Slay The Dragon

I’ve been dancing with performance anxiety for a while now, particularly when I’m playing harp in a concert situation. The pounding heart, clenched stomach, shaking hands and tight chest I endured at the last harp ensemble concert was so painful that I seriously considered giving up playing with the group in order to avoid any future concerts.

But when I started writing my intentions for this year, the words “develop ease and comfort with performing” flowed out of my pen. My wiser self was not going to give up so easily. And as I considered what I would work on in this semester’s harp lessons, “practice performing” ended up on my harp goals list.

I’d not discussed any of this with my teacher. Little matter – she began my first lesson this semester saying, “I think you should do the Harp Society Audition and Evaluation this year.” The Audition and Evaluation happens every spring, yet my teacher never suggested that I participate in all the years I’ve been taking lessons. Apparently writing “practice performing” in my harp goals activated her hidden psychic powers. What could I do but agree to go through with exactly what I had asked for with my intentions and my harp goals.

The Audition and Evaluation is a national activity of the American Harp Society, sponsored here by our local chapter of the AHS. A student plays two pieces for an evaluator and a small audience of students and their parents, and receives feedback from the evaluator. The student then has a month to work on the two pieces, and ready a third piece for performance. Four weeks later the student plays again, having hopefully improved the performance of the pieces.

My initial performance did not go well. “Quaking like an aspen leaf” would be the best description of my attempt to play Susann McDonald’s Little Prelude and Marcel Grandjany’s Reverie. I made it to the end of both pieces, after stopping in the middle of my first piece to breathe. The evaluator was kind. I told him that I was doing the A&E to work on performance anxiety, and he assured me that playing that day was exactly what I needed to do. I’m not sure when my hands became calm enough to land on and truly pluck the harp strings, but he wrote on my evaluation sheet, “You play beautifully.”

I worked intensely this past month to make playing beautifully become a reality at my second performance. I played the A&E tunes in my lessons. My teacher coached me to feel the strings under my fingers and listen to the sound of my harp instead of being distracted by the monkey-mind chatter in my head. I practiced performing the tunes before each week’s group harp technique class. I played Scottish tunes for a summer music camp scholarship audition, just to have another performance practice opportunity. I practiced progressive relaxation, the Sarnoff Squeeze, and yoga postures and breathing to lessen the effects of my over-supply of adrenalin. I worked with a therapist using EMDR to desensitize me to performance situations past and present.

At one of my last lessons, my teacher told me to play my tunes as though I was going to slay the dragon – to not worry about over-playing or sounding beautiful, but to dig in and play with gusto, without care for how musical I sounded. And when I was finished, she said it was wonderful, that I’d engaged her with these tunes that she’s heard a thousand times, that they were musical without me trying to “make” them musical. The music was inside my playing without my trying to put it there. Freeing myself to play the tunes, slaying the dragon, let the music emerge.

Yesterday was day two of the Audition and Evaluation. I sat at my harp, feeling the warmth of my hands, and took a deep breath. As I lifted my hands to the harp I thought, “Slay the dragon!” and began to play.

I knew I would only freak myself out if I defined success as playing without shaking. Whether I shake or not is still beyond my ability to control. Instead, I decided that if I showed up, played all the way through my pieces without taking my hands off the harp, stayed present with the sound and music instead of going into hyper-alert sensory overload, and controlled any shaking enough to be able to still play, I’d call the morning a success.

And it was.


Observing A Master Class

I’m always ambivalent about going to harp things that are primarily for the pedal harp community. It’s not that I don’t feel welcome as a lever harper – it’s that these events are usually peopled by children and adolescents who began studying harp before they were weaned. An afternoon of the wonder-kids makes me begin to wonder how much I’d get for my harp on Craig’s List, as there seems to be little point in continuing to plink along learning harp in my slow plodding fashion. But on Friday my Buddhist guardian angel reminded me that being with the child-virtuosos is just another opportunity to practice “don’t compare – don’t judge mind,” so I headed to a local church to observe a harp master class given by Sivan Magen, the first Israeli to win first prize in the International Harp Contest in Israel.

The harp repertoire the kids played belongs in a concert hall instead of a church activity building. Yet despite hearing these advanced pieces, Sivan Magen’s feedback and instruction returned again and again to the fundamentals of harp technique. With every player he focused on posture and support, hand position and balance, string contact and preparation, placing and articulation, and closing fingers fully into the palm. He stressed understanding and following the composer’s instructions for tempo and dynamics as written in the score, as well as playing with strict adherence to the rhythm. And he repeatedly stressed the importance of listening – of training the ear to hear what the fingers play. He asked these young harpists to be aware of the clarity of each note, to feel the flow of the musical phrases and melodic lines, and to hear the interweaving of the different voices. He asked them to both notice the flow of chords in the score and to listen to the unfolding harmonies, and then discern the more important and less important notes, and play them as such. He repeatedly sang both the melodic and the bass lines to show how notes should be turned into phrases, how volume should rise and fall, how notes should be crisply articulated or smoothed into a legato line, and how tempo should be artfully adjusted to represent the composer’s intent.

Instead of being ready to go home and list my harp for sale, I was heartened and encouraged by Sivan’s feedback and instruction. It’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll not play Grandjany’s Fantasy on a Theme by Haydn, or David Watkins’ Fire Dance, or any of the other pieces I heard, given the number of birthdays I’ve already had and the number of birthdays I have left. But everything he said to the kids who played on Friday is just as important for the music that I can play today. Everything he taught about harp technique and musical understanding applies just as much to how I play the harp. And they are all things I can do now, in this lifetime.

And the best thing about what I heard on Friday? Not one bit of it was new to me. Everything Sivan talked about, my teacher focuses on in my lessons, and has since the first time I sat in her studio and plucked a harp string. Every week she notices if my back is supporting my arms and hands, or if my weaker shoulder is allowing my elbow to hug my side and pull my hand off the strings. Every week she notices if my thumbs are high enough to create a beautiful sound from the string, and if they are leaving room for fluid cross-unders and cross-overs. Every week she notices if my hands are balanced on the strings, and if my fingers are closing completely. And due to her insistence that I notice and correct any flaws in technique at my lessons, I’ve learned to notice these things when I play on my own.  I know that if I’m having trouble with getting to left-hand strings, the first thing to check is my left elbow. If my fingers get tangled as I try a passage, I’ve either let my thumbs get lazy or I’ve moved my hand too far forward on the strings. If I’m misplaying a transition, I know to pay attention to where my eyes are looking, and to remember that I need to see where I’m going, not where I’ve been. If I don’t like the sounds I’m making, I’d better check thumb height, finger articulation, and how completely I’m closing.

And every week my teacher listens, deeply listens to me play. No matter what it is, we focus on phrasing, dynamics, and creating a singing legato line. Whether it’s an exercise, a passage from a new piece I’m learning, or something from my repertoire list, she hears, and teaches me to hear the subtle differences in the solidity and fluidity of sound that result from deliberate placing, articulation and closing. There’s no mindless repetition allowed; instead she insists that I be mindful and conscious of my intent as I play. There is always the question “What am I trying to communicate at this moment?” to be reflected upon, and possible answers to be tested and expressed as I play a passage one more time.

It’s exciting to meet an internationally recognized harpist, to have the opportunity to observe his teaching, and to glean new insights and techniques from such a skilled musician. But I am grateful that I do not need to depend on imported expertise and wisdom. For every week my teacher helps me transform the notes on a page or the tune in my head into music created by my hands on harp strings. Every week she helps me find and play the music in my heart.

Help For Harping Hands

When hands and fingers were given out, I did not end up in the line for people who want to play the harp, the line where you were given long fingers and strong joints. My finger and thumb joints hyperextend and collapse. My fingers bend nearly backwards when I put pressure on something, like harp strings, with my fingertips. The year I started harp lessons I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the base of the thumb. Thumb joint pain is mostly held at bay with daily doses of glucosamine and MSM, but what minimal thumb strength I started with is mostly gone. And a car wreck some 30 years ago left me with nerve damage in my left arm. If I want my hands to sound their notes at the same time, I must start plucking my left fingers at least half a second before I move my right fingers.

My harp teacher, bless her, took all my finger foibles in stride. She devised multiple ways to help me develop finger strength and stability. I diligently drilled all the finger strengthening exercises in On Playing the Harp by Yolanda Kondonassis. I used the eraser end of a pencil to keep the joints on each finger from collapsing while I plucked. I drilled endless four finger chords, first with only finger four playing, then only finger four and three, then four, three and two . . . well, you get the picture.

The years of these finger exercises succeeded in developing joint strength and stability in my index and middle fingers. But after seven years of lessons and strengthening work, I still could not reliably play a four-finger chord and have all the notes sound even or be heard. Finger four would either twang its string as the finger collapsed, or make no sound at all, and thumb sounds were faint at best, and usually non-existent.

My teacher and I discussed my need for finger and thumb stability, as well as the availability of splints, many times. Every year we agreed that I would keep plugging away with the exercises – they’d worked for two of my four fingers, so maybe this would be the year the exercises would finally strengthen my ring fingers and thumbs. But when I started my lessons last spring with two pieces that required thumb slides and four-finger chords, she told me that I really was at the limit of my technique until I got my thumbs and ring fingers stabilized.

Telling me that I wasn’t going to get any better on the harp was the motivation I needed to embark on what proved to be a long and time-consuming process to get finger and thumb splints. I first had to see my primary MD to request an order for an evaluation with a hand therapist. I then saw an Occupational Therapist for the hand evaluation and for the first of many appointments to measure me for the splints.

The first finger splint I received was too big for my left ring finger but fit my right ring finger perfectly, so I only had one additional visit to be re-measured for the left finger splint. Getting a splint that worked for the thumb ended up being quite the challenge. I couldn’t get my thumb into the first splint, despite the measuring prototype fitting well. The second splint stopped hyperextension by preventing me from raising my thumb beyond a 45 degree angle. That wasn’t going to fly with my harp teacher!

At this point the OT took on getting me a thumb splint that worked on the harp as a personal challenge. She took multiple photos of my thumb and of my hands on my harp, e-mailed them to the Silver Ring Splint Company and discussed what I needed to play the harp with one of the splint fabricators. He suggested a modification to the original splint that would allow the necessary “thumbs up” hand position without allowing any hyperextension. The third splint fit my thumb perfectly and worked with the harp.  After all the trial-and-error on the splint for the left thumb, the right thumb splint fit with only one appointment to do the measurements.

Nine months after my initial appointment with my primary MD, both ring fingers and thumbs were finally decked out in their new splints.  Was it worth the copays for the doctor appointment and the hand evaluation, the multiple trips across town to the OT’s office, the out-of-pocket expense for the splints?

I wore all four splints for the very first time at this semester’s first harp lesson. Warming up, I played a rolled, four-finger, two-handed C-major chord. “That was a wonderful chord. Every note was even, and I can hear your thumb!” my teacher exclaimed. Yes, it was all definitely worth it!

Music Is In Our Genes

I finally saw Werner Herzog’s movie, Cave of the Forgotten Dreams. It’s a beautiful, haunting film, even in the non-3-D version I watched on my home television.

Herzog received exclusive access to film inside southern France’s Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc caves, which contain the world’s oldest known cave art. These paintings are 30,000 years old, and are twice as old as the more well-known cave art at Lascaux.

Thirty-thousand years ago human beings were creating images of the animals around them, images that so captured the spirit and essence of the animals that they seem to leap off of the cave walls. Perhaps that was their purpose – to call the animals to the hunters, or to revere the spirits of the animals whose life they had taken. Either way, we’ve been painting for at least 30,000 years.

As part of the film’s exploration of the role of art in the evolution of modern humans, Herzog also shares the 2008 discovery of a nearly complete bone flute and several pieces of ivory flutes in the Hohle Fels cave in southwestern Germany. The flutes are 35,000 to 40,000 years old. Dated to the time when modern humans were arriving and spreading throughout Europe, these are the oldest musical instruments ever found.

Towards the end of this movie trailer you can see a shot of a replica of one of these early flutes being played.

The flute is tuned in a pentatonic scale. It is hard for me to comprehend that the pentatonic scale has been in the mind of human beings for nearly 40, 000 years. We’ve been making music for a very long time.

I am awed by this notion, awed that we have been creating art and music since pre-history, awed that the symbolic language of art and music has been so long a part of who we are. Art and music are major chapters in the story of how we became modern humans. It seems that we are hard-wired to create. Perhaps art and music both are encoded into our DNA as part of what defines us as Homo sapiens.

Given our evolutionary history, our long relationship with music, how can any one of us keep from singing, or playing our instruments? How can any one of us believe that we’re “not musical?” Listen to the track I’m Not Musical from The Listening Book Audio by W.A. Mathieu, in case you need further convincing. Then, sing . . . dance . . . chant . . . play . . . fly . . . and claim your music!

Has There Ever Been A Time?

Our recorder ensemble concert was last Tuesday evening. My yoga class has heard about my rehearsals and concerts since I started yoga last January, and three women from my yoga class came to the concert. I can rarely coerce anyone to come listen to an hour of Renaissance recorder music, so it was a big thrill to have people I know in the audience.

This year the recorder ensemble co-director (who also plays in the harp ensemble) suggested that we play our harp solos during the recorder concert. In a moment of temporary insanity I agreed. So midway through the concert I played my arrangement of The Grenadier and The Lady, and lived to play the second half of the recorder concert.

After the concert, as my friends were telling me how much they enjoyed the music and the playing, Suzy took a step backwards, looked at me, and asked, “Has there ever been a time when you didn’t love music?”

The summer I started this blog, I was completely muddled about why I was taking harp lessons. I still couldn’t sit down at my harp and play anything, and I seemed to make no discernible progress towards ever successfully playing a tune for anyone. But I found an answer to why I persisted with lessons, with practice, with learning to sight-read, and with trying to teach my fingers how to move. I knew I was still plugging away so that someday, I could play music I love in a way that expressed the beauty, soul and feeling of the music, as well as my love for the music and the harp. That summer, someday felt very far away, more like a mirage flickering in the distance than a goal I would ever attain.

As I was answering Suzy I realized that somehow, a piece of that distant someday had come to life on this rainy November evening. Somehow, my love for the music we played, my love for the harp and the recorder, shone through. Somehow, the joy I feel when I am playing and when I am making music with others could be seen, despite shaking harp hands and mis-timed recorder entrances.  And although her question had already been answered, I joyfully told her, “No, there has never been a time that I did not love music.”

Tonight’s The Night – Harp Ensemble Concert

In three hours I’ll be sitting with my ensemble harp-mates, waiting for our teacher to count off the tempo and introductory measures for our first piece, Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head. With a large infusion of grace, and a minimal infusion of adrenaline, we will not begin the piece like the run of the Spanish bulls, but instead will take it at the sweet, lyrical pace we’ve practiced.

We’ll play a second Christmas carol, and then I’ll play my solo, my own arrangement of The Grenadier and the Lady. This tune is way too hard for me, and I can only blame myself for that. I’m the one who wrote the arrangement, which contains in one three-minute piece absolutely everything my left hand ever needed to learn how to do. I’ve spent the last three months learning to play it.

My performance nerves are in high gear today. I had a lesson scheduled this afternoon, so I got to run my solo again. And again. And again, with my teacher repeating “Slow down” about every third measure. I couldn’t find the brakes the first two times I played it. The adrenaline surge kept propelling me towards a crash-and-burn tempo out of my control, which required creative improvised passages to get to the last chords.

But with any luck, or another helping of grace, the worst of my playing today was in the privacy of my teacher’s studio. And by the end of my lesson, I played the piece well. I silently counted out a glacially slow introduction. But with starting slow, I not only got to the end of the piece, my teacher said that it sang as I played it.

This afternoon, I’m tired and drained. Hopefully that means that at my lesson, my hair-trigger adrenal glands gave me the last roller coaster ride of the day. Though I’m reminding myself that world peace does not depend on how I play my harp tonight, I would like to play my solo and all the concert pieces as beautifully as I play them when I’m alone in my practice room. I want my ladle from the Lake of Music to be full of water for tonight’s audience. I want to make music.

Performing, And Drinking From The Lake of Music

It’s class concert time again – two down and four to go. Thinking about again staring down performance anxiety helped me remember my conversations with my teacher about playing for others – that performing is a way to connect and communicate with people. In the middle of my remembering, I was blessed with a wonderful image and a mind-movie that’s made me peaceful as I think about the upcoming concerts.

In the midst of deep woods, at the end of a long, steep path softly carpeted with the pine needles and fallen leaves of many years, there is a lake. Its clear, sparkling, spring-fed waters reflect the opalescent sky above, the deep greens of the trees that surround it, and the golds of sunrise. This is the lake of music.

Not many people walk the path to the lake of music. They may have heard of it, but think that the path is too rugged and too steep. Or they may never have heard of the lake and the magic it contains.

It’s musicians who regularly come here. Once at the water’s edge, a musician takes one of the silver and gold ladles nestled in the carpet of moss on the shoreline, dips it into the cool, pure water, lifts it to her lips, and takes a long, slow drink.

Then the musician fills her ladle again, rises and walks back up the path. She’ll carry water to those who wait thirsting at the top of the long hill. There, friends and strangers alike can drink their fill. Other musicians will join her in bringing ladles of water from the lake. They will all make many trips down the path and back again, so that they can share more of the lake’s life-giving water with those who cannot walk the path themselves.

Some musicians have come to the lake for many years. They quench their thirst with abandon and delight. Their steps on the path are sure, they discern the placement of the footholds that lie hidden under the pine needles and fallen leaves. Their ladles are full at the end of their climbs.

Others are newer at this task. Their feet slip on wet leaves, or trip on the roots of trees. They arrive at the lake breathless and exhausted from the effort that stopped their tumbling headfirst down the steeper sections of the path. They take small sips, still in wonder that they truly have permission to drink their fill. They struggle to bring a full ladle up the path. Sometimes only a few drops of water remain, but undaunted, they share all that they are able to carry.

It doesn’t matter if, at the top of the hill, at the end of the path, the ladle is full or nearly splashed away. Each ladle of water, no matter how full, is precious. Each drop of water shared gives life and restores the souls of the musicians and of those who await them, alike.  For at the lake of music, all is exactly as it should be.  There is no judgement, no right or wrong, no too-little or too-much. There is only sweet water, waiting to be savored.

Time Is A Teacher

I’ve been working steadily on all of my harp ensemble tunes for the last three weeks, devoting ten to twenty minutes of practice time on each tune each day. I’ve learned fingerings by working on one or two measures at a time. I’ve drilled transitions between sections. Today, the tempi that seemed entirely too fast and unattainable three weeks ago feel quite reasonable. I’m not yet getting every note, or every transition between sections, every time, but I’m not falling off the train entirely, and I’m getting back on board without falling behind the incessant click of the metronome or losing my place.

It’s easy for me to forget, when I start a new tune that is initially too fast and too hard for me to play, the impact of time and repeated practice.  Yes, the tune is way too fast and much too hard when I first try to play it at the assigned tempo. But the whole process of practice, of learning and drilling little chunks of the tune, slowly, then slightly bigger chunks, and slightly less slowly, works. Doing this for ten to twenty minutes everyday miraculously brings the tune within reach. Today I could even add some of the left hand accompaniments, when three weeks ago I was unsure if I would manage playing just the melody.

Time is not only a great healer. Time is a great teacher, as long as I show up, sit down, and do the work.

Honest Feedback: Another Charm Against The Inner Critic

I was talking with my teacher about the recent apparition of Inner Critic, and thanking her for sending him back to his lair by transforming what I could play of The Cherry Tree Carol into music. In the course of our conversation she shared some advice for dealing with self-criticism that was given to her by her teacher: “Have the courage to give yourself honest feedback.”

She is so right. Honest feedback is a perfect charm against Inner Critic, who has only grandiose and hurtful adjectives to fling at me. “You’re terrible,” he shouts, after I once again fail to traverse measure four of The Cherry Tree Carol. But if I ask him to tell me in exactly what way I’m terrible, he can’t answer. If I ask him the specifics of what I did wrong, he sputters and snorts, is speechless. Was it my phrasing, or dynamics, or playing the incorrect notes? Was it problems with the rhythm or tempo, my fingering or hand position, a lapse of attention? He doesn’t know.

When I have the courage to step back from IC’s name-calling and from my feelings that arise in response, and honestly look at what happened in measure four, his power to immobilize me evaporates. The act of analyzing what I did and didn’t do in the measure ends my immobility and leaves no room for him in my thoughts. Once I figure out that I didn’t land on the C string for the second note, and that I held the first 8th note too long, I can begin to experiment with how to fix that measure. I know I need to nab the C string with my thumb, so perhaps I can practice grabbing that particular interval, so my thumb learns exactly where to go to find C. I know I’ve got to get off the initial 8th note faster, so perhaps I can use the metronome while I clap, count, and sing measure four, until I feel the note values and the rhythm in my body. Instead of trying to play the whole measure, perhaps I’ll work on only those first two notes, and drill just that half of the measure until I can play it easily.

It takes courage to give myself feedback about my performance, whether it be an entire piece played for others or a few measures played alone in my practice room. It’s hard to look at what I didn’t play as well as I thought I would, to look at what exactly fell short of my expectations, and then to analyze it bit by bit to figure out what I must do to make it better. It takes courage to experiment with strategies to correct my mistakes, for I know from experience that I’ll make even more mistakes as I weed out strategies that won’t be helpful as I search for the ones that will be. And it takes courage to admit that the responsibility for improving my playing is all mine, and to act accordingly.

It also takes courage to notice and name what I did well, and to acknowledge each accomplishment, however small it may seem in the face of IC’s large and sweeping accusations of musical incompetence. But for any sound to have come from my harp, something I did had to have worked. That initial fourth-measure 8th note was too long, but it was the correct pitch, I started it at the right time, I closed my fingers completely and created a beautiful sound. And there was nothing wrong with the first three measures I played.

Inner Critic does not want me to know these things. He does not want facts interfering with his pronouncements. The last thing he wants is for me to take action and figure out the problem, and then shoulder my responsibility for making my playing better, while I name and claim the playing I do well. He wants me to collapse in fear, to take the easy way out, to free-fall into his trap, and let the music in my heart die unplayed and unheard.


One of my first SoulCollage cards is named Courage. The woman in the card is worried, even afraid, but she faces her fears both big and small with resolve. She has courage. She is not afraid of being afraid. She epitomizes this quote from Mark Twain: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Her gifts to me include a strong heart, a quick wit, and stubbornness of purpose. She tells me that I have the courage to move forward with life and music, despite anything that Inner Critic might say to try to stop me.  She reminds me that I have all the courage I need to give myself honest feedback, and stop Inner Critic in his tracks.

A Sneak Attack By The Inner Critic

One of my favorite blog posts is C. B. Wentworth’s My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me. She so aptly describes the nastiness that comes our way when the Inner Critic awakens.

My Inner Critic isn’t exactly trying to kill me – if I were dead he could no longer torment me. He much prefers to paralyze me with anxiety and then try to drive me insane with his comments about my ineptitude and worthlessness.

I started making SoulCollage cards about three years ago. It’s an artful way to externalize one’s positive and negative energies, as well as the guides and helpers that can be called upon when assistance is needed. Inner Critic emerged onto a card last summer, and

The Inner Critic

he is nasty business. There he is, injecting poisonous thoughts and judgements into my brain, creating paranoia and fear, destroying any possibility of confidence, joy or peace.

He evidently slipped in through a crack in the door on Sunday evening as I was distracted by the challenges of learning The Cherry Tree Carol, one of the tunes we’ll be playing at our harp ensemble concert. This arrangement has unusual harmonies, lots of 16th notes, a repeated lever flip, and odd fingerings, and that’s just the vocal melody line that I’m trying to play. (The actual harp part is full of those little black dots tumbling all over themselves at a pace far beyond what I have the ability to master in only four all-too-short weeks.)

I’ve had lots of practice in the ensemble at taking a vocal line, dividing it into two hands, and playing it up to tempo in a way that it looks and sounds “harpy.” But on Sunday afternoon and evening The Cherry Tree Carol refused to be made into something I could play. The best I could manage at tempo was playing the two strong beats in each measure with alternating index fingers. Which was exactly the only way I could play in the harp ensemble five years ago, and which, as a harp method, I hoped was well behind me.

That was all the invitation Inner Critic needed. Disguised as frustration and disappointment, hopelessness and self-pity, he began: “All you can manage is playing with two fingers? That’s pathetic! You can’t play any better than you did five years ago. You’ve wasted the last eight years taking harp lessons. You obviously don’t know how to play the harp. If you were any good, you’d be able to play this.”  Yikes!

And of course, Inner Critic came along for my lesson yesterday, still hiding behind his facade of frustration and hopelessness, still creating overarching feelings of impending doom. I am blessed that my teacher doesn’t get swept up in my rushing torrents of anxiety and mindlessness, but instead focuses on the problem at hand while discerning exactly what I need to revert my temporary insanity back to some grounding in reality. Which in this case was devising a way to play The Cherry Tree Carol with musical phrases, using all my fingers and both of my hands, in a way that would feel like I was playing music and not plinking away with two fingers on the harp. She quickly eliminated the 16th notes that aren’t needed for the flow of the tune, and changed stem directions and revised fingerings to divide notes between right and left hands. What had been clunky two note measures became musical phrases that are, as she described them, “more satisfying to play.”

I left my lesson thinking that I’ll be able to play this tune after all, and that, perhaps, I’m not a complete harp failure. I made it through Monday night’s ensemble class without a meltdown at having to sight-read a Ray Pool chord progression exercise. We worked on a completely different tune, challenging but one I could play. Still, general unease lingered, and Doubt skulked about in the corners of the rehearsal room.

Once home I got out my journal and invited Doubt to tell me what was on his/her mind. It was Inner Critic who answered, and that’s when he blew his disguise. All it took was the phrase “What are people going to think?” coming out of my pen onto the paper for me to know that none of this distress was about me, or the harp, or the tune, or the tempo. It was all IC trying to mess with me, and doing a pretty good job of it for close to 24 hours. But he ruined his disguise with his question. That question isn’t mine. I know that no one in the audience is going to be saying to their seat mate, “Look at her – she still can’t play the harp with two hands.” Even if people in the audience have come to previous ensemble concerts, no one is going to remember what or how I played last year, or the year before that. Instead, the audience will be enjoying the music we play. Some of them might even wish that they were a part of creating such beautiful music.

Once IC was busted, equanimity quickly returned. I got my box of SoulCollage cards, and pulled his out and stared him down. Then I grabbed my Warrior Rebel card, whose fierceness, strength and will, along with her gift of knowing my own mind and what is right for me, makes her more than a match for IC any day.

Finally, I could return to that place in my heart where I know that the joy of the harp is making music and creating beauty, and that the joy of the harp ensemble is making music and creating beauty with others. Finally, I remembered that joy doesn’t depend on what notes I play, or how many notes my fingers sound. Joy only needs an open heart.  But having a Warrior on my side doesn’t hurt.