“Have harp; will travel.”
That’s my motto for most of the year. My harp and I have watched more than one odometer tip the 200,000 mile mark, and one of my cars made it over 300,000 miles. You might think my harp and I are never separated.
Nevertheless, I always have at least one vacation each year that is harp-free. I figure it’s good for both of us. He sits at home peacefully and I enjoy the beach or sightseeing or any number of activities that he wouldn’t. (Yes, my harp is a boy and his name is Eric.)
I have taken my harp on vacations from time to time. It’s lovely to relax with the harp as well as without, but I find that the break from harp playing is restorative. I am able to come back to my playing with renewed energy and purpose.
I have learned not to worry about my time away. My fingers will be rusty; Salzedo’s Conditioning Exercises are waiting for me on my music stand. My music will take some refreshing or re-learning as well, but I don’t let that concern me. That’s what practice is for.
My students, however, sometimes worry more than I do about backsliding over vacation. Understandably, they don’t want to lose the ground they have worked so hard to gain. Unless they take the harp with them and continue to practice during vacation, however, they must prepare to do some remedial work when they return. The key word here is prepare.
Step One: Take Your Music
You may not be able to play while on vacation, but you can still practice in your head. In fact, practicing with your mind instead of your fingers has been shown to be extremely effective. It helps you learn your music in a deeper, more lasting way, in part because you can’t play it.
Read through your music while hearing it in your head. You could listen to a recording at the same time, if you like. A favorite technique of mine is to play the “air harp;” mime playing the harp, moving your fingers, arms and feet appropriately as if you were playing. You will still get some of the physical sensation of playing but with no wrong notes!
Step Two: Take Your iPod
Load up your mp3 player with recordings of music of all sorts: music you are learning, music you want to learn, performances you want to hear, pieces by composers who aren’t familiar to you. Use your vacation listening time to broaden your horizons and fill your soul with new sounds and musical ideas.
Although listening won’t keep your fingers in shape, it will help you connect with music in a fresh way, one that is uncluttered by the stress of practice, lessons and performances. Being a listener is part of being a musician, too.
Step Three: Plan Ahead
The most dreaded post-vacation moment (other than seeing how many harp strings have broken) is that first minute when you sit down at the harp and wonder how bad it will be. How rusty are your fingers? How tender and sore will they be after this first practice session? Will you remember anything you were playing before you left? You can face that moment more confidently if you have a plan already in place for when you return.
Before you leave, put your favorite set of warm-up exercises on your music stand, along with a couple of your most beloved review pieces. When you sit at the harp after vacation, begin with those. Do your exercises slowly, concentrating on correct technique with strong, relaxed fingers. Don’t push yourself to play too quickly or too loudly the first day or two. Ease back into it; it’s less strain on your mind and your fingers.
Play your review pieces through, remembering to enjoy them. Play them several times, using the repetitions to refresh your fingers and renew your coordination.
Limit your practice to these things for the first day or two, until your fingers feel ore or less back to normal. Then you can start going back to the repertoire you were learning before you left.
It’s a good idea to write out your plan and put it on your music stand along with your music and exercises, so you remember what you wanted to do.
Now you’re prepared. The only thing left is to pack your bag and enjoy your vacation. Have a good time!