Last weekend my hard drive crashed. The holidays zoomed up with a vengeance. I realized I was way stressed out.
So instead of ‘practicing’ my harp, I just sat down and played. Slowly, no agenda, nothing to prove – I just started playing. And I could feel the stress slide off the inside of my chest.
I started wondering if other people would have the same reaction if I just sat down and played and recorded – not an album, not a ‘song,’ but just playing to play – opening a small window into a musical moment that’s meant to mean nothing but just being there.
And I figured this was as good a time as any to try that experiment. And to share it with you.
Must admit it kind of stressed me out to think of sharing it … and I looked tense but, as I tell the performers I coach: embrace imperfect completion. Just make the connection. Get it it of you. Share it … and then just do it again.
So let the experiment begin! And let it begin here in this blog where I’ve posted the first of the “DHC State ‘o Zen” recordings below – a little window into a musical moment that’s only what it is and nothing more.
And if this window helps zen your state, why that’s a lovely thing.
And for all you folks in the U S of A: Happy Thanksgiving! May your holiday be stressless and joyful.
DHC (Thanksgiving Eve 2014 / 11-26-14)
State o’ Zen #1
Wed. Nov. 26 at 12:30 pm
(This is posted on Vimeo)
State o’ Zen #2
Wed. Nov. 26 at 4:02 pm
(I posted this one on YouTube … interesting that it’s smaller)
State o’ Zen #3
Wed. Nov. 26 at 4:16 pm
And now …. I’m hungry …
State o’ Zen #4
Wed. Nov. 26 at 7:20 pm
State o’ Zen #5
Wed. Nov. 26 at 8:12 pm
Beginning to wonder at what point I would repeat ideas – or have I already. How many ideas do I have.
Decided to set another tuning and see what it brings up. My harp’s tuned in Ab normally. I raised Cs, Bs and Gs and then played with an anchor on the Ab string. But I wanted some kind of contrast – a place to go away to so I could come back.
I tried the Db, then lowered the G levers and had what I wanted – a sense of a different place.
Noticed I liked something about the first figure – the amorphous sense of movement. Thought: no, this is no way a ‘melody’ but it is a place to return to.
So now I am not playing completely without agenda. At the moment I am playing with ideas. The first is a tuning, an anchor note of Ab, and an amorphous, open-sounding shift of not-really-shifting harmony, built of open shifting 4ths.
The second is a shift of tone, lowering the Gs to G naturals — and a different configuration of strings – in this they’re piled in 3rds instead of open 4ths-5ths.
And then back to the first idea.
Also notice I’m looking a little more tense. Was it the chips I ate? Or the obligations I’m avoiding? Or am I now trying too hard to make these ‘interesting’?
State o’ Zen #6
Thu. Nov. 27 at 12:58 AM
I decided to try one more before bed, and to go back to the idea I was working on earlier, but I was too lazy to open up the blog again and see how I’d set my levers. This time I just raised the C’s and G’s. I began with the same idea as #5, but then I experimented with bending the bassnotes into the harmonies I wanted, lowering the G levers because I liked the dissonance and floating into a watery section, glissing over the strings with my right hand and playing harmonics with my left,
That’s an old trick, but I still like it.
I stumbled on a lever change and thought about it for awhile. Does a clear stumble invalidate a piece? Can we get beyond it? What do we think invalidates art or expression and what doesn’t? Is it awkwardness? But I love awkwardness at times. So is it awkwardness in the midst of what I think is grace? But why do I decide one thing is graceful and one awkward? Is it only because I think I can hide behind one, the way my cat thinks she’s hiding in a small fold of the rug? And hide what? My fallibility? What am I afraid of losing in the eyes of other people?
It’s time for bed.
The first recording really shows your stress!! The second is more melodic and kind of melancholic, and the expression is more relaxed and restful. Thanks! Glad you could use your own skills for self-help and release. I have experienced that myself. We musicians forget we have the tools for our own healing right in our hands. Happy Turkey!
Ha ha! And I thought I was getting relaxed in the first one. Yes – we do forget we can have a powerful effect on ourselves!
Deborah, the second one definitely did it for me! I could tell it was making you feel very calm and happy too! I loved the vamp! It kind of reminded me of the first part of the Nightingale. Anyway, it was very soothing and peaceful and got me in a great state. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your hard drive is fine now!
Ah Amelia! My hard drive is still crashed but my computer guru created such a clever little work-around that I decided to leave all as-is for now and address the task of putting the new drive in after the weekend!
I’m enjoying creating things, embracing imperfect completion – and yes, I see why you hear the first part of the Nightingale in that little improv!
WOW!! These came in at *just* the right time. Thank you!!! Loved them!
Oh yay! I’m so happy to hear that!
Ah! Exactly why Harp therapy works! Sometimes as much for the harpist as for the patients we work with!
Soooooo smart, Betsy! Honestly, until I started getting these comments I didn’t really grok that. Am working to grok it in fullness even as I keep doing it!
I loved them ALL… but especially the last one…. Oh, if I could just play like that for hospice patients instead of having to stare at an IPad to read the written music….. and miss a lot of the moment of being WITH the patient. You have given me a goal. It may take more than a year, but I want it!!!
Margi … I have the utmost faith and confidence that you can. I can do some more of these in the course and try to tell you what I’m thinking as I do it – that may give you some insight to doing it yourself. You shall have it!
Very nice, Deborah. First one – stressed. Second one – mellower. Third one – mellowest.
I enjoyed them all.
What a wonderful insight into the creative genius of your mind. In your stage performances, the tunes and the notes go by so fast that the audience is mesmerized and wondering “wow, how did she do that?” In Zen1, your slow articulation demonstrated how you create one of those intricate compositions and exposed what you hear in your head and how it comes out through your fingers. Each time you engaged a lever, the musical palatte moved our ears “outside the box.” In Zen2, the slow tempo and diatonic (not ONE lever change) allows the listener’s ear to remain in a “non-chromatic comfort zone.” Very pleasing and contemplative. Zen3 is just pretty – like you! I am thankful for YOUR spirit, YOUR boundless energy, YOUR amazing talent, and YOUR willingness to share YOUR beautiful music in a world that desperately needs it! And… YOU ROCK!
Frank … you just made my night. Beautifully!
All of them captured my attention and while I listened I felt some relaxed state of mind after a stressed day.
Here I’m not eating some turkey… Only some chocolat 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving Day my dear folks on the other side of the Atlantic 🙂
Ahhhhh … the chocolate. For some reason it reminds me of a rose. A red rose in a darkened audience, held and handed by a friend.
Yeah, those were the days. And in a week that moment celebrates 2 years (12-12-2012). Ohh and that small box with the “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” still works? 🙂 Hugs
…and now you need to get stressed again so the process can continue!
I think I stressed myself again with #5, Martin!
Wow. Perfect. It just takes me away to a happy place. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you Deborah, No 2 was so calming, lovely
Thank you for the Thanksgiving gift!! Loved #2 the most although they all have something so special in them. So cool to see inside your process. Have a great holiday!!
Hi Deborah, we were surprised finding your music-newsletter after work. Very fine to lean back, to recover, to enjoy, to dream…
Remembering our meeting about one year ago in Leiden/Netherlands my wife and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.
All that’s missing is a singing coffee machine!
Hi Deborah! I loved the way you could transform a frustrating event into a creative journey! It is powerfull!! And I am touched that you decided to share it with us. It is a real gift!
You started with an efficient uncluttered Blues, I really LOVED it. To liberate yourself? And then it felt like you were ready to explore different melodics paths of your journey . I didn’t feel you were that tensed, but I felt you were more ” in your head” and into your inner creative journey, and it is very nice to see! For me I saw only “perfect completion” of ” live” improvisation playing: living, TRUE, expressive, spontaneous….then perfect!
Thank you so much!
Thank you so much Valerie! You’re making me think that perfection and imperfection really are the same thing.
Thanks so much for these! I am working on a set of new arrangements for a February concert and they are all starting to sound alike. These gave me so many great new ideas. Love it! Thanks again. You always keep us inspired and reaching.
Yay!!! I was inspired for the content in part by a request from one of my “Hip Harp Toolkit” students to see me show a bunch of different vamps. I’m so happy to hear these inspired you and gave you ideas.
This experiment reminded me a short period in my life when I regularly did something similar. Almost every morning when I woke up, I took a glass of water and instantly went to the harp and started playing — without expectations, as ’empty in head’ as possible, without any vamp or familiar motifs, free improvisation, trying not to think of duties nor plans for the day. I recorded it, and I found that, wow, there were many ideas and the recording wasn’t so empty. Sometimes there was a good flow, another time maybe hectic/fragmentary but with strong ideas.
My purpose was different though — I wanted to make my body accustom to playing an instrument early in the morning (and maybe collect musical ideas as a ‘side-effect’). I felt that impro is a less stressful way than forcing my body to play a certain tune. And if I don’t force myself, then maybe something good comes out of this. If nothing else, then just had a nice relaxed time with my harp.
So these kinds of experiments are worth trying – maybe you find out something that you never expected to find!
Hey Deborah the Wondrous,
You gave me just what the doctor ordered. After 3 days of washing my way through a ton of china, silverware, & linens from the in-law’s extended clan being here for Thanksgiving, all I’ve wanted to do is get back in the saddle on the harp horse to defragment my brain in an alpha wave state. After a quick peek at my E’s & discovering yours, you inspired me to realized how ridiculous it has been to delay that needed relief. The harp & I are way overdue for a ride! The messes will still be here tomorrow.
In #2, I was astonished to hear you improvising over the ostinato bass (slightly modified) from the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 as I was doing exactly the same thing a few weeks ago. I figured out Mr. B. used those “changes” in other pieces too such as in his famous Ave Maria. But these chords really sound the best in the Prelude.
Your gorgeous improvisations got the horse blanket off my harp horse & set it in front of me all saddled up with a palatial staircase leading up to the saddle. The fences have melted away. We are loping into the sunset to “embrace imperfect completion.” (Love that!) Thanks for your inspirational sharing. I guess if you can’t turn lemon hard drives into lemonade, just go make fresh orange juice. Your ol’ pal, Christine
Ha! It’s because of you I started improvising on the harp in the first place! You gave me my first job — long before I had the repertoire to play it (but I had the long dresses and the rhinestone earrings!). I love thinking of your palatial staircase – and miss our walks in the hills (though I need to take the ‘s’ off walks — we only did it once – and I still miss it!)
RIP I’ve been saying for years the epitaph on my tombstone will read that I gave Deborah her first job – I kick started a magnificent contribution to planet earth. I feel proud that I was able to perceive what you had to offer way back then B.C. (before computers & before any books about jazz theory!). I don’t know if you ever knew there were other harpists that auditioned for me for that job too. Perhaps I was passing the torch as Jack Nebergall did for me when he hired me with my measly 1 hour of repertoire to play 4 hours a night, 4 nights a week at his SF Hyatt Regency gig. I don’t know if it was an opportunity or hazing, but he definitely believed in throwing harpists in the water to learn to swim. I played the entire “30 Little Classics” cover to cover, which I think you may have also done. (I believe that Stella Castellucci may have recommended that idea to me.)
Ah the costumes…isn’t that half the fun?! I must have a performing costume, which is what I call a harp-able dress, in every color & from every period going back to 1870. But your costumes are totally cool & much more exciting. They always fit perfectly with the music you are playing and the fantasy you are creating. I tell my students, “audiences look more than they listen.” You are a great role model for harpistic visuals.
Yeah, the hiking trails in the mountains behind my house are quite spectacular. I still usually get caught in the dark coming down & each time that happens I always think of when you & I were in that predicament. So I always carry lighting. But these days I actually cycle more. The ol’ knees have worn out. Speaking of wearing out, I perform, if possible, on my electric harp as my hand/arm doctor said the problem of wearing on the “pullys” in our harp fingers is identical to rock climbers. We’ve got to be gentle if we want them to last as long as possible. That is the disadvantage of starting as young as so many of us did. Golly, it is scary to think I’ve been playing the harp 53 years especially since I turn 42 again on Friday. Then Dr. Harp confirmed that the sellers of electric acoustic harps were astonished to see such a large portion of their customers purchasing these instruments to spare wear & tear on their hands & gain longevity. I bring this up, since you play amplified, you’re most certainly aware that you are buying yourself extra years of playing. I wonder if that applies to singing with a mic too. I wish I could have electric acoustically jogged. Fast hiking w/ ski poles isn’t nearly as exhilarating. Hugs, C.
You never, ever cease to amaze me ! What a gift you give to everyone out here on your website. I have never come across anyone so open and willing to share their talent and skills to enrich others the way you do. You are truly a blessing to all harpists.
I found the videos a joy to watch.
The music created from deep in the soul transcends time and place. Watching you play as you felt the music one could clearly see that it took you to that place of your own. However, I found that not only did the music captivate me as well, but watching you as you became one with the music, took me to a calmer place of my own faster than just hearing the music. So often we play music but we don’t express it with our body as you just demonstrated with perfection. It was a prime example of what harp therapy truly is. The harpist playing music from the heart ( not reading music ) and magically reaching the listener and putting them into a state of calmness. Just mesmerizing ! Thank you !