Whenever we have previously needed to find a new member - as we have been playing together for well over 10 years it is inevitable that people will come and go - we have approached harpists directly about the job. This time however, we decided that we would hold open auditions to see who was out there and who might be interested in playing with us. After posting the audition details on facebook and emailing every harpist we could think of, the enquiries started flooding in....so much so that we needed to do two days of auditions just to fit everyone in! We decided to do the auditions in the form of a rehearsal with the group - this way we could see how well someone might fit in as well as how well they played the harp. In a small ensemble, it is just as important that everyone gets on well together as it is that they are great players, as any tensions in the group will be carried across in the music.
The first day of the auditions - a grey day in January - dawned and we were looking forward to meeting all the harpists and playing with them. We had sent everyone the same three pieces from our 2013 programme - an arrangement of de Falla's Spanish Dance by Eleanor and two movements from Harriet's new piece Elemental. These pieces (we hoped) would demonstrate everything from technique and showmanship to ensemble skills (passing running sevens between harps trying to sound like one instrument is no easy task!) and musicality.
From the first harpist through the door it was obvious that we were going to have our work cut out for us in making a decision as the standard of playing was extremely high. We found it a challenge to keep fresh for each person as we were playing the same pieces all day long - we wanted to be as fair as possible and be open to new ideas and approaches to the music. At the end of day one we felt upbeat, and with one really strong contender in the mix we were optimistic that we would have a great end result. Day two began, again with a very high standard of playing, and we managed to find even more to say about the music (we're still not really sure how this was possible having already played the pieces so many times!). We managed to find time for a chat at the end with each of the harpists which was great as we got to know some lovely talented people as a result and the chats sparked all sorts of ideas for harping outside of the quartet too.
Decision time. We tried to avoid thinking too hard about any of the auditionees until the last one had departed as we didn't want to prejudice our reaction to anyone, and we wanted to be as fair as possible. However, once we started to discuss each of the players, it became apparent that one person had stood out for us all. She was both meticulously prepared on the music and also a very strong confident performer, she had played really musically and even better, was a really fun, bubbly person who we all felt we would get on with outside the rehearsals. Whilst we were sad that we had to let the other harpists know that they hadn't got the job (none of us has ever been on the other side of this line before!), we were really excited to let Elizabeth Scorah know that we would like her to join the group. We are now looking forward to the next few months getting to know Elizabeth and also to work on our Christmas CD recording with her in a few weeks time!