Harping A Year Later

A couple of months before starting this blog, I tumbled headfirst into a complete muddle about playing the harp. I’d just returned from a harp workshop with Marta Cook, an awe-inspiring Irish harper. Something about the workshop (perhaps that all too common experience of everyone seeming to play the tunes but me?) left me in total confusion about where I was going with the harp, if anywhere at all. I wasn’t going to be an “Irish” harper or a “celtic” harper, or any kind of harper at the rate it was taking me to learn how to play. I doubted that there was any point left in taking lessons, doing exercises, working on sight-reading, or any other harp skills, given it seemed that I would never be able to just sit down at the harp and play a tune.

I spent a lot of time mucking about in this mire. One of the results, after my teacher’s urging, was starting this blog. The other result was finally putting words to why I was still going to lessons, still practicing, still trying to teach my finger muscles how to move together to create beautiful sounds on my harp. All of these activities, activities that felt so fruitless, were so that someday, I could pull my harp onto my shoulder and play music I really love. And so that someday, I would be able to play in a way that expressed the beauty, soul, and emotion of the music along with my love of the harp, and so that I could make music with others.

A year later, to my delight and amazement, I am closer to these goals. A year later, I feel confident about being able to play the harp, and about being able to get better. I’m not despairing about whether I will ever be able to sit down and play a tune, any tune, because now I do. And so, I’ve been thinking about what happened to create such a change.

This year it took me weeks of working to remove a hiccup between the first and second measures of Danza de Luzma. But I did it. And in getting rid of this hiccup, I finally “got it” that if I just keep working on either a technical or an expressive glitch, I really can make it better. My fingers can and will learn to do what is required of them, if I keep my focus and do the work. I finally felt confident that I would learn to play, that I would be able to learn to play, by persistently working on one small step at a time.

This experience, with an added extra helping of grace, helped me give up thinking that there was something wrong with me, something missing that other harp students have, some critical lack that made me take so long to master a new technique, solve a problem with my playing, or learn a new piece. The experience of fixing this hiccup helped me give up bewailing and being frustrated by how long I take and how much I must work and practice to learn something new and get it solidly in my head and fingers. I finally got it (like a whack on the side of the head) that it takes what it takes. Period.

The confidence that I will learn a piece, that I will learn the skill I need to master, also allowed me to relax about how long it takes. Since I now know that I will “get it,” keeping at it and continuing to work on the same thing no longer feels futile, no longer leaves me desperate for secret harp tricks and magic fairy dust to make it happen. I know I will make it happen.

And, I finally did what my teacher and every other harp workshop presenter I’ve ever been to said to do: “Write down your repertoire list and play each piece on it every week.” I only started with four tunes that I could “sort-of” play. But I worked on those and got them presentable, and played them every week. I went back to tunes I worked on before and forgot, relearned them, and added them to my list. I did the same with every piece I worked on this year. By never letting a piece completely fall out of my fingers, I now have 15 tunes that I can sit down and play. Some will need a little extra polish if I’m going to drag them out for a gig. But for most of them, I can sit down at my harp and let them spill out of my fingers. . . .

Just like the young girl I wrote of in my very first post, the one who played The White Cockade, the girl who just sat down and played her harp.

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9 thoughts on “Harping A Year Later

  1. Hi Janet,
    I found your blog through Marta Cook’s Shut Up and Play website and have really enjoyed it. I’m also an adult harp student and your experiences really resonate with me. Especially your reflections in this post about finally realizing that one is capable of learning. I’ve just started my own harp blog, for my own therapeutic and record-keeping purposes. I can only hope it will be as inspirational and enjoyable as yours has been.

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    1. Hi Desiree – Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your kind comments. And congratulations on starting your blog – I love the name, and your link list is quite impressive! I think it will be a wonderful companion on your harp journey. You inspired me to finally add a list of the harp blogs I follow on my pages, and I’ve added a link to your blog there.
      You may want to check out the Highland Harp website as another possibility for a small 26-string harp. I fell in love with them, so much so that I sold my Timothy Niamh to be able to order one, and I’m eagerly awaiting delivery.
      Good luck with harping and blogging, and I hope you’ll visit again. Janet

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      1. You’re right – I forgot all about the Highland Harp! I got to try it shortly before leaving the Somerset Harp Festival. It did really have a lovely tone and it looks much better in person than in photos (I generally don’t like high-headed harps). I wish one could attach a strap or lapbar to it though (due to the placement of the soundholes this would be difficult) but the rolling stand is pretty nifty. It’s not clear on the website though whether the pricing includes the bag or not.

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      2. The price does include the harp case. Since I can’t walk and chew gum, let alone walk and play a harp, I don’t I’ll miss the strap – I never once used the strap on the Timothy Niamh. The stand gets the harp at just the right height for me, always a wonder given I am so tall. Thanks for stopping by again.

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  2. Only been playing for 2 years (almost) and even now, knowing I’m still a beginner, I ask those same questions you pose in your second paragraph. I think, “will I be good in 5 more years”..will all this money for lessons, practice time and perseverance really pay off? Will I just sit down and make lovely music? What a quest full of ‘questions’. Ok 2 years have passed and I now know what a triad is, and how to clap rhythm, read notes, now learning inversions…so much more to learn. It makes me tired thinking of it…but then I have to stop and think of where I am NOW and where I came from.
    Thanks for sharing all these feelings etc….it is so good to read others can feel the same. And hopefully I will be where you are when I’ve been learning as long as you. I need to do the repertoire practice…thanks for the encouragement.

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    1. Oh my, Nanci- in two years you are playing beautifully!!! I know, I’ve seen the videos! I think I was still struggling through Ray Pool’s The Treble Harpist trying to learn to make sense of the treble clef and its relationship to all those harp strings after two years. I admire your courage to make and post videos as well. You’ve learned a lot in two years and have much to be proud of, including already making lovely music.

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      1. Thanks so much Janet for saying that…means a lot. I have nothing to measure myself against, so it’s so hard to know.

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