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.