November 30, 2011

Baby, its cold outside...

Warming up is one of those things we all know we should do.  But we want to get to the fun stuff, to playing tunes, so we skip warming up.  Or we give it short shrift and move on to more fun things. We might even feel guilty about skipping the "work", but we skip it anyway. After all, we don’t have a lot of time to practice and we don’t want to waste any of that valuable time doing something that doesn’t really help us play any better.

Unfortunately, this is a penny wise pound foolish approach. Every moment we spend warming up will contribute to our playing better. Warming up assures that our muscles are ready for strenuous work. Taking a gentle approach also helps us to do more with a reduced probability of injury from overuse of cold muscles and connective tissue.  The warm up improves our flexibility in our hands and arms.  If dancers just launched into practice without warming up, they'd be on ice, anti-inflammatory pain relievers, and bandage wraps.  We are like dancers.  But while they are working large muscles, we use those muscles (albeit differently) AND we use some of our very small muscles.  And we don't want to end up on the ice/aspirin regimen, do we?

Warming up is key if you are young or old, new to the harp or expert, in a well heated space or in a freezing rehearsal hall. The things you do to warm up with help you be more flexible and limber and will help you improve your form and tone as you work on the music you so desperately want to practice.

So before you sit to play, be sure to warm up. If it is cold in the room, wear a sweater and wristies or fingerless gloves (think of them as the legwarmers for hands that they are – fashionable and practical). Go slowly and build warmth in the muscles and tendons of your hands and arms. And don’t forget that you are a whole – so warm up your back and legs, as well as your core. Gentle stretching will also help once you have begun to be warm. Some excellent ways to warm up your hands and arms include playing scales and arpeggiated chords in your favorite key. Start slowly and quietly and as you get warmed up you can increase your speed and volume. Watch yourself as you do these to assure that your hands are performing (thumbs and hands in a nice position, close your fingers to achieve release at the end of the movements, breathe, head up, spine erect). This is a time for contemplative performance – monitor yourself, being mindful of your actions, while allowing your body to warm up to the expectations you have undoubtedly set. When you've had enough of scales, move into etudes or other simple pieces that you know well.  Keep monitoring your play and work to warm up not to perfect the music.

And enjoy this time you set aside for yourself. Know that these “useless” activities are the foundation for the rest of your practice, an investment in your rehearsal time, an insurance that you’ll get to keep playing!

November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I look around the area I live, it is clear that the harvest is complete.  This is the week that we are grateful and celebrate our good fortune.  As harp players, we have much to be thankful for - a gorgeous instrument that is held in trall by many and is gentle with us, the dedication to playing it, the talent to bring to it, and the desire to share the contents of our hearts through it.  Enjoy the holiday (or its spirit if you are in a different country).  Take a moment to reflect on kismet bringing you here!

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 16, 2011

The Holidays are Coming! The Holidays are Coming!

While it is not as threatening as to need signal lamps for one if by land and two if by sea, the holiday season can be very stressful. With the buying, wrapping, giving of gifts, the baking, the visiting, the housekeeping, the hosting, the social events – they all pile up. And if other people know you play the harp, add the stress of preparing for holiday gigs and the need to have a completely different seasonal repertoire.

It is a dangerous time - so be careful out there. Whether you’re booking gigs every day with multiples at the weekend or being strong-armed into playing for relatives after the Christmas (Chanukah, Inti Raymi, Yule, Lenaea, Pancha Ganapati, Yalda, Brumalia, Festivus, Holiday No 11 or another winter celebration not listed here) feast – make sure you’re ready.

And if you’re not ready to play – or just don’t want to – say no. If you think you’re not capable of this, remember that everything, even saying no, gets easier with practice.

But most of us do want to play – whether its work (and if you’re fortunate enough to book a gig every day until Jan 2nd – good for you!) or being the embodiment of a Victorian Christmas card and entertaining family and friends after dinner. Regardless of the number of times you perform this season and irrespective of your level of development as a musician – you must get ready!

Over the next few weeks we’ll discuss how to be ready successfully – while minimizing your stress and your injury potential and maximizing your enjoyment and performance.

And don’t forget, coming to Scotland with us for Music in the Highlands and Islands Tour makes a fantastic gift and fits everyone!

November 9, 2011

2012 Music in the Highlands and Islands Tour

We are pleased to announce the 2012 Music in the Highlands and Islands Tour will be held 16 - 23 July.

Due to the overwhelming success of the Highlands and Islands Tours, and based on feedback received from our guests, the 2012 Music in the Highlands and Islands tours will be even better than before!

As always, non-harping companions are welcome and this year, we  are  expanding our offerings.  If you, a friend, companion, or music partner play a small instrument and would like to join us - welcome and come along! While we will continue to bring the harp experience to our guests, we understand that not everyone is ready to play the harp, but that is no reason that these instruments can't also come with us on our musical adventure. So this year we are also inviting other musicians to join us. So if you already play fiddle, flute, concertina, or whistle) please bring your instrument and join us!

You'll get the same great instruction and tunes.  You'll still have the opportunity to try your hand at the Harp - THE traditional instrument of Scotland, but you now have the opportunity to learn some or all of the tunes on your "native" instrument.

For more information, go to the website: and click on Harp Tours of Scotland or leave me a comment here.  Remember that seats are limited.  I hope you'll be joining us!

November 2, 2011

2011 SHSA National Champion

It was a fine soft day with a Nor'easter blowing at the Meadow Highland Games and Celtic Festival, the site of the 2011 US National Scottish Harp ChampionshipTM. Inside the tent the competitors guesses on the temperature ranged from 30 - 40F. Either way, despite the rain, the wind and the chill, all the competitors played wonderfully, with excellent airs and marches and dance tunes that raged!

Clan Currie, the Title Sponsor, was represented by President Bob Currie and we were fortunate to once again have this delightful bardic clan with us. Clan Currie sponsorship is vital to the ongoing success of the competition. Virginia Harp Center was the Prize Sponsor and with their generosity, every competitor went home with a prize.

I am so pleased to tell you that the 2011 SHSA US National Scottish Harp ChampionshipTM winner is Kelly Stewart Brzozowski! She played a beautiful set including the air, Where Does the Bonnie Lass Sleep Tonight? and a rousing SMR (that's a Strathspey, March, Reel - which is a twist on the traditional piping set) of Scotch Mist, Arniston House, Blair Atholl.

Stand by for the upcoming announcement of the location of the 2012 SHSA US National Scottish Harp ChampionshipTM. Be sure to keep an eye on the SHSA website ( and the Kilt and Harp (an exclusive benefit for SHSA members) for the full results and for other upcoming competitions.

And throughout the year, I'll share thoughts about how you can prepare to compete - whether you decide to enter or not - competition (or the promise of it!) will help you build your repertoire and your "chops" to perform anywhere.