Saturday, June 14, 2008

It goes to show

Gig #1 of the weekend -- the Home Show. Every year a neighborhood is carved out of an existing natural habitat in the general Columbus vicinity and put on display just long enough so that the installed-now landscaping looks fresh and weeds haven't yet had a chance to populate anywhere but in the mud between designer home sites.

One of the builders this year hired me to play for Preview Night, which is just like any of the other tour days except slightly less crowded due to the higher price tag, and food like crab cakes and a lot of drink are actually permitted beyond the designer home thresholds.

To set up in the corner of a designer home next to the remote-controlled fireplace and play solo selections of your choice while actually being heard and having already been paid your going-rate fee is a very good gig.

It's a very good gig even when transporting all your gear will require at least three trips through a half mile myriad of tents, tripping hazards, and speeding golf carts, and it’s the closest you can pull up to the gig site because you are proudly sporting your special worker’s pass and parking permit.

Not every event requires amplification. But when it does, the pre-gig loading experience becomes atypical. The bench must make way for the amp, which means the bench must wait until the last minute to be loaded via the passenger-side back door. This is a perfect setup for the trying-to-be-on-time driver to close the garage door and leave the bench in the garage where she put it down and not realize this until 3/4 of the way to the gig.

Fortunately, the Home Show coordinators locate a chair whose seat is fashioned to accommodate human anatomy. It's actually the perfect chair as chairs go, but because playing the harp defies all aspects of human anatomy and ergonomics, the interplay between the non-cushioned seat and the ischium of the performer becomes an all-out war. Poising on the edge of the seat requires concentration and generates discomfort but is the only way to keep from sliding down the plastic void-of-cushion surface to a place that renders pedal-changing footwork impossible.

Aside from seating issues, it's comfy and cozy in a designer home playing in an air-conditioned corner while thunderstorms barrel overhead; retrieving the car in dress clothes, however, from a parking pit where all that rain has fallen, is not. Mud-caked shoe removal was required to retrieve the harp from the designer home and bump the harp down the steps to the white-painted-floor garage. If bumping the harp on the cart down the steps doesn’t isn’t attention-gripping enough, hunkering down and positioning the harp at a precarious angle to clear the doorframe in what looks like bare feet certainly is.

Onlookers mistakenly assume pushing the harp around on the cart is more problematic than carrying the 38.4-pound amplifier any distance. The harp is truly the only piece of equipment that passerby should not touch, especially at an event where a lot of drink is involved. A golf cart was available at the beginning of the gig for amp transport, but was not at the end as tent flaps had fallen thereby making golf cart access out of the question (as explained by golf cart driver). How do you carry a bulky "perfect for any event!" amp that distance? By balancing it on one thigh and then the other and straining-smiling-out-of-breath for the third time at the cop sitting comfortably at the exit who's placidly explaining to those who don’t get it that they cannot leave with open containers.

Some might sweetly suggest that it might be a good idea to bring a helper to such an event. But really, what would the helper do for the entire three hours that I'm playing and stupidly not taking breaks? A tan, skinny blonde with 8-inch stilettos and a short sleeveless dress with sparkly stuff around the bosom had no problem -- see, there she is talking to an older tropical-shirt man who is telling her about himself as if they've just met and she is listening with rapt attention while sipping her drink as they quickly head to the nearest exit...

Seeing a harp in an unexpected place evokes childlike glee. I actually do understand what’s really being said despite my knee-jerk unedited silent sarcastic responses.

"Wow!! That's a real person at the harp!"
No, it's a fake person at the harp.
Translation: “This is live music and not recorded!” Often this is one of the highest compliments one can pay to a working musician.

"Do you hire/rent yourself out?"
Meaning.... ?
Translation: Um… unfortunately you cannot assume men who ask you this are seriously considering having you play for their next upscale gathering at their place of business or formal high-end residence. Especially when such a question is followed by, "Here, I'll be your pimp -- we'll put your business cards out here." This is when you immediately turn your attention to the person who is now holding his head and screaming,

"WHOAH -- I had no idea you could run a HARP through an AMP!!"
Of course, especially if I expect to be heard in an environment fraught with speaking volumes such as what you just used!
Translation: “My only experience is with guitars!” I actually love explaining how my harp is amplifed, and happier still if they're interested in the nitty-gritty specifics.

“There goes an angel, with her harp!”
What I’m thinking right now is anything but angelic, and I and the harp are wearing nothing but black.
Translation: “My only concept of harp is this age-old stereotype!” Luckily, this person can keep holding onto this image and never have to know what you have to do, say, and be to actually earn a living this way.

“Are you okay / can you get that?”
Of course I can, I do it all the time. I can’t tell -- are you offering to help?!?
Translation: “I am sincerely concerned about your well-being – that looks heavy and cumbersome and I have no idea what you are doing.” A harp is an unusual sight, and watching a solitary female transport it is overly perplexing to some. You can shove an amp in their arms and go through the time-consuming effort of explaining what is happening / needs to happen, or, just assure them that you’re fine and get on with MAKING IT HAPPEN.

There is so much to watch and learn on a solo gig... so much so that it isn't necessarily a solo gig, is it?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I wanna play with...

First, go here and here and here to read entries by one of my heroes, Andrew Bird, about the process of songwriting. His entries are found along with those of Suzanne Vega, Rosanne Cash, and Darrell Brown in the New York Times blog "Measure for Measure" -- link at right.

I wanna -- er, WILL -- play harp with:

Explosions in the Sky
The Arcade Fire
Deborah Henson-Conant -- (again)
Beastie Boys
Andrew Bird (MySpace page)

Absolutely, unquestionably, harp fits perfectly with all of them.

Monday, June 09, 2008


It was a gig-full weekend. Day One = Columbus Arts Festival with Nova Madrugada. The Club Stage was positioned perfectly in a sun-drenched wind tunnel. Foolishly, I did not get any photos, though unfoolishly, if I had, they would have captured my music blowing off the stand and my chasing after it when I could sacrifice my harp part due to bandmate volume. After over a decade of playing outdoor weddings this was a lesson learned -- People Who Play Festivals place a large piece of plexiglass over their music on the music stand. I've been surviving on office clips because on windy days I open and tack down my music to the most important piece and improvise the rest.

Lemon sorbet from Graeter's eased some of this humiliation, as did settling in for a night of Maggie Green and Canto Poetico -- she was on FIRE debuting her own tune.

Day two = wedding on the green of a small county golf club. Aside from playing the typical wedding fare -- the most important piece tacked down with office clips -- it was my job to drown out the generator that ironically was powering the equipment used to amplify the harp. Though I was booked to play longer, at the end of the ceremony the groom affirmed I successfully distracted the guests from the roaring equipment but should "prob'ly quit cuz dat's 'bout gonna run outta gas."

Day three = church service at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living. J was recently hired as interim musical director to provide radically different music from one week to the next. The topic of the day was Mystery. Did his recently-composed piece Tristery -- a title combining my name and "mystery" -- have anything to do with why I was contacted for this? We mysteriously improvised with harp and piano and later I performed a snippet of Crimson (go here to hear). It was not a mystery that we found we can play together well, especially on the fly -- set a key and see what happens.

A mysterious weekend? It's a mystery that one day I figured I could find a way to get my car out if on a freak day my garage door opener died, and the very next day that is exactly what happened. It's a mystery that in the middle of the night I couldn't sleep and *PING* heard a harp string break downstairs, and once it was replaced as it needed to stretch to be in tune for an early gig the next day, fell asleep immediately. It's a mystery that I happened to be in the gardening section of a store and spotted just one super-on-sale plant I haven't been able to find anywhere else to complete a section of my always-needing-weeding landscape. It's a mystery that on the day after I run out of dark chocolate, I'm asked to share a bar of the darkest I've had yet -- this is high-octane Extreme at 88%, my friends. It's a mystery that one week I fret about being able to continue to make my living teaching and playing, and the next week am contacted about lessons and gigs.

Or is it?

Listening to: World Cafe on WCBE, the local NPR station -- the nightly two-hour slots are back!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Back in the...

It's been a little over one month since surgery, which I struggled to fit between previously-scheduled gigs. I actually played a wedding and Luceys Maze gig two weeks post-surgery and performing felt worlds better than sitting at home facing all that I could not do. Moving-the-harp muscles are different than affected-by-surgery muscles, a discovery of course made through simple trial and error.

Courtyard at COSI

Breaking and replacing a big fat 5th octave A string ten minutes before I was scheduled to play the wedding prelude this past weekend was an adrenaline rush, to say the least.

This is a strange time of year for the self-employed performer and teacher. For those outside the field, it's filled with excitement and anticipation over the schoolyear ending, increased energy from warmer weather, and vacation inclination thinking. But with students that take a "summer break" from lessons, a huge yard to clean- up / maintain and house still under renovation, somewhat slower than expected recuperation, a colleague (?) playing and securing gigs for 1/3 the going rate, and a tight budget to create due to increased and additional bills of all sorts, this time of year can feel downright frightening.

So it's back to consciously deciding (every minute) not to panic, and instead focus on intention and trajectory of the creative work I've committed to do, hoping the details become clear. Real life = hazy fertile middleground between heaven and hell.