Bard Dance Articles

Meditation with Harp

Click here for the sheet music that accompanies this article
©Cathi Pearce (Blue)

Most of us come to the harp later in life, as the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream perhaps, or because we now have the time to make room for music in our lives now the family has grown up and moved away. Still others of us however, are busy fitting our harps and our playing in between work, running a household, getting the kids off to school and all the myriad other "life" things that can edge out music.

Recently, someone I was speaking to told me they were becoming jaded. The old songs didn't seem to be pleasurable any more, learning new music was a chore, exercises seemed pointless rather than a useful means to an end. They weren't tired of the harp, precisely, but had somehow mislaid what it was that brought player and harp together in the first place.

In our rush to make the most of our time spent playing the harp, practising songs and exercises, concentrating on left hand patterns and rhythm, getting ready for performances etc, it's all too easy to lose track of the quiet magic that was there the first time we brushed daring fingers across expectant strings, cradled this marvellous wooden creation in our arms and began to call forth those inspiring sounds.

This article is aimed at rekindling that first childlike joy, of re-attuning to the basics of the harp - plucking the strings for the thrill of the note alone, not the complex Planxty or shimmering Prelude that has taken hours of practice to perfect.

The music is called simply "Meditation", because that is what it is. Meditating is a form of relaxing, of letting distractions melt away - if your beliefs prefer to term it a prayer or a ritual, or just a "quiet time" so be it. The important thing will be you and your harp and the sounds and feelings produced. Because of this, it helps to learn the piece beforehand, so you aren't constantly referring to the sheet music.

Ideally, pick a quiet time of day - late at night perhaps, when the family is abed, mid-afternoon when the house is empty, or your usual "practice time". Any part of the day when you know you can focus on the harp and not have to grab the phone, soothe a child or feed a hungry animal! If tuning your harp is a chore, ensure it is in tune some time before you try this. If it's a pleasure, then start by tuning, the longer you have your hands around your harp the better, though don't be tempted to start your normal playing session once tuning is complete!

Light candles, even incense if you wish, or throw open the window to let sunshine and birdsong fill the room with you. Sit in your usual place, be comfortable and (ever practical) be sure you won't need to break off for a bathroom visit! Have a cool drink by you as well. You are ready to begin.

Take the harp in your arms, revelling for a few moments in the smell and the feel of it, the familiar curves and edges. Holding it close, begin to play, concentrating not on fingering or technique but simply on the notes ringing and echoing around the room, the way the strings and the harp vibrate, on the lower notes especially. You are not playing the harp so much as caressing it, enjoying it for the sake of the sound and the sensations that arise. Breathe gently and evenly and enjoy the flickering candlelight or the birdsong or whatever you might have chosen. Let your mind wander away where it will, there is just you and the harp and the music, and the connection between you and the harp, the thing that makes you want to play, want to be a harper/harpist in the first place, the sheer simple pleasure in music that you may have lost over time.

The first time around, you might be concerned not to drift away too much in case the silly thing topples out of your arms, but as you repeat the process you should find you can relax more and more into it. Play the mediation over and over until you feel truly relaxed and hopefully back in tune with your instrument and with those first feelings of joy at having a harp under your fingers. When you feel truly relaxed, stop playing, breathe deeply and allow yourself time to come round a bit. Now, either move into your normal practice session, hopefully with renewed sparkle and joy, or go and get a drink and a change of mood.

You might think meditating with a harp is a rather strange idea, but try it just once and see if it works. After all, using harps for healing and soothing others is commonplace, but what about the harper/harpist themselves? Taking some quiet time out in the day to just relax and breathe is always good for the whole system - include a harp in there and you surely can't go wrong!

Originally written for and printed in Harplight, the Journal for Small Harps

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