Musicians Are Both Particles and Waves

Just like light, we exist in distinct packets, each with our own ideas about music, our own instrument, our own methods, our own instructions for creating a structure of sound and silence. We combine our packets of distinctness, and music is born.

And yet, when we bow or pluck a string, strike a stretched skin or a disc of hammered metal, or use our breath to set a column of air in motion, we are waves. With every dance with our instruments, we create waves of vibration that excite and move the molecules of air and matter, of skin and bone and the tiniest membrane of the human body.

Our waves of vibration travel outward from our instruments, joining the vibration of every living and non-living thing, onward to infinity, echo of the Original Vibration.

Listen.

Listen as a particle would listen, from the the center of your distinct and solitary being, from your seat of separateness. Listen to one pure tone, be it bowed or plucked, blown or struck.

Listen. Follow the sound with your eyes as it leaves you. Do you see the air shimmer as it passes through?

Listen. Follow the sound with your ears to the very edge of audibility. Do you still hear it in the silence?

Listen. Follow the sound as it enters your body. Does your heart quicken in recognition?

Listen.

Become the wave.

Now, fly.

From the archives: A Christmas Story

I first posted this story in November 2010. I needed to read it again, and thought others might enjoy the trip in the Wayback Machine.

There were two women waiting together for their order at a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon, just a couple of weeks after Halloween. The shop was already decorated for Christmas, with red ribbons and sparkling lights strung throughout the crowded space. Muzak-ed Christmas carols could be heard under the din of coffee grinding and espresso brewing.

One of the women complained about how annoying it was to be bombarded with Christmas music and Christmas decorations and all the Christmas marketing before Thanksgiving could even be thought about, let alone celebrated.

The other woman had lived in Spain for a time, where, she said, not so much was made of Christmas – it was a day, not a season. One of the things she said she missed the most, and most enjoyed when she returned to the States, was all the lights and decorations and music that is so much a part of Christmas here.

The first woman listened to this story and wondered, “Who said that Christmas decorations should wait until December? Who said that this season of joy and good will should be limited to a week before Christmas? When did sparkling Christmas lights and decorated doors and shop fronts lose their magic?”

She looked around her, really seeing the twinkling lights draping the menu boards and window frames, taking in the sight of the baristas in red Santa hats pulling espresso shots. She could hear the melody of an old carol under the noise of people ordering drinks and milk being steamed. She inhaled a deep breath of air spiced with coffee and gingerbread, and smiled as this little bit of Christmas magic entered her heart.

And still this Christmas season, the sights of houses outlined in colored lights, yards festooned with inflated snowmen and Santas, Christmas trees viewed through neighbors’ windows, and the sounds of Christmas music both old and new make her smile; make her happy that this season of joy, peace and goodwill begins earlier and earlier in the streets and storefronts and in her heart. All because of a 30-second conversation while waiting for two cups of coffee to be poured.

We rarely get to know how what we say influences a life, how our story helps rewrite the story of another, or what gifts our words may become. To my friend, waiting with me in the coffee shop, I say, “Thank you – for your story, and the warmth of that cup of coffee, and the delight in Christmas that returned to me on that November day.”

Please, Give Me A Word

After my many weeks where words stayed just out of my sight and hearing, I was inspired by the Abby of the Arts to seek and ponder a word for the year ahead. Christine Valters Paintner, the online Abbess of the Abby, wrote:

In ancient times, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to God and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner’s fire and be stripped down to one’s holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered.

Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. One tradition was to ask for a word –  this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. This practice is connected to lectio divina, where we approach the sacred texts with the same request – “give me a word” we ask – something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into.

She then asked her readers:

What is your word for the year ahead? A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold?

What word, phrase, or image is shimmering before you right now inviting you to dwell with it until it ripens fully inside of you?

I pondered and tried on words for many days, without finding one that “shimmered.” Words that I typically would find inspirational, words like “joy,” “adventure,” “truth,” “kindness'” fell like duds, without even the tiniest spark of life.

It was on my morning walk the day after my Alexander Technique lesson that the first gleam of a word appeared.

In my AT lesson, my teacher encouraged me to “use my eyes” to take in the space around me, and to see all the space above me that is mine to inhabit. She asked me to let my eyes sweep across the floor and up the wall in front of me to lead me in standing up from sitting on a chair.

I remembered how my harp teacher encourages me when I am trying to read music to allow my eyes to have a “wider aperture,” so that I will see more than one measure of music at a time. I continue to work on moving my eyes forward in the music so that I will see where I am going, instead of staying focused on where I’ve been.

Then I noticed how I was walking: head down, staring at the pavement, instead of seeing the bare trees etching their shapes against the remarkably blue sky above me. I lifted my head and saw two bluebirds, a male and a female, flitting from tree to tree. I wondered if my word for the year would be “Vision.”

The next morning, again while on my walk, the acrostic that came to me sealed the deal:

Vision requires

Inner and outer

Sight.

Images await your discovery.

Open your eyes and your heart, so that they may

Nurture you.

My word for the year is “Vision.” Now I begin the discovery of all the treasure that this word holds for me.

 

The “Open Letter To All The Sensitive Artist Types” Manifesto

One of my new favorite bloggers, Strawberryindigo, wrote a wonderful post in support of all of us who for some reason were put on this earth to create. I suspect she describes many of our stories – mine certainly – the need to create, to make art, to be our uniquely strange selves in a society that values conformity and fitting in. I love this post, and hope you’ll check it out here:

http://strawberryindigo.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/an-open-letter-to-all-the-sensitive-artist-types/

WOW!!! My First Blog Awards

A couple of mornings ago there was a new post in my inbox from one of my favorite bloggers, C.B. Wentworth. I love getting her new posts. I might be greeted by her newest exercise in Wreck this Journal, her latest visual art journal page, a new poem or prose piece, a photograph of her travels, or her latest adventures in her journey as a writer. I always know I’m in for a treat.

I had just enough time to read her post before heading out the door to my harp lesson. She shared that her blog just received both the Sunshine Award and the Kreativ Blogger Award – both are well deserved in my book. In order to claim the awards, she had to pass them on to other blogs she thought deserved it. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that she was giving both awards to Heart To Harp.

Wow!!! I’ve seen cool icons for different awards on lots of blogs, but I never imagined that this blog would receive one. Thank you so very much, C.B.!

In order to claim the Sunshine Award  I and the people I nominate have some work to do. We must:

  1. Thank the person who gave you the award and provide a link.
  2. Write a post about it.
  3. Answer the 10 questions below.
  4. Pass it on to 10 bloggers who you think really deserve it and let them know.

Here’s my answers to the 10 Questions:

  1. Favorite color – purple
  2. Favorite animal – dogs, especially cairn terriers
  3. Favorite number – 5
  4. Favorite non-alcoholic drink – a cup of tea with cream, brewed in a tea room or pub in a rural English or Irish village. And an accompanying scone wouldn’t hurt.
  5. Facebook or Twitter – neither
  6. My passion – music
  7. Getting or giving presents? – giving
  8. Favorite pattern – abstract with lots of colors and layers of images
  9. Favorite day of the week – Friday
  10. Favorite flower – tulip

We’re not done yet! In order to claim the Kreativ Blogger Award here’s what I and the next award recipients must do:

  1. Thank the blogger who gave you the award and provide a link.
  2. List 7 interesting things about yourself that your readers might find interesting.
  3. Nominate 7 other bloggers, provide links, and tell them.

Here’s my list of Seven Interesting Things:

  1. I know how to jack up houses and rebuild their foundations, hang and mud sheetrock, install sinks and toilets, and lay ceramic tile countertops and floors – and I hope I’ll never have to do any of those things ever again.
  2. I have an amazing sense of direction, and can read maps that are not written in English, even without knowing whatever language they are in.
  3. Several years ago I won a cash award in a memoir writing contest. Someday I’ll find time to post this piece on Stories That Might Be True.
  4. I bake great bread and can braid challah.
  5. I created my entire 10-bed raised bed garden without digging up one shovelful of dirt, using the lasagna gardening method.
  6. I make books with hand-sewn signatures using stitching patterns from the Middle Ages.
  7. I have 25 years of worth of my journals stored in a giant green plastic tote box on the floor of my closet.

My nominees: I am following C.B. Wentworth’s lead here, and nominating the following blogs for both awards. You are welcome to take either award, or both!

Notes From Near and Far – Julian Hoffman is a writer living in northern Greece. This is his blog on “the nature of place.” His writing and photo images make my heart sing and my soul breathe deeply.

Sartenada’s Photo Blog – I’ve been traveling the length and breadth of Finland with Matti and his camera. Our latest trip is “Beyond the Arctic Circle,” into the wilds of northern Finland. I love seeing this part of the world through his eyes.

Cheryl Andrews – Cheryl is a writer and photographer from Canada. Her photos and stories about living in her cabin in the woods transport me from my asphalt-bound city life to a place where I can hear the loons and smell the fir trees.

Click! – Lisa Hudson describes her blog as “A Photo Log of Beautiful Moments.” Her amazing eye captures little moments of the day-to-day in photos that take my breath away.

Northern Prints – Photos From Minnesota – Another beautiful photo blog. I am regularly entranced by this photographer’s capturing of light and pattern in both the natural and the human-made worlds.

Philip Bradbury’s Bubbling Words – Philip Bradbury is what so many of us hope to be – a published writer. His challenges and reminders to be mindful of and responsible for creating the life I want consistently pull the plug on any pity party I might be throwing for myself.

Raising My Rainbow – I can’t describe this blog any better than the About Page: “RaisingMyRainbow.com is a blog about the adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son.” This mom’s writing about being C.J.’s parent amazes me with its honesty, wit, and courage.

Photo Nature Blog – Jeffrey Foltice is a photographer in West Michigan who specializes in nature and outdoor photography. You’ve got to check out his portrait of a rough-legged hawk!

Listening for the Whisperings – Catherine Anderson, the author of The Creative Photographer, is an artist, photographer, SoulCollage facilitator, and creativity midwife extraordinaire. Her images and words never fail to help me see deeper.

My Life In Color – This “blog about almost everything” is the newest entry on my blogroll. Strawberryindigo’s wry observations and writing that tells me I’ve found a kindred spirit. I mean, someone who has a blog section for “rants” and “would kill for dark chocolate” is welcome on my team!

Thanks again, C.B., for reading my blog, and for giving me these awards. I am touched that Heart To Harp is one of your favorites.

Books For The Journey: The Art Of Practicing-A Guide To Making Music From The Heart

About two years after starting harp lessons, I picked up The Art of Practicing-A Guide to Making Music From the Heart, by Madeline Bruser (New York: Bell Tower, 1997.) I was trying to figure out how to practice in a way that was deeper than my simple, and boring, repetitions of a couple of measures of music at a time. I knew how to work on small chunks of material and build them into bigger chunks. What I didn’t know was how to take the small chunk of me that was trying to be a musician and build that into a bigger chunk.

Mindfulness practice meets music practice – that’s this book in a very small nutshell. But the concepts about practice and performance that Madeline Bruser introduces have expanded my thinking about music, about practice, about performance, and about my place in all of these activities, far beyond this simple description.

This book is hard to write about, because the author describes it so perfectly. Here’s her description of her ten-step approach to practicing:

The Art of Practicing is a step-by-step approach that integrates movement principles with meditative discipline, which consists of focusing on sounds, sensations, emotions, and thoughts in the present moment. It cultivates a free and relaxed mind, an open heart, free and natural movement, and vivid, joyful listening.  . . .  Above all, I wish to encourage musicians to trust their experience of their own bodies and minds, and to believe that within their struggle and confusion lie the passion and intelligence that are the keys to joyful, productive practicing and powerful performing. 

Her ten steps define a path for the journey to becoming fully present with your music practice, your music and yourself. Each step is explained in its own chapter, with multiple examples taken from the author’s performing and teaching career. While she teaches piano, she relates the practice steps to the study of other instruments.

Bruser brings the same concepts of mindfulness to memorizing music and to performing. She sees performing as the opportunity to share with the audience not only your music, but also your energy and yourself. Her ideas about performance anxiety resonate with me, given the shaking and quaking that playing my harp can inspire. Rather than sharing tricks to avoid it, she reframes performance anxiety as a “courageous act” that is an avenue to personal transformation:

Every courageous act we commit in life transforms us in some way. When we take our place onstage shaking with fear and dare to make music, we re-create not only a musical composition but also ourselves. We give in to the power of life, which is bigger than we are, and become bigger through that surrender. . . . Each time you confront fear head on and let the adrenaline flood your body, you liberate the energy of fear and make it available for creative action.

I’ve read and reread this book several times now – it truly is a companion on my journey. And each time, it reminds me that the most important step I can take towards being a musician is to be present, in this moment, in this life.

Books for the Journey: “Making Music for the Joy of It”

Making Music for the Joy of It: Enhancing Creativity, Skills and Musical Confidence, by Stephanie Judy (Los Angeles, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc,. 1990) is the book I most wish I had discovered when I started taking harp lessons, instead of four years later. Not because it ended up being less valuable to me then, but because as I started down the path of becoming a musician, I so needed to be told the following:

Feeling at ease with music making is, perhaps, the most important thing that an adult beginner can learn. . . . How then, do you learn to feel at ease? Many adult beginners blame their lack of ease on the physical challenges that accompany taking up an instrument or learning to sing. However, feeling at ease has more to do with clearing away self-doubts than it has to do with learning how to hold an instrument, how to move your lips or fingers, how to sit or stand, or how to breathe. Once you are rid of doubts about your musical self, you clear the path for progress.

What really determines musical aptitude is, therefore, desire. . . . So, musical potential comes to a matter of training your muscles and opening your heart.

In addition to supporting one’s decision to become a musician as an adult, this book covers all the topics that a new musician will find helpful. There are chapters on ways to learn to play an instrument, the different musical skills to be learned, how to practice, how to memorize, playing with ensembles, performing, and managing stagefright. The author interviewed both professional and amateur musicians for this project, and their experiences and suggestions are quoted throughout the text and in the sidebars. Reading the quotes from other adult music students, I felt like I found friendly colleagues who understood exactly what I was going through as an adult harp student.

The book was published pre-internet, so the resources mentioned do not include anything available on-line. And it shows its age by suggesting using video and cassette tapes. But the information about how to become a musician, and how to make music joyfully, is timeless.

Books for the Journey: “Never Too Late”

When I first started harp lessons, I knew absolutely nothing about the process of being a music student. I’d never studied an instrument, never had private music lessons. I had no clue about how to work with my teacher, what to expect in my lessons, or how to practice. And I felt totally alone with the thoughts, feelings, memories, and changes that emerged from the process of studying harp. A journal entry from that time reads, “Becoming a musician is turning me inside out.”

Nor did I know anyone else who was embarking upon trying to learn an instrument as an adult. My lesson was scheduled after a high school student and before a nine-year old, so I did not meet other adult harp students at my teacher’s studio. My friends had no musical interests, and looked at me with a “she might be a bit more off in her head than we realized” sort of glance when I told them I was both buying a harp and then paying for weekly lessons to learn how to play it.

What’s a woman alone in this situation to do? Why, hit the library and the bookstores, of course. I knew that somewhere, someone else had made the same incomprehensible decision to, seemingly out of the blue, learn to play an instrument, and that at least one of these people undoubtedly wrote a book about it. And so I began gathering books that became my companions for the journey to learn to play the harp.

I didn’t find any books written by adult harp students, but the experiences described by authors who were learning to play other instruments echoed my own, and gave me a sweet sense that I was not the only person on this path, and that I was not the only person whose life was so rapidly changed by the decision to study an instrument. In the pages of books I found that other adult students had the same thoughts and feelings, the same fears, and the same small triumphs that were bowling me over every week.

One of the first books I read was Never Too Late: my musical autobiography, by John Holt (Perseus Books, Reading, Massachusetts, 1978, 1991.) Holt was an educational reformer who decided at the age of 40 to learn to play the cello. This book details the story of his pre-music life, his choice to study cello,  and the life that emerged after that decision. The book is full of encouragement for an adult music student, no matter what instrument you fall in love with. He so accurately describes what happens in your head and in your heart when you start doing something that you know nothing about – playing an instrument – and that you are truly terrible at doing. And in the pages of this book, he encourages himself, and us, to continue to pursue this wild passion, no matter how bad we think we are.

I’ve printed out the following quote from the book and taped it to the front of all my music notebooks. There have been evenings after disastrous harp ensemble sight-reading attempts where these words were the only thing that kept me from giving up harp altogether.

“What I am slowly learning to do in my work with music is revive some of the resilient spirit of the exploring and learning baby. I have to accept at each moment, as a fact of life, my present skill or lack of skill, and do the best I can, without blaming myself for not being able to do better. I have to be aware of my mistakes and shortcomings without being ashamed of them. I have to keep in view the distant goal, without worrying about how far away it is or reproaching myself for not already being there. This is very hard for most adults. It is the main reason why we old dogs so often do find it so hard to learn new tricks, whether sports or languages or crafts or music. But if as we work on our skills we work on this weakness in ourselves, we can slowly get better at both.”

This book and all the others I’ve found and read during the past six years of harp lessons have been such boon companions that I’m starting a book list on my blog. The new page is called “Books for the Journey.” I’m not exactly sure yet what I’m going to do  – today my idea is to write a brief post about each of the books I put on the list, and this post is the first of those. I’ll see how that works out. I’ll include the publication information and the ISBN number so that anyone who wants to can find a listed book at their library or favorite used book store. And I’d love to hear about other books that helped you find your way on this music journey.

In Awe of My Harp Teacher

I just returned from the symphony concert where my teacher played the harp in the Bruch Scottish Fantasy. Oh my. . . I am just totally gobsmacked to see and hear what she did with this piece. When I see her perform, I marvel that I know her and get to study with her. I just feel so lucky and blessed that she’s my teacher and my friend; that someone with her talents and skills also enjoys nurturing this fledgling musician along her path.  And with that said, I seem to be speechless and wordless, so that’s it for this almost-Saturday morning.

Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and my high holy day for my one successful spiritual practice, gratitude. I don’t hold many opinions about religion or about the spiritual side of life on this planet. But I know and firmly believe that the Creator, whoever/whatever that may be, wants us to notice, appreciate and give thanks for this creation in which we spend our earthly lives, and that “Thank you” is the highest form of spoken prayer.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I say “thank you” for:

  • birdsong as the sun is creeping slowly over the horizon
  • bright yellow leaves in the road, animated by passing cars so that the pavement is filled with little yellow dancing sprites
  • as much clean water as I need that I do not have to haul
  • all the farmers at my local farmer’s market who have staked their livelihood on producing fresh, healthy food that I can eat
  • compost, and the miracle that turns leaves and kitchen scraps into rich brown humus alive with earthworms
  • my public library, and all the staff who maintain such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere despite severe budget cuts that affected their livelihood and their ability to do their jobs
  • pomegranates
  • electronic tuners
  • my old cell phone that tells me “Goodbye!” when I tune it off
  • my friend Beth – and that after 40 years we have not run out of conversations
  • my harp teacher and her infinite patience and support
  • my recorder teachers and all they taught me this year about playing music vs. playing notes
  • my harp and recorder ensemble classmates, and their patience with a novice player trying to be a musician
  • my partner and her support for all my life’s endeavors
  • my cat crawling onto and sleeping on my hip every night
  • my dog, whose spirit brings joy into any lingering dark corner of my heart
  • the administrators at my old job, who successfully made my work life so miserable that I decided to retire
  • my chiropractor and my massage therapist, who keep this body tuned-up and functional
  • the nesting pair of hawks in my backyard neighbor’s trees, and their keening cries as they set off on their early morning hunts, circling the thermals that arise as the sun begins to warm the neighborhood pavements
  • Catherine, creativity midwife extraordinaire, who unerringly reads the hidden messages of my heart
  • my soul-sister Ruth Ann, and our connection that continues across time, distance and lifetimes
  • Pam and Maddy, friends who choose me as family and make a place for this orphan and only child around their Thanksgiving table
  • my JPG Harp Camp tribe, Lisa, Debbie, and Sara, and the lovely afternoon spent speaking from our hearts
  • the time outside of time spent in the magic of Debbie’s creekside cabin, where trees whisper secrets and cares float away on the water
  • rain, whenever it may fall, given its rarity these past months
  • the authors of the many books that are guides and companions as I make my way in this funny old world
  • pictures of the earth from space
  • the musicians in my community who create so many opportunities for hearing incredible music

And finally, immense gratitude for the opportunity to retire and start this new life, this new adventure, that in two short months has already been so interesting and rewarding.