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Practicing Harp Happiness

#083: Harp and Healing: Being A Certified Music Practitioner

music and meaning Dec 19, 2022

If you’ve ever marveled at the healing power of music, then this podcast episode will blow your mind.

This week I will share with you a conversation with a special guest, harpist Barbara Lepke-Sims. Barbara is a Juilliard trained harpist and an expert teacher and performer, and one of the main facets of her playing is as a music practitioner. She doesn’t just call herself a music practitioner; she is certified through the Music for Healing and Transition program and has more than a decade of experience bringing healing and peace to those who suffer.

I met Barbara when I became a board member of the American Harp society, where she has been very active, but we really connected when we met up at the World Harp Congress in Wales this summer. I was curious about how she became a music practitioner, why she chose the certification program she did and what really motivates her about this important work.  

I was really picking her brain because this is a field where...

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#082: Time for a Refresh: Why This is the Time to Think Different

music and meaning Dec 12, 2022

 Do you remember that famous Apple computer advertising campaign, the one that urged us all to “think different?”

That ad campaign was created just after Steve Jobs had returned to the Apple company and Apple needed a new start. The year was 1997 and Apple was on the rocks. Their stock was trading at a 12-year low, and the company that had been known for its creativity and innovation was stagnant and dying. So when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after having left in the mid-1980s, customers, if not Apple’s board of directors, were expecting something new and exciting. And they got it, with interest. During Jobs' tenure after his return, Apple launched the iMac, iBook, iPod, Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, and more. 

You may have forgotten that shaky period in Apple’s history, but I bet the ad campaign is still fresh in your mind.

There were two television advertisements that were shown most often. There was a one-minute version that featured ...

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#081: Peaceful Hands: How to Look More Graceful and Feel More Relaxed

It is a true joy to watch a fine musician play their instrument, whether it's a harp or another instrument. There is a physical flow, a sense that no motion is wasted. You can practically see the mastery they bring to their music. 

I would go even further to say that all their physical resources are being used to serve the music. There is an efficiency in their gestures, a grace and a strength that is as visually compelling as their music is. After all, we see a performance as much as we hear it. 

If you doubt the truth of that statement, just think about a performance you watched where the performer had distracting facial expressions or gestures. Maybe you were able to ignore them and continue listening, but the music’s spell was likely broken for you. What you saw became more important than what you heard. 

This is one reason that orchestras have a uniform dress code, usually formal wear for the men and long black clothing for the women. Most professional...

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#080: Are You Taking Too Long to Learn That Piece?

“How long should it take to learn a piece?” 

I am asked that question so many times and every time my heart sinks. Why? First of all, there’s that word “should.” There are no “shoulds” in the learning process. The word “should” leads to the idea that there is one standard against which we could judge our efforts and which we could use to plan our music learning. An objective standard, such as “this piece will take any harpist three months to learn,” is absolutely impossible. So the word “should” isn’t helpful.

But even if we reframe the question in very specific terms - “how long will it take me to learn this piece?” - we still run into difficulties trying to come up with an answer. 

Each harpist is unique, bringing a unique set of skills and experiences to their music. Each piece has challenges that are specific to that piece which may test an individual harpist’s...

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#079: Playing from an Attitude of Gratitude

music and meaning Nov 21, 2022

This Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and it’s a big deal for us. According to a recent survey Thanksgiving edges out all other holidays, including Christmas, ranking as our most popular holiday. It’s really about three things: food, family and football. Oh right. It’s about being thankful too.

We try to be more intentional about keeping an “attitude of gratitude” at this time of year, but it isn’t easy. Thanksgiving also is the official kick off for the holiday shopping season, so the thankfulness is often tinged with a touch of frenzy as the Black Friday sales begin.

I’m sure you’re receiving plenty of reminders to be thankful this Thanksgiving but I wanted to add a special harp-themed reminder. 

My idea actually grew out of the Play It With Confidence Intensive from just a few weeks ago. We spent a lot of time in that course talking about mindset and choosing what matters to us in our playing. For me...

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#078: Bring More Dimension To Your Music: A 3D Approach

music and meaning Nov 14, 2022

I am fascinated with 3D printers. I don’t have one and I don’t see that I will ever need to have one, although we would have said the same about a smartphone just a few years ago. The idea, though, that a computer file, which seems less than tangible to begin with, can be turned into a solid three-dimensional object fascinates me, And 3D printing is used virtually everywhere: to produce eyeglasses and furniture, scale models, medical devices, reconstruction of ancient artifacts, and the list goes on.

The process is also interesting. It requires special software to read the design file and slice it into hundreds or thousands of cross-sections of the end product which are then created one by one until the end product is complete. 

What I find so intriguing is that the process is an additive process where the slices are added together to create the object. Consider how this is the reverse of more traditional processes where material is taken away, or subtracted, from...

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#077: How to Reach that Unreachable Left Hand Chord

How are you supposed to reach that left hand chord?

You know the one I mean. It goes by a lot of different names, a root-position triad in open spacing, a 1-5-3 chord, or maybe just the chord you can’t ever place accurately. Certainly when we first encounter the chord, it’s a stretch for our hands, but eventually most of us can manage it without too much difficulty.

When we place and play the chord well, it sounds warm and rich. Because it’s a big reach, though, it’s often a challenge to get to the right notes at the right time and play them without hitting neighboring strings. 

And that’s a problem because this combination of notes is everywhere in harp music. We encounter it sometimes as a chord, sometimes as an arpeggio. In fact, I often call this the “left hand master chord,” because it is the one chord that, when we master it, solves playing difficulties in so many pieces. We don’t want to have to spend our practice time...

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#076: Are You In the Zone or Zoning Out?

What’s the big deal about being “in the zone” and how do you get there?

You might have heard the zone described as total focus, as losing your sense of time and space, of being completely absorbed in what you’re doing. People use phrases like, “being able to perform with total concentration” or “losing all awareness of one’s self.” It’s also called a “state of flow.”

From these descriptions, you might think being in the zone is the world’s best antidote to nerves, and in some ways it might be. But the secret to getting in the zone, whether you’re performing or practicing, is really a matter of balance. It’s not magic and it’s not a trip into the matrix. You don’t need a secret mantra or to try to shut your mind away from your playing. Being in the zone is being fully present and involved.

Sometimes musicians try to find the zone by attempting to play on autopilot. You know what I...

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#075: Ditch the Drills: 3 Better Ways to Practice

Who wants a better way to practice? Yes, please!

While it's true that music practice necessarily involves a lot of repetition and drill, there are better - and definitely worse - ways to go about it. Consider how many times you have gotten up from the harp bench having spent an hour on those four nearly impossible measures and come back the next day to feel like you’re starting back at square one again. I feel your pain, my friend, I’ve been there.

Hopefully, you’re keeping in mind that progress doesn’t happen in a predictable way; it happens in its own time. It’s like a seed you plant in the ground. You water it and guard it carefully but you can’t really see through the ground to see if anything is happening. Then one day you go outside and there it is - a baby plant. 

Yes, progress happens over time and is nurtured through repetition, but unlike the growth timeline for a seed, we have a little bit of control of how quickly that progress...

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#074: Everyday Etudes: The Right Way to Use What You’re Already Practicing

Quick question: hands in the air if you’ve ever decided to skip your technique drills and etudes because you are doing that work already on a challenging passage in one of your pieces.

Yes, I thought so. Everybody’s hand is up, including mine. So we all do it, skip our technique work because we’re short on time and we can get the same benefits by doing double duty practice - working on technique with one of those sticky spots that we need to drill anyway. It sounds like a good idea and a great use of our time. But is it really?

Well, yes…and no.

Exercises and etudes have very specialized functions in harp technique practice. The most significant of these is that they take musical context out of the equation. By eliminating the pressures of the right notes at the right time with all the dynamics, we can laser focus on our mechanics, the way our fingers work, the position of our hands and arms, staying relaxed, and maintaining a healthy posture. Then moving...

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