Practice Paralysis and what it means for the future

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    Alyson Webber on #195813

    Hi, all. I am looking for support or suggestions to deal with my upcoming “situation.”

    I have been playing for almost 4 years, and have had gigs every month since last fall. Gigs in which I am performing with an orchestra or solo at church I find very stressful as it takes extra time and effort on my part to get the music ready for performance. I have therefore been going non-stop for months. Good, right?

    Well, I got pregnant (first kid) right before my last gig and I had a very difficult time finding the focus and energy to prepare. The performance went fine, as all of mine have (I have been fortunate to not have a disaster performance yet), but now I suffer from  burn-out. I turned down another gig and had to cancel my Christmas one (due date early December).

    Here lies my problem…I still suffer from burn-out. It has been months, and practicing (maybe down to 45 minutes every other day instead of 1.5-2 hours a day) has become lazy – I just play through stuff, rarely focusing enough to even get out the metronome and do some serious work. My teacher has been wonderful and understanding, and has tried to give me deadlines to work on some new easy pieces. I guess I’m not as scared of her disappointment as I am of hundreds of people at a performance and the deadlines don’t have the invigorating effect I was hoping for. 🙂

    Compounding this problem is I will soon be a stay-at-home mom, without an income. I still have harp payments. I don’t want to sell my instrument, but down to a one-income family, I won’t be able to afford the harp without some income from the instrument itself. There is always the possibility of going back to work, but then I doubt I’d want to spend the few precious hours of the evening away from my brand-new baby.

    In a perfect world, I would like to make some part-time income with the harp after (although before would be nice, too) my child is born. I am afraid if this burn-out continues and the weight I’m putting on my shoulders about it is going to impede my ability to take gigs. Background music would be great, since it is more low-key than solo performance or orchestral work, but I spent the other weekend handing out cards to restaurants, etc. and got no business.

    I know I’m not the first person to have a child force a change in life-plans, and making money with the harp would be a fine alternative to going back to full-time work. I just can’t find the courage to move forward.

    Any advice about children and harps, balancing family and music, burn-out, starting a harp “career”… anything is so much appreciated… Thanks

    Andelin on #195824


    Congratulations!  Your new baby will bring you so much joy.  I am truly happy for you.  🙂

    I think what you are experiencing As far as  lack of focus and energy are caused by the pregnancy.  Even when it’s no bigger than a jelly bean it takes a lot out of you.  Hormone shifts can do crazy things. There may be some supplements you can take to help offset this somewhat (with your doctor’s supervision of course!),  but as far as I know, it’s pretty much par for the course.  It doesn’t last forever though!  You’ll get your energy back eventually. I always felt much better during the 2nd trimester.

    I also love that you are choosing to stay home to take care of your baby.  There may still be room for some gigs, etc.  maybe not for a few months after baby comes, but you have some time to work your budget now to prepare for a time without the income from the harp.  But more than any amount of money, your child needs YOU!

    Have you considered teaching, and do you feel like you could teach?  It would bring in some income, but you could build your schedule around your life.  If not with harp, then maybe something else; there are plenty of moms who find ways to bring in a part time income without sacrificing their kids.


    My experience is more on the kids side (I have 5), less on the harp side (I haven’t made much money with harp).  Take it for what it’s worth.  I just want to encourage you to feel like having a baby doesn’t mean you will have to put your harp or your Dreams on a shelf for 20 years.  I bet you are feeling overwhelmed about it all (don’t all new moms feel overwhelmed?) but I know that if you try, you will find a way to keep your harp and stay home with your baby.


    I wish I had some more specific advice for you, but I just feel like it will all work out!  Sometimes things end up happening in ways we didn’t imagine, but it’s better than any of our plans would’ve been.  :). Keep us posted.  If I think of anything else I will come back and add it.

    Tacye on #195838

    I don’t have experience of motherhood, but am a positive expert when it comes to not practicing!

    I have always progressed by stops and starts, and when I return to practice things do come back very rapidly and sometimes things even get better when I haven’t been practicing them.  If you want to force yourself to practice do just that – but don’t set unreasonable goals and set yourself up for failure.  Schedule a time everyday and stick to it, even if it is only 10 minutes.  If you want to use the metronome can you leave it out?

    I also suggest you make a point to keep listening to harp music.



    Allison Stevick on #195844

    I don’t have much advice on the business side of this, but hopefully my story can be encouraging.

    When I was pregnant with my first (7 years ago. What?! That was fast!), my harp actually became a morning sickness trigger. I couldn’t even look at it without feeling nauseated! I was SO sad, and I desperately hoped that I would get over that. Well, it took the whole pregnancy and then a bit after, but I was eventually able to play my sweet little harp again. My second pregnancy didn’t do that to me, but some of my other beloved hobbies (sketching, painting, sewing) just didn’t bring me ANY joy in that time. No motivation, no creativity, etc. I have since been able to all of them again, and now that my kids are getting out of the baby stage, there’s much more energy and focus to devote to my harping and hobbies.

    I hope to be encouraging that there IS light at the end of this tunnel, and once you settle in with your new baby and lifestyle, I’m sure you will be able to find ways to keep the harp going. Pregnancy hormones bring on sooo many changes, but eventually it will all settle down and even out again.

    And congratulations! Babies are wonderful, and I wish you the best in your new adventure.

    renaissancemanohio on #195953


    As a nurse practitioner, I agree with what folks are saying about hormonal influences on your mood and energy levels. But it also sounds like what you have described as additional stressors, such as worry about your income and the thought of being isolated from others after your baby is born, can add up to depressed mood and the kinds of feelings you’re experiencing. You might want to consider talking with a mental health professional — a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner would be a great choice — to make sure you understand what you are experiencing and that you have healthy coping mechanisms in place now during your pregnancy and also while you are going through the rough but wonderful post-partum phase… Just to help you around the rough edges now and after you deliver so you are less stressed out and enjoying what life has to offer, including things you enjoyed doing before you were pregnant, too.

    Harp-tastically yours, John

    Alyson Webber on #195955

    Thanks, everyone!

    You have all been so kind to comment.

    Andelin, thanks for your support for my stay-at-home efforts. I would be more qualified to teach french horn than harp, but no longer have a horn! 🙂 I may be able to find some free-lance work within the field I have a masters in, so I may look into that on top of the harp “business.”

    Tacye, you are absolutely right. I should sit down with the harp and at least warm up every day just to see what kind of “day” it may be. Sometimes I find myself wanting to work hard, sometimes I just want to play old music, sometimes I just want to go to bed. There’s no way to know what kind of day it is without trying! I also have noticed that my playing has not gotten any worse, and that a break may have indeed helped.

    Allison, you poor thing! I couldn’t imagine my harp making me SICK! I know what you mean about things that used to bring you enjoyment not having the same power. I don’t think it is depression or anything, as I feel more upbeat than normal. I’m just lazier, really, and reading a book seems like more fun than concentrating on something :). Since it seems to have passed with others, I have more confidence that it will pass and there is hope of my “normal” self returning eventually.

    John, you’re observations are very insightful. While I feel very upbeat now, I am fully aware that I will be losing the daily contact with people at work and I usually don’t do well when lonely. Perhaps it is more than just financial pressure. There may be pressure to not fall into depressive patterns by having an established plan to keep me busy during the transition.

    Currently, my teacher and I have changed tactics. I’m not going to try to make money NOW, but am preparing to have everything harp ready to go come the late winter when I may be ready to get out and play. I am focusing on learning wedding music so it will be solid by the time I’m hired, and preparing a website to be launched when I feel ready to do so. I am still contacting people to find places to play indoors busking-style or at nursing home dinners to keep myself accustomed to performing, but without the added pressure of performing as a “professional.” So far, this new tactic has encouraged me to start learning new music, but not feeling so bad if I don’t feel up to working hard each night. I have time, and slow and steady wins the race!

    Gretchen Cover on #195961

    Alyson, you may want to look into joining Anne Sullivan’s Harp Mastery group as a way to stay connected with the harp universe and keep your skill level moving forward.  It is self-paced, so no pressure except what you place upon yourself.

    Sylvia on #195962

    I’ve never had to face this situation, but something jumped out at me while reading.  You mention money, and you mention having a harp teacher.  If I were in your situation, the first thing I would do is postpone lessons indefinitely.  That way, the money going out would be reduced, and you could re-start lessons when you felt able.

    balfour-knight on #195984


    I also wish you all the best with the outcome of this situation.  How exciting to think of the new baby coming!  Your love for the harp will indeed triumph over all your difficulties, I am sure.  Staying connected with all of us through Harp Column is another benefit, I feel.  Thanks to everyone for all your wise words and for trying to help Alyson.

    Best wishes,


    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #196081

    Being pregnant can take all your energy, and then your baby will probably be keeping you up a lot at night. So don’t be too hard on yourself. I had twins, (29 years ago) and I took nine months of maternity leave before I felt ready to go back to work at the symphony. I played my harp for the babies while I was at home, and they loved it! I put them in their “cuddle seats” on either side of the harp and played. It was so cute to see them smiling at me through the strings. Sometimes, they even fell asleep. Bonus! They will be your most non-judgmental, enthusiastic audience. Even if you can take one or two beginner students, that will bring in a bit of money while you are not performing.

    balfour-knight on #196205

    Elizabeth, that was such a sweet mental picture of you playing the harp for your twin babies some 29 years ago!  Harp therapy, indeed!  Did either of them, or both of them, end up playing the harp, or other instruments?

    Best to you,


    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #196447

    Dear Balfour,

    My daughter tried the harp when she was four, but she ended up as a professional oboist, My son is an architect, though he played trombone in school.

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