December 30, 2009

Should Auld Acquaintance be forgot...or, "There's goal in them thar hills!"

It’s that time of year – the beginning. 
It is that time in which we have every intention of making and keeping resolutions to improve ourselves. But we often fail. We fail because while we have intentions, we also expect to succeed on improvisation. We hold a vague idea but we have absolutely no concrete idea how we will get to that resolution.

And so we sit at our harps with every intention to spend more time practicing, play more, enjoy more, perform more, arrange more, learn more, master more…but how? We think we will improvise our time – that we’ll figure it out as we go. And we state our approach as simply I’ll find more time.

But this is one instance in which improvisation will not work. To accomplish anything we have resolved, we have to have a plan. We have to perform some Goal Setting.

I do this every year, personally and with my students. And to help make it real, we write it down. And we check on it periodically throughout the year. We monitor our progress toward our goal - mostly to see how we’re doing. And later on in the year, this monitoring is even more to see what we thought was important. What, at the beginning of the year, did we think was important that we have subsequently forgotten. This let’s us focus or resolve our resolutions – to modify our goals. Or to review them to see if they were reasonable.

Goals don't have to be set in stone.  They are just a way for you to remind yourself, periodically, what you resolved to do and how you set about getting there.  There is nothing special about writing them down, although this does give you a reference later on when you're wondering why you're bothering!  Its just an aid to remember where you're trying to go and how you thought you might go about getting there.

Setting goals is just like looking at a map – it helps remind you where you were trying to go, but what looks like it will work on the map is just a representation of the path – it isn’t the path itself. ..remember, it’s the journey. See you there!

Happy New Year!

December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays

It's that time of year again.  You know the time - when all you play is music everyone knows.  Unfortunately, we only play for about a month so it doesn't get as much practice as we might like!  Very nerve wracking!  If you make a mistake everyone will know it because they are so familiar with the tunes.  That puts a lot of pressure on you.

But that everyone knows the music is exactly what makes this repertoire so much fun!  You can insert "jazz improvisations" (in my studio we don't make mistakes in performance, only jazz improvisations)  into the music (planned or unplanned). But even better, this is a great opportunity for you to start to make the easy leap to generating your own arrangements. 

If you are skittish about doing your own arrangements, you might start by staying very close to an existing arrangement (many people would consider this still their arrangement - but the important thing here is to start to flex your arranging muscles in a safe way). You could use lead sheets to let yourself go.  Or, as I noticed I was really doing this year, you can just work on those little jazz improvisations building them into your own arrangements. 

Because, let's face it, much of the music of the season has a tendency to be trite. If everyone plays all the same tunes in the same way in the same arrangements, how will you every stand out (and not go barking mad)? Easy - amp up your own arrangements!

And don't forget to note how you amp those arrangements up - you could use them again next year! 

December 16, 2009

Did you take the gig?

Some of us make a living, or part of our living by playing the harp for money, as often as possible. 

But many of us are perfectly happy playing in our living room, very quietly, when everyone else is at school or at work or asleep.  Now, I'm not saying that you must be out performing, but...

What is holding you back? 

Do you spend a great deal of your practice time (or other time for that matter) telling yourself you're not good enough to perform for others?  Do you tell yourself that you're not any good at playing "that thing"?  That you'll never get good enough?  That you shouldn't even bother trying to get better or even practicing?

We all provide a running critique of our performance of all our activities, but for some reason, many people let that critique hold them back from the things they love.  Are you one of them? 

Do you believe all the movie reviews you read?  I didn't think so,  So why do you listen to your inner critic?  Why not listen to your familiy members, your teacher, your friends, who all tell you that you play well and they enjoy listening to you?

You practice, you learn, you spend time with your harp...why wouldn't you be good? (Now, if you're one of those people who really doesn't practice, spend the time and then go on with the rest of this post!) 

Before the resolution season gets kicked off, vow to yourself to bend your comfort level just a bit - share your gift, your talent, your hard work.  Remember that audiences are very receptive - they appreciate that they couldn't get up there and do that - but YOU CAN!

Start by playing somewhere new - play for your family on Christmas day.  Take your harp out somewhere like a park and share with passers by - just share your harp with others - play your favorite tunes or  improvise.  Its not Carnegie Hall, but we don't all want to play there.  Try it - you'll be glad you did...and so will the people you share with!

December 10, 2009

To my Followers, Current and Future


First, I'd like to thank those of you who are following my blog.  I hope you find it useful.  And of course, you can always let me know if there's a particular topic in which you're interested. 

If you're visiting and like what you've seen, please join us and become a Follower.  Follower get a heads up when content is updated so you'll get all the fresh info as it gets posted.

We'll talk about all the important stuff: travel to Scotland, growing as a harp player, and other peripheral stuff, like playing the harp while we're in Scotland!

Hope to see you soon!

December 2, 2009

Harping Healthy for the Holidays

Well, as much as I would rather be in Scotland, playing some incredible music with friends established or newly minted, I'm home listening to the rain pelt the window whilst the wind howls. It is well and truly winter (even if it is only "meteorological winter" and we haven't yet reached the solstice). 

As we move toward the "Bleak Midwinter" it is natural that we'll be playing more: people to the house will want to hear you, holiday gigs are piling up (this is my wish for each of you who are gigging), or your just practicing more because your inside more, staying cozy.

If you are playing more (practicing, preparing, or simply playing) it is essential that you care for your hands.  On the outside, be sure to keep your skin nourished with an appropriate lotion or balm.  Caring for your skin not only feels better but also helps keep you healthy.  You'll feel better because you prevent chapping or drying, Skin breaks or cracks are fractures in your largest organ and leave you open to infection.

 It is equally essential that you care for the inside of your hands.  Be certain to warm up each time you play.  A few gentle scales and a go at your favorite exercises for just a few moments (2 - 5 minutes) will gently warm the small muscles of your hands.  Just as you wouldn't go out and run five miles without training or warming up, you shouldn't sit down and play without preparing. 

Avoid injury now and in the future by caring for your hands daily.

November 17, 2009

Since you were wondering

You might think that now that I've done telling you all about my trip to Scotland to plan the Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tours for 2010 that I'd be done and there's nothing else to see in the blog...

but you'd be wrong

There's so much more.  I'll update you with tidbits from my studio - tips to improve your playing, help you learn more, or just play better, updates on Scottish Harp events sponsored by Scottish Harp Society of America, and any harp related stuff that comes my way. 

If you have a question or a topic you'd like me to address, just let me know.  And sign on as a follower, so I don't get cyber-lonely!  If you find this blog interesting or useful, tell your friends.

And by the way, Caol (kyle) is Scottish Gaelic for narrow (as in the narrows that boats come through)'ll see when we get to Skye.

November 16, 2009

Back to Reality

We’ve had a full week, but it’s been wonderful – and wonder filled! I hope you’ll join us in April, May or September of 2010. For more information on the tours, please visit my website on

And I’ve gone on and on about the beautiful scenery, the interesting history, the colorful culture, but I’ve left out perhaps the most important thing. Throughout this blog you’ve gotten oblique glimpses of our expert tour guide, David. He gave me a great background in places I’d not seen before and taught me a lot about places I’d been many times, but obviously had more to learn about. He brings his delightful sense of humor, abiding love of his country and all it contains, and a sheer joy in sharing that with others who are keen to learn more and see everything! We are really fortunate to have such a great guide to show us the authentic Scotland, without a lot of kitsch, just real people, places and events. He’s planned a most excellent tour for us with just enough flexibility to allow us to make the most of the places we go, the weather we get, and the things we want to do.

I hope you’re now keen to join us – we’re going to have a great time. The tours for 2010 will be:

  • 15 -22 April – immediately after the Edinburgh International Folk Harp Festival – a great opportunity to really immerse yourself in Scottish Harp!
  • 1 – 8 May
  • 6 – 13 September
  • 19 – 26 September
Seats are limited, only 4 travelers per adventure. And the inclusive price includes not only high quality B&Bs but also the lend of a harp for the length of the trip as well as the harp events that are designed especially for you.

For more information, please go to our website: 

Hope to see you there!

November 15, 2009

The Royal Deeside

This area is beautiful, partly because we go from the mountains and rivers out to the sea! We start out from Aberlour and head to Tomintoul and Cockbridge along parts of the old military road on our way to Royal Deeside – which, not surprisingly, is along the River Dee.

The River Dee...quite pastoral, here.

The area is called the Royal Deeside, not surprisingly, because since Queen Victoria's time, the Royal Family have spent time here.  We took in the Bell Stane (a cool, half-buried rock with a strange history that you would not look at twice if you were to walk past it - yet it rings like a bell when you strike it with another rock). Later we saw the picturesque Corgarff Castle with its star shaped wall. 

Corgarff Castle with its star shaped wall

We visited the Crathie Kirk (which is the place of worship for the Royal Family when they’re in the neighborhood). From there we headed to the coast, from Portsoy and westward along the Moray Coastal Trail and visited another of Scotland's ancient stately homes.

Sunset and a perfect sky - a very welcome evening on the Moray Coast

Another day so full of wonder that I kept forgetting to take pictures.  I hope you remember better when you get there!

We ended up the day at David's and his lovely wife Heather’s home for a dinner that can only be described as an event! Heather is a fantastic hostess and I am thrilled that she’s invited us to share traditional Scottish hospitality. This will be a meal that you’ll savor for a long time!

November 14, 2009


We saw some incredible things today. We started at Ballindalloch Castle, still lived in and beautiful! Unfortunately for me, I’m here in November and the Castle is closed, but when we come back in April, it will be open! I can’t wait to go! The pictures on the website are marvelous!

A little further on, we came to the River Avon…and no, we weren't lost…there are seven Rivers Avon in the UK alone! We just happened to be at the one in Strathspey…a beautiful little bridge that I guess most people don’t know to see – I tried to surf it up and didn’t see any pictures of it…and now that you’ve seen my picture, let’s keep it our little enchanted secret! And now you get a glimpse of the great tour guide we have!

The enchanting bridge over River Avon
We passed through Cromdale and as we happened on the “Haughs of Cromdale", I felt another tune coming on!  We kept on our way to Carr Bridge, though. And I had to have a photo of the Carr Bridge, not only because I learned the tune very early in my harp life, but also because its not only beautiful, it has a great story that goes with its being built. But you’ll have to come with if you want to hear it!

The Carr the early morning, stunning!
From Carr Bridge we went on to the Cairngorms. The entire range are breathtaking and we actually go to the top! Not only is this the largest (read biggest) collection of high peaks in the UK, but even better – it’s just incredibly beautiful! And do you know why calling the mountain range the Cairngorms is sort of funny? David’ll tell you. And you’ll see the incredible view from the Cairngorm Funicular Railway – another astonishing (but fun) engineering feat!

View from near the top

And of course no visit to the Spey Valley would be complete without a visit to a distillery – to watch the water of life being born! Even if you’re not a big fan of uisge beatha (the water of life!), you’ll enjoy learning about how Scotch whiskeys are made, their history and the path a grain has to go through to become something more celebrated than breakfast cereal!

November 13, 2009

The Battlefield Coast

This was a great day exploring working forts and walking through history in a really modern way. We start by crossing Dava Moor (which some will tell you is what people who’ve never been to Scotland think all of it looks like – deceptively expansive, wild, beautiful – its a “carpets of heather” place!).

After crossing the Moor we get to Fort George, built in the 1720s it is the most secure fortification in Europe to this day. It is a working Army Barracks, so you might see soldiers while we visit.

A very small slice of Ft George

This fort was originally built to pacify the Scottish Highlands in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745. And yup - that's when they started burning harps to squelch the culture. It is a Star fort so it is interesting (even if you’re not into forts) and contains exhibits about its history and use. It is home to the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Anybody know what their regimental marches are? Want to learn one?

From there we moved through Inverness and along Loch Ness which looks just about as deep as it is…Didn’t see Nessie this time, but I’m always looking, just in case. Urquhart Castle sits on Loch Ness and has a very interesting history including visits by such interesting characters as St. Columba!

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

We went on to Culloden Battlefield from there. They have a brand new visitors’ center which is state of the art and has excellent displays and information. You can practically feel the history around you. I think that the site is so captivating and overawing - so much so that I was too stunned to take photos! But it is so impressive that I can't wait to get back there!

November 12, 2009

The Western Highlands

We start this day by visiting the well known and beautiful Eilan Donan. You’ve seen the photos and here’s your chance to visit the hauntingly beautiful and recently restored castle.

Eilan Donan - always breathtaking!

After exploring Eilan Donan we moved on to Ardival Harps to see how the wide variety of harps they build are made in their workshop. We met Zan in her “showroom” (and I did not succumb to playing all the harps there – it would have been tough to choose – Pictish harps, wire strung Clarsachs in multiple sizes, Gothics, bray harps and plain ole’ lever harps - all on display! Heaven!!). Then she gave us a tour of the workshop located in the mill (and the beautiful aroma of fresh cut wood – I didn’t want to leave).

But leave we did and on our way to Aberlour and the Dowan’s hotel, we saw Achnasheen, Strathcarron, Loch Carron, the Black Isle and Beully. Another day of tunes just popping into my head with each glance!  I am really excited about the things we'll play together!

We end this day at The Dowans Hotel, our accommodation for the rest of our visit. It is very pretty and much like staying at someone’s country house! You’ll feel quite grand when you bunk down here!
Dowan's Hotel - Looks like its waiting for a princess - Oh, here I am!

November 11, 2009

An Amazing Day on Skye

Today we started seeing Skye. There’s a reason there are so many well known tunes related to this area. With so much to see it was hard to remember to put the camera down and really look around. And looking around is a must…

We’ll spend some time here, so you’ll see waterfalls, and Kilt Rock

Falls at Kilt Rock

as well as picturesque Port Righ (Portree)

Port Righ is a pretty little place

From Port Righ, we continued on including see some amazing scenary (like the bridge at Sligachan) and incredible history at the Museum of Island Life and Flora McDonald's final resting place as well as Duntulm Castle (originally seat of the McLeod and later of the McDonald) and Dunvegan Castle, known as the Jewel of the McLeod.

The bridge at Sligachan

At the end of the day we return to McKinnon Lodge, our accomodation for the evening.  I was really taken with our Hosts Iain and Carol Tongs who made us very welcome in their lovely lodge.  I was in the Lindsey room, and really enjoyed the ambience of my tartan based decor.  The Lodge was a wonderful place to rest before our next day!

November 10, 2009

Road to the Isles

We left out of Perth early – the sky was threatening but in a really beautiful way (it doesn't always rain - but November is a bit showery...good news is we won't be coming in November, but in glorious April or September!).

One of the very few bits of highway we see on the trip

We followed the southern bank of the River Tay through to Aberfeldy and onwards to Falls of Dochart.

The Tay is beautiful and we have traveled along it today.  Here we're near the Black Watch memorial.

Then we crossed the river at the eastern end of Loch Tay.
Obligatory sheep photo – this might be where washable wool comes from?

We continued westward before turning north towards and through Glen Coe. I find that Glen Coe is haunting and new each time I see it – even without its bloody history, it is a moving place.

Entrance to Glen Coe

From there we kept on to the north, through Fort William and the southern approaches to the Caledonian Canal (another incredible engineering feat – Scots may arguably be the best engineers in the world, both historically and currently).

The final leg of the day turned us westward again through Glen Shiel and the Five Sisters to Klye of Lochalsh and across the sea to Skye.  Do you know what “kyle” means? If not, I’ll tell you later on…

My first view of the new Skye Bridge - not a great picture, but I was very excited!

The scenery is captivating and the tunes we’ll share start bombarding me with every curve in the road! It's been a long day but full of breathtaking sites.  Can't wait for what tomorrow brings!

Arrival in Edinburgh

I flew into Edinburgh with a great view of the Firth of Forth. You can see the Forth Bridge which is an engineering feat and just cool to look at (but a little challenging to photograph on the approach):

Shortly thereafter, I arrived in Perth just in time for dinner. The trip over was good and although it’s a little gloomy (alright, it’s raining – but a fine soft rain!) I can’t wait to get started on the tour tomorrow.

I am staying at the Parklands Hotel, our first accommodation. It’s quite nice and has attractive rooms. You might have heard bad things about food in the UK in general and Scotland in particular – you might be worried how you’ll subsist on porridge, haggis and turnips. I’m here to tell you (between mouthfuls) that all you’ve heard is wrong. I’ve had dinner at the Parklands restaurant and it was incredible. You won’t get bad canned haggis and “rubber chicken” like at your local Burns Supper, but rather delightful creations like the Black Pudding Bread that was served with my soup and amazing fresh local selections. It was very difficult to decide on a single dish to order!

Tomorrow we start our tour, nailing down the ins and outs - finalizing the stops we’ll make in April and September. More pictures then!

November 8, 2009

Travel Day!

Travel Day

I’m on my way to beautiful Scotland. I am really excited not only to go and finalize the planning for the Harp in the Highlands and Islands tours for 2010, but also to be able to share it with you here!

The journey was uneventful (except for the part where I started in San Diego – but what’s a continent between friends?)

The weather en route was incredible and lead to pictures like this one. Hope you have a great crossing when you come!

Sun setting east of San Diego

Moon rising a little farther east on the way to Scotland

October 25, 2009

Getting Started is Exciting!

As I begin my preparations for the planning trip, I'm trying out blogging as a way to keep you up to date on the Harp in the Highlands and Islands planning.  I think it will be very exciting to help you see just a glimpse of the tour as we finalize the places we'll visit and I identify the tunes we'll learn, matched to the history, people and places we go.

I hope you're getting excited about coming with us - I'll be so glad to have you there!  And if you haven't decided if this is the trip for you, I hope this glimpse will help you decide that you'll have a great time learning about Scotland and the harp!

See you soon...Jen the Harper