Making Music: a Labor of Love

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labor of lpveHard labor. Labor pains. Manual labor. Labor of love?

A “labor of love” sounds like an oxymoron, two seemingly opposite words. In terms of our musical studies, we might define it as the hard work we do in pursuit of excellence or in the service of our passion for music.  But this definition makes one critical assumption: that we will realize results that will justify our commitment to the labor, so that we can celebrate our achievement.

But how often do we remember to take the time to savor that achievement? Or do we more frequently stay focused on the hard work – the practice, the lessons, the harp-schlepping?

When I started working as a young professional harpist, I was shocked to hear so many veteran musicians constantly grumbling about their work. They would complain if the music was too difficult or too easy, if the conductor was too demanding or too laid-back, if there was too much work or not enough. For a novice fresh out of music school, this attitude was frighteningly pervasive. Was this what my attitude was destined to be in a few years?

I determined to prevent this, if I could. I decided to change my language. I would not fall into the trap of saying, “I have to” play this gig or that, but instead I would say, “I get to” play this job. I would try to maintain an attitude of gratitude that I could actually make a living playing, instead of just working. I wasn’t always successful, but I still smile when I catch myself using the wrong words.

This is one reason I am so focused on “harp happiness.”  When we focus too much on the labor of music and too little on what we love about it, we are apt to lose the energy to persevere. Music study is certainly hard work, but we need to take our fair share of the rewards and the joy it brings us too.

If you feel you could use a “happiness” check, read through these three “E’s,” the three fundamental ways to more music happiness, however you make music.


All work and no play makes for pretty dull music. Don’t just practice; play music, just for fun. You can mess around with music too. Try something new. Be irreverent. Find the fun.


Take to time to enjoy the music outside your practice room. Listen to recordings. Attend concerts, conferences and workshops. Participate with others in ensembles, groups or classes.


Music is something you can share with the world. You can bring a moment of beauty, melody or calm to someone else’s day. Play your heart out to the world. Invite the world into your music.

Happy Labor (of Love) Day!

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  • Sarah Claire Williams

    I am so grateful for your harp happiness message. I was very self critical and mired in the drudgery aspects of making music. I am having a wonderful time playing and practicing and am choosing only events that I will love doing, and that will be wonderful venues for the instrument. Thank you so much!


  • Robert Stone

    Very appropriate, this subject, especially on Labor Day!(coincidence?) I think it’s also important to surround yourself with like minded individuals, who enjoy playing music for the sake of the experience, opportunity to improve their skills, play music they’re not totally familiar with, an opportunity to perform with someone they admire and a million other reasons than just making a payday!

    But I also think it might be a by product of an experienced musicians life, whereby, they have been through a lot, seen it all and are won’t to complain about the “working conditions” , occasionally. This is not a perfect world, people struggle, people are dealing with families, health, so some complaining is inevitable. So playing music can be a refuge from all of that and it can to be treated as special, to insure it’s free from all the negatives we as humans are subject to!

    I read, that as great as a musician as Riccardo Muti, was voted out of the La Scala Orchestra and forced to resign. No musician, regardless or their ability and talent, is immune to the will of others or the majority. The spirit of cooperation must exist on all levels, to make music and make it an enjoying, rewarding experience.


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