so I am lucky to play at some beautiful venues for corporate functions and weddings. Every year I perform in the royal box at Wimbledon which is a great celeb spot! The great thing about being independent is that I don’t go to the same place every day. The down side is that you don’t have a team of colleagues, but that way you avoid office politics!

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 What are your tips for getting more involved in the creative industry?  

For freelance musicians: Focus on your strengths and promote them. Look for creative ways to channel your music and to keep your repertoire interesting. You can create things for free through social media which is a gift, so use it! Connect with other musicians to get ideas, there is a great network in London.

For people wanting to experience more music: London has a vast offering for people who want to learn and experience amazing music and musicians. Concerts really are not as expensive as people think -sign up early to get the affordable seats, or turn up on the day for resale tickets. Make sure you go to some BBC Proms at the Albert Hall this summer. Show up after work and join the Gallery or Arena queue where tickets are only £5. You can lie down in the Gallery, but you have to stand for the better sound in the Arena. Take a picnic for the queue!

For people wanting to learn an instrument: It’s never too late to start learning an instrument. I recently started teaching a retired lady who now plays in her local orchestra! Visit Musicteachers.co.uk or thetutorpages.com to find a local teacher and they can advise you on options for hiring an instrument to learn on.

Who would you say are the women who inspire you (musicians or other)?

When I was growing up it was definitely my music teachers. My harp teacher (Gabriella Dall’Olio), piano teacher (Judith Clarke) and the Director of my music college, Junior Department of Trinity College of Music in Greenwich (Marion Friend). I remember listening to my harp teacher’s stories about her week playing in so many amazing orchestras and thinking I want my life to be like that.

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How do you see the music industry and your initiatives taking shape over the next few years?

For 15secondharp, I’ve started to include other solo instruments in a “Celebrity 15 seconds” series, involving a well-known musician performing the submitted entries. For Bachn&Eggs, the dream would be for it to become a regular part of people’s weekends. It’s something that you can enjoy with your friends, children, families alike over a convivial brunch menu and listen to some fun and entertaining music. Space comes at a premium in London, and is often the reason why amateur musicians stop practicing music. Musicians can’t share a co-working space because we’re too noisy, so one dream would be to create a space where every musician in a big city can book a practice room and perform for others if they wish and it could finally feel like we have an office! This is just today’s idea though. Tomorrow I might think up another one…

 

To view Olivia Jageurs’ concert schedule and for booking enquiries visit www.olivia-harpist.com. You can explore more about 15secondharp here www.15secondharp.com and Bachn&Eggs here www.bachneggs.com. The next Bachn & Eggs Classical Brunch concert is on Sunday 14 May at the Underdog Gallery, London Bridge.

 Instagram: @15secondharp

Facebook: 15 second harp

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