Today’s post is by harpist Mary Macmaster. In this post, Mary shares her discovery of Pilates and how it can help harpists to keep their body in tune.

Sileas - Mary Macmaster and Patsy Seddon

I only really started touring when I was in my thirties – a late developer! Not that I’m complaining because Patsy and I, as Sileas (pictured), were lucky enough to travel extensively through much of the world. Our first tour was in Switzerland, travelling by efficient Swiss trains, with a box of LPs each, a shoulder bag full of clothes and our small acoustic harps in their flight cases. Between gigs we managed to climb a few bergs and eat plenty of Swiss cheese!

What I remember of the USA is carrying my harp and my bag through countless airports; squeezing bags, harps, people and records into ever smaller cars (San Diego) which were sent to pick us up from said airports or, if the lift didn’t arrive, hefting the harps onto local buses (San Francisco) and trying to make ourselves understood with our quaint accents. Packing and unpacking, boarding and disembarking planes always with our hearts in our mouths for the safety and arrival of the harps. On one occasion my harp got stuck on the way up the luggage conveyor belt (so much for outsized arrivals!) and had to be extracted by a kind long-legged gentleman.

Europe on the other hand, was loading and unloading the car, driving on the autobahns for hours on end, finding the gig without the aid of a sat-nav. – amazingly, we only got lost once in all that time – then carrying harps, tables, bags, CDs (a lot lighter than vinyl) and amplifiers up and down many grand European staircases. No, I’m not complaining but my back did! During that decade I gave a lot of money to a lady called Heidi Cramm, an osteopath. She was very good but eventually did herself out of a job by telling me about Pilates.

Chris BlagdonPilates is very popular now but back then it was a little known form of exercise. I was lucky enough to find the Edinburgh Pilates Centre and be taught by Chris Blagdon who had been a member of Scottish Ballet before devoting himself to straightening out other people’s kinks. Joseph Pilate was a poorly child, who, when told he would not survive for long, invented a non-aerobic system of exercise which enabled him to live into his nineties. He worked alongside Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance, to devise a series of beautiful, intense movements which strengthen the body from the inside out. It’s an amazing feeling when you locate a muscle you didn’t even know existed, isolate it and engage it knowing that when you stand up you will be all the stronger and your back will not hurt.

I practised Pilates with Chris for about 5 years and during that time became a shape I never thought I could be. It’s one of my few regrets that I stopped going regularly but that’s another story and thankfully, my body has never forgotten the principles of Pilates: be strong in your centre and the rest of your body can just hang there like a rag doll, not hurting!

We are so lucky to have Chris coming to the Harp Festival to sort out our harpie pains.

I only wish I had the time to join the class!

Chris Blagdon is running a 3 day Pilates course at this year’s festival. Click here for more information.