Camac Voice, June 2014: Shelley Fairplay

Thank you so much to Camac and Helen Leitner for this following blog article written for ‘Camac Voice 2014’:

The Three Strands Concert: Passion, Sorrow and Joy
Shelley Fairplay

Our Camac Voice for June comes from Shelley Fairplay, a busy performer and teacher in Cardiff.  Her work is a great example of what the biz calls a portfolio career – or, ‘never stopping at one particular style, because I love it all!’, as Shelley says herself. From immaculately professional appearances at weddings, events and concerts to teaching (including two large student harp ensembles), Shelley”s diverse activities make for a very busy, dynamic and interesting life in music. June”s Camac Voice is a jazzy arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’, taken from Shelley”s debut CD The Cherished Harp. It’s an attractive collection of favourite folk songs from across the British Isles (and ‘Amazing Grace’, documented on the sleeve notes as an ‘American visitor’).

Folk music is also at the heart of one of Shelley”s most exciting current projects: a mentorship programme calledHarness Your Muse, with Deborah Henson-Conant. Deborah will need little introduction to most Harpblog readers, and the lucky ones among you will also have had the chance to see one of her shows. Her mentorship programme is about helping other harpists find their voice. Perhaps they are seeking something unusual, they want to explore other disciplines, and above all, they want to express their individual voices and stories.

‘The show I am developing under Deborah”s guidance is called “The Three Strands; Passion, Sorrow and Joy”‘, Shelley explains. ‘Because I love doing so many different types of music, I decided to make that the focus of my show. I”ll be performing a mixture of classical, jazz and folk music, so those are the three strands in one sense. The idea of the three strands also links back to Celtic mythology. Throughout generations tales have been told of three musical strands (or “Nobel Strains”) that a harpist should master in order to communicate to their audiences. The details differ in each story, but they are always about human experience.  The three strands/strains are generally detailed as the goltrai (the strain of weeping), the geantrai (the strain of happiness), and the suantrai (the strain of sleep). In many tales these powerful emotions played on the harp are used to avert disaster or end conflict, such as the harp being played to lull enemies to sleep, or laugh and dance with such merriment that they cannot continue to battle! The idea of these three strains really connects with me as expressing emotion through music and connecting with an audience is of course really what performing is all about. You will notice that I have exchanged the strand of sleep for the strand of passion in my show, for me personally this is much more fun to musically explore!

I”m fascinated by dance rhythms of all kinds, so there”s a lot of musical dancing in the show, linked of course to the strand of joy. There”s also a piece of my own – for the section about sorrow – based around the tritone and using a looper pedal;  many of my own arrangements; plus Guns n Roses and Deborah”s Baroque Flamenco (which undoubtably covers the strand of passion!).  It”s not about reinventing the wheel. It”s much more about putting together what I love most, in an effective way. That”s the challenge that all musicians have to face, finding out what you want to do, and where you want to go.

The mentorship programme takes the form of a skype call every other week, mostly on this subject and as such is quite intense. I”ve found it very inspiring, and I”ve also really benefited from Deborah”s advice on promotion, how to market a show, how to use social media, create promotional materials and so on. I also went over to Boston to work with her in person, and ended up performing with her in Nantucket, which was amazing! I want a DHC Blue Light now’

Deborah”s Harness Your Muse mentorship programme lasts six months. Following performing the show in Guernsey as part of a 26 concert program for the Healing Music Trust, and a recital in St Peters Port in June, Shelley will officially launch “The Three Strands” in Carmarthen in Wales in July as part of the National Botanic Garden of Wales Harp Weekend.

As part of her busy teaching studio, Shelley also runs two impressive harp ensembles in Cardiff, Dynamic Harps. One is for adults, the other for children. ‘The harp is Wales”s national instrument, and it”s fantastic how many people want to learn it. I”ve got fifteen students in the ensembles now, and I think we will go up to a maximum of twenty four. I arrange the music the students want to play and we do all sorts: Classical, Show, Film, Jazz and more. The teenagers are always asking for weird and wonderful tunes so we have performed Sweet Child of Mine, In the Mood and music from The Hobbit this term. All the students create so much positive energy and enthusiasm in the group. It is a joy to arrange, write for and teach these groups.

I run these ensembles privately. I did use to work for the music service, but at the end of the day there aren”t enough hours to do everything. I have to say though that it is really depressing to see the bursary music lessons from the service cut, and to hear of so many music services around the country struggling to keep going. Where will the next generation of performers and audiences come from if there is no encouragement and training provided for children from all backgounds to learn an instrument?

On a more positive note, I also used to give music workshops (using fifteen lap harps) with the music development team in Cardiff. In these difficult times of austerity and cuts, Emma Coulthard’s team of outstanding musicians/teachers have worked tirelessly to enable schools to keep the whole class music workshops going. The schools in Cardiff given the power to make their own decisions have been very clear-sighted about their priorities and have found decent solutions to music funding cuts.

I also worked for two years as a primary school teacher before I got too busy as a harpist, and that showed me the other side of the coin, what happens when you do cut music lessons. I arrived at my school to discover that from nursery age to year six students had never sung anything to live music, they had only ever sung to backing tracks. Because backing tracks are so beat heavy and often played very loud, you can”t truly hear what you”re singing, and the result of this was that many of the children couldn”t pitch at all. They couldn”t hear a line and sing it back, scarcely beat time and they couldn”t make any sort of normal, natural music because they”d never had the chance to use it. May this be a message to us all that music making must not be cut from our teaching curriculums.

It was this close-up experience of the music cuts that also inspired me to write a harp tutor book. The point of my book – which isn”t out yet, but will be soon – is that it is all possible on a non-chromatic lap harp. I”ve got fifteen lap harps I use for workshops. The harp is elitist, because it”s expensive. For those who cannot financially gain access to a lever or pedal harp to begin learning on, it is much more practical to be able to start on a lap harp within a two and a half octave range. That way harp can be taught in school just as the recorder is (as I did with the Music Development Team for many years). At the end of the day, music needs to be accessible for children, and if it”s too expensive, we need to find ways that are cheaper but which don”t lose sight of what music is for in the first place. Some children might go on to be professional musicians; others serious amateurs, where music plays a huge part in their lives and certainly all children should be given the opportunity to play a musical instrument. Even if they only learn for a short time, it creates the ability to know how to listen to music deeply, and enjoy hearing others perform. Every child deserves this opportunity, and every child should be able to sing.’


Find out more about Shelley on facebooktwitter and on her website.