The Love of Music

I love practicing. Honestly, some of the best defining moments of my life have been when I’m alone, sitting behind a harp. Most of the epiphanies I have when practicing have to do with the music, or my life as a harpist in general, but I’d be lying if I said every inspired thought I’ve had while practicing had to do with music. Sometimes, when my brain is working hard on music and I get the creative juices flowing, I can see inside my soul and find out more about myself as a human being. If you haven’t ever played an instrument, it’s hard to understand the spiritual experience of making music. There have been times when I step away from the harp a different person than the one who sat down a few hours before.

Using circular reasoning, my love of creating music makes me want to continue to become a better musician, and becoming a better musician makes me love music even more. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I’m exhausted and/or discouraged and dread having to go practice. I’ve had my share of absent-minded practice sessions in which I spend time playing the same piece that I’m already reasonably good at over and over and over. I’ve also had my share of practice sessions that end in me staggering away from the instrument vowing to never try learning anything challenging again, or the occasional time when all I can think to do is put my head in my hands and scream at myself for my incompetence. Yes, practicing can bring out the crazy in me, but it’s all good.

When I was 14 and a member of the Flint Youth Symphony Orchestra, everyone in the ensemble got free tickets to go see the professional Flint Symphony Orchestra one evening, and afterwards we had the wonderful conductor Maestro Enrique Diemecke come and talk to us young musicians. At the time, I had been dediced on making music my life for only about a year, so I was really excited to get some words of wisdom from such a great musical role model. Maestro Diemecke talked about many things, from his life as a young musician, his family, his home in Mexico, and his favorite composer, Gustav Mahler. (Over the next several weeks and months, I dug into several recordings of Mahler Sympohnies, read textbook-like biographies, and to this day he remains my favorite composer.) One thing I will never ever forget is when Maestro Diemecke started talking about how much he truly loved music, and how powerful it is. He said that we should be making music for the pure enjoyment of it, not to be the best or to please others. He spoke of the beautiful landscapes music created, and went into depth of how music can make you fly around the world, over people, letting you look down on cities and towns everywhere, and causing you to see the world differently. At the end of his talk, he had tears in his eyes, and sweat glistened on his forehead. I walked away from the concert hall thinking that Maetsro Diemecke seemed a little over the top, and that the experience he described sounded an awful lot like what I was told drugs were like.

Sure, at first I though Maestro was crazy, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said. Over the next few weeks, I continued to practice diligently, wondering if I would ever have an experience as exciting as the one he described. Shortly afterwards, when I least expected it, I felt my soul flying as I poured my heart into a piece I was playing. When I was done, I took the harp off my shoulder and thought, “I was just flying. I’m a musician now. I made art.” I will never forget that day, and I have had that same exhilaration many times since then, most often when I’m alone making music solely for my own enjoyment. I have attended the FSO many, many times since that one evening, and I continue to remember the wisdom imparted to me back when I was an adolescent who just wanted to play music.

I could probably write a dozen posts on the things I’ve learned from the harp instructor I had throughout junior high and high school, Brittany DeYoung at the Flint Institue of Music. With her I learned some great repertoire, prepared for my first competitions, auditions, and gigs, and it was after hearing her play a solo recital for the first time that I thought, “I want to do that someday. I can see myself trying to make a living off of music.” Out of all the things I’ve learned from her, the most important was making sure I loved what I was doing. Yes, she challenged me, and I worked hard on becoming a better musician, but the driving force was the desire to be successful at something because I truly loved it. She often said, “I can tell you’re doing this because you truly want to, nobody is making you. That’s important.” Her own enthusiasm for the harp helped fuel mine, which drove me to practice not only for longer amounts of time, but also more effectively.

I could write a hundred posts about my parents encouraging and helping me musically, so I’ll spare you from my rambling on and on about everything they’ve done for me, because it’s a lot. However, what I probably appreciate the most was their constant encouragement. They attended my many long and boring concerts and recitals, helped me haul the harp to and from gigs in subzero temperatures back when I was a weakling, and when I told them that I wanted to eventually go off to school to study music and eventually persue it professionally, they didn’t laugh and tell me to find something that will actually allow me to make actual money. They didn’t complain when I practiced hours and hours at a time at home, because they were awesome and wanted me to be able to do what I loved.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of sharing my love of music with others. The only thing that beats spending alone time with a harp is performing for new faces. Having little kids ask their parents to take pictures of them with the harp at gigs or having people ask me random questions about the instrument at concerts never gets old. It takes me back before I started the harp, and when I was so amazed by the beautiful music that came from it. I love performing for pretty much anyone, but sharing the harp with those who haven’t seen or heard one in person before is the best. I’m introducing them to a new and exciting part of the world of music, and that feeling is unparalleled.

Sure, I’m still 19 years old and it’s only my second year of music school. There’s plenty of time for me to get burnt out, and I certainly experience short bouts of those feelings already. However, I’m grateful to have found something so early in my life that I am so passionate about, and that is so transcendent and powerful. When I feel discouraged in my abilities or the results of a specific performance, I always remember that I get to do what I love, and that no matter what happens, I’m pretty darn fortunate. I fell in love at 13, and it’s a beautiful feeling.

Harry Styles in the Practice Room

As a relatively young musician, my main daily focus is improving my harp skills. The best way to do this, of course, is hours and hours of personal practice. Naturally, staying in the same tiny room with bare walls for long periods of time can get, well, very lonely and boring. Last fall, early on in my freshman year, I had the bright idea of decorating one of the two harp practice rooms with cool pictures. My professor didn’t seem bothered by the idea, and the other three harpists didn’t seem too bothered, so I went for it. My goal was to have Harry Styles, Kermit the Frog, and John Denver plastered all over the walls, but my printer ran out of ink after Harry Styles. As a broke college kid, I refused to sink any more money into color ink, so a Harry Styles themed practice room it would be. Well before Halloween, the practice room was perfect.

As a studio, we often discussed the pictures gracing the walls. My fellow freshman had no trouble telling me that I had bad taste, the grad and DMA students didn’t give any negative or positive feedback, and my professor didn’t even know who Harry was. Of course, we didn’t waste time in showing her what she was missing. “So, you like guys with long hair?” was her original response to the picture I was quick to show her.

From then on, my professor often brought Harry up in lessons. I have a tendency to play the harp like I want to kill someone, so she would often tell me to think of Harry Styles and try to play nice and soft at certain parts of the music. Honestly, I think it worked. I specifically remember learning an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and playing it for everyone in harp studio one week. After my short performance, my professor asked me if I knew what was happening in that part of the music. I admitted that I didn’t, and she proceeded to explain. “Well, the two swans in this part are..about to dance, so think of..think of you and Harry Styles!” The five us in studio laughed, and needless to say, my second performance was filled with more emotion and love.

Now several months later, yesterday I had my first harp lesson as a sophomore. In the middle of digging into a brand new piece, my professor looked away from the music and said, “Oh, before I forget, there’s something I need to tell you.”
In that split second, terror ran through my veins. Does she think I should switch my major? Is she canceling my November recital? Am I losing my scholarship?
Two seconds later, she smiled and said, “Over the summer I saw a guy who looked just like Harry Styles! And he even plays the saxophone! He’s perfect for you!” (I have a thing for sax players. Especially if you’re a jazz saxophonist. Or a jazz musician in general. Anyways, I digress.)

It sure is great to be back at school to not only receive excellent musical training, but to have an instructor that knows about my life and my pathetic obsession with a certain boy band member. I certainly am excited to see what this semester will bring, and what I will learn from my amazing harp professor.