Last Sunday there was a free harp workshop at a local Highland Games event, and I didn’t go. That’s a first for me. I’ve always felt compelled to go to anything harp-ish I could get myself to, always felt that if I didn’t go, I’d miss some trick that would make this process of learning to play the harp easier, always hoped that the next workshop would be the one where the esoteric secrets of harp playing and performing, the secrets known only by harp workshop presenters, would at last be revealed.
But as I prepared to stuff my harp into its case and load it into my car, and then schlep the harp across a rutted pasture from my car to the workshop tent, I realized that I just didn’t need to do all that. Because I get it now, in my bones: There aren’t any secrets, there aren’t any tricks.
There’s just sitting on the harp bench, doing the work, for however long it takes to coordinate eyes, hands, brain and heart. And then doing it again the next day, and the one after that, and for the weeks and months and years it may take for my thumbs to stay up and my fingers to close because muscles and tendons and the brain that controls them can no longer do anything else. There’s just the one-day-after-another of allowing my hands, that last week played a passage in Danza de Luzma no faster than 66 beats to the quarter note, to play the same passage successfully each time I increase the metronome setting by one beat per minute. There’s just the everyday-ness of my heart hearing the strings I pluck so that notes may be transformed into music.
Last Sunday, I knew what turnarounds in Nocturne still needed to be smoother, knew what octave reach in Danza still was iffy. Neither problem was as novel or as interesting as a workshop at the Highland Games could be. But that was the work in front of me – without secrets, without tricks, and without shortcuts – and that was the work I did.