It still feels so new! Life in Leonardtown

I am very excited that I have a new(ish) studio space! I’m having a great time teaching Harp and Piano to a whole different group of people and having the opportunity to be active in Southern Maryland again.

I’ve been kitting out the new space little by little. First it was carting the harps from Virginia (or borrowing…or both) and working from a delightful electronic keyboard. But time has been passing and I had gotten a piano specifically for the studio space (all 88 keys and everything!) as well as the keyboard. Having both really opens up some possibilities – so we’ll be able to do some interesting stuff as we progress.

Southern Maryland harp harpist lessons LeonardtownBut this weekend I got the icing for the cake – a new harp (ok, new to me – but that’s excellent because someone else has done all the hard work of breaking it in!). So now the studio harps are a Dusty Strings Crescendo 32 in Walnut and a Dusty Strings FH26, also Walnut. It sounds so smooth and mellow when we’re playing!

Of course, the unexplored space is between the harps and the pianos – with the electronics going, maybe we’ll do some overdubbing and see what kind of musical mayhem we can make – but that’ll come later, if there’s interest.

The studio is in Leonardtown, with its great small-town vibe and eclectic shops – and we’re so near the river we can look right out the window if we need inspiration! I’m delighted to have been invited to use this space at Coaching for the Voyage – what a great group of people to get to spend “work” days with! We are always looking for interesting potential collaboration spaces and I know something creative will come out of this – there’s a purpose for every opportunity! And being in Leonardtown – a recognized Arts and Entertainment District – there will be plenty of fun to share both at First Fridays soon to come and other events we haven’t even thought of!

Until then, lesson times are available and I’d love to work with you. I’m also pleased to be offering coaching as well. Coaching is for those who are relatively proficient at the instrument and don’t need or want regular lessons, but on occasion would like to “tune up” technique. I’m also offering consulting for those who are looking to stretch and flex their repertoire and would like feedback on presentation, composition or arranging. If you’re looking for a teacher in Southern Maryland leave me a comment and let me know – and I’ll look forward to meeting you!

Valentine’s Day – Gift for that special harper

Valentine’s Day – just the words can strike fear into the hearts of many! There is often the question of what to give as the perfect present. Who should get those presents? Is it too soon? Is it too late? These are clearly angst ridden questions!  One person we sometimes forget to get a gift for – ourselves!  (If you’re one of those people who goes Christmas shopping, “one for them, one for me, one for them, two for me” – that doesn’t count here! You still deserve a present (or two!)).

You should get yourself a gift that reflects your love of your instrument, your talent and your time. Here are some ideas* (because you want to give a good gift!):

  1. Buy some lessons. The time and money you invest in becoming a better musician and a better harper can only be time and money well spent. It is, after all, an investment. So, really, it’s a gift that will keep giving for years. If you don’t think you need lessons, you might invest in a “tune up” or some coaching. Most teachers will offer this type of lesson too (be sure you explain what you’re looking for before going). Coaching can also be done via Skype (or similar app). I also offer an “executive” lesson which is an intensive full day for a special price. You know you can find me here.
  2. Have some work done. When was the last time you had your harp regulated? Your friendly neighborhood luthier can be your best friend – especially if your harp needs repair. And that repair can range from a little TLC to a regulation to a major repair. I am a huge fan of my local luthier – Rick Kemper. If you are near Washington DC, I highly recommend him. And if you’re not nearby – find the luthier closest to you and start baking a batch of cookies to woo them!!
  3. String yourself along. Check your string chart and your string stash. Do you have an entire spare sting set? Are you keeping your string chart up to date? When you replace a string, do you replace the replacement? You never know which string will break next and you want to be prepared!.
  4. Buy some music. Sometimes people are surprised to hear me, the purveyor of aural teaching and learning, say this. But – I have loads of music. I have harp music but I also have fiddle books, pipe books, piano books, and I just discovered I have a saxophone book (no clue – I’ve never played that – but it has some fun tunes in it!). Books are full of reminders of the music and they are a great way to find new material, learn something new, go in a different direction, or work on your sight reading.
  5. Acquire a new harp! This doesn’t even need an explanation! Do you know how many harps is the  right number to own? One more!!
  6. Buy some harp bling. Given that it’s a relatively small market, there’s loads of harp bling available. I am a big fan of the stuff I have and I find that my favorite piece is an excellent business card because people ask if I play and that starts the conversation.
  7. Get a manicure. You might think manicures are all about filing and polishing, but I find the best parts are the massage and the moisturizing. Massage – yumm! And it’s winter, so take care of your skin (especially important in the current flu epidemic). Enough said.
  8. Get some new walking shoes. What? You know that taking care of you in the global sense is good for your harp playing so just get out there! And if it’s been a while, get yourself some good walking shoes so you enjoy it more, and get out for a walk more often.
  9. Sign up for a workshop. Workshops are an excellent way to learn because you get to work with someone you to whom you likely don’t have ready access most of the time. They’re typically taught by “names” who are darn good musicians and amazing teachers. I’ll be detailing some of my favorites later when I line up summer vacation ideas. Remember that workshops are offered at competitions and by organizations so take ‘em when you can get ‘em!
  10. Start a new journal. Capturing your ephemeral progress in some tangible way will help you immeasurably. To capture your progress you’ll have to think about what you have done, where you’re trying to get and how you might make the journey between then. It also means you have to recognize your hard work. On bad days, leafing through it can rekindle your hope and focus, and on good days it makes patting yourself on the back so much easier because you can see in one place how hard you worked and that you truly deserve a reward. Whether you write it down, do audio recordings, draw it, scrapbook it – you will be glad to see that you’re not making it up – you are developing as a musician!

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day and giving that special harper in your life a lovely gift.

Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tour – only 2 seats remain!

Scotland was recently voted Most Beautiful Country in the World! So jump on the opportunity to see it this year.  When you add in the wonder of having a harp and learning tunes that fit in with the highlights of your visit – you know you have a trip that’s the total package!

Join me and our tour guide David for the 2018 Harp the Highlands and Islands Tour 9 – 16 June. David has crafted a journey that encompasses a magnificent route through to the west coast of Scotland, the source of so many wonderful tunes. We’ll see beautiful scenery and you will experience the majestic beauty of the Isle of Skye, the Western Highlands, the Spey valley and more!This is no huge crowd on a giant tour bus chunterring down highways while you only see concrete and billboards! Our visit is designed for people who want to see the country – and it’s for harp players at all levels.

We’ll collect everyone in Edinburgh and then we’ll be off for a week of Dinner, Bed and Breakfast accommodation. We’ll meander towards the Western Highlands and the west coast. You’ll enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Falls of Dochart and the haunting splendor of Glencoe, the Great Glen and the Caledonian Canal. We’ll cross ‘over the sea to Skye’ for two nights, then spend the rest of our time seeing corners of the Highlands you didn’t even know were there. On our final evening, David and his wife Heather will welcome you to their own home where you will be treated to authentic Scottish cuisine and hospitality. Our last day, we will speed you back to Edinburgh to complete your visit.

Each day you will enjoy a harp event – learn a tune, add to your harp lore, or learning songs – all while experiencing the history of the music. We will play together in the midst of incredible scenery. The tunes taught will be related to our visit – the places, the history, and the incredible Scots people we will meet. To ease your travels, a lovely small harp will be awaiting you, ensuring that everyone can travel with a light heart, while your own harp stays home – not being treated roughly by airline baggage handlers. Invite another harp player or bring a harp loving companion (listeners are welcome too!). Play a different traditional instrument?  We’d be delighted if you’d join us in learning and sharing music!

We have honed our trip to assure that every day is full of amazing! Even the weather, which can be moody, only improves our visit. This intimate tour will consist of only five travelers. This very small group size allows flexibility so that each day David can show you the very best Scotland has to offer while also including those special things that can’t be planned. Jen will flex the tunes to match our travels, experiences, and mood.

There are only two seats remaining. For details, look here. Double or twin en-suite or private bathroom $3499 per person or if you prefer a room to yourself, single supplement is $350 (all prices US dollars (USD)). If you’d like to come along, please complete and return this information form with your $1000 deposit before someone else snaps up those seats. 

Feel free to ask questions – I want to hear from you!

Being a Beginner

Today, I’m sitting below a poster with a quote from Marcel Proust,

”The voyage of discovery is not in seeking

new landscapes but in having new eyes.” 

It dovetails nicely with some of your comments to last week’s post – thanks so much for those!

DB brought up the concept of the “beginner’s mind”.  This is the concept that a beginner may acknowledge that they don’t know much.  Beginners are open to learning and new experiences and don’t cloud their vision with preconceptions.  They don’t think they’re experts.  You might remember this phase from your early harp life?

DB went on to say, “it seems that what separates the “masters” from the dilettantes is a maintenance and mastery of the basics, through a strong curiosity of what “new” thing they might or might not discover in that practice.”

KB suggested that, “Paying close attention to what causes something to go wrong is essential to avoiding the same problems repeatedly. Issues with hand position, fingering, placement, focus, etc. lead to mistakes. Find the underlying issue, then fix it through targeted practice. It works for both my playing and my knitting!”

This too is something we often do that appears to move us forward but actually holds us back – we are often satisfied with a “fix” but don’t do the additional work to find the underlying cause.  Without doing the technique work, you might never find that little nuance you need to get the fingering down or to drop your shoulder or read just a little ahead of where your playing or any of the other little things that are holding you back.

DB pointed out that, “in many ways the lesson seems to be rooted in always finding time, and maintaining a strong curiosity in practicing the basics, no matter how far away from the basics, we think we’ve progressed.”  How can you do that in your everyday practice?  Here are six ideas to move you forward:

  1. You can acknowledge that you will learn things at different rates, that some things will be harder than others to you, that you can only calmly evaluate and learn.  You can only take it one step at a time.
  2. You can stop with the comparisons! You should not be playing like everyone around you. And remember that, like high school, facebook, and reality tv, nothing is what it seems when you look around you – just because the person next to you is sailing through something with which you are struggling doesn’t mean that they didn’t aslo struggle (just earlier) – it only means that you didn’t see it!
  3. Actually LISTEN to the feedback you get – the best teachers use the praise and guide approach – they will provide actual praise (from which you can learn what you are doing well in terms of performance and practice) and guidance (from which you can learn what you need to do more of, learn how to do, or learn what to stop doing).
  4. Remain a beginner – ask questions.  Do not assume that you know something just because you have been doing it. There is always something to learn that may (or may not) be good for you to incorporate.
  5. Ignore what doesn’t fit. Some of the best advice I received early in my harp life was from my teacher at the time who told me that I should play what I liked and leave the rest on the floor.  Her point was sound – if you don’t like classical music, don’t play it!  (NB this is not the same as, “it’s hard and I don’t want to do the work!”.  But you are more likely to work hard if you’re mostly playing music you like. Don’t cut yourself off from a genre just because it’s challenging – learn what it can teach you and port that to what you do love).
  6. Don’t worry! We (especially adults) worry that we’re not getting better, that we’ll never be good enough, that everyone else is making more progress. Let-It-Go!  Focus on you, what you need to learn, what you want to learn.  There is no need to train to go to Conservatory if your goal is to have a nice set of music to play for your friends and family. And if your goal is to go to Conservatory, then focus on the necessary development – but either way, channel your energy into learning, asking questions, and enjoying. Don’t waste it worrying.

Keep working on being a beginner – question, wonder, enjoy! Discover the landscape with new, beginners eyes.

Lessons Learned?

I had a lovely weekend spent with a small group of very good friends. That, in and of itself, was a delightful balm for the soul in this bleak midwinter but it really provided a great backdrop for insights. Safe, warm, well fed, and alight with laughter, the scene was set to really inculcate what you might know but haven’t learned. Two lessons stood out for me – both related to the potential outcomes that arise from good and continued practice.

The first is the importance of solid practicing of fundamentals. We all know how essential warmups and exercises are. When we are “young harpers” (by which I mean new to the harp, regardless of age) we do our exercises. They may consume most of our early lessons as we work to learn how to control the beautiful beast we have chosen. But we progress, we think we have learned what we were meant to have learned from the exercises…but there are so many tunes…and obligations. And soon, many of us have left the exercises and warmups out of practice time – to save time, to be efficient. Then, because we aren’t practicing them, they fall out of our practice repertoire. Because there is always more music…and laundry…and day jobs…and other impediments and excuses.

In this gathering, one of us took 10 minutes each morning, like they do every morning, and did warmups and exercises. The rest of us watched and commented – in admiration and surprise (and maybe chagrin). Nothing overly complex – scales, arpeggios, running chords and inversions. The “usual”. The mundane. The foundational! It was clear why such gorgeousness pours forth from that harp – and with so much ease. A little hard work goes a long way. The lesson was further reconfirmed by the acknowledgement that there are typically only about 45 minutes a day to practice! But because of this foundational work, the remaining time is spent focused on learning the music not struggling with fingers or patterns! The small amounts of foundational work – practiced regularly – are central to a good practice routine. It’s one thing to know it, but it’s something altogether different to actually do it.

The second insight was the application of that same practice discipline to the rest of our lives. Everyone (else) there is a knitter. I want to be a knitter because it looks good – productive, industrious, practical, and artistic. And all my friends are doing it! And it looks easy – after all, it’s just tangling string with some sticks! Like the harp – knitting is (relatively) easy to start…and very challenging to get good at. My friends have all been knitting for decades! But, in that unhelpful way adults do, my attempts are at best, laughable compared to theirs. When I had finished my first project – a straight(ish) scarf, I decided I was ready to move on – to a lace cowl! If you’re not a knitter, I’ll translate. It was the yarn equivalent of successfully plunking out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and deciding to follow that with Britten’s Ceremony of Carols! Of course you can make that leap, but it will be frustrating, daunting, difficult, fraught with little (and undeniable) failures – all of which will cause you to doubt yourself. Even if I was God’s gift to knitting, I’d need to practice for a long while to be able to show it. I made two big (and typical) mistakes – I discounted all the time and practice my friends have put in over the years to learn, practice, and master knitting and I expected to be able to just knit without putting in the same kind of time and effort.

Foundational practice is the fundament of success! You may be slapping your forehead at this point, dismayed at how thick I can be. Nothing here is new. I have not imparted any wisdom. But knowing (in your mind) and knowing (in your heart) can be different. The need to practice knitting to get better at it was something I knew but hadn’t taken to heart. The certainty that I need to make multiple straight scarves, really become comfortable with the skills, know when something is wrong (and how to fix it) is finally there. The willingness to do the work, to gain the skills, to ask myself to not just complete a project but to finish it well – to ask myself to not be satisfied by just “playing through” but to do more than settle for a sloppy end are all the elements I can bring from my harp to my knitting. And if I begin by working diligently on one stitch for just 10 minutes a day, like the warmups and exercises, I will eventually be strong enough in the fundamentals to get to the lace. And to see that the artistry arises from that foundation.

What will your 10 minutes be? Please share with me what warmups and exercises you do (or are going to be doing) at your harp. Any ideas you can bring over from other instruments you play? Together we can come up with some cool stuff – I’ll compile your suggestions and share them later.

But if I don’t have a goal – how will I know that I got there?

If goal setting is so last year and this year we are going to do better – what are we going to do? How will we know if we got where we meant to?

First, we’re going to acknowledge that this is where that maxim about life being a journey not a destination kicks in. And to that end, I’d suggest that this year – we bimble.

To bimble is to walk about aimlessly but not pointlessly, to get nowhere in particular, while enjoying the walk.

In other words – there is no “there” to get to. The time is spent enjoying the time.

Seem like a good idea? For so many who play for enjoyment, this is the ideal approach to the work of playing throughout the year. No deadlines, no stress, simply playing to play…and to enjoy! No goal setting. No getting to December and feeling like you have failed after working so hard!

But even if we play to enjoy, we would like to improve, to see some progress. How will we do that without setting goals? We’ll bimble – enjoying our music and our lessons – without being fussed about how fast we are (or are not) progressing or that we are not ready to perform well enough.

To make improvements, we can focus on what we’re doing. Change the focus from “where am I trying to get by some specific time” to instead be “what am I doing just now – can I do it just a little better right now?” We can focus on practicing or learning. We can spend time reading, listening, analyzing music, thinking about the tunes.

This enjoying the journey means that we don’t have to “work” so hard that we forget what we enjoyed about playing in the first place. It means we can pay attention to the little things –

  • how our hands feel as they close
  • how the harp vibrates on our shoulder or thigh
  • how the bass wires tickle our feet when we don’t wear shoes
  • how we particularly enjoy the sound of those specific strings that made us buy that harp in the first place
  • how buzzes sound terrible but are kind of fun to make!

Take time to enjoy the various parts of your practice time – the simple yet difficult task of performing scales, arpeggios, or other exercises. The delight in getting through a tune you’ve been working to learn. The fun but determined way you have to work new music into your head. This focus and enjoyment is a motivation to get back on the bench, to spend the time, to play the harp, to practice.

We can bimble on our instruments – play and enjoy – aimlessly but not pointlessly.

And pay attention.

Pay attention to how you have an easier time now with some particular technique. Do your hands close fully now, without you having to think, “fingers all the way to the palm” each time? Do you move your elbows as needed to address the strings at a good and ergonomic angle? Can you sit comfortably for long enough to satisfy yourself?

Notice that you are more able, with each passing practice, to play more easily. Do you remember more of each phrase without having to read every note? Are you able to control your dynamics?

Use tools to capture your thoughts (recording, journaling, etc.). Are you able to note that you played straight through for the first time? Did your approach to working a tricky section work?

In the end, as we enjoy the time, we get where we end up – probably right where we wanted to be. Because really, there is no “there” there. There is only our time and our enjoyment at the harp. What are the things you want to notice while you’re at your harp?

Should you bother to set Goals for 2018?

It’s that time of year again. That time when experts, brainiacs, eggheads, and bloggers all exhort you to set goals for the coming year. They delineate the process and give away worksheets. They remind you that 5000% of people who write their goals down achieve them and that 3756% of people never even set a goal*.

In other words, they nag you and sort of bully you into generating a set of goals. I start to feel like it is nearly immoral to not set goals.  And I know – because I have done the same thing to you in the past! And to myself. Well – not this year!

It is January and the beginning of a new year. It is a time many reflect on the previous year and our progress as humans to date. And it is nearly a habit to expect to generate some goals. And those goals better meet all the criteria of good, achievable goals.

But should you bother to go through goal setting for 2018?There’s a reason only 3% of people even bother to write their goals down**.  It clearly is a strategy that doesn’t work for most people. It requires a level of commitment difficult to bring to just about any activity, except perhaps a quest. And since many of us play for our enjoyment (and even for those who play for a living) – it becomes just one more thing to do (and therefore it becomes easy to ditch!).

So, if goal setting isn’t the right approach, what better ways could you use to identify what you’d like to do with your harp this year and check-in over time to see if you are getting there? If the standard goal setting hasn’t worked for you, here are three other ways to approach this:

  1. Keep a diary. Yes, this is a thinly disguised journal – but for some reason a diary is slightly less threatening than a journal (just look at Instagram or Pinterest – loads of journals not too many diaries). You can keep a diary in any medium and it really is just you talking to you. You can do this in the blocks of your planner calendar, in a separate book, on scraps of napkins – whatever fits in your day. The best thing – who gets you better than you? It gives you a place to pour out your frustration when you are having a hard time – and to capture your glee when something totally comes together.
  2. Make an “I Love Me” board.  I started out thinking that a Vision Board was a great idea but it comes with so much baggage. And of course, it is hard to find magazines with pictures of harps (except Folk Harp Journal, Harp Column, and AHS Journal – and who wants to cut those up?!***). But you can capture all you want to do in the future and what you accomplish as sort of a visual scrapbook. It can have photos and selfies, invitations, programs, contracts, etc. Capture and display the detritus of your successes as well as any artifacts that arise from frustration (sheet music so marked up that it is unreadable? string bits?). Be sure to put the board somewhere that you can see it – and see that you are definitely moving.
  3. Make a record. I like to encourage students to do this at Christmas time and spontaneously (or maybe not so spontaneously) throughout the year. Christmas is a trove of tunes you play every year, so it is easy to effortlessly hear your progress. But you should also include any other tunes you’ve worked on. You could make what is an audio diary and after playing the tune you could comment to yourself – how much easier it was to play the tune this year, how much you want to add tunes, how good you feel about something you’ve worked on for a while. You could do this more regularly (as a version of 1 above) but I kind of like the idea of a different means of reminding myself what I’m doing.

Or just write your goals down. There’s nothing wrong with writing them down, keeping a practice journal and actively looking for progress and successes. The key is to capture evidence of your journey in a way that helps you travel!  Let me know if you’re going to bother to set goals or how you might watch your own growth over the coming 12 months!

* these statistics may be randomly generated (i.e. made up)
** actual statistic snagged from this article – you’ll find various numbers in assorted sources, but they are all low
*** if you’re not already reading at least one of these, you might want to consider adding it to your readying list

The Holidays are fast approaching – got your shopping done?!

The holidays are zorching up fast! The shopping game is in full swing. Do you need to get any last-minute gifts? Or do you want to buy yourself something to be sure you get at least one gift that fits you perfectly?

Look no further! Gift certificates are here and available in convenient sizes! Here are just a few of the things available as a gift certificate:

  • Lessons Want to pick up a package or regular lessons? Buy ten lessons, get one lesson free
  • Coaching Want to have a coaching session or a tune up but don’t want to commit to regular lessons? Pick up a Coaching Gift Certificate for a single coaching session or more if you’re preparing for a specific event.
  • Weddings Book a wedding within calendar 2018 and save 10% off the total price.
  • Tours and trips Book on the Harp in the Highlands and Islands tour before 31 December and save!
  • Workshops Schedule a workshop in 2018 and see a savings.

Always the right size and color – contact me for pricing and to get your e-certificate.  You can email your gift (if you really have waited until the last minute!) or you can print them gift package!