It’s been a while since my last post. But in that time, I have put together and performed a second show that I titled Confessions of a Late Night Harpist.
While I performed my first show on my 6 foot concert pedal harp; I did this one solely on my small Camac DHC 32 solid body electric harp that I wear. The audience was wonderfully receptive and I had great fun performing the show.
I have to confess, however, that I didn’t always enjoy the preparation process. One dilemma was determining the order of the songs, especially the opening number.
I can suffer from terrible stage fright in the beginning of a program, sometimes to the point of shaking hands. I wanted to start withDeborah Henson-Conant’s “Cosita Latina,” which is a strong, exciting opening statement. However I’d only been playing it for a few months and feared that the nerves would kick in and I’d lose control.
My other option was to play a piece I could perform in my sleep. The obvious choice was “The Little Fountain” by Samuel O. Pratt. I’ve played it since I was 13 years old and have a memory of being thrilled when my teacher, Miss Malone, assigned it to me. It felt like my first grownup harp piece and I knew it was a sign that I was ready to move to a pedal harp. But more important is that this piece holds a great deal of sentimental value for me. It was my mother’s all-time favorite harp piece.
At first I thought I needed to start the show with a bang but ultimately I realized that it was okay to go with something that was simply beautiful, with the added bonus of being something I knew backwards and forwards.
So that’s the brief saga of how I decided which piece to play first. I’m glad I took the safe, and to my mind smart, option to open with “The Little Fountain.” The unexpected bonus was that I didn’t experience any stage fright. I was relaxed and able to savor every moment of the show.
The big day had come! I was about to give my first performance in 35 years in which my harp and I were front and center.
The preparation process was behind me and the moment of my harp comeback was upon me. I was anxious. I was excited. I was nervous. I was ready.
After spending several months putting the program together, performance day finally had arrived. A brief introduction was given, my name was announced, and I took center stage. Well, it wasn’t a stage but the lobby of the library where I had worked for the last 25 years. But I was back on the boards for the first time in decades.
I remember looking out at the audience and thinking wow, that’s a lot of people for a program in the library. I confess there was a brief moment where I wanted to bolt from the stage. My stomach had been doing flip-flops all morning and it hadn’t abated by show time. Did I mention I was nervous?
Still there was that rational side of me that knew I was prepared for this and that I really wanted to do this performance regardless of any trepidation I might have. I took a deep breath, sat down, pulled the concert harp onto my shoulder, and began to play. The moment I waited for all these years was underway.
DHC wisely suggested I start with a brief introduction on the harp by playing some arpeggios and glissandos. The beauty of this being that it was relatively simple to do yet fun for the audience. And it was a way for me to know that I had control of my hands right off the bat. I was nervous but playing that little teaser let me know that I ultimately was in control of the harp.
Once I truly got underway with the show; I could feel the nerves dissipating. I began to feel more comfortable as I played through the first piece and I felt my focus on the music intensify.
I featured both my concert and electric harps. My goal was to present various musical styles to showcase the diversity of the instrument. I played classical pieces, a Blues, a loop cover of recent pop tune, my mother’s favorite piece that I learned when I was 13, a calypso, and a flamenco piece.
I don’t know exactly when it hit me but at some point early on in the show I realized that I was enjoying every moment of it. And more importantly, the audience was enjoying it. They were responding to not only my playing but to what I was telling them about me and my two harps.
I became uninhibited and unafraid. In fact, I shed my usual shy persona and became this extrovert that I didn’t recognize yet embraced. I even included an audience participation number due to DHC’s encouragement, which is something I would never dreamed I’d be doing.
The connection to the audience was electric. I had known intellectually that art should be shared but when I was performing my show; I now knew it on an emotional level. I had something to give and the audience graciously accepted it. It made me grateful beyond my wildest expectations.
In the past I would have scrutinized every note I had played post performance. But this time, I simply relished the experience as a whole. Imperfections didn’t matter because I came to realize it was not about showing off my technical prowess. It was about giving the audience a complete performance. It was about what the audience felt from my interaction with them.
I felt wonderful afterwards because I had such a great time performing for this receptive audience. People came to tell me how much they enjoyed the program and that they learned a lot of new things about the harp. They were surprised at the types of music that I played on the harp and all the effects one could do with it. A couple people mentioned how much fun the audience participation and the loop cover were. And since I live in Hawaii, I got the extra bonus of being laden with leis.
I learned more about myself and my harp from this performance than I could have possibly imagined. I learned that playing for an audience makes the music come alive. My hard work at the harp paid off in a way that gave me more satisfaction that words can describe.
Rediscovering the harp has resulted in my playing glorious, at least to me, music in my living room. I love it! My cats love it! I’m not sure if the neighbors love it but they’ve never complained.
It took several years of living room concerts witnessed only by the pets for the epiphany to finally strike. Art shouldn’t be hoarded. It’s meant to be shared. It was time to stop hiding my harp in the relative comfort of my house and get back out in the world to play for real live people.
It didn’t take long to figure out where my coming out party might take place. I’ve worked in the library for many years. Libraries offer programs. Why not play a harp program at the library?
I had not put myself and my harp front and center since around 1980. That was back in my music school days when I had the luxury of practicing several hours per day. These days I feel lucky if I can manage one hour.
So I took a deep breath and committed to doing a one-hour program for the library. I even agreed to put up a small display on the harp in the library’s lobby, complete with a short cellphone created video that featured some musical excerpts and factoids on the instrument.
Preparations and frustrations
Once a date for the performance was set, I began to prepare. I selected music to play. I slowly picked apart every measure of every piece and played them over and over. The metronome, once the mortal enemy of my childhood, now was my most valued tool. I began to memorize the music.
Despite all this, I was struggling with the preparation.I had stretched too far and set lofty goals of playing too many pieces that were giving me difficulties. My practice sessions often became a source of frustration. My inner demons screamed that I wasn’t a good enough. I began to question why I was putting myself through this process if I wasn’t enjoying it.
Changing the mindset
It was around then the DHC’s words of wisdom hit me. This program wasn’t about me.It wasn’t about showing off some great technical ability that I might have.
This program was about the audience and their experience. I was there to entertain them. I was there hopefully to touch them for a brief moment and perhaps give them a respite from those nagging issues life throws our way. Once that realization hit me, I began to rethink my whole process, including my music selections.
I began to see that I didn’t need to give myself headaches by playing lots demanding pieces of music. It was okay to play a relatively simple piece (Samuel O. Pratt’s The Little Fountain) because held sentimental value as my mother’s all-time favorite harp piece. I didn’t need to play pieces filled with tons of difficulty. I needed to play pieces that would resonate with the audience not show off what a great technician I was.
DHC (Deborah Henson-Conant) even convinced me to add an audience participation number. I had uploaded a 90 second arrangement of her Califypso for a homework assignment for her Hip Harp Toolkit class. She sent a feedback video where she encouraged me to add the piece to my show. I was hesitant at first but I figured it was time to get over myself, let loose, and do something unexpected and fun for the audience.
I even started playing around with a loop pedal. One of things that I love as an audience member is to hear a performer build a loop. I ended up creating a relatively simple loop cover of Pharrell Williams’ Happy for the program. I’d be able to give them one song they actually knew but wouldn’t associate with the harp.
In my very few concerts of old, I had only played music; one piece after another with no other audience interaction. This time out, I realized that I needed to speak to the them about the music, the harps, and me. Maybe part of that was the librarian in me wanting to educate about the instrument. The other part, however, was that I wanted to make the experience more personal by telling them of my world of the harp with where I’d been with it the past and where I was with it today.
With DHC’s mentorship, I began to think of this program as show, not a formal concert. I started to see the program more and more from the audience point of view. Once I did that, I started to enjoy the process of putting it together and to look forward to the performance.
Despite all my doubts beforehand, my desire to share my music was far greater than any fears or frustrations I might have harbored. I knew I had made the right decision to come out of hiding and share my muse; the harp that I had grown to love again. The dread I felt when I first agreed to do the program had turned into excitement.
I was on my way to becoming a performer for the first time in a long, long time.
I’m just now rediscovering a passion that was long dead to me. It was something that at one time in my life was all consuming but I eventually gave it up. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve found it again.
I’m talking about rediscovering my muse, my art. I played the harp for a long time. Yet I walked away from it because there was a point when it no longer gave me joy.
I began learning the harp at age 10 and studied it through my college years. I was classically trained and learned a great deal of the instrument’s classical repertoire.
After college I spent time as freelance harpist, mostly playing weddings and background music. The problem was that more often than not, I found myself performing music that I didn’t find particularly interesting or challenging. I felt little enjoyment in what I was dong and eventually I burned out.
Becoming a librarian
I made the decision to switch gears.I stopped freelancing and enrolled in graduate school to study library science. Sounds perfectly logical, right?
I have no why I made the leap from musician to librarian. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I like information and the various means of obtaining it, especially books. Or maybe my decision was more pragmatic. I could enter a profession that would give me a steady income along with built-in perks like a pension, health insurance, and paid vacation leave.
I now have worked as a librarian for nearly 30 years yet my harp fell silent for much of that time. My once vibrant instrument that filled the house with music had become an ornate piece of sculpture in my home.
Then one day it happened…
A harpist once again
After years of not touching the instrument, I suddenly felt the urge to play once again. I took a deep breath, tuned up my poor, neglected harp, and was amazed at how natural it felt. In that moment I realized that the harp was still a huge part of me.
That’s when I fell in love again. I started to play the harp regularly from that point on. I had rediscovered something that made me feel passionate. I found joy in the music that I thought I had lost long ago. I was loving the harp so much that I ended up buying not one but two new harps; a concert grand pedal harp and a small, electric lever (non-pedal) harp.
Becoming a harpist again got me thinking about taking my harp back out in the world. I also started to wonder what I wanted to do once I retired from the library and the clear answer was play the harp. That’s what bought me to Deborah Henson-Conant’s Harness Your Muse Mastermind program.
Harnessing my muse
Deborah Henson-Conant (aka DHC) is a composer, harpist, and performer who is known as one of the World’s foremost electric harpists. She plays a small, strap-on electric harp that was designed for and named after her; the Camac DHC Light.
I discovered DHC when researching music for the lever harp. I especially fell in love with a fiery showpiece she composed titled Baroque Flamenco. I found that she offered an online course where she taught the piece and I signed up. I loved the class so much that I ended up taking several of her courses over the last couple of years.
While most of her courses run over the period of a few weeks; Harness Your Muse Mastermind (HYMM) is DHC’s intensive, one year mentorship program in which a small group of harpists/artists work to create various projects such as a show, an album, a blog, compositions, or a variety of other creative endeavors under her tutelage. With Act 3 of life approaching, I knew wanted to develop a means to share my harp and music out in the real world.
I had to think long and hard about making such a huge commitment but ultimately I knew this program would give me the tools, support and push I needed to realize a dream of creating a small show with my harp that I could easily take on the road. Thanks to the program, I’m also beginning to realize there are less conventional ways to share my music that I’m interested in exploring.
So here I am. A harp playing librarian who is taking her first steps in a voyage of discovery to once again embrace a passion I thought was long dead. Maybe I’ll reconnect with the librarian side of me as well.
I don’t what I’ll discover along the way but I know I’m in for a grand adventure.