I am often asked for my opinion on the most important things for a young harpist to learn. Usually students who ask the question are looking for the ultimate practice secret or repertoire piece. Parents of students are looking for practical information on harp buying and colleges.
But the things I think are important are different from these. They are important to every harpist, whether student or professional, old or young. And so, speaking from my experience, I hope that you will find something useful to you.
Three things I wish I had known when I was starting my harp journey:
1. I wish I had experienced more of the wider harp world. The harp world was much smaller and more isolated when I started playing the harp. Without the internet and social media, even a big city like Philadelphia didn’t provide much harp camaraderie. The insight and support of other harpists is critical to a young artist or a student of any age. Seek out the harp community. We are there for you.
2. I wish I had understood the importance of scales and arpeggios. Untold generations of musicians have practiced their scales and arpeggios. This isn’t empty pedagogy. We practice these because they prepare our fingers, eyes, and ears to play the most basic building blocks of music. This is how we develop technical facility, speed and musical understanding.
3. I wish I had known that “it’s not about me.” It’s easy for a musician to get caught up in the personal nature of his or her pursuit. We practice alone and we harpists even perform solo much of the time. But it’s not about us. It’s about the music the composer wrote, the audience we communicate the music to, and the musical traditions we uphold. It’s funny, but many performance issues vanish when we put the focus on something other than ourselves.
Three things I’m glad I learned early:
1. I’m glad I went to harp camp. My summers at the Salzedo colony in Camden, Maine was my first chance to socialize extensively with other harpists. We discussed our teachers, our music, our harps and everything else. I shared more in common with these harpists than with most of my other non-harpist friends. Some friends I met at harp camp have stayed friends for a lifetime.
2. I’m so glad my teacher taught me to count aloud. I hated counting aloud when I was a student. But my piano teacher was insistent, and against my will, I developed the habit. It wasn’t until I started performing that I realized that my entire musical life revolved around counting. When I count, I don’t make mistakes. My advice: Count EVERYTHING.
3. I always said “yes” first, and practiced later. I know other, perhaps wiser, people would advise a student not to perform too much too soon. But I always took every playing opportunity that came my way. As a result, I sightread well, learn music quickly, and have had opportunities to play nearly every kind of music in all sorts of interesting settings. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
What lessons have you learned in your musical journey?
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