Album Release

Friday, September 21, 2012

Autumn Lent

No, not pocket lent. Lent Lent. 

Yes yes yes, it’s time... for a period of reflection, deliberation. and musing... I’m hours away from  the first day of my favorite season. I’m not stepping away from chocolate or facebook, but this change in nature pushes me into a giving up of sorts, like a fast for clarity in my world and my little dot of a self in this world. 

Breathe it in! Welcome, Autumn.

My meditative baby-toddler on the beach the other day, her and I breathing in the changing air.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Five Senses of a Second-String Harpist

Sometimes I wish my passion was math or house construction. Take math: it's straight forward and intellectually stimulating. I would work comfortably inside an office and could shut off the computer on Friday to forget about "work" until Monday. Or construction: I would work outside in the morning, have a delicious lunch prepared by my wife at noon, take a 20 minute nap, then work outside in the fresh air until 5PM when I would then forget about "work" until the next morning. It's physically stimulating, and there is complete closure with the finished product. I would spend rainy days in my pajamas. 

But no. Harp is never over. There's no real finished product, and there seems to be thousands of variables that affect a performance. It is, however, intellectually and physically stimulating.

I think about this sometimes on my way to gigs. Just getting the gig and getting to the gig is 90% of the battle. I usually arrive pooped, thirsty, and feeling under-practiced. In my mind I calculate my hourly wage and take into account practice time, travel time, rehearsal time, performance time, the price of the gut string that broke, and the foisted speeding ticket. Why the heck? 

At this point, I see all past gigs flash before my eyes. I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to make music with different people in different places. The most exhilarating and memorable performances are those in which I was the replacement harpist for the really good harpist that was sick or on vacation. I squeaked into their spot because I was the kid in the right place at the right time. It's not math or concrete, but I'm thankful to be me. 

So all of this was on my mind Sunday on my way Monaco. I was hurrying along to play for a Grand Prix post party (playing as the 4th harpist in a group called Harpissimo). I took this picture at the top of Monaco 2 minutes before the start of the race. I had never been to a car race (what do you call them?), so by the time I got to the center of the city, I was in shock by the actual SOUND of the thing. If I hadn't known what it was, it would have scared the living begeebees out of me. I didn't see the cars, only heard them. Wow! Loud. Ghostly. 

I got to thinking: this is the loudest gig I've ever played. One thing led to another, and here are the other top 4 Sensory Memories in the Gig Life of Megan:

L'église de la Madeleine, Paris. 
Replacing the harpist in a small orchestra for the production of the oratorio: "Marie de Magdala" by Michel Garnier.
This cathedral is amazing to be in and to make music in, but the incense. The incense. 

4th of July in Zilker Park, Austin, Texas
Replacing the harpist with the Austin Symphony in their outdoor spectacle. 10,000 people! Fireworks and patriotism.
You could taste the hot. 

Playing with the 60's group "Cowsills" for a show in Los Angeles. 
My only role was to play really loud glissandos for one song... to the point of ginormous blood blisters on various fingers and the subsequent popping of the ginormous blood blisters during the show. I can still feel those glissandos. 

Beverly Hills, but I forget the function. I was playing for the cocktail party and there was a band going on after dinner. After I played, I came across this band in the musician hang-out area. They were so nice!
I found out later they were the Beach Boys. Doah!

Et voila.

I'd like to thank Eloise for this blog post- who took an unprecedented 4 hour nap today! 

View of Monaco from the car minutes before the Grand Prix.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Harp Yoga for New Moms

Ok, everyone! Get out your copy of Ed. Larivière "Exercices et Etudes pour la Harpe" op. 9.

Harp yoga for new moms. That's right. 

I find myself with very very very little time to play the harp these days while managing baby and household. No complaints, although I miss having daily time to indulge in projects and repertoire. Those days are on hold for now and these days I really enjoy playing: etudes! Slowly. As if each movement and note was a meditation. An hour of slow scales and exercises can be as rejuvenating as a nap. 

It's not the sun salutation series, but you've got it all in this book: breathing, awareness, focus, relaxation, strengthening, and stretching. 

The discipline of studying certain exercises, let's call it harp yoga, started for me when I was studying with Delaine Fedson. She graciously suggested that my technique needed work, and she was right. And it's never finished or complete, this thing of technique. Having a solid technique on any instrument means having the agility and strength to achieve the sound and speed you want. Right now (with little Eloïse), I'm not keen to invest emotion into a new piece. I don't have the mental energy to memorize notes, yet I long to touch the harp. And this is where Ed. Larivière is helping me.

Why this book of etudes and exercises? I've spent recent years using it, and it's become like a cozy pair of pajamas. It's not volumes and volumes of exercises- only 30 pages. Unlike the extensive Grossi, Pozzoli, Bochsa or Salzedo methods and studies-- this one is concise and dense. It takes me about 3.5 hours to get through all 79 exercises (1.5 hours on the first 4 alone!).

After spending years training the body to play ergonomically, just opening up an exercise book makes me engage all the muscles in my body in a supple fashion, find my sitz bones, sit up tall like a ballerina, and breathe. I practice unwinding the muscles in my jaw. I pay attention to the upper back. I make sure there's a lot of finger flesh on the strings and that the fingers close directly into the palm, immediately releasing tension upon plucking. 

Like yoga, this isn't just another exercise program. It's a practical and methodical application of awareness and self study. The goal is consistent, hearty, and buzz-free sound. Unless I'm thinking about each motion and note, I'm wasting my time. I love it! Because even if there's only 15 minutes to spare at the harp, you can go there, to this place of sound and motion, then come back and get on with diaper changing. 

But hold the phone: who made this stuff up? Alphonse Hasselmans of course! The French granddaddy of the pedal harp (1845-1912) and one of the most significant harp teachers of all time. Apparently, it was a student at the Paris Conservatory, Raphaël Martenot, who dictated these gems. Martenot added a little note explaining a few of the exercises in the beginning of the book. I'm not sure of when they were put on paper. The publisher Alphonse Leduc first printed this collection in 1946, more than 30 years after Hasselman's death. 

Just to point out a few super fun (and significant) exercises, take number 13 for example: 3 octave scales in both hands. This one is important because it allows me to push for equal sound on every note, even though every string is a different gauge and even though it spans three different types of strings (metal, gut, nylon).

Whenever there is a slur in this book, it's there for a good reason. It's a guide for phrasing and breathing (page 9 and 10, for example).

Speaking of page 10, I like this set of scales because it sounds like different sets of voices in a choir. The trick is to listen to two voices at the same time. It's like needing two sets of ears. Fun. No really. It's fun!

If I've got just a few minutes to spare, it's nice to dive into the mini-exercises  (Number 4, marked "Theme and Variantes"). These are basically arpeggiated chords in different patterns: sets of 4 notes at a time in one hand in a certain order, with the same set of notes in the other hand but not particularly in the same order or direction! 

There are a few that just feel good in the hands:
- the second to the last measure on page 5
- page 6 line 3 measure 2 & 5
- page 7 line 1 measure 4

If I want to stretch my mind a bit and even go cross eyed for a second (and if I'm going hard-core, I do it decaffeinated):
- page 6 line 4 measure 4
- page 6 line 5 measure 5
- page 6 line 6 measure 3
- page 7 line 2 measure 2

And before I become overly long-winded, let's look at the 3 "etudes" in the book. These are occasions to put into practice the previous exercises. It may sound bland, but these etudes are sooooo lovely and sweet. Its the best use of peas and carrots that I've ever heard. My favorite: the third. Allegro con fuoco in f minor. A little sad and particularly challenging. Mmmm. And so rewarding. 


Saturday, March 3, 2012

What should I do?

Eloïse, my 5 month old sweetie pie. 

After a year-long hiatus from this blog, I'm really happy to be typing away again.

What a difference a year makes! Long story short: I am a mom! Eloïse... my 5 month old sweetie pie. She is pure joy, and I'm so very thankful for her. One thing is for sure: something very deep inside me has changed. And of the thousand pieces of advice I've been given over the past year, there is a common thread among them all: take advantage of the time that passes so quickly. Seems valid. So I've spent the past 5 months (and even some months before that) concentrating on baby/mom bonding. I've got first-time-mom syndrome, as my friend put it, and seem to always be holding her or focusing my attention on her. I especially enjoy staring at her and smelling her.  I don't believe it's possible to spoil a baby, but I'm sure as hell trying.

So... coming back to Earth slowly after being happily absorbed in baby bubble. We are still together nearly 24 hours a day, but I'm feeling more settled and definitely more rested these days. I know already that Eloïse is going to help me slow down and single task, which has not previously been very Megan-like. In a way, I feel like I'm re-living my life.

The title of this blog is: What should I do?... Remarking on friends, family and people in general and thinking on my new life as a mom has gotten me asking this question. What are we supposed to do with our lives? What's my purpose in the world? What can I do to be happy? How am I supposed to use my talents? How is a right brained person supposed to earn a living?

When I was 17 and in embarking on college education and decisions of what to do after graduating high school, I remember my friends and I feeling huge pressure to decide what track to jump in to:  business? arts? science? What in the world am I supposed to do "for the rest of my life"?  15 years later, it's obvious that whatever we decide to do will change. Life happens. Time and chance happens. Relationships change. Bodies change.

And this is the beauty of it. Things change.

Speaking of change, and speaking from a musician's standpoint, it's not easy to pick up, leave, and start working again from scratch. It takes time and connections to get up and running in a new neighborhood, and I felt the reality of this when I moved back to France. There were two great harp teaching positions that I applied for right after I moved; I didn't get either one. I couldn't convince them that I was the PERFECT person for their school. Frustrating. I'm not too good at not working.

An idea for a new project was conceived about the same time as Eloïse: I'll start a music school in Cabris. We needed one. We needed people walking around the village with their violin case. We needed little concerts. We needed people playing music and having music education readily available to them. In my opinion. :-D

And voila: the Académie de Musique Internationale. It kind of came together as if I wasn't the one heading it up; it just happened. My family in law owns a portion of a farm house (mas) just behind where I live. It was empty and in need of a fix-up. The people that lived there before had cleaned out all of their possessions. Everything, get this, but a piano. And a guitar pick. It was a sign.

I'm not sure of the details, but the building is at least 200 years old and started out as a tool factory. I love this because a music school is just that: a tool factory. A place to make tools (skills, perspectives, ideas, experience) that you can use outside of the tool factory.

I'll be honest. The place still needs fixing up. It's looking better and better, though, and each week about 60 music students come through there to create music. Piano, guitar, flute, voice, violin, drums, and harp of course. Who would have thought?

Someone once gave the advice: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might." "Eat, drink, and enjoy your short and meaningless life."

Another wise person said:  "Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love."

And another: "What does God require of you? To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Love, walk in humility, enjoy what we have and who we have, and work hard. That's what I should do. What we should do. It comes out differently in all of us, and comes out differently in different days and years, but I really believe it's that simple.

Love, walk in humility, enjoy what we have and who we have, and work hard.