Deborah Henson-Conant is a  Grammy-Nominated composer/performer and creative coach. She coaches and mentors impassioned harp players through her online 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.

Enjoy!

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1.  Alexandra Coursen

Cutting it down was a good exercise ... then I can tailor the playing to the audience or my own feelings (Alexandra Coursen) 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 it (Jill Grzonka) 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 King) 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 (Margi Miller) 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58i4zfU46vE

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 Gallant) 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 Walstrum) 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!


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