My mother was both a performer and a teacher. She took teaching me how to DO things very seriously – and one of the passions I got from my her is to share what I KNOW about how to DO THINGS – as well as sharing the profound, funny, magical, human world of performing music.
In concerts I can open the door to my experience of music in one way: through embodying my experience of music.
In my Academy — an online school for harpists — I create classes to teach other harp players how to do that themselves – using everything I’ve learned in my own life from the powerful teachers I’ve had the chance to work with, starting with my mother. And from teaching, I learn more about how to be a musician – so my mother and all the things she taught me, are ever-present in the academy.
In my Mother’s Day concert I shared about how those two things come together. And in preparing for the concert, I thought about all the ways my mother has influenced me as a musician:
My mother taught me the 3 chords on the ukulele and that immediately opened me to the world of being able to sing and play at the same time. Those 3 chords expanded into the music I play today – and in my Academy, I now teach a class called “3 Chord Magic” to give other people the same experience I had: the instant power of having 3 simple shapes that make music.
My mother taught me to harmonize by holding a note until it sounds “wrong” and then shifting it by just one degree until you find what does sound good. That taught me to listen at the same time that I’m playing, how to shift just one thing while keeping all other things the same – and how important it is to be able to embrace the moments of sounding ‘bad’ so that you can find the sounds you love. Now I teach these same principles in all my classes in the Academy.
She taught me – by example – to share a story and then bring the CHARACTER in that story alive by singing or playing the music that evokes them. I’m about to teach that in a class called “Tell Your Story with Music.”
She taught me the art of performing, of bringing every part of you into a performance and of using whatever you DO have at the moment to bring the experience alive.
If you’ve ever seen a show of mine, or watched my TEDx Talk, you know these are foundations of every performance – because they’re where I feel at home as a performer — and NOW these are all principles I teach in the Academy Programs, and in my Harness Your Muse Mentorship program.
She taught me to look for the SINGLE CONNECTIVE CONCEPT at the heart of anything that looks complex, so that you go direct to that concept and simply ‘regenerate’ from it instead of trying to remember all the details. This is how I remember the structure of every piece I play, even the most complex ones – not from ‘memorizing’ them, but from deconstructing and creating maps of them that I can re-journey every time I play them.
NOW this method of creating maps of music is at the heart of every class I’ve created in “Hip Harp Academy” – and the principles of deconstruction and looking for connective concepts lives throughout the Academy and especially in the “Strings of Passion” program. I might sometimes forget the words to a song – even one I’ve sung hundreds of times – but I rarely forget the structure of how the piece is put together.
My mom taught me that any person might TRANSFORM at any moment, from your normal schlub-on-the-street into a performance of breathtaking brilliance – simply by connecting with their own passion – that thing that brings people alive – with complete commitment in the moment. I’ve seen this many times – and not just in humans. I’ve saw a bird once break out into performance I’ll never forget. I once saw a window washer create heart-stopping clarity with the brilliance of a magician and dashing flair of an ice-dancer.
NOW this is something I work on constantly with students in the Academy, steering them to combine their innate passions with the technical skills they DO possess, so that they can be the unique performances they are, first … and then add additional skills to empower and illuminate that unique presence.
All these lessons are deeply embedded in me — and now in my academy. Every one of them came from things my mother taught me. And the funny thing is that I had never really thought about that until my assistant, Beatriz, asked: “is there any way that your mother relates to your Academy?” and I suddenly realized … YES! In every way.
So every day – whether I’m performing, or working on composing, or working with students and mentorship artists – I am honoring – and adoring – my mother’s legacy.
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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.