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The Value of a Personal Musical Vision Statement – Part 1

Do you have a personal musical vision statement? By turning your dreams and goals into your own musical vision, you can achieve more, enjoy productive practice time, and take more pleasure in your playing.

In part one of this two-part blog post, I explore the differences between dreams, goals and vision. In part two, I will help you create your own personal musical vision statement.                                                   ©

Helping students set goals is an important part of my harp teaching. We all need to have a goal to work toward, an “end” to the practice process. Without short-term and long-term goals, it is difficult to measure progress, or even be fully committed to a practice schedule.

Here near the end of summer, my students and I take some time to set goals for their harp study during the year. At...

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Harp Care When its Hot, Hot, Hot!

We have just survived the hottest July on record, and there’s no reason to expect August to be any cooler. Try these harp care tips to get you and your harp through the dog days of summer.

In the Philadelphia area where I grew up, the three H’s – hazy, hot and humid – are an almost daily constant in the summer weather forecast. And in my parents’ house, we didn’t have air conditioning. There were many days when inside the house didn’t feel that different from outside. All of us complained about the heat, including my harp.

Half the strings broke and the other half sounded terrible. The harp felt sticky. I stuck to the bench when I practiced. It was miserable, but I learned a lot about how to care for a harp when the sultry weather hits.

1. Harps are happiest indoors. This one’s obvious, but you should pay attention to your harp’s indoor environment. Your harp should not be in direct sunlight or in the direct breeze of an air...

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The Aeolian Harp

music miscellany Aug 10, 2012


The Aeolian harp  is a stringed instrument that is played by the wind. It is named after Aeolus, the ruler of the winds in ancient Greek mythology. You have heard one if  you have ever had your harp outside, and heard the breeze play the strings by itself.  Enjoy this short tribute to the Aeolian harp.

The Aeolian harp summerhouse shown here is in Pyatigorsk, in the Northern Caucasus Mountains in Russia. It was constructed in 1828, designed by the Bernardaccy brothers who also designed the town’s mineral baths and fanciful Diana’s Grotto .

The harp inside the pavilion was not strictly an Aeolian harp. Instead of relying on the wind to stroke the strings, the two harps mounted on the floor of the pavilion were played with a device attached to the weathervane on the dome. When the wind turned the weathervane, the device played the strings. The sound could be heard throughout the valley:

On one of the loftiest...

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Don’t Lose Momentum on Your Vacation

No room for a harp!

You deserve a vacation, some time off away from everything, even away from practicing the harp. But how can you make sure you don’t lose momentum when you’re not able to practice for a week or two?

Some instrumentalists have it easy. They can grab the handle on their instrument cases and go.

Not so for us harpists. If you have a little harp or a Harpsicle, you can take that along to keep your fingers in shape. But it won’t really help you practice the Salzedo “Variations”, if that’s the piece on your music stand.

So how can you vacation and not feel guilty about not being able to practice? Let me share a few techniques that I have used to help keep working on technique, repertoire and musicianship when I couldn’t get to an instrument.

1. Technique. Most of us have little finger games that we use to warm up or shake out our hands and arms which improve flexibility, strength and coordination. These at are...

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Michael Phelps: The Greatest Olympian of All Time

This past weekend we saw Michael Phelps win his 22nd Olympic medal, earning him the title “Greatest Olympian of All Time.” What does that incredible achievement mean for the other athletes who compete in these and future games? How can they or any of the rest of us ever expect to be “the greatest”?

In sports, it is often easy to identify the great ones. The numbers tell the story. The greatest have faster times, more hits, longer leaps or higher scores than the rest. It makes it easy for us to identify the best.

In music, greatness is usually more subjective. Who was the greatest composer, Bach or Beethoven? Or Mozart? We can point to the numbers of pieces written, or the age of their earliest achievements or the enduring nature of their work, but in the end, “the greatest” is a matter of opinion.

But whether your hero is Mozart or Phelps, there is a question you must answer if you wish to achieve: do the greatest give...

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The Why of Key Signatures


At some point in every music student’s life comes the moment when she must learn all the key signatures. And at some point for every teacher comes the question from that same student: “Why do I have to know them?”

There are some easy reasons that we all give our students. They may need to learn them  for an exam. Or we can truthfully tell them that key signatures are one of the basic elements of musical literacy, and therefore they need to know them. When I was teaching music theory at the Curtis Institute of Music, the students understood that this was a necessary part of their musical education, and that was enough of a reason.

But these reasons rarely answer the student’s real desire to understand the value in committing the key signatures for thirty keys to memory.

So here is what I offer my students as the value to them in learning their key signatures. I hope you find this helpful, either for yourself in...

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Refresh Your Practice


August is here, and we all need some summer refreshment. The dog days of summer can sap your energy and make practicing a chore. But with a little imagination, you can refresh your practice routine using these lighthearted practice themes.

The other day I came across a recipe online for a drink that  looked really refreshing, a cucumber melon cooler. But alas, I didn’t have either cucumbers or melon, so I mixed myself a cool glass of powdered lemonade instead and indulged in memories of summers past.

One of my summer treats has always been my reading project. I began in my teen years to set myself a special summer reading list, one that had nothing to do with school. I plan my reading for the whole summer, not just with a list of books, but with a theme. Usually I choose a specific author (this year I’m reading G. K. Chesterton), although sometimes I order my reading by country or by century, or even alphabetically.


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Olympic Fanfare for Harp

music miscellany Jul 26, 2012

 Here’s a very brief harp video for you to enjoy in honor of the start of the summer Olympic Games.

This is my arrangement of “Salut des étendards” or “Salute to the Standards” written by Joseph David Buhl. Buhl was a French trumpet player, composer and conductor of the early 19th century. His “Salut” was written as a military fanfare to be performed as a salute to the banners, or standards, in a military parade. It is almost certainly his best-known work today, due to its association with the Olympics.

In 1958, the conductor Felix Slatkin commissioned film composer Leo Arnaud to write a piece for an album called “Charge!” Arnaud composed “The Charge Suite,” which included a piece he called “Bugler’s Dream.” In “Bugler’s Dream,” Arnaud took Buhl’s “Salut” and expanded it into the piece that for most of us TV watchers is the musical...

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Competition Tips from the Judges’ Table

uncategorized Jul 25, 2012


Recently, I was privileged to be a judge at the Young Artists’ Harp Competition in Rabun Gap, Georgia. If you or your students are planning to enter a competition, these are some tips from the judges’ table that will help you make your best impression.

There’s an old Joni Mitchell song called “Both Sides, Now.” I couldn’t help recalling it when I watched all those talented young harpists play their hearts out for the judges. Although it has been many years, I too was a contestant once. And even though it has been a long while and I have judged other competitions, I can still feel what it was like to step on that stage knowing this was your one chance to get everything right.

So I offer to all the hopefuls four tips from my experience as a contest judge:

1. What a judge listens for. Your performance should reflect thorough preparation, meaning correct notes, solid technical skills necessary for...

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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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