August 31, 2011

Stepping through our week - Day One Perth

We have had a fantastic trip - loads of sunshine, some very authentic rain, but mostly bright clear days.  We started our adventure in Perth visiting Scone Palace - the place where kings were crowned at the Stone of Destiny.

 In addition to the rich history learned along the way on touring the palace, we had the occasion to be greeted by that most royal of hosts - the peacocks!

We also had the opportunity to see the garden, the maze, and our first set of Hie'lan' Coos!

We also visited Ossian's Cave and the Falls of Brann where we learned more history and were captivated by the incredible falls and the surrounding woodland - it's amazing what happens when you put engineering and nature together!

After taking in all this beauty, we headed back to Perth to create some beauty of our own.  We learned and played a great tune that we would come back to later in the week.  It was great fun playing together sharing the tune.  We had a wonderful time over dinner getting to know one another better, reviewing the best parts of the day and preparing for our next day, which I'll tell you about next week!

August 24, 2011

Heading to Scotland

This post will be short - I've packed and gotten ready and made my journey to Scotland for the Harp in the Highland and Islands Tour.  I am so excited - we have met up with our group and are out seeing the beauty that awaits.  Or maybe I'm more excited about sharing the great tunes I have planned!  Or maybe I'm really just excited to be playing in some of the incredible places we're going - the location, the history, the music all tied up together.

We're in Skye today - so while this week the post is short, over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing glimpses into our travels.  Each week, I'll post some of our activities and photos - comments, as always, are welcome!  I hope you'll be able to join us next year! 

August 17, 2011

This is hard!

I find many parts of making music are relatively easy (that is, easier than calculating cubic roots in my head or determining the most simplistic way to present the unified field theory to a kindergartner). But less experienced musicians often express frustration and dismay over how hard it is to play the harp.

To these less experienced people, ease seems to be either a sadistic ploy to make them feel badly about their level of experience (it isn’t, I assure you – we’ve all been there at some point) or a cruel twist of fate that leaves some people finding it easy, with others finding it impossible. I will not take up the nature/nurture question vis a vis musicianship but I will tell you something that will (upon reflection) not surprise you -

That apparent ease is a result of…you guessed it…PRACTICE!

The more you practice something, the more often you perform an act, the easier it becomes. This continued, focused practice results in what is called Automatic Processing. The more you practice something, the less you have to consciously think about it to make it happen. And it comes about through practice. If you practice anything accurately you will become better at it (of course if you practice inaccurately, you will become better at doing something incorrectly!). If you practice counting, you will get more proficient at counting. If you practice reading you will become better at reading. If you practice making hand shapes and blocking, this will become second nature – it will become just the way you do it.

You have already mastered many activities and made them automatic – complex tasks like walking, jumping, writing, etc. all once required a great deal of concentration and effort but are now automatic. If you think this is not the case, I recommend you spend more time with very young children – you can watch them find behaviors and practice them. When walking is new, you don’t just wish to walk better – you walk and walk and walk, and fall down, and get up and walk some more – until you can do it all by yourself!

So, if you are working hard to play – whether it is counting, or blocking, having consistent fingering, sitting up straight, or reading – you now know that you just need more practice with those basic behaviors. Strong practice of these basic skills – making them automatic - frees up your brain to do other hard work, like learning new pieces, adding appropriate dynamics, or writing your own!

So, go practice!

August 10, 2011


We have all learned that winners are, well, winners. And obviously, everyone wants to win. Winning is one of the ways we define success – and we all want to be successful. Why wouldn’t we?

But we also know that it isn’t from winning that we learn. It is in failure that we take great lessons. That is where we begin to think faster on our feet, find out what we didn’t know before, learn the pitfalls we should avoid, determine how we should prepare next time.

This isn’t to lead you to believe that failure is good – it’s not. It is uncomfortable, embarrassing, and can be humiliating. But all those things also mean that it is very motivating! And it can really lead to making great strides. This is where you learn to innovate, be flexible, find your boundaries.

And like everything else, failure becomes easier to deal with – when you get practice. No one wants to go out and fail, but sometimes it just happens. You’re not as prepared as you should be for a performance. Or you get on stage and everything falls out of your head including well known things – like your own name. Or when you sit at your – that’s right, it’s a harp (– h-a-r-p, yes it is yours and yes, you do know how to operate it) your hands go everywhere except the strings you’re aiming for.

But these failures – the practice sessions, if you will, give you the tools you need to take the risks necessary to grow, to expand and to become more comfortable with the next time you set out – to succeed.

So, I encourage you to buck up your courage and try new things. Every piece can only be performed for an audience the first time once. After that, it’s just another piece in your repertoire! Take a chance, learn a new piece, write your own composition, develop your own arrangement, play a new style of music – take a chance.
What’s the worst that can happen? You might not perform your best?  You might bomb? You might fail – oh well, think of what you’ll learn from that! Failing - it's the only way to get ahead!

August 3, 2011

16th Annual Harp Camp 2011 - Raising the Bar

Well, you already knew that Harp Camp was going to be fun and that everyone would learn a lot in a very short time and that we would have a good time doing it.  You were right!

Directed Ensemble is hard work!

Learning to tie a good string knot may not sound exciting but
 it is one of the most important skills a harper needs!

Reading, counting, playing all together - they are sight reading
 a new ensemble piece and bringing it alive for everyone else.

This year's theme was "Raise the Bar" - and boy, did we!  We had a small but motivated group who worked hard, learned so much, and were just a joy to share with.  And they clearly had a good time making music with each other.  We had people who are young but experienced, older but brand new to the harp, young with some experience, older with a great deal of experience.  You know what they say - it takes all kinds!

We played music, played games, performed on multiple instruments (including a kazu chorus), and made crafts.  We had delightful catered lunches and Kasbah was a hit as usual.

And as teachers, we had a blast!  Our workshops focused on learning to read better, learning to learn by ear better, counting more complex rhythms better, improvising left hand better as well as learning about a "harp personality" and learning to really feel the beat.  These very diverse workshops were well received and fun to teach.

I hope you'll be able to join us for the 17th Annual Harp Camp.  You'll learn a lot, you'll be exhausted when its over, but you'll also be so inspired and ready to "Raise the Bar"!