For me, everything is easier when making music is enjoyable, rewarding and fun, with as little hassle or stress as possible. Unfortunately the stress and the music seem to be inseparable. Playing music provides plenty of challenges on its own, technical ones and musical ones. Then there are the logistical challenges of just getting the harp and myself from place to place and keeping my schedule in check.
As I’m gearing up to start a new season of concerts and teaching, I am giving some extra thought to making my musical life go more smoothly. I have managed to identify five things I can do to keep my stress levels low and my musical enjoyment high. I hope they will help you as well.
1. Get Organized.
If you’re at all like me, you are not a disorganized person; you’re just a victim of being a little too busy. I find that when I get very busy, I allow myself to let routine tasks go undone, with the result that my desk is awash in projects, music and receipts. I can let this go on for awhile, until I finally realize that my stress is coming from the pile on my desk and not my schedule. That’s the day I dedicate time to cleaning it all up. And that’s also the day that (miraculously!) my schedule no longer seems so hectic.
My plan: Use the time while dinner is cooking to clean off my desk and my music stand.
2. Get in Shape.
Exercise is a great stress reliever. Whether it’s my fingers or my abs, if I’m working on them regularly, I feel better. And when my fingers are in shape, I play better too, which has a huge effect on everything else.
My plan: Get out the Conditioning Exercises. Again.
3. Get Support.
Musicians do their hardest work alone in the practice room. And being a harpist can feel especially lonely if you are in an area without a large or lively harp community. Yet support is vital for all of us. We all need the help of a teacher or coach, the guidance of a mentor or the encouragement of a musical friend. And since you’re reading this on some device connected to the entire world, you know that that support is available to you, virtually if not in person.
My plan: Stay in touch with my coaches and harp friends regularly.
4. Get Inspired.
If you’re feeling stressed or pressured, sometimes all you need is a little inspiration to get back in your groove. Watch a music video on YouTube, or read the biography of a composer or musician you admire. Even better, go to a concert or masterclass. As you listen, watch or read, look for “IT,” that outstanding quality, habit, or detail that sets that person apart from the rest. In what way can you build that quality into your own playing or your own life, even in a small way? Allow yourself to dream.
My plan: Pull my favorite CDs from my collection and create a “soundtrack” for my day.
5. Get to Work.
When you get down to the heart of the matter, you see this one inescapable fact: you need to practice and play. Playing music, and striving to play it better, gives us joy and satisfaction. It is an outlet for our creativity. It is a personal expression; it is how we share ourselves with the world.
I find great reward in practicing and playing, not just professionally but personally. A day when I don’t play or practice is a day with a blank spot in it, something missing. It’s not just the sense of something left undone. It’s more the feeling that I haven’t been completely “me.” And that makes my life less pleasant and more stressful.
My plan: Finish writing this blog post and go play the harp!