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Grins and Grimaces: Putting on Your Concert Face

The close-up of the soloist reveals the look of intense concentration on her face. The performer’s total commitment to the music is visible in her closed eyes and slightly furrowed brow. There is strength and beauty in her expression.

A quick ramble through YouTube videos will reveal a wide variety of “concert faces.” Some of the most remarkable will be found in videos of live performances filmed by audience members.

What is an appropriate expression for when you’re playing? Do you smile or frown? Ignore the audience or acknowledge them? Grimace or grin when you’ve made a mistake?

The easy answer would be that it depends on the situation. While that’s true enough, it isn’t really helpful for a musician who is self-conscious about his or her own facial expression.

Don’t Make a Face!

Of course, we all know what we aren’t supposed to show on our faces; we aren’t supposed to react to our mistakes. Gliding over the missed...

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3 Reasons You Can't Finish a Piece and How to Fix It

Why can’t you finish that piece?

Composer Franz Schubert never finished his Eighth Symphony. If you aren’t up on your music history, you might think it was because he died before he could complete it, but that was not the case. Schubert wrote the first two movements of the symphony in 1822, but he lived, and composed, for 6 more years. In fact, scholars cannot ascertain exactly why Schubert stopped work on that symphony, and Schubert isn’t around to answer the question.

So if you have trouble getting a piece of music to the finish point, you’re hardly the first musician to experience that dilemma. 

On the other hand, if you have trouble finishing any piece of music so that you can actually play it, there are some things you can do to fix that. The first step is to explore why you might not be finishing.

You Get Bored: The Greyhound Syndrome

I’ve often used greyhounds and German shepherds to describe the two most common practice styles....

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Habits: Is It Time For a Change?

habit practice technique Jan 28, 2019

There is no question that we all are creatures of habit. The only question is whether our habits are intentional or accidental, whether they propel us forward or hold us back from the future we deserve.

From a scientific viewpoint, a habit is merely a triggered response that has become automatic. What I find interesting is this: the power of the habit lies in the trigger. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know what I mean. You want to eat fewer calories, but you always order fries with your burger. You want to stop smoking, but you always smoke with a cup of coffee. You want to watch less tv, but that’s what you always do after dinner.

In order to change those habits, you have to resist your usual response to the trigger and create a new response. Yes, that’s much easier said than done, but we do have a secret weapon: focusing on the result that we desire, the benefits that our new habit will bring to us.

This is the same strategy that dieters use when...

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The Musician’s Success Secret

Is there a secret that every successful musician knows - and you don’t?

“She always seems so confident.” “She never lets things get to her.” “She doesn’t seem to feel the pressure.” “She looks like she’s having fun.”

Other the years I’ve watched performers who just didn’t seem to get flustered. They didn’t seem nervous or worried about the possibility of things going wrong. I’ve envied their calm.

I’ve also been surprised when people have said the same things to me, commenting on how easy I made it look.

While I understand how performing can look easy when you’re in the audience, I know that it certainly doesn’t feel that way while you’re up on stage. And in the years that I have been teaching and coaching harpists through auditions, competitions and performances, I have discovered that there is one thing that successful performers do that separates them from the rest.

...

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Flute and Harp: Forging the Future

Joan Sparks, Louis deLise, Anne Sullivan

What is it about the flute and the harp? These two instruments in combination evoke elegance and grace, both visually and aurally. Perhaps a Jane Austen drawing room comes to mind, or the most recent wedding you attended. Whatever else flute and harp music may be, it certainly is everywhere.

Like many harpists, I can remember my first flute and harp experience. It was typical, I imagine. I was asked to play at a wedding, and in the next sentence asked if I had a flutist who could play with me. I was in high school at the time and needed the paycheck, so without ever having worked with a flutist before, I promptly answered, “Of course.”

I found a school friend, Laurie, to play with me, and over the next few years, we performed a number of times at different venues. During that time, as I played with more community and youth orchestras, I also discovered that nearly every flutist I met was eager to work with a harpist.

Soon I had a...

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My 2019 Designed: How I Put It All Together

performing practice Jan 07, 2019

Welcome to 2019! I love a new year. It feels like a beautifully wrapped present with your name on it, just waiting for you to open it. What might be inside??

If you’ve been following the last few blog posts, you’ve learned the steps to designing your 2019, to setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. The process we have used is a little untraditional and whimsical, and I hope that you’ve had fun with it.

The lighthearted approach doesn’t dilute the power of the system, though. It’s just the spoonful of sugar that helps make the deep thinking a little more approachable.

I thought it might help you to see how I personally used that same system to set my Harp Mastery goals for 2019. I have several areas in which I set goals each year, and Harp Mastery is one of them. I also set personal goals, harp playing goals, spiritual goals and some others as well. I don’t always accomplish all of them, but I always end up having made progress in the...

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Design Your 2019: Finding the Pea

practicing technique Dec 31, 2018

In this third post in the “Design Your 2019” series, we discover the most important factor in achieving your goal.

The “Princess and the Pea” was always one of my favorite fairy tales. In this 1835 classic story, Hans Christian Andersen writes about the test that a prince’s mother devises to ascertain if a prospective bride for her son is truly of royal blood.

A young woman who appears at their castle door one dark and stormy night claims to be a princess but cannot prove it to the mother’s satisfaction. So the mother places a pea in her bed under 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds, believing that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the irritation in the bed. When the princess awakes the next morning, exhausted from a sleepless, uncomfortable night, the mother concedes her royalty, and the price and princess live happily ever after.

The true test of the princess was not in how she looked or acted, but in her deep sensitivity, not...

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Design Your 2019: The Sorting Hat

practicing technique Dec 24, 2018

In last week’s blog post, Design Your 2019: Write Your Movie, you created your movie trailer, your description of your harp vision for yourself. You identified your happy ending as well as some of the obstacles you might encounter along the way.

Your next step is to look at what you will need to do and NOT do in order for your vision to become your reality. Most people would begin by setting out the steps they need to follow. Unfortunately, it’s easy to bog down in that process; there are so many steps that it’s hard to know where to start.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that I have a different approach for you to try. We will use the Sorting Hat.

If you know the Harry Potter books or movies, you’re familiar with the Sorting Hat. As each new student enters Hogwarts Academy, the Sorting Hat is placed on his or her head and the hat assigns them to one of the four houses: Gryffindor for the courageous, Hufflepuff for the humble and hard-working,...

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Design Your 2019: Write Your Movie

practicing technique Dec 17, 2018

You may not be familiar with Don LaFontaine’s name, but I guarantee you have heard his voice. His deep and resonant voice became synonymous with the words, “In a world where…” Yes, Don LaFontaine was the movie trailer voice, warning us of the perils that awaited our hero and his eventual triumph over them.

What if your harp story were a movie? What would be your happy ending? What difficulties would you encounter along your path and how would you surmount them?

Today I want to walk you through the first step in planning for 2019. I want to help you design your harp happiness, not just hope that you stumble across it. And we will do it together by writing your own “In a world where…” movie trailer.

Possibly you have tried to set goals before and failed. The way most people approach it, it’s a painful process. But it doesn’t have to be, and the process we will start today is not only painless; it’s even fun.

Before we...

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Not So Silent Night: Going Viral 200 Years Ago


In today’s world, fame is just one viral video away.

The internet stream of cute cats and adorable toddler antics is the modern megaphone for getting your new message out to the world.

The internet, and YouTube in particular, has transformed the music industry from one in which you had to know the right people to get any notice to one where all you need is your cell phone. As we become ever more accustomed to the instant worldwide audience that every musician has access today, we find ourselves wondering how music could possibly spread in a pre-high-tech era.

As it happens, this year we celebrate the anniversary of a piece of music that “went viral” 200 years ago. It was Christmas Eve of1818 when one of the world’s most beloved Christmas carols was written and performed for the first time.

That day the assistant priest of a small church in Oberndorf, Austria handed the church organist a poem he had written and asked the church’s organist to set it to...

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