Thursday, July 07, 2016

Same Same, But Different - An Ode to Our Changing Harp World

This story was written shortly after attending the 2015 Somerset Harp Festival, where I led workshops and represented the Jazz Harp Foundation. It's a unique perspective on a spectacular annual event that exposes those who play and love the harp to the best and brightest in the lever harp world. The 2016 Somerset Harp Festival takes place in New Jersey from July 21-24!

It’s very very cold. Huddled with my back against a windowless wall, swathed in almost all the clothing I packed for this journey, I’m waiting. In mere moments I’ll find myself in a deluge where I’m overrun by the curious, or in a desert where I’m isolated and left alone. I have no idea what to expect. Though I’ve gathered my resources, I’m not sure I’ve got what I need, or enough.

Loud and confusing is this large enclosure; paradoxically, passerby are making their way slowly and in a daze. Just a few feet away, almost-chaos breaks out as supplies are yanked from crates and quickly pieced together - is that a quiet-yell of excitement or irritation? We’re surrounded by both very familiar and foreign sounds, a constant din that foretells Something Big is Going Down.

What did I get myself into? Here I am, locked up for the next three days with so many situational unknowns, chronically chilled, incredulous, apprehensive, and hyperaware.

And then, the first of many approaches, hesitant. We look at each other cautiously, eyes wide with hope. “Do you…?” she trails off. I smile encouragingly. “I don’t know exactly what I need right now,” she continues in almost a whisper. “But I know I want something different. Can you help?”

Oh yes I can.

Outside is hot July summer; inside is winterish under the ceiling vent expelling steady chronic air-conditioned blasts. Before me are two tables piled with flyers, CDs, DVDs, sheet music, and books. To the side are two sets of headphones, my laptop for processing payments / exchanging panicked digital messages, several carefully-laid cables linked to a nearby mixer, a freestanding iPad, and an impressive shiny black 32-string electric harp on tripod-legs. Behind me are boxes of backup supplies, folders of paperwork and hastily-scratched instructions, tee shirts in brown and black, tote bags in bright orange, hidden extra cash, bags of teaching materials for the upcoming workshops I will lead, and the snacks - er, dark chocolate - that given the situation I can’t believe I remembered to bring. 

We’re in the Exhibitor’s Hall at the 2015 Somerset Harp Festival, and I’m overseeing the booth for the Jazz Harp Foundation (JHF). I’m amidst an amalgam of harps - lap, medium and full sized, fashioned from precious multi-wood and indestructible carbon fiber, robust acoustic and sleek electric, bare-unfinished and gloss-shellacked. Milling about are both men and women of all ages - admirers, players, professors, private teachers, composers, therapists, artisan-makers, dealers and manufacturers. Here we witness firsthand just how much, in the past few decades alone, the interest in - and love for! - the harp has exponentially grown.

Somerset attendance increases every year. While the JHF has been a part of Somerset for several of those years, chances are what the JHF offers is still new to many and unlike what most harp players typically see, hear, and play. Launched in 2007 by Brenda Dor-Groot and Sabine Meijers of the Netherlands to “strengthen the position of the harp in jazz”, JHF’s presence at Somerset and its creation of events - the July 2016 Brazilian Jazz Harp Immersion is happening now! - embody their mission of putting “jazz harp on the map, to increase its reputation and quality, link jazz harpists around the globe, and inspire harpists, peer musicians and audiences alike.” 

Sabine Meijers (left) and Brenda Dor-Groot (right)

As the U.S. representative for the JHF, and as a teacher and music coach advocating creativity, I’m at Somerset to also help spread the word that we all have a choice in our harp journey; we’re living in an exciting time when we have more diverse and prolific options and opportunities available to us than ever before.

“I’m sorry, Trista,” a favorite rep from the Virginia Harp Center says as she approaches the borrowed DHC electric harp we set up for the free online JHF jazz harp lessons offered via the iPad. “We just sold this instrument plus all its accessories - he’s taking it to a workshop that starts in ten minutes.” She gestures to a gentleman who, with wife at his side, is grinning broadly.

I smile back - his purchase is a perfect example of how, in response to the harp world’s rapid growth and increased interest in all things harp, makers are meeting our needs by producing high-quality harps at a variety of price points. Harp gatherings now feature “harp tastings” where we can literally sit behind the very instrument we just saw online. And these instruments can’t help but entice us to discover and explore new ways to play.

“Show me what’s new and good!” a repeat customer booms as he grabs a pair of headphones. “I bought a lot of jazz harp recordings from you last time, and my friends loved them so much they took them home. They can listen to what I buy today, but now I’m gonna hide the CDs where my friends can’t find them.”

Those outside the harp world are drawn in, allured by its magic. Those of us who live in the harp world see it broadening, changing. Our opportunities are changing. We are changing. The answers to where do I start? how do I continue? are now a whole lot more interesting.

Those answers are in the birth and propagation of programs and offerings designed to help us find our own voice in the growing harp world. Along with the emergence of the JHF, we’ve seen top performers like Deborah Henson-Conant offer a smattering of extensive online courses and grow a community around new ways of playing. New online groups and forums are forming every day to discuss and share both old and new music. Podcast-programs like Harpestry ( and Harp Talk ( highlight players and cultures around the world, blurring lines between lever and pedal harp music while showcasing similarities and differences among other stringed instruments birthed from divergent lineage in distant eras.


The lines between lever and pedal harp, and the type of music played on each, are no longer straight and solid. At best, they are dissolving into dots and dashes and even melting into flexible curlicues that happily intersect at random points throughout harp time and space.

This phenomenon is brought to life in the evening performances at Somerset. There’s Jakez Francois, the President/CEO of Camac Harps, performing on a lever harp his own company made with as much ease and grace as he brings to pedal harp. And Alfredo Rolando-Ortiz, drawing upon his own rich heritage, bringing butterflies to life on a Paraguayan harp before our very eyes. And there’s Edmar Castaneda, playing with such intensity and passion that we can’t help but lean forward and stare while collectively thinking,“OHHHH  $*%#@!!! It CAN be different!”  There’s Deborah Henson-Conant, through an instrument made just for her, giving it her all - as always! - and encouraging us to do the same.

In a workshop I led at Somerset called Songs Without Words, in which we explored composing music that relays a feeling or message without lyrics, participants almost whispered, “I just want to… “ or “How can I get to….” or “I don’t feel I’m creative enough to…” Our discussion gently circled and dipped into our innate ability and desire to create, where and how we find personal meaning, and how our instrument is a portal to our soul in ways we both already know and are as yet undiscovered.

We are all just trying to find our way.

Many harp lovers initially find themselves adapting to and accepting what’s believed to be the right way to play the harp and what makes a good player. This is how we learn - we’re very busy earning our proverbial wings, looking for affirmation and confirmation in an external stamped seal of approval. We may remain here for a short or long while before we ask, what else?

As a pedal harpist who never started on lever harp, who doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the harp world starts with the small lever harp and ends with the gigantic pedal harp, and who doesn’t hold the pedal harp as the pedestal-penultimate, I firmly believe we find our music and just-right instruments - or our instruments find us! - that best meet us where we are, as we are, on our very personal harp journey. There is no one Right Harp, no one Best Player, no Perfect Way.

And by the looks of all things Somerset, I’m in good company.


Back in the Exhibitor’s Hall, an accomplished player leans in close over the JHF table. Like the others, she is barely whispering. “I’m bored with what I am doing. How do I not fall asleep on my classical gigs? How do I start learning / hearing / playing jazz?”

“I’m so tired of Celtic / Irish music!” another woman declares loudly as her stack of new music lands in front of me with a thud. “Haven’t I endured enough suffering in my own life to not have to play yet another tune about someone else’s wayward Daddy and the horrors of the potato famine?!?”

Clearly no one I encounter here at Somerset is denouncing their instrument, its heritage,  anyone who plays in a specific style, nor the way they’ve played themselves for most of their lives. Underneath each swift and offhand comment is this: I’m changing. I’m ready. NOW. 

Listening to and experiencing other harp voices reminds or clarifies for us what we love, where we want to go, who we really are. We’ve been given permission to lean deeper into our ongoing journey toward what resonates more clear and true, what is more uniquely us. There are those that help preserve our past, and those who help shape the future. Traditions are important to uphold and maintain, and boundaries are meant to be pushed and reshaped. 

Same same, but different. 

The development and popularity of entities like Somerset, Camac, the JHF, and our most admired performers are already demonstrating there is more to the harp than we thought or assumed, that this instrument can transport us to worlds that were previously out of reach, that our dreams are actually possible, tangible, and real. 

Everywhere there are tools and resources that help us edge ever closer to the Unknown where our own voice rings powerful and true. Look for us, your Personal Advocates, huddled in the cold, behind the strings, offering a slow smile at your admission that you want more.

Here we are, ready and willing to place in your hands, heart, mind, and soul all that helps you see, touch, feel, hear, and play in ways you haven’t before. Here we are, in this luminous and diverse harp-tuning din, now, together. Welcome.


‘Same Same, But Different’ is a loving reference to a recording title by jazz and world music harper Rudiger Oppermann. Learn more about the Somerset Harp Festival at and the Jazz Harp Foundation at

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Paul Simon - Wristband and Werewolf
Related posts:
Sparks of July

Inviting the Yeti
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, blog, listening library & compositions, performances, and offerings to further you along your own glorious creative journey.  

Friday, December 04, 2015

Get Off the Boat

So very very dark. 

Decades have been spent on this very white prow.
Pulling, heaving, gasping, weeping. 

You can’t remember when you arrived. It seems you have always been here. It felt once like the right thing to do - get on, go. That’s what you heard.

You should! they declared. 
You’d better! they quipped.  
Why wouldn't you? they dared.  

This massive ship, this heavy heaving hulking mass - it has carried you for a very long time. You were up for this journey, for a long time. You trusted this boat to churn in a solid direction, for a long time. You expected to arrive, for a long time.

Early on you realized the ship was only drifting. 
Aimless. Non-directional.

Do-or-die focus: Steer the ship.

The marine steering wheel - broken. Turn and turn and turn, push and pull and strain and cry. It's a useless empty-iris eye that taunts you with its barely-there night-glimmer.

It’s only the splintered mast, one long pole upon which no sail ever flew, and you, dipping it over the edge, again. Again. Again.

Is the ship shifting? You’re putting in the effort. You feel the stress and strain coursing through every vein, feel it in every pore. Clouds pass over head, big fluffy creatures or endless woolen blankets, the sole accompaniment on this journey.

It’s always been night here. Always dark. Where is the moon? Faint stars have never illuminated a way - the distance is dark blue and empty, so dark you could be coming up on something and not know it. 

Below you can just barely make out the waves. Harsh-soft silence. Up and down, up and down, sometimes in quick succession, sometimes in almost-undetectable slow motion. Always the heaving.

Where are you going?
If you only knew. 

You chose this.
Yes, you did.
You just can’t remember why.


One day, tensed and muscled from years and years of hard physical labor as the sole attempter to change the ship’s direction -- 

One day, shredded and frayed from years and years of hard mental labor as both the inquisitor and the accused with no answers -- 

One day, tattered and hardened from years and years of hard spiritual labor as the doubter and almost-faithless -- 

It dawns on you.

You could.

The cold waves below! Surely leaving means death, a pulling under, a fatal swallowing. 

Up here, I have control. Up here, I can feel my way.

Or can I?

Use the ladder.
Or don’t.

You may have never been a sea / water person in the first place. You may have, all along, needed to feel terrain under your hands and feet.

What contract did you sign that mandated you stay here until your dying days, stay the course, suffer?


What if leaving the Trying was freedom? What if relaxing into the current took you exactly where you needed?

You decide.
You do it. 

Suddenly the churning below are not waves.
They’re soft deep purple blue velvet.

What you thought were weak stars reflected in the water are actually crystalline way-showers lit from below. “Step here,” they call out. “Follow us,” they call out. 

It is soft, warm, dry, and clear. The clouds part.

A silver sail you never saw before drifts away from the disintegrating ship. 
Airborne. Flying.

On it is an inscription faintly illuminated by moonlight:
“To arrive, you must first leave.” 

My small painting sits beside the bed as the Ultimate Reminder.

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Blind Faith - Can't Find My Way Home
Related posts:
Inviting the Yeti

The Thing Behind the Thing
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly letter, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Sparks of July

The 4th of July is a highlighter of life chapters, a harbinger of exploding reminiscence.

A lot of fireworks at home - that's what the early 4th's in Colorado entail. My father and all the other fathers must have pillaged every stand for this showcase at yet another neighborhood block volleyball party. Boxes and bags emerge from the basement garage where the explosives had exponentially reproduced over the course of a year. Speeding flares, screaming rockets, buckets of sparklers, coiling black snakes. My Dad the Igniter. Oh the outdoor smells, the scent of new and old fire. 

Washington state 4th's are at the mountain home of my uncle where volleyball, food, and firework cavalcades routinely appear though we're surrounded by dry forest. Cousin numbers increase every year when you're on the upper end of this generation echelon. One year, uncool me in my black and green. Another year, skinny me in my red and white. Attempting to mingle but still holding back, even among family. Us the out-of-towners, just slightly removed, until we're there again for another short-visit vacation. These childhood holidays might be the most free 4th of July's ever.

I'm in the recording studio with my harp. It is plush dark. The mics are very very close and I feel horrifically exposed. Oddly, I also feel held and safe, and giddy about what might happen. I've been granted entire days to get down my ideas, to listen back to my creations, to hone what I hear and believe in, AND I'm painfully aware I've not prepared enough for these moments - have I not taken myself seriously. He is patient in the control room; I am paying him, yes, and he also has other clients to serve this July, other musicians, other responsibilities. And it is falling apart, right under my fingers, falling away as it is back at home where I explained I need to go do this on my own. Have I really earned the right to take up this space? Listening back years later I hear the angst in my notes, the desire for Different. I also hear what could have only been born there, then, in those very moments of quiet consternation. I hear what tension birthed, I hear my heart speaking without words. This might be the most pivotal 4th of July ever.

The stoneyard is a perfect place for downtown firework viewing and for endless tabled rows of family-made food. The invitations to this event always stretch far and wide, so in a way I shouldn't be surprised to hear my name and see him in this context - oh DID he marry her - a relic from another time deposited right here in the copper dust at my feet. I scour for vegetarian bits among platters of charred meat - I search for water among the coolers of bottled alcohol and sugar. Maybe I don't belong here, but I know how to be here. We'll keep the tradition of grabbing a cream dessert at the restaurant next door to wait out the ant-lines of cars and trucks streaming back into the suburbs. It's as much about avoiding unnecessary accidents inflicted by others as it is about buying time for my driver's repeat beer over-consumption buzz to fade. Stirred-too-hard cream fruit dessert is both my body and soul nourishment. These might be the most unsettling 4th of July's ever.

We've traveled hours to the river for a small town parade-peformance and are quite a pair, females dressed blue and red sequins with red-white-blue streamers in at least her hair, one of us liberal with the makeup and the other conservative. In everyday life, no one would peg us as sisters, but in these get-ups, they immediately do. We've already done the pool party where it's clear we don't know how to act. We hide away in the second-story guest house for brainstorming sessions, walk around town to escape laptop-laden air, and then get ready in the white-tent dressing room, one of us gearing up for the headline onstage performance while the other captures significant moments on camera because her costume allows her free pass access. The softness of the night is alive with lights and color and bustling people and there is comfort in our not knowing anyone here. Though we stand out like glittering beacons among shorts-and-sandals families who've created long lawn-chair lineups, they don't really know us, no, not really. This is a culmination of my efforts to put everything on the line for a life turnaround, and it sparkles now like the fireworks over the wide river water - here we are, both known and unknown, bound and released by music. I'm humbled by the thought that this might be the best 4th of July ever.

A parking lot feud, a hot screaming-threat scene straight out of a TV drama. The cops are called, the rights are explained, and the flaming parting of ways leaves me to gather my wits so I can attend, without tainting, a family backyard barbecue. Later, unbeknownst to everyone, I return to the scene, attempt to act rational, find words that do not incite, squelch squelch squelch, and insidiously lay the groundwork that will prevent another blowout and ease us into next steps I don't want. Thus the decision is made - it is over. Without foundations, time cannot grant improvement - in my dismay I see there is no desire for different. It has to change or it has to go. I leave for intense inner work, conduct the business from five states away, and return to both Empty and New. Begin again. This might be the darkest 4th of July ever.

Sitting alone on this multi-peaked rooftop, in my heart I know I should love this being above, beyond, alight. In a way, no one knows where I am, and I can see everything from here - the fireworks in the distance, the natural firefly light-blink in the not-too-distant tree lines, the cars below hyped up on July 4 speed-noise adrenaline and who knows what else. I can't hear the symphonic music, and I can't grasp having chosen that over this, and as much as I want to lie down right here and go to sleep, these tears won't let me. I know they mean something isn't good, I know this situation is a sign, but I can't see the shape or the shadow, I can't put my finger on it. I want to be up there, riding the bursts, shooting in a definite direction, not in the seemingly perfect temporary-quiet that is here. I want to feel cared for. I want to feel on fire rather than damped-out kick-boot ash-covered alone. I know I can shine, not be in shadow. This burning has a place, and I want to fly. Up and from the roof, right out of here. This might be the most confusing 4th of July ever.

Flying all day across the country, the snow-capped mountains looming just outside the window, the slow-move peaks are promising adventure and release. We're high on and exhausted by the time and distance - we land and load a good meal before huddling in our light weather gear on a windy crowded bridge with a throng of locals. It's the beginning of our grand west coast adventure, and the fireworks are very far off in the distance over the Willamette River. Hikes, ocean, camping, and donuts are on the long list of Must-Do's. We can't really see the color bursts, but delight in knowing they are there - they are scatter-quick borders of an illustration that has already started to be carefully colored in. This is it, but isn't really it - there's assuredly more. We are excited and hopeful, looking for signs about what this trip means for us, to us, about us. This might be the most hopeful 4th of July ever.

Alone again, but welcomed to the small gathering of long-time family friends, the excellent food is offered just outside the remodeled home by those modeling the healthiest of partnerships. The intelligent conversation turns to education, and education reform, and what is best for kids in a world where teachers and parents are more out of touch than they've ever been. I surprise myself with my outspokenness: I have opinions and can communicate them. Driving home in the new car, the moonroof open, the fireworks are THERE! Just above! It's too dangerous to stop along this winding country road where a few days prior the police posted No Parking placards. A church driveway is nearby, the car swerves precariously 180 degrees to face the river. I want to jump through the roof, touch the sky, but instead I steady myself with elbow-roof propping and barefoot-tiptoe standing on new seats. Never before have I seen fireworks so close, and they are loud and booming and beautiful and stark against the clear and perfect night sky, coaxing an answer to What Will Life Now Bring? So many unknowns. I think I know, and I know I don't. This might be the most enlightening 4th of July ever.

What does it mean to be free
Liberation. Freedom. Emancipation. Release.

Hey, baby, it's the 4th of July.

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
X - Fourth of July
Paul McCartney - Fourth of July
Ani Difranco - Independence Day
Related posts:
My House is For Sale

Sense of Place
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her monthly newsletter, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Freedom is Another Word

Here's what I remember: We almost miss the winding gravel driveway leading up to the dream place - 60 acres of quiet open airy light. We pass an ancient building that makes us wonder if we have the right address. We're not really sure what we're in for, yet we're starved for it.

They live at the top of a hill in a perfect small contemporary rectangular box whose entire south wall is floor-to-ceiling windows. The kitchen is deliciously tiny with artisan pottery that on its underside may have fingerprints permanently embedded with fire and glaze. The uber-efficient washer and dryer are corner-stacked in a hidden closet beside only-essential clothing. The sleeping loft is cozy with handmade quilts piled on one mattress that's positioned perfectly beneath a low-angled ceiling. A black grand piano, on which both jazz and classical books lie open, looks out onto the garden space with sculpture, wildflowers, and vegetables that are beginning to fade in the North Carolina autumn sun. A giant pyramid trellis tall enough to walk under and through supports hefty vines that arch up and over, leaving gigantic squash to hang like Christmas ornaments.

All photos: here

They work in a larger building across the pine tree bordered yard. Rough-hewn wood and white rooms open to a two-story-tall communal space. There are more floor-to-ceiling windows, a humble kitchen, a sturdy long exposed staircase, a pottery room, upstairs bedrooms with skylights and tight-weave wool carpet, and a gigantic bathtub. A real fireplace calls for newly chopped wood, and a cozy sofa and chairs are piled nearby. On a grey and rainy day they come home, light a fire, get quiet and warm. The lights are dim. They hardly speak. Settling into a U-shaped workstation that's wide enough both can sit and type, each works independently on what's personally important.

For dinner, the daily menu doesn't change - meat, greens, quinoa - because planned simplicity leaves time and space to do the creative good work. TV is minimal unless it's about art, and work is left behind when they head to the house for true rest.

They want an artists' colony on this property with studios for others to do their work. Focused time and energy has been channeled into creating quiet but powerful personal, artistic, and environmental impact. Right now, it's the perfect setup for performances. People sit on the floor and on the staircase, close enough there is no separation between performer and audience. The invitees feel at home in more ways than one. We sell out here, similarly but different when compared to other venues, in ticket sales and almost in merchandise.

And I can't quite celebrate. We are tired and drained and tense. While everything about this place is a dream come true, I can't seem to fully enjoy it. Matters weigh heavy enough that life and light is being pressed right out of my being. This dichotomy hurts - I love it here, AND I'm reminded my own life is nothing like this.

One morning, while all are out, I learn no one will return until later that eve.

Suddenly I feel a rush through my veins. I'm here by myself. For hours. Left behind? Yes. Isn't that delicious?!? Absolute ELATION. I am ALONE. I can take up space, IN this space. I'm irritated that my legs cannot better support my thunder-running through the gardens and down the hills, cackle-laughing loud and wild, giddy as a child. The massive dogs are suspiciously quiet, at peace more than I've ever seen them. No other human is around to hear me. I want to cry. So much to explore, on my own time, in my own way.

How can I have more of this.
How can I have more of this.
How can I have more of this.

This level of elation might mean my recent history ratio of saying yes/no - more/less - has been very dangerously off.

I'm going to get more of this.

So many hours, days, years filled with worry and stress to the point of un-seeing.

When I get quiet like this I so much easier feel love.

It's possible - the getting closer. Not at all in an expected or preferred way. Who would have chosen this crazy roundabout path?

Who would have thought the art of late-night panic-planning and cramped power-pavement travel littered with snack-attack foodstuffs would lead to the art of passive solar light space, quiet moments, solitariness, undisturbed nature, and soft and steady creative flow? Who would have thought that systematic, electronic, sequined stardom would lead to unfurling, natural, communal impact? That externals would lead to internals? The black would lead to light? Noise to quiet? Chaos to rest?

Freedom is... an experience felt as our nature shines forth, unburdened, unattached... (Kate Potter)

A day suddenly becomes delicious. Freedom might be a split-second away - a flip of a switch, a bat of a lash, another run-step toward the light.

We don't know how optimum the path is until it's behind us. Often, despite everything, we arrive anyway.

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her blog, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

My House is For Sale

The "for sale" sign along the tree-lined 40 mph up-and-down route indicates the place where I discovered refuge and quiet, explored and dissected dreams and reality, and both lost and found myself is available for someone else. It will change, transform, and metamorphosize (again) right along with whomever it shelters.

Though I'm closer than ever to moving from here after thirteen years, my current home is not yet for sale. No, it's my very first ever house that is for sale. Up for grabs. Positioned to transfer / lose / create more history.

This place marked the real beginning of my Creative Loner Life. For the most part at both colleges and during my internship I managed to live alone, or to tactfully and successfully manipulate circumstances to that end if the direction and angle at which they were leaning weren't severe enough (as in, horizontal). When I needed to officially leave home, moving to an apartment was completely out of the question. Moving into this place was deliberate and liberating, a choice made from excited trepidation instead of how-will-I-#$%*!?-survive ominousness. A place for which I was entirely responsible as much as a renter can be. A little cabin at the end of a cul-de-sac in an area I had always loved by the river. It was a dream come true for this my-head-needs-space introverted I'm-in-denial-of-how-much-I-dislike-the-Expected-Life girl of 23-ish years. Yes, girl.

The listing says it needs updated and offers no pictures of the inside. This must mean the kitchen is the same white I painted it with the landlord's reluctant permission 18 years ago. That the geometric no-pile carpet in the kitchen remains, that aluminum-bordered single pane windows still look out on the flower beds in which I planted hosta, zinnia, allium, and a variety of annuals. Yep, there are the iris and hosta in the side and front beds, near the steps down which I toddled the harp when I first started gigging with all the do-I-have-the-right professional sincerity I could muster at the time.

It must mean that there are still spray paint marks on the basement floor near the water softener where I experimented with creative entrepreneurial surely-this-will-liberate-me-from-Corproate projects. It must mean that you still can't help but run into the shower door when you use the toilet, that the wood paneling still graces the walls in the oddly long and narrow split-down-the-center living area, that the "guest room" is still the brightest space in all of the house's 792 square feet.

My house of Firsts. It saw me agree to a part-time and then full-time job in human resources at a healthcare hub, and move into payroll and accounts payable for the stability and benefits. A world of money and math and unhappy managers, processors, tele-somethings, smoke-break takers and hall-wanderers in which I managed to not be managed in the most inconspicuous way.

Then it saw me move into another job with bigger payroll and accounting responsibilities where I dismantled and reconstructed databases and oversaw and administered the transfer of millions and billions of dollars while .0000000x% of that eventually, dutifully, and disdainfully appeared in my own paycheck. After office hours (whoops, also during), I explored pretty much non-existent music therapy positions in the area -- oh yes I did interview at a penitentiary, or what do they politically-correctly call them now? -- started my teaching studio as I invited 6 to 60+-year-olds to trudge up the steps and sit at my used spinet and/or console piano, moved unfinished meant-for-your-wedding paintings around the house, collected and loudly listened to obscurely non-classical anthemic classic/progressive rock (music is absolutely why you get a house and not a place with shared walls), and wondered aloud to myself and in my journal about why I didn't feel more hopeful, free, artistic, creative, and happy in a way I craved and thought I'd finally earned.

It was where I trudged around the Mt Air neighborhood at all hours silently asking and not always answering persistent nagging questions (Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy??), a place where I both literally and metaphorically bled in the most profound way a female can.

It was a messy horrific boundary-crossing relationship time. I took refuge in a too-big and mostly empty bedroom that shared a wall with the noisy washer and dryer. I filled journals and sometimes spent entire days not moving. Through the diamond-window front door I brought leftover veggie pizza and almost-stale cake or donuts from the office if I hadn't eaten it all in a semi-rage on the way home. I scrupulously managed my checkbook on a white and wood barstool set from Meijer I assembled myself.

I cringed silently as I heard a massive tree falling in the night, wondering if I should run - where??? I heard it creaking, tearing its own and other limbs on its way down, ripping and gripping as gravity won. Is this how I die, I wondered. No. It only decided to clip the edge of the house and fall in neat heavy pieces around every single panel of my new Volvo wagon of three months that on that night I had not bothered to park in the under-the-house garage.

That house is for sale. My landlord, a retired high-baller businessman and relative of Rush Limbaugh who listened to the famed show at high volume in his garage while yelling out his own acerbic commentary, was a curmudgeony man with whom I had nothing in common. He told me I was one of the few that could get him to smile. He watched over and looked out for me, often in ways he had no business doing and every right to do. He built the wraparound deck for me, broke his own no-pet rule by allowing me to take in a won't-see-me-for-years-but-I'll-eat-all-your-ferns cat, and marveled at both my purposeful and willy-nilly perennial (or not) plantlife. I met his dying wife, saw him involuntarily fitfully cry, watched him hobble across the yard after he painstakingly mowed and trimmed and fussed and fumed over what he could control and what he couldn't.

We were a pair. He didn't approve of my few boyfriends and now I know why. He told me I was from "good stock" when he met my mother and handed me a handwritten lease I signed and dated on the spot.

I left that place years later for a guy who not long after, left me. (It's okay - he's married with kids now). I went on to try to re-create Refuge on the great endless rolling landscape of No Guarantees.

I both miss you and don't, 868 Edgecliff (Cedar), 43235. How you held and shaped me, little almost-private crouching hilltop brown box with streaming southern window light and huge tree shadow silence. As with every single life experience, at the time you were exactly what I needed. I wonder, where will we go now?

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Related posts:
Senses Placed
Sense of Place
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her blog, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Inviting the Yeti

In this blustery, coldest, whitest January in years, people are hunkering down. The young are celebrating school-closings due to blanching subzero temperatures, and the older often call for a 'break" in addition to the one life just recently and unexpectedly handed them.

It's a time for streamlining food intake, monetary outflow, objects in the environment. Roadway snow piles, calendar commitments, shoddy didn't-fit compromises.

It might look like paring down, but truthfully most of us are in the throes of managing Our Latest Upheaval. More than likely we felt the swell of its arrival, perhaps even wished for it. We watched the hulking mass on the horizon creep closer, listened to the crazed updates, played it all either up or down to support our other contradicting wish. We purchased snowshoes a long time ago, stocked the pantry with canned goods, stuffed newspaper and rags into the crooked doorframe to thwart icy blue-white drafts.

All buckled in. So prepared. All that's left to do is wait for it to just blow. on. by.

But we forgot about the Yeti.

A quick peek from behind the covers confirms that yes, it's circling the abode, but not from want or need or some other scarcity. It waits, without expectation, to be sighted. It's not going to force itself in. The longer we put off opening our door to it, the more it restless-izes all surrounding persons.

This deliberate separation and tension - it out there, us in here - can go on for years.

The Yeti is about exposure, vulnerability, and facing reality. That's all. Its coexistence with Avoidance can only last so long.

For those that pull their eyes from the screen or the paper or other necessary-for-survival distraction, the Yeti offers a disguised release, a doorway into another dimension. As the day-wake hours fill with our story about what's necessary to get by - Safety. Stability. Quiet. Action. A Plan - the Yeti looms in the shadowy periphery, not doing anything other than lingering. The pressure of its silent power grows exponentially with each passing day.

Its gentle hulking reminder: The more you think you've got it under control, the less you actually do.

We think we can escape the Yeti, though it's never hunting us.

We think the Yeti is a monster, though it's actually a mirror.

After so much denial, when the Yeti is finally invited in - how did that happen?? - all grows very very quiet. Very still. Breathing is limited or stops altogether. It's not necessarily Threat that hangs in the air. Nor Fright.

It's just an astounding realization: Oh, I SEE now.

In front of the Yeti, all is pulled into the light. That inaccuracy you hoped you could gloss over with speed, or excuses, or peripheral noise, is now front and center. The nugget of not-quite-sure is suddenly and thoroughly stage-light illuminated. The carefully hidden is now fish-food fragmented, exposed and floating to the silky surface.

Wow, I was pretty sure I had that perfect.  Thought I had it all figured out. Grip was tight on my Right Thing. Ah, I didn't know, and still don't, after all. Not One Thing. Until now, this one small piece. Until next time, next piece. 

It's out there, the Yeti, waiting. Open the door.

What's your Yeti?

*   *   *
My Yeti right now is a microphone. Silent silver stares at me from across the strings, waiting as I wrestle with my own sounds. Notes are netted, over and over again, bound into a bundle and thrown overboard into the web to fend for itself. A personal bared experiment and truth - like a photograph or a journal page or a CAT scan. There it is. Sink or swim. Now I know. No going back.

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Popular posts:
Senses Placed
The Thing Behind the Thing
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her blog, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

True Story, Published

This article was published in the "Strange But True Harp Stories" column
of the July/August 2013 issue of Harp Column magazine. Yes, this actually happened!

Someone was supposed to be there at the loading dock -- that’s what the booking agent said -- but after repeatedly punching the intercom unit with no reply, I knew I wouldn’t be entering through these particular Statehouse bowels.

Phoning the booking agent yielded no assistance -- their part was done and over. Left on my own to find a suitable alternate entrance, I reload the harp and back out dangerously fast, speeding through a parking garage gate. Rounding the corner, I spot a wide berth of glass doors through which a very well-dressed group of individuals is marching in. I pull up short, grab my bag, bench, and music stand, and follow them.

We walk up a few set of stairs and file through a small door. But this is a small quiet type of salon, nowhere near the noisy hub-bub where I’m sure I’m supposed to be. Where is the crowd? The snacks? The drinks? The loud voices?  

Minutes later, stomping through the marble hallways in search of where to set up, I miraculously come across the office of the event coordinator, with whom I’d spoken with days prior to finalize tonight’s plans. Empty. My actual gig start time has now passed, and many minutes of my angry marching click-click-clicking down the hallways in my all-black gig uniform, after tripping UP a set of stairs with bench and stand, have yielded absolutely no answers nor direction. I pass several police officers who not once stop to ask me who I am and what I’m doing. Security, anyone? 

Finally, a man informs me that I am to play on the catwalk far above the festivities and there is no electrical outlet in sight. I’m both relieved and annoyed; suddenly it’s obvious that amplification could be really useful here, but the booking agent never specified to bring it, AND I don’t have access to power anyway. There is a good 50-plus feet or more of carpeted and glass-railing expanse on either side of me, and I’m told I have it to myself. There is no way in %&@*! anyone anywhere can hear me, but I play loud and flamboyantly in a final effort to vindicate myself and this experience.

At the end of the set, the same man appears to help me through the maze of elevators and stairs back to my car. A shocked look of realization passes over his face as our conversation slows and we head out the glass doors to my Volvo wagon.

“Did you come in this way, with your stand and bench?”


“Did you follow a group of people into that door over there?” he points.


“I saw you!” He laughs uncomfortably. “You walked in with the Governor!!

What’s worse -- having unquestioned free reign of the Statehouse, not recognizing my own Governor, or being fantastically late to play for his inaugural ball?

Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Popular posts:
Senses Placed
Dear Creative Work
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — — for links to her blog, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings.