March 31, 2010

Fortune Cookie II

Last week I posted about a Fortune Cookie I had gotten about being a friend to have friends.  That really spoke to me about sharing our music with everyone.

And then I got to thinking more about the fortune cookie itself - it had absolutely NOTHING to do with playing the harp.  In fact, if you read that post you might have thought that I was daft.

But the reality is, that everything has to do with playing the harp.  And playing the harp has to do with everything else in our worlds. For some of us playing the harp takes over our worlds and we reorient our days and our lives to incorporate the harp ever more into our lives.  Of course for some of us, playing the harp has changed our lives by increasing the number of knick-knacks we have to dust.  (But, lest you scoff - even that dusting means that the harp has had some impact on your life!)

As musicians and artists, we have to be open to the possibilities in everything around us.  Whether it is something you read, see on TV, a billboard, a song coming from the next car over, the color of a dress - there are inspiration launch points everywhere. 

If something points itself out to you - whatever it is, from whence it might arise - pay attention!  Figure out what's in there for you to take away and make into something else.  This is creativity at play - let it have its head - see where it leads you.  You might be inspired to generate a new arrangement, or compose a new tune, or just let yourself stop being afraid of what you might do next!

March 24, 2010

Fortune Cookie

I'm not a huge fan of Chinese take away - that I am certain has nothing to do with anything actually Chinese.  But on occasion I can't avoid it.  The best part is always the fortune cookie. 

I skip eating the cookie - I can't wait to break into it to get my fortune (as well as those lottery numbers and a new vocabulary word that I'll never be able to pronounce correctly).  The fortune is full of possibilities.  One of the great things about fortune cookies - they only hold truths.  We can laugh about it, make jokes about it, but does anyone ever read their fortune and remain completely unaffected?

My last fortune cookie said, "to have a friend, be a friend".  To assure that you have friends, you have to be a friend to others.  Holding on to your gifts rather than giving them away diminishes those gifts.  It also doesn't allow you to be as open to the gifts that others share. 

It got me thinking about how sometimes we hoard our music.  We are so self critical and many people allow that self criticism to censor their performance - they won't play for others.  They are focused on their lack of perfection rather than on their depth of accomplishment. 

Don't get me wrong, it does take an effort to put yourself out there and share with others.  It does require that you prepare - yourself, your music.  You do have to swallow down the flipflops in your stomach. 

But it is so worth it - you get that high from getting out there, they get the beauty of the music, you both enjoy participating in being together - what's not to like.

So when you are sitting at your harp telling yourself that you're not good enough - ask the question - good enough for what?  Of course you're good enough - you're good enough to share your gifts with your friends.  And in return, they'll share their gifts - of joy, laughter, good times - with you!

March 17, 2010

Do I really need a teacher?

People often ask me if they really need a teacher when they begin playing the harp.  Actually they usually say something more like, "Do I REALLY need a teacher ?"
And I know that they would prefer that I say no. I don't know why that is.

I can understand if money is tight and paying for lessons is just not in the cards right now. This suggests that there are too many pressures to take on a new hobby at this time. Learning to play the harp should be shelved until a more propitious time in one’s life if that’s the case.

Or perhaps they are swayed by the "teach yourself to play" books that are available. These books are all quite good and well put together. In fact, when I was learning to play the harp, one of these stalwart books was selected by my teacher to help me along. Not for the poor graphics on hand placement but perhaps more for the well thought out exercises and tunes arranged in a slowing increasing difficulty.
And it could be those potential harpers don't realize that those “teach yourself to play” books were written at a time when there were very few harp players to be found to teach, especially in the traditional music arena, making it challenging to find someone with whom to study.

I know there are those who are self taught. I know this because they have told me so. And where have I met these people? At workshops, lead by some of the most brilliant teachers available today. So while they may be initially self taught, they have reached the end of their self teaching and reached out to be brought a little further by spending a small wee while with a luminary.

Learning from a teacher provides so many benefits that I almost don’t know where to start! A teacher will help you establish, lay-down, and reinforce a strong foundation from which you can do many things. A teacher will assure you start by knowing how to hold your harp and how to place your fingers – and why!

A teacher will facilitate your growth:

• mastering technique
• engraining musicality
• learning a broad repertoire
• having the skills to perform whichever repertoire you select – with ease and confidence
A teacher will help you grow strong as a musician. A strong foundation means that you have the strength (mental, emotional, musical) and endurance to explore, do, make whatever you seek.
It is that growth we all seek - that strength. The best musicians still learn, grow, study – to improve on the strong foundation they established with their teachers when they began.

March 10, 2010


Memory is essential to our craft. We all know that we want to memorize music – it makes it easier to play – and it is far more impressive to sit down to play for a long while with no paper!

In order to present long stretches of music without the dot crutch, you have to master the memory of the music and its presentation.

Let’s start with Memory – What is memory? Now, we’re not going to have an in depth technical discussion of memory and the brain, but you do need to understand what memory is.

Memory is how you hang onto what you heard and what you have played. It is likely that there are multiple areas of the brain that are important for the musical experience. We know this because imaging studies have shown significant activity all over the brain with music (which is different from other similar tasks where activity is more subdued).

Anecdotally, we know what memory is. We know it is affected by experience, practice, fatigue, hunger, and stress, as well as other impacts. But are you aware of the different “kinds” of memory? Each of them is important and impacts your ability to play.

There are a number of types of memory that need to be developed to improve your practice and performance. They are:
• Visual
• Auditory
• Muscle
• Kinesthetic
• Conceptual

Visual memory refers to recalling what you have seen. Auditory memory is recalling what you’ve heard. Muscle memory is the recall of what your positions and motions. Kinesthetic memory helps you remember what something feels like. And Conceptual memory assimilates all the parts.
We’ll discuss each of these types of memory in greater detail in the future. For now, remember that you have a lot to remember when you’re playing – so give yourself a break if you’re having trouble memorizing new music or recalling music you’ve already learned. It’s in there; you just have to get it out!

March 2, 2010

April is right around the corner! Tour Info

Scotland is calling! April slots are still available. If you are looking at the approaching spring and knowing that you’d like to have the experience of seeing Scotland “wake up” from the winter, this is a great opportunity!

We’ll see the Highlands and the Isle of Skye, we’ll learn some tunes that’ll help your hibernating fingers want to jam. And a small harp is just waiting for you to pick it up and play a newly learned tune. If you’re interested and ready to go – find all the information on

I’m looking forward to seeing you there!