Q&A with harpist Rahel Schweizer

Our December concert features Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, for choir and harp. We’re delighted to be showcasing a soloist from within our notorious ranks, alto Rahel Schweizer. We caught up with Rahel to find out more about her background, when she joined notorious and how it came to light that Rahel played the harp.

Where are you from and what drew you to live in Birmingham?

I grew up in Zurich, Switzerland and moved to the UK four years ago. I wanted to move out of Switzerland and moved to Bristol to do teacher training. After that, I moved to Birmingham to be closer to my partner who works for the Uni.

What do you do as your day job?

I’m a primary teacher, currently teaching in Year 5.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I have lots of messy hobbies! I love gardening and growing vegetables. I also go to pottery classes and regularly take over our kitchen and living room with various sewing and other craft projects.

When did you join notorious and how did you hear about us?

I joined notorious two years ago. I really wanted to join a choir so I just googled ‘choirs in Kings Heath’ and I think notorious was the first one that came up!

What has been your favourite concert or piece to sing so far?

I think it has to be last year’s anniversary concert! Will Todd’s Mass in Blue is a great piece and it felt really special to be part of this big anniversary.

How did you and Clare get talking about the fact that you play the harp?

I brought my harp to Clare’s neighbourhood Christmas carolling event last year to accompany the singers and, probably after a few mulled wines, the idea came up to do something for choir and harp.

How old were you when you started playing the harp?

I was seven years old. 

What led you to playing the harp?

I can’t really remember! According to my parents, I’d been saying I wanted to play the harp for a long time and they tried to ignore it. They made me play the piano for a year since we already had a piano at home but I wouldn’t stop going on about the harp. They eventually gave in and I have been playing ever since.

Do you have a particular favourite piece for the harp?

I think Benjamin Britten’s ‘Suite for harp’ is my favourite piece written for the harp. There’s a lot of ‘twinkly/harpy’ pieces in the harp repertoire but Britten’s music feels so much more substantial and deep. And it is extremely well written for the harp.

How is your practice going for Britten’s Ceremony of Carols?

Good! It has definitely taken some time to get back into shape since I haven’t been practicing that much anymore in the past few years. I’ve really enjoyed having a reason and motivation again to play more often!

Have you played the piece before?

I’ve never played the whole ceremony before, I’ve only played some songs. I played three of them with an ensemble that my mum sang in when I was about 13 years old.


Do you have a favourite section or a particularly tricky section?

The harp interlude is absolutely beautiful but also very tricky to play with a lot of techniques and parts you have to memorise. ‘Deo Gracia’ is also very fun (and fast!).


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