As a freelance harpist, whenever I meet new people, they seem to wonder what it is I ACTUALLY do. I wear many hats! And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes I wonder how many hats I actually wear—because when I decided I was going to be a harpist, I know I didn’t think about it too much. The goal was to simply play the harp for a living and not have to have a dreaded “day job”. I have met my goal, but there is still so much to learn, so much to do!
Every week you will find me :
Yes, just about every week I have something new to learn. It might be chamber music for a concert or orchestral music for a concert. It could be a new pop tune for a wedding. It could be a new classical piece I never had the chance to look at before. It could be me reviewing the Suzuki and other student repertoire so I can play it (well) for a student at their lesson that week. But the practicing is still a given. Occasionally people ask me if I will ever not need to practice anymore. I don’t think it’s possible to play at a high level and eliminate all practicing. I do think as we age, we get smarter with the work load and are able to get more done in less time. So I guess there is something to be said for getting older!! I mean more experienced!!
What’s the difference between practicing and rehearsing you might ask? practice time is what you do alone with your instrument to prepare. Rehearsing is when musicians get together to prepare the music for a performance together. Usually this means packing up the harp and moving to the concert hall or other rehearsal space. Even if it’s a piece you have played before, it’s always a little different with a new group of musicians and conductor! Even if it is a solo performance, a run thru rehearsal in the new space is always a good thing to have done!
Even in the summer I teach at least half a dozen harp lessons every week. During the school year, I teach more in the 20-30 lessons a week range. I never thought teaching would be so rewarding—but it really is!! I enjoy the beginning level of introducing them to the joy of the harp, and I enjoy helping the more advanced students prepare for auditions and all the levels in between. There is always something new to show them that will help them on their musical journey. As a bonus– I have even found that if I’m teaching a more advanced piece that I would want to play myself, that my teaching actually works as my own practice time on the piece as well (ie when I sit down to play it after teaching it, it is as if I have practiced it too!)
While the hours of actual performing are usually less than the practice hours and teaching hours, it’s always thrilling to be part of a live performance. And I am lucky to get to do what I love each week. Concerts, weddings, special events, Tea service, memorial services—all over the DC Metro Area, you can find me with my harp. Check my schedule.
Many times the music that I am asked to play is not originally written for harp. So I’m going to have to edit it to fit the harp, or even arrange it for harp and other instruments. Sometimes I will even get music originally written for harp, that requires a lot of editing in the form of fingering and pedal markings. That too takes a lot of time to get a piece ready to practice.
I’m writing this first ever blog post, but sometimes I am even asked to write articles relating to the harp, or edit newsletters for the harp community. On occasion I have even written grants and proposals.
Now the more mundane—
I spend a good amount of time sitting in traffic and worried about traffic. I think I spend more time than the average person worrying about traffic and being late. Performances happen when they are scheduled to. There is no such thing as “flex time”. My client would be less than impressed to have me start late and just tack on some extra music at the end.
There is also no such thing as a sick day. I do my best to stay healthy, (wash my hands, take my vitamins) and I have a great network of fellow harpists who I can call upon in an emergency. But on those days when other jobs can just “work from home” or “phone it in”, it’s pretty impossible to do so as freelance performer. I have played thru some pretty nasty illnesses and injuries and I know other freelancers do the same thing—I’m not unusual—it’s just how it works. You gotta love what you do!
In owning my own business I spend a good chunk of time on correspondence with clients and students, scheduling, and accounting, preparing programs, doing website updates, figuring out how to use PeopleSoft to enter grades into university systems (my least favorite). I’m no CPA, but I know way more about taxes than I ever suspected I would need to know!! And yes, you really DO need to claim that as income.
Keeping the equipment in good shape—tuning harps, changing strings, occasionally bigger harp maintenance that might require a screw driver or Allen wrenches! Buying batteries and keeping electronic devices charged, also keeping both the wardrobe and car in good shape for supporting performances.
Keeping in touch and being friendly with other musicians (and harpists). I really enjoy meeting new people and working with them, so this is a fun part of my job. Unlike some harpists who have a “lone wolf” mentality, I love getting together to talk music and harp. I like learning about new strings, new arrangements, new cars that will fit a harp! And with other musicians I like hearing their stories of recent gigs and new apps to help teaching and playing music.
I love what I do, and I love the number of hats that I get a chance to wear on a weekly basis! I’m grateful that I’m always learning and it’s never boring!