February 27, 2013

Why dots are good

I was originally classically trained.  I lived for the printed music.  It was a game to me – how could I express (fill in some adolescent angst here) given the constraints of the page?  How could I play the music “correctly” while giving it an indelible stamp of my existence?  How would my presentation of those dots be different from all the other presentations while remaining true to the thoughts of the composer?

I worked relentlessly to master reading, phrasing, and technique to coax out of my instrument precisely my interpretation of the music.  Sometimes, in a fit of pique my interpretation would be to elect to interpret the music exactly as written – no inflection, no variance.  In those times, I strove for Swiss watch precision.

That is the beauty of written music, it preserves the presentation. It allows you to play the same music that has been played for years, decades, centuries.  It provides you a link to your musical past, a genealogy worth preserving.  Further, the music page creates a frame within which you can work.  Nothing about putting music on the page prevents you from bringing that music to life in your own way.  Be creative - as long as you honor the composer and play the music as written – with your own twists.

February 20, 2013

Whisper down the shout

Sandy Grason said, "Your inner wisdom whispers, your inner critic SHOUTS" (my emphasis).  It has been my experience that she is correct.

Especially when it comes to our music.  We know a large number of people who play better than we do.  And if we are adults who came to the harp in adulthood, many of them are still children!
Unfortunately, we let that shouting inner critic get in our way.  We can’t even discern the whispering wisdom – we are too caught up in swooning to the poison of the critic.  We focus on every “mistake”, every “failure”, every variance.  We note how the “real” harpers never make mistakes, have stunning repertoires, and can play any tune.
It is too bad that we are so focused on ourselves.  We typically are so caught up in our fear that someone else will be better than us that we don’t really listen to those that we idolize.  We don’t recognize that the “real” harpers:
  1. make mistakes when playing
  2. are learning tunes
  3. are sometimes chagrined when they are not having a good day (my experience has been that this is especially highlighted when teaching!)
  4. may also be feeling this same way - and with much more at stake!
So, if you find that you are listening to the stupid shouting rather than the wise whispering you can take action to change.  There are only a few things you must do:
  • Pretend the critic is talking about your friend, mother, spouse – wouldn’t you tell that critic to stop and start listing all the reasons they are wrong?  Of course you would!  The critic only has the power you grant – therefore if you defend yourself vigorously, the critic will recede.
  • Do not compare yourself to others – only to yourself.  I suggest that my students make a recording annually (usually at the New Year).  The idea is to record what they are doing at that point in time – playing whatever they happen to be working on.  They periodically go back and listen to the recording in its entirety so they can hear for themselves how much they have improved.  They can compare themselves to their previous performance – the only comparison that matters!
  • Listen to others – I guarantee you that only the meanest of people would seek you out to deliver a cutting critique.  When people hear you play and tell you how much they enjoyed your playing, when a respected teacher tells you what a good job you’ve done, when someone asks you to play – they are being honest!!! Believe them and enjoy knowing you’ve done well.
Listen carefully – and the whisper will grow louder!

February 13, 2013

Stand up for Harping

You might have seen in the news lately that the new rage is to work standing up.  Stand up desks are popping up in all sorts of places – even on treadmills. Working standing up has many benefits including:

  1. Expending more calories than sitting
  2. Better alignment of the spine
  3. Improved flexibility of the large muscles of the lower body
  4. Better posture
  5. Reduced perception of fatigue.
You might think it is impossible to bring this trend to the harp, but you would be wrong.  There are a number of good reasons to play standing up –

  1. Better visibility of the harp and of the harper for the audience
  2. Better visibility of the audience to the harper
  3. Expending more calories
  4. Better alignment of the spine
  5. Postural improvements with concomitant breathing improvements
  6. It looks cool!

You might want to try playing standing up.  It is very effective for stage presence.  It is not so appropriate for background gigs (weddings, cocktails, parties, etc.) where the point it to become “sonic wallpaper”*
But when you are meant to stand out, standing is a good way to start. It is essential that you find a platform that is the right height (standing is not license to slouch).  The platform must be stable and you must be able to keep the harp on the platform safely while playing (and preferably while not playing).  The harp should not be wobbly, nor should you have to grip the harp while playing to keep it stable and upright.  Finally – you must practice with the harp in the standing configuration.  Many of your muscle memory cues will be slightly different.  Your sight picture will also be different so rehearsing standing will help you recalibrate.

So, give standing a try, see if it works for you – take a stand!

*thanks Kris Snyder for sticking this phrase in my head!

February 6, 2013

Be the Cheerleader!

One of the best things about playing an instrument is that you get to spend time making music with other musicians.  But if you are a “part-time” musician (professional or hobbyist) it can sometimes get a little lonely.  The rest of your life may make it difficult to get together with others which is disappointing, but that lack of experience may also make you self-conscious about your playing, which can drive you to avoid the opportunities to play with others.  All of this might pile up and bring you down on yourself as a musician.  So, what to do?

Become your own Cheerleader.  You know you’re capable of a great deal…and you know you have much to learn.  But only you can spur yourself on to more.  And to do that, you have to be a cheerleader for yourself.
How will being a cheerleader help you?  Here are five ways:

  1. Cheerleaders cheer! Urge yourself on to greatness.  Remind yourself that there is no harsher critic than you.  And when people tell you that you are good and they enjoyed hearing you, they are not lying – if they thought you were terrible, they would just slink out and say nothing.
  2. Cheerleading has organized routines.  Build yourself an organized routine for your everyday music (practicing) and for your performing.  See previous posts about generating a structured, successful practice routine to get benefit from the time you spend behind the harp.
  3. Cheerleaders work hard – and make it look easy.  Practice! That's the hard work.  The time you spend at your harp is an investment in yourself – make it count!  And the more you perform the better you get at making it look easy (think of performing frequently as, you guessed it, practicing performing!) .
  4. Cheerleaders are always pushing the edge – more complicated routines, bigger tricks, and lots of precision – you too need to learn new tricks!  Whether at your weekly lesson or at workshops available throughout the year, you can add more, bigger and better to you bag of tricks.  Seek to learn new things – everyone has something to teach you.  And that precision will come with steady work and progress (and will make you a better musician (and more ready to play with others!)).
  5. Cheerleaders typically look like they’re having fun – and they probably are!  Follow suit – one of the nicest things to hear is that your audience enjoyed that you appeared to be enjoying yourself!
So, dust off your metaphorical pom-poms, grab your theoretical megaphone (or plug in your amp!), and cheer for you!  It will lift your spirits and help you to achieve more.