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 to be a harpist. Despite my teacher’s best efforts, however, I still had a very undisciplined technique and extremely poor practice habits. Needless to say, these are not the hallmarks of a harpist.
I wanted to attend The Curtis Institute of Music. It was the only place I wanted to go to college. There was no second choice for me. Curtis or nothing. This was when I finally woke up to the fact that if I wanted to be a harpist at that level, I had to start acting like one. That next summer I straightened out my technique and learned how to practice. At last, I saw the truth about being a harpist: to be a harpist, you have to do what a harpist does.
I finally realized that there were specific skills, knowledge and disciplines that were required of harpists at the professional level. I started to put those pieces in place. It wasn’t a smooth process for me, but I eventually got it figured out.
The question I’d like you to consider is this: When you tell people you play the harp, what does that mean to you?
The answer to that question is yours alone to give. No one else can define your harp playing for you. Everyone’s harp story and harp goals are unique. Being a harpist isn’t about practicing four hours a day or maintaining a concert level repertoire. It’s not about how well you play or what music you play; it’s simply that you play.
Being a harpist has nothing to do with when you started or how old you are now. It has everything to do with what you do now. In a sense, you earn your harpist badge each day that you do the things that every harpist does - studying, practicing and playing. And when you continue to do those things over time, you not only can say you are a harpist, but you will feel like one.
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