The Big Decision
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.
Stayed tuned for more…