I started playing harp as an adult. Well … full disclosure? I had 6 or 7 lessons when I was 13, then took a 9-year hiatus and started seriously when I was 22.
And, this morning, I learned that Mason Williams, the man who wrote and recorded one of the most famous guitar instrumentals of all time, “Classical Gas” — he didn’t start playing guitar until he was 19.
So, you don’t have to start at five to live your life as a musician.
And you can start waaaaay later, if your goal is to just make music for yourself.
Harp seems to be an especially rich instrument for that – and last week I got some insight into why. I was giving a school program and, in addition to a school-full of kids who were bussed in, there was a music-education major.
After the program she and I got to talking about what an amazing teaching tool the harp is for music theory. The way it’s designed, it’s a literally physicalized metaphor* for principles that are simply theoretical on other instruments.
(*yeah, I know ‘literally physicalized metaphor’ is probably a contradiction – I don’t know how else to explain it – maybe you can…)
But she also pointed out something I’d never thought about: one great thing about the harp for beginners is that it’s one of the easiest instruments to just make a beautiful sound on.
In fact, as another harpist pointed out to me last night, you actually have to develop a certain skill level before you can make it sound bad.
I’d never thought about how big a ‘plus’ this ‘instant beautiful sound’ is for kids, but the music-education major pointed out that kids who play clarinet or violin have to suffer the ridicule of their friends while they’re squeaking and scratching their way to a good tone.
And that’s also true for adult beginners. I almost never hear a harp-spouse complaining that their significant other practices harp.
Now, more and more people are taking up harp in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60’s or later. Some end up as performers, others as therapeutic harpists in hospices and hospitals. And a few summers ago, at my performance retreat, one adult beginner told me that her performance dream was just to play for her grandchildren.
This is all completely do-able on the harp.
The point is that the harp is particularly suited for “Beginning [to play] in the Middle [of your life].” And there’s a retreat coming up at the end of this month called “Beginning in the Middle” that is specifically for adult beginners on harp.
For the people who attend “Beginning in the Middle,” it’s sometimes the first time they’ve touched the instrument – their first moment of commitment to a lifelong dream.
For others, it’s a chance to learn from world-class harp performers and teachers who meet them as adult beginners: a very special class of people who are expert at something else in life, and who have chosen to begin again, to learn something they are not expert at.
I love the experience of learning. I love the clumsiness and the insight. I love feeling of my brain making connections.
And I love that, as an adult, we bring a lifetime of experience to each new thing we learn. And when we put ourselves in the position of learning something new, it’s humbling, funny and wonderful. It’s funny to be suddenly completely uncoordinated at a new activity. It’s humbling to realize how much we have learned about what we do know and how we need to open our minds to learn new thing. And it’s wonderful when a new thing we learn suddenly fills in a missing piece in our minds.
So if you’ve ever dreamed of playing and instrument and heard yourself say, “But it’s too late now…”
This is EXACTLY the right time.
And if that instrument you wanted to play is the harp … then I know exactly where you should be March 22-25. And I’m going to be there, too!