[Part 2] A woman walks up to me with a five-dollar bill and says, “Can’t you play anything upbeat? Like ‘La Vie en Rose’?”
I wanted to say, “Ma’m, I don’t know what the h*ll I’m doing and this is as fast as I can play,” but there’s that five-dollar bill …
… so I think: OK, I know how to hum the melody of ‘La Vie en Rose’, I vaguely remember that it was in a book of “Romantic Songs of the 40’s” lead sheet collection we had, I think it’s in C and I can probably fake some kind of accompaniment.
So I play a big, slow gliss to build up my confidence and verrrrrrrry slowly, I play the melody to “La Vie en Rose”, noodling scales in between the phrases to locate the right melody notes – and adding the chords I can figure out. Mostly C’s and F’s.
I get through about 8 bars, have no idea what comes next so I switch to the 1-6-2-5 progression, in long slow arpeggios and when I get my bearings, I play those first 8 bars of the song again. Rinse and repeat for 4 or 5 minutes.
It’s like I have a musical “Hamburger Helper” that turns that 8 bars into something that passes for “La Vie en Rose.”
And it WORKS! She recognizes the melody, the five-dollar bill is mine and when I get home, I give in to the dark side. I find all my old lead sheets (including “April Love” of course) – and I bring them to the gig the next day. I know I’m a massive fake as a real harp player, but I need this job.
From then on I start playing everything from Lead Sheets, and when I created a Harp & Cello duo with my best friend, Celeste, I taught her how to play from Lead Sheets, too. We even cut and paste together simple Classical Music Lead Sheets so when people ask for Beethoven, we can play a Lead Sheet version of “Ode to Joy” or “Minuet in G.”
I start to see that being a journeyman musician – versus an ‘artiste’ is very, very cool. It isn’t about perfectly playing all the notes some great composer wrote. That was just my ego that wanted to be able to play all the notes the way Beethoven wrote them. The listeners didn’t care. They wanted to hear the melodies they love, and the more we could play those melodies, with a little bit of filler, the happier they were.
My best friend, Celeste, and me: Once we can both play from Lead Sheets, we set out to get a job. This is our publicity shot. (Evvy Eisen, photo)
By using Lead Sheets we could give listeners the melodies they love and have fun building our creative muscles while we did it. It was about the atmosphere we could bring to the situation – the joy of a melody people know set into a structure that was open to creative expression.
For the first time I experienced harp playing as an improvisational experience. Until then, I looked to the harp to be a ‘real musician’ — but I started realizing I didn’t have to live up to some classical standard in order to make a life in music.
I could start by making a living playing melodies that people love and creating an experience of the song for them. And Lead Sheets gave me the structure and freedom to do that.
Lead Sheets opened up my musical life
- Lead Sheets helped me keep that job – and led to hundreds more.
- Lead Sheets helped me expand my repertoire so I could make a living playing harp.
- Lead Sheets helped me create an ‘instant duo’ with my best friend – and then get jobs so we could play together and make money – together.
- The first recording I did – a meditation record with flutist Schawkie Roth – was created from Lead Sheets.
- When I decided I wanted to play jazz, I discovered that my experience playing Lead Sheets opened that door for me.
- When I got my own record contract I created Lead Sheets of my own music to give to the musicians. That’s what they played from on the recordings.
- When I toured with my band, or played with an improvising ensemble, I just gave them my lead sheets and they created the music with me reading from those lead sheets
- Even when I started composing for orchestra, I used the Lead Sheets of my own music and expanded them to create symphonic music. I wrote out the music for the orchestra players note for not … and then used the simple Lead Sheet to play my own part!
Lead Sheets are the Ultimate Power Tool for expanding your playing, your connection with music and with the people you play for.
I want every harp player from fledgling to professional to have that power and that freedom in their hands.
The power of a Lead Sheet transforms your experience of playing music – and gives you the ultimate power to build a repertoire of music that people know quickly – because once you learn the art of playing from Lead Sheets, learning 10, 20 or 30 or even 100 songs takes less time than learning to play a single arrangement by the playing notes on the page.
That’s why I am hosting a FREE WORKSHOP on Sunday, October 24th, called “3 Secrets of Lead Sheets” – and if you play the harp I hope you’ll be there – because it will change your experience of what is possible for you with music.
If you have not gotten your ticket yet, you go grab it here:
Even if you don’t play the harp – but you know a harpist who longs to play with more freedom, to expand their skills and their repertoire – send them to the FREE “3 Secrets of Lead Sheets” WORKSHOP and give them the gift of creative freedom.
And by the way – I’m still reeeeaaallly slow at reading music the classical way, but because of lead sheets, that’s never slowed me down.