Not the best of months, but I harp on when I have the time. Still working on finishing up the first piece that my teacher gave me; I really want to just get the thing nailed down and done. And am working on another exercise, this time for the left hand.

I’m discovering that the left hand is really ugly when descending. Ascending is nothing, and I can get my fingers to cooperate just fine. When I go downward, my hand is really unhappy, especially my fourth finger, the knuckles of which feel like the pop out of joint when I do so. It feels like when you step up a staircase and feel your knee about to give way on you; there’s just no negotiating with it.

I’m also not sure how much negotiating I want to do. It seems that a lot of harpists — most of them actually, my teacher included — have had multiple surgeries on their hands. I’m not at all sure I want to make my hands do things that seem guaranteed to result in nerve damage and RSI. I’m still so used to playing a very body-friendly instrument (piano) for a long time, and the notion of an instrument that is played heedlessly of how much damage it does to the body is alien to me. Some damage is due to the instrument being played incorrectly/unergonomically (viola), strenuously using a body part that’s not built for that kind of abuse (brass), and being pushed so far technically that the body part in question is forced beyond what it should be doing (voice, harp).

I mean, should anyone be doing with their fourth fingers what my hand is complaining about being expected to do, if everyone who tries has to get their hands cut up and sewn back together multiple times? I really think I’d rather just … not use my hand that way.

I also confess to wondering how much of this injury is created by the fact that most harp technique pedagogues are men, with their characteristically long fourth fingers, and most harpists are women — who are injuring themselves by attempting to apply these techniques to hands with predictably different relative finger lengths. And I don’t mean smaller hands; I have hands about the size of a typical man’s hand. I mean shorter fourth fingers and longer index fingers. Most men are the other way around — short index fingers and longer fourth fingers. And that difference influences harp technique radically. I really wonder how much of this damage is being created by getting taught to play the harp in ways that assume our hands are not our hands.


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