The spring weather has been wonderful here this year. We’ve had plenty of sunshine, a little early warm weather and just enough rain to encourage all the trees and shrubs to flower extravagantly. It’s a gift to be able to get outside and enjoy the beauty.
Of course, not all the plants around my house are growing where I want them. Between the weeding, pruning and replanting, there is a lot of work to do to get my garden beds in shape. The renewal of the garden is both rewarding and a chore.
You might be feeling the same about your garden...or possibly about your harp playing.
For many of us harpists, this has been the longest performance hiatus we have ever experienced. Those harpists who were used to performing live several times a week have likely had only several live concerts in the past year, if any at all. While it will feel wonderful to get back to a busier performing schedule, there is definitely some preparation work we need to do.
Even if you’ve been practicing diligently during this time, you know that playing for others, no matter the setting, is very different from practicing or playing for yourself. If you have only done a few public performances in your harp life, you may not recall the special preparation work that went into them. If you’re an experienced performer, you may be accustomed to needing very little extra preparation for a performance. But be prepared to find that this time, you may have to do some harp equivalents of weeding and pruning in order to get back into concert shape.
The most obvious “weeding” any harpist will need to do is to review and prepare his or her repertoire. Pulling out your old stand-bys and polishing them back to performance level is definitely at the top of your re-entry list. A little bit of planning and some creative practice rotation will make the task more manageable.
Next on your list might be your logistics. Is your harp bag stocked, and do you even remember what you used to carry in it? Now is the perfect time to gather your necessary strings, tools, tuning key, stand lights (don’t forget the batteries!) and more so that you’re ready when it’s time to take you and your harp back on the road. Don’t underestimate the value of a checklist for this and a dry run may not be a bad idea either.
So far, so good. But don’t overlook these next two essential “gardening” tasks.
Practice for distraction. When was the last time you played your harp anywhere other than your own room? It’s likely that over the past year your harp has been mostly rooted in place. To rebuild your performing skills, you will want to prepare yourself for the discomfort and distraction of playing in a different environment. Try moving your harp to another room in your house where the light and background are different. If that isn’t possible you can simply turn your harp at a different angle so your view through the strings is less familiar.
To practice keeping your focus through external distractions, try playing while the radio or television is on. Playing for a friend on a video call can also help. You know what causes you - or used to cause you `- to lose focus in a performance. Get creative and see if you can start rebuilding that muscle before you get to the gig.
Practice for stamina. Here is some food for thought: When was the last time you played for other people for an hour or even a half hour straight? If you can remember back that far, you will recall how different playing for others is from practicing. Your energy level is higher and your focus is more concentrated. Practicing can be tiring but performing is fatiguing in an entirely different way. If you want to recover your performing skills, you must start redeveloping your stamina.
Stamina for performing is both physical and mental. It is pacing your energy so that you have enough to play the end of your program well. It is also practicing your focus so that your concentration doesn’t lapse at a critical moment. Preview performances or “test runs” are good for this. You can do them live for a friend or two, or simply record your program , beginning to end.
However you choose to build your stamina, don’t leave it until the day or two before the performance. A month of previews and run-throughs will help reassure you that you are prepared and ready.
Then all that is left is to play and enjoy spreading the harp happiness.