Harp Ensemble + Gratitude = A Concert I Could Do Again

Last year, the day after the harp ensemble concert, I was so physically undone from the stress of performing that I doubted I would continue in the ensemble. I could not imagine choosing to endure another night of nausea, sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, chest tightness, and all the other symptoms of involuntary adrenaline overdose.

This morning I thought, “Hmm, our concert last night was fun. I could do that again.”

I don’t know that I played that much better in last night’s performance. There were long passages of air harp as I searched for a measure that everyone else was playing. When I played my solo, there was enough adrenaline coursing through my body to cause the last five measures of the first section to disappear from my brain, leaving not a trace of their prior existence on my cerebral cortex.

But no panic ensued. I managed to find my way back on board and end tunes at the same time as everybody else. In my solo, I kept the mangled arpeggio going all the way up the harp, ended on a note that would soon be heard in a chord at my “rescue spot,” breathed, and started the next section. Only my teacher and the people who’ve heard me practice Grandjany’s Barcarole recognized my moments of “spontaneous composing.” (Thanks go to Joanna Mell for the wonderful re-naming of improvising one’s way out of a musical crash-and-burn!)

The last eight weeks of grounding myself in gratitude for being able to play the harp, for having a harp to play, for being blessed with an incredible teacher and a community of friends to play with filled up all the places in me that last year were occupied by doubt, dread, and fear. It’s not that I didn’t have performance nerves – my chest was tight all afternoon in anticipation, and my hands were definitely shaking as I wondered where in the world that strange, unplanned arpeggio might end up. It’s that the performance nerves just didn’t matter. Gratitude posted a no vacancy sign and told fear and doubt that there was no room for them in my thoughts or in my heart. Gratitude informed the Inner Critic that no one was interested in his commentary. Gratitude reminded me to enjoy every note I was able to play, and to appreciate the love of the music and the harp that we shared with our audience and each other. And Gratitude whispered of the improbable miracle that a frame of wood, a bunch of string, and human hearts and hands can join together to create beauty, and said, “Rejoice!”

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17 thoughts on “Harp Ensemble + Gratitude = A Concert I Could Do Again

    1. We each take risks in our own way, Nancy. You are putting your writing out there for others to see, and taking to the streets with your camera, both very gutsy things to do. The most important thing I’ve found is to not be afraid of feeling afraid. Avoiding fear shuts out life. Being afraid and doing it any way lets life in. It might not feel the greatest the first few times, but it gets easier. And if you told me a year ago I would be writing THAT, I would have said that you are NUTS!

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  1. How very real is your journey of gratitude, and how much I appreciate your willingness to both take the journey and share it. You soften our everyday. Thanksgiving spirit be yours.
    Love you. Barb

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    1. A long time ago now, I went to a harp workshop by Pamela Bruner titled “Making Music With Love, Not Fear.” I wondered then if playing for others could ever be other than a fearful experience. At the top of my “moments of gratitude” list this year is to be able, at last, to be able to let the joy and the love for the music have a place on my harp bench.

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  2. yay! I’m glad you had a positive experience performing. We all have times that a performance has gone great, and well, other ones as well! The important thing is to make a performance of it and to keep going!

    Love the thoughts on gratitude as well. At the end of the day, the audience want you to do well, to succeed. Fear and panic can ruin performances and if you can keep them under control that has to be a good thing.

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    1. Thank you, Angelina, for your kind words. What you said about keeping going is really the key- not just for playing my way out of a total brain fade, but also for letting go of the performance just finished instead of rehashing what went wrong and moving forward to the next performance. I think I finally really get it that the unexpected notes I played are gone forever unless I keep replaying them in my own mind.

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  3. I enjoy reading your thoughts and experiences as a musician. Those of us in the audience just applaud the beautiful music with little clue of life on your side of the stage.

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    1. Thank you! I love hearing that you you enjoy my ramblings about my music world. When I was an audience member, I never dreamed of what life on the other side of the stage would hold. That’s a good thing – if I knew what was ahead, I probably would have been too scared to ever show up for that first harp lesson. 😊

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  4. Congratulations, Janet! I will hold tightly to that no vacanacy sign in my own creative world too … no room in the inn for ‘fear’ and ‘doubt’. Why is that artistic types never feel safe? Che

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    1. I don’t know, Che – maybe it’s that doing art that we share with others, be it words or music or paint, is putting our hearts and souls out there for all to see and judge. I think Music is teaching me that fear and doubt are just part of the landscape in these lands we travel, and not a story that I have to live out. But my-oh-my, what a schoolroom!!!! Keep that no-vacancy sign brightly lit, and the words flowing!

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  5. Bravo and congrats on your concert performance! How brave of you to attempt again after your experience last year. Gratitude was a happy wanderer into your harp world, indeed! I kept nodding my head as I read. I love your writing Janet and I’m grateful you share this journey with us.

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    1. Thank you Nanci! I am grateful to have you as a reader. Something you wrote in a comment several months ago about doubt just being part of the journey continues to help me. I figured out that the anxiety about performing is also just part of the journey. As I’ve been better able to treat it like doubt, saying “oh well, there you are again” instead of as a cause for alarm, it’s been easier to be “brave” about performing. Your comment about doubt was an “a-ha” moment that changed my thinking and started making room for gratitude.

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