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“Baroque Flamenco, Beyond the Page” Final Beginning Student Projects – Spring 2016

Deborah Henson-Conant is a  Grammy-Nominated composer/performer and creative coach. She coaches and mentors impassioned harp players through her online Hip Harp Academy and her yearlong mentorship Harness Your Muse.  This post shares the “Final Beginning Projects” from students in her “Baroque Flamenco Beyond the Page” online course in spring 2016. 

If you learned something from the creative journeys these performers shared, please share your takeaways in the comments below, and congratulate them for their willingness to share.

DHC-headshotMy online course for harpists “Baroque Flamenco, Beyond the Page” recently ended.  In this course I show my students my own secrets of how to play this fiery harp showpiece at their skill level on their own harp!  In the Spring 2016 session, 10 students in the course created videos to complete the course.

Those videos are each embedded in this page along with the answers to five questions I asked each to answer about their creative process.  I hope these insights will help readers to experiment and embrace the bravery of sharing something new and imperfect yourself.

This course is about learning the foundation of my composition “Baroque Flamenco” and then learning a way to ‘get the piece across’ to an audience, regardless of your skill level along with my help, coaching and feedback.  The course also gives my tips on practice techniques for Baroque Flamenco and ideas for developing your own unique performances of the piece.

For a composer, this is a unique approach to teaching an original composition but it’s my goal that every harp player can create their own interpretation of the piece, and one that can be powerful at their own level of ability since it’s my deep belief that anyone can perform with power and authenticity if they find a way to use their own strengths with the underlying concepts of a piece of music.

While that won’t work for any piece of music, I composed “Baroque Flamenco” with that in mind: a piece that can grow and develop as the skills of the performer develop, and can be effective at every point along their creative journey.

The piece grows with the skills of the performer and should be effective at every step along the way Click To Tweet

In the video links below you’ll see these 10 harpists’ interpretations of the piece.

I call these Final BEGINNING Projects because I tell the students to focus on imperfect completion as a way to end one phase of learning and BEGIN the next, rather than sliding into an endless pattern of trying to perfect something.






1.  Alexandra Coursen

Cutting it down was a good exercise ... then I can tailor the playing to the audience or my own… Click To Tweet

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  Practice! And it still needs more; so bothersome. It just occurs to me that if I had not pushed my limits, if I had taken it a bit slower, I might be happier with it.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  I had a certain “insouciance” because I had taken the course before; I went through the beginning modules up to 8, but then focused on practice, as didn’t have time for the last modules. And my practice relied on what I remembered from the first BF; I needed to give the skeleton, bones, and distilled parts more attention. I found the cadenza soundbox tapping easier in the beginning; it needed regular, consistent slow practice; but once I had it, I did not revisit the slow set it in your hands practice, and it got sloppy.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  Hard to decide which parts to ax, as I like the entire piece. However, cutting it down was a good exercise, and then to keep all the sections handy, I can tailor the playing to the audience or my own feelings.

What were your personal “Ahas”?  I recall from BF 1 and now again in BF 2 learning a physical freedom from watching DHC do it; this was major; as I was trained to be a quiet, non-showy musician. It really has made a difference since I first took BF. 

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?
It is so hard to get a good take. Something always goes wrong, and then I think well just one more time, and I’ll get it. And then to listen to all the “almost there” recordings, and try to decide which is best is time consuming.

2. Barbara Toy

A big challenge was letting go of what I think I 'should' be doing (Barbara Toy) Click To Tweet

(Barbara answered the 1st four questions at once) Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  What were your personal “Ahas”?  

As my answer to the first four questions, I think the biggest challenges for me were believing that DHC actually means what she says about playing at our own actual level instead of where we think we should be, and, letting go of the idea of what I thought I “should” be doing and focusing instead on what I could play somewhat fluently. Also, focusing on a part of the framework of the piece, so I could get a version of the piece I could actually play.  Not perfectly but at least reasonably consistently….

An unexpected challenge in doing the video was that I had a hard time seeing the strings against the first backdrop my husband set up for me.  I put a different drape (cream instead of mottled grey) over it that gave a bit more contrast, but he had to set up some different lights to help out.  We didn’t have much time to experiment – and then it took YouTube forever to do the processing.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?  My version has a different a story line – we have a group of musicians sitting around and their leader comes running in, telling them that they just got a gig at the palace that evening.  One of the players says he knows just the piece they should start with, the minuet tune.  “No, no,” says one of the others, “we want a different feel, to separate us from other groups,” and plays her tune.  The first player won’t have that, and insists that the minuet is a better choice.  Other players come in with a second different tune, but the first player still insists on his tune – as he’s playing it yet again, the leader comes running back in, yelling, “What are you doing? We’ll be late!’ and they grab their instruments and run out, slamming the door behind them.

NOTE FROM DHC!  Yay!  I love that you created your own storyline – and this one is really fun!

3. Faye Fishman

I learned to just have fun with it even if it's not perfect. (Faye Fishman) Click To Tweet


Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  I decided to just have fun with it. I need to memorize it to be able to give it more expression. so it still is a work in progress.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  I had to learn to just go with it. Mistakes and all. To try to get the feel of the piece was more important than the accuracy.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  The challenge was to go with it even if not as memorized as I’d like.

What were your personal “Ahas”?  My Aha moment was that the baseline really needs to come out in the flamenco variations. And to just enjoy it now and know it will keep growing.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?  This was a tremendous learning experience. I learned how to adapt a piece to my level and have fun with it. I learned how to video and upload. A big thanks to my husband and daughter for helping out. My Daughter was the videographer and it took both of them to get us to upload to YouTube. I learned that saving the video to the computer to upload is harder than it looks.  Most of all I learned to just have fun with it even if it’s not perfect. 
Thanks to DHC and all the other classmates. this was a fabulous experience.

4.  Jill Grzonka

I discovered this piece isn't notes on a page but an individual expression of the artist performing… Click To Tweet

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  This is actually the longest of my original attempts at the half-baked video, which would account for the mistakes and page turns you will hear and see.  It was my original interpretation before I had to start cutting things out to make it shorter, which is why I am submitting it instead of a newly recorded one.  I’ve never been videoed playing my harp before so watching and listening to the playbacks was difficult for me.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?   Whatever the instrument, I’ve always been taught to play what is on the page.  Not having to do that here was very freeing.  I can play it whenever and however I want to – I love this.  It is just the beginning for me, and I am excited to see where it takes me from here.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  There is so much more I wanted to do but was not able to yet –  I was thinking of something involving a rose between my teeth maybe, which is totally out of character for me…  I hope to record it again for you in the future.

What were your personal “Ahas”?  Prior to taking the class, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Now to me Baroque Flamenco isn’t notes on a page but an individual expression of the artist performing it.  It isn’t static, but vibrant and ever-changing.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?  If anyone has been riding the fence about taking the class, go for it!  This has been a journey for me – a very rewarding one.

5. Kathy King

It was fun to throw on a couple of costumes & try to channel my inner flamenco dancer (Kathy… Click To Tweet

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  I have felt hampered by insufficient practice time, and a not-serious but annoying thumb injury. Worked as hard as I could on this, but it’s not where I hoped it would be. It was an “off” day for me when it was time to record. Emotionally, I just had to admit that this is TRULY my BEGINNING final project. The imperfections are what they are.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  The big block for me is consistently wanting to do a more involved project than my fingers are up to. So I really had to be strict with myself that Variation 1 was NOT working, and just left it out. That is huge for me. The freedom is that the piece is so dynamic and fun; and given enough practice time, I can work out something that I can truly handle with flair.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  The challenge for myself was trying to get past playing the “correct” notes, and just “play” with the piece. 

What were your personal “Ahas”?  I can really see that I will be able to keep on perfecting this music; and as I improve technically, I think the drama of the piece will come through more clearly. It was great fun to throw on a couple of costume pieces and try to channel my inner flamenco dancer.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?  I very nearly abandoned the final project, because I was so frustrated with it. BUT, I made myself do it anyway, and I’m glad I did. The process is still completely worthwhile, and I wound up having a lot of fun.

6. Margi Miller

This piece was so totally different I had to come up with a different way to memorize altogether… Click To Tweet

I worked mostly on Seasons of the Night,  BUT, when I saw Sally’s rendition of the STORY of Baroque Flamenco, I decided to add this one also:

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  This song, Seasons of the Night (NOT Baroque Flamenco, but an extra that DHC taught during the course) is such a beautiful song I decided to veer away from Baroque Flamenco and dedicate my entire week to learning Seasons.  And yes, it took me about 15 hours to memorize!!!! 

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  It was so hard to memorize this song that I actually started surfing the web trying to find out if “the older you get, the harder memorizing becomes”!!  I couldn’t find any “proof” so I just went back to the grindstone and kept working at it.  Some practice sessions I cursed it, some practice sessions I loved and cherished it.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  I tried every which way to memorize.  I made an mp3 of DHC’s class whittled down to just the music, I swam laps in the pool while listening, I walked for miles while listening, I put it on while pulling weeds in the garden.  I was SURE I could play it if it “just got inside my body”!

What were your personal “Ahas”?  That I have always memorized predictable music in the past.  If the melody lands on a C, then there’s a C chord to play.  This piece was so totally different I needed to come up with a different way to memorize altogether.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?
I am sooo glad I did this.  Adding a piece like this to my very limited memorized repertoire to play for hospice is a true gift.

7. Melissa Gallant

I loved visualizing the different characters ... and trying to bring them out in my playing (Melissa… Click To Tweet

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  When I signed up for this course I knew my time would be limited, but I wanted to learn BF so I plunged right in! To keep me from stressing out over the other music I need to be working on, I chose to submit a video I recorded the same day I recorded the half baked version. I am eager to get back to finish the piece after the AHS conference! I am playing with the adult harp ensemble, so am immersed in that music right now. That’s the logistical situation – for the emotional connection to the piece – I loved visualizing the different characters represented by the different musical sections and trying to bring them out in my playing.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  I found playing with the sound files to be very freeing! Using them, if my playing didn’t line up quite right, it was easier to correct than if I was just relying on fitting the notes in with my metronome.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  It is so wonderful that BF is open to so much creative freedom, and I am eager to focus on the more percussive sections later this summer. I am more comfortable playing arpeggios than some of the other sections, so that’s what I chose to showcase with my BF version. 

What were your personal “Ahas”?  Using the warmups and the sound files helped keep me stay connected to the piece even when I was devoting more of my practice time to what I was performing in a particular week. Thinking about how DHC used an existing melody then expanded it has given me ideas for some creative projects of my own using sections of familiar pieces, then extending them in new ways.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?
I love that each performance of BF is as unique and beautiful as the individual creative spirits who perform it! Ole!

8. Sally Walstrum

I was determined to take on the challenge of speaking the story as part of the piece (Sally… Click To Tweet

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  My goal was to transfer the piece from my concert harp to to my “DHC 32”. The lack of a soundboard proved a huge challenge, but DHC posted some videos about doing the cadenza without one that were extremely helpful. I had videography issues. I couldn’t find a background in my house that I liked and I had all kinds of lighting issues. I ended up with the lesser of all the evils in that this was where I was the least in silhouette. Also my microphone is in my phone so my voice doesn’t project well. Emotionally I just had to let go, be free and have fun.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  DHC challenged me to speak the story as part of the piece in one of the online chats. This was a huge block for me. I’m neither a creative writer nor a storyteller. But I was determined to take on the challenge, plus this is something I could do at the library as part of a story hour. I discovered I could have some fun with it, storytelling aspect and all, once I got over my inhibitions.

What challenges did you meet while connecting with your own freedom of expression in this project?  I was overly concerned about the time constraint so kept cutting it down. That made it hard for me to piece together a story that made sense. The levers also were a challenge. I kept forgetting to change the B levers.

What were your personal “Ahas”?  One aha was that I needed to bring the bass out in the Flamenco variations as it drives the music. I don’t think I emphasize that enough. Another was the need to differentiate between the Baroque and Flamenco characters. And it’s taking time after decades as a classical harpist, but I am getting better about letting go of the notion of perfection and just going for the completion.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?
I really enjoyed going through this class with all of you. This is a wonderful, supportive group and I’m amazed by all the creativity.

9. Teddy Jones

Click To Tweet

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.  I wanted to present as complete a version of BF as I could manage.  Logistically, I combined pieces of the intermediate and advanced versions along with some portions I created myself for the cadenza based on the two. Emotionally I was challenged by the technical requirements of the variation and the cadenza.  The first two recordings I tried completely fell apart on the cadenza.  This was the only complete one.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  Because of the technical challenges I had to tell myself to relax several times and that helped ease things.  Practice helped me slow down and articulate the rhythmic passages better.  More technique stayed intact for this version.

What were your personal “Ahas”?   This piece is never “finished.”  
And I got it to 3 1/2 minutes!

10. Peggy Cannon

There are so many times when I 'go for' something and feel like I didn't make it Click To Tweet

A NOTE FROM DHC:  I LOVE that Peggy totally invested herself in this project and shared her notes about it even though she didn’t end up with a video to share. I take a lot of inspiration from this, since there are so many times when I ‘go for’ something and feel like I didn’t make it.  It’s easy to just want to hide that – and what I love about what Peggy did was that she focused on SHARING her experience, on fully sharing what she DID have, what she learned and her process.  I know that will be very familiar to others and many people will feel a deep well of appreciation for her willingness to share.  Thank you, Peggy!! (DHC)

Peggy’s notes: I am just answering the questions. Although I did go through the process of it,  I  didn’t end up with a result I want to post; I’m actually happier with my Half-Baked video as a whole than most of what I did today.

Give a short description of what it took for you to be able to play what you did – both logistically and  emotionally.
  The logistics of this project are that  I had to be my own camera person so this was my first experience of that.  I had finally found a process where I could video with my phone and then found a program on my computer Windows Movie Maker where I could actually cut the video at the beginning and end so I wouldn’t need a timer as I couldn’t find an app for editing or timing for the phone that worked in a way I could understand. I practiced that yesterday and thought I would be good to go tonight.  So tonight I worked on it, set up my backdrop and played and video recorded for 3 hours but realized it is not happening today in any format I’d want to use.  Emotions: mixed – glad I tried and figured out sort of how to do it myself; disappointed I couldn’t come up with the final project I fully intended to.

What freedoms and blocks in yourself did you connect with (or struggle with) in the process?  I wanted to do the video like my Half-Baked only slower.  What I found was I need further practice on my counting and I need to be able to see my music and my setup so the camera could see me made it hard to see my music and I just wasn’t comfortable with the location where my harp felt unstable too. So I struggled with variation 1 which I had wanted to do so much better; I’d found that there was 1 note I have been giving the wrong value to and frankly I need a lot more time doing this out loud before it sinks in to be automatic.  So I got very frustrated with myself reverting to doing it wrong.  Over and over then the harp started getting out of tune since I had to be by the a/c vent for the camera to see me.  And I got frustrated with that and finally decided it was just not happening today.  Freedoms: when I got frustrated, giving myself a few minutes to improvise, having ideas for when I am more skilled.

What were your personal “Ahas”?  Trying to go slower helped with the intro strums to make them more deliberate sounding — getting better raising arms more gracefully with glisses — but need to watch out for the dresser hidden behind my backdrop, ouch!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people who are watching your video?
I’d like to congratulate everyone who managed to get this done, especially those that are newer to video-recording!  It’s a lot to manage along with the notes and you deserve a lot of credit. I can’t wait to see your videos!

CLICK HERE to find out more about
Deborah Henson-Conant’s online classes for harpists!

CLICK HERE to get on the First-to-know list for pre-registration announcements & specials!

Have a question? Ask away HERE!

Posted in Baroque Flamenco, Coaching, Teaching, Students & Learning, Final Beginning Student Projects (All) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Questions from a Student (Pia Salvia)

dhc-smirk-square-Q&A_400pI often get questions from students – and this is a series of video answers to questions from harpist Pia Salvia, a student at Berklee College of Music, and a wonderful harpist with her own unique creative voice.

I’ll be updating the page as I finish the videos, so please refresh your screen each time to come to this page to make sure you see the most recent videos.

I’d love to have your comments below on what’s most interesting to you in these answers and what else you’d like to know.

Why did you choose the harp / Why did you start playing the harp? 

Was the harp your first instrument? What was your first instrument?

What was the “little extra” that led to your success?

Full question: “What do you think was the “little extra” that made the difference between you and other harpists who might have been following the same “direction” as you (exploring harp outside of the classical world) but did not have your success?”

What would you recommend to a new artist starting in the music industry?

What advice do you have about the steps to success?

How do you feel today about your career?

What have been the most frustrating times in your career?

[more questions … and answers … to come …]


Thanks for the great questions, Pia!   You can learn more about Pia and her musical journey at her website

Posted in Coaching, Teaching, Students & Learning, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fireworks for the Creative Spirit: An intro to Strings of Passion

On July 4th I presented an online event called “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit: An Intro to the Strings of Passion.”Fireworks-FB-boost-image

It’s an hour-long exploration in story, music, humor and ideas based on the seven ‘Strings of Passion’ I base my own creative life on, followed by an impromptu Q& A session.

The event was an experiment – a hybrid of music,  philosophy and learning – live in a virtual environment.  I was nervous about it – it’s very close to the bone for me – but the feedback I got from the people who came was so positive that I was encouraged to share it more publicly, so I’ve created a replay.

Sign up for the replay with the button below –  and please leave comments about what you hear-learn-see in the comments below.

for instant access to “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit”

The replay comes with a Playsheet that outlines the 7 principles in the Strings of Passion and a downloadable MP3 version of the event.




Posted in Coaching, Teaching, Students & Learning, Creativity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Come to my JAM Learning PARTY for HARPS!!!



I’m having a JAM Learning PARTY just for HARP PLAYERS on SATURDAY & You’re INVITED for FREE!

for the Harp Jam Learning Party!

  • The party starts at 2:30 pm EDT and goes until 5pm EDT
  • We learn & play a new musical jam every half-hour
  • Come as soon as you want, stay as long as you like and bring your favorite snacks (you won’t have to share them with anyone else)!!!
  • Drop in for half-an hour or stay for the whole session.

I’m recording these sessions as warmups and reviews for the students in “Summer Harp Jam” – so if you register for the JAM PARTY you’ll get to sneak a peek at what they’re learning in the 6-Week “Summer Harp Jam” program (and a chance to join them for the full 6 Weeks)

Click here to REGISTER FOR FREE – and I’ll see you on Saturday! Can’t make it?? REGISTER anyway and I’ll send you a link to replay the fun!


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Harp Jam – online summer camp for Harpists: Q&A

got-questions-i-got-answers-FBboostable“Summer Harp Jam” starts THIS week!
A 6-Week virtual summer camp for harp players – lever or pedal, from fledgling to professional – that gives you a treasure chest of jams, vamps and play-alongs that strengthen your improvisation and rhythm skills while you’re having FUN!



You Got Questions? I got Answers! About Summer Harp Jam 2016

I get a lot of questions from people about my online programs, especially if they haven’t taken a course with me before.  So in this post I’m sharing some of the recent questions I’ve gotten about “Summer Harp Jam” – as well as standard questions – and my answers.

 Q:  HOW DO I JOIN?  What are the discounts & bonuses right now?

REGISTER NOW at: Summer Harp Jam (

BONUSES:  Check at the registration page to see what bonuses are available now and remember: once you join you get ever ADDITIONAL bonus that gets added so the sooner you register the more bonuses you can get

DISCOUNT CODE:  The early-bird discount ends Midnight Jul. 7.  Use the code SHJ-EARLY-30 and remember: the code sometimes works for up to 24 hours after the deadline (depending on where you are in the world) so give it a try and if it works you get it – and if not, just think of how great it is that you’re in the program how much GREAT FUN we’re going to have this summer (actually, think of that regardless!)

Q:  CAN I GET A TASTE-TEST??  I’VE NEVER BEEN IN AN ONLINE COURSE – I don’t know how it works and I’m not sure my internet is good enough.  Is there a way to just see how it works?

YES!  I created a special little course that you can take for free.  It’s called “Creating Conducive Conditions” and it’s all about how to set up your life and work to situation so it helps you focus instead of distracting you.

It’ll give you a taste of what it’s like to take one of my programs.  Use my “Ask a Question” form to let me know if you’d like a free invitation to that course!

Q:  What time is the class?  When do I have to be there? I’m worried I’ll have to get up in the middle of the night?

A:  No worries – you can take the whole Summer Harp Jam, at your own pace.  Everything is recorded and many people prefer to never come to the live parts. They only watch them afterwards via replay or download the MP3s and just listen and play along.

The ‘jams’ are recorded usually on Sundays at 2pm EDT if you want to come live, and I try to get them online within 24 hours.  There’s also a lot of additional warm-up material that’s opened each week on Thursday.

Here’s what the “Summer Harp Jam” Schedule looks like each week:

  • THURSDAY:  A new “Jam Sequence” is opened and students can go thru the warm-up materials if they want to – but they don’t have to
  • SUNDAY (usually at 2pm EDT): I record the new Play-Along jams LIVE – and usually about 25%-30% of the students enjoy being at those live. The others prefer to watch via replay. Students can ask questions during the 2nd part of this live session, and if they can’t be there live, they can send questions in advance
  • MONDAY: The recording of the jam is posted so students can watch it at their own pace, download PDF “Playsheet” and the MP3 to keep on their computer or MP3 device
  • ANY TIME: Students can connect via the private Facebook Group and ask me questions via the Facebook Group and/or my “Ask a Question” form

I built “Summer Harp Jam” course so it can work for people who want to just have a low-pressure summer play-along AND for people who really want to dig in, invest a lot of time and learn all the rhythms and riffs.  The program works fine either way – it’s just your choice.  You can just enjoy the jams, or you can spend as much time as you want with the rest of the learning materials.

 Q:  Will I learn to improvise in “Summer Harp Jam”?

Yes!  Summer Harp Jam is all about learning to JAM.  To make that easy and fun, the whole program is based on small chord sequences that you’ll find in lots and lots of music.  You’ll learn to improvise on solo harp, to play with others and how to use these sequences for intros, interludes, endings and improvisations — using rhythmic styles or rubato so you can use them for contemplative or therapeutic improvisation.

 Q:  Do I need a Looper Pedal to take the program?

A:  No!  All the jams are recorded so you can play-along with them BUT if you’re interested in looper pedals you’re in luck because one of the BONUSES you get with the program is my “Looper Lesson” video that gives you the basics of what to look for in a looper and how to start using it.

Q:  Will I have to do homework?

A:  TaDa!  No homework in this program!  This program is all about PLAYING ALONG so I’ll encourage you to play with the course audio … or with your friends … as much as you can.  And there will be jams that you can do with friends who aren’t even musicians — like a jam to play with someone playing Pots-and-Pans in the kitchen!

Q:  How much time will I spend on the program?

A:  That’s pretty much up to you. You could just spend an hour a week if you just want to watch the play-along video and play along with it.

People who want to ‘get the most bang for their buck’ can spend as much as an hour or more a day, watching the videos, downloading the materials and then putting it all into practice and playing with others.

Most people fall between those two extremes – and it’s totally fine how YOU want to use the program and how it fits into YOUR life right now.  That’s also why you get access to the website for at least 3 months after the program ends – so you can go back and review.

Q:  What if I can’t keep up?

A:  That concept doesn’t really exist for this program. Each week you’ll be learning different jams, so if you miss a week or more, you can just jump back in – and you get two BONUS REVIEW WEEKS at the end so we can go back over everything and you can ask questions.

Q:  Will the style you’re teaching be too ‘jazzy’ for the type of music I’m playing? (I play mainly hymns and folksy type of music/songs)

A:  WHAT A GREAT QUESTION!  Summer Harp Jam explores a lot of different styles, and one of them is always ‘rubato’ or ‘straight’ – as opposed to rhythmic.  In fact, we always start that way, and then add different rhythms later.  We take  one basic progression each week and learn all the things you can do with it: how to use it for intros, endings, interludes, improvs, meditation, bedside playing, how to break it apart to play with others.

And yes – you can ABSOLUTELY jam with Hymns and folk songs – and you’d learn a lot about how to do that in Summer Harp Jam.  It would be fairly easy to expand what you learn to Hymns or the progressions in folk songs – and what’s SO GREAT about taking this program LIVE is that, if you have a special kind of music you want to explore – like Hymms or Folk songs – you can ask me how to do that in the Jam-Chats.

What I’ve done in Summer Harp Jam is to choose progressions that are so short that people can literally learn them in 30 seconds, so that everyone can focus on how to have FUN with them instead of worrying about how to read or remember them.  And I’ve chosen some of the most useful progressions I know, chord sequences that show up over and over again in lots of pieces.

So you won’t be learning ‘songs’ per se in Harp Jam – you’ll learn progressions you can use with songs.

If you want to take a look at a little warmup version of “Summer Harp Jam” to get a sense of how it works, here’s an online “Webinar” training from last year that you can watch.  Let me know what you think!

Q:  Is the material in Summer Harp Jam unique to this course?  If I’ve taken your other courses is this NEW material?

This course is very cool and unlike any of my other courses.  I tried to make it more like a summer camp – with activities, LOTS of play, and no homework for one thing.

If you’ve been in my courses you’ve probably experienced at least a little bit of “call and response” where I set up a background accompaniment on my looper and then I play little melodies and you play them back to me.

Every time I do that people LOVE it and ask for more – so Summer Harp Jam is based entirely on “Call and Response” — on JAMMING together — because it’s such a fun and effective and freeing way to learn to improvise and to simply have FUN playing your instrument.

Each week you learn a new sequence – which takes about 30 seconds.  Then you learn a whole bunch of things you can do with it – from creating intros, endings and interludes with it – to creating full improvs.  You learn a bunch of different bass patterns you can use with it, scales you can use with it, and various ways of creating rhythms with it like Waltz and Latin rhythms – as well as how to use it in responsive and contemplative settings like hospice or meditation.

It’s not sequential. If you miss a week, you can just jump into the next week and it’s not a big deal.  That’s because the activities are all based on a set of chord sequences – a different progression each week.

And you can learn as little or as much of that as you want – because the JAM part of the program is the real heart of it:  each week we have an online JAM where I set up the progression with my looper, and then we play!  I play a riff and you play it back to me, I play a riff and you play it back.  It’s basically the way I learned to play as a kid: call & response.  It’s incredibly fun and you don’t need to play exactly what I play because nobody can hear each other and it’s not about ‘getting better at copying’ – it’s about getting comfortable improvising and learning the kinds of musical gestures and scales work for you and are most fun.

I love it because 95% of it is “learning by playing” – and because everyone can keep what they’re doing as simple as they want – or make as complex as they want based on their own level and how much time they want to spend in the class (er … I mean camp!)

Q:  Do you provide the music for this course, or do I have to provide my own?

A:  You’ll get all the music you need from within the course.  Each week you’ll download the jam sequences – and that’s all you need!  (You don’t even need that, because I’ll also show you the jam sequence on a video)

Q:  How does it work with different playing levels all in one course?

A:  All my online programs are multi-level and for both lever and pedal harp and it works because I always start by teaching the underlying concept of what we’re doing.

For each thing I show you, I’ll always include a distilled/fundamental/simple version of it and ways to embellish and expand it.  And if it’s either not simple enough … or not complex enough for you, then you can ask for a simpification or an embellishment — and that’s part of what I’ll do in the live Q&A sessions and part of what creates such a vibrant sense of involvement and ‘live-ness’ in the classes.

Q:  What software do I need for the course?

A:  You don’t need any special software or hardware. You can take the course on your computer or ipad. You’ll watch the course videos on line, and you can download the MP3 playalong files and PDFs.

Even people who consider themselves completely non-tech-savvy are able to access and enjoy the course. Some people even say that one of the big benefits of the course is getting more comfortable with online tech formats!

Each week the course information is provided in three formats and there’s always a “low-tech version” so you’ll able to access the basic course materials without interactive software (like a live-stream webinar) because I’ll be videotaping each lesson and providing PDF outlines for you to follow.

Q:  My internet isn’t great.  How much  summer camp is video and how much is live streaming?  Is the chat session a video chat or an email chat?

A:  That’s an excellent question about the video and how the course works with less robust internet connections.  Let me know if this answers that question:

  • The “static” part of the program – the part that’s already there when you get into the classroom – is embedded videos (plus PDF handouts, text and downloadable audio).  The video content includes both “warmup” or “prep” videos PLUS  last-year’s live-stream jams chunked into segments that are based on content.
  • What that means is that I took last year’s jams, and edited them ‘bite-sized’ chunks.  I also created extra videos last year when people had specific questions.  All of that is available as soon as I open each module. Most of those are 5-10 minutes long.  The longest seems to be about 15 minutes.
  • For every video on the page, there’s also a downloadable mp3 at the bottom of the page. That means you can get the mp3 right onto your computer and then avoiding worrying about internet at all. I try to be careful when I ‘show’ things on the video to also name the notes, since even when people can see the video, it’s not always close or clear enough to be useful.
  • Also, the focus of this particular program is on “call-and-response” where I play something and you play it (or something like it) back, so most people find it most useful to just put the audio on, and play along based on the prompts I give.  This program is unique in that way (although I’m starting to use that technique more in other courses because people love it so much – and it’s fun for me as well).
  • The live weekly jams are all livestreamed.  Usually only about 25-30% of the people actually come live.  The rest prefer to wait until we post the replay, and either watch that online or just download the MP3 and play with that.  I’m not sure if they do that because of their internet connection or just because they prefer to be able to stop and start the jam at their own pace.

Q:  What if my Internet is out?

A:  We can’t always count on internet, as great as it is.  That’s why I record everything we do in the program and then add it to the classroom so people can watch at their own pace, or download the MP3s and the PDF Playsheets to have on their own computer or MP3 device.

Q:  Do you have a payment plan?

A:  YES! There’s a payment plan that lets you split the payment into 2 or 3 payments depending on when you sign up (different programs have different payment plans – but you’ll see the one for this program outlined right in the payment box).

Still have a question?  CLICK HERE for my ‘ask a question’ form.


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Fireworks for the Creative Spirit: REPLAY TO DOWNLOAD

For the past 4 years I’ve been developing on online school for harp players – teaching the principles of improvisation, theory and jazz in my courses like Summer Harp Jam” that starts tomorrow (yes! Tomorrow!!)  — and mentoring harpists in entrepreneurship and the development of a personal creative voice in my yearlong “Harness Your Muse” program.fireworks-signupform-imageonly

But in my in-person residencies, I also work with dancers, singers, actors, entrepreneurs and other passionate people who simply want to expand their ability to be more expressive in their lives.  Until now I’ve focused all my online training to harpists – but in the spirit of freedom – last Monday, July 4th, I presented my first online creative ‘training’ event for EVERYONE … no harp needed.

In this one hour of music and spoken-word, I share the seven “Strings of Passion” principles I use in my own creative work.

Sign up for the REPLAY here. You’ll get instant access to the video, a PDF overview and an MP3 version you can download and listen to on your MP3 player.

I would LOVE to know what your takeaways are and if you’d like more of this kind of online sharing from me.  Please let me know in the comments below.

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Truth & Freedom

Have you been thinking about freedom?

I have. It’s what my July 4th online event (register for the replay below) was all about and it’s what I think about a lot.

truth-freedom-redscarf-DHC-900p_v3I’ve been thinking about what it takes to ‘be free’ and how hard that can be as an artistand as a human.  How, when someone says ‘just sit down and play what you feel’, you can become completely blocked.

I’ve been thinking about how learning to be free as an artist is very much like learning to be comfortable in social situations.  That’s a big one for me because it’s waaaaay easier for me to feel free on stage than to feel free in a social situation.

‘Letting go,’ ‘saying what you feel’ – or even telling a simple truth in the moment – it’s not always so easy.

Letting go isn't always so easy Click To Tweet

And I think about how to do it A LOT.  When I’m writing lyrics – for songs or musicals, I’m not thinking about the rhymes – I’m thinking about how to tell the truth, with both words and music. When I get stuck I stop and think, “OK, exactly what is happening? What is this character’s truth at this moment?” and then put that into words and music, getting as close to the truth as I can.

I believe that “the truth will set you free” — and that truth and freedom are two sides of the same experience – almost as if truth is the expression and freedom the experience.

I think about how to tell the truth as a human in everyday life: how to honestly tell a coach I work with exactly what they’ve helped me with, how to thank people honestly, reflecting as honestly as I can what I’ve experienced.

I practice my instrument so I can be completely present on stage Click To Tweet

I practice my instrument so I can be fluent,  responsive and completely present in the moment on stage, so I’m not fussing with technical issues in that incredibly precious moment we’re together as artist and audience – but can be completely present with the audience – because that’s one way I speak with truth and freedom on stage.

I think about how to  bring that freedom to the artists I mentor in my “Harness Your Muse,” yearlong mentorship program by telling them exactly what’s moved me in their work, where I’ve seen their truth, and how they might make it even clearer or truer to them, so I would see even more of their truth.

I try to bring the experience of MUSICAL FREEDOM to the many harp players who take my online classes – like my “Summer Harp Jam” 6-Week Virtual Summer Camp for Harpists that starts TOMORROW.

I feel personally liberated by my students' truths Click To Tweet

Why?? Because I feel PERSONALLY LIBERATED when I hear students say things like “Wow! Maybe I CAN improvise after all!” or “I never thought I’d be able to do this” – and because the way they truthfully express what they’re experiencing and what they’re learning liberates me.

Because we’re all searching for human truth and freedom — and whether you’re ‘teaching’ or ‘learning,’ the truth you bring to the conversation gives everyone in that conversation greater freedom.

the truth you bring to the conversation gives everyone in that conversation greater freedom. Click To Tweet

How you do YOU look for truth and freedom in your  life?  How do you practice it?

To see me working on how to do that online watch the replay of “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit: The 7 Strings of Passion”





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Freedom, can it be Followed?


Sat. July 2nd I have a free Webinar for Harp Players called
“Play with Freedom”

Register for FREE here
(Registration includes a replay link)

We often think of creative freedom as complete independence, marching to our own drummer (who is, supposedly, us?).

So how could FOLLOWING someone else increase your personal creative freedom?

how could FOLLOWING someone else increase your personal creative freedom? Click To Tweet

Well … if I don’t know how to find my way to a door, then even if nobody’s stopping me from going out it – it might as well be locked to me.

I can theoretically have all the freedom in the world – but if I can’t  find it, if I don’t know how to use it, then I can’t embrace that freedom. I can’t embody it.

That’s where following someone else can help me.

I used to watch my ex-boyfriend’s kids at the computer – the oldest one would control the mouse and keyboard, and the others would watch her.  I couldn’t figure out WHY they’d want to WATCH instead of doing.

And then I started watching my ex-boyfriend on his computer and I began to understand that as we watch other people do things, we pick up things about flow that we simply can’t get by following directions, or figuring it out ourselves. I learned a lot just by ‘doing what he did’ (including that even really adept people are constantly running into snags)  – AND THEN I remembered that I learned a lot of music the same way as a kid: by singing back what I’d just heard my mother sing.

It’s like that phenomenon in music, that when you play with a stellar musician your own musicianship spontaneously rises to meet them.

when you play with a master musician your own musicianship spontaneously rises to meet them Click To Tweet

That’s Why I created “Summer Harp Jam

Those are the principles behind ‘Summer Harp Jam’ my summer harp program only for harp players.  Yes, only harp players.  We harp players are a micro-niche.  And if you play the harp, jump over to the info page and join us — register for the full 6-Week program by midnight Sat. Jul. 2 with the code SHJ-EARLY-30 to get $30 off.

Register for Summer #Harp Jam by midnight Saturday & use code SHJ-EARLY-30 for $30 off! Click To Tweet

This isn’t my first course for harp players – I have a whole curriculum of creativity in other online harp programs, but this one is different.

In my other courses, each week builds on the last, all leading towards one goal.  But in “Summer Harp Jam” each week is different, and what you’re building is a collection of jams you can play on.  So you can’t get ‘behind’ and you never have to catch up.  If you miss a week, you just jump in on the next week and you can review later on.

I wanted to create a summer program with no pressure, no stress to keep up. Click To Tweet

I  wanted to create a summer program with no pressure, no stress to keep up.  So you can play very simply if you’re more of a beginner – or embellish as much as you want if you’re advanced. You play with the jams using the skills you already have right now – and I help you find out how to connect with them.

wanted to give harp players the EXPERIENCE of Freedom. Click To Tweet

I wanted to create something to give harp players the EXPERIENCE of Freedom.  I wanted them to be able to STOP thinking, STOP trying to remember how something works or even be creative –  and just be able to kick back and PLAY – because that’s how I learned the basics of both improvisation and rhythm.

Summer Harp Jam” is like a virtual summer camp that gives you 6 weeks of pure play – and the play IS the learning – just like in a summer camp.

It's a virtual summer camp for #harp players only Click To Tweet

Tiny Structures

The whole idea of “Summer Harp Jam” is to work with tiny structures (Jam sequences) that are so easy to learn that you can get the basic structure in about right away.  The fun comes when you play WITH these small structures – by learning to improvise OVER them, or expand them, or change their style.

And people can do it at any level of technical ability because I show you how to both simplify and embellish what I’m doing.

By the end of the summer you have a whole playbook of over a dozen jam sequences that you can play alone or with other people, in styles from samba and bossa nova to open rubato forms, like you’d use for hospice playing.

The Weekly Play-along Jam Session

At the core of the program is the weekly “Play-along Jam Session” where you truly just sit down and play, using one very simple musical form called “Call and Response.”

Instead of having to figure out rhythms, melodies or arrangement forms, with “Call and Response,” you just play back to me everything I play to you – and depending on your technical level you can either play exactly what I play, or simplify it or embellish it – and that simplification or embellishment is the main ‘teaching’ part of the program.

In other words – each week I show you the jam, and then how you can play with it – simplifying, embellishing, adding rhythm – and showing you how you’d play it alone or with other musicians. I also show you how to change its ‘style’ – so you can use the same basic jam sequence to play a rhythmic groove – or to play rubato and meditatively.

Then we just play musical follow-the-leader, over and over on #harp Click To Tweet

Then we just play follow-the-leader -a LOT!  And depending on how you feel any day, your  response can be an echo of what I played – or respond to it, like in a conversation – so you can use the downloadable MP3s over and over to build your repertoire of responsiveness over time.

Want to see what that’s like?

Register for FREE online Playalong Webinar with Deborah Henson-Conant

Come to a FREE Playalong Webinar July 2nd at 2PM EDT and get a taste of  “Summer Harp Jam.” Register for free one-hour online training here.  If you miss the jam, registering will give you a link directly to the replay as soon as it’s on line.

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You don’t get it

Do you ever wish you could just let go and play music?  Or draw – or sing – or dance?

Nobody is stopping you.  But you can’t.

And is it true?  Is it TRUE that nobody’s stopping you?  

You feel tied down by a thousand tiny silken voices like the delicate strings holding Gulliver down in the land of Lillyputia.

Who tied those strings?  Can you even hear the voices?  Are they as elusive as incoherent echoes?

Do you have to hear them, do you have to answer them —  or can you just LET GO??

Yes.  You.  Let go.  The person holding all those delicate strings that hold you back is YOU.  And the “letting” of the “letting go” is the challenge.

And letting go is a practice.

The person holding all those delicate strings is YOU. #harpjam #harp Click To Tweet

After nearly four years of building a virtual creative school for harp players, starting with the nuts and bolts of arrangement, through Blues and harmony, I’m finally hitting the motherlode: the place where what I’m teaching and what I’m learning are flowing directly into the same stream:

It’s not about you “Getting it” – it’s about letting IT get to YOU.

I’m learning – and teaching – that “letting” comes from the practice of doing tiny things that you CAN do, instead of constantly reaching for the things you can’t.

The challenge is to unleash the power, the joy and the pure simplicity of actually DOING the thing that you can already DO.  Clicking with it, and then letting it take YOU to the next place.


If you’re not already signed up for “Summer Harp Jam” and you play the harp Register NOW!

Each week we explore a different tiny progression or “Jam” that has infinite possibilities for expression – and learn to click into it at whatever level YOU are at – right now, with the abilities, the instrument, the body, the mind, the age, the time that YOU actually truly have.  Right now.  As you truly are.

“I’ve played harp for nearly 50 years. I have a strict classical background & never in my wildest dreams thought I could improvise. This makes it all come together in a way that I can relate to.” (Sally Walstrum)

“You made it so simple for me that it clicked in my head and I was adding a lot of extra notes on my own which gave me more confidence.  Maybe I can improvise after all!” (Ellen Jordan)

“I just realized that  I can play a really gorgeous improv and nobody will know how simple it is! And I can do all kinds of things with my right hand that sound great with the 1-6-2-5. (Nell Morris)

Maybe I can improvise after all! #Harp #HarpJam #studentquote Click To Tweet

The challenge is learning to let it be easy.  To let it take you.  To yourself.


Email me if you have questions, or just sign up and join with yourself in the adventure of discovering your own ability to express yourself.

The challenge is learning to let it be easy. To let it take you. To yourself. #harpjam Click To Tweet


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Hunting the Harp Plug-Loop

I made this set of photos to show my friend Arthur how the harp-loop functions with the harp when he offered to help connect me to a potential manufacturer.  The easiest way to share them was to put them on my blog.  So here they are.

This is not an official blog-post – but if you’re here, feel free to look at it.

This is what the “unbent” harp plug-loop looks like:


This is what the ‘bent” one looks like.  They both work equally well.



This is what the harness clip looks like attaching to the unbent plug-loop:



This is what the harness looks like attached to the bent plug-loop.   Both bent and unbent work fine.IMG_2917

These are my unschooled attempts to draw what a useful plug-loop might look like.


This is what the plug-loop actually looks like, which is fine except it makes the harp too long to fit in some cases, which would mean you’d have to unscrew it, which you DON’T want to do, because if you lose the plug, the harp is unwearable.


To see the harness in action, go to

Arthur’s questions & my answers:

  1. Can you remind me how many pieces you ultimately would like?  Quantity always has some bearing on how something is produced.Depending on cost, my preference is to start with 100. If that’s unrealistic in terms of their cost, I’m open to suggestion. That would be enough for me to test out whether the project works. If the project works (If people buy my harnesses) then subsequent orders might change.  If they’re like CDs, I’m assuming that the first unit is the one that costs alot and the cost of units 2-through-gazillion are pretty minimal. Is that the same with things like this?
  2. How heavy is the harp (approx)? 11lbs (5 K)
  3. Is there any reason why the loop needs to be separated from the heavier threaded plug that screws into the harp?  Your piece was made by combining two pieces- a plug with external and internal threads and a screw-eye threaded into it.  The simplest and perhaps stronger way is to make it as one piece- a very different production method but I’m sure pretty trivial for these folks.There’s no reason the loop needs to ever be removed from the plug. I think the engineer who made this one was modifying their harness-plug to make one for me that works with my harness.
  4. The loop on your harp is bent.  Is this intentional or is it a modification that you made?  If it was not intentional it is a sign that the piece is not strong enough and this should be addressed in the new part- especially if you are going to sell them!  🙂That’s unintentional, but the loop works either way, and there are advantages to it being bent (it fits in the harp case more easily), and disadvantages (It’s slightly harder to connect the harness to it). In a ‘perfect world’ (Wow, I just realized I can redesign this slightly to make it work even better), the loop would be more oblong because that would avoid making the harp too long for a standard case, and still make it fairly easy to connect the harness to it (I’ll draw a picture of what I mean and attach it)
  5. I did not see the clip that attaches to the loop.  What is the size and nature of that?  Perhaps you can send a little photo? (I’ll attach a photo.)

  6. How important is the orientation of the loop at the bottom of the harp?  I’m imagining that when it is screwed in and tight it needs to be in a particular direction?  (plane of loop parallel or perpendicular with plane of harp?)  Perhaps not?It’s probably best when it’s oriented a certain way (horizontal to the player) BUT I’m not sure that’s completely controllable (because of how the harps are made – each housing for the plug may be randomly inserted), and I’ve never had the luxury of it being oriented the way I want, so I often untighten it slightly to make the loop orient in the best way for me.
  7. Can you think of any other issue or design requirement or need that would be important to consider?Yes! The fact (which I hadn’t thought of ‘til I got your questions) that the loop adds length to the instrument and affects how it fits in the case. The last thing I want to do is to have to remove the plug for any reason, since the harp is unplayable without it (and it’s a small, easily losable thing), so if I’m building the ‘perfect’ loop, I’d build it differently (I’ll make a drawing).
  8. Do all small harps have such a threaded insert at the bottom?  If it is a standard thing then perhaps the threads are standard?  (I think you said something like that but we were pretty rushed before leaving.)No, other harps don’t have a threaded insert. This insert is specific to this instrument, the ‘DHC’ electric harp.  The earlier prototypes of this instrument were wood, and I simply drilled a hole for the loop. The threads do not seem to be standard in the U.S. I spent hours in a hardware store trying to find any screw with this particular threading, and couldn’t.  The threads may be standard in France, but I don’t know.  I can write to Fred, the French engineer to ask.  He has offered to make me some, but I don’t feel I can ask for the quantity I need – and if the project is successful, I need to make sure I can get quantities quickly.
  9. Timeframe?I’ve been wanting to move forward on this for years, with this problem as the big fly-in-the-ointment. So it’s not urgent. Once this problem is solved I can move forward to finding someone to manufacture the harness itself.
  10. Maximum or desired cost estimate if you have one.
    I’d love to spend no more than $5 a plug (is that absurd? I’ve no idea). If I could get it down to $2.50 or less that would be even better. I’ve no idea if that’s ridiculously high, low or totally realistic.
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Where are You Waiting for You?

Two weeks ago, a new Grand Piano came into my lifeDHC-at-piano-Evvy-PtReyesDancePalace-ed, and sits in the room that was always waiting for The Grand Piano (see this post about how that happened).

A week ago, my house cleaner came for the first time post-new-piano and we were talking about it in our halting I-Can’t-Speak-Spanish/I-Can’t-Speak-English, when she pointed to a picture that hangs right outside my studio, and knocked her fingers knuckles against it, as if she were gently rapping at a door.

It’s a picture I see a hundred times a day, and don’t think much about although it’s right at the entrance of my studio.

It’s a picture of me sitting at a piano. I’m about 18, around the time when I gave my first solo concert. It might have even been a ‘publicity shot’ for that concert.

I’m turned toward the camera, sitting at a beautiful old piano that was in the Dance Palace, the artist collective where I lived — and the photo was taken by Evvy Eisen (one of my favorite photographers).

In the picture, it looks like I’m turned waiting for someone to return.  

And yesterday, when Carmen knocked on the picture, I got the feeling that I was finally at the door.

Where are you w­aiting for you?

Where are you waiting for yourself to return?  Where are you frozen in time wondering when – if ever – you’ll return?

Every day, working with the artists I mentor in my “Harness Your Muse” program,  I get to experience people knocking on their own creative doors, tentatively opening them a crack to see who’s there, opening them wider and wider.

Every day I get to experience the slow reach of hands across a lifetime as someone picks up an instrument, an idea, a passion they loved and left behind — or one they didn’t dare hope for — and invests themselves in it.

That rubs off on you.

Are you ready to meet yourself there?

My whole life I’ve searched for mentors, and found them.  You’ll read about some of them in some of my blogs: Tony, Swack, Michael, Felicia and others – people who helped me find my way to me.

If your dream is musical expression, then consider applying for “Harness Your Muse.” Enrollment ends July 1st – and even if you don’t join the program, the application itself will help you see your own path more clearly.  And if yours is a different dream –  photography, painting, dance?  Find a mentor, a guide to start your journey back to you.

And just think about this: When someone says “What are you waiting for?” the real question is “Where are you waiting for YOU … and what do you need to meet yourself there?”

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Flying in My Piano

I’ve been blogging a lot about my new piano and how I first created an illusionary piano to solidify it’s existence in my own mind – and how it turned into a real piano that is now changing my life and my work.


Illusions becoming reality is one story – but even when dreams come true, there’s still work involved – and we had to get this 800-pound dream from Charlotte, NC to a second story music room with a narrow curving stairway in Arlington, MA.

This post is about how that happened – which you may need to know if you’re ever gifted a grand piano and have to move it across state lines.  It took 3 moving companies: the “Local Guy” in Charlotte, NC (Carolina Piano Movers), the mysterious interstate moving company (Keyboard Carriage.) and my local guys Gentle Giant (Allston Piano Movers).

Here’s the story in pictures & video of how it happened.

The Pickup

It leaves Betsey & Dick’s house in Charlotte thanks to Ryan and his crew at Carolina Piano Movers.




The Mysterious Interstate Journey

Ryan takes the piano to his storeroom until Keyboard Carriage – the interstate movers – are ready. Then they rendezvous, and Ryan puts it on Keyboard Carriage’s big truck that drops pianos off all along the East Coast – including to ‘Gentle Giant’ in the Boston area.

Here’s a photo from my web research of the Keyboard Carriage truck.  So why is there a motorcycle in the the back of the truck?  Well, it turns out that Keyboard Carriage specializes in moving pianos … and motorcycles.  New evidence of my belief that there’s a genetic connection between harps and bicycles.


New evidence of my belief in the genetic connection between harps and bicycles. Click To Tweet

The Receiving End

Gentle Giant’s crane and  big truck arrive:


The crane maneuvers up the driveway and Rooty plumbs it and stabilizes it with wood:


The piano emerges!

03-Piano coming out of truck

Time for a strategy session.  Patrick, the crew chief (on the right) is cogitating on the best angle to fly the piano in the back porch.

04b-Discussing Piano Strategy

My favorite part … they fly my piano in.  I made a little video for this part:

The piano appears over the horizon of the house with Nathan and Patrick ready to catch it and Chad running lines of communication with Rooty, the crane operator.

06-piano in backyard

A view through the screen door of the piano coming onto the back porch:


The piano rides a dolly through the house to its new home.

removing the dolly

Another strategy session …

it's in!

Patrick points out to me the dowels that help stabilize the piano legs

How you know where to put the legs

Leg #1 goes on — notice the massive hammer


The piano is upright!  Nathan and Patrick crawl underneath like car mechanics to add the lyre – the pedals and the mechanism that connects the pedals to the hammers.


It’s a REAL piano!


I take my place on the bench:


I am ousted by the heir apparent. But not for long:


I bring down the manuscripts I’m editing together for “The Golden Cage” musical, put them on the piano, and get to work.  This is the moment I’ve been waiting for:


And … folks … we have achieved lift-off


Thank you so much to Betsey & Dick Sessler, to Gloria Hodes with “Music & Masque”, to John, Joe, Patrick, Nathan, Chad, Rooty and Anna at Gentle Giant (Allston Piano Movers), Ryan & Teeya at Carolina Piano Movers and Rick at Keyboard Carriage.  Also to the kind folks, Julie and Dan, at Modern Piano, the one company that does do interstate piano moves from door to door (they spent a lot of time talking to me, but the timing worked out better for us to use the 3-part transport)

Every one of these piano-moving companies spent time with me on the phone, responded when they said they would, arrived on time, were communicative, kind, careful – and that made such a difference.

And Betsey & Dick — come on up any time to hear the rest of the piano concert I started at your house in April!




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How Illusions Create Reality – The Illusionary Piano

For more than 40 years I’ve wanted a grand piano. I wanted it so keenly that I made a illusionary grand piano, like Gepetto made an illusionary boy named Pinnochio … and last week my illusionary piano magically transformed into a real one (see this blog post for more on Gepetto & the Real Piano).


Here’s how the illusion became real for me:

In April 2016 I went to Charlotte, N.C. for a performance residency at CPCC.   I walked into my hosts, Betsey and Dick Sessler’s house, saw their grand piano, sat down, put my fingers on the keys and didn’t come up for air for another 30 minutes. I was completely subsumed in that piano.

Betsey reminded me it was the piano she’d told me about on the phone.

Then I remembered: we’d discussed the possibility of my performing a private concert at her home – but there was this big piano taking up the performance space in her living room, and she hadn’t found the right loving home for it. I’d forgotten all about that conversation.   And suddenly I knew exactly where that loving home was…

Call it synchronicity. Call it the law of attraction. Call it luck.

I believe it’s the magic of illusion creating reality.  The magic of having your dream so clear that you immediately know it when you see it.  The magic of creating an illusion that’s so strong that it becomes reality.

I believe it's the magic of illusion creating reality Click To Tweet

I could have waffled on this – but I didn’t.

There was no question for me of whether or not I should invest in shipping this piano to my house.  No question whether or not to invest in flying it via crane into my music room versus putting it in the easy-access first floor.

I knew EXACTLY  where the piano lived in my life because it was already living there in illusionary form.  It already existed completely – all it had to do was assume physical form.

And it did.  And within 24 hours it was already taking its place in my life and my work.


How real are you willing to let your dreams become? How willing are you to invest in the illusion?

How real are you willing to let your dreams become? Click To Tweet

When I mentor creative artists in my “Harness Your Muse” program, I give them a set of steps to go through with their creative projects – ways to enhance the illusion that their show or publication already exists.

Each one of these illusions brings the project more and more vivid until the illusion becomes reality.


Each illusion becomes more vivid until the illusion becomes reality Click To Tweet

Actually …  reality becomes what the illusion was.

I call these steps “shape shifters” – and they’re very simple – the natural shapes that a show or a publication takes when it’s being shared: the program, the poster, the script, the cover page, the acknowledgements … but most people wait until they’ve created a show or composition before creating these.

I discovered that when you create the illusion for yourself that something already exists, it creates its own reality.  The more vivid you make that illusion, the more it becomes real.

Do you have a creative dream that’s ready to shift into a vivid illusion – and then to reality?  If that dream is one of creating a performance, a show, a composition, a musical program, learn more about working with me in the “Harness Your Muse” program at or email me direct


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No iPads in the Bathtub for the Girl with the Flaxen Hair

One of my greatest luxuries is taking a hot bath and reading a bookbook-short-stories-1937 I know it’s decadent, but there, I’ve admitted it.  I’ve managed complex arrangements in hotel rooms to create impromptu reading stands just out of splash-range because my #1 rule of bathing-and-reading is No iPads in the Bathtub.

That’s because I often fall asleep in the tub.  Which adds to both the luxury and the decadence.

Also the fear of a water-landing and submergence for the iPad.

At home I don’t need to go to such great lengths.  My library is in a small room just next to the bathroom, and my favorite books are there, along with some books I’ve forgotten about – books I collected, or that were gifts, or that I simply haven’t read in years.

There’s no prohibition against real books in the tub. Real books get to go anywhere.

Rule #1: No iPads in the Bathtub Click To Tweet

About a month ago, I was desperately searching the top shelves of the library as the bathwater was running, when I found “Best Short Stories of 1937.”

I settled into the tub, checked the table of contents and opened to a story called “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” by Manuel Komroff. I chose it simply because it’s the name of a piece of music by Debussy.

It was another Pinocchio/Pygmalion story. These stories seem to be stumbling into my life right and left.

 “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” is the story of a sad, lonely man who falls in love with a manikin.  He steals her out of show window, takes her home, treats her excellently, dances with her, tells her about his day when he comes home from work, brings her presents, and is so happy in his relationship with her that he becomes a happy man.

Vowing to become the man worthy of her, he buys himself new clothes, plans a vacation and stands up for himself at work – all with complete conviction and the power of their love to support him.

He changes.  He lives up to his fantasy.

He comes alive for the people around him. And someone falls in love with him.

He lives up to his fantasy - and becomes alive for the people around him Click To Tweet

He returns the manikin and he begins his life.

It’s the story of a man who’s own decisive action becomes his ‘inciting incident’ – the action that changes his life, that brings him alive.

Funny, until I wrote this post, I thought the story was just that his commitment to his manikin fantasy brings him to life – but I just realized the story is also about him becoming alive to other people.

I realized that when we become alive to ourselves, when we commit to our long-held fantasies of what it would mean to be truly alive – that brings us alive to other people, too.

In my mentorship program, “Harness Your Muse,” I am constantly “throwing down the gauntlet” for my mentorees – creating deadlines for projects that bring their shows and composition projects alive for them, having them engage with half-baked parts of their projects as if they were completely realized.  I call these exercises “Shape Shifters” but I just realized they don’t just shape the project – they actually bring it to life and not just for us … but for the people around us. 

Hmph!  Time to get me a manikin!

[Ha! Google just told me that this story made it into Stephen King’s “Best American Short Stories of the Century” anthology (which I just now bought – in physical form – used of course. Who would ever buy a new book when you can get a used one and have the chance of stumbling on some other reader’s marks in the margin?)]

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Geppetto & the Real Piano

I’ve wanted a grand piano for over 40 years.

So last August I created one for myself out of an old table, two scarves, a couple music stands and an electronic keyboard.


This week it turned into a real grand piano.


More on how that happened in a later post, but for the moment … now I know much better how Gepetto felt when Pinnochio turned into a real boy.

And you know what’s wonderful about a real grand piano?

There’s no on and off switch. There’s no software to upgrade.  There’s no incompatibility with other systems in the house.

It’s always on. It always responds to my touch.

It’s a real piano.

Where Does it Get Real for YOU?

I’m a composer, performer and creative mentor.  I’m always working to be more real, more responsive, more alive and more connected to my work, my play, my audiences, my students, my colleagues.

Are YOU passionate about becoming a deeper, more real musician? Do you long to be more more connected, more responsive?  Do it.  Make it real.

If you play the harp, join my next class at “Hip Harp Academy.” If you want to up the ante, apply for my yearlong “Harness Your Muse” mentorship program.

Is sitting in the audience where it gets real for you?    Come to my next performance and let’s connect there – because on stage is where I feel like I really come alive.

And whatever you do, however you do it … make it real for YOU.

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Why is Hip HARP not Hip HOP or …What Happens when a Publicist makes a typo

My friend Lisa Lynne asked me to answer some questions for her upcoming book “How to Succeed with Self-Produced Concerts” and this is my answer to “What’s the worst publicity mistake you’ve encountered”?

Worst Publicity Mistake you’ve encountered?

hiphop-hiphop-hipharp2I was on tour in Montana and I was driving into town when I heard an ad for my show on the radio.  That was really fun … until I heard them say I was  a “Hip Hop Harpist.”

I’m NOT a Hip Hop artist.  I am WAAAAAY not a hip hop artist. My website is and the show was called “HipHARPist.”

The Boston area, where I live, is a hotbed of hip HOP.  If I advertised myself in Boston as a Hip Hop artist, I’d be jeered off the stage.  And rightly so.

But I figured maybe the radio announcer just read the ad copy wrong. A lot of people accidentally say “Hip Hop” when they try to say the name of my website.

A lot of people accidentally say Hip Hop when they read my website Click To Tweet

I stopped for pizza and there on the wall was a poster of for my show.  It had a big picture of me and it said “Hip Hop Harpist.”

I called the publicist, explained the mistake and she said nobody would know the difference. I said it was a HUGE difference and that anyone who knew anything about hip hop would know immediately.  She said it wouldn’t be a problem in Montana.

There was no point in arguing, especially not the day of the show.  All that mattered to me was that I didn’t piss off audience members who thought they were coming to hear hip hop.

So a few minutes before the show, I walked out on stage and told the audience that if they’d come to hear hip hop, I’d love to have them stay, but this was Hip HARP, not hip HOP.  People laughed, nobody left, I didn’t think any more about it and had a great show.

A week later I got a scathing email from the publicist, railing me for insulting the stage manager by walking out on stage before the show and speaking directly to the audience (mind you, this was a small rural theater).

I was mystified, emailed the theater, apologized if I’d insulted the stage manager — and finally realized that I hadn’t insulted anyone, and that my speech to the audience had probably tipped off the management to her mistake and that’s what she was mad about.

My takeaway from this?

Make sure you see the ad copy and the posters before they’re printed or recorded.  My rider now has a clause requiring that I be sent all radio and promotions copy for approval  — and I always send my own copy to presenters to get their OK before I send it to print.

Do we make mistakes?  Sure.  We all do.  Then we fix them.  And we don’t tell people they aren’t important if they think they are.

The sad thing was, this publicist had probably worked hard.  She had posters up all over town, she had ads on the radio.

She actually did a good job of getting the word out.

It was just the wrong word.

She did a good job getting the word out - it was just the wrong word. Click To Tweet
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She’s Just TOO Wild! Or … What Was Your Worst Gig Ever … and WHY?

My friend Lisa Lynne is writing a book about alternative touring models and collaborative producing called “How to Succeed with Self-Produced Concerts.” She asked her touring-musician friends like me to share their experiences, by answering a series of questions including – what’s was your worst gig ever?

What’s your worst gig ever?

There’s really only one show I ever felt bad about – but it was pretty intense.

I was booked as a symphony soloist with a major symphony orchestra in a deeply conservative area of the country.  I performed my usual symphony show, the press loved it, the folks who came to see ME loved it  … and the symphony management, along with some very vocal members of the community, hated it.

And I mean hated it.

I didn’t realize what was happening.  We were about to post a link to the glowing review in Facebook when my assistant said – “Woah! Hold on! I’m not sure we should share this.  The review’s great – but take a look at the comments!”  What I saw was one vitriolic comments  after another – and they were lambasting my performance — and me!  My agent called the symphony administration and they were livid.  They said they’d never book me again and I was “Just too wild for [City-Not-to-Be-Named]”

I was devastated … but then I thought about what they said:  “Too wild…”  Wasn’t I always struggling against the stereotype of the demure harpist??  They didn’t say I was a bad musician.  They didn’t say they were bored.  They said I was TOO WILD.

I told my agent that if we could get authorization to use that quote, it could become the best publicity I could ever get.  But he wouldn’t call them back. I personally thought that was wimpy.  But I was also too much of a wimp to do it myself.

Sometimes you just can’t make lemonade out of the lemons.

My assistant said -Woah! Hold On! I'm not sure we should share this... Click To Tweet

So where did this gig go wrong?

It was actually a marketing and communications problem.  The concert was marketed as their annual 1812 Overture summer classics concert. I was the featured soloist and had been hired for a 20-minute featured spot.  A short spot like that is pretty standard for a visiting artist with a major symphony orchestra.

But when I discussed the program with the conductor, he told me I should play my standard 2-set symphony show – at least 3 times as much material as I’d be contracted to play.  I asked him if he’d OK’d that with the marketing department and he assured me it was fine.  I was so thrilled to have been asked to play MORE than I’d originally been booked for, that I didn’t question it any further.

I should have!

The next thing I noticed was that the symphony’s marketing focused almost entirely on the 1812 Overture.  I thought that was strange, and I asked the conductor again if he’d OK’d the program change with the symphony – and again he told me it was fine.

What he didn’t say was “Yes, I have talked to the marketing department.  I told them you’re playing 80% of the program instead of 20% and they’re totally on board with that.”

Turns out he hadn’t OK’d it with the marketing department. He’d assumed I was doing a full 2-set show (because we’d done it that way in the past) and he just thought I was being difficult and overly anxious by repeatedly asking for confirmation about the programming.

What should I have done?

Marketing creates audience expectations & the impact of expectations is huge. Click To Tweet

The minute I noticed something ‘off’ with the marketing, I should have personally double-checked until I got an absolutely conclusive message.  Instead, I just focused on marketing the show to my own audience through my ezine and social media, figuring the symphony marketing was on board with the programming change.

But marketing is what creates audience expectations, and the impact of expectations is huge.

So here’s what happened:

The symphony audience came expecting to hear the 1812 Overture, other classic symphonic war-horses and a short artist-feature.  Instead they got me — a lot of me and my electric harp – followed by the 1812 Overture.

Half the audience was thrilled.  But the other half was seriously unhappy.  They had a right to be, considering what they expected – and they were very vocal about their unhappiness.

My big takeaways: 

  1. Marketing HAS to be true to the product or experience. No matter how good your apple pie is, if people were expecting fried chicken, they’re likely to be unhappy. At another time they might love that same fried chicken – but not when they were planning on apple pie. Sure, some people will be happy, but the ones who aren’t, will be unhappy and VOCAL about it – because they feel like they were misled.  And they were!
  1. As the featured artist, if something seems ‘off’ in the marketing, you have to follow up and keep following up until you KNOW you’re on the same page with the marketing and that it truly represents the show you’ll be presenting. If that means that you talk directly to the marketing department, you need to do that, even if someone ELSE says it’s OK, even if people tell you you should keep your nose out of the marketing because you’re the ‘artiste.’

The way a show is marketed is PART of the performance, PART of the audience expectation, PART of your CONNECTION to the audience.  Your connection to the audience begins with the marketing, and if the marketing isn’t true to the artist and the show, you’ve started your relationship with a disconnect.

The way a show is marketed is part of the performance Click To Tweet

The most important things to me as a performer are connecting with my audience and sharing my truth and this experience taught me that that begins long before I ever step one cowboy boot onto the stage.


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What was your favorite marketing collaboration?

Hint: it included a herd of harpists crashing a symphony performance … but let’s go back to the beginning.

My collaboration with the Tacoma Symphony a few years ago comes immediately to mind when someone asks me about best experiences collaborating. This collaboration was both in creative programming and marketing  – and it resulted in a sold-out show on a Sunday afternoon with an audience literally lining up around the block.


How did we collaborate?

The Symphony’s marketing department and I tag-teamed, sharing each other’s blogs, reaching out to the press, co-sharing on social media. But the sold-out house was just part of what felt so great.

The other part came from  programming idea I had:  I’d been booked as a featured soloist with the orchestra, but in addition to all my own material with symphony, I had a vision of a whole group of harps “crashing” the concert stage.

I had this vision of a whole group of harps “crashing” the concert stage. Click To Tweet


I ran the idea by the symphony manager and marketing folks and they loved it.  So I asked local powerhouse teacher Pat Wooster if she’d put together a local harp ensemble.

My idea was that, during the show, I would point out to the audience that it wasn’t fair that there were more than 20 violinists in the orchestra – but only one harpist who was way in the back.  I would say that, as the soloist, I demanded more harps on stage, and that they should all be right up front.

I demanded more harps on stage - and all up front Click To Tweet

Of course we worked it all out in advance, rehearsed with the symphony – and then both the symphony and all the harpists launched into an arrangement of my piece “New Blues” that I wrote for harp ensemble and orchestra.

What made it work so well? 

For one thing, I happened to be coming to the Northeast about 6 weeks before the concert, so I arranged to rehearse with the harp ensemble,  film some live footage for the local press, and take promo photos with the “Harpbreakers” ensemble thanks to the mother of one of the ensemble players.


I also coached everyone in the harp ensemble on how to send out press releases and encouraged each harpist in the ensemble to send releases to THEIR local paper about THEIR participation in the project (i.e. “Local harpist joins Grammy-Nominated artist on stage with the Tacoma Symphony”) and I gave them a template to use.


This got them press in their local papers (some even got feature stories with photos!) – so they became local celebrities in their own communities – which built even more audience for the show and made it feel even more fun.

What were the magic ingredients?

The magic ingredients were the level of communication about marketing and the idea of a visiting international artist collaborating with both local artists and a great professional symphonic ensemble.  The Tacoma Symphony administration, their marketing department, the local harp community and my own team were all on the same page about every aspect of it: the fun of a harp ensemble “crashing” the concert, the community outreach, the marketing.

Everyone was sharing and re-sharing all the social media, and each collaborator was invested in promoting their own part of the collaboration as well as the show as a whole – so when it succeeded so well it felt like a success for ALL of us – and that felt great.

Click here see the press release template and the “New Blues” rehearsal materials I shared with the ensemble – and when you want to do this with YOUR symphony – I’m ready!

This post is part of a small series I wrote at the request of my friend Lisa Lynne, who’s is writing a book about alternative touring models and collaborative producing called “How to Succeed with Self-Produced Concerts”.  She asked her touring-musician friends like me to share their experiences, and this little blog series is my answer to her questions.   And here’s a link to more about Lisa’s upcoming book.

Special thanks for this post to the Tacoma Symphony and to Casey Pinckney’s mom for the photos!

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How do you make the MOST of a Tech Disaster?

In Germany, in the early 90’s, I was road-testing a new electro-acoustic concert harp during a 6-week tour with my trio – Wolfgang Diekmann on bass and Davey Tulloch on percussion (it’s not the harp you see in this picture, by the way).


Davey Tulloch, me and Wolfgang Diekmann – my band in the early ’90’s  – posing in Cardiff, Wales for our live album “Just for You” (Laika Records, Germany)

It was a fabulous instrument, with just one problem: every time I played the final, loud, dramatic note of my piece “996,” the entire pickup system would short out and we’d lose all sound from the instrument.

Every time I played the final note, the entire pickup system would short out Click To Tweet

The first couple of times it happened it totally threw me – but after the 3rd time we worked out a routine: we’d play the piece, the harp would short-out, the road-manager would run onstage with a soldering iron. Wolfgang and Davey (bass & percussion) would step to the front of the stage and given microphones while Michael and I flipped the harp on its back and and Michael would get to work soldering.

Davey would tell a joke in English and Wolfgang would translate into German Click To Tweet

Davey,  a very funny guy with deadpan humor, would tell a joke in English, and my straight-faced German bass-player would translate it into German, slowly, phrase by phrase.

Always the same joke.

Very slowly.

About a tortoise who gets mugged by seven snails.

By the time the joke was done, the harp was repaired and the audience was laughing like crazy. So was I – every night.  Their delivery was flawless. It was one of my favorite parts of the show and still one of my favorite jokes.

Sadly, that problem with the harp was fixed by the following tour, so our tech problems with the harp were few and far between – but from then on I couldn’t wait for something else to go wrong.


Davey, modeling an impromptu apron in his hotel room


Wolfgang, with one of the many bouquets I got from the audience on his head


Michael, our long-suffering road-manager, sound-engineer, driver and genius-with-a-soldering-iron



The band all gussied up for a live TV appearance

This post is part of a small series I wrote at the request of my friend Lisa Lynne, who’s is writing a book about alternative touring models and collaborative producing called “How to Succeed with Self-Produced Concerts”.  She asked her touring-musician friends like me to share their experiences, and this little blog series is my answer to her questions.  As it turns out, this first story is totally irrelevant to her book, because I read the question wrong.  So I made up my own question to match my answer.   And here’s a link to more about Lisa’s upcoming book.

Special thanks to Stephen Powell for the photos!

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