Musician headshot with harp

Olivia Jageurs is a professional harpist based in London. She has played with several of the UK's major orchestras including the LPO, BBC SO and The Hallé. In 2016, Olivia held the coveted harp chair in the West End run of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. In 2017, Olivia’s harp-writing resource 15 second harp was shortlisted for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. That year Olivia also founded Bach’n Eggs, London’s first series of classical music brunch concerts, which is regularly listed as one of London’s top pop-up events.
Harpy Hour is a Zoom audience request concert series that happens every Friday at 6pm GMT. Tickets are by donation from £5, and can be accessed here.

Like all freelancers in the UK, when COVID hit my work disappeared overnight. The general sense of doom in early March made me pretty confident that I was going to have to create a new source of income as quickly as possible. Luckily I have always taught a number of private students who went straight to Zoom lessons in the first week of lockdown. In one of the first lessons, as the child went to find her music (a classic Zoom-lesson procrastination tool), the mother said jokingly “Do you take requests? I’d pay to hear Pachelbel’s Canon”. We then started brainstorming (all still jokingly) about calling it Jageurs Jukebox. I asked a friend’s Dad who worked in advertising for ideas and straight away he said “Harpy Hour”.

There was no time to be snobbish about what people wanted to hear and what I would have to play, I just wanted to find a replacement for all the work that had gone. I posted a selfie on Instagram sitting next to the harp, holding a massive bottle of Aperol, announcing my plan for that Friday would be to do a cocktail hour request concert. 14 friends bought tickets via Paypal donation and the requests included (the dreaded) Pachelbel’s Canon and The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Those first 14 people told their friends and it continued to spread via word of mouth and social media. By the 10th concert there were 100 households watching.

Harp concert online

I’ve put so much free content online in the past few years (for my harp writing project @15secondharp) that I felt confident people would understand why I had to charge at this point in time. And while I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt around charging for tickets, I remind myself that for some people (a lot of non-musicians), income has not been affected. I was also at a big advantage as I had already invested in really high quality microphones a couple of years ago; so I was able to boost my sound through Zoom immediately.

I’ve put so much free content online in the past few years that I felt confident people would understand why I had to charge at this point in time.

Of course, Zoom can’t replace a live concert experience but I love that the barrier between performer and audience can be totally broken down through the live chat function and by asking individuals to unmute themselves. For my concerts, people submit requests in advance, and then during the concert I ask that person to unmute and say why they chose that piece. People’s personal connections to music are often so interesting; that’s why we all love shows like Desert Island Discs. Sometimes the requests can be a bit too hard (like Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto!), while others are challenging but work surprisingly well on harp, such as Stravinky’s The Firebird and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck! There have also been some cracking moments, like seeing 50 little screens dancing to YMCA on harp, that make me chuckle just to think about.

One unexpected avenue that has come about is “Corporate Harpy Hours”. Corporate services company KPMG approached me, as one of their employees watched a Harpy Hour, and I was booked for 4 online events for them. I’m now talking to a number of companies about creating personal Christmas party Harpy Hours for their offices.

When restrictions eased in the summer numbers dropped to an average of 35 households, but now they are back up to an average of 70.

I’ve also had help from a freelance marketing friend Caitlin Monaghan who has created a database, ticketing system, a Mailchimp email design and schedule for me. She has made it her mission with her company CMON Music to help musicians and I'd encourage anyone to get in touch with her for ideas at [email protected]. By working with them on their brand, email and social media campaigns and curating online events she helps to connect musicians directly with their audiences and raise their profile. 

One sliver of a silver lining is that a layer of snobbery has had to disappear.

This pandemic has obviously damaged our industry irrevocably. One sliver of a silver lining is that a layer of snobbery has had to disappear. Pre-COVID I wouldn’t have played a lot of the Harpy Hour requests in a recital setting. Now though, I think there’s something really lovely about playing something we might deem cheesy if it means a lot to an individual. At the end of the day music is about bringing people together and having a good time. And for now I’ve made my peace with that having to be on Zoom.

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