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!


Harpa 2017 is a wrap!

We are now all back from our Harpa trip to Scotland! We had a great time – over and over again.

We went to St. Andrews, seeing the Castle, Cathedral and the town and then through Glen Coe and on to Fort William.

While in Fort William we rehearsed and raised over £70 for Great Ormond Street Hospital for children!

We spent two amazing nights on Skye at the Sconser Lodge continuing our preparations and seeing beautiful, breathtaking Skye. And jamming…

From there we went down to Ayrshire and spent a lovely time at the Lodge at Dumfries House where we also played our first concert with special guest and resident harpist – Meredith McCrindle. Proceeds went to the Prince’s Trust.

We visited Glasgow, the Kelpies, Rosslyn Chapel, and more of the Ayrshire area. After getting a delightful tour of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum from the Curator, Sean McGlashan, we played a concert there as well!

We spent two nights in Moniaive, arranged by Wendy Stewart. We played with our guests Dumfries and Galloway Branch of the Clarsach Society and Wendy, raising money both for the Branch and for the venue – the Mill on Fleet.

We returned to Ayrshire and our final concert at Culzean Castle – a lovely all day “progressive concert” with some subset of us performing throughout the day, raising money for Ayr Hospice.

Throughout our trip we were collecting fun times and continued documentation of the lands of tiny sinks as well as a relatively thorough exploration of available hot chocolates across Scotland!

As a group and as individuals we enjoyed our vacation, had a blast performing to raise money for charities, and getting to meet and know people. We can hardly wait for next time!

If you’d like to see more of our photos, and keep up to date with us as we plan the next one, visit, Like, and Follow us on facebook.


It wouldn’t be summer without OSAS!

The summer really gets started with the Ohio Scottish Arts School or OSAS, presented by the Scottish American Cultural Society of Ohio at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. Each summer, for one week, the residents of this small college town get the joy of nearly continuous harp music (as well as pipe, fiddle, and dance music with drumming too!).

This year marks the 39th OSAS and it will be held June 24-30, 2017.  Really enhance the experience and kick off with participation in the Ohio Scottish Games the 23rd in Wellington, OH.

Coming to OSAS can be nearly a pilgrimage with some participants returning annually! The days are filled with learning tunes from stellar instructors in the aural tradition, lectures from those same instructors on other related and fascinating topics, and a little processing time to relax or practice. It’s harpharpharp! The evenings are filled with fun with the others jamming and sharing tunes we’ve learned, enjoying the evening air, snacks, and each evening also has a special event – the Instructor Concert, the Variety Show, every night, something wonderfully different and all OSAS.

If you’ve been to OSAS before, you’re calculating how you’re going to get there this summer. If you’ve never been to OSAS before – you cannot conceive how much you are going to learn, how much fun you’re going to have, how much you are going to bore your non-OSAS friends with stories when you get home – for months! You will laugh, you will work hard, you will have a great time, and you’ll start counting down to your next OSAS experience the day you get home.

For all the details go to

  • Photos shamelessly stolen off the OSAS website – I’m always having too much fun to stop and take pictures!

Quote of the week

Typically, I see or hear things that lead me to think about everything else. This week isn’t like that! This week, the quote pretty much speaks for itself.

We’ve talked before about the importance of being kind to yourself in your practice and in your performance. But this quote takes it another step closer to the origin of the thinking. Here’s the quote:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Scott Adams

You’ll recognize the source – the creator of Dilbert. He usually has an incisive, if cynical, take, but this quote is certainly spot on – it couldn’t be more right!

Make Mistakes

There is an craft to making art and it stems from your own willingness to make mistakes, and then to pick up those mistakes and lick them, and keep the ones that taste good (you know, the sonic taste) as you keep going in the music.

My early teachers who taught me two important things with respect to this, although it took me a while to appreciate these gems. The first gem was that, no matter what string you land on, you are never more than one string away from a sound you might prefer! The second nugget was that we don’t make mistakes, we make impromptu improvisations.

For a long time, I really didn’t believe them – I thought they were being “nice” because I made so many mistakes. But over (a very long) time I learned that they weren’t just being nice – they were giving me gentle permission to make mistakes and to learn not only which ones to keep but also to learn my processes for selecting them. They were helping me to learn to do my own taste testing so I could select what worked and toss out what just didn’t speak to me. They were showing me that being willing to make “mistakes” was the point. That this was how I would make my art – by transitioning these excursions into elements of my music. That while safe was comfortable, and it might be creative, it certainly wasn’t moving my art.

So, go make some real whoppers, some complete stinkers, some small and some large mistakes…and see what you can make of them!

What makes a good musician?

One can be a good musician even if one is not a full time professional . What makes a good musician? If you’re a regular reader, you might think that this is where I would say, “practice, practice, practice”!

But there is so much more to it than that! You see, musicianship is a journey not a destination – which is cool because it always gives you something to work toward! In that vein, here are six things that make a musician different from someone who just plays an instrument:


  1. Persistence and Practice. One could argue that practice is the working definition of persistence. But really, persistence involves more including focusing on continuing to grow, finding new music that inspires you, and pursuing places to play that fit your goals and still let you grow.
  2. Knowledge and Learning. There is so much to learn to be a better musician and real musicians are always learning. Whether it is gaining new tunes, mastering a new technique (coupled hands anyone? solid harmonics? you get the idea), or studying music theory, gaining knowledge can only result in stronger playing.
  3. Community. Even soloists are part of a community! We have communities of harp players as well as the greater communities of musicians (orchestra, sessions, workshop participants, etc.) and the environments in which we play – those communities help us grow and provide milieux in which development can be nurtured. Communities give us a base for our other developments.
  4. Listening. Just as we make sounds, we listen to sounds (music) from others (and ourselves). And as we listen, we learn more about music, what we think of it, what we like (and don’t like) and other perspectives on the music we make – you cannot listen to music enough!
  5. Be willing to take (and use) critique. Whether it is family members, audiences, or judges, gaining feedback, analyzing those inputs and using that information is a sure way to become a better musician.
  6. Enjoy the challenges you set for yourself – related to all of these is setting challenges for ourselves and enjoying stepping up to them. These challenges don’t have to be big – they just have to be yours (and they do have to be challenging!) so that we can learn and enjoy them.

So, the next time you think you’re not a musician, check to be sure your wrong! And just keep being you while you continue to develop into a good musician.