by Ellie Choate
Well, I've reached new heights in avoidance behavior. I was called to do a new opera at the end of the month, and the day the harp part arrived in the mail I realized anew the profound responsibility and ramifications of saying that little word "yes". After scanning the sixty-four pages of complex rhythms, atonality, and changing meters every bar, I thought maybe I'd feel more encouraged if I listened to the recording. No fewer than eleven record stores later (thanks be for the telephone), double CD album in my possession at last, I settled down with the score and pressed "Play".
Let's just say that before I knew it, I had vacuumed the house and cleaned the bathroom. My friends know what a dramatic statement that really is. And believe it or not, I was actually considering washing the kitchen floor when I realized I wasn't trying to get the house in order -- I didn't want to practice.
Earlier today, I had a friend visit for their lesson and life-chat. I don't solve world problems in my harp room, I just try to clear out some underbrush so there's a clear path to play the harp. Some people have more to clear than others, but we all have those inner obstacles that make us think our goals are unreasonable or unreachable, or well, just indefinable.
Anyway, said friend asked me how she could encourage a harpist she knows to spend time at the harp. What to say to someone whose life as become a cascade of difficult issues that immobilize her? In hearing of the range and complexity and painfulness of this woman's life, all I could think was that if she could just play her harp for five or ten minutes a day, she'd just have to feel better. Maybe by creating and listening to some beautiful sounds, she could get on the road to making a positive change.
Now, I know I'm biased. I think everyone should play the harp or listen to harp music because it has such an unutterably positive effect on people's insides. I see it everyday, starting with myself, my students, and extending to all the variety of people I play for under various circumstances.
I'd be willing to bet that if someone offered that lady a week's supply of vitamins for free and said, "Take these -- you'll feel better", that she'd do it. She'd try it for a week. And she already has her harp, so in a sense it's "free". Now if she could just "take" five or ten minutes of harp each day for a week. . .
My daughter is 5 1/2 years old and just keeps me rolling on a daily basis. One of her things lately is, as she says, "Don't try, just do it." Carlos Salzedo said, "The only way to do a thing is to do it." An ancient proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single footstep.
How do you feel? Remember what it was like the first time you laid your fingers on a real live harp? Maybe you had a couple of years of piano experience and you picked out a tune. Or maybe you had never played an instrument in your life and you just marveled at the beauty and simplicity of the tones plucked at random by your own hands. Do you remember what it was like- making your own music before you ever heard of a "proper" hand position or fingering, or, or, or . . .
Sometimes you just have to forget about all your reasons why not and just do it, do something, do anything. Do those 5 minutes, whether that means plinking around and just enjoying the way the harp is, or studying a scale or a lovely passage of a piece . . .
Something wonderful can happen in five or ten minutes, something that can take the edge off of all that other junk that might be obstructing your forward motion. And maybe before you know it, that five minutes turns into fifteen, or thirty, or . . .
I think I'll go take another look at that opera.
(This article was first printed in "The Harp Lover's News" Volume 3, Issue 3, 1st Quarter, 1996, published by the Sylvia Woods Harp Center. Many of the articles from this newsletter can be found in our "Fun Stuff" section.)
You can find Ellie Choate's recordings here.