There is a great article in Harp Column magazine this month by Nadia Pessoa. It’s all about survival skills and being prepared for musical emergencies. Not dealing with a broken string, but being prepared to play when you weren’t expecting it.
In the article, Erin Earl Wood mentions her teacher telling her to always have 20 minutes of music memorized, just in case. That’s excellent advice, and I have used my “emergency repertoire” more than once.
You don’t think you need emergency repertoire? Even if you’re not likely to be performing in public, you should always have pieces ready to perform.
Perhaps you will have guests come to your house, and they would like to hear you play. How embarrassing to have to say that despite some months or even years of lessons, you have nothing you can play!
Or your child or grandchild wants you to be their “show and tell” at school. For all of my son’s elementary school years, he asked me to play the harp for his class. Of all the performances I given, none made me prouder than to play for him and his friends.
So, you may not need to have a concert stored in your memory and fingers, but you should be able to play a piece or two for someone who asks.
Actually, I recommend having three pieces that are always company-ready. If you choose your the pieces carefully, you will be able to rise to almost any occasion.
1. The Harp Demonstration piece. This is a piece that shows what the harp can do. It probably has glissandi or arpeggios, perhaps even special effects like timpanic sounds. It’s fun and can help educate the listener about the harp. A good example is Salzedo’s Chanson dans la nuit. My very first harp piece, Purple Bamboo from the Fun From the First book, is another.
2. The Church piece. This piece is useful, not just because you might be asked to play at a church, but because it’s also useful for a friend’s wedding or a relative’s memorial service. It should be pretty, calm and contemplative. Possibilities include Deborah Henson Conant’s The Nightingale, Kathy Bundock Moore’s Elegy, and Angelus by Renie.
3. The Fun piece. This piece is exactly how it sounds: energetic, lighthearted and fun to play, as well as to hear. I often play Salzedo’s Tango and Rumba. Any of Sylvia Woods’s Disney arrangements would be perfect too.
The first year that I played for my son’s school class, he asked me to play the theme from the Pink Panther movies. I played that piece every year, and it became a tradition. My son is 24 now, so elementary school was long ago, but his former classmates still mention how much they looked forward to that every year.
Your pieces don’t need to be memorized, or even perfect. But you need to play them regularly and keep them in your fingers, so that when you pull them out, you can play then without stumbling. Make one day a week your review day, when you pull out these pieces and keep them fresh.
And feel free to rotate them. Make substitutions or add new pieces as you like. Thinking in terms of what pieces you may want to add to your repertoire can make it easier to choose new pieces to learn, as you consider what category they may fit.
And the next time someone asks you to play, you can say, “Of course, I’d be glad to play for you!”