June 29, 2011

Ohio Scottish Arts School 2011

No big post today - I'm at the Ohio Scottish Arts School having my head stuffed with new tunes, seeing old friends, making new friends and playing like there's no tomorrow.  Maybe you can come next year?

I'll post some highlights of OSAS next week - in the mean time, give us a tune!

June 22, 2011

Last Call!

This will be the last call for the 2011 Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tour.  All the information you need can be found on  http://www.jeniuscreations.com/Harp_Tours_of_Scotland.php 

We will be visiting beautiful, amazing, and excellent places, learning and playing tunes and having a great time.  There are only a couple of seats left in 2011.  Tthe dates - 22 - 29 August - give you plenty of time to also go to the Tattoo, the International Festival, the Book Festival, the Art Festival,or  the Fringe, beforehand.  Or elect to linger and participate in the Harp Village at Cromarty Arts Trust.

 I hope you'll be able to join us visiting incredible venues like this:

and those postcard sites like this:

For more information go to the website and to book, please send an email to jentheharper(at)gmail.com - hope you'll be coming with us!

June 15, 2011

It’s not an obstacle, it’s a challenge

I get inspiration in the oddest places. I write arrangements for traditional tunes based on my appreciation of Depeche Mode's arrangements, Robert Frost poems, or squash casserole.  And I get ideas for what to share with you from sources just as diverse.

I saw a billboard today that said, “It’s not an obstacle, it’s a challenge” and I thought – “wow” (not very erudite, but sometimes basic is best!). Mostly the wow thought was due to the heartbreaking accuracy of the concept.

Do you ever open a piece of music and just get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of ink they left on the page? Or have you ever heard a lush arrangement of a meaty trad tune and just gotten lost in all the notes in the air? Either of these experiences usually leaves you thinking, “That’s fantastic...I LOVE that...but I’ll never be able to play it”.

But the reality is that you can play anything you like. There is no warning label on complex pieces. There is no gatekeeper on tunes. There is no catalog of pieces that only “really good” people can play but no one else can. If you want to play it, you can.

Of course, some things are out of easy reach. Note I said “easy reach”.

You can reach though, if you want to. You might have to work hard and you might have to practice a lot, and you might have to take more time than you want to admit to having to spend.  And you may have to be patient with you. But think about the reward.

Nothing is out of reach. It just presents a challenge...So ask yourself...when you think, “I can’t play that”, how much do you want to? Are you willing to do the work?

I'm looking forward to hearing your piece - when you have mastered it and are ready to share!

June 8, 2011

“It’s like a painting except it’s here…and then it’s gone” Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry Connick, Jr made that comment in a program about the process of building concert pianos. In full disclosure, as much as I love playing the harp, I also love playing the piano. It was my first instrument and it provided the foundation for my musical life. I was fortunate to have an incredible teacher who taught me the importance of being a whole musician – the importance of practice, reading, interpretation, performing, and enjoying all of it. It is a strong underpinning that I continue to build on now, even though I don’t take the time to play my piano as much (note that I didn't say I don't have time...because truthfully, I don't make time). And although I never got the concert grand I always wanted…but I got the mental equivalent and I’m grateful for that.

But Harry had a good point – music is ephemeral – fleeting. It can be like a breeze in summer…worth waiting for and so enjoyable when it comes. And best of all, as musicians, we can create our own breeze!

In the height of summer, when you get a cooling breeze, you don’t think, “well, that wasn’t right” or “I didn’t like that, I am a terrible breeze appreciator” or “that breeze was a chore to experience” or “that breeze was terrible, I’m going to repeat it over and over and over until I get it perfect”.

No, you just think, “oh, wasn’t that nice”.

Take that same appreciative approach to your music – enjoy the process and the activity, and the cool breeze it brings you. Enjoy the brief respite from the heat of the rest of the day. Revel in making music. Don’t focus on the details but delight in the sensation.

June 1, 2011

Courage to move

Improvisation is the courage to move
from one note to the next
Bobby McFerrin

I don’t know about you, but most of my musical life, I have been terrorized by one word – “improvise”.

I have always balked at improvisation – because I know that I can’t do it.  Everyone knows that only the jazz greats are good improvisers.  Somehow, they receive some sort of divine intervention and brilliant music fills their heads and then it comes tumbling out of their fingers.

So, whenever someone says, “oh, just improvise” I begin to panic.  I’m not a jazz great! (of course, I’ve also never aspired to be a jazz great, so not sure where that line of thought is supposed to be going…).  Mostly though, I focus on all the things I can’t do.  I don’t breathe, I’m too busy thinking up excuses about what doesn't come out because I can't improvise...

When the moment has passed and I’m by myself, I'll  do one of two things to calm my nerves.  Either, I’ll either sit down at my piano and crank out a Bach Invention - exactly as written - verbatim.  Or more likely, I'll seek solace at my harp and bring out some wonderful traditional tune that pops into my heart and mess around some with the harmony…just sticking stuff in the left hand..doing just anything that feels like it will work,  stuff that will add that soupcon of feeling that will fill in the space with spice….

But that’s not improvising.  I’m just playing it for myself…it doesn’t matter what happens when I play…there is no wrong because I’m just playing around….

But I’m not improvising….really.  Because I can’t....I'm afraid to move...