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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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Taking Music Lessons? The Three Questions You MUST Ask Your Teacher

Lessons are not given, they are taken.
Cesare Pavese, Italian author and poet (1908-1950)
                                                    © polydsign –

First, the facts.

1. Music lessons are foundational. Your teacher will help you develop the essential points of technique and musicianship and lead you through standard repertoire for your instrument.

2. Music lessons are inspirational. Your teacher can help motivate you to practice. She can introduce you to musical masterworks and artists whose work you may not have otherwise known. He can open a new world of musical experience to you.

3. Music lessons are expensive. Yep. So you want to be sure you get your money’s worth. You may love your teacher and be making good progress. But by asking these three questions below, you can be certain that you are getting...

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Nervous? 3 ways to stop focusing on performing and start playing

musicianship performing Sep 13, 2013

 Being nervous is a terrible feeling. It can be physically debilitating, with symptoms from cold, clammy hands to nausea and beyond. But by far, the worst damage that nervousness causes is the psychological. We worry about how our nervousness will sabotage our well-prepared and carefully practiced performance. And in the extreme, it can prevent us from performing at all.

When I was a child, my mother and I were both taking piano lessons from the same teacher, and we were both participating in the end-of-the-year student recital. My mother went up to the piano to play, sat down and stared at the keyboard. I remember watching as she stood back up, muttered an apology and ran off the stage before anyone could see her start to cry. She was simply too nervous to play the piece she had prepared all year.

Sometimes the level of anticipation inside ourselves is so high that all we can see is the act of performing. The anxiety is much less when we can focus on the activity, the...

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Music for an American Triumph Over Tragedy

music miscellany Sep 11, 2013

I do not choose to recognize September 11 as a day of mourning any longer. We remember those we lost and grieve their passing. But we as a nation, true to our history, have overcome. We remember but we survive. We mourn but we continue. We honor and we rebuild.

Today I wanted to share with you some of my favorite music. It is music expressive of our country and our people , and I find it fitting for today.

First is Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World.” Written by a Czech composer and written while in this country, it was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and premiered in 1893. Although Dvorak insisted the symphony contained no actual native American music, he may not have realized how well the symphony reflects the quintessential American melting pot concept.

In a 1956 analysis of the symphony, Leonard Bernstein discusses the multiple musical influences in the work. And here is an interesting comparison of various recordings.

It is one...

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