Plenty of Time

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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.

Finding focus amid life’s distractions

In my pre-COVID life, I was guilty of overscheduling myself and then lamenting that I didn’t have enough time for everything. I suspect it’s the same with many of my fellow musicians. Our busyness—whether out of necessity or choice or a combination of the two—is where we tend to point our blame for not being able to do all we want to do.

Suddenly, stay-at-home orders and canceled gigs brought the steady flow of business to a hard stop. Within a matter of days I went from never having enough time to having all the time in the world. My built-in excuse…er….reason for not practicing enough, not delving into my pile of new music, not arranging that piece for a student, not changing my bass wires, not tackling any of these projects on my list was gone. The time I always longed for was suddenly mine in abundance.

So here’s a list of everything I did during nearly two and a half months in lockdown: absolutely nothing. Well, to be fair, I was still working on Harp Column, teaching lessons online, and attempting to keep my kids on the straight and narrow with their schoolwork at home. But absent my usual schedule of rehearsals and concerts, I had more time than usual on my hands for extra projects.

I consider myself fairly focused and self-motivated—most self-employed folks are, by necessity. It really bothered me that, during quarantine, I struggled to plunge into any creative projects I had been “waiting” for the right moment to start. What was my problem? That’s why you can almost hear the sigh of relief I let out during my interview with Mary Lattimore (see “On the Road” on pg. 28) when she admitted that she was experiencing the same difficulties.

Lattimore oozes creativity—making music by experimenting with her acoustic harp and fx pedals (along with some other random instruments). Her music has earned her quite a following and a robust touring schedule. As we talked in mid-May about what daily life looked like in lockdown, Lattimore admits to being sort of stuck, knowing all she could be doing with her downtime. “But you can’t force it, especially with music,” she warns. For her, the constant flow of news and noise about the pandemic was crushing her concentration. Reading and watching so much news online was taking up valuable bandwidth, leaving little left for musical endeavors. If it can happen to someone as imaginative as Mary Lattimore, it can happen to anyone.

So what’s a distracted harpist to do? Throw your phone out the window and lock yourself in your practice room? Lattimore suggests that the first thing we need to do is give ourselves a break. It’s okay that we didn’t record a new album or learn French during quarantine. Like she said, you can’t force music.

But there are things you can do, and author Rachel  Lee Hall has a few suggestions in her feature article, “Practice Makes Progress” on pg. 33. Hall, an award-winning professional harpist, admits motivation to practice is hard to come by right now, even as lockdowns are lifted and we ee into normal routines. But there are approaches that can help. “In my own struggles in the practice room” Hall writes, “I have found the accumulation of small advantages to be the biggest aid in the overwhelming sea of non-motivation and distraction.” You’ll have to read the rest of Hall’s article to find out her tips for productive practice, but one thing she does point out is the potential for the omnipresent phone to distract us—and the ways we limit those distractions.

Before you chuck your cell into the river, though, you might want to check out Kela Walton’s review of metronome apps (see “Metronome Apps You Can Count On” on pg. 22). Walton, who also led a review of tuning apps in our May/June 2020 issue, is back with her team of reviewers to kick the tires on eight of the best metronome apps for harpists, showing us yet another useful harp tool we can have at our fingertips. Oh, the blessing and the curse of the smartphone. There are so many ways it can help our musical development—tuning, counting, recording ourselves, listening to repertoire, looking up scores, downloading music, livestreaming concerts (see Grace Browning’s Lessons on the Job article on pg.14)—the list goes on. But the phone can also be the single biggest impediment to our focus and creative energy. It is so easy to check email, read the day’s headlines, scroll through Facebook, post to Instagram, and let’s not even start with the constant dings alerting us to a waiting text message or a missed call.

As with most things in life, moderation is the key. And as with most things in life, moderation is easier said than done. Perhaps if we can take the advice of the experts in this issue and go easy on ourselves, limit our phone’s distracting features, and instead take advantage of its helpful features, we can find our way out of lockdown malaise and back to our creative flow.

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

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