Grace Notes: Experiencing the Whirlwind of a Wedding Fair

On Sunday February 8th, I attended a Wedding Fair at the beautiful Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire with Horizon String Quartet. We had a stall there and were hoping to make some new contacts. I’d never been to a Wedding Fair before, so I had no idea what to expect.


Horizon String Quartet

Our day started early, meeting at North Greenwich at 7am! We were more than a tad groggy! After travelling across London to Watford and getting a taxi to the hotel we could finally relax and set up. We had a great spot in the Foyer of the hotel which meant we were one of the first things people saw so we grabbed their attention.

We set up so that we were sat in normal quartet formation, with a table alongside us. We had a laptop with our website on it so people could have a look, flyers, business cards, prices, repertoire and a bowl of sweets (these went down particularly well….). I think when we do our next fair, we’ll not have the laptop as it didn’t seem to attract that much attention and took up a fair amount of space.

Having never attended one of these before we weren’t sure whether playing or talking was the best approach. On the one hand, if people could hear us playing, they’d hopefully be impressed and hire us, but because we were playing it meant that we couldn’t answer any questions. On the other however, if we did more talking than playing, we wouldn’t jump out to the visitors as much and so might not attract as many potential customers. After an hour or so, we came to the conclusion that playing short pieces was the best option as we could talk from our seats in between pieces.

I wasn’t prepared for the sheer numbers of people either. They all seemed to come in waves too. One minute we’d be sat or stood around twiddling our thumbs, and then the next all four of us would be talking to someone, describing the ensemble.

We have a fantastic arrangement of ‘Let It Go’ by our first violinist and this proved particularly popular with children. It was requested many many times! Using our list of repertoire, people could request pieces they’d like to hear and this gave us a really good idea of what the public like. Often players like different things to non-musicians. For example, Pachelbel’s Canon was requested a large number of times, but as a string player it doesn’t rank high on my list of favourite tunes! It was a good bit of market research though, so now we know next time which tunes to concentrate on. We also found that although at weddings light classical music is often preferred, the pop arrangements of artists like Coldplay and Clean Bandit caught people’s attention and made them stop at our stand.


One of the function rooms at The Grove (I do not own this image)

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in this Wedding Fair at The Grove. Everyone was really nice, and aside from the early start, it was all pretty relaxed and fun. I’m looking forward to our next one on March 8th at the Marriot in Regents Park. Would be great to see you if you’re in the area!

On a side note, this week is the start of the annual fortnight of CoLab at Trinity Laban. There is so much going on at both the Laban and Trinity buildings over the next couple of weeks including a pub crawl on Thursday (featuring my project the Ceilidh Band) and a showcase of projects on the Friday night of this week at Laban. If you are in the area and at a loss of what to do, check out the Trinity Laban website to see what events are going on! I can promise that it’ll be something completely different to anything you’ve ever seen before!


Grace Notes: Photography tour of Cardiff

During the Christmas holidays I met up with one of my friends, Gez Charles, who is a school music teacher and photographer. She had kindly agreed to take some pictures of me with my violin, in and around Cardiff and although our first date got rained off, on December 30th we manage to get a beautifully sunny (yet freezing) day.

I wanted to have some high quality photos of myself for promotional use and as headshots for various things, including this blog! I like slightly more natural photos, not taken in a studio, and as Cardiff is so beautiful and has lots of interesting landscapes, we thought we should make the most of living in such a wonderful city.


One of the shots from Cardiff Bay

We started the day off in the bay, using areas around the Wales Millenium Centre and the docks before moving on. Later we took a few in Roath Park on a beautiful bridge. From the photos it looks like a warm summer day, but I can assure you it wasn’t! Gez was behind the camera well wrapped up the whole time and I was very jealous! Our final location for the day was in the wooded area around Castell Coch which was lovely, aside from having to dodge cars as they came along the road every now and then! I got some slightly strange looks standing there in my concert dress!


The beautiful ‘summer’ day in Roath Park

I have made a new page on my blog called ‘Gallery’ where you can see these photos. I love them and I’m so pleased that Gez agreed to take them for me. Here is a link to her website where you can check out some of her other photographs too.

I hope you like the new gallery page. I’m looking forward to seeing you all next week where I’ll be talking about some filming my quartet did last Sunday.

Grace Notes: Concert dress dilemma!

Getting the correct attire for a concert can be tricky, especially if you’ve never had to do the ‘all black’ orchestra dress before. From a very young age my county orchestras all instigated very strict concert dress rules, so I think I have a fairly good idea of how to dress appropriately. Here are a list of points that might help you if you have an upcoming gig and are having trouble with finding something to wear. (This is only really applicable to girls as I’ve not had much experience wearing a tux…)


The National Youth Orchestra of Wales in concert. Floor length black is required and we all look very smart!

  • DON’T wear a skirt that’s too short when in an orchestra. Try to keep it below the knee, and if any leg is showing, then wear black tights. It makes the ensemble look messy otherwise.
  • DON’T show any midriff or back if the dress is all black. It looks more like you’re going to a party and again, you won’t blend in with everyone else.
  • If the dress code is ‘long black’ then trousers should be fine (always check as some people get funny about this), just make sure they are smart ones and not jeans or leggings.
  • If ladies can wear coloured dresses then DO make an effort to show yourself off. In this case, (again, so long as it’s floor length) it’s more acceptable to show a discreet bit of flesh (shoulders, back etc) to make yourself look more ‘glam’.
  • DO make an effort. If you feel good in yourself, you’re likely to be more comfortable and so play better.
  • If it’s a quartet or small ensemble gig, then shorter dresses or skirts are acceptable, although (especially in the winter) I’d personally still wear tights! I constantly have pale skin, so at a gig I’d rather people were focussed on the playing, rather than my luminous white legs.
  • Heels or no heels? If you can walk in them, then go for it, your calves will look great! If however, like me, you have trouble walking in flat shoes I’d give it a miss. Tripping up on stage is never good (and yes, this has also happened to me.)!
  • Discreet jewellery is fine, just don’t go too mad! There will be other occasions for your huge sparkly earrings and chunky necklaces. Again, it looks like you’re on a night out, rather than playing a nice Beethoven symphony.
  • SMILE! Although this technically has nothing to do with clothing, you still wear a smile! When you stand up at the end, even if it couldn’t have gone any worse, smile and the audience will go away with a much better impression of you. Nothing is worse than a grumpy orchestra!

At a concert earlier this year.

I hope some of these points have been useful! I’ve found it helps to feel good about what you wear and in the end, it’ll improve yours and the audiences concert experience.

Grace Notes: A Memorial Concert with Shostakovich and Barber

Last Friday my quartet (Horizon String Quartet) and pianist Alvaro Siculiana put on a concert at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel in remembrance of all those who died during World War I.

We opened with the Adagio from Samuel Barber’s string quartet Opus 11. This very popular movement was turned (by Barber himself) into ‘Adagio for Strings’ for a string orchestra and this Adagio  version has also been used in many films including ‘Amelie’ and ‘Platoon’. It is very chorale-like and the harmony moves slowly with lots of suspensions before the phrases finally resolve. This tempo was difficult for us because every part in the quartet is very exposed and intonation can be a problem. We worked very hard this and built up a lot of the chords (starting with the cello and then going round to the first violin) so we could be sure we were exactly in tune in the rich  harmonies that Barber wrote. We also found that following the phrase through was difficult (again due to the slow tempo), so we practiced a few times playing it much faster and this helped us get a sense of where to aim for.

The rest of the concert was Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet and we were joined by Alvaro on stage. We worked on this piece a lot last year, as we played it in a concert in Leeds, so the challenge was picking it all back up after a summer off! I love this piece (as I’ve said in a previous blog, Shostakovich is my favourite composer). It was written in 1940 for the Beethoven Quartet with Shostakovich himself at the piano. As with many of his pieces, the mood may seem cheery and light, but there is an undercurrent of grief and anguish always drifting close to the surface.  My favourite movement is the 3rd, a Scherzo (meaning ‘joke’) which is very wild and gallops along (a total contrast to every other movement which seem more guarded).  The main challenge here was to blend our quartet sound with the piano, so we became 5 equal instruments, still respecting when one of us had the tune. It was a lot of fun working together as having the extra musician added a new dynamic to the group.

The concert was a success and we got a great response from the audience. The acoustics really helped us project the quietest and most poignant sections of the pieces. We’d all love to play there again. Now we are looking forward to learning some new repertoire and preparing for future concerts.

Horizon String Quartet

Horizon String Quartet

If you’d like to find out more about Horizon String Quartet, we have a website and Facebook page. Thank you for reading and looking forward to seeing you all next week!

*Note: I do not own any of these videos and they are not the Horizon String Quartet performing.

If you are interested in listening to Horizon Quartet, here are a few tracks that we did in a recording session earlier in the year. These are the sorts of pieces we use at weddings and other functions, and there are so much fun to play. We also arrange a lot of our own music. I hope you enjoy!


Grace Notes: Music of the Week – October 3rd

Welcome to my first Music of the Week segment! The plan here is to share a couple of pieces that I’ve been enjoying over the seven days or so.

I’d like to start with Dvorak’s 12th string quartet, also known as the American Quartet. My quartet ( have recently started rehearsing this piece and I am enjoying it a lot as there are some great second violin bits. Throughout the quartet there are catchy  and lyrical melodies, making it very accessible – even to people who don’t listen to a lot of classical music. I particularly like the way that this piece paints pictures in my head. For example, the first movement reminds me of going down a river and watching nature drift by. The whole of the quartet takes part in the ‘painting’ of the scene, which, enhances the listening experience and makes it much more fun to work on in rehearsals!

The second piece of music I’d like to share is a song that I was listening to on the way to the wedding last week. I have been a fan of the Pet Shop Boys for a very long time and at the moment I think this is one of my favourite songs of theirs. It is ‘Can you Forgive her?’ recorded for their album ‘Very’ in 1993. I love how dramatic this song is, and it’s seriously catchy with a great chorus.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!