Build Your Repertoire without Having a Breakdown

performing Sep 14, 2015

The scene: A visitor comes to your home and sees your beautiful harp in its special place in your living room. “Play something for me,” she says. You gracefully take your place at the harp and play a piece of music that enchants and delights.

Or does your scenario run this way: When your visitor says, “Play something for me, ” you respond, “Well, I don’t really know anything, that is, it’s not finished yet and you probably wouldn’t like it anyhow…”

It’s a shame not to be able to play something for friends who ask (or for an audience, for that matter), especially if you’ve been playing for some time, but that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is the embarrassment at having to admit it. It’s hard to feel like you’ve accomplished anything if you have nothing you can show for it.

That’s perhaps the most powerful reason to always have ready repertoire, nothing fancy, but music that you can play and feel confident about whenever anyone asks. And it’s not hard to develop a repertoire. It doesn’t take years or hours of extra practice, and it doesn’t have to be scary. All you need to start is three pieces.

The first piece you need in your repertoire should be very easy, short and pretty, a piece you like, perhaps even one of your very first harp pieces. Those are the pieces that tend to take root deep within us and always feel good when we play them. My first repertoire piece was “Purple Bamboo” from Fun from the First, by Sam Milligan. Trust me – nothing is too easy for this selection. Choose a piece that you love and preferably one that you can play without music. Imagine yourself just sitting down and playing. It should be that kind of a piece.

Now that you have something you can play if anyone asks, you need a second piece. I like the second piece to be something familiar. People always love to hear something they know. Once again, though, the piece has to be one that you like yourself, and one that is easy enough that you can play it fairly well without extra practice. Perhaps you have a favorite arrangement of Greensleeves or Amazing Grace or Stairway to Heaven. Your repertoire – your choice.

And the third piece you should use to build your repertoire is something flashy. Remember that “flashy” doesn’t have to mean “difficult.” Even Purple Bamboo has a kind of flashy ending. Sometimes “flashy” is in how you play it. C. P. E. Bach’s Solfeggietto doesn’t sound like much until it’s really fast. A tango could be flashy; Alfredo Ortiz writes lots of flashy harp music that isn’t difficult.

Or instead of flashy, you could think “fun.” Maybe some children’s music – variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star are always fun. My “flashy” piano piece used to be one called “Doggone Boogie,” which was a boogie woogie version of “Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”

So something easy, something familiar, and something flashy or fun. These three pieces will be your starter repertoire set. Then, keep them fresh by playing them once a week. And most of all, remember to enjoy them when you play them. A future harpist may be listening…


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