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Melodic Moments

Louise Spencer, also fondly known as the Nottinghamshire Harpist, brings the contemporary to classics in her exquisite harp performances. Made gets in tune with the Mansfield-based musician…
 |  Katie Hogg  |  Hobbies & Interest

With a musical family background, Louise’s mum as a piano teacher and her father a singer, amidst strong classical musical influences at home, it came as little surprise when she took to the piano naturally, and at the tender age of four. Music seemed to surround her very being and evoke a sense of purpose and belonging, so by the time she was a teenager not only was Louise storming her music lessons on the piano but was also discovering the clarinet and oboe. It was clear that music ran through her veins.

Originally from Radcliffe-on-Trent, it was a move to London, where she lived for nine years that took her on a further educational path as she completed a Masters in Writing Music for Film and TV, combining her love of film music with discovery, creativity and her natural musical prowess. 

It was a friendship with a harp teacher that gave Louise a first taste of what was to become a true musical love affair…

“I was working as a piano teacher at a school 10 years’ ago”, Louise explains, adding with a smile “We became friends and he introduced me to the harp. I was soon having the occasional lesson with him and after a year I was taking it quite seriously. I just fell in love with its simultaneous fragility and power, and the beautiful sounds it could make.

“It was an incredibly emotional and exciting day when I went to collect my own harp” 

Louise chose an Italian Salvi harp in London, a stunning mahogany instrument with 47 strings and seven pedals. “It really is breathtaking”, Louise exclaims proudly, adding “I also had a pick up system fitted as the harp has such a deliciously delicate sound and I wanted to ensure I could amplify it for performances.”

Louise still plays the piano but there’s no doubt that the harp swept her off her feet!

When she isn’t practising or writing music, Louise is surrounded by a true fusion of musical sounds and influences at home. Her husband is a DJ who loves drum and bass, her son plays the piano, clarinet and saxophone, and her daughter plays violin and piano, although has recently discovered fashion. It’s clear this is a house that lives and breathes music in so many forms, with each person having their own merit and individual tastes, but collectively harmonising into a wonderful environment that would make any music school proud. 

“It’s always good fun when we are all practising or discussing our instruments”, she laughs, “and we are all so proud of one another. I’m privileged that I get to play the instrument I love for myself and for other people’s pleasure, and to share my passion with my family.”

On her performances, Louise explains that there has been an increasing demand for weddings in addition to other private performances, with many couples opting for classical notes to help celebrate their day.

“During lockdown it was such a frustrating time for couples planning weddings, but now there is a lot more certainty and I’m finding that people are ready to book again and feel confident that their date will go ahead. I’ve had quite a few moved to 2022, mind you, but certainly in recent months I’ve been busy with bookings.”

It seems that lockdown was also favourable for her private lessons with Louise introduced to teaching harp or piano not only to her local students on Zoom, but it opened up the chance to vary her classes and geographical remit. 

“I much prefer face-to-face lessons, but I am enjoying the scope it has given me to teach people – both children and adults – much further afield.

“It’s also great contrast as in terms of physical performances I prefer to work only in Nottinghamshire and support the local community and events sector. There are so many gorgeous event locations and churches in our county I feel lucky to be able to have the choice right here without having to travel across the country.”

We were curious to see if the weddings are her main passion now for entertaining, but Louise enjoys a combination of larger events, intimate performances, and providing the melodic backdrop for ceremonies. One of her favourite performances has been at Peggy Skylights jazz club in Nottingham, which is a similar venue to the famous Ronnie Scotts, and suits her own interest in jazz which stems from her mum’s influence in her formative years, her mum being a fan of Cole Porter. 

“There’s a beautiful sound system at Peggy’s with an intimate stage atmosphere. I really like it. And with weddings, it is a privilege to be a part of someone’s special day, so I will always be happy to perform at ceremonies or in churches. 

“I actually prefer churches because of the incredible natural acoustics they afford, as it’s an environment that lends itself so well to the harp.

I also love performing at the Crowne Plaza New Year’s Eve Ball every year.”

We were keen to see how much time Louise has for her other passion, writing music. Having completed her Masters, Louise has over the years combined writing music with teaching and performing, giving her a rounded background, but you cannot wonder how she fits everything in each day.

“In recent years there has been more performing and teaching than writing”, she admits. “But lockdown gave me chance to take stock, and with performances on hold, I was able to give myself the luxury of time for writing more frequently, and without so many distractions.

“I also enjoy cookery, walking the dog and just spending quality time with the family, so for me lockdown gave the chance to regroup myself and do all those things.

“In recent months, I have been working on a number of pieces, including a composition based on the Japanese national anthem for the Olympics 2020 and collaborating with another composer on an arrangement with strings.”

As we chat it soon transpires that not only has Louise been composing a great deal during lockdown, but she has just been signed to publisher Sam Lung at Pretty Decent Music, which is very exciting news! This will help to promote her work as a composer and put her music forward for film or TV playlists, helping to widen her reach and diversify the creativity of her work.

“It seemed the natural step forward”, she explains. “Some projects have quite a stringent brief to follow and others give you full creative rights to create something bespoke, so I am enjoying the mix of work, and it will be wonderful to see where and how music is used.”

We must admit we are impressed. So, what’s the dream?

“I’d love to play at Glastonbury!”, she laughs. “But I am lucky that I love what I do and the variety of my days, so I just want to carry on enjoying what I am doing and continuing to push myself to learn and improve.

“Being a harpist is very much a lifestyle choice”, she adds. “Actually, people don’t realise this, but it really is a nightmare to carry about, it is so heavy! I’ve had to buy a special car to fit it, and it is carried on a trolley with wheels.”

We are admiring the Salvi and couldn’t help wondering if it needs much maintenance. It looks almost too beautiful to touch! But Louise assures us that it is easy to look after. “You just have to respect it. I tune it myself and check the strings regularly, and then send it for maintenance once a year. You have to be kind to it as it is wood. Handle it with care, keep it clean and polished.”

Louise was also kind enough to perform for us, so we could experience the beautiful melodic notes. It was a gorgeous treat for our ears, and souls in fact. The multi-layered nuances of its gentle yet striking sounds reverberated through us in a tender yet arresting way, leaving us with goosebumps and feeling incredibly relaxed. Its elegance and power really are quite extraordinary. 

The harp it would seem is also incredibly versatile and Louise gave us an insight into a typical playlist for events.

“I play a mix of styles, to try to appeal to everyone present at an event. Something for everyone. Usually there are some light classics in there, a few Jazz standard, some pop songs, and of course a few famous film pieces have to go in there! 

“Of course, with film music, few can argue that John Williams is a favourite, but I am a John Barry fan, and classically I have always loved Debussy and Chopin.”

As we finish our time with Louise on such a high note (sorry!), we ask for her advice for anyone starting out or wishing to develop or diversify their musicality. “Be true to yourself”, she says firmly “Don’t compare yourself other people. This is your own journey so set your own goals and take it at your own pace, step by step.”

www.nottinghamshireharpist.com 

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