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5 Ways to Make Your (Musical) Life Easier

music miscellany Aug 18, 2014

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.

1. Get Organized.

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...

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What’s next for you?

musicianship practicing Aug 11, 2014

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.

Strengthen your foundation.

It never hurts to spend some time...

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The Busy Harpist’s Checklist

performing practicing Aug 04, 2014

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...

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7 Things You Can Learn from Gigging Harpists (even if you only play for your dog)

musicianship performing Jul 28, 2014

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...

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Are These 3 Things Holding You Back?

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...

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5 Tips for Playing Impressionistic Music

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,...

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The 7 Things an Audience Expects from You (and it’s not a perfect performance!)

The audience is hushed; the lights are dimmed. The performer walks out on stage, trying to make her stride confident and hoping that the confidence will show up in her playing as well. Will the audience like what I play? Will they be disappointed? Will they like me?

Over my years of teaching I have helped countless harpists prepare for performance. Some of the performances have been consequential: competitions, auditions, graduation recitals. Others have been more run-of-the-mill like student recitals, church performances or weddings. But even those seemingly less critical audiences like church congregations can seem daunting and intimidating to many harpists. Daunting enough, in fact, that I have known numbers of musicians who will not play in public, or even for their friends and neighbors, (or even the otter audience in the photo!).

While I understand and sympathize with that reluctance, I feel regretful, because I know the value of the experience they are missing. It’s not...

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Why I Need to Get Out of My Practice Room More Often

music miscellany Jun 30, 2014

Here we are at the halfway point in the year. As we begin the second half of 2014, we can seize this opportunity to reevaluate, redirect or recommit to our goals. Many of us have long since forgotten or abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. In some cases, our plans have changed and made our resolutions irrelevant. Some of us have given up, and the more determined ones among us have made real progress towards fulfilling our goals for the year.

Where am I? I fit into all three categories.

One of my goals I have had to abandon at least for now, realizing that there were circumstances beyond my control which prevented me from moving forward. I don’t like to give up on anything, however, so it will survive in a “someday” folder. I have also made a number of pivots this year, tweaking my plans when better ideas presented themselves.

One of my resolutions this year that I have stuck with was to put more time and energy into being a part of the larger harp community....

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Kaleidoscope Practice is here at last!

uncategorized Jun 21, 2014

Kaleidoscope Practice: Focus, Finish and Play the Way You’ve Always Wanted

Have you ever felt stuck in your practice? You know the feeling, the one where you believe that the music will never get any better. You don’t know what to practice; you don’t even want to practice any more.

Or maybe you just need a new approach, something to put the spark back in your practice and playing. You would like someone to show you how to do better practice in less time, so that you can get on with the rest of your busy life and not feel guilty about it.

The Kaleidoscope Practice system is designed to help you solve those practice dilemmas. This revolutionary way to look at music practice frees you from rote learning and mindless repetition. It uses five focus areas to direct your practice to learning the music, not just the notes. Yes, music practice can be musical! And because Kaleidoscope Practice is directed to helping you actually finish your pieces, you will learn more music...

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A Quick Start Guide to Playing Baroque Music

Not sure what Baroque music is exactly? Uncertain about how to approach it musically? Do you know the particular musical characteristics that are the essence of Baroque style? This post is not a music history lesson, but it will give you the information you need to play this kind of music with understanding and style.

First, the facts

I promised this wouldn’t be a history lesson, but some basic facts about the Baroque era will help you.

The term “baroque” is usually applied to music                  composed between 1600 and 1750 (the year of Bach’s death). Famous composers of the Baroque era include Bach, Corelli, Handel, Vivaldi and Rameau. Perhaps the most familiar of baroque harp requests? Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

The harp has its own place in the Baroque era. It was in widespread use, and due to the limited availability of instruments, was often used as a substitute for the harpsichord. Handel wrote his...

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