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My 500 Word Commencement Address

music miscellany May 24, 2013
This post was inspired by Kim Rowe’s May 18 blog post on the Harp Column website.
No, I was NOT asked to give a commencement address to music school graduates. But if I were asked, this is what I would say in 500 words:

Dear New Music Graduates, Congratulations! You are about to embark on the exciting adventure known as a career in music. Don’t listen to those who tell you that the terms “career” and “music” are mutually exclusive. As a one-time music graduate myself, I can tell you that you are about to experience a wonderful and unpredictable journey. And yes, that journey can include both music and a career.

In the years since my own graduation, I have seen unprecedented changes in the music business. And though it’s true that orchestras are experiencing hard times and critics bemoan shrinking audiences, I believe it is the best time to be a musician that we have ever seen.

The reason is the almost limitless opportunity that exists for...

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5 Steps to Building Your Repertoire

musicianship performing May 19, 2013

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had some music you could just sit down and play?

Like most young music students, I learned to hate when my parents had visitors. The reason? I knew I would be asked to play for them. I used to protest that my pieces weren’t ready. My parents countered with, “What about that piece you learned last month?” Unfortunately, I’d already forgotten that one. It would be many years before I learned about developing a repertoire of pieces I could play at the drop of a hat.

My teachers told me about Carlos Salzedo dedicating every Sunday to playing through his concert repertoire. In that way he never had to worry about a concert piece going out of his fingers. This is a brilliant discipline which I try to observe, although I admit to having frequent lapses.

But first you have to develop a repertoire. If you want to develop your own repertoire, you can follow these five steps:

1. Theme your repertoire. Why are you putting together this...

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Interesting Stopping Points







A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places. – Paul Gardner, arts writer

I heard this quoted at a university commencement ceremony this week. The speaker was making the usual point about the ceremony marking the beginning of a new life phase, not merely the end of school. Absolutely true.

But how many times do we arrive at interesting stopping points in our lives? Probably more often than we realize. I believe that if we take a moment and take advantage of those stopping points in our lives, we can achieve greater clarity and focus and get more traction as we work toward our goals.

Another word for a temporary stopover is “sojourn.” It is a 13th century word, coming from the Latin “subdiunare,” meaning ‘to spend the day.” It is a brief break in the voyage, a time to rest and renew strength and resources before continuing. When we sojourn, or rest briefly from...

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The Big Secret about Ear Training

aural skills May 15, 2013

Ear training is a subject that makes people either shrug their shoulders or shudder. The many different approaches breed confusion and the methods inspire fear.

I should know. I taught ear training at the Curtis Institute for 19 years. I was the mean solfège harpy that made Catholic school nuns look like Mary Poppins. Ok, not really.

But ear training is no student’s favorite subject. It takes time to practice the assignment. You have to perform it in front of the class. It takes time away from practice. But it’s essential to any musician’s education.

Ear training develops what I call the Sensory Triangle: your eyes, ears and fingers. It doesn’t just train your hearing. It teaches you how to hear what you see, play what you hear and play what you see, all of which are the skills that help you sightread, memorize, improvise and just learn music faster and better.

When eyes, ears and fingers work together, they can process all the musical information...

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3 Cool Metronome Techniques

musicianship practicing May 13, 2013

The metronome is an essential tool for any musician. It can help you build your rhythmic confidence and keep a steady beat. You can use it to check your subdivisions or to solve a problem. I never practice without one handy.

Here are three ways you might not have thought of to use your metronome:

1. Click on the offbeats. We are used to hearing our metronome click on the beginning of every beat. Have you ever tried letting it click on just the half beat? If the piece calls for the quarter note at 80, set your metronome to 80. But instead of starting to play ON the click, let each click represent the eighth note in between the beats, so you hear the clicks on the “ands” instead of on the numbered beats. It’s an interesting technique for making your subdividing exact. Tip: to help keep your concentration, be sure to count while you play.

2. Practice two against three. Most electronic metronomes will allow you to set a subdivision of the beat. Start by setting your...

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20 Places to Share Your Music – and Make Money

Are you inspired to take your music to the masses? Or at least find a place to play? Here are twenty . These are not venues that will hire you. They are places where you can play just by asking permission. You will gain experience, build a fan base, get exposure. Some places may pay you. Other places may let you play for tips.

So grab a tip jar, some business cards and your best smile, and go make some music.

1. Local cafe or bookstore
2. Nursing home/senior center
3. Library children’s program
4. Summer camps, especially day camps, Bible camps or museum summer programs
5. Municipal parks music programs
6. Your front porch
7. Neighborhood yard sales
8. Local specialty shops
9. Company cafeteria
10. Churches, at services, dinners or other functions
11. Block party/Street fair
12. Heritage festival, e.g. Italian Festival
13. Open Mike night
14. Doctor or dentist waiting room
16. Art gallery opening
17. Train station or commuter stop
18. Art show or craft fair...
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Work on Your Technique – a Four-Part Practice Strategy

practicing technique May 08, 2013






         Technique practice

We all want to work on technique, so we play a few scales, do a few exercises, learn some etudes. Often we take a rather haphazard approach. Is there a better plan?

Like any other part of your music study, your technical work should be focused and goal-driven. You should know what you want to accomplish, whether it is building your technique from scratch or a seasonal overhaul.

At this time of year, I am ready for a technique overhaul. The concert season is winding down. I am planning my repertoire for next year, but I still have plenty of time to get everything in my fingers. It’s my fingers that need my attention now.

Just because you’ve been playing a lot doesn’t mean you’re in shape. In fact, when you have a stack of music to prepare and perform, it’s very easy to get out of shape and let bad habits creep in.

So as the concert season ends, I renew my technique....

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May 2013

uncategorized May 06, 2013
In this issue:
Breaking News
Q and A with Anne Sullivan
Summer performances
Harp in the Mountains Festival I nsider Focus for May
Subscribe to the HarpMastery blog
Breaking News… Watch for the May/June issue of Harp Column Magazine, with part one of a two-part series dedicated to tuning, written by Anne Sullivan. Don’t miss it!
Not a Harp Column subscriber? Sign up now!

Featured on the Harp Column Website: Q and A with Anne Sullivan.
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An Open Letter to My Other Students

music miscellany May 06, 2013

In a previous post, I wrote about what graduating music students need to be prepared for the road ahead. This post is dedicated to my other students, graduating college seniors who are not making music their careers.

Dear Students,

What a pleasure it has been to get to know you, and what a privilege to be a part of your time with the harp. You came to me with different harp backgrounds and varying levels of accomplishment, but I am proud of you and the work we have done together. I hope you will take three things with you as a legacy of our lessons.

First, I hope you have grown in your love for the harp. At some point in your life, you chose the harp as a means of self-expression. In our lessons, I tried to foster that feeling, and share with you some of my own deep attachment and affection for our instrument, its music and its players. Let the harp continue as a creative outlet for you, and never hesitate to share it with others.

Second, I hope you have enjoyed our exploration of a...

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Practice around the Potholes with Preparation Points!

mucisianship practicing May 03, 2013

One of my favorite practice techniques came in handy with a student today.

The piece was “La Source” by Alphonse Hasselmans. The problem was the bar lines. Not just one bar line, most of them. The student was having difficulty getting from one measure to the next. Everything was fine at a slow tempo, but as soon as we tried to speed it up, the bar lines turned into concrete barriers.

Maybe you have experienced something like this. Much of a piece is playable, but there are some spots that always seem to go awry.

I compare this situation to driving on a road with potholes. There is one exit ramp I drive on frequently, often late at night. At the top of the ramp at the merge onto the main road, there is a pothole. It has been there for years. Still somehow nearly every time, I manage to hit the pothole, after which I yell at myself for forgetting it was there. The pothole is avoidable; all I have to do is remember it’s there, and take appropriate...

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