It’s funny that in the past 5 years, as I’ve been creating an online Academy for harp players – specifically to teach arrangement and improv and creative expression – that I’ve never taught the art of singing and playing… Until this year.
(By the way, the picture below is one of my favorite images on the Sing & Play Harp info page)
What’s funny about the fact that I haven’t done this before is that learning to sing and play at the same time was my life’s first profound experience of creative liberation. The image of learning my first three chords on the ukulele is as clear in memory as if a bright light turned on in the darkness. In fact, that’s what happened
I was seven. At the kitchen table, just after dinner. My mother put the uke in my hands. And my whole world opened up.
I can still see my fingers on the fretboard, forming my first chord. The realization that the placement of my fingers created shifting harmonies – and that’s all I needed to do – was a revelation. It was real magic. REAL MAGIC in all capital letters.
(To learn more about my dogged journey from those 3 chords to composing and playing with symphony orchestra, watch my TEDx talk – and please leave a comment and share with friends)
Those first three chords, how they fit together, all the songs I could play with them — that moment opened up everything in my life: Music, connection, the experience of being able to play for others – being useful AND creative at the same time, collaboration, partnership, how to lead, how to follow, community – everything that gave solid foundation to my life.
It opened the beauty of engaging with a partner – an instrument – that gave harmony to my voice – and a connection to singing with other people. It gave me a tool to expand my human voice: a resonance to make happiness into joyful noise, to make sadness into lament, to transform love into serenade, to turn heartache into a gutbucket of tears.
And it was soooooo mind-bogglingly simple.
I couldn’t imagine how to teach it without being embarrassed. I imagined everyone in the class saying, “But that’s NOTHING! Where’s the real stuff???”
It’s like if you showed someone their beating heart and they said “but where’s the real stuff of life??” That is the real stuff. Everything else comes out the discovery that we’re alive.
But we want to understand and master the complexity.
So when I started creating the first class of “Sing & Play the Harp” I had all kinds of complex ideas: an 8 hour one-day odyssey that started with those 3 chords and ended with complicated bossa novas and Blues. Blah blah blah blah blah.
And then I heard my mind yelling at me, “No. No. NO!” Complexity is not the magic that opened your life. Don’t hide behind that. Have the courage to show your truth.
Don’t try to impress them with how much you know. Show them how little it takes to open the door.
Don’t dazzle them with everything that’s on the other side of that door. Just show them the door handle and how to turn it.
Then send them away to do it, to play with it, over and over — the playing that unlocks the magic of those three first chords.
And THEN give them the next 4 chords.
So, thus was born the first class in my “Sing & Play Harp” Immersion Series: a 3 hour Mini-Immersion called “3-Chord Magic.”
If you play the harp, sign up now!
Got questions about “3-Chord Magic”? Got a story about your own first moment of creative liberation? Please leave a comment below. I love hearing from you.
And whatever you do … go sing and play. It’s the beating heart of everything important.
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If you play the harp ... Join DHC's Hip Harp Academy
Deborah Henson-Conant's "Hip Harp Academy" online learning community is open for self-paced learning yearlong. DHC personal guides each class in the Academy once a year. Access to each guided class is limited to students who register before the 2nd week of class. Registration for the Fall Guided course, "HIp Harp TOOLKIT" is currently closed.