Health Issues and Harp Playing

Home Forums Performing Health Issues and Harp Playing


Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total)
  • Author
  • #141968

    Hello everyone,

    I’ve been playing the harp for many years as an orchestral, chamber, and solo performer. I’m pretty young – still in university- so I wouldn’t say that my career is anything spectacular as of right now, but I’m working on building up my skills, repertoire, experiences, and contacts. For as long as I can remember, I’ve only, ever wanted to be a professional harpist. I truly love performing, and I obviously love the harp A LOT 🙂
    However, this past year, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I won’t go into too many details, but it mainly involves chronic nausea/vomiting, fatigue, and balance issues. I’ve tried to keep up with my normal life through this, but I can’t help but feel like my plans to be a harpist are over forever. I struggle through performances that last any longer than 5-10 minutes because I feel so ill. I can’t focus on how I’m playing when I’m performing because I’m trying my hardest to not throw up.
    I am so, so disappointed. . .I do have other skills, and there are (some) other career paths that I can follow with this illness, but I am having a very, very, very hard time giving up a performing career. I don’t think that I am physically able to pursue it any longer, but I feel so useless and saddened when I think of all the things I could accomplish had I not become ill.
    I’m sorry if this sounds like a long sob story with no point. I was just wondering if any of you have ever faced something like this, how you coped with it, and how you pursued harp in maybe a different direction. I am certainly NOT going to let this illness make me stop playing altogether 🙂 I am open to any and all advice as I’m at the end of my resources!
    Thank you so much!

    And in case anyone is thinking “well, why don’t you just go to the doctor and get it ‘fixed’!” : I have gone through all the medical (both medication and surgeries) and alternative (acupuncture, herbal, chiropractic, etc.) remedies possible. While medication has helped a little, I’m nowhere near healthy.


    So sorry to hear. I hope that you will still be able to play for pleasure. I don’t know if it will help but are you familiar with the blog “Living with Bob” on Dysautonomia? I think you would be familiar with some of her struggles.


    I hope this illness gets better over time, or that the medical profession discovers a better treatment for it. In the meantime, keep up your playing, and possibly at some time in the future, you can take to the stage again. Perhaps you could do some recording, a little bit at a time, when you have the energy. A famous Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, hated performing, so he gave it up and only recorded after that.


    Hey there, wow that’s tough. I just want to say that I’ve been in your shoes, not with harp though, but ballet. I danced for 15 years and was considering going to a school to become a professional ballerina, but then I was in a car accident and now I cannot dance ballet anymore. Needless to say, I had some really down times (and occasionally still do), and I can relate to what you are feeling. My doctor says that I may be able to try other less strenuous forms of dance, and so I plan on doing that in the future, but the reason why I started playing the harp was because of my injuries. What I have learned from my experience is that sometimes when a door closes, it leads you to a new path in life. Don’t quite playing the harp, but don’t strain yourself either! Try to explore those other job options you mentioned and maybe do a few performances here and there on the side. If you really don’t like the jobs, then go back to your goal of being a professional! Take breaks when practicing, pace yourself, be kind to your body. Best of luck, hope I could help 🙂


    As for illnesses, there are always new treatments coming along.
    However, I would certainly get 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, opinions if I were in that situation….and research on the Web for sure. Sometimes there are nutritional approaches, but doctors won’t tell you about them.

    Just to Elizabeth…Glenn Gould was always my favorite pianist, and I have records (yes, vinyls) of him playing. He could really tickle those ivories beautifully!

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Catherine,

    Sorry to hear about your illness. I have my own issues as well and as a matter of privacy, I *never* discuss them online (or even much in the real world). I’m not a performer for other reasons, and those are usually the ones I talk about if people ask. I’m a recording musician and I love it! It’s an entirely different art form from live performing and it allows one to pursue a deep introspection that I don’t think I could have achieved with a roomful of people staring at me. I built my studio in 2007 and released my first album earlier this year. It hasn’t been without its challenges (marketing, sales, etc.) but then concert promotion requires business skills as well, unless you have someone else providing that support for you. Also I maintain a blog and that helps to draw in listeners and get people interested in and a bit more knowledgeable about harp and music in general.

    You might be able to make some videos on the days when you’re feeling ok at home and then post those online, either on YouTube or on a website of your own if you have one or in a blog post. You can take breaks as needed and edit in new material later too. It’s one way of performing and also promoting your work.

    Btw, you didn’t tell a long sob story. Sometimes folks just take health for granted. Music can be a challenging career choice, even for the healthy. I hope these ideas help, even if just a starting point! 🙂



    Hi, Catherine;
    I’m sorry to hear you’re having this trouble. I’ve just finished reading a book,

      Grain Brain

    that might be helpful to you. It’s written by a neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, who is also a nutritionist. He describes treating patients with symptoms similar to yours. It might help you, might not, but definitely worth a look. So many illnesses take years to diagnose — don’t despair! Anyway, this book is a real page turner despite the serious science in it. If nothing else, it explains how the current wave of alzheimer’s and diabetes type 2 is related to diet and can be avoided. I hope it helps you.


    Thank you all for your replies! It’s encouraging to hear that there are other options out there, especially with recording. I haven’t seriously considered it in the past, but from the small amount of recording I’ve done, I think it’s something I’d really enjoy. I’m looking forward to doing some research and trying it out!


    Thanks for the medical advice as well. Like I’ve mentioned, I’ve been through the gammut of alternative medicine- many different practitioners, methods, and dietary changes. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a known medical condition, and because of it’s seriousness, I’m monitered by several different doctors and have had many different opinions. I’m usually all for choosing nutritional and lifestyle changes over traditional medical options, but in my case, I’m glad those changes didn’t help, as it forced me to seek a solution elsewhere. With the progressive nature of this disease, it’s a good thing I didn’t wait too much longer to turn to the medical profession or I could have been in much worse shape.
    So, all that to say, I really do appreciate the advice you’ve given 🙂 This has been incredibly physically and emotionally tough, and I’m always holding out for a new discovery or treatment that will help me and the many others like me, and I’m always interested in hearing about different solutions!


    Bespeckledbunny, I agree with trying a different path. Also saw you post about Prelude or Ogden. I’m a post boomer who started harp just five years ago. My first harp was an Ogden in bubinga. Beautiful sound and nice looking harp. I loved it, but because of its weight and my shoulder issues I had to go with something lighter. I think you would like the portability of the Ogden and depending on the wood love the sound. Good luck as you start college. My college major was pipe organ, didn’t have to carry that around, thank heavens!


    Sorry to hear about this bump in the road. We all face something that requires us to take a different path and then to our surprise, we find we still have joy in what we do. I play a lever harp for pleasure and for my church only and have had left shoulder problems ever since I started playing the harp (5 years ago.) One surgery helped for a spell, but then six months ago had only one recourse left, total reverse shoulder replacement! I thought long and hard but decided if I wanted to continue playing harp or piano, I had to do it. I bugged the surgeon before and after, “Will I still be able to play my harp?” And with a wonderful surgeon and aggressive physical therapist I can. Having the harp to practice and push me to get those lower levers actually made my goals attainable. The surgeon and PT are both amazed about what I now can do. I’m still improving, but at least I can still play. I tire easily but I can space my practice out to accommodate that. It’s all about finding the alternate path to achieve your goal. Best of luck on this happy harpy journey!


    Compose compose compose, and arrange arrange arrange. With all that experience you have, you have got to have fantastic ideas of precisely what’s wrong with a lot of poorly written harp rep and how to adjust it for playability, not to mention how to write well for an instrument that’s really taken off as a soloist device. And vast amounts of compositional/arranging work can be done without even being near the instrument, if you are familiar with how it feels to play it. I can’t tell you how much composing/arranging work I’ve gotten done as I am lying in bed dropping off to sleep — then I get up the next day, sit at the piano, work out those ideas, and write them down.

    Even if your body isn’t cooperating at the moment, you have a brain that has been scrupulously well-trained for harp music, and that’s the most important ingredient for a musician.

Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.