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.


The last bit of self care for November is injecting more of yourself into your music.

Like a lot of music, holiday music tells stories. And like other music, it can get trite pretty quickly, especially since you get to play it repeatedly but only for a few weeks.

One of the easiest ways to infuse life into the music (to alleviate boredom) is to become a storyteller with the tunes.  Think about the words (what could be easier – they’re all right there to read!) –

  • What is the mood?
  • Where does the story go?
  • Who is in the story?
  • What is the action?

Decide the story you want to tell – and use the music to share that story with your listeners. You have all sorts of tools to tell your story – tempo, dynamics, techniques (p.d.l.t, harmonics, damping, ornamentation, arpeggiated chords, etc.).

Modify your arrangement so that you and your story come shining through. And each time through, the tune can be a different chapter of the story.

Stuck? Not sure how to start? Try this: Play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Now play it angrily. Now play it playfully. How about impishly?  What about as a march?  Now as a great tragedy. Finish it as a lullaby or as Wagnerianly as possible.

Make yourself laugh…or cry… or feel pain! Relax and enjoy the story!

Practice Practice Practice (your self care)

It is all well and good to work on self care – you can get a (single) manicure or journal your practice once, but it is consistent practice of a self care routine that will bring you the most benefit. So, yes, you must P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E your self care! (stop – I see you thinking, “Oh great, something else she wants me to practice!”)

But self care that is only as frequent as a treat or something you only get when you occasionally remember isn’t self care at all. So you will need to practice getting your self care into your schedule – and keeping it on the calendar. That way you will not only develop the habit but will likely come to look forward to the time you will spend.

You already know how to get something onto your calendar. And you already know that you are more likely to honor an event, especially with yourself, if you actually place it on your calendar. So, get out your pen and get marking. Select self care events that you can actually accomplish repeatedly. Going to polish your nails?  Choose a day of the week to do it and schedule the 20 minutes it will take.  That way you are consistent and get it done. Putting moisturizing lotion on the backs of your hands every day?  Write a reminder on your mirror (use dry erase marker!) so that you see it every day and you begin to build the habit.

As the time passes you’ll notice that choosing small self care events allows you to complete them without much angst and practicing that will build a habit that you can sustain. A few of these little things will add up to a successful self care routine that fits into your everyday schedule – and that’s self care you can live with!

Don’t Fall to Care for Yourself – Seven ways to take care of your hands

It’s well and truly autumn – the days are shorter and colder and windier and drier. Take advantage of the longer nights – November is a good month to start (or improve) your self-care habits.

To make it easy to start, begin with a painless self-care routine – skin care for your hands. Of course, since it is easy, it is also easy to overlook! Don’t do that!

In the autumn, and throughout the year, your skin takes a beating.  Your skin is your largest organ and plays a central role in defending you against all the yuck in the world – take care of your skin and it will be able to do a better job of taking care of you!

Keeping your skin clean and cared for will make your autumn (and eventually the winter) go a lot easier – so start now!

  • Playing in hospitals, schools, other public places? All of those places should end with a thorough hand washing. But all that hand washing will leave you with dry and unhappy skin and you will note the effects: flaky, dry, tight skin. Be sure to use a good moisturizer – a cream, lotion, paste or oil – whichever works best for you. Slather that stuff on and really work it in….
  • Which means you will be giving yourself a massage – also good for your hands. Be sure to include your wrists and forearms – really work that moisturizer in and you’ll get a delightful massage for free!
  • You already keep your nails short but be sure to keep them filed, not just cut. And don’t forget to moisturize your cuticles so they will make it through the cold seasons without breaking or bleeding.
  • Exfoliate your hands too. This doesn’t have to be with lava pumice – there are loads of online recipes or you can just mix a little baking soda into your regular wash. Pat dry and then moisturize.
  • If you get hangnails – act quickly to assure they don’t bleed, crack, and peel. Be gentle, soak it (or wash dishes first – might as well multitask!) and then cut the hanging part off (not too close!).  Apply Vitamin E oil after patting dry. You can buy it in a small bottle with a roller ball which makes application neat and it locks in moisture.
  • If your skin splits you can use superglue to close it. I have used this and it not only helps it heal but the layer of glue seems to protect your finger even while you’re playing.
  • You can also treat yourself to a manicure – seems like a fresh coat of polish makes all of us be just a little more careful of our hands, at least for a little while!

You work your hands hard so be sure to take care of them as we prepare for winter!

Holiday preparation – bringing order to order

There is no need for chaos if you have been preparing for the holidays…which begin next week!  Especially for us playing events for all the winter celebrations (ok, they’re almost all actually in the autumn, but who am I to fight Madison Avenue?!).  So your preparation should be nearly done.

  • You’ve learned new music
  • You’ve repolished old tunes and recyclable music
  • You haven’t dropped you regular repertoire
  • You’ve stocked and checked your gig bag (and maybe given it a trial run to be sure it works for you?)

So, what’s left to do?  Well, three more things:

  1. Make a “Day of” checklist so you don’t forget anything.  Put “stupid” stuff on it. Yes, put HARP on the list – at some point you will forget to put it in the car!
  2. Make a set list – be sure to mix up tempos, time signatures, and this time of year, mix up holiday and “regular” music – by the middle of next month your audience will be getting fatigued of “All Christmas, All the time”!
  3. Practice your set list.  This will help you get comfortable with the transitions between tunes (yes, it can be jarring to go from 4/4 to 6/8 so practice that so you can do it smoothly).  This will also help you find what is not working well.  Record it to hear what the audience will experience. And revise as needed.  Also practice breathing, at least between tunes and adding a little space (for both background and feature gigs – silence adds a lot to the rest of the sounds you’re making!).

With all this, you’ll be ready – Holidays will start as the last “ding-dong, Trick or Treat” fades out – be ready!

Holiday Preparation – it’s in the Planner!

I have a terrible time keeping track of calendar events. I have an electronic calendar but I really rely on my old fashioned paper planner. And on more than one occasion, that planner has saved me from making mistakes. No matter what the form, having a planner just helps us feel more organized. With the holidays rapidly approaching, what should you put in your planner to be ready for holiday events?

Here’s what I have in mine:

  • The contract
  • An Event Questionnaire (that makes sure I ask all the right questions – where? what? When? Who? Anything special or specific)
  • A “Countdown” to the event (especially important if I have to learn a specific piece of music for the event)
  • Reminders
  • Other activities (when to write the set list, when to touch base with the event point of contact, when to receive the balance due, etc.)
  • “Stuff of life” (don’t offer to help move furniture or do other heavy lifting the day before a big gig!)

All of this helps to contain stress, manage expectations, be prepared, be professional, and stay pulled together.  With the holidays right ‘round the corner, your planner can help you stay sane, focused and calm – just what clients expect!

Holiday Prep is in the Bag!

Many of you have asked me what I carry in my gig bag – especially since you’ve never seen it.

You’ve never seen it because it doesn’t exist!  It’s not that I don’t prepare to go – it’s that I have a minimal bag and I keep everything in the pocket of my case.

But, let’s think about what you should carry – even if your gig is playing for your cat.  It bears thinking about where you are playing, what the event is, and your level of comfort. I do have a small gig bag because I don’t typically take a lot of things many other people consider essential.

I have all my music in my head so I don’t carry a binder of music or an ipad – just a sheet of paper with a list of tunes (and sometimes lever settings, if I’m feeling less confident). I also carry:

  • Strings
  • Tuner (electronic and fork)
  • Tuning key
  • Event Contract/information
  • Amp+cables (if needed – see event and venue above).

Others are more comfortable knowing that they have everything they need, no matter the circumstance. One of my closest friends has a tool bag – it’s the size of a roll aboard suitcase! But it has everything she needs. She plays a very different repertoire and has had a lot of experience (which is code for bad stuff happening). So her bag includes all of those things as well as:

  • Back up tuner
  • Batteries (for tuner)
  • Stand lamp
  • Backup stand lamp
  • Music binder
  • Backup music binder
  • Clothes pins (for windy days)
  • Headband, barrettes, hair elastics (also for windy days)
  • Extension cord
  • Multi-plug surge protector
  • Make up
  • Folding music stand (back up to the Manhassett which doesn’t fit into the bag)
  • Tuning key
  • Spare tuning key
  • Umbrella
  • Tarp
  • Note pad

And we both also bring:

  • Business Cards
  • Snacks
  • Water Bottle
  • Shoes (it’s hard to haul your harp in shoes that are appropriate for the event)

We each look at the other’s gig bag and laugh. But our solutions work. Hopefully they give you a good start on deciding what you should carry in yours for the Holiday Season…something that helps you feel settled and ready for each time you play.

Is it a Maybe?

So, here we are, about ¾ of the way through the year. Everyone’s back to school and the holidays are fast approaching. By now, hopefully, you’ve sorted out your yes’s and no’s. The next question is do you have your maybe’s?

Perhaps the biggest maybe at this time of year is related to the goals you set for yourself. So maybe it is a good time to review them. How are you coming? Do you need to tweak any? Do you know?

This is where that journal comes in handy – it’s a good time to review your notes to see if you are getting where you wanted to go. If not, can you see what you need to work on?  Do you need to:

  • Rededicate your practice time
  • Actually practice
  • Reprioritize your practice time
  • Actively schedule elements of practice
  • Review your goals to make sure they are realistic for your real life
  • Examine your journal to have a better idea how it’s going so you can continue to meet your goals

Are you getting there? Maybe part of the way?  Maybe isn’t bad at all – as long as you mean it!

Just Say NO!

After at least a week of saying “Yes!” perhaps it’s also time to start saying “NO!”

No can be so negative but sometimes it’s the best answer to allow you to hang onto your sanity! Or to make progress toward your goals.  I will always encourage you to stretch – to do things that are a little scary or uncomfortable. This is because typically these things only l-o-o-k scary but are actually a lot of fun once you break through.

But some things are scary for good reason. They are better avoided – a stretch piece that is a huge stretch, a stretch piece with an unreasonable or unrealistic deadline, something you just really do not want to do (or don’t agree with doing), something that will just add the straw that broke the camel’s back to your schedule.

Here are some things it might be helpful to say “NO!” to:

  • Weddings – if you don’t like to be stressed, don’t book weddings! Only do them if you feel confident – otherwise they will chip away at your confidence and possibly your self-esteem.
  • Short notice gigs – if you don’t have regular practice time in on your repertoire, you will not be ready at the drop of a hat.  So don’t do that to yourself. Only book gigs for which you can be confidently and competently prepared.
  • Music you’re not interested in – now, I’m not saying don’t experience new things but this music is also typically music you don’t know (so you won’t have tricks up your sleeve for dealing with not being rock solid on the tunes).  Or it’s music you haven’t worked with (so you’re likely not solid and confident).  And this is often coupled with short notice and/or weddings!
  • Only playing for the cat and the curtains – Get over yourself! No one plays perfectly and you never will either. The only way to get better at playing for people is to do it. You know – to practice doing it by doing it. The longer you put it off, the more you tell yourself you’ll do it later, the harder it will get. So get out there.

Say no to anything that will require more preparation than you will be able to devote. If you are only able to practice 30 minutes a day, don’t even think you’ll be able to take on a challenge and succeed (Carol of the Bells from scratch in 2 weeks? Ha, don’t even). You will be stressed and unprepared and miserable.

Practice saying No at the right times so you are ready to say Yes as appropriate.  And if you’re knocking yourself down (over these or anything else) – Definitely Just Say No!

Just say “Yes!”

Music can open so many doors. People are genuinely interested in how we make music – our instrument, ourselves, our repertoire. And we should be honest – making music is a rare gift. We are very fortunate. Did you know that a Gallup poll indicated that 96% of adults surveyed thought music could be learned at any age? Perhaps more surprising, a whopping 85% of adults wish they had had music lessons as a child! And 70% stated that they’d like to learn to play an instrument. Further, 66% stated that there were too many impediments to learning to play*. And only 5% of adults are proactive and arrange to have music lessons in their own lives**.

That makes those of us who took up the harp as adults a rare breed! And whether we were trained in music as children or came to our instruments as adults – we are making music and we are extraordinary!

You may not feel special. You may not feel accomplished. You maybe still comparing yourself to others and therefore maybe unwilling to share your music. But maybe it’s time for you to just say Yes.

Yes – to those people who visit you and ask you to play for them.

Yes – to going into schools to share your instrument and your talent with young people who might not otherwise ever see or hear a harp – and certainly are unlikely to ever get to touch one!

Yes – to volunteering to play at a local care home on a regular basis.

Yes – to your local church or civic gathering.

Mostly, say Yes to yourself – Yes, I am a musician who is continuing to grow and Yes I will share with others. Yes I will commit to investing in myself and my practice.

Just Say Yes to plucking up the courage to do more with my harp!