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Harp for the Holidays 2012

music miscellany Nov 20, 2012

Each year at this time I am surprised by the sudden arrival of the holidays. No matter that the calendar progresses smoothly from day to week to month. I still experience the arrival of Thanksgiving as unexpected and a little unsettling. Nevertheless, this remains my favorite time of year, and I have some musical traditions that I use to help mark the season.

One is my annual Christmas carol arrangement that I write for my students. This year I will be making it available (for free!) here on the blog as well. Watch for the link later this week.

A new tradition that I am starting this year is making slideshows of photos taken in the past year and setting them to music. This year I will be using music from my solo Christmas CD, “Break Forth, Music for Christmas and the Season of Light.”  You can find out more about the CD at ArsMusica.

The photos in this first slideshow are autumn and winter scenes from around our home in central Pennsylvania. We are fortunate...

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Sightreading – the MASTER System

Sightreading, a word that can cause the palms of even experienced musicians to sweat. Perhaps that’s because it is the one performance situation that we really can’t practice. It feels more like a free fall; take a deep breath, step off the edge and count the broken bones at the bottom.

But if we could practice sightreading, we could take away the fear factor. We could find more freedom and pleasure in any musical situation. If only we could figure out HOW to practice it.

I believe the key lies in understanding this: sightreading is a snapshot of your musical development. All your musical skills – technical, aural and expressive – come into play when you sightread. If your skills are above the difficulty level of the piece,you will sightread well. Think of a piece you played when you first started taking lessons, perhaps one you played at your first student recital. It took hard work and many months to prepare it. And now, years later, you can pull it out and...

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Competitiveness – Dealing with the Dark Side

Being competitive is a good thing. Competitiveness helps us try harder and bring our best effort to a performance. Competition is how we test ourselves and find our place in our particular arena.

But competitiveness has a dark side. Remember Tonya Harding? That’s an extreme example, certainly, but it shows how the desire to win can completely cloud a person’s perspective. Even on a smaller scale, competitiveness can cause unnecessary and unhelpful negative feelings that overwhelm us and prevent us from enjoying our achievements.

Picture backstage at the student recital. There are numerous students waiting their turns to perform. But among the group, two or three students seem different. They are advanced high school students, and they are the “special” ones. All the younger ones know that these students are the best, the ones they want to be when they are older. Perhaps those two or three are good friends who wish the best for each other. But sometimes...

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Sonata Scintillante by Chuck Holdeman

Chuck Holdeman

On Sunday, November 11, flutist Joan Sparks and I will be performing a new work, Sonata Scintillante by Chuck Holdeman. We commissioned this work and premiered it at the University of Delaware on February 21, 2012.  This post is about this exciting new piece, and includes notes about the work from the composer as well as some video links. If you would like to attend the performance, you will find information at the end of the post.

 My flutist friend Joan Sparks and I have been performing together for over two decades. In that time, we have premiered and commissioned numerous works, among them Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Flute and Harp.

In May of 2011, we were considering another commission and decided to ask a colleague close to home. We have collaborated with Chuck Holdeman in many concerts and performed his works often, and we knew we could expect an exciting addition to the flute and harp repertoire.

Chuck was enthusiastic about the...

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Perfection, Productivity and Performance

The world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards productivity.” – Peter Bregman, author of  18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

I imagine something like this has happened to you, as it has to me: You have heard a great concert, a performance that moved you and inspired you. You rush to greet the players afterward to thank and congratulate them. But instead of hearing the compliment, they meet your enthusiasm with regrets about the things that went wrong. Whose idea of “perfect” matters here?

And what if the performer’s desire to present as “perfect” a performance as possible had prevented him from playing at all? It doesn’t matter how good you sound in the practice room, if that’s where you stay. The person in the room next door may not play as well, but if she is out there playing for others, she will hear the audience cheering, “Bravo!” There’s no...

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Five Minutes a Day Can Grow Your Musicianship

musicianship practicing Nov 02, 2012

© allapen – Fotolia.com

Musicianship:knowledge, skill, and artistic sensitivity in performing music. (from Dicitionary.com)

It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.  –  J. S. Bach

Musicianship may have been that easy for Bach, but for most of us being a good musician is more than just playing the right notes at the right time. We spend years studying the inner workings of music and developing our reading, hearing and understanding so that we can perform at the highest level possible. When you’re in music school, you have ample opportunity to hone your skills daily.

But what if you’re not ready for music school, or if it’s been years since you thought about ear training or theory? How do you keep sharp the important skills that make you a better musician? And who has the time to take classes and do homework? Here...

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Prepare for College Audition Success

Each year at the University of Delaware, I hear auditions of prospective university harp students, young harpists with big hopes and dreams for their futures, varying cases of nervousness and in very different stages of preparation.  Allowing for the fact that everyone gets nervous and bad days happen to us all from time to time, there are a few things any student preparing for college auditions can do to increase her chance of success.

1. Be sure you have read (and followed) the audition requirements.  Believe it or not, sometimes students forget the most basic thing of all – to read the list of required or suggested audition materials .  Every school posts lists of audition music on its website.  The audition panel will expect you play music from that list.  If for any reason you wish to play something else, be sure to email in advance the instructor who will be hearing your audition and ask if he or she will allow the...

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Is Deep Breathing Part of Your Routine?

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, (b. 1926) Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist

“Take a deep breath,” has always been good advice, but now there is evidence that deep breathing can alleviate performance anxiety. Although I didn’t need the study to tell me what I found out years ago.

Over 25 years ago, flutist Joan Sparks and I founded our flute and harp duo Sparx. We have traveled and concertized together extensively, and over time, we developed a backstage pre-concert ritual. One of the components of this routine was a series of exercises designed to warm up Joan’s breathing. Being a harpist, I was more interested in keeping my fingers loose, but being a good duo partner, I participated. Joan showed me how to breathe deeply, how to count breaths, and although I could never match Joan’s lung capacity, I learned to value the centered, focused feeling I had after our warm-ups.

And now along comes this ...

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Is Classical Music Doomed?

Can classical music survive in a world where orchestras fail and concert attendance dwindles?

Two dismaying things happened to me this weekend. The first came in a casual conversation, in which two people attempted to persuade me that classical music and attending concerts is a high-brow, elite and upper class thing. Every fiber of my being resists this idea, but the nagging fact persists that classical music is not widely embraced in our society.

The second dismaying thing was the news that both of Minnesota’s orchestras are now locked out in labor disputes. On Sunday, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra joined the Minnesota Orchestra, which has been locked out since October 1 after the players’ union rejected what management termed their “final offer.”  For at least the next two weeks, there will be no concerts from either of these world-class ensembles.

And this is far from an isolated incident. This “orchestra graveyard” in...

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How to Phrase by the Numbers

Marcel Tabuteau, 1951

This post follows up on a previous post about phrasing. Here I describe what is arguably the best system for teaching phrasing I ever came across, and how you can practice to make your phrasing more meaningful and expressive.

When I was a student at Curtis, I learned from my wind player friends about the amazing technique for phrasing and legato they were learning in their lessons and in wind class. They were excited by the power in its systematic approach to one of music’s most expressive elements. They were learning the Tabuteau system.

Marcel Tabuteau (1887-1966) was a French oboist. He came to the U.S. in 1905 at the invitation of Walter Damrosch. In 1915 Tabuteau joined the Philadelphia Orchestra as its principal oboist, and in 1924, he founded the oboe department at the Curtis Institute. He is generally credited with establishing the American school of oboe playing.  His students included John de Lancie, Robert Mack, Harold...

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