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The Marriage of Performance and Therapy

I am a harpist. I am music therapist. I like to share that I am never more one than the other. Although with the impossible work ethic required of classical performers these days, I may appear more music therapist to some. My bachelor's degree was in harp performance. Whilst studying for my master's degree, I still took the time to participate in lessons and ensembles. I still wanted to gather tools for when I would practice on my own, but also to try and figure out what else I was doing wrong and why I couldn't reach the level it seemed most of my other harpist colleagues had achieved years ago.

Now I apologize in advance if I offend any musician who has 'made it' through hours of hard work . I envy your discipline. I do not mean to discredit anyone. But every young person who is serious about their choice of instrument needs to know that performance education is gritty, expensive, and incredibly unforgiving. The ones that make it are the ones who were born with the nerve (and I daresay, the financial support, but there are plenty of other angsty blogs on that subject). I could go on for pages analyzing the psychology and development of successful classical musicians, but today, Iet's focus on one issue. The teaching method. The 'my way or the highway,' fear of God, micro-managerial teaching method boasted by world class pedagogues and college professors.* Sure, it works like a charm. At least on those students with a stable background of emotional support and development. But if you have a history of low self-esteem, a personality disorder, or a deficit in attention, the chances of you getting bullied and weathered away to dust are high. I believe it all comes from pride. Pride and elitism. But who's going to admit that?

Like I said, I continued taking lessons, taking notes, and collecting tools because I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong. And so they told me what they thought I was doing wrong. And I fought and fought against myself to do what they told me to do. And then I became too tired and burnt out to apply it. At this time, I was also working on my music therapy degree. Lessons on one's primary instrument were not required. It would have been smarter if I had abided by that. I could have avoided a lot of anxiety. But seeing the side of classical performance contrast so starkly with the philosophies taught in our music therapy classes really showed me the TRUTH about music. Like any form of valuable knowledge, I had to suffer to obtain it.

The truth about music is it is simply a powerful tool. Those who have been blessed with talent and/or the support of their environment have a great responsibility. Music can either build someone up or completely tear someone down. I watched it build up the patients at a behavioral health center as I helped them 'rediscover their voices', and I watched it tear down and burn out my colleagues who were trying to match the perfection of others or whose teachers were convincing them they weren't trying hard enough. With this truth, I've concluded that while the tools and techniques acquired through lessons and ensemble experience are important for stability, it is essential to be alert and protected from the poisonous elitist pride that seeps through the potential glory of moving an audience to tears. Let me emphasize the word STABILITY. We learn technique on our instrument so we don't fall apart. Why should our self esteem have to suffer while we acquire this much needed foundation?

I certainly plan on teaching. I'd like to acquire as many students as my time allows because I want to teach everyone the truth about music. Technique and practice are like the concrete slab of beautiful music, and it is important that all students have the drive to regularly execute repetitive exercise. But I also promise you all that I'm not going to cut down a tree that's not growing properly. My technique suffered because my brain isn't quite like most others, and I kept getting cut down for it. It actually wasn't because I was doing it wrong, but because I required more self discovery in finding something that worked for me. As a music therapist who is trained to adapt to all different types of abilities, I will work so hard to help everyone adapt their own way of learning. Maybe some day that will provide someone with the emotional support and armor needed to take on the performance world at a university or conservatory level. But anyone hoping to perform for an audience needs to know that a stable, supportive, and adaptable background are so much more important for the self than another masterclass with a master of pride.

*Not all university level teachers are like this, of course. I had a couple of teachers who were quite understanding and supportive of my personal choices. The harp teacher in my final year of grad school, however, boasted this technique to the point of mental and emotional abuse. For that reason, she is never mentioned in any of my bios.

Pierne's Impromptu Caprice from my senior recital, 2014

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2 commentaires

Excellent post. Always great to hear people speak from the heart and of truth.


You are a beautiful person, who makes beautiful music in your own quirky and amazing way. Never let another impact you as that person had. I do believe you should teach. Spread your ability to those who have the desire to play but are scared to try. Scared to come out of that shell. You should also provide them their first pair of silly socks when the begin classes. 😉 I can’t read music only letters and I was told I wasn’t good enough and couldn’t continue to play the I let that be the end. You have it inside you. Write it down Mary and you will birth that little lamb! Can’t wait for the next post! ☺️

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