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What’s Your SPF- String Protection Formula?

Summertime. Time for lemonade, swimming pools, barbecue, the beach and…breaking strings.

Where I live in central Pennsylvania, we have beautiful summers, much of the time. We have beautiful days when the sun shines and the air is so clear it almost shimmers. Then there are the days when the humidity is as high as the temperature. The outside air is muggy and heavy, so heavy it even seems to penetrate the inside air conditioned spaces. And humid air can make your harp and harp strings very unhappy.

So what is your SPF - String Protection Formula? How do you protect your strings from breaking and your expensive harp from suffering in the summer heat?

Air conditioning is as important for your harp as it is for you. Keeping the humidity at a fairly constant and comfortable level will help your harp stay in tune and keep the joints in the wood from swelling. It will also help keep your strings from breaking, although with strings, there are no guarantees.

Gut strings are...

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Don’t Want to Perform? 3 Reasons You Should

“A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it - A song's not a song 'til you sing it - Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay - Love isn't love 'til you give it away!”

― Oscar Hammerstein, II, lyrics from “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” from The Sound of Music

 

If there’s one statement that always furrows my brow, it’s this one: “Oh, I don’t want to perform. I just want to play for my own pleasure.”

I understand that a performance can add pressure that takes away from the enjoyment of playing music. Further, I completely agree that we should always play for our own pleasure. If we don’t enjoy it, what would be the point in working so hard at it?

But I firmly believe that we should not play only for our own pleasure. Music is a means of communication, particularly for thoughts that are hard to express in words. Also, if your music pleases you, why wouldn’t it please others too?

I’d like to suggest that we...

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Grins and Grimaces: Putting on Your Concert Face

The close-up of the soloist reveals the look of intense concentration on her face. The performer’s total commitment to the music is visible in her closed eyes and slightly furrowed brow. There is strength and beauty in her expression.

A quick ramble through YouTube videos will reveal a wide variety of “concert faces.” Some of the most remarkable will be found in videos of live performances filmed by audience members.

What is an appropriate expression for when you’re playing? Do you smile or frown? Ignore the audience or acknowledge them? Grimace or grin when you’ve made a mistake?

The easy answer would be that it depends on the situation. While that’s true enough, it isn’t really helpful for a musician who is self-conscious about his or her own facial expression.

Don’t Make a Face!

Of course, we all know what we aren’t supposed to show on our faces; we aren’t supposed to react to our mistakes. Gliding over the missed...

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My 2019 Designed: How I Put It All Together

performing practice Jan 07, 2019

Welcome to 2019! I love a new year. It feels like a beautifully wrapped present with your name on it, just waiting for you to open it. What might be inside??

If you’ve been following the last few blog posts, you’ve learned the steps to designing your 2019, to setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. The process we have used is a little untraditional and whimsical, and I hope that you’ve had fun with it.

The lighthearted approach doesn’t dilute the power of the system, though. It’s just the spoonful of sugar that helps make the deep thinking a little more approachable.

I thought it might help you to see how I personally used that same system to set my Harp Mastery goals for 2019. I have several areas in which I set goals each year, and Harp Mastery is one of them. I also set personal goals, harp playing goals, spiritual goals and some others as well. I don’t always accomplish all of them, but I always end up having made progress in the...

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Why Mastery is a Horrible Goal

 

Mastery is one of those hot-button words. It sounds good, but it comes with some pretty heavy baggage.

As we commonly use the word, mastery is the ultimate measure of accomplishment and proficiency. By that definition, mastery represents a standard upheld by a very few people and aspired to by everyone else.

Making that kind of mastery your musical goal will likely engender more frustration than progress. It makes it hard to persevere. Why keep trying so hard if you aren’t ever going to get there?

However, when we look at mastery as a process rather than a place, as a journey not a destination, it becomes a path to progress, to becoming a better harpist, a better musician. Mastery in this sense is less about “doing” well and more about “growing” well. When we make growth our goal, the relative level of mastery happens as a matter of course.

Don’t mistake this for a feel-good, easy path. While I believe that musical mastery is a journey,...

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Lose the Lucky Socks: 3 Strategies for Performance Nerves

Nearly everyone experiences some physical manifestation of performance nerves.

Whether it’s butterflies in the stomach, cold feet, sweaty palms, shaky hands or scattered thoughts, these symptoms can threaten to undo all our hours of hard work and preparation. Even worse, it’s often fear of the symptoms, not the anxiety about the performance itself, that causes the most damage.

This is why performers are always on the hunt for the silver bullet, the magic cure that will keep the nerves at bay. Ask around and you will find people who put their trust in meditation, deep breathing, medication, bananas and lucky socks. If any of these work for you, that’s fantastic.

But that’s not what this post is all about.

I would like to share three strategies for coping with nerves and anxiety that have more to do with management than with magic. You might not have heard many people talk about them, but they are powerful core strategies that will work even when your lucky...

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Why You Can’t Prevent Performance Crashes

musicianship performing Nov 12, 2018

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...

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Genre Neutral: Music For All Occasions

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...

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Making It Look Easy: Creating Flow

performing practicing Oct 15, 2018

They make it look so easy, the great masters. From the long putt that wins the match, to the artists quick sketch that reveals more than a photograph could, to the lightning fast scales in a Mozart piano sonata, we mere mortals know the depth of mastery needed to perform at that level. We understand why our attempts at these tasks don't have the same easy grace.

What's more perplexing is why tasks that should be within our skill level don't have grace and polish either. For instance, that Mozart sonata may present a technical challenge for you, but why does that one page minuet that you've been practicing for months still sound choppy, hesitant and uneven? How do you make the music flow?

In my e-book, Kaleidoscope Practice: Focus, Finish, and Play the Way You’ve Always Wanted,I call that flow continuity. Continuity is the sense of inevitability, the seamless musical progression that draws a listener into the performer’s world. While continuity creates a magical musical...

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Five Steps to Build Your Repertoire

performing practicing Oct 08, 2018

“A repertoire of 60 minutes begins with a single piece.” – Anne Sullivan

Okay, so I’m not Lao Tzu and my paraphrase of his famous saying about a journey of a thousand miles is not nearly as profound. But it is just as true.

The truth is that if you have just one piece that you can play, a piece that you enjoy playing and play fairly well, you can develop a repertoire of the scope and size that you want.

It is also true that it will be a gradual process and not an overnight one. Your repertoire will develop as your musical skills strengthen and grow. But if you have ever wanted to have 15 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour of music at your fingertips, it is completely possible, as long as you have one piece to start with.

You may wonder how I can be so sure that this is possible. You may even have tried to learn a repertoire and keep it in your fingers and met with less than resounding success. I invite you to try the process I outline below. It is likely there...

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