When is music big-R “Romantic” and when is it only little-r “romantic?”
Much harp music sounds “romantic” in the little-r sense of the word: beautiful, lush, expressive. But in musical academia, big-R “Romantic music” is something more. And since we play so much music that is little-r and big-R romantic, the topic seems worthy of a little discussion.
First, it helps to understand the what, when and who of the Romantic era: the composers, time frame and characteristics that represented a new outlook on musical expression. Then we will look at how you can make the most of the Romantic music you play.
The Romantic era in music covers most of the nineteenth century and the early years of the the twentieth, roughly 1815 – 1910. Beethoven is often recognized as the first Romantic composer, but there are dozens more whose names are familiar to you: Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Schubert,...
What is your technique? Which method do you play? Which of those potentially conflicting factions do you belong to?
Like other musicians, we harpists certainly have many choices. There is French method and Russian method, Salzedo, Grandjany and more, plus equally specific folk harp methods. Do you even know which one you use? Or – horror of horrors – don’t you use any particular method?
This technique issue can be a big stumbling block, dividing students, teachers and performers into camps where loyalty and partisanship can end up excluding and dividing people who all love and play the same instrument.
I believe that having and following a technique is essential to the development of any musician, but I don’t believe that any one method is intrinsically superior to the others. If that were the case, we would only have fabulous performers from one of those many schools of thought.
So rather than trying to determine the “best” technique or method,...
It’s Labor Day here in the US, a day our nation honors the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. And how do we observe it? By taking the day off, and having one last barbecue to celebrate the end of summer vacations and our return to school and work.
Today I am celebrating Labor Day by sharing with you a dozen of my favorite quotes from my special file of quotes about music and musicians. Some are inspirational; some thought-provoking; some humorous. I hope you find one that will brighten your day. And I would love it if you would share one of your favorite music quotes in the comments below!
Where words fail, music speaks. – Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author (1805-1875)
When you play, never mind who listens to you. – Robert...
Let me start with a story:
There once was a music teacher who had two students, approximately the same age and skill level. One week, she assigned each student the same new piece. The students were equally excited about learning the piece. When the students came back for their lessons the next week, however, there was a significant difference in their results.
The first student walked in saying, “It was so much fun – I learned the whole thing!” And though the student was able to get through the whole piece, there were countless misread notes, uneven tempos, rhythmic mistakes and thoughtless dynamics.
The second student started by saying, “I made pretty good progress.” This student had only learned the first section. It was very slow, but all the details were there: fingering, dynamics notes and rhythms. Good progress, yes, but it would clearly take many weeks before the end of the piece...
Wouldn’t we all like to make our lives easier? I certainly could use help with that myself.
For me, everything is easier when making music is enjoyable, rewarding and fun, with as little hassle or stress as possible. Unfortunately the stress and the music seem to be inseparable. Playing music provides plenty of challenges on its own, technical ones and musical ones. Then there are the logistical challenges of just getting the harp and myself from place to place and keeping my schedule in check.
As I’m gearing up to start a new season of concerts and teaching, I am giving some extra thought to making my musical life go more smoothly. I have managed to identify five things I can do to keep my stress levels low and my musical enjoyment high. I hope they will help you as well.
If you’re at all like me, you are not a disorganized person; you’re just a victim of being a little too busy. I find that when I get very busy, I allow myself to let...
What will you do next?
I was able to spend a day at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival recently and it was a great day of harps, harp players, workshops and concerts. It was hard to choose which workshops to attend, there were so many great choices.
It brought to mind a question that many of my students ask themselves and then ask me. They want to know what is next for them. What’s the next piece I should learn? What’s the next skill I should develop? What’s the next step in my plan?
This is a concern of many of my adult students. They don’t want to waste their time and money. They want to learn to play the harp. They’re hard-working, motivated, and they want results.
Clearly, the next step will vary from student to student, but if these are the types of questions that you’ve been asking yourself, there are a few considerations that can help you arrive at the right answers for you.
It never hurts to spend some time...
Last week on the blog, I wrote about things that busy professional harpists have learned that every harpist could benefit from. In the spirit of “turn around is fair play,” today I offer things that those same busy harpists need to remember. Actually, we all need to remember these things, and the busier you are, the more likely you are to forget how important they are.
But this isn’t a checklist of what you need to remember to take with you on the job. This is a checklist of what you need to remember to do when you get back home.
When you have a busy performing calendar, whether those performances are recitals or weddings, you learn to juggle. You juggle the music that you need to prepare, the logistics of getting you and your harp from place to place, and the financial uncertainty of busy and slow seasons. And there is some excitement and a little adrenalin rush in balancing all the commitments you have.
Unfortunately, if you don’t take time to pay attention...
Ok. So you never want to play in public. Even playing for your dog makes you nervous. Believe it or not, that’s a dangerous state of mind.
I’m not going to try to goad you into public performance. I believe that playing for your own pleasure is a worthwhile aspiration.
But I have often heard harpists (and other musicians too) use this as an excuse for some poor habits, habits which keep them playing at a lever lower than what is really achievable for them. For the most part, this is not a conscious choice to avoid hard work or difficulty. It’s more often based on a misconception about some of the things that are absolutely critical to playing well, even when that only needs to be good enough to please yourself.
Here are 7 things that every gigging harpist knows. They are skills and habits that are required for freelance work. You don’t have to take my word for it that these are essential. Ask any young harpist who has started playing for weddings.
How many of...
Are you putting the brakes on when you play or practice? Or are you frustrated with slow progress?
A quick story…
One summer when my husband, son and I were vacationing in Europe, we stopped in the Alps to take a ride on a Sommerrodelbahn, a summer version of a toboggan run. After all, what do you do in the Alps in the summer if you don’t have snow?
This particular ride was a long, winding, downhill track, shaped like a trough, and the riders sat in small individual sleds. Each sled was controlled only by the rider, so you could go at your own pace. My son and husband zoomed down the hill, their sleds scooting up the sides of the track like an Olympic luge. I was much more cautious, applying my brake often. In fact, I applied my brake much too often for the person in the sled behind me. I still had a good ride, but I knew that I really wanted to go faster on my second ride. My caution might have won awards for safety, but I missed some of the thrill I could have had on...
I was quite young when I fell in love with the music of Claude Debussy. I didn’t know the theoretical reasons that made his music radically different from what came before. I only knew that it was beautiful and expressive and touched me in a special way.
Debussy is often considered the initiator of the Impressionist movement in music. Impressionist painters had recently made their break with earlier art traditions. They favored unconventional techniques like rough, short brush strokes and used them to create sweeping visual effects rather than realistically detailed representations.
Debussy strove for a similar break with musical traditions that he considered “barren.” He and other composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged the accepted formulas of harmony and melody. Over time, they created music that was more free, with a more flexible form and flow than the music of their forebears; Impressionism had come to music. (As an aside,...