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Scared Cat Drawing by Deborah Henson-ConantThe flight home from Atlanta night-before-last got pretty choppy, and we had one of those pithy pilots who just says, “everyone get to your seats” instead of something comforting like, “Well, folks, we’ll be going through a little band of turbulence as we descend into Boston, so I’d like you to just buckle in and … blah blah blah.”

OK, I’m not always a really calm flyer anyway (though I no longer scream out loud, causing people in the front of the plane to turn around and say, “Whatever you do, please just don’t throw up”). However, I do occassionally ask the person next to me to hold my hand.

Last night was one of those flights, probably more to do with my caffeine intake than the turbulence, though both were on the way-higher-than-average level.

I’d scoped out the situation in advance:

On my right, across the aisle, was a guy who I knew had once been a basketball player,and whose wife – further to my right – was also a basketball player and a jewelry designer. They both looked pretty calm, but they were across the aisle and my general rule is to only request across-the-aisle hand-holding if nobody is sitting next to me (or if, as has happened, the person next to me has already indicated their own anxiety level is way beyond mine – usually via a mime-activity of some sort).

To my left was a young man in a uniform, who was really happy because he was headed home on leave. He hadn’t actually been in battle conditions, but he’d been in training and he looked pretty sturdy.

When the turbulence hit, about an hour out of Boston, I weathered it OK for awhile, but it moved into hand-holding territory.

So … hmmm … a guy who protects people for a living, in a comforting uniform with insignias on it is to my left, and an ex-basketball player and his wife are way across the aisle on my right. It should be a pretty simple choice.

BUT … I have reason to believe (bring in the ominous low musical underscoring) … that the enlisted man has … (big timpani roll) … a cold.

So … I reach across the aisle, startling the ex-basketball player, who, it turns out is not the hand-holding kind, but who assures me there’s a lot of turbulence (which is oddly reassuring).

And we make it safely to the ground.

So someone explain this to me, someone who studies the human psyche: I’m so anxious about this flight that I’ll reach across the aisle to invade a stranger’s personal space — but I will not reach to the guy next to me – a guy whose profession is protecting people – because I think has a cold.

Am I really more afraid of a cold than a plane crash? If I don’t really think the plane is going to crash, why am I responding with such physical anxiety?

Why do I feel afraid of the turbulence but act afraid of the cold?

And while we’re at it, how come the taxi credit-card screens in Boston only allow you the option to give 20%, 25% or 30% tip? Do they know that the quotient of our math skills, multiplied by our laziness … no, never mind, I can’t even figure out how to end that sentence. I’ll just go for the answer about fear.

After years on the fence about Facebook, I realized last week that Facebook is whatever you make it, and I posted two questions that happened to be foremost in my mind that day.

One was about musical notation and the other about the ‘maggot scene’ from “Mutiny on the Bounty.” 

From the flurry of comments, I learned many things about both, including these:

“Toasted they taste like pine nuts (I accidentally discovered once when I didn’t sift flour…)” (Thank you for that one, Mimi)

A recipe for Maggot Crisps, written out in full by Kristine (thank you Kristine)

The lyrics to a 70’s band ‘worm song’ (many thanks, Clem)

Also how singers like to see rhythms notated — at least in one specific situation — which is the subject of this blog.

The specific situation is a passage from “Songs of the Pyre,”  a 5-movement dramatic song-cycle for soprano, harp, piano and cello.

I premiered the song-cycle in NYC back in the ’80’s and it’s been on my “Prepare for Publication” shelf ever since — because given the choice between “Prepare Finished Piece for Publication” or “Write New Exciting Piece,” guess which I choose?

This year I’ve committed to releasing the works on that shelf, and I’ve hired composer-and-copyist Noah Brenner to help. So Noah is taking old hand-written versions, digitizing them and standardizing layouts and notation.

But standards aren’t always clear, and sometimes what makes sense to composers doesn’t read sensibly to performers. Facebook gave us the chance to provide two examples and let performers weigh in.

Noah made an A-B comparison chart and I  asked singers to weigh in,  choose between two ways of notating the same line – and to tell me which they preferred and why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the comments were all illuminating.  The kind of feedback you could normally only get in a classroom.

And the last one, especially, made me realize that this was an excellent tool.

So, I take back all that stuff I said about Facebook (don’t bother looking for it – I mostly said it to my cat).


If you’re already my friend on Facebook and you’re thinking, “But, hey, I don’t remember reading anything about maggots OR music notation!” it’s probably because you are only my friend, but you do not officially “like” me.

I do most of my posting on my “official” fan page, so please join the conversation here – and if you have a recipe for maggot mousse, I’m all eyes.

So last Sunday…

… after a ridiculously early Sunday morning flight, jazz harpist Susan Ottzen picked me up at the Atlanta airport and brought me to the Atlanta Harp Center, where I immediately took a nap on the floor of the Harp Storage Room (it was like bedding down in a forest of towering harps – really).

Then I spent a rollicking afternoon with 13 intrepid harp players, singing and playing the Blues.

This was a workshop that mixed four things: passion, Blues, adult beginners and professional musicians. And here’s what I love about that:

As adult beginners, the adult part of us has a choice:

We can use our adult mind to strategize a path for the beginner … or we can revert to being a tantrum-throwing juvenile. Both are fun. But if you go for the first, as a musician, you can use your strategic adult mind to simplify music so that you can enjoy playing with others even if they’re “way beyond you.”

Unlike running with people beyond your ability. Trust me, I know.

If you’re a slow runner, like me, you can’t really run “with” a fast runner and both of you be challenged,  engaged and comfortable. Even if you start off at the same time, they’ll be ahead of you within a few steps (did I mention my husband is a marathon trainer?).

But music moves at the same rate no matter who’s playing.

So if you’re a beginner who knows the secrets of simplifying, then you can decide to play fewer notes and still play music together with people of far greater technical ability. Sure, they may be playing 10 times more notes than you (or 20 or 30 times) — but you’re still playing the music together.  The strategy comes in knowing which ones to leave out.

And, by the way, I learned this many times in my life, once from the great bass-player, Rufus Reid.

So I was really excited to have players with a huge range of skills – from Susan Ottzen, who teaches jazz harp – to a student who’d only just had her first 3 harp lessons. So how did this all happen?

I’m working on two education-type projects right now:
One’s called “Blues by the Dozen” and the other is called “Strings of Passion:”

The Blues project is about creating simple, immediately playable structures and the Passion project is about revealing underlying principles.

So one is about learning through doing, and the other is about deconstructing an idea — the idea of passion in performance — so we can find it, practice it and explore it everywhere in our lives.

In “Strings of Passion,” the point is to create an “Enhancement Loop” (I just made that up, so don’t bother Googling it),  where exploring the expression of passion in life gives us insight and connection to performing with passion as performing artists – and exploring passion in performing arts enhances how we live with passion.

In the Blues project, the point is to just get your fingers on the notes, sing, play and have a rollicking good time.  You learn a ‘technique’ and immediately put it into practice.

‘Til now I’ve always thought of “technique” workshops and “concept” workshops as – well, basically as opposites — even though I use a lot of physicalizing in concept workshops.

I wanted to see what would happen if I put these two ideas together in a workshop: I wanted to combine a simple playable structure with concepts of passion and performance — within a fairly short amount of time.

And, judging by the experience of 12 harpists belting out the Blues on harp and voice, the experiment was a success!   

What I discovered was that by describing principles of impassioned performance before we even started learning notes, and by telling just a few stories to put the principles into context, the level of performance in people’s playing was so much freer right off the bat, in terms of physical investment and energy. (And remember, this was a mixed group of professionals and adult-beginners – each of whom have different issues when it comes to freely expressing themselves through music).

So I’m excited to continue exploring this in future workshops and I’ll keep you posted!

It turns out I’ll be doing a lot of this in March at the “Beginning in the Middle” retreat near Richmond, VA.  This is an entire learning retreat just for adult beginners on harp.

I’ve heard about this festival for years, loved the idea and always wanted to give my workshops at it — and 2012 is the first time it’s worked out with my schedule.  So if you know an adult-beginner harpist or a harpist wannabe, tell them about “Beginning in the Middle” – or, heck! Buy them a registration for Christmas!

Me, I’m off to begin in the middle of dinner …

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