Amanda Whiting – The Background Harpist
In Part Three of our Harp People Series we meet Amanda Whiting. Amanda is a classically trained harpist who specialises in jazz and modern music. She has performed with Jamie Cullum and Dannii Minogue and is in great demand for functions and recordings. Amanda has recently written a book called The Background Harpist…How to Be One, How to Survive as One, All You Need to Know…
CMH: You recently wrote The Background Harpist as a guide for people who are interested in being background harpists. What made you decide to write a book on this subject?
AW: A lot has changed over the last 2 years since starting my masters in jazz and I thought it was the right time to share information which seems obvious to me, but isn’t always obvious to new gigging harpists. I have pupils who are at the age where they need help when preparing for functions and I suppose I needed to share my experiences.
CMH: How did you get into performing as a background harpist?
AW: My first teacher Gillian Green threw me in at the deep end when I had to dep for her. My first gig was 2 1/2 hours long and it felt like it! have never felt time go so slowly…and then the massive buzz afterwards. Playing can be so addictive.
CMH: How would you say that being a background harpist is different from other aspects of harp playing?
AW: I feel sad that it is separated and almost looked down upon. It is still playing the instrument and I still practise for hours every day, so it isn’t any different in that respect. But there is less pressure for playing a set of pieces to a level of perfection which is very stressful. My job usually involves playing more modern music or jazz, hence why I have gone down my present route of trying to evolve my sound.
CMH: What do you find rewarding about performing as a background harpist?
AW: I have had a great time and enjoy working. Being able to play all genres and being free to do my own thing has made me more more musical. Also, being an integral part of someones event is quite special. It is a great living and I feel very privileged to be asked to perform.
CMH: And what are some of the challenges?
AW: Trying to accommodate and learn requests which can sometimes be unsuitable eg rap or dance music, as well as dealing with stressed brides and organisers. Travelling great distances can be tiring and always missing out on social events with friends and family as I am usually working on weekends… luckily I try and make up for this and everyone understands.
CMH: Anyone who is interested in becoming a background harpist should get hold of your informative book The Background Harpist, but, for now, would you share with us one tip for harpists who are just getting started?
AW: You are a product; so always be smart, polite, on time, professional and a friendly, happy face! And enjoy it!
CMH: Amanda, we are sure that readers of your book will very much appreciate you sharing your expertise with them, just as we appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions. Thank you very much.
Amanda has just published a new collection, Contemporary Sounds for Harpists Volume 1 with Tony Robinson. It includes jazz arrangements for advanced harpists of Danny Boy, Make You Feel my Love, Nature Boy and Blues on the Mynd.
For more information about Amanda, see her website: www.amandawhiting.com