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.