Susan Abken

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Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 35 total)
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    Susan Abken on · in reply to: do you talk to your harp? #102868

    I do not talk to my harp. I do, however, talk to one of our station wagons. Her name is Bertha, a Swedish Volvo, and she has over 240,000 miles on her and a few quirks. She is the only inanimate object I currently converse with in English. I gave away the rebellious vacuum cleaner because he would not respond to my commands and exhortations and was a pain to live with. His replacement is a well-mannered Miele.

    Save your speech for living beings! Besides talking to my husband, and children, and friends, and once in a while, to a few treasured friends in the next life, I am also known for conversing with a certain cat and a dog, and the birds in the backyard and the local park. I mock the crows on long walks. (They have to speak first.) I also talk to my parsley, sometimes, or to any plant that looks like it’s ailing. Right now they are all pretty happy, except for a Christmas cactus in Intensive Care.

    We musician-artist types have a right, duty and responsibility to talk back to the crows, rant at the conditions in our lives, and stay on the cutting edge of the creative exercise of Freedom of Speech, Song, Performance and Expression. The rest of the world would be terribly bored without us, and needs to follow our lead.

    People got through The Great Depression by keeping their sense of humor and dipping into the well of creativity, and through faith and prayer. Life today in the West is similar.

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: Day Licenses #145345

    Dear Claire Wolcott,
    Harpists are not exempted from federal, state and local laws.

    In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, anybody who takes money from others for a service needs a business license. For harpists it’s fifty (50) dollars a year, with the county retaining the right to inspect one’s studio 24/7. The business license must be posted in a prominent place.

    I checked in Rock Hill, SC, once, and even to drive there and teach one student I would need their vendor’s license.

    Your performance is a service rendered and you are a businesswoman, like it or not! Keep careful records of your miles driven; string and music expenses; repairs on the harp; advertising expenses; professional dues; outfits; dry-cleaning; depreciation of your instrument, insurance, etc. If you are playing other than for relatives and close friends you are indeed in business. Expect to file and pay social security and file with the IRS four times a year.

    If one plays in a restaurant and is on its payroll, one does not need a business license in this county. The harpist is then a restaurant employee, but as soon as you take students here, or solicit brides’ mothers for money, teach in your home, cart your harp to various venues for strangers or church members and are paid, give a ticketed recital, you are in business.

    In this county, if you make a CD and sell it on your lawn for one day, you need a license like anybody hosting a garage or attic sale and state and local taxes need to be filed and paid. If you record any piece that is not in the public domain, even if it’s just for friends and relatives for Christmas, you have to pay royalties. Even for “just demo CD’s” it’s best to inquire. Composers have legal rights. Ditto for arrangers.

    Here in Mecklenburg, we actually get a lot for our money: a fire department with lots of state-of-the-art equipment; a decent police force; good libraries, parks, etc.

    Figure out if playing in public in this weak war economy is what you want to do in the long run and if it’s truly worth it financially for you and your family. If you do so, I hope that ALL of the other professional harpists treat you with kindness and utmost respect as they should when you are out on a gig. The business end can a bit more complicated than one first thinks…

    Best wishes,

    Susan Abken


    Hello, Patrick!

    It costs far more than a thousand dollars to restore a harp like this one to performance condition, if it can be done at all. Harps have hundreds of little pieces that have to be in prime condition and move, or stay put, perfectly. The soundboard has to be in good shape, or replaced. If the column is too warped, a new one may have to be cut, or one removed from an existing harp carcass and transplanted. The tuning pins have to move on command and not at other times. The pedals must connect to the rods, move correctly, and all parts must be in good condition, the pedals re-felted. Obtain opinions from Erich Rase in Michigan and Howard Bryan in Virginia, both of whom are excellent at restoring old harps. Their workshops take their time with attention to detail and quality.

    Erich, who used to work in the Salvi factory in Italy, may be contacted through Atlanta Harp Center, and Howard’s company is H. Bryan and Company, Old Harps Made New. Both gentlemen know what they are doing.

    Best wishes,

    Susan Abken

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: Harp dresses #144971

    Find a tailor or sewing business and describe to the owner what you need. A good fabric center will have a variety of interesting fabrics. Before you purchase any pattern, have your measurements ready. A tailor may make his own patterns or use ones you purchase. He or she can measure your bust, waist, hips, torso length, skirt length and the items will fit you to a T. Be sure to mention that you need to be able to extend your arms far in front and have the outfit fit appropriately in that position. Consider good clothing a long-term investment in your harp business. If using a tailor, realize that he or she will know far more about fabric-pattern matches than anybody else around.

    In Savannah, Georgia, on Bull Street is an extremely talented tailor. The shop name is “Gentleman Jim’s.” If you are anywhere near Savannah, his work is amazing.

    Sincerely yours,
    Susan Abken

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: Having a HeatWave #103445

    A few thoughts:

    It’s in the Nineties (Fahrenheit) here, and earlier this month the temperature was in the 100’s multiple days. Some harvests in North Carolina have happened earlier than usual!

    I read in the press earlier today that a large portion of the USA’s wheat crop is failing, in the Midwest.

    There were strange, atypical harvests in the 19th century in Northern and Central Europe for several years after the Icelandic volcano exploded that time, and it looks like we are having a repeat performance of strange weather patterns again, and then there’s global warming. A friend in N. Germany near the Dutch border reported several weeks of non-stop chilly rain in May/June, not the usual weather pattern for his area at that time of year, and their garden was not doing well.

    Greenland was under cultivation in the late Middle Ages. We’ve had shifts in the weather before.

    What to do: help the poor; give to Oxfam, Lutheran World Relief, local food banks and similar organizations; join Bread for the World in the USA; support local farmers and put up food for this winter, encourage church potluck suppers. Prioritize. Drive less. Increase the size of one’s own garden, where possible, or plant one. Consider a benefit concert for the local food bank, since the working poor will be hit hardest by an increase in the prices of food staples, and keep on practicing! A small fan on the harpist is nice.

    We are blessed to be able to practice, perform on, and give with this instrument, despite the weather. Morning practice might work better than practicing in the middle of the day. Autumn will arrive. Stay well hydrated.


    Susan Abken


    A frequent one:
    How do you MOVE it?

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: An open letter to a bridal magazine #144714

    Thank you, David Ice! It’s downright TACKY to use recorded music. You put it well.

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: What Would You Like to See Happen? #103504

    Hello Trista Hill!

    What’s posted in this home is St. Francis of A.’s prayer, framed, “Lord, Make me an instrument of Thy peace…”

    Have a blessed day!

    Off line until tomorrow,

    Susan Abken

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: What Would You Like to See Happen? #103499

    I’d like to see the middle class in the USA, what’s left of it, slow down, unplug, walk more, divorce less, and value and appreciate classical music lessons, years of them, in their children’s lives again: piano, voice, classical guitar, harp, violin, etc.

    I’d like to learn that families were listening to classical music on public radio, that classical music broadcasts were available in every car on every highway, that US and beyond-our-borders classical composers were not ignored by the US news media.

    I’d like to learn that people were singing again in the USA, at home, in churches, in schools, and that choir attendance was up. I’d like to see decent music play a stronger role in public life.

    I’d like every town and city to have at least one restaurant where a harpist performed in the corner, perhaps while doubling as the restaurant hostess, or host.

    I’d like every hospital lobby to have a harpist.

    I’d like to learn that more US families valued self-sufficiency: making their own music with thorough training, growing their own food, practicing lots of constructive creativity.

    I’d like to see a restoration of civility, compassion and hospitality as national values, whether it’s in the way we shop, work, drive, walk, speak, act, and I’d like to watch citizens value a clean environment and good nutrition.

    I’d like every city to offer the discipline of learning harp and classical guitar and other strings in its public schools. We have too few of those now. If it were not in the public schools, then in churches and community arts centers.

    I’d like families and individuals to purchase and/or swap for locally-made items at least a third of the time, furniture, musical instruments, tailored and stitched clothing, paintings for the walls of their houses, knitted items, edible goods, dishes, glassware, lace, throw rugs, toys, raised garden beds, play houses.

    I’d like to see penmanship reintroduced as a life skill, and other skills that involve patience and fine-motor control, fishing, hunting, sewing, sketching.

    I’d like to see hiking, canoeing, tree, bird and wildflower identification, gardening, spoken conversations in the same room, reading, poetry memorization, music lessons, woodworking, badminton, swimming, tennis all take precedence over the concussion-sports of soccer and football, and instant gadgetry–and that’s just a start!

    I’d like this society to pursue peace, finally, bike lanes, thoughtful conservation of resources, because wars of coveting come with a horrific price in all involved countries, and all other facets of our society suffer…including the arts and the individual families. I’d like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be topics of discussion, along with Truth,Goodness and Beauty-off line.

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: Affordable Harp Car for College Freshman HELP! #146067

    Look for an older Volvo V70 station wagon in good condition, Toyota Camry wagon, something low that is easy to load or a larger old Ford station wagon. Good luck!

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: flashy hymn settings for harp #82813

    Beautiful, making use of special effects on the harp without being gaudy, useful in worship and well-thought-out: hymn arrangements for pedal harp by Jill Justice!

    Best wishes,

    Susan Abken

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: does anyone have a copy of The Angelus I can borrow? #156600

    I’m so sorry you were in a flood. Any harpist who would help you would have to live nearby and lend you THEIR ORIGINALS, until you can replace your own. Please state your city and state.

    Sincerely yours,
    Susan Abken
    Charlotte, NC

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: John Rutter’s FOR THE BEAUTY OF THE EARTH #146895

    Greetings, again!

    For next time: at least half of the payment in advance, check to clear two weeks before the event. Work up for next Advent as many works as you think you might get a call for. If this forum posted after Christmas a list of who managed to perform what where, next year’s list would probably look similar.

    Who seems to be least stressed and and least worried in this profession in this country:

    1. Married harpists who do not have to be the sole provider via music;
    2. Military band harpists, who have excellent benefits;
    3. Teachers with positions at colleges and universities who gig on the side;
    4. Those few people with positions with the few well-funded US orchestras who have excellent pay and benefits;
    5. The rare freelancing harpist who is the only harpist in any direction for 250 miles;
    6. Patient teacher-personality people with large teaching studios;
    7. Public school teachers with harp programs, doing a world of good by letting kids from middle-class and impoverished homes on the instrument of kings, teaching discipline and instilling values along with the music;
    8. Organists at churches who use the harp which they also play in their programs.
    9. People with day jobs, who manage to gig on the side and still honor their musical craft.

    For everybody else, it’s difficult. According to THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, which I have found on-line, poverty is rising terribly quickly in the USA. It’s a difficult time to be a freelancer, especially on an instrument that is associated with the Gilded Age.

    Your investment in yourself, of staying calm, honoring the Golden Rule, not stooping to the level of others around you in difficult situations, and thinking about what position you can land in where the pressures will be lessened…All food for thought for the new year.

    The view of the artist in the Western world changed for the worse from the 18th century to the 19th. The artist in JS Bach’s time and before was a skilled craftsman to the Glory of God, ego left out of the picture. By the end of the 19th century art and music were all about art for art’s sake and egos. Be very careful how you view yourself, your role as an craftsman and your work, and how you appear to others, what they learn about you from your actions and words. We are now in the early 21st century, and our craft is competing with Lady Gaga, with characters who have given true art a bad name, a public that wants instant gratification in everything and therefore has tons of credit card debt, has lost its work ethic, is willing to purchase anything for next to nothing from an enslaved nation on the other side of the world with no thought of the long-term consequences, in a culture that has lost patience and “thinks” in sound bites, and little tweets, where the skilled crafts are for “sissies.” As long as we can keep the oil flowing, nothing else matters. Juxaposed with this world we have the Church, classically-trained musicians whose craft grew out of the traditions of the Church, and a variety of music. What kind of people are we, why did we go into this and what do we wish truly to become?

    Emotionalism belongs in the performance, in the interpretation, in its warmth, not in the interactions between the performer and other people. Books by Julia Cameron, or Rory Noland’s THE HEART OF THE ARTIST might be good reading for 2012.

    Hang in there.

    If you find yourself dealing with anger, that emotion is usually a cover for intense losses, where grief has not yet been given expression.

    ENJOY what you are doing!

    Sincerely yours,
    Susan Abken
    Homemaker and Harpist in Charlotte, NC

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: John Rutter’s FOR THE BEAUTY OF THE EARTH #146891

    Dear David Ice,

    If a music department does not have the funds to rent the parts, they should not hire the musicians to perform them, plain and simple. You were merely the victim of a bad decision on the part of other people.

    Rutter, a contemporary composer, is not in the public domain, therefore expensive. I suspect in this downturn that we are going to see fewer contemporary works performed for this reason, with music programs scrambling for money, or fewer instrumentalists used. It’s too bad.

    David, if you can firmly encourage the conductor to watch his/her budget, plan ahead, do the proper thing, rent the parts, so that the composer and his publishing house get the money they deserve, it would help composers all over, and harpists!!! Respect for composers’ rights to their music and intellectual copyright are big ones. If it’s a matter of ticket prices, they can build the rental prices into the tickets, and should do the math long ahead of the season.

    Susan Abken

    Susan Abken on · in reply to: Regular engagements? #146956

    In the Nineties, the pay for playing from 6:30 to 10 pm at The Abbey, an elegant restaurant in Atlanta that was in a beautiful church building that is now a church again, subcontracting from the harpist who rented a 23 to the restaurant, was eighty dollars (yes, $80) an evening.

    In the Nineties, when BB&C Productions had a golden pedal harp at The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, before that hotel switched to piano, the harpist for afternoon tea was paid sixty dollars (yes, $60) for two hours of playing Happy Birthday over and over again, interspersed with other pieces.

    Restaurants have to be large to afford live musicians. They have to turn a profit, pay the cook and the wait staff, and insurance, and then still have something left to pay the musician. That’s just life. Do not expect great pay, but it’s a way to make contacts and pass out your card, and be heard.

    Good strategy: Find out which night is the “slow night.” Having a harpist might increase traffic, a plus for management.

    Best wishes,
    Susan Abken

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 35 total)