December 29, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wishing you and yours a very happy New Year - all the best in 2011!

See you in January!

December 27, 2010

Happy Christmas!

I hope you have a lovely solstice, a joyous Christmas, a delightful Boxing Day, and as much cheer as you can stand plus one bit more!  Happy Christmas!

December 15, 2010

Preparing for the coming year

Don't forget to start setting your goals for next year -

- What music do you want to master?
- What technique to do you need to work on?
- What have you always wanted to do at your harp but been afraid to try?
- What gig have always secretly hoped to book and how are you going to book it this year?

Write down your goals and identify how you will meet them (be realistic - the point is to help you chart and follow your course, not to end up unfruitful on the other end of the year). Decide how you'll know when you've gotten there.  Make a plan, enjoy the ride!

December 8, 2010

The Holidays are coming - are you ready?

It's that time of year - the Holidays!  Lots of music to dust off to play for all of December, new tunes to try to get in shape to play in the venues we have booked (be they paying or family), as well as keeping up our "real" repertoire(s). 

If like many of us, you are playing for your own enjoyment, playing to put presents under the tree, playing at churches, corporate parties, holiday events, and all your regular gigs, its going to hit you are doing a lot!

it is really important to take good care of yourself at this time of year - we are all stressed up with somewhere to go - and the strain of adding to our usual busy routines can start to show - developing cracks in our usually pristine veneers...

Practice - be sure that you are getting enough practice but that you don't ramp up from a tepid 15 minute a day run through to a sold 2 hour practice too quickly.

Stretch - add stretching your hands, arms, neck and back to your daily schedule.  I don't know about you, but "reading neck" is my biggest problem about this time of year.  Since I usually don't spend a lot of time glued to a music stand, this period of seasonal (read, I'm not bothering to memorize it) music is killing me!  I don't normally have my head turned in that direction for about 10 months of the I really feel it now!

Rest - allow yourself enough time to prepare (corollary - know yourself and how long you will need to prepare for season - and give yourself that time so you can be ready) and build enough rest time into the schedule.  This is both physical rest (I am certain you're getting your 9 hours every night - right?) and mental (don't think you will actually be able to learn 50 performance ready Christmas tunes in a week).

Enjoy - no matter your level of harp performance, you have a life beyond your harp (you do, don't you?) so be sure to enjoy all the aspects of your life - use your creative outlets, enjoy the holiday season, have a cookie.

Remember that taking care of you is the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones - it will make you a better person and a better harper.

December 1, 2010

Mental preparation

I hope the last few posts have really whet your whistle to come see Scotland with us.  It is an amazing and beautiful country and there may actually not be anything better than finding a lovely corner to sit and play the harp together.  We visited some wonderful sites and were invited to play at incredible places.  And we're looking forward to sharing it with you in 2011.

Of course, travel can be challenging - there's so much to see, so many people to meet, so many photos to take, so many dishes to try, so many tunes to learn - it can be overwhelming!  But as musicians, we know the path to success - the way to be ready for these eventualities, what it takes to face a long day of learning, being excited, and having takes discipline and PRACTICE (you knew I was going to say that)!

But how would you practice to travel?  The best way is to have a goal (which is both an achievement and a time frame).  I'd suggest the easiest way to set your harp travel goal is to book your trip with us as soon as possible. 

Once your goal is set, then you need to prepare to ensure that you are ready to visit places and meet people, be awed and amazed, open to new things and ideas and to play your harp. 

One way to set your mind can be part of the discipline of getting ready for the holiday season.  you will probably be playing Christmas music, so learn some traditional Scottish tunes.  Learn them by ear if you're able.  I am very fond of the well known Christ Child's Lullaby and Da Day Dawn (its never too early to celebrate a holiday after all).

And as the new year swings around, continue to play your favorite traditional tunes, preferably with other music makers, enjoying the the ambiance of playing all together and enjoying the laughter and camaraderie. 

Prepare your mind to learn new things, see new places, gather new tunes, and enjoy.  If you do these things regularly, you'll be ready when you join us in Edinburgh and we begin our adventure!

November 24, 2010

2011 Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tours

As promised, the 2011 Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tours information is now available!  We have two dates scheduled:
  • 11 - 18 August
  • 22 - 29 August
We are looking forward to having six travelers on each tours (and remember non-harpers are also welcome - musicians need an audience!). 

If these dates don't work for you and your friends, don't let that deter you - contact me if you'd like to schedule an alternate date - we need at least four travelers to go, so find your friends and we'll see if we can schedule you a custom trip!

Get more information and download the new brochure:

Looking forward to seeing Scotland's Highlands and Islands over a Harp with you!

November 17, 2010

Day Eight – Homeward bound

The day dawned clear. We had our last wonderful cooked breakfast – the kind we’d been enjoying all week – eggs, back bacon, black pudding, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, coffee, tea, jam, porridge, cream. But all good things must come to an end, so we all packed up, loaded up and David started us all on our journey home.

But, we should have known, it wasn’t over. David continued the tour all the way back to Edinburgh – pointing out sites, highlighting bits of interest, entertaining us! He got us and all our luggage safely back so we could complete our travels – having seen so much of the country, learned the history, lore, geography that lies behind our music, having learned some excellent tunes – enhanced by the location.
David and I had a great time this year
and we can't wait to see you in 2011!

We can’t wait until next year!

Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tours 2011

We are excited to announce that the 2011 Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tours will be 11 – 18 August and 22 – 29 August . These dates assure that you’ll see Scotland in its glory – the weather is usually brilliant at this time.

In addition, if you want to augment your visit, there are excellent opportunities to do so with these dates. You can attend the Edinburgh Tattoo you can participate in Harp Village, an amazing weekend workshop in Cromarty, or you could plan other events.

But remember, there are only six seats on each trip, so be sure to reserve your seat now! Go to the Harp Tour website for further details and booking information.

November 10, 2010

Day Seven – Highland Spirit

We had seen the beautiful mountains that help make the Scottish scenery both iconic and memorable, but today we were actually going to be in it!  We departed Aberlour for the Cairngorms.  Although the area is popular for hill walking, we were (fortunately) going to take the funicular railway to the top!

The end of the funicular railway on Cairngorm. 
You wanted to see the mountain?  Come with us next time!
Alice checks out other accommodations
in the Cairngorm displays - but
decides to stay with her original arrangements
At the top are some very interesting displays – about the weather, about the mountain, about skiing, information for people of all interests. We, being an interesting group, were interested in everything. Cairngorm refers the range and to the mountain we were on. It is spectacular and very hard to leave.

But we did leave because we were bound for Ballindalloch Castle – home to Lady Clair McPherson Grant-Russell. She had graciously allowed us to have our harp event in her dining room. And, as harpers, we wereglad to be granted the honor and privilege of being invited to play in someone’s home. And what a home!

Ballindalloch Castle is a beautiful home inside and out!
  Mrs. Russell joined us for much of our harp event – if we’d only had another harp, she could have joined us - hopefully next time! While there we worked on tunes specifically related to the Castle. One of two people poked in and enjoyed observing our playing too. When we were done playing we visited the castle and then it really hit us how very lucky we were to have been invited to play there!

Mrs Russell chatted with us during our harp
event in the Dining room of Ballindalloch

On that high note (pun intended!) we departed for our last night’s accommodation.  We were all riding high from our incredible day – but we were not done yet! We all made ready for a lovely, homemade dinner in the style of hospitality for which Scotland is famous. David and Heather invited us into their home for a traditional dinner on our final evening. Heather made us a sumptuous feast and we all ate ‘til we were full to burstin’! I only wish any of us had had the presence of mind to take a picture – but again – if you want to see it, you’ll have to come with us next time!

November 3, 2010

Day Six – The Battlefields

On this day we had more somber history to explore. We started out driving through the beautiful, flower filled Forres with its incredible, community built and maintained gardens. We always hear how in the UK people are mad for gardens – but this town is amazing! Here’s one of the amazing flower pictures:

Beautiful Floral Peacock in the gardens at Forres
David also took us to one of those off the beaten path, locals know but tour buses don’t places. I’d show you a picture, but I’d rather let you see it yourself!

From there we went on to Culloden Battlefield. There is a new and fantastic visitors’ center there which really presents the entire event in an understandable way, even for those who know nothing about it. It is multimedia and prepares you to see the field as a battlefield – even as you walk on it now. Before we went there, I thought I knew the history, but I learned so much more and it made so many other bits of history make more sense!

But as moving as Culloden is, we still had more to see – perhaps much more! We drove along the shore of Loch Ness – mysterious, moody, enchanting…enchanted? We all looked but no glimpse of Nessie on this trip! We arrived at Urquhart Castle on the western shore of the Loch. We followed David’s excellent directions on arrival and had a marvelous time (and some really good soup!).Urquhart is another place with a very interesting history and we got to see the remnants of that – as well as the setting for a tune we would share later. But this view gives you an idea of the scale.

After Urquhart, we meandered back to the Dowans via a quaint and scenic area where we had a little photographic fun before heading back to learn a lovely tune before enjoying another incredible meal. Then on to rest before the next adventure filled day!

October 27, 2010

Day Five: The Royal Deeside

On this day we headed east and toward the Royal Deeside.  It is called the Royal Deeside because Balmoral is in the area (hence the Royal) and it is alongside the River Dee (hence the Deeside).  The scenery is breathtaking and David took us some incredible, unspoilt places - whimsical bridges, charming castles, and stunning landscapes!  But rather than prattle on about them, let me show you some of the sites of our day:

Another lovely bridge along the way

Crathie Kirk where the Queen attends church when at Balmoral. 
The inside is impressive, but no photographs - it IS a church after all.
Corgarff Castle, very far away, but still delightful!

In Ballater, Alice shows Queen V how to do haughty

Joan welcomed us to Delgatie Castle and allowed us the privilege
of playing in the Chapel - a fantastic experience

We weren't this relaxed in the Castle Chapel,
but we did learn a lovely tune!  Don't you wish you were there?
At the end of the day we enjoyed a drive through the Moray Coast
which is so beautiful people should write tunes about it.  Oh, Wait!  They do!!
We had the typical tourist fascination with sheep...
just couldn't get enough of them
After another full day of sites, history, stories, meeting real people where they live, and learning another tune, we headed back to the Dowans for another delicious dinner, a sampling of their impressive collection of single malt scotches and then to bed - tomorrow promised another delight!

October 20, 2010

The Interval

We'll get back to more about our amazing Harp the Highlands and Island Tour next week. 

This week is sandwiched in between judging gigs at the Stone Mountain Highland Games "The Friendly Games" Harp Competition in Atlanta and the

US National Scottish Harp Championship
at the Meadow Highland Games and Celtic Festival at Richmond, VA

I hope you'll join us there - enter the competition or volunteer.
Sue Richards and I will be judging and are looking forward to seeing you there!  Richmond is a lovely games - and the Harp Competition is held indoors!

If you'd like to compete or to help, contact Jo Morrison harp(at) 

October 13, 2010

Day Four: the Amazement doesn't stop - all day!

As captivating as Skye is, sadly, we had to leave and continue on our trip.  But we weren't sad for long because from Skye we went to that most recognizable castle - Eilan Donan.  It is recognizable because it has become iconic but it is also incredibly beautiful.  Of course, it has incredible history.  And the fantastic views help build the atmosphere.  And the castle has featured in so many movies - you could love it as a movie star too. But the best bit is that it has a space especially for harpers in the great hall.  Clearly they were expecting us!  And THAT is what made me fall in love with ths castle.    Unfortunately, no photography inside.  So if you want to see this little harp spot, you'll have to come with us!

The beautiful harpers at Eilan Donan

However, no photos inside doesn't mean no photos outside!  We had a great time taking this photo.  And apparently a lot of other people did too.  Don't be surprised if you see this photo in other places - people from all over the world stopped and took this photo too - tourists from Japan, Korea, Germany and Canada all seemed to be captivated by the harpers - who were clearly having a great time!  And we weren't even playing!

From Eilan Donan we traveled on past some delightful sites on to Strathpeffer, the old Victorian Spa town where we had a lovely lunch.  And what did we find above the bar?  A reel written for the restaurant.  We will have to go back, just to learn that tune! 

Zan shares the harps, the lore, and more with us
in the "showroom" at Ardival Harps
But we couldn't linger over lunch - we were on our way to our next stop - at Ardival Harps!  Ardival makes a number of different kinds of harps and we were privileged to see, hear, feel and play all the different types!  We started out with Zan telling us all about the intriguing back story on the harps - Wire, Gothic, Bray, and Lever.  She shared history and stories, and we played all the different instruments.  We played new tunes on old style harps and old tunes on the types of harps for which they might have been written.  We were all clearly smitten!

Graham shows us the steps to making a wire harp. 
He made it look so easy we might have,
for a moment, thought we could do it as well as he -
but we'd be wrong!
And then, while we were all still in the fantasy land of "... maybe I should have one of these too, just to improve my harp playing and to be more fully involved in the history of majesty of the harp - and owning just one more harp wouldn't be bad...but they're all so wonderful, why stop at one..." (the stupor one finds oneself in when there are so many harps at hand!) we moved on to the workshop to meet Graham and see how a master craftsman brings a harp out of a chunk of wood.   We learned about the process (and the pitfalls) of making harps from natural materials as well as the secret of the bray pin!  I'll never look at a harp the same way again.  Nor will I ever forget the aroma of the workshop - the tantalizing smell of wood - can you smell the wood of your harp when you sit to play?

We were sad to leave Zan and Graham and all those captivating harps, but we eventually did go on to our accommodation for the rest of the trip, the Dowan's Hotel in Aberlour.  Who knew what adventures would await us in the Spey Valley...

October 7, 2010

Day Three: Skye

Skye is beautiful.  Any time of year it is breathtaking and wonderful.  David organized our day to take best advantage of the day and the weather and we moved from one amazing site to another - sites of geologic beauty, historic significance, and just cool stuff.  We went to Dunvegan Castle and after lunch we toured its lovely gardens and really, I should stop writing and just show the photos:
Let me say we were certainly glad not to be this guy - instead we were whisked everywhere in a wonderful vehicle that carried us, our stuff - and the essential tea and biscuits - everywhere we wanted to go!  

We got on immediately and we clearly enjoyed the
close contact of the trip!

They say you can never get too far away - and this phonebox - on the side of the road made us feel that we were in contact - and yet not!

David stopped on request for photos or just to gaze on the scenery.  Here we stopped to have some of that tea (and a biscuit or 2!).  We were only part of the way around Skye and we had already seen so much - we were constantly exclaiming about the sites.

We had a wonderful day on Skye and returned to the McKinnon Country Lodge.  We learned a new tune that was tied directly to what we had done that day (you'll have to come along if you want find out what it was!).  We then went in for a delightful dinner - all three courses of it!  After dinner a little more playing, talking and coffee, then off to bed - the next day was going to take us on to our next adventure!

September 29, 2010

Day Two - Across some amazing scenery

After our excellent first day, we awoke to a little more harp time and a huge breakfast!  We had grains and fruits, cheese and yogurt, eggs, bacon, toast, tomatoes, kippers, mushrooms - the whole gamut!

Don't be fooled by the apparent precipitation -
we were having a great time - singing in the face of oncoming tour buses
on the narrow bridge over the Falls of Dochart and just generally laughing at the weather!

Then we gathered up and started out, away from Perth, north and west across the breadth of Scotland seeing breathtaking scenery and incredible historic sites.

We saw Wade's Bridge and the Falls of Dochart (see our photo).  Then we continued on to Glen Coe where we had an enjoyable pub lunch and got to explore a little - even finding a new tune to give a try.  Then on along the Caledonian Canal and through the captivating Glen Shiel.  And finally - Over the sea to Skye where we settled in and learned another tune!

September 22, 2010

Our First Day Out

On our first day together on the Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tour David collected us all at Edinburgh Waverley train station.  The weather was not looking too promising, but we set off with light hearts and immediate laughter.  Although we did not all know one another, we quickly developed a bond of shared jokes and stories.  We headed to Scone Palace in the rain and got to know each other a bit better.

Our travelers included two harp players, one fledgling (a person who was going to learn the harp as we went along and an audience member (the lucky devil who was going to listen to us play!).  We arrived at Scone and the weather cooperated, letting up a bit so we could get inside to see the incredible displays (as well as doing a little shopping and having some lunch).  We then went to Pitlochry to see the Dam and the Fish Ladder - again the weather held!  We finished the day by heading to our accommodation, getting quickly settled in our rooms and rejoining to play the harp.  We worked through Brig of Perth and got it down, despite a little remaining jet lag! 

We share a tune in the lounge in the Parklands Hotel, Perth

We then went on through to a delightful dinner in the Parklands, laughing and chatting throughout and made plans for our meeting and outings the next day!  We were tired from travel, playing and laughing but we had a bang-up first day!

September 16, 2010

Just to hold you over

Well, we've finished the inaugural Harp in the Highlands and Islands tour and it was fabulous!  Our amazing tour guide David took us to hidden places and showed us the side of Scotland we all know exists but so few visitors get to see.

Unfortunately, in the short run, I'm having trouble downloading the photos.  Some of our tour guests also agreed to share their photos so, keep an eye here and I'll get them on line as soon as possible.  And as soon as I get my technical difficulties sorted out, I'll post my photos and tell you all about our adventures!

Until then, keep practicing!

September 1, 2010

I'm leavin'...on a jet plane

Well, it’s finally here! It's finally time to leave - to go on the Harp in the Highlands and Islands tour. My excitement has reached that fever pitch which borders on annoying (at least to those around me). I'm winging away to Scotland, looking forward to meeting up with our incredible guide David and the wonderful harpers who are joining us. I can't decide which day of our trip I am most excited about - they all will be spectacular. And at the end I am certain I won’t have determined the best day still.

I wish, as I have often stated before, that you could all go with us. Some of you have contacted me about going next year - we are planning on it (and more details on next year when I get back!). But for now, just be ever so slightly envious! And start planning for the next trip.

We will be having a grand time and I will post as we get the opportunity. I anticipate that we won't get all our posts out during the week, so expect them to be strung out over time a bit. We'll upload photos and let you know what music we've been playing. I can't wait to share with you!

Until then, keep playing - pick up a new tune! We will be.

August 25, 2010

Harpy Campers, Part II

Well, Harp Camp had a spectacular run for its 15th Aniversary! I was so fortunate to be invited to teach with Kris Snyder again.  She also invited Marianna Nystrom to present and Lucy Stevens lead some excellent learning games.  We had wonderful students, supreme teachers (if I may say), brilliant lessons, and a whole lot of fun! We were in bucolic Glenville, Pennsylvania. And I mean bucolic - no better punctuation on your diminuendo than a rather loud mooooooooooooo from the field next door.

We had workshops on Composition and Improvisation, Sticky Wickets, and Putting on Airs. Students also enjoyed learning more about being creative and learned techniques to improve their creativity both at the harp and abroad! We participated in breathing and stretching exercises so we can expand our abilities to play. We also learned more tools to improve our daily practing to achieve more of our goals while wasting less time. In addition, starting from a poem, a piece of music or from scratch, students worked in small groups or alone to generate delightfully fresh music.

We made crafts – it’s not Camp without crafts, after all! And in between we had a lovely pot luck dinner, snacks and breaks as well as a breathtaking “kasbah” where we enjoyed wine and cheese and played for one another, generating a wonderful atmosphere in which to enjoy one another’s company.

We finished off with our traditional Harpers’ Circle, sharing the bounty of our learning and creativity with one another and then playing in ensemble all together – sharing some amazing arrangements of well known tunes, including some American classics such as Shenandoah, America the Beautiful, and the Shaker tune and some OCarolan and others.

It was sad to see everyone go, but they were so enthusiastic and ready to recommit to working hard and playing well, reconnecting with other Harp Friends and making new friends, that Kris and I were glad to see them off to their respective homes - to practice of course!

If you'd like to be part of this incredible learning experience, I hope you’ll be able to join us next year. We learn so much, have so much fun, laugh a lot, and you could be a part of it. Join us in August 2011!  We'll be posting more information about next year's Harp Camp on our website after we've recovered from 2010 - so watch that space.

August 18, 2010

Harpy Campers!

I am on my way to Southeastern Pennsylvania to work with some amazing people at Harp Camp 2010.  This is the 15th year for Harp Camp.  Fifteen years is a long time and I am so honored and pleased to be invited to teach again this year!  I have a soft spot in my heart for Harp Camp because it is where it all began for me - this is where I began to become a harper.  So, I am especially delighted to be there as a teacher - being given the amazing opportunity to share some of my love affair with the harp with some incredible students.

And I'm grateful to be teaching with Kris Snyder who was there at the beginning and has had been a presence in my development as a harper.   Marianna Nystrom and Lucy Stevens will be presenting as well.  We will have some incredible teaching sessions as well as the usual fun that comes from learning together.  Good students, great topics, excellent teachers - it will be fantastic!

I wish all of you could join us!  I know you would learn a lot and I would learn a great deal from you.  Maybe you'll be with us next year?  Let me know if you're interested and I'm happy to give you more information than you thought possible!

And next week, I'll share the outcomes with you.  This week, learn something new, share it with someone else - and enjoy being a Harpy Camper!

August 11, 2010

Holding it in!

Your phone number is seven numbers long (plus the area code now). It is seven numbers long for a reason - because psychologists learned, a long time ago, that the average person can remember about seven things are a time. George Miller published a paper in 1956 entitled, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information". Now we just call it Miller's Magical 7+/- 2.

Miller was looking at the capacity of short term memory - how much information could you hold on to while "converting" it to long term memory (the place you store your home phone number for later). What's important is the Miller found you could hang on to about 7 things. I say things for a reason. Each of us defines "things" differently.

So, if you're learning a new tune, the seven or so things you can remember will be different if you're a very experienced musician or if you're just new to the harp. If you're new, for you each thing will be a note. If you're very experienced, your thing could be a phrase.

How much stuff is in a thing (no, this is not a very technical discussion – I just want to get the point across!) depends on how much experience you have, how much you practice remembering things, how you think about the music you’re learning, and other things like your experience at the harp (as opposed to experience with other instruments), how stressed you are in general and about learning the music in particular. Other things may impact your learning – are you hungry, tired, busy, etc? All of these will affect how well you can remember and which side of seven plus or minus two you’ll be on that time.

So as you’re trying to learn new music, be sure to be mindful of what you’re trying to learn, how much stuff you’re trying to cram into your head at once, and how much stuff is in the things you’re trying to remember. Don't worry about holding it in - just keep working at it.  And don’t forget – like playing your harp, your memory will get better with practice!

August 4, 2010

Say what?

Many people think that learning by ear is either very difficult or very pedestrian. Some think it is very difficult because the one or two times they have attempted it, it seemed much harder than just reading dots from a page. Some think it is pedestrian because folk music is often taught by ear and is mistakenly believed to be less complex or of lower difficulty than other types of music. People who go down either or both of these trains of thought are mistaken and they may not have an appreciation for the challenges of learning by ear.

Learning by ear can be very difficult, especially when you're new to it. Being in your first learning by ear workshop can feel a lot like being in a coffee shop in Bratislava - you can hear the language, but it’s all a mishmash of sound - it means nothing to you, although you recognize it to be speech (trust me – I’ve been in that coffee shop – they are speaking a language, but not one that I know!).

One mistake many people make is to think that learning by ear will be easy. It seems that it should be – after all, you know how to play the harp and your know how to listen. Or do you? Do you know how to listen to the music so that you can learn it?

It is important to listen to the music carefully – and frequently. When I am learning a new tune, I will typically listen to it at least a couple of hundred times (I think it’s about 1000 times, but I usually lose count). The other people in my car only wish I was exaggerating. It is only then that I have heard it enough to have found the tune (and separated it from the harmonies and variations), found the pieces of the tune (the phrases, patterns and other elements), and begun to remember those pieces and how they are linked together. This is especially true if I’m learning a tune from a fiddle player or a piper – they play very fast – I have a hard time listening that quickly!

After all that listening, there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ll get to that another time. But for now, be gentle with yourself, especially if you’re just learning to learn by ear. Take whatever time it requires (and if you’re paper trained, remember how long it took you to become proficient and then quick at sight reading! Be honest!). And enjoy the new vistas on the music, learning it by ear affords you.

July 28, 2010

Are we there yet?

In less than six weeks we launch Harping in the Highlands and Islands! I was already excited, but now, it’s palpable. I am really looking forward to seeing the beautiful scenery (I’m partial to water, but I also like towns, mountains, fields, valleys (straths and glens!), people…yup, pretty much all of it.

I have been working on the tunes we’ll share – arranging, re-arranging, and re-re-arranging until they are just right for the people that will be with us. We will be a small but merry band. And I am especially proud of the traveler who will be learning not just the music but also the harp! She’s intrepid and I’m so excited to have her along with us. I think she’ll help us focus on the wonder of our gifts. You know how it is when you’re learning tunes – you sometimes forget to revel in the joy of making the music – but I expect we’ll stay grounded.

I am also sorry that so many of you couldn’t join us this year. It has been a challenging time for so many people. I wish I could take you all. But never fear – everything will come around – and soon. So keep watching this space – we’ll go again next year and I hope you’ll join us. If you’d like to go then, please send me a comment letting me know when in the year you’d like to go (we’re still in the planning stages for next year but are considering more summer times – so if that’s a better time for you, just let me know and I’ll see what I can do!) .

We’ll be posting photos and comments as we go, so be sure to check in. And I’ll be back next week with more about playing and the amazing music of Scotland.

July 21, 2010

Practicing can be a pain in the...

Many of us play the harp (or any instrument for that matter) for the pleasure it brings us, the joy we can share, and for the relaxation it affords us, especially in tense times.

And because so many of us play for fun, we often play only in fits and starts, sitting down for the two minutes we're waiting for the microwave to beep or the few moments between putting the last load into the washer but before the previous load finishes in the drier.  They are stolen moments.

And unfortunately, because they are stolen moments, we are sloppy with them - we plop on the bench, grab the harp, and blast through whatever piece of music comes to mind.  We don't prepare, we don't breathe,and  we don't assure our posture is good, our backs straight, our heads up, lengthened through the spine, relaxed but composed.  We're too busy trying to bang through the tune!  We don't have time for all that posture stuff.

Well, we need to make time for that.  Improper sitting, poor posture, slumped spines, feet not on the floor, craned necks, tense hands contribute to two potential outcomes - one hurts us in the short term ("gink" your back because you sat twisted?) and the other hurts us in the long term (if you always practice that way, you will have practiced yourself into a habit which you will have to work hard to reverse).   And we don't want practicing or playing to hurt our backs or to become a pain in the neck (or lower!).

And when it comes to posture, you must be vigilant.  You don't want to lose the bubble on how you sit, either at the harp or at your desk, the dinner table, or while schlumped on your couch watching television.  Be mindful of your posture and know how much core strength you actually possess (or should that be corps strength?). 

Many of us, especially those that are no longer adolescents, have much less core strength than we think we do.  It will help your playing if you strengthen that core by getting some exercise.  Strengthening your core helps you protect your back from everyday chores including lifting, twisting, and bending.  It will also help you sit better and for longer when you play.  Look at those harp players you admire - they have phenomenal posture.  Why?  First, they have practiced it, and second, they spend so much time on that bench that they must have the posture needed to maintain sitting and playing for so long. 

You don't have to become a pilates instructor or an exercise fanatic to achieve these gains.  Just work some of the basic abdominal exercises we have all learned over the years into your day.  You will feel better, be able to hold yourself up to play longer, and have better posture while you are playing (even if you plop down to play).  You will be being kind to your back as well.  What's not to lose - the crunch is on.*

*All material provided within this blog is for informational and educational purposes only, and in no way is any of the content on this website to be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken solely on the contents of this blog. This is not medical advice, nor is it meant to replace the advice of your medical care provider. Exercise at your own risk, learn appropriate exercise technique from a professional, and use good judgement when exercising.

July 7, 2010

Inspiration in the form of happy exhaustion!

So, I'm back from Oberlin, stuffed full of great tunes from the Ohio Scottish Arts School.  Its always a rugged treat to go there in the summer.  Rugged because having that much fun is hard work - but I'm up for the challenge!  In addition, its just worth looking forward to - old friends, new friends, seeing each other develop and grow as musicians.  And the excellent teachers - role models all!  I hope you'll consider participating next year - the diverse playing levels and styles, the brilliant faculty, the environment - all contribute to an excellent learning experience whether you've been playing for a year (like the first time I went) or for 30 years (like some of the participants) you'll have a wonderful time and learn more than you knew needed learning!
Colloden Battlefield - can you imagine how  powerful it would be to sit here and play??

But now I 'm home, head full of tunes, lots of good tunage - can't wait to share!  And better still, its crunch time - I'm really excited to be heading to Scotland in the not too distant future!  I have all kinds of tunes to share there - old ones, new ones, some with simple arrangements, some with arrangements that are a little challenging - and all that will stick in our travelers' heads because they'll be forever tied to our incredible tour and the places we're going. 

I'm also excited that we'll have great things to share here.  I'm sorry you couldn't all go with us - hopefully as we share our journey here, you'll be envious enough that you'll join us next year!  Keep watching this space!  And drop me a note when you get a chance.

June 30, 2010

Gone Harpin'

No tidbits this week - I'm at the Ohio Scottish Games judging the Harp Competition and then participating in the Ohio Scottish Arts School in Oberlin Ohio.  I'm learning a ton of new stuff and sharing a little as well.  I look forward to "seeing" you next week!

June 23, 2010

In the good ol' summer time

Its Summertime!  As I mentioned last week, its also time for summer camps - especially harp camps!

I hope you're going to join me in PA in August.  But if not, I hope you're going to get to one of the other learning opportunities available for adult learners at all levels of harp performance.  Or that you'll be able to get to one of the conferences such as Somerset Folk Harp Festival or HarpCon.  And I hope I'll get to meet you at some of these events!

But one of the downsides to all this is also an upside.  Its summer, our schedules seem to be more free and there are plenty of opportunities to play.  And this is where the downside comes in - if you have a sudden ramp up in the amount of time you're playing you are exposing yourself to the potential for injury.  Not good - it totally cramps your practicing and playing!

It is also when we're learning so many things that we start tweaking our own play and that too can sometimes lead to injury.  If you get a great tip - how you sit at the harp, the type of seat you use, the shoes you wear (and not just if you play pedal!), the geometry of your hands, arms or shoulders - all of these great ideas and tips will be NEW TO YOU!  Therefore you must incorporate these changes slowly into your practice.  Don't modify your sitting position and then practice for 2 hours in this new position - you'll greatly increase your probability of injury. 

And it doesn't have to be so noticeable - simply changing the type of music you play (going from all traditional tunes to reading classical off a page for instance) can also open you to potential injury.
Athletic trainers suggest you implement changes like these about 10% weekly. 

Being a musician, regardless of your level of performance requires physical conditioning - you're asking a lot of your body.  So, just like runners or boxers, you must, as a musician, remember to warm up, cool down, stretch and stay strong and fit for the long haul.

June 16, 2010

Harp Camp

I am very pleased to have been invited to teach at Lever Harp Camp again this year.  So, if you're in the mid-Atlantic region (or you like to travel!) join us for our 15th year.  Harp Camp will be August 19, 20, and 21 in South Central Pennsylvania – easily accessible to harpers from anywhere and at any level.  I am excited to be teaching with Director Kris Snyder as well as presenters Marianna Nystrom and Lucy Stevens.

The award winning instructors of Harp Camp strive to provide a highly personalized, fun-filled, supportive environment where lever harp players at all levels extend their technical skills and enhance their appreciation for this historic instrument. We also work on building a healthy sense of self-esteem – encouraging our attendees to try new things and give them an understanding of the skills necessary to reach individual performance goals. In addition, MHTP Graduates have the potential to gain 6 CEUs for participation.

The format is tailored to you:
     No frustration of either information that you aren’t ready for, or waiting for people with less experience to understand what is being presented.
     We are offering three tracks: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced...each workshop you take will be geared toward your proficiency and comfort level.

These three days will be filled with creativity and fun.  Workshops this year will include:
* Putting on Airs (learning by ear): demonstrating the processes of learning-by-ear and working with an Air
* Practice Makes Me with Sticky Wickets: getting the best from the time you have and confronting common issues
* Improvisation from Composition: demonstrating a variety of improvisational techniques and methods for converting compositions into improvisations

In addition, MHTP graduates may attend optional presentations covering analyzing music for appropriateness for CMP work/how to change the selection for use; organizing binders for best flow; how to move from piece to piece and how to move from key to key.

We’ll spend time on mechanical issues that come with the harp: changing strings, adjusting levers. Games, Creative and Directed Ensemble and age appropriate activities are included!

If you have always wanted to try the harp without the commitment, we will have rentals available and a separate novice track designed to give you the optimum experience of trying the harp – with no strings attached!

Harp Camp has a capped attendance policy – this allows our class sizes to remain small- giving our attendees the personal attention for our instructors that they deserve.

For more information go to (or write me a comment/question).

June 9, 2010

The excitement is growing palpable as we move closer to September and the Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tour.  September is rapidly approaching but not fast enough for me! I was disappointed that the spring tour was incomplete due to technical issues but we leave on the autumn trip on 6th September with a  full complement.  We'll be spending an entire week - eight days and seven nights -  on a customized tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands seeing some of the places you’ve played about and learning tunes along the way!

As described in previous posts, this tour will go through some of the most beautiful scenery to be seen anywhere and includes the Isle of Skye, the western Highlands, the Spey valley and Cairngorm Mountains. Each day we will learn a tune or add to our harp lore. Our travelers will be great fun with broad diversity - some brand new to the harp and others further along on their musical journeys.  I'm certain they will all enjoy this trip. And their travel logistics are greatly improved and simplified with a lovely small harp awaiting them in Scotland.  We can all travel with light hearts, without fear of the airlines careless handling of our sweet investments.

This intimate tour will consist of four travelers. This very small group size allows flexibility so each day David can show us the very best Scotland has to offer as well as those special things that can’t be planned. Along the way I’ll share tunes that match our travels, experiences, and mood (to learn more about David and me, see the earlier posts and check out the website).
We leave in just three months.  We will post while we are there - I can't wait to share our trip with you! 

I'm sorry if you're not one of the lucky few who are joining us this year.  If you become enchanted (or just plain envious) while you read our posts, never fear.  We are planning on making the trip again next year - so you could join us then and see breathtaking Scotland over the arm of your own small harp! Just let me know - drop me a comment here or send me an email. I am so looking forward to sharing this incredible opportunity with you! For details and more information go to

Until then, keep practicing, consider which are your favorite tunes and join us next year to learn more!  And I'll keep posting tidbits here - just to contribute to your harp development.