Posts Tagged ‘Seattle harpist’


I am sometimes asked, “Why do harpists charge more for a wedding than they do for background music if they are doing the same thing? Playing harp is playing harp, regardless of where you are, right?”

Well, first let me say thank you. If it seems like I’m playing the exact same way at your wedding as I would in my own living room, then I am doing my job well.

Still, although it seems like I am doing the same thing in each performance, the fact is that you are not getting the same thing in a wedding as in a background music situation. My extra hours of preparation and decades of experience make it possible for me to perform through stressful situations and still play well and keep my head.

First, there is the simple truth that it is generally harder to perform a skilled task when one is being watched. It’s true that one also gets somewhat of a boost from being watched: that adrenaline-spiked “magic of concert day” so to speak. But even that boost is dependent on the performer’s level of experience. A less experienced harpist or a student may not get a boost at all, but rather a case of shakes. Or even a fainting spell. (That actually happened to me in a high school play.)  It simply takes greater experience to deliver a solid performance under a spotlight.

Second, things can go wrong. Things do go wrong. A novice who is quite adept playing background music at your birthday party, may come apart completely if she is seated at the front of a church full of staring people, or if your bridesmaid’s silk flower bouquet catches fire during your ceremony (that has happened) or if the harpist suddenly cannot see what is going on because your videographer just planted himself in front of the harp during your processional (that happened more than once).  An experienced harpist will not come apart just because the situation does. But her fees will reflect the costs of Grace Under Pressure.

Think of it this way. One thing you are paying for is the raw skill of plucking harp strings to produce music.  Then add “points” for various aspects of performance that require more experience: pressure of being in the spotlight; pressure from the magnitude or importance of the event; nature of the audience (is it your book group or will the Governor be there?); and potential for glitches (weddings nearly always have them).

Myself, I have limits. I have played for a Governor, and a Mayor too. And my beloved harp teacher always told me I could do anything I set my sights on, bless her. But I have turned down a few opportunties because they seemed beyond my self confidence or abilities.

What I want to convey is that playing harp is not just playing harp.  All performance situations present some level of psychological challenge. We harpists have paid with our lives to meet those challenges. Literally our lives, because playing the harp well under pressure is never a side hobby.

Why do we charge more for a wedding than a cocktail hour? Because we are giving you not just our time at your event, but all the years that came before.


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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.

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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.


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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.


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“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!

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You have probably heard it before… Which weighs more, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers?  This trick question (a ton is a ton, so they weigh equally) takes on a grim angle when it is a metaphor for life.  All those light, fluffy, snow-white obligations can pile up fast, and before you know it you are wishing you had just picked one plain old brick to carry on your shoulders.

It is wedding season, and we are feeling it!  Brides, I know some of you are contemplating elopement (and possibly subsequent life as a hermit) about now, but hang in there!  Take some time to relax every day and try to laugh as much as possible.  Maybe this will help:


My ton of feathers this month includes 1) a completely new set of strings (new brand, for me) on my Celtic harp that are not working out as expected – and of course my contact at the company who is helping me figure it out has gone to Scotland for a two weeks. And  2) we are replacing the carpet in my harp studio with a wood-laminate floor. All the furniture and harps have to be moved out and physical chaos reigns. Thank goodness it’s temporary.


In running news

I continue to build mileage for my fall marathon.  Most programs take a runner up to 20 miles, but I learned long ago that I need more than that.  In fact, I prefer to keep my 20 milers going year-round, and increase to 22, 23, and 24 in the last 6 weeks of training.  Last week, as the weather was heating up I headed out for my 20 miler.  I knew it would be tough; I don’t “do heat.”  I’m lucky if I can avoid getting nauseous while running when the mercury goes over 70F.

So I was darn proud to be chugging along just fine — albeit slowly — in 75F and bright sunshine, 10 miles from home.  Only it wasn’t 10 miles.  Thank you, Hot Weather, for turning the part of my brain that does math into mush.  I mis-calculated my route and ended up with 21.3 miles total, and an excuse to spend the rest of the day on my…




Good luck with all your summer plans, bridal or other, and watch out for those feathers!

White peacock

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First, can we all agree that the dude who plays the piano sometimes at Nordstrom is not human? Actually, I haven’t seen him for a while; either he returned to his own planet, or the recession has mandated a cut in Nordstrom’s Alien Pianist budget.  Or maybe I just don’t shop as much as I used to.

But you could tell he was not human because he used to look like playing the piano was no more taxing to his mental abilities than brushing his hair. Looking almost bored, he seemed to long for a little chat – with anyone at all, on any subject, and without any break in the music.  “Hey. How you doin’ today? Thank you, thank you very much…”

I am not that kind of harpist. Ok, maybe calling the Nordstrom guy an alien was a bit harsh, but you cannot exactly blame me for being sensitive about this.  I have tried and tried to connect the brain wires that control talking while I’m playing the harp. My results are always the same: both harp playing and coherent speech dissolve in a puddle of mush.

I used to attempt an exercise where you just say your name while playing music, and then build up from there.  I never progressed beyond good intentions. The music always fell apart immediately, and what came out of my mouth was something like, “sssnnoonthp kmrrfauiill…”

I don’t mean to dwell on it and bring everybody down. Actually, I’ve accepted this as my own charming mental defect and can even laugh about it when it is not actually happening.   But what am I supposed to do when the friendly, well-meaning listener approaches me mid-tune and, mistaking me for a Nordstrom Alien Pianist, exclaims, “That is so lovely! So, how long have you been playing?”

There isn’t much I can do, beyond smiling and trying to nod a bit. Whether it is the kind and friendly listener, or the host’s inebriate uncle who wants to sing along with “Embraceable You,” I mostly have to just ignore people.  It seems rude, but I figure it is preferable to hanging a sign on the harp that says, “Verbal Interaction With Harpist May Give Her Seizures.”

By contrast, if I take out my knitting in public, people seem to think I cannot possibly talk to them at the same time. They start to speak, I look up, and they say, “Oh, sorry. You’re busy…”  No! Try me! I can cross a cable, do a centered-double-decrease, and keep cranking out this sock, all while telling you about the guy who insisted on singing along with “Embraceable You” last night. I can talk to you.  It’s not like I’m trying to play a harp.

In a doctor’s waiting room one day, some ladies apparently didn’t even believe I could knit and hear at the same time.  Less than ten feet away I heard them speaking at normal volume: “Is she knitting? I think she’s knitting. What is it? …I don’t know.”  So I looked up and smiled, expecting to hear, “Oh, we were just wondering what you were knitting there…”  But they just looked away.  As if to say, “We’d better stop before she hears us.”


1. I am so very sorry, but I cannot talk to you while I’m playing this harp.   (Let’s not start anything that could lead to a 9-1-1 call.)

2. I would love to tell you what I’m knitting, and I can definitely hear you and hold these needles at the same time.  I’m gifted that way.

3. Nordstrom should stop hiring extraterrestrials and give us earthlings, flawed as we are, a chance.

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The laaaaast measure is memorized!  

I don’t usually do things this way. I don’t usually memorize a piece of music a few measures at a time and then woodshed it.  (To woodshed is to seclude oneself and play parts of a piece repeatedly to get them perfect. I was told that the term originally referred to being sent out to the woodshed, perhaps with a scratchy old fiddle, because the constant repetition was driving everyone in the house nuts.)

My normal order of business with new music is to analyze, sight read it, divide it into sections, sight read some more, and eventually woodshed the sections.  Many pieces never get memorized at all. If a piece is sounding great to me right off the page I will often leave that umbilical cord in place.

The piece”Dawn” by Dario Marianelli, from the movie Pride and Prejudice, was altogether different for me right from the start.  Sight reading is not my forte to begin with, but with “Dawn” it was downright painful.  I wanted all that flow and emotion; I could hear it in my head. But the plodding pace of cold sight reading seemed like doing the Mona Lisa in paint-by-numbers. With primary colors only.

Being a piano piece, “Dawn” presented me with the usual challenge of assigning eight fingers to a ten-finger arrangement. (Harpists cannot use the pinky fingers.) Some of the cross under/over choices took me a while to work out. I’ve got a lot of sticky spots to smooth over, but I’m so pleased with myself it’s disgusting. After all, it still sounds awful, with all my stops and starts.  But I can tell it will come together very quickly now.

Let me just take a moment now to hang my head in shame over the fact that I still have not made any YouTube videos. I am told it’s quite easy and there is just no excuse.  I’m not really into self-loathing, but this is starting to really weigh on me. Sigh.  Well, whenever I do get my act together, I expect to burst forth in a veritable marathon of recordings. And “Dawn” will definitely be among them.

Weather update… Fantastic thunderhead over the Cascades last evening!

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…it won’t rain.  Is that true for blogging about grey skies as well?  This morning was all blue sky and sparkly sunshine. Here is the top of our maple — it was such a wee thing 5 years ago that I could bring it home in the back of my car.

Did you know that most harps will go flat or sharp when the weather changes?  A good quality harp will be a bit more stable than others, but all wood reacts to its environment.  It’s a bit like having a six foot tall barometer in the room.  Flat? Storm coming. Sharp? Probably time to fire up the BBQ.

Right about now the piano owners in the crowd may be wondering how often we harpists tune.  At my house, the poor piano gets tuned once a year if it’s lucky.  But the harp? Every day. And twice a day if I do double practices. And every time it is moved. And practically every time someone opens a window (here in the Northwest, not very often).

I seem to be all about the weather this week.  Our family went to see The Tempest with Christopher Plummer last night. It was a “Fathom Event,” where they play an opera or a theater production in a movie theater for “one night only!”  BRILLIANT production.  Julyana Soelistyo as Ariel: how cute is she?

Off to “make hay while the sun shines.” Cheers!

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