Sunday, July 29, 2012

#4 - The harp and I

When I was in elementary school, some of my favorite books to read were The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  I wished I might grow up to be Eilonwy - or at least be able to visit the lands of Prydain which were based on old Welsh legends and have some adventures there.  Unfortunately, neither of those wishes came true ... perhaps I will someday visit Wales, but I would be very surprised if my visit included finding long forgotten magic swords or travels with the Fair Folk.  And, somewhere along the line, the plan of becoming a beautiful outspoken princess with red-gold hair and a shaky ability to cast spells was discarded in favor of just being myself.
My much-cherished copies of the Prydain books - given to me by my sister Diana.
However, one part of the stories stuck with me - Fflewddur Fflam's harp.  This was no ordinary harp (of course, Fflewddur was not an ordinary bard - just a king who liked to travel, couldn't pass the bardic knowledge tests, and sometimes stretched the truth); it could virtually play itself and the strings would break if its owner told a lie. 

So, for my 29th birthday, I bought a harp.  Specifically a celtic-type, low head lever harp just like the one in the books (without the magic, of course).   I purchased it from Stoney End in Red Wing, MN, and I'm going to give them a plug here because ALL of my transactions with them have been fantastic - they build the harps onsite and are very patient with beginners with lots of questions.
My harp shortly after I purchased it

When my harp arrived, I had never touched a harp before or even watched one being played for more than a few minutes.  I did have the advantage of being able to read music - I had a couple of years of piano lessons when I was young (wish I would have stuck with them longer), played flute through high school (plus oboe one year when our band director was feeling ambitious and wanted a wider variety of instruments), and have sung in choirs off and on since I was about 5.  I quickly found that harp was my favorite instrument ... the hand position feels very natural to me and, as long as it is tuned, it sounds beautiful even if you hit the wrong string.

I could soon play easy tunes - including ones with both hands.  The problem was finding time to advance past my beginner's level.  Playing for a length of time does require some regular practice or your fingers get sore quickly.  Plus, the old "use it or lose it" maxim definitely applies.  I had hoped that this goal would help me with progressing to more complex songs.  I'm not sure that it did ... I've found that if I'm doing something as an obligation (even a promise to myself), my mindset is different than if I'm just trying to explore/enjoy.  So, playing regularly has paid off with the songs I already did play, but I didn't try very many new ones because my practice sessions have been shorter.  I will be going back to a "playing for fun" schedule as my time permits - I hope though that my practice sessions will be more frequent than they were before I started working on this goal.

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