Hello! Amateur harpist here. I was asked to play for a funeral, and am just wondering if anyone has any tips and tricks to share with me. I’m especially nervous about keeping my harp in tune when it is brought in and out of the cold. Do you ever stop playing every once in a while to tune up? What do you do if a string breaks in the middle of playing? Any other suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!
Get there as early as possible so the harp can adjust to the temp b4 you tune. I do not tune during an event like that because it would be distracting. You’re not the center of attention. Keep strings changed. Don’t wait till something breaks. It’s only happened to me once, and it was a wire. It sounded like a gunshot. I avoided the string and kept on playing like nothing had happened.
Very well-put Sylvia. The only thing I will add is to try to provide music for the event that you are comfortable playing, because so many folks like to make requests for pieces/songs you may not know. Like Sylvia, I perform from memory so that music on a stand is not a troublesome issue at a sometimes “busy” event, so I must have the music prepared in advance.
Hope this helps.
Harp Hugs and my best wishes,
Absolutely play something you are totally comfortable with, particularly if you are new to performing or nervous.
You don’t say what kind of harp or strings, but breakage would not be my first concern. I’ve never had a nylon break unexpectedly. Wires are also rare (though dramatic if it happens). Even guts usually show signs beforehand (suddenly one string is rather more flat than its neighbors, or fraying shows at the bridge or tuning pin). If any are suspect, Sylvia is right, change them. You really can’t do it in a funeral; you’d just have to play around it. But unless you are regularly having broken strings already, there is no reason to suddenly expect them in the performance.
Arrive plenty early–I plan on a full hour in the room, plus whatever time it takes you to tune _before_ people start arriving. That can be two hours before a funeral “starts” especially since music often starts earlier than the announced time.
Unlike Balfour, I have never been successful in memorizing reliably. When I play for a structured unfamiliar event (like a funeral or worship service) where there are many things going on, _everything_ goes in a three-ring binder, service plans, everyone else’s music, my music, in order of appearance, with copious notes of who does what and when. I always methodically walk through the event in my head. That may not be necessary if you are only doing one piece at a particular time.
One last thing: when you arrive, or soon after, go over the order with whoever is in charge. I can’t tell you how often a family has changed something major, but no one thought to tell the harpist that your piece is now in a different place. That will save a lot of embarrassing moments.
Charles, you covered so many things that I know but could not think of to post here–bravo!
I am very fortunate that my sweet wife is usually with me during these playing events. She is great helping me move and load/unload the harp, during set-up and tuning of the harp once we reach our destination, checking with the person(s) in charge, and keeping them from interupting my playing once I have started the pre-service music. It would take me twice as long by myself!
I forgot to mention: Dizzymoon did not say where the funeral would be. If it’s a church, make sure you know the ritual, especially Catholic, if you aren’t familiar with it. Clear the music w/the family to make sure it’s appropriate for their church. I always played a prelude while people were arriving, just like for a wedding. It makes a soothing atmosphere.
More advice here: Ask the family and/or ask the music director what music they would like. Are there any particular hymns. Anything you should NOT play. Also, if you play songs, esp. any pop songs, read the lyrics. Same goes for hymns. Clear all your music with the church music director if you will be playing at a church. Wear very simple clothes and keep jewelry to a minimum. As stated, you are not the center of attention. Also, check with the funeral home, church or wherever you are playing to see if you need a mic. If so, find out a time to set up. If l play somewhere new, I go in a day or two before to deal with the sound. I am retired and live in a small town so I have the luxury of time to do this. Additionally, if you mess up while playing, slow down or simply stop and restart. But just keep going. Don’t try to fix mistakes. Keep ypur music simple for a first-time gig. You’ll have enough other distractions going on. Remember people will appreciate your harp playing so just try to act like you’ve played publicly forever.
Wear plain black, minimal make up, no jewellery, be early, see if you need a sound check, check what music the family would like then check with the church or funeral director if they are OK with that if its a church funeral and not church music. Most families do not know what they want though so ask if the deceased had any favourites you might use at some point. Cant go wrong with Bach if you are ever in doubt! Danny Boy gets a lot of requests as does Ave Maria. Check your strings by the discs or levers a few days before and change any that look suspect. Go very slowly (much slower than you think you need to) and have someone to nudge you if its too fast and keep it simple. Do at least 3 verses of anything that seems short – like hymns. Get an order of service on arrival and ask the director where exactly you fit into that. Cantique de Jean Racine and Una Furtiva Lagrima always get a lot of lovely comments I find.
If you have not played in front of other people very much yet, I’d suggest playing your piece(s) in front of someone, either live if you have family with you, or by FaceTime or zoom. It helps to get used to what that feels like. You’ll be great! Everybody loves the harp!
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