Triplets & CT: a story of love and hate…

It’s been a while! I’ve accumulated several posts with that very same opening sentence – I’ve started several drafts, then decided I didn’t really know where I wanted to go with the post and eventually, I sort of let them be. I’d like to write meaningful things about my journey in medicine, but I can’t share the most interesting stories because they’re much too recognizable. I think it just takes time – when I’ve seen more patients, I can merge stories and change details more efficiently. Also, every post about medicine eventually ends up with me contemplating depressing things like death and suffering and is it all worth it and if there’s a God (which I sort of think there is), why would he allow so many innocent people to suffer — there are a lot of questions that I’m trying to find anwers to, while also trying to learn something about medicine. So I think I will let these stories stew and brew for a little longer – but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about the harp, does it? :).

During internships, the harp is really my escape, my way to focus on something entirely different than patients and medicine and trying to cram all kinds of facts into my head. I can’t always work up the energy to actually practise – doing more than playing through a few pieces – but when I manage to, I can really get into a flow.

As this year is the last internship year that is slightly compatible with having ‘a life’, I’ve started taking folk harp lessons with Cheyenne Brown. There are a lot of teachers around here that can teach you to play classical music, but there are few who really know what folk is – the rythms, the ornaments – the art of making a rather simple melody sound like it’s a virtuosic piece – which is related to the art of touching people’s hearts by just playing a  ridiculously simple arrangement. It really takes skill and musicianship to make such melodies come alive.

Any classical performed will agree that you can’t properly play a piece if you’re just playing the notes. Unfortunately, due to a lack of good folk teachers (and lack of exposure to folk performers), in the Netherlands, a lot of people ‘just play the notes’, reducing folk music to something that’s only suited for beginners. I even fell into the trap of thinking that folk music was ‘too easy’! Fortunately, I was cured of that mindset by Youtube movies and harpist-friends who were really into folk!

So, I started doing workshops – some specifially geared towards the harp, others more focused on ensemble playing (arranging tunes for a group etc) – but I noticed there were certain things I just couldn’t do. Like triplets. I’ve gotten loads of advice, even a few informal private lessons with a folk harpist, but I was never really able to do them.

I still can’t do them. I love them, but I hate them as well. I’ve overcome most hurdles – there was a time that I just couldn’t do four-fingered chords, a time when I couldn’t understand how to do syncopatic chords – but eventually it clicked and I was able to do it. However, I still can’t do triplets properly, they become strange muffled ‘things’.  Having regular lessons with a folk teacher is a really good incentive to practise them daily – but it’s VERY frustrating that I don’t seem to make any progress. I can sort of ‘fake it’ by playing the tune at full speed, but in my fingers, I feel it’s still not quite right.

It’s entirely different from trying to learn the Händel concerto. There it’s just guiding my fingers into the right shapes, memorizing the patterns and then building up speed (which also takes LONG but at least, there’s progress if you work on it diligently). The quality of my triplets seems to worsen when I try to analyze what I’m doing and what’s not going right. So then I stop trying to analyze it and I force myself to just practise it and hope it gets better…

Perhaps it’s a little bit similar to what I’m going through with learning medicine. There are some things that you just can’t understand, you only need to trust that it will be alright in the end, that the hard work will finally pay off…

Here’s a little recording – the harp wasn’t totally in tune and the tempos are a little bit off, but I wanted to share what pieces I’m practising for the folk lessons.

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4 Comments on “Triplets & CT: a story of love and hate…”

  1. Eliza says:

    I don’t see any recording! 😦 I’ve never played folk music on the harp, maybe I’ll look it up on Youtube! (I’m a classical geek) …

  2. Glad to see you posting again. And your reel was pretty darn impressive! Getting to study with Cheyenne Brown – what a treat! You are getting that tempo pushed right up there! (I think I have to focus on slow airs and laments, myself. I am convinced that I do not have any fast-twitch muscle fibers.) I can’t do triplets/trebles (what Irish teachers called them) either, but I couldn’t do cuts or any other ornament until I worked on them insanely long. And one day they started happening without thinking about it. I think it takes actually growing new neural connections in the brain before these ornaments start working, and growing new neural structures just takes time. So many people think that there is not any real skill involved in playing traditional/folk music. I’d like to see any purely classical harpist try playing any of the Scottish or Irish or Breton or Welsh harp repertoire and then ask them what they think about the skill and training needed to do it. I am fortunate that my teacher studies, plays and respects both traditions.

  3. CT says:

    Wow, thank you for your kinds words! Your comment really made my day :D.
    And I totally forgot to explain how it came to be that Cheyenne Brown is teaching in the Netherlands! There’s a really awesome harp shop owner who also played the harp (now she’s too busy) and she likes to have workshops in her shop. So she regularly hosts workshops and sometimes she invites harpists from abroad (like Erik Ask-Upmark). In August, she opened a new shop and she invited Cheyenne Brown to give workshops and also a few private lessons. And then she had the idea to ask Cheyenne to come teach every month – if she only could get enough people to join in, we’d be able to cover the expenses. And Cheyenne agreed and enough people signed up!!! I’m now working toward grade 3 of the Scottish harp exams (quite humbling, actually :P) and we’ll also cover things like interesting left hand patterns etc.
    I love your hypothesis about neuronal growth! It’s interesting to see all these hypotheses proven true with regard to harp playing – there’s also that hypothesis that says that your subconscious continues ‘working’ at something you’re trying to learn after you stopped practicing it for a while, right? I really notice that it sometimes helps a lot to just leave something I can’t do for a while and then return to it later – like certain Händel passages. THE BIG EXCEPTION: triplets 😛 But now we know why it takes so long for them to work, apparently my neurons are taking their time growing/connecting :P. Or it’s too difficult for my subconscious or something like that :P.
    Airs are really cool as well? 🙂 There is so much emotion, so many stories contained in these melodies… And it takes a lot of skill and musical talent to play them well. It’s tempting to play reels/dances really fast and without much emotion but they still sound sort of OK (I got the feedback that I could use more dynamics in the reels :P) but an air is really ruined when you play it too fast and without regard to dynamics. So for me there’s quite some work to be done in that area… 😛 It’s interesting to see how the major points of improvement for me come full circle, folk & classical are closer than I initially thought.
    And I definitely agree, there’s a lot of skill involved in both! I know someone whose classically/conservatory trained teacher got really frustrated trying to learn triplets – she herself was almost a beginner but she could do them flawlessly (folk guitar experience), while her teacher eventually gave up… 😛 .


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