This post was originally published Dec 1, 2016.
Holiday music was the reason I became a harpist … but maybe not for the reason you think.
I could be pretty snobby about what I sang when I was a young adult, and when my college chorus was singing a Christmas song I didn’t like, I figured out THE BEST way to avoid having to sing.
I noticed that the music said “Optional Harp or Piano Accompaniment” – and since I’d had a whopping six harp lessons as a kid, I asked the conductor, “If I can learn to play this on the harp, can I play instead of singing.”
“Oh sure,” she snickered, “Sure. If you can learn to play this on the harp, you don’t have to sing.”
Then she showed me the harp that was stashed in the band closet, and I worked like a dog (by the way, I did once have a dog who worked like a dog – but that’s another story). I learned that music. And more importantly, I didn’t have to SING one note of it.
But after that concert, the band director came to me and said, “You know, we need a harpist in the band. How about we pay for your lessons and you become the harpist.”
Ahhhh … if only all my other efforts at avoidance worked out so well.
Our lives never go in a straight line, do they? You think you’re finished and you’ve just begun. You try to walk away from one thing only to realize you’ve walked smack-dab into something you’ll build your life on.
I never realized the harp would take me around the world, give me a Grammy-Nomination, lead to performances with major symphonies, to playing with some of the world’s greatest musicians, innovating a new kind of harp that’s been named for me, writing concertos and chamber music for the instrument.
All I was trying to do was AVOID singing a Christmas song I didn’t like (and by the way, I still don’t like it).
How about you?
Has avoidance ever turned you towards a lifelong passion you might never have considered? Has it given you anything else? I’d love to know. Let me know in the comments below.
And while you’re thinking about it go download my Holiday Album, “The Gift, ” and check out “O Tannenbaum” – that’s a song I’d been avoiding my whole life – and then I thought, Hmmmm …. I wonder if I could create a version I’d love. And I did. Now that’s my favorite cut on the album.
When I first shared this post, I got some great stories in response and I want to share them here:
The discipline I discovered inspired me in other areas of my life
(From Katherine Harrison)
It’s not quite the same, or quite as life-changing in quite the same way, but for years I thought I couldn’t run. Not a step. That just didn’t happen. I’m seriously asthmatic, my right leg is held together by screws. It was great for other people, and I loved watching the London Marathon and the Olympic track and field events on TV, but not for me.
Then a close family member became seriously ill with cancer and I decided a) I should do some fundraising for the charity that was helping him and b) I’d best get myself fit because the chances were, it would come for me at some point in the future.
I decided that since I liked cycling and swimming, maybe the fundraising challenge should be a triathlon and I would just suffer the running bit.
But…. oops…. I discovered I loved running far more than the other two. I nearly drowned on the sea swim so I gave that up. And I discovered… eek… I often loved training far more than I loved practicing the harp and now, well I’m at a crossroads!
Running has been totally life changing for me, and the discipline I discovered I can apply to running (because I love it so much) has really inspired me to apply that to other areas of my life. Running has also shown me what true love and passion for a thing feels like, and what it doesn’t. It has taught me that failing is fine, and normal, and part of the game. It has taught me what ‘just for fun’ is. When you find yourself running for 20 hours just for fun… it’s fair to say that you have to really love it.
I’m not sure where it will take me next but I look forward to the next adventure, that’s for sure
If that Horse hadn’t bucked I might never have become a musician
(from Donna Adams-Profeta)
I’m not sure this quite qualifies, and the avoidance part comes near the end of a rather circuitous route towards taking up the harp, but here goes…
Back in 1989 or 90, I was looking for a costume to wear on horseback for the Travers Day Parade, in Saratoga Springs, NY. My little Morgan mare, Shasta, had the nasty habit of bucking on pavement and I needed something to cover my riding hat, which I certainly wouldn’t want to be without. So it occurred to me that Medieval might be the way to go, since they had all those imaginative headdresses, and it just so happened that the Cathedral of All Saints, in Albany, was having their annual Renaissance Faire, so I decided to go check it out.
I ran into some folks from the Society for Creative Anachronism (aka the SCA), a medieval living history group, discussed it with them and decided that Medieval was indeed the way to go. And…since I was going to all the trouble to make this outfit, I figured I may as well have somewhere else to wear it, so I became a member of the local Barony of Concordia of the Snows, eventually earning the title of Lady Brynna nic Adam, for bravely playing harp as part of an SCA demo, in the midst of a raucous medieval feast at a local elementary school…while chicken bones were being flung around the room into a box in the middle. The rest of the troupe was out in the hallway at the time, peering through the little window on the classroom door, horrified.
Among other things, the SCA has Bardic competitions at their events, where people get up and perform music or poetry. I was deathly afraid of singing in front of people, but they were so welcoming, I gave it a shot. I did freeze after the first verse of “In a garden so green”, but they all applauded anyway and I continued to participate in future competitions.
And here’s where the avoidance comes in…I wanted an instrument to accompany myself (hide behind), but my guitar playing was pretty pitiful (I still can’t do bar chords) and electronic keyboards just aren’t “period.” So a friend suggested the harp and my reaction, of course, was that they were huge and cost a fortune! But he responded that you could get little ones and put me on to a harpist in Troy, who rented me her little Triplett lap harp and gave me about a 1/2-dozen lessons (all I could afford).
It only took about a week to realize that this was my instrument and a month before I ordered my first 26-string Hummingbird Merlin. My career as a musician took a while longer to materialize, but it might never have happened if I hadn’t had a horse that bucked. Bless the little witch…
Epilogue: The roads on the parade route were so slippery (scary enough), that Shasta more or less behaved herself. However, unbeknownst to me and perhaps the other riders, the latter part of the route went down the stretch of track in front of the stands at Saratoga Race Track and every ex-race horse took off (or attempted to) with their riders! Shasta was so hyped up by this that she got herself all wadded up in a ball, cantering in place! I had visions of an explosive buck with my voluminous medieval gown getting caught on the saddle and me being dragged down the track, but I somehow managed to get her to move out in a barely contained manner and survived the ordeal. Amazingly enough, nobody got hurt, but whomever came up with the track idea should’ve been flogged!! Whether due to that or not, the parade was discontinued thereafter.
I just wanted to get out of singing
(from Betsy Chapman)
Oh boy, does it sound familiar.
Thursday night I was at a Cantata rehearsal and we got to a part I really don’t like. I have no idea why the composer thought this melancholy piece belonged in the middle of the thing, or why he wrote the alto part so low the tenors keep picking up our line.
Anyway, I can’t sing that low, and I am right in the front row so it will be obvious – but I am playing the harp elsewhere in this extravaganza, so I suggested to the director that I play instead of sing there. And that maybe a little percussion would liven things up a bit.
So now I am playing a hand drum, a bell, and throwing in a gliss now and again. Way better than singing off key, and it gets me out of the whole end of the thing. I get to play easy stuff and sound great while the rest of the altos sweat up there! I probably should feel guilty. But I don’t! (Betsy)