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Mastering Harp Geography: Get Out of the Middle of the Road

Would you drive in the middle of the road?

I live in a very rural area. We have beautiful forests of pine and hemlock and sparkling streams with plenty of trout, unless you listen to the unlucky fishermen. We also have very narrow roads. The middle of the road is sometimes the only place to drive.

But playing the harp is not a “middle of the road” venture. Your harp has plenty of strings and there’s no need to stick to just the middle ones.

So are you a “middle of the road” harpist? This has nothing to do with skill level or ability. It’s purely a matter of geography.

Try this: take a look at your harp. Which strings are the most worn? Probably they are the ones you play the most, likely the ones in the middle. Or perhaps you’re one of those harpists who never tunes the bottom or the very top strings telling yourself that you don’t use them anyway. These are both signs that you could use a refresher course in harp geography.

Geography...

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Take a Musical Gondola Ride: Play a Barcarolle

“Of course this rhythm is typical for a barcarolle,” I said.

My student stared at me with that glassy expression. She clearly had no idea what I was talking about. I immediately realized that I had fallen into a common teacher trap of assuming that my student knew what I did. So I needed to backtrack.

“Just imagine,” I said, “that it’s a beautiful spring evening in Venice. The Italian sun is just beginning to set, and you are gliding across the water in a gondola. The evening is calm and the boat is gently rocking as the gondolier plies his oar. He sings a song that blends perfectly with the lazy, undulating motion of the boat. That song is a barcarolle.”

I went on to explain…

The barcarolle, also spelled barcarole or barcarola, is a musical form that has its origins in the songs of the Venetian gondoliers. The term itself comes from the Italian word, barca, meaning a small boat.

The musical term was first used by the French...

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Kill Your “Can’t Do” Attitude: How To Defeat Your Limiting Beliefs

Have you ever been sure that you just can’t do it? Maybe the problem is a passage that you can never play correctly or a tempo you think you can never achieve or a skill level that you fear will always be beyond you.

You tried to stay hopeful. You’ve stayed committed, putting in hours of work, but that end result still eludes you. The question that haunts you is this: “What if I just can’t do it?”

We all have doubts like this from time to time and they serve a purpose. They remind us to reassess our goals, plan our paths and direct our work. They can stir us to action when we get complacent. They can nudge us out of unproductive patterns and lead us to achieve. But we can only move forward if we face the doubts and are prepared to challenge them.

If you’re struggling with this, I’d like to show you a different way of thinking, one that will keep your positive energy flowing and possibly even help you find a way to alleviate your worries....

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Practice For Two: A Guide to Effective Rehearsing

duet duets partners rehearsing Feb 25, 2019

Two people making music together is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – two great things that are even better together.

Playing solo is fine, naturally, and playing in an ensemble is fun. But nothing is more enjoyable and rewarding than practicing and playing music with a friend. Being part of a duo can be a wonderful bonding experience where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Successful duos know how to make their rehearsals productive, so that their music can shine. These duos form lasting partnerships that are personally and musically fulfilling. This is my own experience as a member of two duos, each in its fourth decade of performing.

The secret is in serving the music. Keeping the music at the forefront of your work together allows you to put personal inhibitions, fears or constraints aside, so you can contribute confidently as a musician and a collaborator. It begins with bringing your best self to each rehearsal and performance.

Bring Your Best

Do you...

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Quick Fixes for Left Hand Octaves

 

Not happy with your left hand octaves? Let’s fix that!

The octave is a defining interval in Western music, marking the outer limits of the progression of half steps and while steps that form the scale.

It is also a critical interval for a harpist’s left hand to master. It’s not that the right hand doesn’t play octaves, of course; it’s simply that left hand octaves often create a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for a right hand melody. Put more bluntly, your left hand octaves can make or break your music.

There are two primary considerations for playing any octave: even sound between the fingers and rhythmic precision. (This pertains to either hand, naturally.) Let’s consider what each of these may mean in context.

EVEN-SOUNDING OCTAVES

An octave sounds like an octave when we can hear each of the two notes. While there may be musical considerations in a specific piece to make one note more prominent than the other, in general both notes should...

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Grins and Grimaces: Putting on Your Concert Face

The close-up of the soloist reveals the look of intense concentration on her face. The performer’s total commitment to the music is visible in her closed eyes and slightly furrowed brow. There is strength and beauty in her expression.

A quick ramble through YouTube videos will reveal a wide variety of “concert faces.” Some of the most remarkable will be found in videos of live performances filmed by audience members.

What is an appropriate expression for when you’re playing? Do you smile or frown? Ignore the audience or acknowledge them? Grimace or grin when you’ve made a mistake?

The easy answer would be that it depends on the situation. While that’s true enough, it isn’t really helpful for a musician who is self-conscious about his or her own facial expression.

Don’t Make a Face!

Of course, we all know what we aren’t supposed to show on our faces; we aren’t supposed to react to our mistakes. Gliding over the missed...

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3 Reasons You Can't Finish a Piece and How to Fix It

Why can’t you finish that piece?

Composer Franz Schubert never finished his Eighth Symphony. If you aren’t up on your music history, you might think it was because he died before he could complete it, but that was not the case. Schubert wrote the first two movements of the symphony in 1822, but he lived, and composed, for 6 more years. In fact, scholars cannot ascertain exactly why Schubert stopped work on that symphony, and Schubert isn’t around to answer the question.

So if you have trouble getting a piece of music to the finish point, you’re hardly the first musician to experience that dilemma. 

On the other hand, if you have trouble finishing any piece of music so that you can actually play it, there are some things you can do to fix that. The first step is to explore why you might not be finishing.

You Get Bored: The Greyhound Syndrome

I’ve often used greyhounds and German shepherds to describe the two most common practice styles....

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Habits: Is It Time For a Change?

habit practice technique Jan 28, 2019

There is no question that we all are creatures of habit. The only question is whether our habits are intentional or accidental, whether they propel us forward or hold us back from the future we deserve.

From a scientific viewpoint, a habit is merely a triggered response that has become automatic. What I find interesting is this: the power of the habit lies in the trigger. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know what I mean. You want to eat fewer calories, but you always order fries with your burger. You want to stop smoking, but you always smoke with a cup of coffee. You want to watch less tv, but that’s what you always do after dinner.

In order to change those habits, you have to resist your usual response to the trigger and create a new response. Yes, that’s much easier said than done, but we do have a secret weapon: focusing on the result that we desire, the benefits that our new habit will bring to us.

This is the same strategy that dieters use when...

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The Musician’s Success Secret

Is there a secret that every successful musician knows - and you don’t?

“She always seems so confident.” “She never lets things get to her.” “She doesn’t seem to feel the pressure.” “She looks like she’s having fun.”

Other the years I’ve watched performers who just didn’t seem to get flustered. They didn’t seem nervous or worried about the possibility of things going wrong. I’ve envied their calm.

I’ve also been surprised when people have said the same things to me, commenting on how easy I made it look.

While I understand how performing can look easy when you’re in the audience, I know that it certainly doesn’t feel that way while you’re up on stage. And in the years that I have been teaching and coaching harpists through auditions, competitions and performances, I have discovered that there is one thing that successful performers do that separates them from the rest.

...

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Flute and Harp: Forging the Future

Joan Sparks, Louis deLise, Anne Sullivan

What is it about the flute and the harp? These two instruments in combination evoke elegance and grace, both visually and aurally. Perhaps a Jane Austen drawing room comes to mind, or the most recent wedding you attended. Whatever else flute and harp music may be, it certainly is everywhere.

Like many harpists, I can remember my first flute and harp experience. It was typical, I imagine. I was asked to play at a wedding, and in the next sentence asked if I had a flutist who could play with me. I was in high school at the time and needed the paycheck, so without ever having worked with a flutist before, I promptly answered, “Of course.”

I found a school friend, Laurie, to play with me, and over the next few years, we performed a number of times at different venues. During that time, as I played with more community and youth orchestras, I also discovered that nearly every flutist I met was eager to work with a harpist.

Soon I had a...

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