Going to Grandfather Mountain

Yes, I was just away for the Ohio Scottish Arts School – where we had a fantastic time and learned so many great tunes. I can hardly wait to get them solid (although right now they are chasing each other around my head, so we’re not there yet!).  But now, I’m away for the Harp Competition at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games at MacRae Meadows.  On Friday, I’ll be teaching a workshop.  And the big show – the Competition – is on Saturday 9th July (contact Moire for more information: moire22@yahoo.com).  This is a Scottish Harp Society of America (SHSA) Sanctioned Competition and I’m delighted to have been invited to judge.

I’m very excited to be going – such a beautiful setting and it should be a lovely day.  I’m also looking forward to a unique Grandfather Mountain competition – I’ll be learning to play Lochaber trump.  Come out and play – compete or play for comments – either way you’ll learn a lot and have a great time!  See you there?

Now, get out there!

So, now you know things you can do to be more prepared for the competition season – don’t you want to put that to use?  There are a number of opportunities including the following Scottish Harp Society of America 2017 competitions:

April 29: Celtic Society of Southern Maryland Celtic Festival Harp Competition (St. Leonard, MD) http://www.cssm.org/events/festival/competitions/highland-harping/.  Judge: Sue Richards, Coordinator: Jen Narkevicius (harp (at) cssm.org)

May 6: 1ST Annual Scottish & Welsh+ HARP DAY (SWHD) Harp Competition (Fredericksburg, VA) http://www.shsa.org/event/swhd.  Judge: Sue Richards, Coordinator: Marilyn Newman (www.swHarpDay.org)

June 24:  Ohio Scottish Games (Wellington, OH) http://www.ohioscottishgames.com/competitions, Judge: Therese Honey, Coordinator: Linda Phillips (lphillips50 (at)frontier.com)

July 8: Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (MacRae Meadows (Linville) NC) http://www.gmhg.org/homepage.shtml and http://www.gmhg.org/harp.htm.  Judge: Jen Narkevicius, Coordinator: Moire Lattamore

July 14 – 16: Minnesota Scottish Harp Weekend (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN) http://minnesotascottishharp.org/.  Judge: Seumas Gagne, Coordinator: Emily Taege (

September 9: US NATIONAL SCOTTISH HARP CHAMPIONSHIP(TM) Edinboro Highland Games (Edinboro, PA) http://www.edinboro.edu/events/highland-games/. Judges TBA, Coordinator: Maia Chisholm.  Title Sponsor: Clan Currie Society

September 23: Ligonier Highland Games (Ligonier, PA) http://www.ligonierhighlandgames.org/scottish-harping.html.  Judge: TBA, Coordinator: Melanie Sandrock

October 8: Scotland Connecticut Highland Games (Scotland, CT) http://scotlandgames.org/, information TBA

October 21 – 22: Stone Mountain Highland Games (Atlanta, GA) http://www.smhg.org/harping.php, Judge: TBA, Coordinators: (harping (at)smhg.org)

October 29: Central Virginia Celtic Festival (Richmond, VA) http://vacelticfestival.com/?page_id=237, Judge: TBA, Coordinator: Beth Dechent edechent (at) gmail.com

All of this information is correct as of posting to the best of my knowledge. If you are interested in participating in or attending these events, please check the websites and/or contact the coordinator for updated information.

Preparing for Competition – Mind

When you decide to compete you will need to prepare! While you might think, “Oh, I’ll just plop myself down here,” you’ll feel so much more confident (and play so much better) if you spend some time getting ready ahead of time. How much time? Well, that depends on you!

There are three areas in which to focus to maximize your time – Music, Body and Mind, this week – look at your Mind!

So here’s where the competition really occurs – in your head! On the day, will you feel ready? What are you really concerned about?  Keep in mind that most of our music is from inside our heads so your preparation (or lack thereof) will show – mostly to you!

Be honest about why you are competing. Is it very important to you that you win? Or do you just want to acquit yourself respectably? Are you focused on your performance or everyone else’s? Check in with your ego before the day so you can be prepared for any outcome…and learn from it.

Remember that the judge is looking forward to hearing you play and will share any gems to help your development as a musician – no one is looking badger you (unless you intend to do that to yourself – which is not very helpful).

Don’t forget that this is one day. Whether you play a personal best or instead are humbled to learn your fingers seem to have developed contrary minds of their own that have embarked on a petite version of the Hundred Years War with one another, tomorrow is another day….

Enjoy (and practice looking forward to) the social and fun atmosphere of being with other harpers. Cheer them on and look forward to learning new tunes, meeting new people, laughing, smiling, and learning from the comments you get.

It’s just a competition – not an audition. It won’t decide your fate for eternity. Live a little, laugh a lot, love your harp! See you out there!

Preparing to Compete – Body

When you decide to compete you will need to prepare! While you might think, “Oh, I’ll just throw on a kilt and sit down to play”, you’ll feel so much more poised if you spend some time getting ready ahead of time.

Of the three areas in which to focus to maximize your time – Music, Body and Mind, this week – it’s your body*

While competing isn’t running a marathon, being physically prepared certainly helps!

Work on your bench stamina – if you can’t sit on your bench comfortably for longer than it will take to play your competition set, you may need to improve your stamina. You won’t be sitting on the stage for very long (although it might feel like it) but the time you have spent on the bench practicing will help you get settled and comfortable more quickly which may help you be more comfortable as you start to play.

Practice all the movements – we spend a lot of time practicing our technique like closing our fingers appropriately and sitting up strait by also practice breathing while playing, relaxing between notes, gesturing (but not wildly – please, you’re not Liberace!), sitting without slouching, walking on stage without schlumping, and smiling! All of these things will come more easily if you practice them – just like the music itself!

Variety – try to practice in different locales to become used to changes in lighting, temperature, furniture layout, and sound qualities. This will help you be more focused and comfortable when you make ready to play your comp set. Practicing in your stage clothing will also allow you to get used to it (or change it before it makes you crazy!).  Definitely practice sitting down in a kilt!

General stamina – no matter how you cut it, competition day is long! It is also a total disruption of your regular routine. Add that disruption to the excitement of competing and you will be better able to enjoy the day if you are in better physical condition. You don’t need an arduous workout – just get some exercise each day. If not for your heart, then for your art!

Practice enough to feel confident in your skin and you’ll have moved yourself more of the way there! Next time – preparing your Mind to compete.

* I’m not a physician or a fitness expert, these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, malady, disorder, problem, difficulty, trouble, woe or ill. Quit whining and go back to practicing!

Preparing to Compete – Music

When you decide to compete you will need to prepare! While you might think, “Oh, I’ll just throw out a few tunes”, you’ll feel so much more confident (and play so much better) if you spend some time getting ready ahead of time. How much time? Well, that depends on you!

There are three areas in which to focus to maximize your time – Music, Body and Mind. This week it’s the Music

Before you even begin to consider tunes – read the rules! Nothing is more frustrating that talking to competitors on the day of a competition only to discover they have prepared tunes that don’t meet the rules – wrong tune types, not enough tunes for the category, too many of the same type of tune, etc. It’s disheartening! But I can guarantee you that every competition has rules – and that they all state that in the end, the competitor is responsible for reading and complying with them!

Learn your music – unless you have an iron ego, most of us would prefer to play our best and that requires actually knowing the music we intend to play. Be sure you actually know the tunes – otherwise when you sit you will activate that switch in the bench – you know the one that empties your brain as soon as you start to play? Yup, that switch.

Consider a backup plan – having prepared at least two sets of music that conform to the rules can be very freeing. This backup plan means that if for some reason you have a crisis of confidence with a particular tune on the day of the competition, you can shift to your other set. Just knowing that makes you feel more confident and gives you flexibility to play whatever feels right that day (or to switch when everyone before you plays the same tune – don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen!).

Practice enough to feel confident with the music itself and you’ll be most of the way there! Next time – preparing your Body to compete.

Competition – Seven reasons it may be bad for you

In an effort to be fair and balanced, this week let’s talk about how competition can be bad for your harp playing. One reason is that people who don’t like to compete are very vocal about it! I’d like to thank Kate for sharing her thoughts on this – and her permission to incorporate those thoughts.

There are reasons to not compete and here are seven of them. I’m sure there are more – feel free to share your reasons.

  1. Not everyone finds it fun. And really, why play at all if it isn’t fun?
  2. It can be limiting (do you only learn things or practice in preparation for a comp?) There is so much music, why limit yourself to what adheres to the rules?
  3. It may highlight things you might not want to know about yourself – like the possible need to work on fear of failure or performance anxiety. Or a lack of preparation that might arise from not practicing enough.
  4. It might drive you away from needed hard work – if you think you can only be ready in time if you skip warm-ups, exercises, and etudes so you can focus on comp tunes, does that really serve you?
  5. It may make you focus on everyone else rather than on your performance (against a standard or against your own growth) – and that won’t serve you well.
  6. There are plenty of ways to share music without force fitting your music six minutes on stage! If you do need to work on performing you can play for your cat, at a local elementary school, at a library, for your church or civic group, for a bunch of friends – the list is long and the audiences are appreciative!
  7. It may divert your focus away from spending more time being creative, exploring your music and yourself.  Enjoy the time at your harp, and breathe.

So, don’t let anyone bully you into competing unless you want to! Work toward your own goals, your own growth areas, your own challenges. Popular online just now is the quote from Zenkei Shibayama, “The flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms.” So don’t compete, just bloom!

Competition – Seven Reasons it’s Good for You

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know that I’m a big advocate for competition – and especially for Scottish Harp Society of America (SHSA) competitions. Some of you have told me that you don’t agree and I can respect that – but many of you don’t know why I think competitions are good. I don’t just think they are good, I think they are good for you! Here are seven ways that competition is good for you:

  1. It helps you monitor your progress against goals. Why learn a strathspey? So you can play it in competition! Why have two sets of tunes – so you can select the one you feel best about on the day you have to play them.
  2. It gives you an outlet – you do all that hard work practicing, it’s nice to have a safe place to play the tunes you worked so hard to get.
  3. It provides you with social engagement with like-minded harpers. It’s always interesting to meet and talk with other harpers and the shared preparation means you have built in conversation starters!
  4. SHSA competitions are structured so you know what you’re going against. The rules and the standard are posted so everyone can see them and you compete against the standard, not against everyone else.  The competition is about you.
  5. It gives you just a little bit of pressure to work under which often helps improve our performance.
  6. Competition helps you develop performance skills in front of and behind the harp. You will not only have to play your pieces, you’ll have to introduce the music and yourself…and of course, you have to walk onto the stage!
  7. You will learn a lot! Not only will you meet new people and seek out new tunes, you’ll also get to hear how tunes have been interpreted, learn something about the tunes, and hear some great music. And, of course, you’ll learn more about yourself!

So, as the competition seasons gears up, consider entering – it’s good for you!

Spring into Competition!

Spring is the start of competition season. If you are interested in competing, why not give one of these Scottish Harp Society of America (SHSA) sanctioned competitions a try.

Not keen to compete? Don’t have any tunes ready to go? You should still come out – at a minimum you’ll hear some great harp music! And even more – you will meet other harp players, make new friends, see old friends, and support those who are competing. And you might even learn something at the workshops that are typically held there. And there is a whole fair as well – with pipers, games, fiddlers, fair food, and other fun!  You can’t not have fun!

Picture2In March we have the first competition of the year. The Church Hill Irish Festival Harp Competition is held at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, 25th & E. Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia. This competition will be held 19 March. Mike Connors will be the judge and will also offer a workshop. Beth Dechent is the coordinator.  Go to www.churchhillirishfestival.com for more information. This is a lovely competition in a wonderful venue that is beautiful and has excellent acoustics!

In April is the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival harp competition. This event is in beautiful Jefferson Paterson Park in Calvert County, MD on Saturday, 30 April.  This year’s feted country is Wales. Competitors can play tunes from any of the Celtic nations. This year’s judge is Kelly Stewart Brzozowski. She will give a workshop and a concert. I am the coordinator and you can get more information from the website http://www.cssm.org/events/festival/competitions/highland-harping/. Please buy your ticket on line through the registration button on the page.

In May we have a new competition in Alabama. Huntsville is hosting a brand new competition, May 14th as part of the Celtic Day at Burritt on the Mountain. Details will be available soon.

There will be other events throughout the summer and into the fall that you also won’t want to miss.  But there is a good time to be had at these early events – try out a new tune, learn something, have fun! I hope you will come out for a competition near you.

What are you afraid of?

It’s nearly spring which means that it will very soon be competition season! Competitions are a great way to push yourself to learn, to grow, to be a little bit daring, to find out something about yourself.

I know a lot of people (especially adults) are very quick to say that competition is not for them. And that is true for some people. But for most people, it really is a great opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Picture1

Really – where else will you have such a good chance to make great strides in your playing? What holds you back? There are plenty of reasons – some of them good. Many people are afraid of the potential pain of stretching. Some have a running list of questions – What will the other harp players think? What if I don’t play perfectly? How will I walk away without dying of embarrassment?

But competitions are a great way to collect the answers to these questions! What will others think? Well the ones you’re competing against are typically focused on what they will play (or asking the same questions of themselves) to worry about what you’re thinking (and it’s likely that the people who aren’t playing are wondering “what if”  and how great you’re doing). What if you DO play perfectly?!? Did you ever think of that? And typically you cannot be too embarrassed to walk off the stage – and it’s hard to be embarrassed when all those people are applauding to show their appreciation and enjoyment of your performance!

It’s not about winning – in fact you learn so much more when you don’t take first place. You learn more about yourself, you meet new people, you get great feedback and specific actions to make yourself better, you become better, and you know it. So, I would strongly encourage you to push yourself, just a little, to get out there, to enter a competition, and enjoy answering your own questions!

On the road to Nationals!

I am so honored to have judged the Scottish Harp Society of America‘s 2015 US National Scottish Harp Championship!  In addition, it was exciting to have the opportunity to work with Seumas Gagne (the Distinguished Judge, friend, fab performer!) as well as the organizing coordinators of the Harp Competition at the Stone Mountain Highland Games.  And, of course, a special thank you to the Title Sponsor – Clan Currie Society whose generosity has significantly contributed to the success of the comp.

So this week’s post is short while I continue to bask in the glow of having gotten to see some amazing talent, meet some new people, see old friends, play and share and laugh, and get hand cramps from my pathetic penmanship (or pencilmanship really!).  Concerts, fun, and of course, an EXCELLENT competition with a large field of competitors.

What could be more fun?