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Valuable Lessons from Harp Camp

Playing at the Green Drake Gallery
(not pictured – Paige Setzer)

We had another fabulous week at this year’s Harp in the Mountains Summer Festival . As always happens at camp, I was reminded of some truths about practicing, performing, teaching and leadership that I’d like to share with you.

This is the sixth year for Harp in the Mountains Summer Festival. It is held at Hemlock Acres Campground in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, which is also my home. The camp provides a one-week intense harp ensemble experience for select students, ages 12-19. I limit camp size to six students, so the experience is very focused. The students have the opportunity to improve their harp playing and their musicianship skills while enjoying rehearsing, performing and spending time with other harpists.

And the campers had better enjoy rehearsing. We rehearse for about six hours every day. And we learn a lot during our week.

The British author Doris...

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3 Tips to Improve Your Stage Presence


Every performer knows stage presence is important, but it can be hard to evaluate, let alone improve, your own visual effect on an audience.

The visual image you present before you play a note can make the audience predisposed to enjoy your performance. Or not. And while we like to think that audiences use what they hear to judge us, the human truth is that they see us before they hear us. And first impressions are long-lasting.

Besides asking your best friend for his opinion (often tricky) or getting your teacher’s advice, how can you develop a stage presence that is a winning one with audiences and still feels and looks natural? I have three easy suggestions.

But before I tell you my three tips to improve your stage presence, I will tell you what I never suggest to my students. I never tell them to watch themselves on video for this purpose. It is true that you can learn a lot from a video of your performance, but...

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What Mr. Rogers Taught Me About the Harp

Last week I attended the American Harp Society National Conference in New York City. In reflecting on the fun day I spent there, I found that my three most important take-aways from the conference were things I learned in my childhood watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Let me share with you how I made the connection.

I was on the exhibit floor at the conference, looking at a bin of brightly colored tuning keys. Tuning keys often remind me of my favorite Mr. Rogers episode. On that show, after he made his familiar entrance and changed into his cardigan and sneakers, Mr. Rogers pulled a harp tuning key from his pocket. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. I did, and I remember telling him so through the television set. Later in the show, he visited with a harpist who played and talked about the harp.

In my thoughts, I began free-associating, and decided that there are three things I learned about the harp, first from Mr....

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Make Consistent Practice Your Secret to Success

We all know that “practice makes perfect” is a stretch of the truth, but most of us agree that practice is the only way to get better at anything, particularly music performance. But if our practice isn’t consistent, neither will our performance be consistent. Remember the tortoise and the hare? The tortoise’s steady, consistent pace got him over the finish line. And consistency in your practice can do the same.

Stephen King the writer has been very public about the discipline he brings to his craft. The diligence and consistency which he applies to his writing have enabled him to become one of America’s best-selling and most celebrated authors.

But his own words about his writing process have surprised many. He says, “When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘One word at a time,’ and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the...

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7 Things Every Harpist Should Know Before Choosing a College

With the incredible variety and number of options, how do you make a good college choice? How can you find the right music program to get you where you want to go? Is a music conservatory the right choice for you?

Rest assured, there is at least one college, and most likely several colleges, that would be a good fit for you. But how do you figure out which one is right?

Center for the Arts, University of Delaware
photo: Jon Cox

I was very lucky in my college choice. I was able to go to the Curtis Institute of Music, one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world. I was fortunate to have been accepted.

But I had given myself an ultimatum that could have ended my music career before it started. I decided to only apply at one other college. I would only go there if I weren’t accepted at Curtis. And if I weren’t accepted at Curtis, I would go into some other field of endeavor, not the harp or even anything related to music. I was lucky.


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Facebook for Musicians – What You MUST Know

music miscellany Jul 01, 2012


There is one important secret musicians often overlook in using Facebook to promote their careers and stay connected. It’s almost certainly something you already know but are not disciplined about. It’s this one fact: when it comes to Facebook and other social media, people ARE watching. I heard a Wall Street Journal report last week (this is the link to the published article) noting how employers and recruiters are using prospects’ personal Facebook profiles in hiring. In fact, scanning a candidate’s social media profiles is now a routine part of a hiring process.

But it can be part of a firing process too. I have heard recently of several instances where a musician’s comments about a gig situation have resulted in the loss of a job. Naturally, I will NOT provide details.

We all get used to using our social media accounts as a place to share the daily events of our lives, the good, the bad and the...

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A Harpist’s Summer Reading List

© bo

Summer reading is a great opportunity to explore new things – new ideas, harpists, people and places, different ways to think about the topics that interest you most. With your mind at its most relaxed, new discoveries can quickly take hold, leading you to new creativity and inspiration.

“You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things, the books you read and the people you meet.” – Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

Below I list five books that I think are great summer reading. Some of them you may know well, but are definitely worth re-reading. Others may intrigue you. I certainly hope there is at least one that piques your interest. All of these books are available on Amazon, or wherever you choose to shop. Happy reading!

1. A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond. This novel will appeal to younger readers, around age 11 and up, although I first enjoyed it as an adult. This is a story of...

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The 5 Steps to GREAT Practice

© Dominick

All practice is not created equal. And GREAT practice leads to terrific performances.

I remember when I was a young harpist,  my mother would set the kitchen timer to make sure I did the amount of practice my teacher required each day. At that age, it couldn’t have been very long – maybe 20 minutes or a half hour – but often it seemed like hours before the timer bell would ring and I would be free. I remember clearly when I was a teenager and discovered there was a better way to practice, a way that was not only more effective but more enjoyable too.

And now, after many years of performing and teaching, I like to help my students understand 5 basic steps that will make their practice sessions interesting and productive. These skills form the acronym G-R-E-A-T, and they are the basis for GREAT practice habits.

1. Goal-setting for each practice session. It is important to have a practice ...

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10 Surefire Tips to Make Harp Camp Worth the Money

So you’re going to summer harp camp – congratulations! But you (or your parents) are very likely paying $1000 or more for a week of camp. So you need to make sure that you make the most of your opportunity.


Here are 10 things you should do to make your camp experience worth every penny:

Two weeks or more before you leave for camp:

1. Get prepared. Practice any music you will be playing at camp. Review the packing lists from your camp carefully, and make sure you have everything you need. Don’t pack at the last minute – it’s easy to forget something crucial if you’re feeling rushed.

As you leave for camp:

2. Put on the right attitude. What is the right attitude? Basically a spirit of adventure and a friendly smile. These will go a long way to relieving any anxiousness you may be feeling, and toward establishing new friendships. 

While you are at camp:

3. Make new friends. Camp friendships...

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The “Why” of Note Reading


If you are a monster sightreader and have perfect pitch, don’t read this article! Everyone else, read on…

After my last article on becoming a speedier reader, I received some interesting comments and questions, mostly about why and how we should be practicing reading notes. Let me try to address those issues here.

The “why” is all about connections. Here’s a story about connections, a tale of my first piano lessons. I was four years old, but that first book of John Thompson and the stickers my teacher put on each page as I completed it, are embedded in my memory. The book started with middle C and worked outward, adding notes up and down from middle C, one by one. The drills were disguised as little “pieces” with catchy names, and my teacher insisted on correct performance. That meant having the correct finger on the correct key in the best hand position my little hands could manage. And it meant...

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