There are things you do for your children that you would never have done for yourself. There are icky things, sticky things, difficult things, unusual things. For instance, I am pretty sure my father never would have dreamed about lugging a harp around if I hadn’t needed him to. For my son, I took karate lessons.
I’ve never been much of a sports person and I never would have thought of taking karate lessons for myself. My son was interested in karate but needed some encouragement, so we signed up for lessons together. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it and stuck with the lessons longer than he did. I loved the systematic approach and the discipline that is part of learning a martial art. And I absolutely loved breaking boards.
I know - it sounds like breaking boards would be bad for a harpist’s hands. But it wasn’t. It was only fun. We had a board breaking party one evening at the karate studio and we were all having fun - the little children and the...
There are many dividing points in life, moments when you know you have reached a new phase or growth stage. They are the thresholds that you cross, knowing that nothing will be the same afterward. Passing your driver’s test, getting married, having your first baby are some of the huge milestones in life.
For a harpist, one of those milestones, and one that is absolutely essential to their continued harp progress, is learning to play four-note chords.
This may not seem like a very big deal, and it certainly isn’t something we normally announce on social media. Nonetheless, it is a skill that all advanced harp players have and one that very few less experienced players are comfortable with. Four-note chords mark a dividing point in skill level more than any other technical issue. If you’re at that point in your harp playing right now, you know exactly what I mean.
In the early stages of learning to play the harp, we get accustomed to playing three-note chords. The...
When was the last time you said this: “If it weren't for those 2 measures in the middle, this piece would be no problem for me?”
We've all been frustrated by those spots where our fingers always seem to miss the strings or fumble or trip over each other. And it seems that no matter how much we drill them, they still feel unreliable or shaky.
It's a fact that some passages are just plain hard to play, and they take much longer than the rest of the piece to feel familiar. But frequently, there is simply one small tweak that manages to clear up most of the difficulty.
Many times, a student will play through one of these spots for me, and I am able to spot that crucial tweak. In these moments, it seems almost magical to the student; one small adjustment and much of the fumbling or insecurity is cured. But it's not magic, merely long years of experience, experience that I am happy to share with you.
A student's first question to me is almost always...
Harpists, do you ever feel like your technique practice is getting you nowhere?
You put in the time with your exercises and etudes, but your fingers still seem to have minds of their own. They falter, fumble, and flail. You can’t seem to get them moving faster than adagio, and when you do, you can’t rely on them to do what you want. It’s exasperating.
So you go on the hunt for a better exercise book, more etudes and vow to devote more time to developing your technique.
Any of those may help you solve your problem, but only if you know what you really should be teaching your fingers. Naturally, there will be those specific situations which require specialized work, but there are three general skills that your fingers must develop. These skills will allow you to rely on your fingers to perform securely and musically. At least most of the time.
Accuracy shouldn’t be an elusive skill. It can, and should, be purposefully trained. Accurate fingers place...
It’s spring cleaning time, the season to spruce up, refresh and brighten, to clean out the closets, sort out the drawers and get a fresh start. I’m always amazed to realize that, once again, my junk drawer is full, my closet is a disorganized mess and I need to do something about it. It seems to be so easy to accumulate those piles and so daunting to face getting rid of them.
I generally give my harp playing a “spring cleaning” too. While the need for musical refreshing is less obvious than the pile of papers on my desk, it is no less real. There is a “winter rust” that accumulates, due to over-crowded schedules and too little practice time. I need to brush away the cobwebs and bad habits and get my playing back in shape.
Perhaps you don’t have any harp “spring cleaning” to do. But maybe you haven’t realized some of the seemingly innocuous habits – I call them Harp Happiness Killers - that can drain your energy,...
Not happy with your left hand octaves? Let’s fix that!
The octave is a defining interval in Western music, marking the outer limits of the progression of half steps and while steps that form the scale.
It is also a critical interval for a harpist’s left hand to master. It’s not that the right hand doesn’t play octaves, of course; it’s simply that left hand octaves often create a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for a right hand melody. Put more bluntly, your left hand octaves can make or break your music.
There are two primary considerations for playing any octave: even sound between the fingers and rhythmic precision. (This pertains to either hand, naturally.) Let’s consider what each of these may mean in context.
An octave sounds like an octave when we can hear each of the two notes. While there may be musical considerations in a specific piece to make one note more prominent than the other, in general both notes should...
There is no question that we all are creatures of habit. The only question is whether our habits are intentional or accidental, whether they propel us forward or hold us back from the future we deserve.
From a scientific viewpoint, a habit is merely a triggered response that has become automatic. What I find interesting is this: the power of the habit lies in the trigger. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know what I mean. You want to eat fewer calories, but you always order fries with your burger. You want to stop smoking, but you always smoke with a cup of coffee. You want to watch less tv, but that’s what you always do after dinner.
In order to change those habits, you have to resist your usual response to the trigger and create a new response. Yes, that’s much easier said than done, but we do have a secret weapon: focusing on the result that we desire, the benefits that our new habit will bring to us.
This is the same strategy that dieters use when...
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 this third post in the “Design Your 2019” series, we discover the most important factor in achieving your goal.
The “Princess and the Pea” was always one of my favorite fairy tales. In this 1835 classic story, Hans Christian Andersen writes about the test that a prince’s mother devises to ascertain if a prospective bride for her son is truly of royal blood.
A young woman who appears at their castle door one dark and stormy night claims to be a princess but cannot prove it to the mother’s satisfaction. So the mother places a pea in her bed under 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds, believing that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the irritation in the bed. When the princess awakes the next morning, exhausted from a sleepless, uncomfortable night, the mother concedes her royalty, and the price and princess live happily ever after.
The true test of the princess was not in how she looked or acted, but in her deep sensitivity, not...
In last week’s blog post, Design Your 2019: Write Your Movie, you created your movie trailer, your description of your harp vision for yourself. You identified your happy ending as well as some of the obstacles you might encounter along the way.
Your next step is to look at what you will need to do and NOT do in order for your vision to become your reality. Most people would begin by setting out the steps they need to follow. Unfortunately, it’s easy to bog down in that process; there are so many steps that it’s hard to know where to start.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that I have a different approach for you to try. We will use the Sorting Hat.
If you know the Harry Potter books or movies, you’re familiar with the Sorting Hat. As each new student enters Hogwarts Academy, the Sorting Hat is placed on his or her head and the hat assigns them to one of the four houses: Gryffindor for the courageous, Hufflepuff for the humble and hard-working,...