Progress

One of the things about being a therapeutic harpist is that you don’t often get to see people more than once. In my hospital visits, people are (hopefully) better and gone by my next visit. One exception to that is when I play at residential facilities. I have a regular memory care facility that I visit twice monthly, and I am starting to get to know the residents there. Most of the residents are Alzheimer’s patients. It is so nice to see them again, and even if they don’t remember who I am, they are always happy when I play and they love to sing along. When playing for memory care patients, it is important to play very familiar music, preferably from the patient’s childhood. So we play a lot of folk songs, like “Oh Susannah.”

It’s easy to connect with this population, and I have grown to love a few of them. One woman in particular, has been very attached to the music. Younger than most of the other residents, she sits in a wheelchair, and is vocal, but not verbal. On my last visit, I was delighted to see that she was beginning to walk, with help from her family. Even though I have grown attached to her, I hope this means she will be home soon.

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Making Beautiful Music Together

Happy Independence Day!

Even if you don’t live in the United States, I hope you enjoy!

Random Acts of Harping Gone Wild

This was a crazy, busy, weekend for me. I spent Saturday with my IHTP mentor, working bedside at the hospice, and that means that Sunday is a catch up day. But still, I wanted to take a quick jaunt out to play for Random Acts of Harping Day. I knew I would regret it later if I skipped it this year.

The problem with RAOHD in Phoenix is that it happens in late June. Playing outside is not something we relish, exactly, when it’s 108 degrees. So I decided to go to our great little froyo place. Locally owned, and laid back, this place has a shaded porch where I could kill two birds with one stone.

After loading up on raspberry/strawberry/lemonade and lots of strawberries, I sat outside next to the sweet old dog who hangs out on the porch. Did I tell you that this place was laid back? They make milk-bone yogurt for the dogs.

This poor doggie, though, was afraid of my little harp. He barked and whined when I got it out, and hid behind a column for the 5 minutes that I played it. What torture for the poor fella.

So my Random Acts of Harping Day was pretty brief. Maybe I should have skipped it this year. 😦

Right Intent

Right  intent is one of the elements of the Buddhist eightfold path, including “the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively.”  Who wouldn’t want to aspire to harmlessness?

Eightfold Path

When I worked on an assignment clarifying my intent in the very first IHTP lesson, I understood that it was an important exercise in goal setting and motivation – helpful for working through the year long (or longer) program. The IHTP also needs to know what we are thinking; they need to protect the quality of their stamp of approval for the sake of their graduates, the facilities they work in, and for their own viability.

I am playing bedside in a local hospice to fulfill some of my internship hours. The very first person I played for was near death and unresponsive. As I played,  my mentor suggested that I add a high F to my improvisation. With that addition, the patient gave a little sigh and settled himself int bed a little bit. Another F. Another little sigh, another little settle. Another F?

There is fine line between exploring to find what will help the someone relax, and experimenting- manipulating someone to see exactly what the limit of the music is. The difference? You guessed it – intent.

The effect of that high F was so astonishingly, dramatically, evident, that now I see  just how easy it was to wonder, “what if I…,” instead of “what is helping” – to manipulate, instead of meet and follow what is already present. It is such a simple thing for delusion to take over and color our approach to this work.

This firsthand message shows me another facet to the importance of right intent. Our intent is our mission statement and our target, and we need to keep our eye and our focus on it. We have not only to identify our purpose for others, but to articulate it to ourselves, actively and regularly, so that we continually remind ourselves why we’re here.

How do you find that fine line in your own life? Do you have a daily practice, or is it easy for you to see where you need to go? Or something else?

Why Do You Need Live Music? Part I

David Ice - Harpist

David Ice (pictured above) is a fabulous Phoenix harpist. He is also an entertaining writer, and gets to the point in a way we can all appreciate. Here is an open letter to a bridal magazine, which he posted in the Harpcolumn (membership required to view forum posts)

As a vendor at the recent Bridal Fashion Debut bridal show in Phoenix, Arizona on June 10, 2012 I was given a copy of your magazine.

What distressed me was an article. In it the author states “if the DJ’s already there for the reception, you just have to adjust the time for the ceremony…..it’s cheaper than bringing a harpist or a guitar player in.”

The advantages of having a live musician—an instrumentalist—for the ceremony are huge, and I feel this has been totally neglected and our contributions ignored. Indeed, with the possible exception of the Phoenix Boy’s Choir, I can find no other ceremony musicians advertising in your magazine. And, given the above statement, I can guess why.

Why do I feel this way? Let me explain, and please, really think about what I’m saying.

Let us assume that a DJ is providing the ceremony music for a wedding ceremony. Now, I’m not picking on DJs at all. This is just the physical reality of how things are.

All it takes is one lost bobby pin and all the timings, rehearsals, and planning go out the window. The ring bearer starts to cry, and simply refuses to go down the aisle. (I see this more often than not!)

The DJ has 73 seconds of recorded processional music. And the kid refuses to budge. What is the DJ going to do? All he can do is hit REPEAT.

A live musician can do much better. For example, I can realize what is happening, and think to myself, “okay, go back to bar 17, play up to bar 26, then vamp on bars 23-26 until the kid starts moving, and then jump to the coda.” Voila….a processional that times out perfectly. If I need an additional 22 seconds of music—or 8—I can make it work. A DJ has no other option than hit REPEAT and fade out. Think about this. Play a CD….hit repeat at the end of a tune, and then fade it out at random. This is exactly what the audience will hear.

Conversely, you can rehearse a processional until you are blue in the face—but at the actual event, people are nervous and can practically run down the aisle. Your 73 seconds of music must now be cut to 42 seconds. A live musician can do it. The DJ has no option but to just fade it out—just like turning down your car radio.


And more often than not—we’ve ALL done it—you hit the wrong button or hit it too many times on your CD player, your iPod, your computer—and the wrong track plays. Another vendor told me about a wedding where the Canon in D didn’t repeat…what came on was the Theme from The Tonight Show. Oops. I’ve personally heard a DJ start the first dance for the bride and groom and hit the wrong button on his computer, and what came out the speakers could only be described in polite company as The F-Bomb Deluxe.

Similarly, having a family member sing to a karoke track can be hysterically awful. People get nervous and emotional, and it’s a rare wedding where something does not go wrong using a pre-recorded track. I was at a wedding on Sunday where the singer (a family friend) got nervous, and was soon 4 or 5 bars out-of-sync with the track. It was truly awful. A live musician can follow and accompany appropriately. But a mechanical recorded track marches on regardless of whatever problems the singer is having!

Another personal story: I had a bride ready to go down the aisle. I got the cue from her, and started Here Comes The Bride. A couple of seconds later, I looked up to see where she was. She was nowhere to be seen!!!

I started adapting and vamping. It was the longest 90 seconds of my life—did she get cold feet? Was she the proverbial “runaway bride”??

She finally reappeared. It seems she forgot her bouquet, and ran off to find it!

Had it been a DJ, he would have had no option than to hit REPEAT several times. And it would have been immediately obvious that something was wrong.

As it was, I was able to vamp a very long Fanfare and Introduction to the classic Wagner processional—while aging about 10 years in the process—praying she would reappear! But in the end it was seamless and nobody knew what had happened.

If a bride is spending huge sums for everything else to be perfect, why gamble on the ceremony music? Would you advise, “don’t worry about shoes, nobody looks at your feet anyway”? Music is the emotional glue that holds the ceremony together! Has there ever been a wedding guest who stated, “Every time I see a pink lisianthus I cry remembering your wedding” or “every time I see a Vera Wang #1729 I think of your wedding”?

But people will say, “Every time I hear that song, I think of your wedding.”
Since the music is so important, isn’t it equally important to make sure it fits, it is in sync, and it is as flawless as possible? DJs can only do so much. A live musician can do so much more.

Sincerely,

David M. Ice

I  mean, which would you rather have – this…

Or this?

The Triviality of Impossiblities

Deborah Henson Conant, arguably the most creative harpist alive. She’s working in a new way, touring with Steve Vai this coming fall, and chronicling it in her blog:

I’m so far out of my comfort zone – so far out of my natural-ability-zone. … When I see my students experiencing it, I know it’s just their brain shifting from an old way of knowing music to a new way, and that the deep sense of disorientation and uncoordination is part of making that shift.  I know that the things that seem obvious to me, are often completely invisible to them until the structures finally become clear in their minds.

There is a saying in mathematics: Every problem is impossible until you know how to solve it, and then it’s trivial.  Confusion is a good thing.* When you are confused, that is a clue that there’s more to the what is happening than what meets the eye — you are in a rich situation, and you are on the verge of discovering something completely new, something that no one has ever known before, and you are going to make it yours.

So is confusion an essential part of creativity? Is it even possible to make anything new without feeling groundless? At least for a little bit?

…..

* Thank you, Joe, for this lesson.
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