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5 Ways to Celebrate Harp-y Holidays

There’s nothing like “harp” for the holidays. 

That’s not quite how the song goes, but it is certainly true that no instrument seems more suited to Christmas celebrations than the harp. Choirs sing of the ”angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold,” and carolers remind us to “strike the harp, and join the chorus.”  Whether your mood is peaceful contemplation or joyful merriment, the harp simply is Christmas. 

If you’re a harpist, your calendar is likely bursting for the next few weeks with engagements from choir concerts to church services to office parties. You and your harp will be a part of more Christmas celebrations than you can count. Chances are good, however, that you have left out the most important holiday celebration of all - yours. Putting self-care on the back burner is never a good idea, but can be particularly damaging at this time of year.

Here is my cautionary tale:

I remember all...

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The Tipping Point: Where Practice Becomes Progress

Have you ever felt that success - in your music practice or in any other endeavor - was just beyond your reach? That you seemed to be getting closer and closer to your goal and still not actually attaining it?

  • Picture a sports game where the teams appear evenly matched until one spectacular play changes the momentum of the game. 
  • Or an inventor whose attempts have all failed until an accident in the laboratory creates a new path forward.
  • Or a precariously balanced ledge where one small addition suddenly makes the entire shelf tip over.

That’s the tipping point, and there is a tipping point in your practice too.

The phrase “tipping point” is used in the science of epidemics to refer to a moment when a normal and usually stable occurrence, like an outbreak of flu, for instance, turns into a large-scale health crisis. 

In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Canadian author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell describes this phenomenon as it manifests in...

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The Harpist’s Creed: We Are What We Do

harpist meaning purpose Nov 18, 2019

It’s perhaps the most common cocktail party question: So, what do you do?

Talking about what we do - our activities, our work, our hobbies - is an easy way to define ourselves. When we tell others what we do, we give them an easy way to understand a little about us. We also give ourselves an identity and the feeling of belonging to a group of others who do the same thing.

Occasionally, conversations like this spur a small pang of conscience. For instance, you might tell someone you play the harp, but at the same time you know that your harp has been gathering dust lately, maybe out of tune or even missing strings, because you haven’t had time to play it. While you’re talking enthusiastically about how much you love the harp, there’s that nagging voice inside your head reminding you that you’ve been talking the talk without walking the walk.

I remember my own wake-up call. I was sixteen years old and had been playing harp for eight years. I knew I wanted...

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Are You Your Own Best Teacher or Your Worst Teacher Ever?

expert self-taught teacher Nov 11, 2019

I am at heart a do-it-yourself-er. Give me a project and I dive right in, sometimes getting in water that’s a little too deep. In fact, a number of my attempted projects have shown clearly that some things are better left to the experts. 

There was my bathroom wallpaper that looked great but never really did stick to the wall. And the sweater I knit that came down to my knees. Over time, I have learned more about the things I can manage on my own and when I should ask for help.

It may not surprise you to know that I think for most people, learning the harp is a process that goes more smoothly when you have help. While I applaud the courage and determination of self-taught harpists, I know that the path is faster and less bumpy when you have an expert to show you the way.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t advantages in teaching yourself. First among those is the convenience factor. When you are teaching yourself, either using online courses or books, your...

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How to Practice Past Obstacles: Redefining Your Limits

There are things you do for your children that you would never have done for yourself. There are icky things, sticky things, difficult things, unusual things. For instance, I am pretty sure my father never would have dreamed about lugging a harp around if I hadn’t needed him to. For my son, I took karate lessons.

I’ve never been much of a sports person and I never would have thought of taking karate lessons for myself. My son was interested in karate but needed some encouragement, so we signed up for lessons together. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it and stuck with the lessons longer than he did. I loved the systematic approach and the discipline that is part of learning a martial art. And I absolutely loved breaking boards.

I know - it sounds like breaking boards would be bad for a harpist’s hands. But it wasn’t. It was only fun. We had a board breaking party one evening at the karate studio and we were all having fun - the little children and the...

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Plan Now for Peaceful Holiday Performances

Plan now for Christmas? You might be thinking that most of your holiday harp playing was planned long ago, possibly in the middle of the summer. I have always liked to prepare much of my holiday repertoire then too. But that’s just the first step.

What I want to share with you today are my three most powerful strategies for making sure that you don’t lose the ground you gained when you started practicing your music. Your holiday playing should be an enjoyable part of your holiday, not a source of extra stress.

For a long time, it seemed to me that no matter how prepared I felt at the beginning of November, things started to fall apart as the weeks went on. I didn’t have as much practice time as I expected, or choir directors added music to their programs, or something unexpected happened that created havoc in my jam-packed schedule. Despite my careful planning, I was harried and stressed.

But then I found the key to eliminating the crunch and the last-minute...

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How to Play Four Note Chords Without Finger Fumbles

There are many dividing points in life, moments when you know you have reached a new phase or growth stage. They are the thresholds that you cross, knowing that nothing will be the same afterward. Passing your driver’s test, getting married, having your first baby are some of the huge milestones in life.

For a harpist, one of those milestones, and one that is absolutely essential to their continued harp progress, is learning to play four-note chords.

This may not seem like a very big deal, and it certainly isn’t something we normally announce on social media. Nonetheless, it is a skill that all advanced harp players have and one that very few less experienced players are comfortable with. Four-note chords mark a dividing point in skill level more than any other technical issue. If you’re at that point in your harp playing right now, you know exactly what I mean.

In the early stages of learning to play the harp, we get accustomed to playing three-note chords. The...

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Growing Pains: Embracing the Messy Middle

Growth hurts.

Whether it’s those painful knees of a growing adolescent, or a lesson learned through a painful mistake, growth is usually the fruit of struggle, perhaps some frustration and occasionally failure.

Thomas Edison didn’t invent one lightbulb. The lightbulb that finally worked was the result of thousands of lightbulbs he invented that didn’t work. The butterfly wasn’t born with beautiful colors on delicate wings. It began as a caterpillar that had to surrender its caterpillar nature and shut itself up in a cocoon before it could emerge as the butterfly it was destined to become.

The path to any achievement has its metamorphosis stage. It is then that the transformation happens, the growth that will lead us to our goal. Yes, it’s the messy middle, but it’s also the most powerful phase of learning.

To use the messy middle to your greatest advantage you need to be prepared to endure the struggle and persist when it looks like you’re...

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Finding Your Groove: How to Train Your Inner Metronome

beat counting metronome rhythm Oct 07, 2019

“Don’t rush, dear.” Countless music teachers have said that to even more music students for generations. Keeping a steady tempo while you play can be one of the hardest things to do. But it shouldn’t be.

Consider for a moment that our entire body is rhythmic. Our heart beats in a steady rhythm; we breathe in and out. We have a natural sleep cycle. Even our snoring is rhythmic. These processes happen without a single conscious thought on our part. 

So why do we have such trouble playing rhythmically? And why do we tend to say, “I just have no sense of rhythm,” when nothing could be farther from the truth?

The truth is that playing at a steady speed is difficult. Drummers spend their entire career making their inner pulse steady and unwavering. We use metronomes, with sometimes doubtful success, in an attempt to instill a habit of playing at a consistent tempo.

I believe we sabotage our efforts at developing our inner pulse. Our well-meaning...

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Are Your Fingers Failing You? 10 Quick Fixes

fingering fingers technique Sep 30, 2019

When was the last time you said this: “If it weren't for those 2 measures in the middle, this piece would be no problem for me?” 

We've all been frustrated by those spots where our fingers always seem to miss the strings or fumble or trip over each other. And it seems that no matter how much we drill them, they still feel unreliable or shaky. 

It's a fact that some passages are just plain hard to play, and they take much longer than the rest of the piece to feel familiar. But frequently, there is simply one small tweak that manages to clear up most of the difficulty. 

Many times, a student will play through one of these spots for me, and I am able to spot that crucial tweak. In these moments, it seems almost magical to the student; one small adjustment and much of the fumbling or insecurity is cured. But it's not magic, merely long years of experience, experience that I am happy to share with you. 

A student's first question to me is almost always...

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