Do you know why you’re playing music, why you have chosen to make music an important part of your life?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve always felt the call to make music.
According to my mother, who wasn’t prone to making up these kinds of stories, I heard the harp on the radio when I was two years old. I asked her what it was and said that I wanted to play it. I started piano lessons at age four and was told that if I still wanted to play the harp when I was eight, I could start harp lessons then. I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been times, however, when I had to do some very serious introspection about why I was playing the harp. In fact, there have been a number of figurative forks in my path which necessitated deep soul-searching. Was the harp something I was doing simply because I always had? Was it something I could, and possibly should, leave behind me to pursue something else? Should I forge ahead, or strike out on another road?
Each time, the answer has come to me clearly: the harp is my path. It’s not always an easy path, but it is the one I have chosen, and continue to choose each day.
The reason I mention this to you is because I would like you to reflect on your musical choices. This is not because I think you should choose another path. It is because I want you to learn, as I have had to learn, how to keep your musical flame, your energy and passion for your music, burning. The secret lies in remembering your why.
It is so easy to lose your why, to quench your passion in the deluge of technical work, challenging music, over-full schedules, and performance pressure. Even your daily practice can feel like a chore and lead to frustration or boredom, rather than fulfillment and joy.
Even if you believe you can easily answer the question of why you are playing the harp, I would like you to try this little experiment. Find a quiet spot. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and a notebook or journal to write in.
Take a moment to reflect. What was the moment you decided to play the harp? What drew you to the instrument? What were the feelings you experienced when you first ran your fingers over the strings of your own harp?
In those beginning weeks, what was your dream for your playing? Think back and revisit the mental images you had of the music you might play and the people you might play for. Try to recapture the feelings those images evoked and write them in your journal.
Next, write down three words that describe what music or the harp means to you. They might be words like “harmony” or “beauty.” Perhaps they are more personal feelings, like “satisfaction” or “accomplishment” or “expression.” Please keep in mind that there are no wrong words; the words you choose are the right words for you. I’ll share my three words with you at the end of this post.
Finally, write down three ways that you could include more of those descriptive words in your playing this week. For example, imagine your words were “serenity”, “sharing” and “creativity.” You might try a little improvisation (creativity), and perhaps playing some calm, relaxing music for a shut-in friend (serenity and sharing). Or maybe you would enjoy putting together a short program of music (creativity) to play at a nursing home (sharing) and treat yourself by playing your favorite piece of beautiful music every day (serenity). You only need three ways, and we have just listed five or six.
If you have an artistic bent, you might want to illustrate your three words and put them near you harp where you see them each day. This is a valuable reminder to keep your perspective, and to remember what’s really important to you about your music.
It’s almost never about the right notes or the fingering. It’s almost always about the way you feel and the feelings you communicate to others when you play. When you keep that uppermost in your mind, you are less apt to experience frustration or distraction, and much more likely to find harp happiness every day.
Oh yes, my three words. They are expression, pursuit, and joy.
Feel free to share your three words in the comments below!