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Practicing Harp Happiness

#161: String Strategies for Summertime or Anytime

music and meaning Jun 17, 2024

They say that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. But if you’re a harpist you know there is a third certainty; at some point, often at the wrong point, you’re going to break a string.

I remember one performance with my flutist friend Joan when one of my high strings broke as I played it at the end of a glissando near the end of the piece we were playing. When we had finished the piece, I began to change the string while she joked with the audience that the string had broken on time and in tune. We had been playing concerts together for years at that point so she also gave the harp talk to the audience while I finished changing and tuning the string. 

Not all string breakage is so convenient, of course. A few years ago, I was playing a big flashy solo piece as part of a program with various performers.  The piece was Salzedo’s “Variations on a Theme in the Old Style,” The piece is in G Major and it’s about 12 minutes...

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#159: Could You Learn a Piece in a Day?

music and meaning Jun 03, 2024

At one of our Harp Mastery® retreats several years ago. I presented a workshop called “Learn Anything Fast.” That sounds like a pretty ambitious topic, and I imagine that some of the retreaters were a little skeptical. After all, learning a piece of music takes time. But my point in that workshop was this: does it have to take as much time as it’s taking you now?

There’s no golden rule about how long it should take you to learn a piece. That’s something students would often love to know, and it would be wonderful if each piece came with a guarantee, like all those infomercials have: Learn this piece in 30 days or your money back!

There is no “30 day guarantee” for a piece, because each harpist approaches each piece with a different set of individual skills and strengths. Each piece requires specific skills, either technical skills or musicianship skills or both. How long it takes you to learn a piece is a combination of the demands of...

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#154: 3 Bach Pieces Every Harpist Should Know and Why

music and meaning Apr 29, 2024

Johann Sebastian Bach is a name every musician knows. He is revered as a composer whose music defined musical practices in the Baroque era and whose compositions still influence music and musicians today. Learning about his music and learning to play his music is required study for any music major.

But we harpists do feel a little neglected. We play one of the instruments that Bach did not write any music for. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from borrowing extensively from his keyboard music, his violin and cello sonatas and partitas and his lute music. Much of Bach’s music is well-suited to the harp with rippling scale passages or rich chords. 

My first in-depth encounters with Bach’s music were in my piano lessons when I was about 12 years old. My teacher was insistent about how the preludes and inventions I was studying should be played: how long each note should be, how the music was made up of melodies played together, or how the harmonies moved in...

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#150: Practice Positivity: How to Combat Your Worst Critic

music and meaning Apr 01, 2024

This podcast episode goes live on April Fool’s Day, and I probably couldn’t have picked a more appropriate day to release it. I didn’t do it on purpose, but today’s topic lines up very nicely with April Fool's. It’s about the fool’s game of self-criticism.

I think the most dangerous pitfall for harpists, or for any musician, doesn’t have to do with performance nerves or losing your place or not having a strong technique or being able to sight read. I think it is being overly or inappropriately critical of our efforts. 

Now before you say that you are skilled at keeping your perspective and you don’t let your drive to achieve lead to frustration, I want you to stop and really think. I run across harpists every day, every time I teach a webinar or an intensive, who describe themselves as perfectionists. Most of these harpists know that their perfectionism is slowing them down, possibly even preventing them from enjoying their...

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#137: How Not Setting Goals May Save Your Harp Playing

music and meaning Jan 01, 2024

Happy New Year! It’s the first morning of a new year and I am feeling, as I do every new year, that sense of excitement and possibility that inhabits those empty calendar pages.  I can hardly wait to see what 2024 will bring. 

Since this podcast is going live on New Year’s Day, I thought it was particularly appropriate to talk today about goals. We talk about harp goals a lot at Harp Mastery® but today I actually want to elevate our viewpoint and look at harp playing goals with a broader perspective.

SMART goals - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based - have been the gold standard of productivity experts for a while. Those five criteria combine in a way that makes success look almost like a mathematical certainty. They feel powerful because they are so concrete.

But music isn’t like that. Music is about creativity. It’s not about following rules, it’s about choosing which ones you want to follow. It’s not about...

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#136: A Holiday Harp Music Mix - Just For You

music and meaning Dec 25, 2023

A special holiday music mix just for podcast listeners!

The program:

  • Two from Messiah
    Pastoral Symphony/He shall feed his flock
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan
  • Greensleeves, from Anne’s Break Forth CD,
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan
  • Coventry Carol
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan
  • Pat-a-pan
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan
  • In Dulci Jubilo, from Anne’s Break Forth CD,
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan
  • Largo from Winter, from Anne’s Break Forth CD,
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan
  • 12 Days of Harpiness
    Arranged by Anne Sullivan

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 and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]

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#135: My Year in Review: Remembering What Really Matters

music and meaning Dec 18, 2023

The year-end wrap has become a hot trend. The worthy practice of reflecting on the year that is nearly over and the new one about to start is no longer simply a quiet moment with a cup of tea and a journal. It’s an opportunity for businesses to go public with their successes. We at Harp Mastery® have jumped on the bandwagon, too. It’s fun to look back and see what we’ve accomplished. It’s important, perhaps even more so, to see where we missed the mark. Somehow, though, those aren’t the numbers that show up on social media. We like to count the wins.

But this episode isn’t about what Harp Mastery® has done. After all, this isn’t a business podcast. This podcast is about you, me and our harp playing. And that’s what this episode is about too.

I want to share with you my own system for looking back, for remembering what my year was like. I start in the same way you may, by looking back at my calendar week by week and month by...

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#132: What Your Favorite Harpist Needs: A Gift List with a Difference

music and meaning Nov 27, 2023

Long, long ago in what seems like a galaxy far away, there was no Cyber Monday. There was barely even a Black Friday. We shopped in stores, not on the yet-to-be-imagined internet. 

And for the children who were dreaming of holiday presents, there was the Sears catalog, the “Wish Book” edition. If you are an American of a certain age, you are nodding your head right now, but if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll explain.

Sears is a department store chain that was founded in 1892. It was in the beginning exclusively a mail order business, and the Sears catalog was an important resource for shoppers all over the country, but particularly in rural areas that had limited access to stores. But, the special “Wish Book” edition, first printed in 1933 and released every year at holiday time, was the ultimate catalog shopping experience. It ceased publication in 1993, but at its peak, the catalog had over 600 pages with more than 100 pages...

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#130: Reducing Overwhelm: How Not to Be Your Own Worst Enemy

music and meaning Nov 13, 2023

As of today, the day this podcast episode goes live, it is exactly six weeks until Christmas. As I said that, a little shiver ran down my spine. What was your reaction? Maybe you are channeling your inner child who can hardly wait for Christmas and you were jumping up and down. 

But I wouldn’t be surprised if you were a little annoyed or even felt a flutter of anxiety at being reminded of how fast the holiday season is approaching. Those Christmas songs that already form the shopping soundtrack in every store are more than a little irritating to me. They seem to bring out my inner Scrooge and it’s mostly because they just remind me of everything I still have to do to get ready. In a word, it feels overwhelming.

Of course, the feeling of overwhelm when it comes to your harp playing isn’t just a holiday phenomenon. Overwhelm poses a challenge for us every day. There is always a spot that needs more work, some technical drill we should be doing, new music we...

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#126: Engaging Your Creativity: Making Your Practice Make Music

music and meaning Oct 16, 2023

What are the qualities you think you need to be a good harpist? I’ll bet every harpist has a different answer for this.

Understand that I’m not thinking in terms of the skills useful to a harpist, skills like a good ear, the ability to sight read, musicality, flying fingers, and the ability to memorize. I would agree that those are all important to some degree, but I invite you to consider some of the personal traits or day to day habits that would be useful or even essential for a harpist.

This idea conjures up a completely different list. Maybe you’d put character traits like determination, perseverance, self-discipline and courage on that list. Those would indeed be helpful. So would objectivity, the ability to treat yourself with kindness and grace, even when you’re struggling. There are other mindset habits that are important too, like a desire to learn and resilience. 

Today we’re going to explore one of the qualities that I think is...

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