I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving week filled with food, family and fun. To kick-off the holiday season, I am embarking on a festive adventure. No, I will not be taking a turn as a mall Santa (wait, that’s not a bad idea). I thought about what I love about the holidays, and I must admit that it is the holiday music. When radio stations go Christmas before Thanksgiving I bristle a bit, but I soon find myself singing along. So I thought about the most festive instrument I could and then I started hunting for someone to teach me the harp. Angels play them, why can’t I?
I found a gifted harpist and teacher in Amanda Romano. She started playing when she was seven, attended the New England Conservatory and has performed at Tanglewood, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. She was kind enough to offer me an introduction to the harp.
I provided her with the same preface that I will provide you: I took piano for several years as a youngster, but was never very good. In large part that is because I never learned how to read music, so I knew anything that tested my limited musical ability would be a major challenge for me.
Like the pro that she is, Amanda started our lesson with a review of reading music. And by “review” it really seemed as if this was the first time I heard any of this. We went over notes, how many beats are in a measure, time signatures and how to tell which hand I was supposed to use for which notes. Then we moved to the harp and which strings correspond to which notes. That’s when I lowered the harp on to my shoulder, and laid my fingers on the strings (which thank goodness are color coded in the case of C and F) for the first time.
Playing the harp is all plucking, unlike guitar which utilizes both plucking and strumming motions. I have pretty lean fingers, but I kept hitting neighboring strings so the sound was not clean. Plus my eyes were playing ticks on me; I wasn’t able to easily focus on the strings as opposed to whatever was happening on the ground below it (and in this case it was George, Amanda cat who served as my first audience). Amanda assured me that my eyes were not particularly weak, that every harpist has the same problem when the start and getting dizzy is an occupational hazard.
The harp takes a lot of coordination, I guess all instruments do, but between the notes and those pesky neighboring strings, I had trouble getting into a groove. That’s when Amanda decided I needed a “lesson on rhythm.” Yikes. With Amanda’s detailed instruction and patience (she teaches children so she was well equipped to teach this child-at-heart) I was able to master the complex melody of “Hot Cross Buns.”
We moved on to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and I found that being familiar with the melody actually enabled me to cheat a bit (can you cheat when playing an instrument?) by plucking the stings not based on the sheet music, but on based on my memory of the song. I guess I’m not tone deaf after all!
Amanda said that her adult students typically get frustrated when they aren’t able to master something immediately, but I was laughing. I was laughing at myself when I was bad and laughing jubilantly when was good. This was probably the biggest complement of all. And yeah, “Hot Cross Buns” is pretty easy, but it felt like a huge accomplishment in the moment.
My bubble burst, however, when five little girls came in for a lesson after me. Their version of the Nutcracker March put “Hot Cross Buns” to shame, and showed me how much work I had ahead of me if I want to continue with the harp. It also put me in the perfect holiday spirit.
Thanks go to Amanda Romano, a talented harpist and teacher. She offers lessons to all ages, and is as god with adults as she is with children. I was not compensated in any way for this post.