I love practicing in the summer. I always feel motivated, relaxed and inspired.
It all started the first year I went to harp camp in Camden, Maine. I had never had a daily schedule that was completely my own. I could spend the day however I chose, and the most important thing only my daily agenda was practicing and lots of it. My day was essentially free of distractions and I was able to discover how and when I did my best practice.
Since then, my summers have become a little more complicated, but some of the things I learned that first year of harp camp have remained part of my summer practice strategy.
1. I practice first thing in the morning. Early on a summer day when the air is still cool, my motivation is at its highest level. I can’t wait to get to work. And I like to do as long a practice session as I can. When I was a student, I used to practice for four hours straight. I don’t recommend...
One of the hardest moments I face as a teacher is that moment when a student is playing in a recital, and the performance is not going well. All my nerves are at attention, willing everything to sort itself out. My whole being goes into survival mode, sending out mental messages of help, mentally willing the right pedals or strings or notes. And as soon as the crisis is over, I instantly start analyzing the...
We all have them from time to time, an epic fail in a performance. Whether it’s a memory slip you can’t recover from or a glaring error that cuts us to the core, you wish that the floor would open up and swallow you whole. This first installment of a two-part blog post will show you how to move forward and get your groove back if this should happen to you. The second part will show you how to help someone else, for instance, a student, if it happens to them.It shouldn’t have happened. You practiced, you prepared, and still it happened, with everyone watching. The epic fail. And it has happened to most of us, including me. And it feels horrible.
But after the dust settles, you have a choice. You can either wallow in the embarrassment and self-pity, or you can decide that this is a learning experience, one that you won’t have to repeat if you take the...
Practice, which some regard as a chore, should be approached as just about the most pleasant recreation ever devised.
– Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American athlete (1911-1956)
Post Update: Lawrence had a great addition to the Schubert Ave Maria blog post from last week. Many of you told me you enjoyed reading the different texts to the song, and Lawrence took it a step further and sent me a translation of the Eastern Orthodox text:
O Theotokos* and Virgin rejoice,
Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.
*Theotokos: (Greek) Birthgiver of God
Music correction: Lawrence also pointed out that the intermediate lever version of the “Ave Maria” that I offered last week assumes that your third octave A is tuned to natural...
Not long ago, I played a contemporary cantata at a church. The piece had an uncomplicated harp part, and I settled myself comfortably for an easy rehearsal. My first entrance was a simple glissando upsweep, and as I played it, I got the little electric thrill I always get when I play a glissando. It’s the thrill that says, “Listen to this, everybody. It’s the harp!”
My first harp piece was “The Purple Bamboo.” It was a fun first harp piece, and the glissandos made it an immediate favorite. From the very first, I fell in love with glissandos. And I never get tired of playing them.
Of course, my fingers have suffered from too many glissandos at times, but every time I play one, whether in a solo piece or in orchestra, I enjoy the moment. It is a sonority unique to the harp, and one of the easiest to play. In fact, nothing other than perhaps chocolate, is as...
It’s wedding season again, and time to dust off all the tried and true ceremony music, from the Pachelbel Canon in D to the Mendelssohn Wedding March. And surely at least once this season, there will be the beloved Schubert Ave Maria.
I have always considered this an interesting wedding selection. Without question the music is sublime, and it makes a lovely setting for the medieval Latin Prayer to the Virgin. But Schubert didn’t originally intend it to be.
Schubert’s inspiration was the epic poem of Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, written in 1810. The poem tells the fictional tale of 16th century Scottish clans at war with each other and in rebellion against the king. Schubert wrote a cycle of seven songs based on the story, using the German translation of the poem by Philip Adam Storck.
The heroine of the poem is Ellen Douglas who has fled with her exiled father to a mountain cave to escape the pursuit of a rebel chieftain. While in the cave, Ellen sings a...
Dear New Music Graduates, Congratulations! You are about to embark on the exciting adventure known as a career in music. Don’t listen to those who tell you that the terms “career” and “music” are mutually exclusive. As a one-time music graduate myself, I can tell you that you are about to experience a wonderful and unpredictable journey. And yes, that journey can include both music and a career.
In the years since my own graduation, I have seen unprecedented changes in the music business. And though it’s true that orchestras are experiencing hard times and critics bemoan shrinking audiences, I believe it is the best time to be a musician that we have ever seen.
The reason is the almost limitless opportunity that exists for...
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had some music you could just sit down and play?
Like most young music students, I learned to hate when my parents had visitors. The reason? I knew I would be asked to play for them. I used to protest that my pieces weren’t ready. My parents countered with, “What about that piece you learned last month?” Unfortunately, I’d already forgotten that one. It would be many years before I learned about developing a repertoire of pieces I could play at the drop of a hat.
My teachers told me about Carlos Salzedo dedicating every Sunday to playing through his concert repertoire. In that way he never had to worry about a concert piece going out of his fingers. This is a brilliant discipline which I try to observe, although I admit to having frequent lapses.
But first you have to develop a repertoire. If you want to develop your own repertoire, you can follow these five steps:
1. Theme your repertoire. Why are you putting together this...
A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places. – Paul Gardner, arts writer
I heard this quoted at a university commencement ceremony this week. The speaker was making the usual point about the ceremony marking the beginning of a new life phase, not merely the end of school. Absolutely true.
But how many times do we arrive at interesting stopping points in our lives? Probably more often than we realize. I believe that if we take a moment and take advantage of those stopping points in our lives, we can achieve greater clarity and focus and get more traction as we work toward our goals.
Another word for a temporary stopover is “sojourn.” It is a 13th century word, coming from the Latin “subdiunare,” meaning ‘to spend the day.” It is a brief break in the voyage, a time to rest and renew strength and resources before continuing. When we sojourn, or rest briefly from...
Ear training is a subject that makes people either shrug their shoulders or shudder. The many different approaches breed confusion and the methods inspire fear.
I should know. I taught ear training at the Curtis Institute for 19 years. I was the mean solfège harpy that made Catholic school nuns look like Mary Poppins. Ok, not really.
But ear training is no student’s favorite subject. It takes time to practice the assignment. You have to perform it in front of the class. It takes time away from practice. But it’s essential to any musician’s education.
Ear training develops what I call the Sensory Triangle: your eyes, ears and fingers. It doesn’t just train your hearing. It teaches you how to hear what you see, play what you hear and play what you see, all of which are the skills that help you sightread, memorize, improvise and just learn music faster and better.
When eyes, ears and fingers work together, they can process all the musical information...