What is this supposed to be?
The jigsaw puzzle pieces were spread on the table and I had just completed the first critical phase in any jigsaw puzzle assembly, putting all the edge pieces together. My question arose from a discovery I had made along the way: the puzzle I was assembling was definitely not the one pictured on the box. The box had a beautiful view of Neuschwanstein, the famous German castle that was the inspiration for the Disney Cinderella castle. From the pieces on the table, it looked as if the picture might be a building, maybe even a castle but it was clear from the colors and the edge pieces that it wasn’t going to be Neuschwanstein.
Not knowing what the puzzle was going to look like made the challenge of putting it together considerably more difficult. It’s like being lost in a strange city without a map or trying to read a book in a language of which you only know a few words.
It’s like trying to be a musician without knowing anything about...
“I just want to play more musically.”
It's a common refrain among students and performers of all ages. We all want to play more musically, but exactly what does that mean?
A musically expressive performance is a result of the performer’s choices informed by his or her understanding. You can probably guess at the kind of choices I mean, like choices of tempo and dynamics. The understanding part may require a bit more explanation.
Musical understanding develops over time. It’s likely that you already have a large body of instinctive musical knowledge that you have accumulated as you have practiced, played and listened to music. Your next step is to raise that understanding from the instinctive level to the conscious.
If you have ever puzzled over whether specific dynamics sounded “right” or not, you have already begun this task. Simply by paying attention to the possibilities open to you as a performer and asking questions about them, you have...
Is there a secret that every successful musician knows - and you don’t?
“She always seems so confident.” “She never lets things get to her.” “She doesn’t seem to feel the pressure.” “She looks like she’s having fun.”
Other the years I’ve watched performers who just didn’t seem to get flustered. They didn’t seem nervous or worried about the possibility of things going wrong. I’ve envied their calm.
I’ve also been surprised when people have said the same things to me, commenting on how easy I made it look.
While I understand how performing can look easy when you’re in the audience, I know that it certainly doesn’t feel that way while you’re up on stage. And in the years that I have been teaching and coaching harpists through auditions, competitions and performances, I have discovered that there is one thing that successful performers do that separates them from the rest.
Joan Sparks, Louis deLise, Anne Sullivan
What is it about the flute and the harp? These two instruments in combination evoke elegance and grace, both visually and aurally. Perhaps a Jane Austen drawing room comes to mind, or the most recent wedding you attended. Whatever else flute and harp music may be, it certainly is everywhere.
Like many harpists, I can remember my first flute and harp experience. It was typical, I imagine. I was asked to play at a wedding, and in the next sentence asked if I had a flutist who could play with me. I was in high school at the time and needed the paycheck, so without ever having worked with a flutist before, I promptly answered, “Of course.”
I found a school friend, Laurie, to play with me, and over the next few years, we performed a number of times at different venues. During that time, as I played with more community and youth orchestras, I also discovered that nearly every flutist I met was eager to work with a harpist.
Soon I had a...
In today’s world, fame is just one viral video away.
The internet stream of cute cats and adorable toddler antics is the modern megaphone for getting your new message out to the world.
The internet, and YouTube in particular, has transformed the music industry from one in which you had to know the right people to get any notice to one where all you need is your cell phone. As we become ever more accustomed to the instant worldwide audience that every musician has access today, we find ourselves wondering how music could possibly spread in a pre-high-tech era.
As it happens, this year we celebrate the anniversary of a piece of music that “went viral” 200 years ago. It was Christmas Eve of1818 when one of the world’s most beloved Christmas carols was written and performed for the first time.
That day the assistant priest of a small church in Oberndorf, Austria handed the church organist a poem he had written and asked the church’s organist to set it to...
Practice doesn't work.
Now that I have your attention, let me clarify.
The normal everyday practice that we usually do doesn't build the skills we need to play our music well. If you have ever practiced a piece and then had it crash when you performed it, you know this is true.
Consider this list of just some of the many distinctions between what we do in practice and what we need to do in performance.
In practice, we take time to warmup our fingers and our focus.
In performance, we start “cold.”
In practice, we go back and fix our mistakes.
In performance, we must play on.
In practice, we choose what we want to play and when.
In performance, we play on demand.
In practice, we are in our comfy practice space.
In performance, we are in an unaccustomed place.
In practice, we achieve calm and focus.
In performance, we feel the rush of adrenalin.
In practice, we are discriminating about our playing.
In performance, we become hyper-critical and judgmental.
In practice, we delve...
Is your technique keeping you from playing the music you love?
No matter what your playing level is or how many years you’ve been playing, your technique may be holding you back.
Your technique is the foundation for everything that you play. It is the essence of your tone, speed, fluency and musicality. If your technique isn’t ready to handle that piece of music on your music stand, you can practice the notes until your fingers fall off and still not be able to play the music the way you want.
I expect that you know that already. You probably practice your scales and arpeggios, perhaps even exercises and etudes, regularly as part of your practice. At least, I hope you do. But you may have discovered that you still aren’t moving your technique to the level you want.
Are You Ready?
Not sure if you need a technique break through? See if any of these statements sound familiar.
There are many divides in the musical world, but perhaps none as charged as the question of whether to memorize or not.
There was music long before there was any way of writing it down. Learning was passed from one generation to the next. Of course, music was pretty simple back then. The earliest example of polyphony– music that combines more than one separate melody – dates from the 10th century.
As music grew increasingly complex, it became more important to have a way to repeat it and to learn and teach it quickly. Hence the systematization of musical notation of Guido d’Arezzo around the same time. The notation we use today is direct descendant of that early system.
You may prefer to play from memory or from the printed page, paper or electronic; there is clearly precedent for each. Each has its benefits and its drawbacks, and each should have a place in your musical toolbox.
You know I am a huge advocate of developing your note...
Read that title carefully, please. I’m not getting political; I’m being practical.
Playing music that you love is a great base for your repertoire, but if you want to play anywhere other than your living room, you will eventually need to play music that other people want to hear. The practical purpose of this post is to help you choose music to add to your repertoire that will serve you well, both because people will enjoy hearing it and because you will be able to use it appropriately in a variety of settings.
I started thinking on this subject after a recent My Harp Mastery Q and A call. One of our members opened the discussion by asking the question, “What are the gold standard pieces every harpist should have in her repertoire?” That question opened the proverbial floodgates. Everyone on the call had suggestions of music to include, music that they love to play. By the time the call was over, we had amassed a sizeable list.
Later, however, I began to...