Playing the harp in an orchestra – for dummies

If you’re playing the violin, there’s a big chance that you’ll be playing in some kind of orchestra within a few years after starting. There are many student orchestras that help you get acquainted to the whole ‘playing different parts together’ thing.

Not so much for the harpists. Most orchestral music requires a pedal harp, and most amateur harpists don’t have one until later in life. If you’re really talented, you also get to play with student orchestras at a young age so you learn with all the others – but you might also end up in my situation: playing with an orchestra of adult semi-professional amateurs and never having done it before.

Playing with an orchestra is an absolutely amazing experience, as you get to be part of something bigger and sometimes you can really transcend the music, all being in the moment together. But it can also be really daunting. I’ve now done several collaborations and as there isn’t a lot of specific information on how to prepare and how to tackle such a project, I’d like to provide some tips. I just took the plunge even though I was very scared I’d mess up – I hope I can help out others who are a bit hesitant about their first orchestra role!

Read the rest of this entry »


So you want to buy a pedal harp

You’re not a 6-year old prodigy, you’re an adult buying your first pedal harp from your hard-earned generously gifted money. You love your harp teacher and will certainly bring them along but in the end, you would like to make your own decision. There is surprisingly little information about how to buy a pedal harp. So here are my tips! (Evidence class E or so, non-expert opinion based on N=1 and I happened to be the test subject. So do take this with a grain of salt 🙂 ).

The goods

It helps a lot to know what’s out there. There is an entire range of pedal harps, from the concert-hall grade concert grands to harps geared toward students/ and others on a budget. Of course I dreamed of a L&H Style 23, but that would have required taking out a mortgage so that wasn’t an option. There are plenty of harps for people who can’t afford the Ultra Top Of The Line Models but would still like a good instrument that could possible be of use in an orchestra / public recitals. Actually, apparently there are heaps of people, even professionals, playing their straight-backed Daphne in orchestras. Or so my harp teacher told me.

So, for me, the options were the Salvi Daphne series, the Salvi Arion, the Camac Clio and the Lyon and Healy Chicago. ‘Stretch goals’ included the Salvi Aurora and the Lyon and Healy style 30. I know that Pilgrim offers very affordable pedal harps but I’ve never liked their sound  so I haven’t tried them. You can visit the websites of various harp makers to see what they are currently offering. (I didn’t mention Aoyama and Venus and there are probably many more harp builders).

Let’s not forget the option of buying second hand! This may allow you to acquire a harp from a higher price segment, but the downside could be that the harp is nearing the end of its life cycle. Harps that were intensively used by a music school or an orchestra may sound like a nice deal but can end up costing lots of money in repairs and regulation. Eventually, I decided not to go down this road because I have been playing a clunky old harp for years – I allowed myself the ‘present’ of not having to worry about things falling apart or soundboards imploding.

Harps being sold by professionals or students upgrading to a newer / other model remain a good option – usually these harps are very well cared for and in a good condition, but then you need to be lucky that someone is selling their harp at exactly the moment you are looking for a new one. I can imagine that this option (waiting and seeing until you find a nice ‘deal’) is a good option for younger students or if you are very happy with your current harp. Check the listings of local harp societies and craigslist-type websites to see what’s available. In the Netherlands, there is and and marktplaats of course. There are a lot of nice used pedal harps on marktplaats!


The integral part of harp shopping is that you’ll need to try various harps and listen/feel to what happens when you play it. So it really helps to be prepared to play a lot of harps! I wish I’d practiced more before I went – now I blacked out in the middle of the Handel concerto. I did bring some sheet music, though, that saved my a** in the end. Definitely don’t be afraid to play other genres on it for testing if that’s what works for you!. In the end, I mainly used the Montfort Bourree for sound testing because I knew exactly how it was supposed to sound like.

Another consideration is that it helps to know how to move pedals. I couldn’t play anything with pedals when I went pedal harp shopping, but I at least knew how to put them in various keys. I didn’t practice for this but I’ve played on a pedal harp during my lessons so that really helped.

The Harp Shopping Itself

If you’re shopping for a new harp, or just interested in trying lots of hatps, visiting a harp store is the next step! Try to find out whether you need to make an appointment beforehand – though judging the response when you show up unannounced can also give you an indication whether you would like to spend a year’s salary on this shop/these people. Sometimes there will be harp exhibits – then a harp builder ships lots of harps to the shop and will display them there for a week or so  – don’t expect loads of harps and loads of types to be in stock if there’s not an exhibition.

Be sure to try various brands – be sure that you tried at least 1 Camac, 1 Salvi and 1 Lyon and Healy harp. You will hear the differences even when not really musically trained (like me), even your ‘layman’ partner will hear it. Stick with the brand you like and don’t let yourself be led astray by the ‘image’ or ‘branding’ of a certain brand. Actually, I thought I’d prefer Camac because I had heard that Salvi harps were really tight and heavy to play.

List of things to check

When not playing 

How does it feel on your shoulder? Heavy? Light? Can you find the balance point?

Can you reach all the strings without having to contort yourself / bumping into the soundboard?

How are the pedals? Easy to move? Hard to move? This heavily depends on your pedal harp skill so I didn’t judge my harp by this criterion. Now I’m still happy with my choice, I think my harp pedals lightly but not too light.

When playing

Try the different registers. Apparently, the sound will change and ‘mature’ when you play the harp more, but of course you have to like what you hear. The lower register will usually mellow a bit more and the higher registers will display less change – apparently (this is all what people said to me while I was trying the harps, so I can’t judge the evidence-based ness 🙂 ). Also, check if they strung the highest registers with nylon because then the highest registers can sound a bit off – restringing with gut as soon as you’ve bought it is the best option then.

Feel how each register plays. Is it tight? Or not at all?

Try the harp in various pedal settings, is the sound still nice and resonant with all the pedals engaged?

How to ‘try’ the harp? Well, play some scales, some chords, try playing pieces in the different registers. Here’s where that preparation comes in. Definitely don’t forget to check your posture.  If you’re not very tall, you might see that the large concert harps aren’t really feasible. Personally, I chose for the most ergonomic nice sounding harp. Why make learning more difficult?

For me it was really hard to judge all these things when playing on just one harp – it helped to switch back and forth and directly compare things.

When listening to someone else

Have someone else play your harp! Bach on your harp? Jazz? Some classical sonata? While I was pretty advanced lever harp wise, I didn’t really know any pieces which utilize pedals or pieces in other tonalities than on the lever harp. It was great to have my two top choices played by a professional who could really make it sing!

Listen how it projects and do you like what you hear? There are probably more technical things to listen for, but I listened mostly ‘with my gut’ (emotion).


Making a decision

This was of course the hardest part, spending so much money and hoping that this will be THE instrument, the one you’ll probably be playing for life. You’ll know when its the one. It’s just like shopping for a wedding dress! It’s mostly emotion.

Don’t be afraid to call it a day and come back later, yet you’ll probably not get a note from heaven telling you that this is going to be the harp. Just like picking what you’re going to study in uni, you probably can’t be a 100% sure.

Trust me, all doubts will be gone when your pedal harp is finally delivered at your home and you have this huge instrument sitting in your living room… 🙂

Fundamentals of harp playing

When I go to a folk dance event, I always get excited by workshops promising to cover ‘fundamentals of dancing’ or ‘dance technique’. Such workshops won’t teach fancy moves but you get to explore the instructor’s view on quality of movement and connecting with your leader/follower. Even just two hours of working on posture, breathing and walking around can make the evening’s social dance a completely different experience when compared with how I danced before. Every teacher emphasizes something different and sometimes things I’ve struggled with for a long time just fall into place.

The workshop ‘extend your technique’ by Tristan Le Govic during the 2015 the Harp Friends Meeting sounded like just that, but then for the harp. I’ve taken workshops from him before and it was always a great experience – he really gets to the core of harp playing.

I’d like to share some insights Tristan provided during the workshop, as workshops like these seem to be quite rare in harpland, the workshops where you mostly listen and maybe try a few moves (notes).

 You can’t extend on something that’s unstable, so you need a solid foundation of technique. But how do you progress from playing scales quickly to creating music? You need full control over your fingers. Can you make all the notes in a scale sound exactly the same? What happens when you play a scale with just one finger? Does it sound like this due to chance or did you intend it to sound like this?

(Tristan le Govic, paraphrased from my notes)

When I once met Remy van Kesteren after a concert I asked him, how do you progress from simple pieces to the real repertoire, what do you need technique-wise to become more advanced? Unfortunately, he was stung by a wasp just after I asked him, so I never got his answer. The questions that Tristan raises, however, provided the answer I was looking for. Extending your technique begins with trying to gain control, to be aware of the sound you are producing and being aware of how you can manipulate it. Of course, when speaking about sound, you need a framework to describe sounds in so we can understand each other when describing sounds.

There are various dimensions to a sound, various textures. On one axis, we have volume, from pp to ff. On another axis there is depth – is it a very tinny, frail sound, or is it a full, warm bass? From which direction does it come? And there is time – is it a long, lingering note? Does it stop immediately? Is its texture filled with a subsequent note?

(Tristan le Govic, paraphrased from my notes)

He showed this by demonstrating how to do the bass line of a plinn he wrote. He didn’t just randomly decide to play the string this high, he was looking for a specific sound and found out how to produce it. You can hear how the sound of the bass evolves when he plays the string lower and lower. For me, this way of reflecting on the sound I produce was quite new. My harp teachers tend to describe it in terms of emotions (angry? sad?) but I always have trouble understanding – what does she mean? Volume? Tempo? Now, a few months later, I have less trouble with creating the sound or flow in a piece, Tristan seems to have opened an entire new dimension in my playing.

Technique is also about how to economize energy, to reduce unnecessary or even harmful movements. Let’s start with posture. How can your shoulders be unlocked and relaxed if you are slouching?  What if you wanted to cut bread while sitting like this (mimes cutting a bread while slouching on a chair)?

Where does your movement start? How do you generate sound at the harp?

When walking, we sink into the ground a little before stepping. Thus, ‘motion’ requires a fixed point – and this fixed point is the hara, the center.

(Tristan le Govic, paraphrased from my notes)

This really is where dancing meets playing the harp. I’ve been taking argentine tango lessons for a while now and we spent a lot of lessons just walking, to figure out where the movement starts. Real argentine tango isn’t the showy over-the-top dance you sometimes see on TV, it is an improvisational dance with no fixed steps and a huge emphasis on connection. Connection doesn’t work if the leader or the follower don’t have a frame, a kind of dynamic tension/relaxation in their bodies. ‘Too much’ frame causes tension and muscle aches, ‘not enough frame’ causes a kind of floppy wobbly dance. Connection also means that you have to be aware of your body’s axis and torsion – the leader doesn’t drag their follower across the floor but invites the follower to a movement – if the follower responds, the movement flows through their body and a shared movement (a step, a turn) happens. When done correctly, it feels as though you are moving like one person, you can both have input on what happens and it’s all one big exploration of the music and movement (here’s a little movie, it’s hard to find good ones!).

So of course, why not apply this to the harp? Where does my movement start from when I play? It is easy to forget when I’m completely into something very technical, but it doesn’t really help the sound if I’m all tensed up. And why shouldn’t I bring the nice, relaxed feeling of having an open chest and relaxed shoulders to the harp?

This part is much harder to apply, I think I have still a lot to learn in the field of body control and awareness. Being relaxed when doing microscopic finger movements is somehow more difficult than being relaxed while doing weird cross stepps… I’ve looked into Alexander technique lessons, but these teachers are really rare, unfortunately, especially AT-teachers who play the harp.

Breathing is key. A performance involves both breathing and gestures.

(Tristan le Govic, paraphrased from my notes)

We did not spend much time on this but I would love to explore this further. I notice that I sometimes stop breathing when practising a difficult passage. How do I gain control?

During the workshop it became obvious that some of the other attendees had hoped for the fancy moves and techniques, while Tristan covered more abstract topics. So I tried to share one of my experiences with how important and helpful controlling your breathing can be.

As a doctor, I’ve done venipuncture and intravenous line placements countless times, but I have been blessed with tremor when I’m nervous, or when I’ve had coffee or when it’s time for lunch or sometimes just because I’m me. For a patient, it’s very disconcerting to see their doctor’s hand shaking (it’s a real macroscopic tremor). I’ve found that it helps me to sit up straight, relax and take a few deep breaths from my center and then do the ‘stick’ on the exhalation. It steadies my hand and calms the nerves that arise when I see the tremor (trying to focus on ‘not shaking’ usually doesn’t help). So ‘breathing control’ isn’t something just for health nuts who like yoga, it’s something very fundamental in how to control your body and movement.

I think the harp world was really lacking these ‘fundamentals’ type of workshops – if there’s one thing that can change your playing it is working on fundamentals that you don’t need a harp for to practice. I really hope that Tristan will continue sharing ‘the message’ and maybe, in the future, workshops where we don’t touch a harp but spend lots of time walking, breathing – and perhaps even dancing – will be the workshops we’re looking forward to.

Harp checkpoint

Recently A few months ago I was inspired to start writing again, so I finished some draft posts and scheduled them to appear on the blog. I didn’t even know that I missed blogging until I started again. I’ve accumulated a lot of stories and experiences, it felt so good to get it ‘out of my head’. It actually feels a bit like I’m making space for the new experiences in my new job (clinical research).  I am fortunate in that I still have loads of patient encounters, and the fact that I’m not their doctor enables me to take a step back, to observe, to reflect. The hard thing is to keep it all in until I’ve gathered enough to create a story that takes elements from experiences with several patients.

So the next few blogposts will be mostly about playing the harp! A lot has happened, it’s been about 1,5 year since I last posted about harp-related stuff. And even more happened during the time I took to finish this post (I think I started writing this in March or so).

First of all, aside from finishing the last internships and graduating, I also moved to the other side of the country. That meant finding a new harp teacher. Distance-wise it’s somewhat closer to where my first harp teacher lived, but it would still be quite a journey to get there, and after an entire day in the hospital and commuting, I wasn’t really looking forward to another long commute to harp lessons. Another advantage of looking for a new teacher would be a fresh look on my playing and technique, I’ve known the other teacher for 15 years or so, so we probably had some blind spots.

Through the folk harp workshops I met my new teacher. She was also classically trained, but she is into modern folk harp as well. So that means that my lessons are now a very pleasant mix of classical music AND folk harp things that I’ve always wanted to learn.

I’ve started working on ostinato-like accompaniments in the left hand. For me, it’s quite easy to improvise over an ostinato, but playing a ‘song’ while doing it is an entirely different story. Here is a jig with the ostinato-thing, and of course, I couldn’t resist trying a set with another jig. But you can hear that I’m obviously not there yet due to the change in tempo… 🙂 You can also hear that I sometimes tend to rush. I’m really working on it to ‘keep calm’, to keep my enthusiasm in check, but that isn’t really easy. (the jigs refused to be added as a seperate song).

To add to this, she gave me an etude by Maeve Gilchrist which is a very good brain twister. The ostinato and the melody stay the same but it moves by one count every round. I can now sort of play through it without getting completely stuck, but I’m trying to be able to count out loud and play everything exactly on the right moment, sometimes I’m a little late/early. I really love these kinds of etudes.

On the classical spectrum of things, I’m now learning a part of the sonatina in G major by Dussek. I’ve always found this kind of music very hard to play. On paper, it’s not too difficult (no new techniques), but it’s so hard to make these endless sequences of ‘on the beat’ notes become a musical story instead of a flat barrage of sound. To start, is very important to be spot on with every note, so you can focus on the dynamics part instead of the fingers. And then a seemingly rather simple pieces turns out to be more difficult than expected, I definitely couldn’t play it on speed, my fingers would stumble over several passages. So I tried to fix that to bring some more ‘life’ in it, and I think it’s getting there, though a long way from perfect.

Maybe you heard a difference in the harp? I’ve rented a Lyon and Healy Troubadour from my first harp teacher and I’ve completely fallen in love with it. This harp is a lot more ergonomic than my own harp, now I can finally sit straight and try to be in my core while playing.

I’ve also started learning Clair de Lune by Debussy. I don’t have a recording of that yet, becase I’m still in the training-my-fingers to do what I want stage. There are a lot of big chords and after a year of only playing melodies with one voice I need to reacquaint myself with translating these chords to what to do with my fingers. So now I am able to sort of survive the first two pages + 6 measures. But it’s so nice to really ‘struggle’ with a piece, to need to take it very slowly and after some practice, these mysterious notes finally begin to sound a little like music… And I really love Debussy, I didn’t know that he used such nice harmonies in his music – and that it’s possible on a lever harp. It’s completely different from other music I’ve played on the lever harp. The disadvantage of learning this piece is that it takes some time to get ‘into the zone’ of really working on something intensely. I don’t always have the energy for that, so then I only play the easier pieces – and of course, that delays the learning process of Clair de Lune…

The most important concert

I never had the joy of having a ‘typical’ grandparent until I became a part of my husband’s family. Both my mother’s parents died early, she was only 24 and my older siblings barely remember her. My father’s mother went through a lot in her life and combined with her frail health condition, she wasn’t able to act like a stereotypical grandmother* .
However, my in-law grandmother really plays the part, in the sense that they stuff you with food, ask questions about every aspect of your life and offer lots of unasked for but valuable advice. She is the kind of person who really grows onto you and it’s never a pain to visit her because you know that that afternoon will be memorable.
My grandfather was a musician and a theologician, until he had several strokes that left him almost unable to communicate or play his instrument. I never knew the kind of person he was before the strokes, but even now his very strong and loving personality remains. He hated the home he lived in, they put on the TV all day and had them listen to Dutch popular music, while my grandfather had always loved classical music. We’d given him an ipod with classical music but he was dependent on the nurses to turn it on for him, so he rarely got to listen to his preferred music genre.
So of course, I really wanted to play the harp for him, but I didn’t want to just play some celtic tunes on my bardic but I wanted to play the Handel concerto. That is the most classical piece I know and I felt that only that would be worthy enough for such a first-class musician as he had been. On a 27-string harp the Handel is quite a challenge. I’ve tried it for fun but there are some spots where you can’t change the octave and it just doesn’t sound right. Bringing my 34-string harp wasn’t an option because we don’t have a car, so I resigned to the fact that it would be quite some time before I could let my grandfather hear what the harp sounds like.
A few weeks ago, we were planning to visit my grandparents in their new home, but I also had to take my bardic harp along for a band practice session in another city later that day. I hadn’t planned on ‘giving a performance’ but of course I couldn’t let that thing sit in its case…
All the things they say about playing for people are true. It isn’t about playing the correct notes, it isn’t about complex music, but it is about touching people, telling a story and forging a connection. I first played some celtic tunes to warm up, then I made a go for the 27-string version of the Handel. While it was certainly interesting, it didn’t really go as intended. Sometimes I had to stop and go back, sometimes I sort of hesitated. I hoped he’d show recognition the piece of music or maybe show that he liked it. No response, even though he was sitting a few feet across.
So I started improvising a bit over the idea of the Baroque flamenco, the menuet part, then some flamenco-inspired thing – and I don’t know what happened but I noticed that my grandfather had noticed the music and was listening very intently. I was suddenly very aware of his breathing and his awareness. I continued to play, most of this piece works rather well on a 27-stringed harp – and I could still feel the tension, his attention.
The baroque flamenco has a cadenza, where you really build up suspense by tapping on the harp sound board – and then you play a few notes in the high register, still keeping the tension –
Anyway, it worked. I finished the piece and I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew I had accomplished my goal, connecting through music. While it was very profound and moving for me, it wasn’t like there was a huge silence, the moment lasted maybe a few minutes.
This is what making music is all about, and apparently, you can’t force it, it just happens when you least expect it. Sometimes I am really intimidated by all the fabulous professional harpists with their superior tone control, they really can tell a story with their music – but some aspects of this are also available to amateurs, as I discovered that day. Actually, in hindsight, I think that this experience really has a lot in common with what I experience with a patient a while ago! I never felt like I was a very spiritual person, but the spirituality seems to find me

* Regarding my paternal grandmother: I’ll cover this in a blogpost in a while, I discovered that she indeed deeply cared about her grandkids, even though she did not always show it to us in an obvious way.

Dance technique & harp playing

This is a post I wrote after the Harp Friends Meeting Leerdam (May 2013). Lately, Tristan Le Govic is posting very interesting posts about the ergonomic / postural aspects of harp playing, and I thought it would be nice provide a learner’s point of view. 

As a dancer, It’s quite common to re take a level of dancing lessons or take lessons in a lower level than you actually have. There is no dishonor in this – you’re just showing that you’d like to go back to the basics and work on the foundations of your dancing. And as every teacher has something unique to offer, you might discover things about dancing that you’d never known before in a class for absolute beginners.

I’ve talked about this before, but I seem to have a weird sense of pride where it concerns harp playing, I never even thought about going to a beginners workshop, because, well I’m by no means advanced but I do know about basic placing, playing hands together etc? No need to waste time relearning stuff I already knew, right?

Then the Irish dancing workshop was cancelled. I was offered a place in a beginners workshop in Breton music by a teacher I love – Tristan Le Govic.

I first met him and his teaching style in Waregem. Just like there are few dance teachers who can really convey the essence of dance in a workshop, Tristan is one of the rare teachers who really grasps wat harp playing is about and can convey it perfectly. Listening to him and doing a workshop with him is like one giant aha erlebnis. So I knew, Tristan is doing this class and he is good so it will probably be a good review of basics and I might learn more about the Breton style – where that is concerned, I really am a beginner.

In the workshop, we learned an Andro tune. That’s a dance that is commonly played in the Dutch balfolk scene, so I’ve had a lot of lessons by various teachers on it. At first sight, the Andro is a very simple, repetitive group dance. However, you sort of need to relax and tense at the right moments to make it a dance. Actually, it’s a little bit like taiji quan, it’s a very decisive but relaxed movement. So it’s easy to learn but it’s hard to master, to make it a dance, being connected with each other as a group instead of going through the motions on the rhythm of the music.

Tristan also dances Breton dances, so of course, he taught us how to dance it. Perhaps it’s because he is from Britanny,  but Tristan indeed dances the Andro very well. And then there was a revelation. He applied the principles of the Andro to the harp.

You need the same kind of relaxed shoulders; even though it’s a movement done with the arms, you shouldn’t tense up. Same goes for the harp, you can’t play comfortably with your shoulders all tense. I had never thought to apply the whole body work of dancing to the harp, but it turns out that harp playing is also related to moving from your center /hara.

When dancing, you really notice that center- derived motion is not esoteric or abstract. If a leader doesn’t move from his center / lacks proper frame, you as a follower don’t understand what’s going on. That’s why some men get really good at leading in a short time – they naturally have either a frame or the necessary body awareness to create a frame. Everyone else is left struggling until they suddenly get it. That’s because a huge part of having a frame and properly transmitting movements of your center is to have proper posture – straight back, relaxed shoulders but a certain tension in the arms… And it’s not like our society really helps us to achieve a good posture. So generally, we don’t know about good posture – me neither. But Tristan showed how much this is needed to avoid uneccesary strain while playing.

I know that Alexander technique is often done by musicians but I never thought about the possible benefits for me, an amateur harp playing. But essentially, harp playing is about movement and all movements come from the center, just like dancing or pencak silat!

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.