How an elf can help you "search for lambs"
WARNING: The following article will appear to be extremely disjointed, with many seemingly unrelated topics. But have patience, and stick with it. In the end it will (hopefully) all make sense!
Part #1. A story about an elf
Once upon a time there was an Elf named Alfred, but all his buddies just called him Alf. Alf's best friend was a lamb named Edith Ann. Her parents were big fans of the comedienne Lilly Tomlin, so they named their daughter after Lilly's little girl character who always said "And that's the truththththththth." Alf and Edith Ann loved playing hide and seek. Edith Ann was extremely good at hiding (particularly when it snowed), so Alf would often search and search for a long time before he found the lamb. When he did, they'd both burst out in giggles, and Alf would turn somersaults and generally act very silly and giddy. And that's the truththththththth!
Part #2. Word of the day
Your vocabulary word for today is mnemonic. It means "something intended to assist the memory, as a verse or formula."
For example, one way to remember the order of colors in a rainbow is the following sentence, where each word starts with the same letter as the colors.
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
(Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).
And this sentence gives the order of the planets (including Pluto):
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas
(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto)
Or . . . the updated version I just came up with, deleting poor Pluto:
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nectarines
Part #3. Pachelbel's bears
For the August 1993 issue of my "Harp Lover's News" I wrote an article entitled How Great Danes and Bears Can Help You Learn to Play Pachelbel's Canon, which used mnemonics to help you remember the order of the 8 chords that repeat throughout the piece. In the key of D, the chords of Pachelbel's Canon are D-A-B-F-G-D-G-A, and the mnemonic I came up with is:
Don't All Bears Feel Good Doing Great Acts .
My full article has lots of other hints to help you learn Pachelbel's Canon.
Part #4. 5/4 Time
I love playing songs in 5/4 time with 5 beats per measure! This time signature is very unusual in Western/European music, and for many people it "just feels wrong." You may think you've never heard a song in 5/4, but I'll bet you have. "Take Five" is a popular jazz standard written by Paul Desmond, a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Why is it called "Take Five"? One reason is that it is in 5/4 time! Check it out on YouTube and listen for the distinctive sound of 5 beats per measure.
Part #5-A. Searching for Lambs
This month, I have several Skype students who are working on the piece "Searching for Lambs" in Lesson 6 of my Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp book. Here are some hints I've given them to help them learn this beautiful song. (Click here to download a free printable PDF of the music shown here.)
As with many folk songs, there are a variety of versions of this Celtic song. The one that I chose for the book is in 5/4 time. (See Part #4 above.) Don't be surprised if your brain (and your body) wants the piece to be in either 4/4 or 6/4 time. Most of my students tend to put 6 beats in each measure, because it "feels right." So, my first suggestion is to practice the right hand by itself, and COUNT 5 beats per measure. Be sure you're not adding an extra beat, particularly after the whole and half notes!
(By the way . . . the 2 treble clef notes in parentheses are played with the left hand. I included them in treble clef so you can see that they are part of the melody, but you play them with your left hand. When you're practicing the right hand by itself to understand the timing, you can sing these missing notes, or play them with your left hand . . . whatever works best for you.)
Part #5-B. Left Hand Pattern in Searching for Lambs
Now let's look at the left hand of the piece above. In the first measure, notice that the first and last notes of the measure are both "A" notes, an octave apart. The middle note (played with finger 2), an "E", is the interval of a 5th above the first "A" note. Another way of looking at this spacing is to notice that you skip over 3 strings from the finger 4 "A" and the finger 2 "E", and then you skip over 2 strings from the finger 2 "E" up to the finger 1 "A".
Now, notice that the left hand in every measure has this same spacing! (In my Fingering Fundamentals book I call this spacing the "4-2-1 octave chord.") Once your hand learns this spacing, you just have to remember which chord comes next, and you've learned the left hand!
Part #5-C. Left Hand Treble and Bass Clefs in Searching for Lambs
As you'll see above, I put measures 3 through 5 of the left hand in the treble clef, instead of the bass clef. I did this to keep the number of ledger lines to a minimum. But this makes the music visually deceptive. If you just glance at the music, it looks like the left hand moves way down the harp from the 2nd measure to the 3rd measure, but actually it moves UP to higher strings, because of the clef change. The opposite happens between the 5th and 6th measures where it looks like your left hand moves way up, but it actually moves down to lower strings on the harp.So, when playing the chords, you'll move your hand up twice (from measure 1 to measure 2, and then from measure 2 to measure 3), then go down 1 note for the next measure, then up one note, and then the remaining 2 chords go lower on the harp. So the chord sequence directions are: up - up - down - up - down - down - down.
Part #6. How Alf Can Help you Search for Lambs
Now that you know what direction your left hand is moving, you just need to learn the order of the chords and you're all set.
Remember the story about Alf Elf and how he searched for his lamb friend when they played hide and seek? Here's where that story will come in very handy! The mnemonic sentence I created for the order of the chords in Searching for Lambs is:
Alf Elf Acts Giddy After Finding Edith Ann
(A E A G A F E A)
If you don't want to use Alf's name, you could also say:
AN Elf Acts Giddy After Finding Edith Ann - OR -
ALL Elves Act Giddy After Finding Edith Ann - OR -
make up a sentence on your own! (It is harder than you might think!)
Part #7. Lamb Lyrics
I hope this article has given you some new ideas on ways to look at music and helped you learn this beautiful piece. Here are the actual lyrics . . . which unfortunately have nothing to do with Alf or Edith Ann!
(By the way, you can download PDFs of the lyrics of the songs in my Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp, Hymns and Wedding Music, and Irish Dance Tunes books by clicking here.)
SEARCHING FOR LAMBS
As I went out one May morning, one May morning betime,
I met a maid, from home had strayed just as the sun did shine.
"What makes you rise so soon, my dear, your journey to pursue?
Your pretty feet, they tread so neat, strike off the morning dew."
"I'm going to feed my father's flock, his young and tender lambs,
That over hills and over dales lie waiting for their dams."
"Oh stay, oh stay, you handsome maid, and rest a moment here
For there is none but you alone that I do love so dear."
"How gloriously the sun doth shine, how pleasant is the air.
I'd rather rest on a true love's breast than any other where."
"For I am thine and thou art mine, no man shall uncomfort thee.
We'll join our hands in wedded bands and a-married we will be."
This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of the Sylvia Woods Harp Center Newsletter.