Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #9 - September 2007
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Hello, kia ora and welcome to the ninth Asni: harps & imagination newsletter!


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In this newsletter:

My cd production fundraiser has come off to a much better start than I expected - 57 subscriptions have been collected so far. That leaves another 63 to raise... I was hoping to have raised half the money by the end of this month but am falling just short of it. If you're still pondering if you should order, please don't delay, let me know! I won't be able to put the cd into production until I have been able to raise the necessary funds, and it would be disappointing for those people who have already ordered if it will not be possible to have it ready for Christmas, as I am still hoping. And please tell your friends! Or think for whom this cd might make a wonderful Christmas present.

Just a short reminder of how it all works: I am trying to collect 120 subscriptions in order to raise the funds to produce my cd, which I recorded last March. If you would like to pre-order the cd, please send me an email through one of the links posted on this site, stating how many copies you would like. You do not have to pay at this time, but once the necessary number of subscriptions has been reached, I will ask people to pay. The cd will be ready for delivery approximately two months from that point. I am hoping to collect enough subscriptions by the end of October, so the cd can be ready in time for Christmas. For an update on the fundraiser and more details, read more here.


cd cover artwork © John Howe *** cover design: Asni

Listen to sound clips from the new cd


I started out writing this newsletter back in August, huddled on my bed in my blankets, nursing one of these nasty winter colds I keep getting – Wellington is a beautiful city but occasionally I wonder if it really is a very healthy choice for someone as prone to respiratory diseases as I am?

Once the cold was past, I had to catch up with three week’s missed coursework, which proved not an easy task – that’s right, I’m back in school. In July I started a one year diploma course in Multimedia Design at Natcoll Design College here in Wellington.

So far, I absolutely love it. The course covers just about everything I thought I might be interested in maybe getting into. In the past three months, we have covered the basics of 3D modelling and animation – computer generated modelling, that is, with a programme called Lightwave 3D. We already had a fast brush through Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as classes in audio-visual production - editing video on the computer with FinalCut Pro and After Effects is the main focus, but we have been taken through the entire production process from concept and script through camera and lighting to sound recording and editing. In fact, last weekend I got to shoot my very own five minute short film, and have just finished editing it today. Expect to see it on this site sometime soon!

We have just started to dive into animation, and later in the course there will be modules on web design. Lots of new software for my poor old brain – but I’m happy, and not doing badly at it either. Even hanging out with a bunch of guys half of whom are young enough to be my kids, which, frankly, was a somewhat scary prospect when I thought about doing the course, is actually proving to be not so bad at all. In any case, it's nice to be among some real people again - lately, I've become quite disenchanted with the non-committal nature of internet socializing. YOu don't like what someone is saying, you just log off... not really a basis for a healthy friendship, in the end (although those do happen, occasionally).

So why am I doing this then? Well, I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life trying to figure out how to play harp professionally and still be able to afford to eat and pay my rent. Obviously, “harp professionally” does not imply that it actually earns me any income to speak of – it’s more like a self-sustaining activity really, when I’m not making losses (I do do my income tax return every year). I’ve always had to find other ways to support myself.

I’ve tried academia, I’ve tried the media, and I’ve tried arts management. I’ve also tried a number of less highbrow part time jobs – I’ve been a desktop layout person for radio listings in magazines (until it drove me braindead), I’ve looked after kids with disabilities (which I actually liked, except for the massive bullying by fellow staff members and management – it took them two years to come up with a pretext for firing me, but they eventually did). I’ve also tried an office job, where I lasted all of four months (Hated every minute I had to be there. Got sick. Quit.) – not to mention a wide variety of shorter term assignments most of which I am quite happy to forget.

But what about that university teaching job, you may ask. Well, that job is currently virtual – and while it lasted, I got paid for exactly the work I did, an hour and a half a week, during term time, and until my one baroque harp student finished his degree. It was a decent hourly rate though… and if and when another student comes along, I might yet get that job back, since I’m still officially on the list of artist teachers at the New Zealand School of Music, but it hardly takes a lot of maths to figure out that this is not a job to make a living with.

So, I have been toying with the idea of learning something different for a good long while. I just never was quite sure what that would be – and having already spent a whopping 11 years in tertiary study, with three degrees (including one with top grades) and no way to make a living, it was a scary decision to invest yet more time and money in education. Besides, it does mean that from now on I will officially relegate harp playing to the back seat. And that was not at all an easy decision to make.

But, I have really gotten sick of being stuck in awful part-time jobs where I am the natural target for bullies on account of the very fact that I’m vastly overqualified and not at all part of the pack. I have also had enough of chasing after work in the arts sector where I am always most welcome to volunteer my time and knowledge for free, but once I mention the word payment I suddenly find that for all my qualifications, skills, experience and personal qualities, I am just not a member of the club.

Most of all, I am really really heartily and thoroughly sick of constantly being expected to volunteer my harping craft for free – or if not for free, then at what amounts to an hourly rate that would make any underpaid burger flipper weep. I get invited to overseas conferences and festivals and am expected to not only perform without a fee, but pay my travel and accommodation expenses on top of it. I am asked to do presentations for a local harp society and it is too much to ask that participants contribute $ 5 to pay for my time. I got my residency permit in this country on account of my international reputation as a harpist and I can’t even convince the local gig agent to put me on his website to play at weddings and functions. Or the guy from the cd label to answer my phone calls. One lady who wanted me to play at their wedding but thought that my fee was a bit steep (it worked out at something like maybe $10 an hour of my time, even if it was only an hour and a half of hers), tried to flatter me into charging her less by going on and on and on about how much she liked my music… well, would you not think she would be happy to pay me MORE for it then? But it seems all the laws of market economy break down as soon as it has to do with ART.

My favourite story, however, is how I once got asked, in all innocence, by a young man, the son of a fellow musician, and his girlfriend, if they could borrow a copy of my “700 Years of Pop” cd to burn themselves a copy? They really liked the cd they said, and they could see nothing wrong with that, after all they would surely return my cd the next day. They were quite surprised and not a little hurt when I said no.

If I do sound bitter – I am. I used to think that I was a private and individual failure. But some weeks ago I picked up a hugely interesting book – No Logo by Canadian writer Naomi Klein. It’s the workings of the modern world in a nutshell, and everything that happened to me in my professional life is concisely explained there. From the mechanics of part-time underpaid McJobs that fit exactly with my experience in my old caregiving job, to what amounts to a systematic exploitation of talented and motivated young people in the arts and media sector. Dangle the promise of a flash, interesting and well paid job in front of their nose and keep telling them that if they only get enough “experience” and “exposure” they will eventually get there – and they’ll invest months if not years of free work, while either living off their parent’s money, or ruining their health and psychological equilibrium working various McJobs at night. Such as I did, for nearly seventeen years. But no more.

Another issue Naomi Klein addresses in her book is the complete oversaturation with advertisement that we experience nowadays. Don’t you hate it, yet another newsletter in your email box? And yet all I am trying to do is to let people know about my work – people who may actually *appreciate* knowing about, for instance, that new cd that I am planning to bring out. I have no big label to back me up and pump stacks of money into an advertising campaign, put my cds in stores around the globe, and push for airplay on the major radio stations. I have no well-connected manager or musician’s agent who can get me into the big venues.

I have carved out a career and an artistic reputation spanning three continents, building on a network of friends and staunch supporters spread across half the globe, playing mostly small venues, budgeting tours on a shoestring, and producing all my recordings myself. Which is quite satisfying in some ways – at least I know that those people who do support me, support me because they like my music, not because I pay them bribes. But at some stage a person would just like to stop worrying how to pay the heating bill or the last doctor’s visit, or where the next rent instalment is supposed to come from. I have no intention to become yet another martyr for the sake of art.

Still, there are upsides. For one, if you buy any of my cd’s, you will know that the money comes back directly to me. No multinational record label to take a cut that leaves the artist with near to nothing for their hard work. And besides, in producing my cd’s myself, I remain completely in control as an artist – no one to pester me with audience surveys and focus groups that only serve to produce the bland trying-to-please-everyone mush that is often commercial music.

Easily my biggest problem in trying to market my music is that it fits neatly between all the cracks of the currently accepted genres. It is not classical or early music any more, nor is it really folk, traditional or world music. To some it is “ambient”. Others see the links with jazz. It may be “easy listening” to some and others may put it on while doing their yoga – which is perfectly fine with me – but it really defies the kind of categorization that is found in record shop sections or radio slots. I decided to call it Fantasy Music. But more of that in a future newsletter.


Not much – well, let’s be honest – nothing at all on the performing front at the moment, though once I get that cd production under way I will be planning for a cd release party either here in Wellington, or elsewhere. Suggestions are always welcome!

I am also planning early for a trip to Europe in Summer 2009 – those of you who are in the business of organizing concerts, please let me know early on if you might be interested in booking me for a performance. Past experience teaches that two years advance planning are about what it takes to make a tour feasible – and a success. More details will follow as they emerge, for the time being I would be interested in knowing about possible dates so I can draw up a timeframe.

And of course I have to announce my next course at Wellington High School Adult Community Education – the last course for this year, “Music Appreciation” (also called “Let’s listen to some music and then talk about it”) starts on Wednesday 10 October and will be running for four weeks, Wednesday evenings from 7.30 to 9.30 pm. The August courses narrowly failed to reach the minimum number of participants, it would be great if this one would actually happen. You’ll have fun, learn a lot, meet nice people, and you won’t regret it! Rregistrations can be made through the Adult Community Education centre, ph: (04) 385 89 19, Fax (04) 802 76 76, or email:

check here for: news updates * upcoming concerts * workshops and courses

Jhaampe (Robin Hobb) Blind Guardian A Glamour


And there I was just complaining … but the stroke of luck that has been evading me for seventeen professional musician’s years, found me rather unexpectedly in my capacity as a visual artist.

As you may know if you know me, or have been following this newsletter, I have been a bit of a closet artist all my life. Well, recently I have come out of the closet – and it really does feel like a “coming out”. The decision to study at Natcoll is, of course, one outcome of that process, which started more than three years ago when I became involved with the artist community on John Howe’s internet forum, and began to participate in his monthly fan art challenges.

As it turned out there are a few others there who also have artistic talent and ambitions, but no idea how to go about taking it to the next level. So one day about a year ago I had an email in my inbox from a young lady in Hungary, Imola Unger, who has decided to act as an agent for the lot of us. Isn’t that fantastic? I so love it when people take the self-help approach and do something about achieving their dreams (and those of others, in this particular case).

Some weeks ago the Illustartist website was officially launched – go check it out, what are you waiting for?! – My own gallery needs a bit of updating though – I am still searching for a scan shop here in Wellington that charges less than 70$ for a scan – but this is why I have been decorating this newsletter with my more recent artwork. I have also started updating my artwork section on this website, which was rather embarrassingly out of date. It will probably take me a while to get it up and running again, since my webmastering is squeezed in between long hours of study, promoting and producing my cd, and having to look after such mundane tasks as tax declarations, cooking, cleaning and laundry as well, since I am not in the fortunate position of being married to someone who does that for me.

It has been a long winter – indeed, it has been a long, difficult and unhappy year for me, but now we are back to spring. And chances are that one day I may look back on this year as one of the most significant of my life. There are people I should thank for that. Imola for giving me a reason to test my limits, John for his encouragement and faith in me, Jenny for being there when things got rough, and my parents for supporting me through this difficult patch. I have learned how to sketch. I have recorded a new cd, and one that I can be proud of. I have struck up unexpected new friendships. And I have finally made up my mind about the direction I want to go in, and am going.

Arohanui, from Asni

PS: And if you have any money left after ordering a stack of my cd's, and if you have any interest in drawing or painting, I should point out that John Howe has just released his very first "how to" book, Fantasy Art Workshop. Highly recommended! You can learn to draw like John... arhem, or well, at least you can learn to draw like me. :-P (or just buy it for the pretty pictures and awesome step-by-step demonstrations. A review will follow in one of my next newsletters - once I get my hands on the book myself.)

Now, don’t forget to order that cd…


Abelard & Heloise 2007Jane Eyre - happy end

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last updated: 30 September, 2007