Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Blethering’ Category

My new website is up and running!  www.cynthiakuni.com

I have long worried that my professional site on this platform, which started as a humble blog, has been looking more and more like somebody’s middle school project. I want to thank the endlessly patient tech support people at Bluehost for helping me start fresh.

I will continue to blog here and occasionally share posts on my Facebook page. See you at cynthiakuni.com!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I miss photo albums. I miss those envelopes with the photos in front and the negatives in back. Sigh.

No, I don’t want to go back to where paper was the only option.  I like deleting with a single key stroke those pictures that make me look fat. I like holding a thousand memories on a single page I can scroll through. I’m talking about a nostalgic feeling for a time when “scroll” meant something about Egyptians.

Years ago I decided that photo albums were for suckers (so overpriced) and started putting pictures in shoebox-like “photo-boxes”, where they subsequently languished.  After my recent move, I vowed to go through my photo boxes and at least make them easier to peruse and enjoy. (That is code for: get them out of the damn envelopes, line them up in those boxes in such a way that they can be flipped through, and put the negatives into storage. Honestly, if I haven’t searched for a negative in 25 years, will I ever?) This process has unearthed some lovely gems, but also a few mysteries.

For example, behold a charming scene featuring myself and my adorable siblings. And on the left side of the photo (all on one piece of card stock)… wtf? Mrs. Rohrbach? Our terrifying school principal?  NOOO!  Why??

photo - family, and ?? mrs rohrbach

Let us move beyond this disturbing apparition to a picture that warms my heart. This is my mother (right) with her niece and best friend, circa 1931. My mother lived with her sister’s family for several years during the Depression. This resulted in her not starving to death.

photo - mom with rena 1931

Never fear. When a photograph begins to pull you down, there is sure to be another that lifts you up. No names. You know who you are:

 

photo - s, t

Ok. Next. Now, who are these people?  My photo boxes are filled with mystery guests like this. Note to the wise: label the backs of your photos; I know you think your children will remember these people but trust me, we don’t.

photo - who are they?

The other thing that fills my photo boxes are these childhood shots that are unbearably sweet.  Before the heartaches, bereavements, and wounds that balance out the exuberance of childhood into that thing we call Maturity, this is who we were and what we had. And that is point of taking photographs in the first place.

photo - cutest babies ever

 

 

Read Full Post »

I’m sure I will have bad days ahead, where bears scare me, the septic pump fails, or a tree falls on the chicken coop. But the honeymoon in our new house is sweet indeed!

Running this morning on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail I came across…
IMG_4186

I do believe that is a beaver dam. I have never seen them in Washington, though I knew we had them.

Coming back up my hill I saw my neighbors Peter, Paul & Mary (as I have named them). Mary is hanging back. She’s still shy with me…

IMG_4179

And The Supremes…

IMG_4188

As I ascended up my hill out of the fog, I wondered at the beauty of the sun in the forest. Our forest. Do we really get to live here?
IMG_4191

 

The sign behind Sunny reads “Stewardship Forest.” The previous owners participated in a Federal program that no longer exists, which was to encourage native tree planting on private lands.  They planted over 2,000 trees on this property. Little seedlings that now stand at 4-7 feet among the “second growth” trees.

Read Full Post »

WHEN WILL IT END?!? Don’t answer. I know it ends late in September. Regular readers of my blog might recall that I don’t particularly like summer weather.  Of course, I have to write this on the one day (the only day?) this summer which has seen us creep into the 90sF. Wimp.

This morning we awoke to a smokey smell and a warm pool of air, both of which were delivered by overnight express from Eastern Washington. They’ve been on fire over on that side of the Cascade range for the past few weeks, as usual for summer. Now it is nearly my bedtime but we are still in the 80s. (For non-local readers, that is weird. We generally cool off at night.) The thunder clouds are starting to roll in.  Tomorrow is going to be a hot, wet, noisy mess.

Screen shot 2014-08-11 at 8.22.48 PM

Source: Weather.com

 

 

But it is great wedding weather! Well, not tomorrow, but in general the warm sunny days have been a real gift for anyone who wants to play outdoors.

Sunny and I take the stage at the Skagit Highland Games

Sunny and I take the stage at the Skagit Highland Games

What I am doing most outdoors is… cooking!  This is the first summer I have really taken full advantage of our grill, which has a little side burner for whatever needs to be cooked in a pot or pan.  My rule this summer has been: if I cannot cook it outside, I’m not cooking.  IMG_3596

The hardest part has been finding ways to use my CSA vegetables without turning on the stove or oven. Houses get hot enough without steaming broccoli or roasting chickens.

 

Screen shot 2014-07-05 at 5.51.15 PM

Source: City of Snoqualmie

Sorry, that’s not funny.  These poor neighbors of ours had a 4th of July rocket land on their wood shingle roof this summer.  It makes me miss the wet, chilly days even more when I drive by the ruins. It makes me shudder.

Stay cool! Think October! Ok. I’ll think October and you go ahead and enjoy August.

 

Read Full Post »

 

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” -Love Story (that was a movie, for you younger readers). Well, it’s a ridiculous quote if you ask me. A person you love should be the first in line to receive your mea culpa if one is merited.  Nevertheless, what is unworthy of true love may actually make sense to blogging. So here is my non-apology for radio silence. Good lord, has it really been over 7 months?

 

The joy of my life since January has been… my new dog.  Sunny is a nine year old Border Collie whose former owner passed away.  A dear friend, who owns Sunny’s sister, introduced us and worked diligently to arrange the adoption. Running buddy, house protector, cat wrangler, and affectionate companion… these roles scarcely begin to represent how much he does for me and how deeply I adore him.

This adoption was a perfect example of that bumper sticker that reads “Who rescued who?” (Don’t you just want to get out a marker and add that “m”? Arg!) What a smart, sensitive, and helpful dog he is.  It was only after he had settled into my home and heart before my friend gave me his papers, and we discovered that Sunny is the grandson of a champion Border Collie named Stetson! We have no sheep in our HOA-controlled neighborhood, but Sunny’s smarts and intuition are daily proof of his heritage. It is as if he can read my mind sometimes.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny's bed.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny’s bed.

And now that I have a dog (drum roll please), I feel safe enough to run trails!  So much fun.  The peace and beauty of trails, and their strengthening effect on my legs have been such pleasure.  In spite of TWO bear encounters in the past month, I am as enthusiastic as ever.  It is therapy. It is the anti-treadmill.

 

My greatest accomplishment of my life, the raising and homeschooling of my daughter, is nearly finished.  This past school year (her junior year) has been busy and fulfilling.  If you do not know much about homeschooling, let me just mention that nowadays there are so many people doing it, so much curriculum to choose from, and so many opportunities for educational experiences, that only a part of the business gets done at home.  It really should be called “home-based instruction,” which is in fact what the state of Washington calls it. Yes, we do let our kids out of the house!  (I know that is the number one misconception of homeschooling, the S word.) Anyway, we have one more year to teach, facilitate, guide and support her at home. What a privilege.

 

And in the world of harp… oh my, yes – it is a harp blog. OK. For some reason, I always think this is the least interesting topic that I talk about.  I practice, I perform. I teach a bit.  Not much to say about it all.  I don’t talk about the zen mind required for plucking a perfect harmonic or the best way to make string ties because I can just see my non-harpist audience surfing away.  I don’t blog about my clients or the people I meet, in case it violates their privacy. But perhaps I should make more of an effort to include musical topics. We’ll see.

Nevertheless, since my last foray into Blog Land there has been one important development.  A new harp.

Pilgrim Clarsach

Pilgrim Clarsach

I long to avoid a lot of  blah-blah-blah about the how and the why of getting this new instrument, so I will just say that this is a replacement for my Thormahlen Swan, which is now for sale.  Details upon request. 😉  The new harp, a “Clarsach” made by Pilgrim Harps in England, has a lovely, very Celtic tone, perfect for the Scottish music I play.  This model was originally designed for Derek Bell of the Chieftains, though it has undergone a few minor revisions.

I will be playing this new harp at the Skagit Valley Highland Games on July 12 at 10:25 AM.

I still play at the Black Dog in Snoqualmie every Second Sunday (mostly on my pedal harp, but occasionally on the Celtic harp). That is a brunch performance, 10:30 to noon, and all proceeds still go to Pasado’s Safe Haven Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. I will continue to appear through October, then I plan to take a break from this gig until next spring.

Music I have been working on lately: Medley of tunes from the film Titanic, When You Wish Upon a Star, Glenlivet, Flowers of the Forest, and Beauty and the Beast (for a wedding client).

My great, mysterious challenge and goal for the remainder of 2014: make more YouTube videos of my music! Great, because it would be so helpful for my clients, and mysterious because I cannot figure out why I’m stuck and not doing it!

For now, cheers!

We love those trails!

We love those trails!

Read Full Post »

“The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”        

-Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Technically, I am not “supposed to” enjoy the spotlight. I am an introvert.

I used to  berate myself for not being a more glittery and gregarious performer…

Deborah Henson-Conant rocking out as only she can do.

…but all attempts to emulate such a creature were disastrous.  I eventually learned (and am still learning) to be a performer on my own terms, and to love the process of sharing music — which I have always felt driven to do.

I recently compiled a list of performance tips for a harp student of mine who was going to play publicly for the first time.  It started as a very practical list, which you will see below. But even after the lesson was long over, the list of advice kept growing in my mind and becoming increasingly philosophical (as you will also see below).

These tips, advice, and musings that I have collected might be helpful to other students and new performers.  Especially those who have similar temperaments to mine. In other words. Introverts.

It’s not that extroverts are unwelcome here! But I have doubts as to how much value they will find. Extroverts are naturally focused outward, on the world around them, and are likely to feel like their interaction with an audience is natural, easy, and even vital. They might not have much use for advice about connecting the inner life of a quiet mind to performing music publicly.

Still, even extroverts can have issues with public performance. As Susan Cain points out in the aforementioned book Quiet, social anxiety can certainly strike extroverts (e.g.- Barbara Streisand, paralyzed by stage fright). And conversely introverts can be very comfortable in social situations, as I am.

If you are a musician who feels brilliant while playing in your own kitchen, but inept and stiff when confronted by an audience, I hope you will benefit from some of my thoughts.  If you have ever sat down to play your harp for others and felt so disoriented by your audience that you looked at your own instrument and thought, “what the hell is this?” — perhaps my point of view will give you a few insights.

love to play my harp for people. But I do not love to “perform” in the classic sense of “ta da!  here I am! Me me me…” I spent a long time earlier in my life wishing that was me.  I know I am not alone in this. But let’s stop asking Santa for a unicorn and see what else he might have in his bag…

First, some practical advice for harp students and new performers:

1. Detach Experience from Place.

The physical area in which you practice is linked psychologically with the music you have learned in that spot. So a week or a few days before your performance, start moving the harp around to other rooms, other lighting, etc.  Move repeatedly and practice in those different spots. For the sake of self-confidence, move the harp back to your normal spot during your last practice before the performance.

2. Dress rehearsal.

Play for other people before playing for the “target audience.”  Enlist neighbors, close friends, the UPS driver — anyone you can get — to listen to you play a little. If you can do a “test performance” at a nursing home or for a group of friends, do it!   If you really cannot manage that, record yourself.  Hearing yourself on tape or on video will teach you all kinds of things about your weak spots.  And the act of recording will provide a kind of performance pressure that you can use to desensitize yourself.

3. Over prepare.

As a new performer, whatever you intend to present publicly has to be beyond ready.  Introverts especially must over-prepare their music, because we are not wired for external distraction during performance.  Our brains are actually, physically different from those of extroverts. (Read Introvert Advantage for more on this.) Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones, and can “wing it” with pieces that are not rock solid.  But most new performers should not depend on adrenaline or luck to pull them through a weak section.   Do not be like the Dilbert cartoon that shows his Project Timeline with a big sign in the middle reading “Insert miracle here.”

4. “Play like you practice, practice like you play.” – Sports maxim.

If it is an outdoor performance, practice a bit outdoors. A nighttime event, practice at night. Candlelit Christmas Eve service, turn off the lights, get a good stand light, and light some candles. A background music event, turn on the TV and the radio to simulate distraction.  Ask a friend to distract you with an ill-timed question, by pretending to talk about you within earshot, or by singing along.  Practice blocking it all out.

5. Performance day – practical tips.

  • No miniskirts. “Miniskirt” for a harpist is defined as anything above the middle of your shin. Seriously. Either go long or go with pants. You do not want to provide entertainment unrelated to the music, and this is no time to ride side-saddle.
  • Nails short (unless you play wire-strung) and clean.  No nail polish unless you are used to seeing it there when you practice. No jewelry unless you’ve practiced successfully in it.
  • Know the floor you’ll be seeing behind your strings. If it will be white, beige, or color-patterned, or if you are not sure, bring a black cloth to lay down so you can see your strings.
  • Bring a zip lock baggie with a damp (not soaking!) wash cloth to clean your hands between pieces. You may need a dry one too, but something about hand sweat is very sticky when plucking strings, even after drying. It’s nice to have a way to clean your hands during longer sets.
  • Before playing, wash and/or soak your hands in very warm (not hot) water if you can. Many public bathrooms do not provide warm water, so consider bringing some in a thermos. Hands immersed in warm water will respond much like they do to a physical warm up on the harp: capillaries open up, finger feel nimble, skin is softer – producing better tone.
  • If you have to wait on or near a stage (in other words, out where people can see you), use the waiting time to open and close the fingers flat to the palm, slowly and deliberately, to keep them limber.
  • Micropore paper tape: use a small piece to hold rings in place if you have floppy rings. It can also be used to cover small cuts or hang nails if they are not on the string contact spot.

The Mind on Stage

We are artists, but we cannot go look at our paintings on the eve of the gallery opening to reassure ourselves that, indeed, we really do have a lovely body of work.  We see only our own hands, and they are empty. We know our brain is full of music, but the doubts and fears can block our view.  Let us look at some ways to cope with the mental aspects of performing.

In some situations (such as background music performance), you can begin with some improvisation in the key of your first piece as an introduction to the piece. Improvisation helps the mind feel control and a sense of ownership. As a new performer, improvisation can help you avoid feeling like you are walking on stage to take a test, or face an enemy, or fall into deep water. But always practice improvising at home. It sounds like a contradiction: do something completely new, but practice it first. The point is to feel comfortable just “doodling around” on your harp so you can do it in performance.

It is crucial that you practice covering “mistakes” during your regular practice!  If you play a wrong note, or forget to move a pedal or lever, or you just realize you went to the “B” part too soon — it is a normal part of playing live music. We are so accustomed to the perfection of recorded music. But many “takes” and much patching takes place in the studio to clean up every track. The late Lynne Palmer, an extraordinary musician with a career spanning many decades, told me she could count the number of truly perfect performances in her life on one hand. That means she played hundred of times with flaws. And you will too.

How do we live with flaws? By dedicating a certain amount of practice to “covering.” If you always stop and fix mistakes in practice, you will never learn to cover. Use some of your practice every day to consciously, deliberately, continue playing past mistakes, and see what your amazing brain can come up with to get you back on track. 

When you make a mistake, preserve the ongoing rhythm of the piece – do not pause.  Keep playing something! Practice this. It really does come more naturally on stage if you have been doing it at home. Be very aware of your key signature and preserve that tonality.  Identify “repair points” in the music, where you can go if there is a total “train wreck” and you need to just time-warp to another spot.

When I was in a high school play, I had to stand on a ladder back stage and open a window in an artificial wall, facing the audience, and deliver a single line. In true introvert fashion, I opened my window, saw the audience, and went completely blank. Someone taped the play, in which I saw my head flop forward – chin to chest (was I fainting?), then jerk up as I delivered a different line from later in the script. My eyes at that moment looked insane. I have no memory of how I got out of that. I have no memory of thinking or problem solving. That is not how the brain works when it is rescuing you! The answer comes from a place that speaks no words and has no logic. No one wants an experience like this – for years I cringed at the recollection – but if you have such an experience, believe in your brain and trust that it will bail you out somehow.

Let us leave thoughts of train wrecks and fainting and now discuss what will happen, and that which we go forth to do…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  -Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems.

Your music is art-in-the-moment. Why are you there, if not to spend a part of your wild and precious life sharing music? “Well, it seemed like a good idea back in March to play at my sister’s wedding, but now…”  Perhaps you need to reach back and recreate that mindset, that the wedding is in four months, not four minutes.  If you can, this bit of mental gymnastics might calm you considerably.

But as an introvert, I believe the wild and precious moment is also an intimate one. As much as I need my audience to give life to my playing, pulling that harp back onto my shoulder is like putting a call on hold.  They no longer matter, temporarily.

I realize this is not standard protocol, and certainly not how an extrovert would handle an audience.  Advice from that quarter might ask you to view your audience as friends, or as naked — or any number of mental tricks to minimize their distraction. For me, I know after years of experimenting that I must view them not at all. Not once I begin playing.

The second I start thinking about my audience, or how I look to them (“smile!”) — the second my attention strays from the music, I will fall. Skip a beat, miss a note, do something that requires me to dig out my “covering” skills.  So why not just get inside your music and stay there?

“It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.” -Sir Winston Churchill

Resist the urge to think of the next section, or the next song, or even what notes are coming up in a few seconds (unless and only unless that’s how you always practiced it, with the mental experience of looking ahead). Your brain is going to experience the music sequentially, and all your fabulous muscle memory goes straight out the window if you engage in frontal lobe debates over whether the next measure begins on D or D#. Don’t do it! If you have doubts about an upcoming note, follow the music in your head and let your fingers take you there. Think about bowls of fruit or horses in a meadow if you must, but do not question “while the ball is in play.”

Never say “sorry” if you make a mistake. That takes your head out of the music and into the eyes of your audience. I guess if you feel sorry you can apologize mentally to the music itself – anything to stay focused on the music.  For all you know, people may not have even heard the flaw, and if they did it was not the Gong of Judgement that you experienced in your own ears.

To get inside your music, let your imagination conjure up places, images, and feelings as you play. Reach for, express, and be conscious of every color in the music, its dynamics, rhythms, imagery and tones. Do this in practice every day so that performance is not different, only richer.

This has been quite a difficult post to write. I feel a responsibility to convey all that I’ve learned about performing, which is impossible.  If you have further insights, please leave a comment.  And if you want to read my ongoing analysis of how an introvert performs music, I will be creating a new category for blogging about this in the future: “Performance experiences.”

Read Full Post »

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
-Alice in Wonderland.

I have little use for the impossible, being a very practical sort of person. And six is a difficult number when what you are counting might flutter by only every 15 minutes or so, over the course of hours.

So I count Five Beautiful Things sometimes. Mostly, I count them when I am running.  It is a marvelous distraction from ugly things (trash), annoying things (bad drivers, off-leash dogs), and discouraging things (“When will this summer heat ever end?”).

Wow. This really makes me sound like a new-age, lavender scented, dance-in-the-meadows kind of dreamer. Which I am not.  I like to rant and I hold grudges. I get very cranky about all kinds of things. Sometimes I laugh out loud at perverse or dark humor.  (To wit, have you listened to Welcome To Nightvale? It’s Twilight Zone meets Monty Python. So funny. )

But I have a very restless mind, and sometimes it likes the challenge of a counting game.  Moreover, there is a sort possessive urge in me to put things on lists.  For instance, if I list:  mist in a forest, orange tabby cat sitting on a white fence, Mt. Si with new snow, trellis with vines, pink cloud… I feel like I own them in a way.   And dammit, it feels nice. Who couldn’t use a little more Nice in their lives?

Pink Cloud

Number 5, a pink cloud.

UPDATES

Harp at the Black Dog went really well.  Knowing I was playing for a cause energized me and changed the way I was playing.  If you live in the area, I’ll be there every 2nd Sunday, 10:30-noon to raise money for animal rescue and shelter.

Fundraiser at The Black Dog

 

Knitting – Feels like I’m stuck in the mud.  I make progress, but there are too many projects on the needles! (Three cardigans, two pair socks, and a lace shawl.)  Unable (or unwilling) to set some aside and just finish a project, I rotate through them, changing every week.  Never again, Cynthia!  Bad, bad, bad!  Limits and boundaries are your friend! Here it is in writing in case I need to refer back: ONE stockinette project, ONE lace, texture or color-work project, and ONE pair of socks. That’s what I can handle.  Sheesh, what was I thinking?

Running – In spite of the hottest, most humid summer I can remember as a runner, I have stuck to my marathon plan fairly closely. I am not 100% sure that has been a healthy thing to do.  There have been long runs when I really felt ill from the heat but forced myself to finish. I hate that, because I cannot get a good idea of my real fitness when I feel that bad.  My last really long run before Marathon Day is this weekend, then we’ll see in two weeks. I might really be in miserable shape, or I might find it was all an illusion if the weather cools off on race day.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »