Forty-Three Harps Play “Danny Boy” on St. Patrick’s Day

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My local chapter of the American Harp Society presented a concert this past Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day. We had forty-three harpists of all ages and forty-three harps of all sizes playing a very eclectic program of pieces, including Londonderry Air, better known as the melody of Danny Boy. I doubt that you could have heard that anywhere else in the country.

I’ve not played with the harp chapter for a few years, and I’d not remembered the more challenging aspects of playing in so large an ensemble when I decided to play in this concert. My celtic harp is in the center back of the photo, lost in a sea of pedal harps. Seeing the conductor when sitting behind so many taller harps requires contortions of harp and harpist. Staying on the beat when there is so much sound echoing from the walls and ceiling requires trusting my eyes that are glued to the conductor’s baton, and not my ears. And just walking through the harp forest without crashing someone’s music stand into their $20,000 instrument requires more grace and coordination than I usually have at my disposal.

But despite the challenges, that many harps playing together sounds wonderful. And with forty-two other harps, I could relax, play, and enjoy the process, knowing there was no way that any of my missing notes would be noticed.

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The most delightful aspect of the performance for me was seeing my friends in the audience and afterwards hearing how much they enjoyed the music. Just their coming to support me and hear me play made me feel very special. But after the concert, Darci said that her mother always gave her flowers after her ‘cello recitals, and she gave me this beautiful bouquet of roses. And Susie gave me a ‘feather for my cap” which now adorns the glass vase she brought me from Bermuda that sits on the small altar in my practice room, both reminders of her caring.

Playing in this concert reminded me that the more I focus on performance as an opportunity to share a gift of music, the less I am plagued with performance anxiety. And my friends’ delight in the concert reminded me that the more I experience an audience’s enjoyment, the easier it is for me to truly believe that sharing music really is offering a gift, and the easier it is for me to be grateful for, instead of frightened by the opportunity to perform.

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To The Sea, To The Beautiful Sea

I can’t resist the pull of the tides any longer. My harp and I head for the beach this morning. My mind’s ear already hears the keening gulls and the crashing of waves. There’s limited access to wi-fi where I’m going – maybe I’ll be able to tear myself from the water to drive over the bridge to the coffee shop with free wi- fi. Or maybe not. So I’ll share my adventures and catch up with yours when I am back in the wired world. Meanwhile, picture me here:

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Phoneography Challenge: My Neighborhood

My “smart phone” is only a C student. With only a 3.2 megapixel camera, photos lack the high-resolution and clarity of those taken with newer models. But it is what I have, so it’s what I used to document this morning’s walk in my neighborhood.

Maple Flowers
Maple Flowers

This was the first sunny weekend since mid-January. The sky was brilliantly blue, the sun was bright, and the maples in my front yard responded with their first buds.

Despite the snow and frigid temps of three weekends ago, camellia bus survived unscathed, without their edges being burnt brown by frost.

Camellias Survive Snow Nicely
Camellias Survive Snow Nicely
Grandfather Tree
Grandfather Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I live in one of the first suburbs developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. My rural curbside mailbox indicates that my neighborhood was well outside the city limits when it was built on what was forest and farmland. There are still a few old growth trees standing sentinel and providing havens for barred owls and red-shouldered hawks that also call my neighborhood home.

The city grew up around the neighborhood, but there are still aspects that make me feel that I am living in the forest. Fifty years of uninterrupted growth makes even the landscape trees that were planted when the houses were new, create a canopy of branches.

The Urban Forest
The Urban Forest
Deer Super-Highway
Deer Super-Highway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My neighborhood is crisscrossed by creeks, which the neighborhood deer herd uses as super-highways to my vegetable garden. I’ve seen as many as thirteen deer come up from this creek bed and cross the road in front of me.

My neighborhood is characterized by what are now, in the age of McMansions, modest brick ranches and split-level houses. But there is always someone who has to be just a bit pretentious.

Really?
Really?
Sign of the Times
Sign of the Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The neighborhood weathered the financial crisis fairly well. Now that housing prices are beginning to rise again, I see a lot more for sale signs on my walks.

I hope you enjoyed a Sunday morning walk in my neighborhood.

Final Harp Class – Climbing Back On The Horse That Threw Me

Last night was the fourth and final session of the spring harp ensemble “boot camp” class. After my oh-so-difficult first and second classes I did not go to the third one, and had no intention of returning at all.  But a friend in the class and my teacher encouraged me to come to class last night, and I am glad I did.

The bargain I made with the part of me that would have rather prepared for a colonoscopy than go to class, was that it would be perfectly ok to sit with my hands in my lap without playing a note for the whole 90 minutes. Through some combination of a slower pace of the exercises and sight-reading, some time spent playing a familiar warm-up tune that I know by heart, and at least a partial restoration of confidence, I enjoyed the class. With no self-induced pressure or judgements allowed, I was able to do what I could and not worry about the rest. Equanimity blessed me with its presence.

I should write something profound about all the lessons this experience provided, that includes wise words about my patterns of self-induced pressure and the resulting panic and loss of heart. For today, though, I’m satisfied that I took the risk to just show up, and allowed a different ending to the spring harp class to manifest.

The Transformative Power Of Snow And Friendship

Waking To Sunday Morning Snow
Sunday Morning Snow

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” – Author unknown

I thought we were done with winter. Daffodils began blooming in January. The star magnolias and tulip magnolias burst their buds this week and are in full flower. Migratory robins are dining daily on the worms that rain drives to the surface in my soggy back yard, and chickadees are already gathering sticks for their nests. Friday I walked the neighborhood in shirt sleeves, under long-awaited crystal blue skies.

Yesterday I awoke to snow showers, to saucer-sized flakes drifting past my upstairs window. Snow soon turned to another day of the gray, drizzly rain that is the hallmark of this winter, and I thought we were done with the excitement and beauty that snow promises in the South.

About five in the afternoon Charley ran downstairs to where I was practicing recorder. She rarely takes the stairs on her own, but the first flashes of lightning and rolling booms of thunder explained why she sought me out. She hates storms, and usually predicts their arrival several minutes before I am aware of a change in the weather.

With another explosion of lightning and thunder, snow poured out of the sky. An hour later an inch clung to the fence posts and daffodils. By the end of the storm there was almost three inches covering the ground and outlining each tree branch.

This morning I awoke to a crystalline wonderland. The morning sun lit the top branches of the crape myrtle and cedar, making them sparkle with fairy dust. My back yard was transformed from mud and mire to a white canvas that captured the beauty of the snowy night.

The mud and mire of my heart’s distress is also transformed by the comments and emails I received in response to my post The Yawning Gulf Between Where I Am And Where I Want To Be. You helped me regain both perspective and faith that sight-reading skills do not make one a musician, and that I am a musician whether I ever sight-read another note. You helped me remember what I have accomplished with the harp, and helped me refocus on what I can do instead of seeing only what is still beyond where I am today. You assured me that I will find my way back to the joy that is Music. You held onto the song in my heart when I could not hear it, and sang it back to me when I needed it most. Thank you for your caring, your kindness and your support, and for being my companions on this journey.

 

The Yawning Gulf Between Where I Am and Where I Want To Be

I really thought I was making progress on sight-reading. I can use music notation to learn a tune that I didn’t hear first, which I never thought would be possible. Even though I have to work through it measure by measure, with a lot of patience and a lot of slow practice, I can learn to play it. In the early music ensembles I can keep up with what and where I am supposed to be playing even when my fingers aren’t grabbing the notes on the recorder. Now that I am not panicking every time I miss a note, my eyes can move forward and I can get back in and play without getting totally lost. And over the holidays I discovered that I could slowly sight-read and sight-play most of one of my Celtic tune books, as well as sight-play some of the simple Christmas carol arrangements published in The Folk Harp Journal.

So, I really thought I was getting somewhere with the reading. And I thought that I would be ready for this spring’s “boot camp” harp ensemble class, even knowing that most of the class would be spent sight-reading.

Last Monday’s class proved otherwise. Our teacher excerpted several measures from classical harp pieces, changed the time signatures, and created fingering exercises which we were to sight-read and play. There was nothing that sounded familiar, nor any tonal patterns that my ears could grab hold of to help my eyes make sense of the notes. With my auditory system useless, my visual processing system failed. I could not see any recognizable patterns of notes that could tell me where on the strings my fingers should be. There I was, playing my own discordant solos as other class members plucked their way through the exercises in melodious unison.

During a break in playing I tried writing in note names and drawing circles around familiar note patterns, but even with notes, triads and scales identified, the tempo was too fast for me to shift from one little bit of what I could understand and play, to the next little bit. The notes once again were incomprehensible spots on a piece of paper. The sight-reading door in my brain that I thought was finally propped open a bit, slammed shut.

Being with others who sight-read easily is like being with people at an ice cream parlor who know how to whip up fabulous hot fudge sundaes and banana splits and parfaits. They walk inside with confidence, grab their scoops, and fill their bowls with delicious creations that I am never going to taste. After the holidays, I was excited that I could tiptoe into the ice cream parlor and dish myself up a scoop of vanilla. But now I am back on the sidewalk, nose pressed against the window looking in, with all that is inside inaccessible once again.

Five days later, that door in my brain is still shut tight. I’m working on new pieces for a harp chapter concert a month from now. I asked for the easy-peasy harp parts, the ones that the beginning students will play, since I’ll have to use the music to perform them. There’s just no time for my usual strategy: learn how to play and then memorize the tunes, so I don’t need the stinkin’ music.

Today the sight of the black concert notebook on my music stand makes me cry. Tension spreads down my arms and into my hands as I open it. The chords of the Pachelbel Canon might as well be bowling balls stacked on top of each other, for all the sense I can make of them. I feel my brain shut down, feel the “road closed” sign for the route from my eyes to my visual cortex start flashing. There’s no point in working on this music today. I wonder if there will be any point in working on it tomorrow. My only hope for the concert may be to hide behind a row of pedal harps, where my one-handed playing of the simple, repetitive bass melody can’t be seen.

I still struggle so to feel anything resembling confidence about playing the harp. I’ve no natural agility or coordination that allows my hands to dance upon the harp strings. Every finger motion is won with hours of drills and exercises to program the move into my muscles. Every movement of my right and left hand is choreographed and practiced so that the music flows between them. Every note I see and comprehend requires a circuitous route from eye to brain and internal naming, and then to my hand and my finger on the correct harp string.

It’s hard to remember and hard to believe that not being able to sight-read doesn’t mean that I am not able to play the harp, doesn’t mean that I am not able to create music. It’s hard to remember and hard to believe, living in a world that expects music to be something written and read, that music is sound and vibration, beauty and feeling, not notation, not black dots splattered on a ladder on a piece of paper.

It’s hard to remember that my ear and my heart love melody, that I learn a tune easily, that once I hear it, I remember it well. And it is hard to remember, in this midst of this latest failure, that there is a place for how I learn and how I play, even if no one is dishing up ice cream there.