Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to Survive a 7-Hour Harp Gig

Oh yes, I managed to play a 7-hour gig yesterday. Here's how I did it:

1. Set up the harp, with several containers of juice and/or coffee within easy reach.

2. Tune, and then check tuning. No one wants to hear the top note of an ending arpeggio that's a whole step off because you had the tuning key on the wrong peg. (This happened to me a couple of years ago... ouch.)

3. Start with your 5 easiest pieces. I'm talking super-easy here. This allows your brain and your hands to warm up, because it's 9:30 in the morning.

4. Schlep through your set--about 45 minutes' worth--slowly. It's still early in the morning, and your hands aren't flying yet. Also, taking the first set slow helps get over "nerves." Be sure to have a few swigs of coffee or juice after every 2-3 pieces.

5. After the first set, and every set, stand up, stomp around a little, jump up and down--whatever seems appropriate to get your blood circulating and wake up the glutes. Have a little something to eat.
Effective: chocolate. Healthy: peanut butter or fruit.

6. Play your second set... most likely a repeat of the first set, if that's all the music you have ready. This will be your best performance of the day.

7. After the set and all of the remaining sets, get something light but substantial to eat, like the homemade bread with peanut butter and honey that you brought, plus some coffee or juice. Do not let your blood sugar crash, or you will be playing Charles-Ivesian versions of your pieces. You may love Ives' style, but it doesn't work for "Danny Boy."

8. Starting with the third set, you will notice some pretty wild mistakes popping up in the harder pieces. Do your best, and make a few mental notes on which pieces are starting to go down the tubes. Cut them from the next set. Continue to do this with the remaining sets.

9. If there are periods of time with no audience--no visitors to the store, home tour, whatever, stop playing. You can easily resume when someone comes around.

10. By the time you are in the 7th hour, you will have cut all but your easiest pieces--the ones you've been playing all your life, which are so ingrained in your muscle memory, that you can play them with no brain. By this time, you will have no brain.

11. When it's all over, thank the host/hostess for the opportunity to play, and thank the gods for allowing you to make it through without swearing in front of the audience.

12. Go home, unload, and crash.


  1. I love the harp, would loved to have seen you play....I could not have done a 7 hr gig!

    I used to sing in a choir and occasionally we had a harpist. We used to perform Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols and the harp pieces are so beautiful and unusual.

  2. Ah, the Spring Carol is one of my all-time favorite pieces with harp. If you can pull off Ceremony of Carols, then you must be a really good singer!