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.