Blog 2019 Fall Retreat Member Login Login

Method or Madness

musicianship technique Feb 29, 2016

“What method do you play?”

It’s part of the human condition to label, sort and divide. Classifying things makes them easier to understand.

We feel a bond with others that share our views. We form clubs and associations. We develop deep loyalties. We separate the sheep from the goats.

But labels can also cause misunderstanding and divisiveness. As a musician, no matter what instrument you play, you are almost certainly on one side of some fence. One of the biggest “fences” is the one between the partisans of different methods.

There are different methods, different schools of playing for every instrument, from banjo to bassoon. The statement “he plays well, but he’s the other method,” although it expresses a natural feeling, only serves to strengthen walls instead of build bridges. 

What a method is

At its essence, a method for any instrument is a unified philosophy of sound production. It aligns the technical requirements, the...

Continue Reading...

Do You Have a Harp Hero?

music miscellany Feb 22, 2016

I need a hero.

A harpist’s life is not an easy one. I’m not complaining, mind you, just stating a fact.

The harp is a beautiful instrument, but one with lots of issues. Whether we are trying to tune it, play it or move it, we are not traveling an easy road.

Along my own harp road, I have encountered many people who have made my way much smoother, some simply by a thoughtful gesture, others who showed me the way with their own bright light. These are my harp heroes.

I know you’ve met them too, people who make your day brighter and your dreams possible. Do you know any of these harp heroes?

  • People who open the door for me and my harp without my asking.
  • Conductors who give me time to reset my pedals.
  • People who ask if they can help me when they see me moving the harp, and then wait for my answer and my direction.
  • School band directors who find creative ways to include my students in their ensembles.
  • Harp parents who give up their evenings and weekends to take their...
Continue Reading...

Thinking Music in 3D

musicianship Feb 15, 2016

When you look at your music, is your vision bounded by the black dots, lines and spaces and the edges ofthe page?

Let’s get out of the flat two dimensional world of the printed page and look at music in 3D.

The Horizontal Dimension of Music 

Melody is horizontal dimension of music. It is the narrative voice of music. Melody tells a story, sings a song, or paints a picture.

Melody is linear, but a good melody is never merely a line. Melody has direction, energy and flow. Like a well-crafted sentence, a melody must have a clear beginning, convey a thought and carry through to a conclusion.

Melody is often thought of as an arch, moving upward from its start to a high point and then coming back down as it ends.  The great oboist Marcel Tabuteau developed a precise numeric system to help his students learn how to shape a phrase from beginning to the top of the arch and back. You can read more about that in this previous post..

For us harpists, playing a carefully...

Continue Reading...

Your Metronome Speaks

You move that pile of music and there it is, underneath everything: your metronome. It stares mutely at you, reproachfully. You feel a brief pang of guilt, but you push it aside, telling yourself that the metronome is really too annoying and you’ll use it another time.

But your metronome is calling to you from under that pile of music. And if you would listen, you would hear it telling you everything it could do to help you play music better and more beautifully. It might sound a little like this…

I’ve been an essential training tool for musicians for hundreds of years. Generations of performers have known the value of using me to help them improve their technique, develop their musicianship and practice their repertoire. I could do that for you too, if you’d let me. In fact, here’s my promise to you. Use me daily and I will…

keep you honest. This is probably the most frequent and the most dreaded use of the metronome. The metronome...

Continue Reading...

The Mastery Trait

musicianship technique Feb 01, 2016


What is “mastery?”

Scenario 1

The team is about to lose. Time is running out and in a last desperate attempt to win, the quarterback throws the ball down the field. The receiver barely catches the ball; he is clutching it behind his back. He must hold on to the ball and get across the goal line. He hugs the ball to the back of his legs and leaps. Touchdown. Team wins. Sportscasters replay that “impossible” catch over and over. How did he manage to hold on to the ball?

Scenario 2

World class cellist falls off platform during Beethoven Triple concerto. Not only is unhurt but keeps on playing while he retakes his seat. Video goes viral.

How did each of these players manage to not merely survive, but turn a challenging performance situation into a win? What makes them able to perform “in the clutch” when so many others would fall apart? That’s the mastery trait.

The mastery trait can best be understood as a total commitment to a goal,...

Continue Reading...

Heavenly Harmonics – A Guide

musicianship technique Jan 25, 2016


In the last post , we examined the acoustical principles of harmonics. We also discussed the number one rule for playing a beautiful bell-like harmonic: you must stop the string in the exact center.  Let’s go step by step through all four elements of playing a harmonic


Harmonics Step By Step
Step One: The Center

This is the “center of the string” rule that we’ve already discussed. Remember that the center of the string can be found by measuring from the soundboard up to the lowest point of contact between the string and a pin, lever or disc. This will mean that the center of a string where the lever is raised or a pedal engaged will be lower than the center of a string with the lever down or the pedal up. Equally important is that the center is not where you place your thumb; it’s where you place the fleshy part of your left hand or your right index finger knuckle.

One trick to helping you remember the center of...

Continue Reading...

How to Play Heavenly Harmonics

musicianship technique Jan 18, 2016

This post is the first of a two-part series to help you understand harp harmonics, the science behind them and the tips you need to make yours ring beautifully.

There is no more beautiful sound than a harp harmonic, ringing with a silvery clarity. Philadelphia harpist Edna Phillips was fond of recounting how the famous conductor Stokowski raved about the bell-like tone of her harmonics. But if like most of us, you have ever struggled trying to attain that same sound quality for your harmonics, read on…

While harmonics are part of our repertoire of expressive sounds and tone colors, our understanding of them needs to begin with some science, the science of acoustics. The reason is simple: once we know why harmonics work scientifically, we can begin to see what we need to do to make them work for us.

Imagine plucking a string on your harp, one of the low strings. You can watch the string vibrate, and you can hear the pitch that is produced by that vibration....

Continue Reading...

What Do You NEED to Know?

musicianship Jan 11, 2016

Remember those high school classes you thought were a waste of time? Maybe you were one of those who struggled through geometry proofs. Or perhaps you scheduled a sick day when your biology teacher scheduled a frog dissection, or flung curses at Chaucer’s Middle English, joining the chorus of countless generations of students: When am I ever going to need to know this?

I’m certain your parents and teachers did their best to convince you of the benefits of a well-rounded education. As you went through your college years however, you probably discovered that a degree of specialized knowledge is essential in the pursuit of a career. Your academic track became more directed to your career path. A well-rounded education is a fine thing, but there are times when you only need to know what you really need to know.

This applies to music study as well. If you are going to be a professional musician, your musical literacy is expected to be at the highest level. This is...

Continue Reading...

A Scale for the New Year

music miscellany Jan 04, 2016

The New Year. New beginnings, New ideas, goals, hopes and dreams. All exciting and energizing.

I love the wonderful possibilities that a new year presents. Each year I look forward to setting goals and putting in place systems that will help keep me on track to achieve them.

I’ve used complicated systems and I’ve used simple ones, but I have found over time that I stay on track best when I keep a simple set of guidelines in mind. These guidelines help me make good choices consistent with my goals, assuring me that at year’s end, I will have accomplished a lot of what I set out to do.

To help me remember them, I write them out like a musical scale, C to.C. I share them now with you, hoping that you will find them helpful with whatever wonderful things you want to achieve in 2016.


Cut the clutter. Get rid of the excess that clogs your space, your mind, your schedule. Consider new opportunities the same way. What will you have to give up to make room for them?



Continue Reading...

7 Surprising Facts about “O Holy Night”

music miscellany Dec 21, 2015

Adolphe Adam, composer

Whether you know it as “O Holy Night” or “Cantique de Noël,” you probably either love it or hate it. You may find the music and words moving and inspiring, or you may just have heard one too many singers struggle through the high notes. Either way, I have a few facts that, while they might not change your mind about the song, are sure to give you a different perspective on this timeless Christmas favorite.

1. Have you ever wondered why this lovely melody is paired with those bombastic sounding organ interludes? Perhaps it’s because the piece was commissioned to celebrate the renovation of the church organ in Roquemaure, France. The organ had been moved from a convent in Avignon and installed in the church, but had required extensive work. The parish priest asked a local poet by the name of Placide Cappeau to write a poem for the occasion. Cappeau’s poem, “Minuit, Christiens” (Midnight, Christians) was then...

Continue Reading...

50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.