The Happy Dragon

I just love the low rolled chords on a harp. I know that a lot of people like the fiddly, noodly bits at the high end, but the low chords like the ones that pop up partway through the Fauré Impromptu are just so wonderful to me. It makes the harp sound like a purring, contented tiger or a purring dragon. It’s a large, warm, contented sighing animal.

Anyhow, you can tell I’m having a good time right now rolling low chords. I like them in the piano as well, but the piano is so insistent sounding that the tempering in the low end can sound more jarring than on the harp. Low thirds can sound more clattery on the piano.

I must admit

There are times when the harp really ticks me off. The piano — especially a high-quality digital — is essentially the perfect instrument. It’s like a car. You sit down, turn it on, and it just goes. No popping the hood, no niggling and pleading, no whipping out wrenches to convince it to behave. You just get in, and five minutes later, you’re where you wanted to be.

You can say that about no other instrument. And certainly not about the harp.

Anyway, I am currently this far from coming to the inevitable if annoyed conclusion that the digital piano is the only instrument I’m willing to invest any damned time in because it is the only one that is a correctly designed mechanism that just works. If you have to constantly wheedle and plead with it to get it to behave itself, it’s a poorly functioning and poorly designed device.

Seriously. I will feel better at some point in the future, but right now, I am not convinced why anyone should play anything but a digital piano. I see no more reason to profess love for an instrument that won’t behave itself any more than for my old car with a bum throttle that needed to be cranked like crazy to start in the mornings.

My short 4th fingers

You know, I just realized that I may need to stop cursing my relative finger lengths.

My index and middle fingers on both hands are long. By comparison, my ring fingers come up to the nail base of my middle fingers. I’ve often thought to myself over the past few months that the added length of the index and middle fingers was actually a drawback, and that, if they were about a quarter-inch shorter, it would probably be easier for me as a harpist. When my ring fingers are so short, the added length of the others actually gets in the way. When I am ready to play a four-fingered chord in my left hand, you should see what it looks like from where I’m sitting: the thumb and ring fingers are in place, and these two ridiculously gangly appendages are hanging between them like weeping willow branches. My relative finger lengths actually actively displease me, whereas on the piano, my hands are pretty much perfect — spindly enough to get between the black keys, long, and with an ability to s-t-r-e-t-c-h that exceeds most. I don’t have Rachmaninoff hands, but nevertheless, they’re pretty good.

However. 🙂

I am discovering a few ways in which my very long fingers-except-for-the-ring-finger help greatly, taking measure 14 in the Chopin arrangement as an example. I can reach that bass octave with 2-1 in the left hand without even working at it, or indeed realizing I’m doing it. And when I have to cross under even by a fourth, doing it with my index finger presents me with so little difficulty that again, I’m mostly not even aware I’m doing it.

Sure, I’d rather have a longer ring finger, but maybe I don’t want to give up a quarter-inch in the others to get it.

Missed it, glad to be back.

🙂 Want to get a REAL (meaning “mistake-free”) version of “Bleak Midwinter” up on Vimeo, and also a version of that little C minor etude thing up as well. Also glad that my fingers weren’t too sore from a week and a half away, even my fourth.

Am working on rolling downwards currently, just to get a rough feel for it. It’s nontrivial; the thumb feels VERY awkward when rolling down since I have to have the fourth finger on its string at the same time. Much easier to roll up so that the thumb isn’t plucking when the hand is pinned in place by the fourth finger. That allows the thumb to wrap nicely around the hand after plucking. With the fourth in place, the thumb has to stay somewhat stiff, which isn’t pleasant. I’ll probably want to avoid that in general, and if I can’t, then focus very strongly on maintaining a relaxed hand.

I’m still not sure what it is about the harp that’s pulled me in. It seems to be the perfect combination of scope and fussiness. The piano is at a 30,000-foot level, really. You have such enormous scope on it, mostly because the mechanism of creating the sound is so removed from you that you can fly at a very high altitude. For a composer, it’s the perfect instrument.

The harp has a goodly amount of scope but gives up a little relative to the piano to gain some closeness to the sound production, which gives the player that nice sense of immediacy in plucking each string individually. It’s a nice compromise. You can accompany yourself and play the whole piece, and yet you’re still directly creating the sound, responsible for the tuning, able to get funky effects, can lift and move it without paying large, muscled people to do so, etc.

Continuing to plunk away …

With the holidays coming up, it’s hard to keep going, but it will wait until things settle down in a few weeks. In the meantime, I continue to plink away on the harp, and also have gotten stubborn and decided to try and work out as much of “La Source” as I can on the piano. It’s slower and requires some sostenuto, but overall, it’s not bad. A few challenging reaches, but it’s not bad. Being precise with the sostenuto is the most difficult part, because it really does have to go down exactly with the octaves in left hand. It catches the first 32nd note in the right as well, but that’s not a huge problem. It’s heavy on the piano, not as airy as on the harp, but part of that is just me and my insufficiently lightweight touch. I tend to run the dynamic gamut from mf to ff.

Harp-wise, I’m simply working with easy pieces and arpeggios, and focusing on positioning.

Being aware of my right hand

Part of the weirdness on the harp I think is that on the piano, I’m not terribly aware of my right hand. I think this is typical for pianists, in that our right hands tend to do mostly close-quarters detail work and our left hands tend to do long jumps, octaves, and generally things that require more mobility over the keyboard in longer spans. That tends to require more visual oversight. I don’t think it’s an issue of handedness either; I’m left-handed, and one would think that I could trust my left hand more, but the job it does is simply more spread out over the keyboard. Octave leaps in the right hand are unusual and need to be practiced, but octave leaps in the left are simply par for the course. Rapid close work in the right hand, where fingering is a big consideration, is also par for the course, but when that shows up in the left, one needs to pay it special mind.

I’m looking forward to getting to that point on the harp, and as I go, I’m trying to make myself not watch my right hand, so that I get used to just noodling and knowing where the strings are. That will enable my left hand to improve in that my attention won’t be split between them.

Itchy fingers

In New Orleans for work at the moment and missing the harp in the mornings. Luckily, I bought another musical toy with me that is far more portable and I’ve been amusing myself on that. I also bought a little harmonica that I don’t plan to play, but I’m sure I will encounter someone who would appreciate it, hopefully a little kid. There are usually toy giveaways around the winter holidays, and this with an easy self-starter guide to harmonicas might make a nice donation gift.

Meanwhile, I just miss the harp. I seem to have had a bit of a twist in my head regarding the piano recently, and I’m not sure where that is headed. I’m a bit sad about it, but I suppose we’ll see how it works itself out.