This article originally appeared in the December 2000 issue of The Reel Fling, which is the publication of the Harpers Hall & culinary society. If you’re a harper, I hope you enjoy some of these ideas for journeying with your harp.
Don’t play harp? If you play any instrument or sing you can easily make use of these ideas too!
If you’re not a musician at all, I invite you to browse the article anyway. You may very well find some inspiration for your own creative expression as the year ends! Tip: as you read the article, substitute “harp”, “harper”, etc. with the nature and details of your particular creative magic.. Please be sure to let me know how you applied any of these ideas to that which you are most passionate about!
a page from “The Mystic Harper’s Guide to Fun & Magic on the Harp” for December and the Year’s End
by Jane Valencia
Have you misplaced the magic that drew you to the harp? Are you hoping to delve more deeply into the wonder of this amazing instrument? In the spirit of fun, I offer these recipes and suggestions for closing the old year ….
A tune gift.
One of the great traditions of the Harpers Hall & culinary society is the annual Yuletide Party. This is a time when harps and harpers cram into a valiant member’s home. We heft lavish dishes of every description and delight upon unsuspecting tables and counters. We exchange songs, music, conversation, and chocolates in the harp circle and beyond. We catch up with our friends and make new ones, and revel–Harpers Hall style–as the year approaches its longest night.
As always in a harp circle, revelers will play a merry tune, or invite one and all to play along on an old favorite. An especially fine gift to your fellow harpers at this time of year is to share a tune, song, or poem that honors the season. These pieces can be holiday songs, but certainly don’t have to be. Meaningful tunes and verse can be drawn from any tradition, or can be created by ourselves in response to winter images around or within us.
If possible, make copies of the piece for everyone (note: please be mindful of copyright issues before doing so!). Imagine everyone walking home with a sheaf of tunes and perhaps even collecting them into a “book” of warm-hearted music to drive the cold weather away–memories of a marvelous time, gifts from your fellow harpers.
Improvising on winter.
Winter is a time of inner reflection, a time to curl up by the fire and dream as you await the rebirth of the sun. It can be a time of noise-making and rowdy celebration, but also a time of quiet. Use this time of year to inspire you to respond to the season or even to give thanks.
Try this: Say or think the word “winter”. Off the top of your head, write the first five words that come to mind. They could be images, feelings, actions, whatever. Now think of five more words. Think and write down five more.
Now go to your harp. Pick a mode or simple chord progression, something that suggests ‘winter’ to you. Lydian mode, the “more major than major” scale is interesting and unusual. If your harp is tuned to the Key of C, you will find the Lydian mode on the series of strings that start on F (F G A B C D E F is the scale). While playing an F chord (F C F) in your bass hand, noodle around on the F Lydian scale with your melody hand. Circle around the fourth step of the scale — that whole step interval between the third and fourth degrees is what gives Lydian its distinctive character.
Our Western music ears will want to change the B natural to a B flat! Explore the scale and noodle to your heart’s content. Get dreamy about winter. As you do so, you might want to chant one or more of your winter words. While playing your F drone and melody noodles, you might say or sing: “Snow —- sun — fire — music — return …” or whatever. Lose yourself in the winter magic. Improvise vocally. You may find yourself creating your own chant or song!
Note: To give you a sense of Lydian mode, I include a video I made a number of years back. “Under Starlight” is in Lydian mode, with a little skip over to Mixolydian mode before returning to Lydian again.
Release the old, welcome something new.
We all have hang ups. Something is always holding us back from achieving our musical dreams. In this season of death and rebirth we have a real opportunity to reflect on the stumbling blocks to our paths as harpers and to shed them. Are you fearful? Intimidated? Feel that you’re rhythmically challenged? Write the hindrance onto a piece of paper. To give the “thing” added significance find a tune that symbolizes that hindrance for you (perhaps in the song’s title; or perhaps there is a piece you’ve been working on that has frustrated you in just that discouraging way). Write your hindrance across the top of the music. Ex: “I’m a fake harper”. Ceremonially burn that paper at the Harpers Hall Yuletide Party (or elsewhere).
It is marvelously cleansing to burn, destroy, or give away something that has been dragging you down. If you just can’t bear to burn that piece of music, you could just give it to someone else who might truly enjoy working on that tune or arrangement (in this case you would write your hindrance on a separate paper and burn that). Perhaps at the Yuletide celebration we should all have a tune exchange. Each of us bring a piece of sheet music we don’t want to work on, and come up with some sort of trade. I’m sure all awful tunes can find loving homes and hearts!
At the same time you come up with a hindrance, think of a quality that you want to acquire for yourself at this point in your harp journey. Perhaps you want the boldness and flair of Kim Robertson, or the rhythmic splashiness of Alfredo Ortiz? Write your dream on a piece of music that embodies that quality for you, or even attach it to a CD of music that represents what you wish to accomplish. Write it in the present tense: “My music makes people dance.” Use the piece of music or the CD as a reminder or a source of inspiration. Keep it somewhere near your harp, as a talisman.
Now do something to symbolize this change in you. You will no longer be a fake harper (or whatever is your chief depressing belief about your harp playing). You now make people dance when you play (or whatever is your dream). Celebrate this inner change. After all, to imagine is to create magic. If you believe, you will become.
You could line up your favorite stuffed animals and give them a private performance by the dazzling new harper self that is you. Or you could do something completely different: treat yourself to a ceremonial cup of hot chocolate accompanied by lighted candles before you settle down to your next session with your harp. Whisper the words of your dream for yourself like a mantra. You could even do this at the beginning and end of each practice session for weeks or months to come. Use your imagination, have fun. Most importantly, honor the fact that you have chosen the harp as your instrument — and that the harp has chosen you!
How do you honor the closing of the year with your unique creative expression? Please share your stories below!