After half-a-century, of being a musician, here’s how I see success:
Success is like how I imagine surfing – though I’ve never surfed. You get out there with your board. You wait for a wave and when it comes, you paddle like mad. If you catch it, you ride as far as you can, or you crash. If you don’t crash, you have a wild, exhilarating ride … which deposits you back at the shore.
If you want to keep going, you have to start all over again: paddle back beyond the breakers, and wait for the next wave, so you can do it all over again.
Today is my birthday, 2016. I started writing this outline of my life a few years ago. Like a lot of the content I’ve created, it’s waited patiently on a shelf. This is the year the shelves are coming down.
1953-1974 Birth to Illiteracy
I moved every year of my life as a kid. By the time I reached High School, I’d been to ten different schools in three states and two countries. For awhile I thought maybe my stepfather Larry was a spy, but I think he and my mother just liked to move.
The story goes that my parents, Ina & Burt, courted by singing to each other so singing was my first language. I heard it before I was born. But I only saw my parents together once, when I was around 20, in the audience at my first concert playing the harp.
My parents had divorced when I was 2, my mother remarried when I was 6. Between 2 and 6 my mother and I lived with relatives, both hers and my Dad’s: one set were Jewish, the other Christian – one half Russian immigrants, the other half many-generationed Swedish farmers. The one thing every single house had in common was a piano. That was my constant. I played music like kids today play computer games. Every story I made up, every fantasy, had a soundtrack I played myself.
At 7, my mother taught me to play the ukulele. At 10, she taught me how to “fake” music on the piano by improvising from the written chords. Neither of us knew she was showing me the fundamentals of jazz improvisation – a skill that would change my life 15 years later.
I improvised on the piano constantly. So at 11, my parents offered me piano lessons. I hated them. At 12, they offered guitar lessons. I avoided them. At 12-and-a-half, they offered harp lessons. After six of them, I refused to go with the lame excuse that if I had calluses on my fingers nobody would hold hands with me.
That’s when they realized I didn’t like lessons. I didn’t want to learn pieces that other people could already play spectacularly. It seemed like that job was already covered. I wanted to create new music – music with stories. So my parents gave up on lessons and left me alone with the piano to make up stories with music.
I wrote songs all through High School in Los Angeles, dropped out two weeks before graduation and moved to Northern California, where I joined a dance-and-theater collective in Marin County called the “Dance Palace,” wrote music and acted in the plays – and worked part-time as a medical secretary for the local doctor’s office.
When I was 19, I started writing my first full-length musical. That’s when I realized I had a problem: I’d learned to improvise, I could make up stories with music, I could invent music — but I’d never learned to read or write music. I was musically illiterate. I sat at the piano, in my little house on Tomales Bay, seeing the huge gulf between where I was and where I wanted to be, and I knew I had to bridge that gap to go on. I had to learn how to read and write music.
Coming Next in this Series:
- 1974 – 1988 Music School to Jazz Harp Trio
- 1988 – 1995 Solo Career, Record Contract & I Create an Orchestral Show – including Charlie Rose, Joan Rivers, Scott Simon and International Adventures
- 1995 – 2000 Boston Pops To Baby Blue
- 2000 – 2004 The Fringe To Cinderella Story #2
- 2005 – 2010 “Invention & Alchemy” To Salt Lake City
- 2010 – 2016 Online Connection, Touring with Steve Vai & the Birth of Mentorship and Community
November is my birthday month and I love to celebrate my birthday by giving things away! Click the buttons below to watch the sing-along video or download the free MP3 of my birthday song: “Congratulations, You made it this Far!”
Want to hear more. Your story is fascinating.
I look forward to the rest of your blogs. I love your pictures! There is always an adventure with you and I eagerly look forward to it! Happy Birthday!!! You are one special lady!
This is great stuff! It was interesting to see you at Athur Ganson’s reopening atMIT.
Thank you Guy! That was a great event – very mind-opening.
Dearest Deborah – Happy Birthday to you!!! although we have just met it is obvious to me that you are an incredibly generous person!! Thank you so much for sharing all that you do – you are expanding my world and in particular, you are expanding the JOY in my world!! I hope you have a wonderful birthday!! Anne Horton x
I a very Harpy Birthday!!! I was your roady in Buffalo when you first brought the Frog Princess here!! My son, Alexander, still has your signed poster on his wall!! He loved the fact that you asked him which parts he liked and didn’t like on your opera!!
I wish I could be in Cambridge to celebrate with you( I was there Oct 14-15 for Lesley University Alumni Council meeting).
The very best day ( month ) ever!!
Patricia Ruof, harpist
You are so inspiring! I first heard you in Grand Rapids Michigan
Blessings to you
Thank you Sarah! I MISS Grand Rapids and everyone in your wonderful orchestra!
Dear Deborah! Harpy harpy birthday to you! What a great idea to give people gifts at your birthday! Thank you so much for sharing all these thoughts, stories and music with us. They are full of hope and inspiration! I feel deep respect for you, your mind and your soul. I am so happy to be part of the hipharp academy- it inspired me to just make music again and not only play pieces of music. I have lost it for many years, the hipharp academy , your team and you brought me back ! Great! Excellent! Thank you so much for this! Please let me know if you write more in this blog! Greets and respect! Claudia Hairy fairy Haarfee Nußbaumer
So happy to have you in the Academy, Claudia! Thank you for you lovely Birthday greetings.
I hope you’ve had a wonderful birthday! Love all you do. My heroine.
Mary-Lela Gilbert, harper
You are AMAZING! Can’t wait to read the next installment! Loved the picture of you and your mum…..you were a Rockstar even then!
Ha ha, Maura – thank you! I wanted to be a rock star! Actually I wanted to be Elvis’s dog. Well, actually I really wanted to be the engineer on a train. Working on the next installment.
WONDERFUL!! and the photos are such a treat! Many thanks for sharing with us.
Happy Birthday to my dear life and harp coach! You’re a true shining star and a world class super star!
May all your days full of sunshine and joy!
Dilys (Hong Kong)
I LOVE this: ” I didn’t want to learn pieces that other people could already play spectacularly. It seemed like that job was already covered. I wanted to create new music – music with stories.” That’s exactly how I felt after years of study and work as a classical singer. I was tired of re-creating a song or aria that anyone with the price of a CD could hear performed more perfectly than I could do! Now I am following your wonderful example and doing my own thing. So freeing and so fabulous. Thanks for all the inspiration. You have changed my life!
Carol – you ARE SOOOO doing your own wonderful thing. If I’ve had anything to do with that I’m thrilled — almost as thrilled as I am when I get to see you DOING YOU! THANK YOU!!
Can’t wait for next chapter…thank you for letting us into this window on your life,it’s fascinating 🙂 !