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Happy birthday, Camille Saint-Saëns!

music miscellany Oct 09, 2013

    Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns
  "(October 9,1835 – December 16, 1921)

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (October 9, 1835 – December 16, 1921)

Today I would like to honor the birthday of composer Camille Saint-Saëns, born October 9, 1835.

The Saint-Saëns work we harpists most often play is perhaps “The Swan,” whether we perform it as a harp solo or accompanying a solo instrument. But of his three works actually written for harp – the Fantaisie, Op. 95, the Morceau de Concert, op. 154 and the Fantaisie for violin and harp, op. 124 – my favorite by far is the Fantaisie for violin and harp.

This piece was a product of the later period of his life, one that was very productive. Saint-Saëns had survived numerous personal emotional upheavals, and by this time was firmly established as a musical reactionary against the music of the young Impressionists like Debussy.

The Fantaisie was composed in March of 1907 on a trip...

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How is Your Alberti Bass?

musicianship practicing Oct 07, 2013

How is your Alberti bass?

This familiar bass pattern is named after the Venetian composer and singer Domenico Alberti (c. 1710 – 14 October 1740). It bears his name due to its frequent appearance in his popular harpsichord sonatas. In the centuries since, it has become a stock accompaniment pattern. You can find it harp music from Dussek to Damase. And despite its ubiquitous presence, it can still pose coordination difficulties for us harpists.

The above quote from the Oxford Dictionary of Music is a favorite of mine, and highlights the love/hate relationship many musicians have for the Alberti bass.

But since we must play it, here a few basic facts and technical tips:

In essence, the pattern is an arpeggiated three note chord. The notes are played in this order: lowest note, highest note, middle note, highest note. While it most characteristically used in the bass, it can be used as an ostinato over a bass line, or even as a figurated melody.

The most usual fingering is...

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Pre-Holiday Performance Checklist

performing practicing Oct 04, 2013

It’s still nearly a month until Halloween, but it’s not too soon to begin planning for your holiday performances. In fact, now is the time, before the craziness of the holiday season closes in, to get everything in order so that you can actually enjoy the holidays this year.

1. Check your calendar. Make sure all your dates are written in correctly in your calendar now. Don’t trust your memory. As those last minute gigs come in, you don’t want to find yourself having to remember if you promised someone a rehearsal on that evening. Double  check any tentative dates or times.

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Does Your Audience Like You?

performing Oct 02, 2013







“But how do you make an audience like you?”

I really thought I had heard wrong. I was at a meeting of experienced chamber musicians who had just been awarded very generous grants. My flutist partner Joan Sparks and I were among the grant winners, and we were all getting advice from a music marketing consultant. One of the other winners asked the question, “But how do you make the audience like you?”

Every once in a while, someone will say something that you never forget. Perhaps it has a special meaning or is very profound. Or perhaps it is just incredible.

That’s what this question was to me. I found it nearly impossible to understand how a musician could achieve such a high level of success and still have this question. For Joan and me, having an audience like us was never a problem. It was never even a...

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The Seven Habits of Highly Satisfied Harpists

With my apologies to Stephen Covey, I offer here seven habits that you need to develop to truly achieve the satisfaction you are seeking in your harp playing.

1. Tune every day. Why is this important? Your harp needs it to stay in shape, the same way you need to brush your teeth every day to stay healthy. And if you tune every day, you will be at your harp and hopefully inspired to practice. But if your harp is so out of tune that you know it will take you forever to get it back in tune, how eager are you going to be to practice?                                                                                                                                   ...

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Fourth finger giving you problems? Five quick tips…

practicing technique Sep 27, 2013

Often a harpist’s fourth finger is a matter for concern. Or rather, it isn’t a matter for concern until all of a sudden we need to use it.

It’s easy to get by using only three fingers a lot of the time. Even intermediate repertoire doesn’t call for much fourth finger work, and in my experience, students tend to avoid using it.

It isn’t that we don’t train the fourth finger. It’s simply that we often don’t really take the time to develop it, or even simply use it as much as the others.

How can you tell if your fourth finger is up to snuff? If the crossunders in your multi-octave scales and arpeggios are smooth and without bumps, they probably are fine. But if those crossunders slow you down and make you stumble, and all of us stumble at times, then these quick tips could help those reluctant fingers.

1. Play your scales and arpeggios slowly and softly, making sure that your fourth finger is relaxed, curved and correct. Think of this as...

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Three Lessons from 32 Metronomes

This metronome video came my way on Facebook recently. If you haven’t seen it, it is amazing and beautiful, not usually words I apply to metronomes. And as I watched the video a second time, I was struck by some powerful principles it illustrated, truths for all musicians and all non-musicians too.

Here is the link to whole page; it’s worth reading!

1. Flexibility allows for consensus. In the video, the movement of the platform allowed the metronomes to align. If they had been on a rigid base, they would never have arrived at a single tempo. Chamber musicians often talk about “arriving” at an interpretation or a tempo agreeable to all in the group. They arrive at this consensus through repetition and exploration, and most of all through being flexible in their ideas. Without flexibility and willingness to adapt, a consensus would not be possible.

2. Surrender of self-interest can create a greater good without losing anything.  Has this...

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The Three Necessary Stages: Stage Two: Conscious Memorization

        © Yong Hian Lim –

In a previous post I wrote about rote memorization, the repetitive process that can be summed up in the words “strong” and “long.” If you are “strong” in your repetition, meaning you repeat something correctly every time in practice, the chances that you will repeat it correctly on demand are also “strong.” And if you repeat it correctly over a “long” time, your memory of it will be “long” lasting.

Rote learning is all about repetition over time, and developing a habit. If you have ever stopped in the middle of piece you had memorized and needed to go back to beginning to resume playing, you have experienced the fatal flaw in rote memorization.

Step 2 in the process solves that problem by making memorization a conscious activity. Conscious memorization is about observation, attention and commitment.

In this stage of memorization, we increase...

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Top 10 Reasons Every Musician Should Practice Bach

I would find it difficult to pick one composer to call my favorite. I love the way Mozart’s music glistens and the intensity of Tchaikovsky. I can get lost in the emotion of Ravel and revel in the clarity of John Field. But on most days, if I had to pick just one, I would pick Johann Sebastian Bach.

I never tire of listening to his music, to the mind-bending complexity of a fugue or the overwhelming emotion in a slow movement. Or the ingenious voicing of a chorale. Or the breadth of the St. Matthew Passion.

And I never tire of playing his music either. Yes, I know he never wrote for harp, but I wouldn’t want to be banned from playing his music on that kind of technicality. There’s so much I learn from his music whenever I attempt to play it.

And here are my top ten reasons that I think you should put some Bach in your practice rotation:

10. It’s been transcribed for every instrument, so you have no excuse. Here’s banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck’s...

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Why Your Practice May Be Holding You Back

musicianship practicing Sep 18, 2013

Here’s a radical thought – don’t practice so well.But wait! Isn’t careful practice what I am supposed to do, so I can play well, with a solid technique and mostly all the right notes?

The answer is of course, unless that’s the ONLY way you practice. Careful practice can be a trap. If our only focus is trying to play correctly, we will never learn to play much.

An example: My mother’s aunt, Aunt Floss, took piano lessons as a child. But her lessons didn’t leave her a life-long ability to play the piano. As an adult, she could only play one piece, “The Black Hawk Waltz.” I remember many family gatherings when she would sit down to play “her piece.” It was never a polished performance, and as the years went by, she lost more and more of the piece until finally she couldn’t even remember how it started.

An different example: Pablo Picasso the Spanish cubist painter lived into his nineties, and was quoted as saying,...

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