Lessons from a Mediocre Harp-player

This is my harp–isn’t it lovely?  I play the harp–more or less.  I’ve been playing for a few years now, and I’m still pretty bad:  I don’t practice as much as I should, and I don’t have much natural ability.  Mark Oldenburg is responsible for my foray into the music world:  when I was turning 40, he said that he subscribes to the philosophy that every new decade, you should take up a new hobby–a new language, instrument, whatever.  When I was younger, I had always wanted to play the harp, but my parents–suspicious about how much a harp would cost & how I would transport it–suggested the eminently more practical flute. But now I was a grown up, and I could choose for myself.  So, a few years later, I found a harp & a harp teacher and started playing.

So, I have been limping along for a few years, enjoying myself very much but not really progressing, and my harp teacher [Sharon Knowles, by the way–an amazing Celtic harpist, and a fabulous teacher] wanted to try and find something that would give me some additional motivation for practicing. She has been volunteering at the hospital for a few years now, and she suggested that I try it.  I was skeptical, but I did like the idea of volunteering–it has been awhile since I’ve done any consistent volunteer work & I’ve felt guilty about that.  Sure, I’m busy, but so is everyone else.

So, I went through the training, background check, flu shot, etc., etc., and finally in early December I was ready to go.  Sharon promised that she would come with me the first time–did I mention that I’m not very good?–and I was really nervous about it.  So, we got a date on the calendar.  Well, of course, as luck would have it, she hurt her hand and couldn’t play, so I was on my own. I thought about cancelling, but that seemed silly, so yesterday, I went ahead and did it.

And, an amazing thing happened:  even though I did NOT do a good job–seriously, did I mention that I’m not very good?–and I made a ton of mistakes, people were so kind and supportive.  I came away feeling great about the whole experience, and I learned a not-so-secret secret:  people just love the harp.  It’s a beautiful instrument, and it sounds beautiful, even if you are just playing a scale.  [I didn’t actually resort to that, but it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.]  The harp is so inherently lovely, you really can’t screw it up.

Obviously, there is a lesson here somewhere; something about being surprised by grace and kindness, letting go of the need to be perfect, and facing your fears.  It was all of that for me and more.  I realized it was enough just to show up and do my best, trying to be a positive presence in a place where there is lots of illness and anxiety, and basically just riding the harp’s coattails. I can’t wait to go back–and I’m hoping I really will get better as time goes on!

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