Jack of All Trades

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Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. Email her at areese@harpcolumn.com.

Becoming a harpist is not a one-dimensional pursuit

To be a harpist today, we have to put a little spin on the old expression, “jack of all trades, master of none.” A successful harpist definitely needs to be a jack of all trades, but I would argue you also have to be a master of at least one—you gotta have chops. To build those chops, you have to possess a working knowledge of several related fields. In fact, you’re likely reading this magazine to learn more about the ancillary subjects in which harpists should be proficient. 

It’s not enough to play the instrument. We need to know the basics of copyright law, contracts, the physics of sound, audiology, human physiology, marketing, communications, psychology, negotiating, entrepreneurship—I could keep going, but you get the point. 

In each issue of Harp Column, we try to include an article for every harpist. Lever or pedal, beginner or professional, young or old—there is something every reader will find useful, interesting, or at the very least amusing on the pages of the magazine. Though I’d like to take credit for the occasions when a common thread runs through several articles in an issue, the truth is, this often happens by chance. Our editorial plan rarely plays out in print as it appeared on the drawing board.

Such is the case in this issue with the synergy between our two feature articles, “I Hear a Harp” (see pg. 16) and “Body + Mind” (see pg. 26). When we were planning this issue, I did not see a connection between the topics of sound quality and injury prevention. On the surface, they seem to be unrelated stories. It was not until I read the first drafts of these articles that the lightbulb came on. Tension ties them together. Tension is key to both creating the sound you want and preventing the injuries that can arise from playing. Author Alex Rider describes in detail how important tension—and the correct release of it—is in creating sound, while author Rebecca Harrisson talks to experts in physiology and related fields who say finding and releasing tension in your body not only prevents injury, but also improves sound. It seems obvious when it’s laid out in front of you, but reading these two articles side by side highlights the interdisciplinary nature of playing the harp. Technique, sound, and physiology do not exist in a vacuum. They are closely tied to each other and to other aspects of harp playing. Understanding these connections can help unlock the secrets to a fulfilling and pain-free harp life.

Author Katherine Siochi speaks to a different kind of tension in her Sounding Board article on pg. 12. Siochi, winner of the 2016 USA International Harp Competition, addresses the mental and emotional tension that comes from comparing ourselves to others. This is an important topic, especially in a performance-based field like music. As Siochi points out, it’s not realistic to simply not compare ourselves to others. “Instead, we can approach comparison with a healthier mindset that will allow us to better ourselves, focus on our goals, and learn from others,” she observes. The five tips Siochi shares are helpful in releasing the tension that comes from unhealthy comparisons and reframing these thoughts in a productive way. 

Whatever discipline you find yourself working on in your harp life right now, we hope you’ll find some helpful expert advice in this issue.

Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. You can email her at areese@harpcolumn.com.

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Editor of Harp Column, freelance harpist, private teacher, hot yoga lover, and grammar geek.

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