Two weeks ago I was off to Asheville NC for the 2011 Southeastern Harp Weekend. Imagine being surrounded by 150 people who love what you love, who have the same challenges and triumphs of learning to play, and who totally understand why you must buy that gorgeous piece of music you just heard despite the stack of music still sitting at home in your practice room from last year. Imagine a vendor hall filled with harps and harp makers from across the USA and Canada, all just thrilled that you want to sit down and try out one of their creations. Add in harp clinicians presenting workshops on beginning to advanced harp technique, sight-reading, jazz and pop harp, composition, harp care and string replacement, Welsh, Irish and Scottish harp music, early music and historical harp, liturgical harp, performance anxiety, and therapeutic harp, plus two nights of concerts by the presenters. Set all of this in a wooded retreat center under clear, crisp October skies, with oak, dogwood, sycamore, and maple leaves reaching their peak of fall color. That’s the Southeastern Harp Weekend.
I’ve always been excited about going to this conference. Each time I was sure that this would be the year that one of the presenters would share the secrets that would make learning to play the harp easier. Or else I would finally find out what was the critical skill I lacked, that once developed could allow me to make progress faster than my slow plodding pace.
But this year was different. This year I wasn’t looking for magic or miracles. This year I’ve learned that there are no secrets, there’s just sitting on the harp bench and doing the work, and that learning to play the harp takes as long as it takes, period. And I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with me, that I don’t lack any arcane ability or knowledge that everyone has but me.
This year, I left behind my suitcase of worry, judgement, frustration and doubt that usually accompanies me to harp workshops. Instead, I relaxed and enjoyed the conference atmosphere and energy. I met new harp friends and spent time with old harp friends from previous harp weekends. I heard wonderful music played by gifted harpists. And I came away from each workshop with at least one new little kernel of technique that I can work with now that I’m home, including a couple of new strategies to help my sight-reading, and new arm exercises to help my hands stay relaxed while playing.
I also have a new tuner I can see, a new one-pound music stand that doesn’t fall over from the weight of my music notebook, and new music that seems to be within my grasp now, instead of a year from now. Alas, the beautiful Salvi pedal harp did not come home with me, despite its special conference price of $10,000. Even without the Salvi, as I drove home Sunday evening I was happy-tired, filled up with music and friends, with harps and laughter.
Next year’s Southeastern Harp Weekend is already scheduled: October 26-28, 2012 at the Lutheridge Conference Center in Asheville NC. And yes, it’s already on my calendar.