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#124: How to Play Any Piece More Musically

A long time ago, I attended a concert by a famous pianist, and I overheard two audience members talking about how impressed they were, how the performer’s virtuosity and expressiveness showed true mastery of the instrument. And then I heard the comment that stuck with me: “He could make ‘Hot Cross Buns’ sound like a musical masterpiece.”

If you took piano lessons as a child, chances are that you played the nursery song “Hot Cross Buns” in your first few weeks of study. The melody only has five notes. It couldn’t be more simple.

But this idea made me consider what I believe is a common misconception among harpists who want to develop a repertoire of music. Whether their repertoire would be geared toward concerts or weddings or church music or local senior centers, harpists usually overcomplicate things. Naturally, we want to present music that our audiences will like and we want to play it well, but often we make it much harder for ourselves than we need to. 

Here’s an example. Let’s imagine a harpist whom we will name Zelda. Zelda wants to put together a program of music to play at the nursing home where her mother lives. She’s excited about playing and she knows her mother is proudly spreading the word to all her friends in the home. Zelda is a little anxious, though, because she’s never put together a solo program of music before. So she searches through all her music, assembles her favorite pieces and begins her practice. She is pleased with the music she has chosen, knowing that she’s included a couple of her mother’s favorite pieces and a couple of others that she knows will make the program extra special. So far so good. 

However, as the date of the performance gets closer, she becomes a little anxious, thinking that she has been too ambitious. There is a lot of music and some of it is more challenging than she remembered. She’s not sure everything will be ready and polished by the performance. Now, she’s getting nervous. 

This is probably a common trap for us harpists; thinking we need to play our hardest, showiest or most ambitious music on a program. There are some obvious reasons to choose simpler music - we can play it with more confidence, it doesn’t take as much practice - but sometimes we feel like it’s cheating to play the easy stuff. We think that people won’t think we’re really good if we aren’t playing the hard pieces. 

In fact, most audiences, even musically educated ones, don’t know which pieces are difficult and which are easy. What they do know is if we are struggling to get through a piece. 

Our show today is going to be about how you can find the musical value in those easy pieces, how you can play them so they sound polished and expressive, not like a baby piece. We’ll talk about musical considerations, ones you probably haven’t given much thought to, that will change the way you play any piece - not just the easy ones. And you’ll play more confidently too, because you know the technical aspects of the piece are well within your grasp. Who knows? If you’ve been reluctant to get out and share your music in your community, this could even change your mind. 

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected] 


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