I got a set of questions from Betsy Chapman, who hosts “The Morning Show” on WPAZ, a tiny station (“with a big heart!”) in Pennsylvania. WPAZ is co-sponsoring my “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit” next week, so Betsy interviewed me on air. But first she sent her questions, starting with the question I most dread and am most often asked. So I started writing to find out what my answer would be this time:
Q: So … why the HARP?
A: This is a question I ask myself over and over. Did I play the harp as avoidance for writing musical theater, which is my first love? Because it was an incredible physical challenge, a way I could be both an athlete and a musician at the same time? Is it because it was an underdog instrument? Is it because it was so identified with women, and so marginalized in the music world, that I felt like I wanted to liberate it in some way?
If someone had told me it is THE traditional storytelling instrument through history, that might have made me choose it. But I did NOT know that.
If someone had told me it’s the missing link between the piano and the guitar, with all the double-handed dexterity of the piano but the ability to get right in on the strings and bend them and snap them like a guitar – that might have done it. But I didn’t know that either.
So I honestly don’t know why I STARTED. But I kept going for many reasons. First, the challenge. Practicing the harp completely enveloped my mind. The dexterity between hands and feet, it calmed my mind and focused me in a way that nothing else did. I think that my brain and my body needed something to connect them in that way: something complex and intricate, that required huge physical coordination and physical strength. I found that very satisfying.
I also loved the excuse to get dressed up in long gowns, high-heels, rhinestones and red-red lipstick, and I loved that I could pay my way through school by playing in dining rooms — PLUS I got free food.
When I started focusing on jazz, then again was the physical challenge I loved, and the understanding that by practicing a structure, I could eventually have huge musical freedom.
Then, later on, I fell in love with the international community of harp builders and players. Which is good because a few years after that, I developed this idee fixe: the idea that it must be possible to strap on the harp, play it like an electric guitar. And that was something I couldn’t make happen on my own.
NEXT BLOG: “WHY ELECTRIC HARP?