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Practicing Harp Happiness

#068: Mindset Reset: Keeping the Play in Your Playing

music and meaning Sep 05, 2022

Today is Labor Day in the United States. The very first Labor Day was celebrated exactly 140 years ago today on September 5, 1882. It was intended as a holiday for the general working population in recognition of their contributions to the country’s prosperity and strength. At that time it was decided that the celebrations should include a parade to showcase the trade and labor unions and a picnic for the workers and their families.

Today, 140 years later, Labor Day celebrations still include parades and picnics. Labor Day also marks the traditional end of summer holidays and the beginning of a new school year. 

The idea of Labor Day - to celebrate and honor work and toil - is a powerful one, and one that I would like to suggest has application to our harp playing. That’s the key word - playing

We work so hard to make our playing what we want it to be, what we think it should be. By contrast, how much time do we take to celebrate our hard work or even to...

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#065: 10 Harp Adventures To Create Before Summer Is Over

music and meaning Aug 15, 2022

Summer is flying by for me, and I imagine for you too. I always make big plans for the summer. I tell myself that this is the summer I will start my Christmas music early or seriously work on my technique or get that recital program memorized. But no matter how good my intentions are, the summer just seems to slip through my fingers without anything to show for it other than a sunburn. It can feel pretty disheartening.

Let’s turn this around for a minute. What if this were the summer that I really enjoyed my harp playing? Not worked hard at it or put pressure on myself to get to that next level or learn that big piece, but just enjoyed it. I’m feeling the harp happiness buzz already. 

I hope that sounds good to you too because on today’s show I’m going to share 10 of my favorite ways to create adventure in your summer harp playing - that’s right, adventure.

Your music could be a time machine taking you to a distant place and time. It could be a...

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#062: Your Guide to Perfect Octaves

music and meaning Jul 25, 2022

Octaves are everywhere. There are very few harp pieces that don’t include octaves somewhere, and with good reason. Octaves add richness to a left hand accompaniment or to a right hand melody. The added resonance of the string played an octave lower or higher makes the entire harp come alive with sound. 

We harpists love octaves and we play them all the time. So why are they often the hardest intervals to play well? 

You know what I mean. Your thumb plays two strings at once, or your fourth finger brushes the surrounding strings, making your octave sound like a cluster of sound rather than a clear, clean interval. Sometimes they are hard to place accurately and our fingers buzz or just play the wrong notes. 

It’s time to go back to basics, my friends. Don’t feel discouraged; this is what we all do from time to time when a fundamental part of our technique isn’t working. It’s not a failure. It’s merely a coordination we need to...

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#061: Masterclass: Making Sense of Meter Signature Changes

music and meaning Jul 18, 2022

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sailing along, playing through a new piece. You’re feeling pretty good because the piece is actually flowing along. You can tell you’ve been making progress because a year or so ago, this piece would have felt difficult.   

Just about the time you’re ready to pat yourself on the back and imagine yourself tackling that piece you’ve always thought was too hard, your playing comes to a screeching halt. There’s a new meter signature, or time signature, in front of you. Your easy piece in 4/4 time suddenly has a measure of . What the heck is this about??

On today’s show, we’re going to find out exactly what meter changes like that imaginary one are all about. While we often associate them with contemporary music, changing meters have been a part of music since music began. If you play traditional folk music, you encounter meter changes all the time. In fact, the meter signature is a...

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#055: Overcoming Fears, Doubt and Misgivings: Take the Long View

music and meaning Jun 06, 2022

What have you done lately that was courageous?
I hope you shouted your answer, said it loud and proud.
Okay, now answer this one.
What would you have done recently if you hadn’t been so fearful?
That’s not exactly a “loud and proud” moment. But we all do it; we let our fears, our doubts, our nerves get the better of us.

Talk to any person who is super-successful in their field and they’ll confess to having their insecurities, their own sleepless nights worried about the decisions they’ve made or not made. Most people aren’t fearless. But successful people have learned that many times fear is the only barrier between their present and their future. Success comes only when they are able to go through the fear to discover what lies beyond it.

I often talk and write about how to find the courage and the confidence to share your music. You may call it “performing,” but at Harp Mastery® we call it ”sharing your music.”...

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#054: An American Romantic:The Music of Stephen Foster for Harp

music and meaning May 30, 2022

Stephen Foster is often referred to as the “Father of American music,” or “America’s first songwriter,” neither of which is strictly true. However, Stephen Foster’s extensive output of songs and the strength of their popularity more than 150 years later attests to the powerful connection his music creates. The homespun appeal of his words and music evokes gentle images of family, home, love and longing that are in sharp contrast to his more difficult reality. 

In fact, there were many ironical contradictions between his music and his life. His songs paint vivid pictures of life in the South, but Foster never lived there and only visited there once. HIs music was a staple in music hall minstrel shows, but Foster himself was an ardent abolitionist. His life came to a close not with the “Old Folks at Home” but alone in Bellevue Hospital in New York City. 

Nonetheless, his music is filled with singable melodies, uncomplicated...

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#048: Three Questions Your Teacher Wishes You Would Ask

music and meaning Apr 18, 2022

A harp lesson is hard work, for both the student and the teacher. It’s a time to acknowledge progress and challenges, to take what’s going well to the next level and to find ways to make the rough patches smoother. It’s not a performance where your teacher will judge you on how well you play that day. And it’s not a cozy get together for tea and encouragement, although those could be part of a lesson too. A lesson is for learning.

As a student I always knew I had a good lesson when I left the lesson feeling a little mentally fatigued but energized, even excited, about the work we had done in the lesson and the progress I was ready to make in the coming week. It was similar to the feeling you might have after a massage; your body is tired and sore, but relaxed and happy at the same time.

As a teacher, my favorite lessons are the ones where we work the hardest. We may be working on one measure or one passage. We might be bringing more expression to a piece or...

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#046: Taking A Second Look at Salzedo’s Music

music and meaning Apr 04, 2022

What famous harpist has his 137th birthday this week? Carlos Salzedo, that’s who.

This harpist and musical innovator was born in Arcachon, France on April 6, 1885, and on today’s show I would like to introduce you to a side of his music you may not have encountered, including some music not only playable but even suitable for lever harp.

Before we get started, you will need to know a little of my own background. I was brought up in the Salzedo tradition. My teacher studied with Salzedo. I went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; Salzedo had founded the harp department there, and I had my lessons in the Salzedo Room. And so Salzedo’s tonal language became part of my musical education from the very first. I learned Tango - my first harp recital piece - and Night Breeze, which I will play for you later today. I learned the Preludes Intimes and Song in the Night (Chanson dans la nuit). Then I went on to learn the Five Preludes and the Modern Study Etudes...

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#043: Three Irish Composers You Should Know (But Probably Don’t)

music and meaning Mar 14, 2022

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, a day which is important to many of us, not just because we’re Irish (my last name is Sullivan, after all)  or maybe just Irish for a day. As harpists many of us raise a glass on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate the amazing legacy of the Irish harpers and to the modern day harpers who continue this rich tradition.

On today’s show we will pay tribute to another facet of Irish music with a tradition just as rich and as beautiful. I will share music by three influential Irish composers, not composers of traditional music but composers more linked to classical music: one who found his fame and fortune in the court of Queen Elizabeth the I of England, one who invented a musical form that became a staple of classical music composers, and one who is considered responsible for the resurgence in the 1960’s of the popularity of Irish traditional music. Three very different composers, all linked by a common heritage, a heritage I am proud to share. 

Links...

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#035: The Genetics of Musical Genre: Do You Have to Choose?

music and meaning Jan 17, 2022

If all music uses the same basic elements, why do musical styles sound so different? And why do some connect with us so powerfully and others leave us cold?

Some harpists love to experiment with diverse musical styles.Others prefer to stick with what they love. Today’s episode explores elements of musical style. Discover why your favorite music touches you, and learn how to connect with styles new to you. Musical adventures await!

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]

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