Many adult learners take private lessons, practice in the quietude of their own homes, and never really encounter other harp enthusiasts (other than perhaps the person exiting their lesson as you are arriving for yours). About seven years ago, I found myself wishing for a local community that would share my passion for the harp. I’ve had this kind of community within my yoga practice, why not the harp?
…we’ve all improved little by little, and we continue to dissolve our fears about playing outside of our home bubbles.
A common thread among the adult students I knew of in my area was anxiety about playing or performing outside the comfort of home. Paradoxically, another common thread was a strong desire to share with others the music we were working so hard to create. We were all adult learners with no delusional thoughts of going to Juilliard or playing at Carnegie Hall. However, our shared objectives were fun, joy, personal growth, and a very strong desire to be heard.
With these common traits in mind, I decided to bring a community of adult students together for what we call a Saturday Salon. Over the last seven-plus years the group has shifted and morphed, people have moved away, new people have joined. It is not a club—there are no by-laws, no dues, no attendance is taken. Our intentions are simply to get out of our bubble, share our music, and support each other.
We meet every other month (we found monthly to be too often) on a Saturday. The term “salon” was chosen because we felt our gatherings mimicked the Parisian salons of the 17th and 18th centuries where poets, writers, artists, etc. would gather to share and to be inspired by the other creative souls in attendance.
Our Saturday Salons are held in a member’s home, rotating among the harpists who have a pedal harp. This rotation allows the commute distance to be fairly dispersed across our tri-county area. Our Salon size hovers near 10 harpists, with approximately 60 percent playing pedal harp and 40 percent playing lever harp. Since lever harps are more portable, a lever harp is brought to each gathering. With the harps in place, members can simply arrive with their music and potluck offering. I have no doubt that this measure of simplicity is one of the keys to our longevity and success.
When we gather, we allow a few minutes for hugs and hellos, but we make the music our primary focus and try to jump right into our solos, knowing that there will be a social time during the potluck after the music. Whoever is playing announces the title and composer of their piece and perhaps a short anecdote about the work or about why they wanted to learn that particular piece. It is absolutely not a formal performance—the pieces shared can run the gamut from works-in-progress to fully polished pieces being prepped for a student recital to the first page of a new song.
There are no guidelines—everyone can share what they’d like. Occasionally, someone decides to not play and chooses to come to listen, support, and be social. There is usually enough time for each person to play one to three solos, depending on their length.
We support each other and give positive feedback. None of us are teachers, therefore none of us attempt to critique or teach—we have teachers to do that for us! We get out of our respective comfort zones and share our efforts of the previous two months, introduce each other to songs that we might not otherwise not be familiar with, and the best part is that we share many laughs and sweet moments. After the music is finished, we have a social hour that includes fabulous potluck food and lively conversation.
Our Saturday Salon has produced many positive developments—deep friendships have formed, some members are part of a harp ensemble with a professional harpist serving as their fabulous musical director, group harp regulations have been organized, harp purchases have been inspired, new music has been discovered, harps have been lent and borrowed, and we have attended concerts, masterclasses, and festivals together. We are an eclectic mix of people that share a passion for the harp!
In the last few years, we’ve broadened the Salon to include an annual workshop. For this event, everyone brings a harp, and we hire a professional harpist to join us and teach a workshop. We’ve had workshops on rhythm and metronome; glissandos and harmonics; “tapping” for stress; and stage fright strategies. We’ve had an eight-week music theory program and a masterclass where we hired a professional harpist who is well known for her coaching. We attempt to hire harpists who none of us know to lead our workshops, thereby broadening our connection to more harpists in our region.
Our group has grown from five harpists when we started to about 10 now. We’ve found 10 to be our magic number—the group can fit comfortably in a living room, the gathering feels intimate and personal, and our events aren’t too long, which keeps folks coming back. Though some of the faces have changed over the last seven years, we’ve all improved little by little, and we continue to dissolve our fears about playing outside of our home bubbles.
Having this community to share the music that we have worked so hard to learn has galvanized each person’s commitment to continued learning at the harp—something well worth noting for harp teachers. At every gathering, there are comments made about how fortunate the attendees feel to have a harp community. These gatherings also serve as one of the motivators that keep all of us practicing and going to our lessons, ensuring that we have something new to present at the next Salon.
As Kevin Costner’s character famously said in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” The same is true of a Harp Salon, and what a win for all it will be. •
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